Cert 15 Stars 5

Director Spike Lee is in typically incendiary form with this timely, technically superb, important and violent drama which explores the legacy of the Vietnam war and is in parts a history lesson, political statement and a call to arms.

Set in the present day and soundtracked by Marvin Gaye’s protest songs, it’s also a determinedly mainstream entertainment and we follow four African American army veterans who’ve returned to Vietnam in search of the remains of their squad leader Norman, and a secret stash of buried treasure.

Norm Lewis, Clarke Peters, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Delroy Lindo are a tremendous ensemble of talent with a convincing camaraderie as ‘Da Bloods’, with the latter in particular on Oscar-worthy form, with the strong character development of the first half providing emotional firepower to every bullet spent in the blood-soaked second half.

In flashback Chadwick ‘Black Panther’ Boseman appears as Norman, while Jean Reno has fun as an arrogant Frenchman representing European colonisation, corruption and exploitation.

On a creative roll after his Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for 2018’s undercover cop thriller BlacKkKlansman, Lee knows better than to exhaust his audience, so he uses his experience and ability to time each of his dramatic punches so they land with the greatest possible impact.

Though Lee playfully riffs on the Vietnam War classic Apocalypse Now, the biggest storytelling touchstone is 1948’s Oscar-winning tale of greed and madness, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, in which Humphrey Bogart starred as a desperate American adventurer abroad.

It’s fascinating to see the two films relating to each other across generations and geography in terms of style, tone and intent, and by directly referencing that classic Lee is asserting his undoubtedly deserved right to stand in the pantheon of great filmmakers.

I wish I’d been able to experience this on the big screen, though it’s no less a masterpiece on the small.


Cert 15 Stars 3

Opening titles of real war footage set a chilly and sombre tone to this respectful and effective Second World War action adventure is a by-the-numbers boys’ own adventure lifted by its great locations and a hard working cast.

John Hannah keeps a stiff upper lip as the British Army liaison officer back in Blighty as English actor Ed Westwick stars as a square-jawed US Major leading a team of British commandos to extract an important scientist from the hands of the Germans in Nazi-occupied Poland of 1943.

Of course plans go awry, radios don’t work, they can’t identify which locals are collaborators, and the Russian army who are much more used to fighting in the bleak snow covered landscape, are also the same target.

There’s plenty of courage and sacrifice among the many shoot-outs, and the fierce and the excitingly staged three-way battle of foreign troops on Polish soil to determine ownership of Polish resources, can be read as a scathing view of the war.


Cert 12A 124mins Stars 4

Tuck in to this crowd pleasing tasty feast of a post-war detective story. Served with a heart-warming helping of romance, it’s far more satisfying than it sounds.

Star of Disney’s live action Cinderella and formerly of Downton Abbey, Lily James takes centre stage as a successful author called Juliet.

She’s sent to Guernsey in 1946 to write about the eponymous book and cookery club, established by the locals as a self support group during the wartime Nazi occupation.

To underscore the film belongs to James, she’s given a full Hollywood entrance in a stunning yellow ballgown. Always an engaging presence, she sweeps us away with her considerable talent and charm.

Though initially welcomed by the club, its members are reluctant to discuss the whereabouts of the founder member who is mysteriously ‘off island’. So Juliet sets off to uncover the truth of her disappearance.

Very much a love letter to literature of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, so true to form our romantically named heroine is caught between the attentions of Glen Powell’s dashing American diplomat, and Michiel Huisman’s hunky book-loving farmer, called Darcy, sorry, Dawsey. 

With complex family loyalties and grief and anger for those lost in the war, the script takes a sideways glance at the UK’s torturous relationship with the European mainland.

This is an exception to the cinematic rule of thumb which says the length of a films’ title is in inverse proportion to its quality. It’s stuffed with rich characters and production design, and set on the picture postcard-pretty island.

Plus there’s great warmth and humour from supporting cast, particularly veteran stars Penelope Wilton and Tom Courtney.

Director Mike Newell is one of the great unsung heroes of British cinema, due to his unassuming signature style which always serves the audience by putting the story first.

The result is a rewarding and entertaining slice of British fare you can really get your teeth into. 



Cert 18 Stars 5

This shocking documentary highlights the full extent of the medieval barbarity ISIS has inflicted on the populace of the Syrian city of Raqqa since 2011.

Easily the most harrowing film of the year, it’s a fascinating exploration of how the written word has been supplanted by smartphones and the internet as vehicles for political change.

Four ordinary men risk their lives by secretly filming the public beheadings, crucifixions and executions, all of which we witness here in graphic detail.

And the dignity, courage and faith demonstrated by the keyboard warriors will haunt you long after the final credits.




Cert 15 88mins Stars 3

There’s no joining of hands across the barricades in this tense Iraq war action thriller.

This short sharp kick of a film condenses the entire conflict to a single battle between three men, with only a dry stone wall between them.

A pair of US soldiers are bricking it when ambushed by an insurgent Iraqi sniper. Imagine Colin Farrell’s 2002 hostage movie Phone Booth, but in the desert and with geo-political religious overtones. We never see the assassin, and he communicates with his victims via a radio mic.

Brit star of Kick Ass Aaron Taylor-Johnson, cements the film with a committed physical performance. As Sergeant Isaac, he is full of defiance, determination, panic and fear.

Alongside him is John Cena as Sergeant Shane Matthews. Cena is one of the growing number of WWE wrestlers such as Dwayne Johnson adding ‘Hollywood actor’ to their CV’s. Though Cena’s fans may be disappointed by the amount of screen time he’s allowed compared to his co-star.

The pair are pinned down by an unseen assailant with a high powered rifle. They have no water, and military bureaucracy and faulty equipment are making their mission more difficult. Every bullet hurts and bloodshed comes at a cost.

Laith Nakli haunts the desert as Juba, an infamous sniper also known as the angel of death.

Everything is constructed on the foundation of a decent debut script by Dwain Worrell.  The soldiers have our sympathy but you don’t have to look far to find criticisms of the execution of the war itself.

The elusive Iraqi is US trained and armed and represents the dangers the US created for themselves when invading the region. The wall was part of a school destroyed by the US occupying force and an unfinished oil pipe litters the landscape.

I don’t need to build up The Wall, you can go see it for yourself. 


Cert 18 110mins Stars 4

Zombie Nazi’s make a frontal assault on the senses and take the Second World War to a new level of hell in this full-blooded action horror.

With a knowingly uproarious tone, it’s a brain-splatting, gut-ripping blood-drenched thriller which isn’t for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.

British born actor, Jovan Adepo, is one of a team of paratroopers whose deadly mission behind enemy lines in France is to help enable the Allies’ 1944 D-Day landing goes to plan.

However the radio mast they must destroy is above a heavily-guarded church crypt, where Nazi scientists are attempting to create a breed of ‘thousand-year’ soldiers of super-human strength. 

Fortunately help comes from Mathilde Ollivier’s glamorous local who has the Germans hot under the collar and is burning for revenge.

Being produced by Star Trek’s J.J. Abrams gives this a big screen sweep and gloss, and though it’s arguably in bad taste, it’s also a great deal of over-the-top fun.

Hacksaw Ridge

Director: Mel Gibson (2017) BBFC cert: 15

Disgraced star Mel Gibson battles his way back to career success with this storming Second World War drama which has been nominated for six Oscars.

Gibson’s well publicised personal problems seemed to have shot his Hollywood popularity to pieces. But having spent time out of the firing line of bad publicity, this is a rollicking return to the filmmaking frontline for the devout Catholic.

The Oscar winning director of 1995’s Braveheart takes a barely believable story of real life heroism and transforms it into an apocalyptic account of faith under fire.

In the first half Gibson provides a treacle coated view small town America, and in the second he blasts us with the brimstone of battle.

Brit actor Andrew Garfield carries the film with open faced charm and innocence as Desmond Doss. Despite being a pacifist Christian, the conscientious objector won the US Medal of Honour in the war against the Japanese.

After a Tom Sawyer-ish upbringing in rural Virginia, Desmond becomes engaged to a pretty nurse called Dorothy. Teresa Palmer and Garfield share a sweet rapport in sentimental scenes which seem to last too long. But the astute Gibson is simply softening us up for the fireworks to follow.

Desmond signs up as a combat medic but he refuses to learn how to shoot. On the Pacific island of Okinawa, the platoon buckle under a blistering barrage. The combat rivals the famous ferocity of the opening scene in Spielberg’s war classic, Saving Private Ryan (1998).

With Desmond’s suffering persecution for his beliefs, his air of martyrdom and determination to succeed in an overwhelmingly hostile environment, it’s hard not to read his journey as an allegory for Gibson’s personal tribulations.

And rather than being a plea by the director for absolution for his misdemeanours, this is Gibson forgiving Hollywood for casting him out. And he does it with a superbly crafted, finely acted and tremendously entertaining film.


Free State Of Jones

Director: Gary Ross (2016) BBFC cert: 15

Matthew McConaughey is the Hollywood romcom star who so successfully reinvented his career he won an Oscar. In only his third leading role since his 2014 success in Dallas Buyers Club, he gives a brooding and impassioned performance in this high minded American civil war drama.

What begins as an exciting action movie develops into a sincere and somber look at how the wealthy white elite kept their grip on the lives of freed slaves when the fighting stopped.

Newton Knight is a confederate deserter who leads of an insurrection during the American civil war. McConaughey hides his leading man looks behind long hair and a ragged beard, mostly saving his charm for Rachel. The underused British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw does well to bring depth to her role as a slave who joins his band of outlaws as they hide out in the local swamp.

The two leads ensure it’s always watchable and there’s no shortage of battles, burnings, hangings and evil deeds by the Ku Klux Klan. But brief flash forwards to a court room drama involving Knight’s great great grandson muddy the narrative flow, and the story becomes mired in the Mississippi swamp.

Although the film is keen to flag up its the accuracy of its historical accuracy via contemporary photographs and on screen captions, Knight is presented as an unrealistic combination of Robin Hood, Che Guevara and Jesus Christ.

As a revolutionary socialist who preaches from from a bible, Knight inspires slaves, farmers and women to take arms against the powerful and the rich. They declare themselves the free State of Jones.

However as Knight moves from pacifist medical orderly to merciless killer and then political activist, he suffers from an alarming lack of self reflection and none of his horrific experiences seem to affect him. And if he isn’t moved by what he sees, there’s no reason why we should be.



Director: Sean Ellis (2016) BBFC cert: 15

This agonising account of espionage and assassination makes for a gut wrenching watch.

It’s a handsome dramatisation of Operation Anthropoid, the real life mission to the eliminate Reinhard Heydrich, Hitler’s third in command and architect of the Final Solution.

As well as being a ferocious entertainment, Anthropoid is a moving testament to the astonishing defiance and sacrifice of the country’s citizens under the rule of the Nazi known as the Butcher of Prague.

Sean Ellis produces, directs and co-writes with confidence and authority. Filming on location, the autumnal palette weathers the lovingly crafted period detail with a sepia tone. It’s use heralds a ferocious finale and recalls the final moments of Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (1969).

Betrayal is a recurring idea, perpetrated on the country and its citizens on an international, local and individual level. The British government is not spared admonishment.

Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan are terrific as patriots Jozef and Jan who risk torture and execution when they return by parachute to their homeland, Czechoslovakia.

Making contact with the pitiful remnants of the resistance, they discover Prague in the winter of 1941 is caught in a blizzard of suspicion and paranoia. There’s little safety in this turbulent world of coded conversations, cyanide capsules and clandestine meetings on park benches.

Anna Geislerova and Charlotte Le Bon are local ladies who soften the boys’ demeanour and raise their personal investment. One soldier becomes less fatalistic and the other learns to lead.

This intimate investment in the characters allows for fleeting humour and desperate romance. We fear the repercussions of the attack on those on the periphery of the plotting as much as for the main conspirators.

Among the remainder of the strong supporting cast, stalwart character actor Toby Jones offers dignified concern.

The sometimes graphic but always purposeful and excellently staged action culminates in the Orthodox Cathedral of Saints Cyril and Methodius, where the bullet holes sustained in the actual fight can still be seen.




The Childhood Of A Leader

Director: Brady Corbet (2016) BBFC cert: 12A

A powerful tone poem more interested in character than plot or historical detail, this is a period drama framed as a horror movie.

It’s an impressive directorial debut by American Brady Corbet who also wrote and produced. The Childhood Of A Leader received its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival where it won Best Debut film and Best Director.

Former pop star Scott Walker provides a blisteringly percussive avant-garde soundtrack, the photography is hauntingly beautiful and the design is rich with period texture. All of which contribute to the heavy atmosphere of foreboding.

But the oblique storytelling is as frustrating as it is compelling.

Young Brit actor Tom Sweet is impressively controlled and angry as a young boy whose  experience in France have tragic repercussions.

Berenice Bejo and Liam Cunningham are icily convincing as emotionally distant parents who find the behaviour of their angelic looking son increasingly difficult to handle.

Stacy Martin and a bearded Robert Pattinson add to the fetid domestic atmosphere. The former plays a language teacher with more than one admirer and the latter appearing as a journalist.

In the aftermath of the First World War, the boy’s stern father is part of the American negotiating team to the Treaty of Versailles in 1918.

Humiliated, deceived and punished, the boy absorbs the lessons of manipulation and control. His character is a reflection of the European political theatre and the disastrous consequences of his father’s failings at work are repeated and magnified in his son.