Quiz Review

The Plot

Based on the most infamous scandal in gameshow history, Quiz re-examines the case of Charles Ingram, an army major who won a million pounds on gameshow Who wants to be a Millionaire?, only to be subsequently accused of an elaborate conspiracy involving his wife and another contestant on the show to cheat their way to the jackpot.

The Good

Those with any passing familiarity with the hysterical media coverage of the ‘Coughing Major’ case may enter the theatre with a pretty clear view of both what happened and what kind of people notorious couple Charles and Diana Ingram really are. What James Graham’s production skilfully does is embrace and challenge those well-established opinions with equal passion, profoundly impacting surprised audiences in the process.

Quiz leads audiences though the murky evolution of TV quiz shows, poking fun at the quirky theatrics and greedy consumerism and ruthlessness that underpins it. The productions use of video screens, Electronic keypads and frequent audience participation helps capture the peculiar quiz show world, whilst further investing audiences in proceedings by making them more explicitly involved and complicit. While seemingly silly it’s a fairly effective trick that pays off well during the shows more dramatic moments.

Quiz boasts a versatile ensemble of actor that offers audiences a compelling mix of pageantry and pathos. Keir Charles is a flamboyant delight as an exaggerated but instantly recognisable version of Chris Tarrant. Helping paint a vivid portrait of the gameshow’s most public face. True praise belongs however to Stephanie Street and Gavin Spokes as the Ingrams, at the heart of the production their performances morph effortlessly as required between comedy and poignant tragedy.

Leading man Gavin Spokes in particular does magnificent work at capturing the memorable eccentricities of Major Ingram whilst also managing to craft a vulnerable performance with sincere depth. Quiz goes well beyond mere impersonations in its quest for drama and truth.

The Bad

While the show’s second act bristles with anger and tragedy that is likely provokes plenty of audience self-reflection, it’s fair to say that the show’s first half is sometimes a little less focused as it has fun setting up the myths and misconceptions it later delights in tearing down. Frequent audience participation may be good natured fun, designed to set the scene for the gameshow drama, but at times it gives the show a pantomime like quality that belies some of the serious themes it truly explores.

Likewise while the production offers audiences excellent arguments based on compelling facts, more stubborn spectators may not entirely welcome having their established preconceptions so directly challenged. Nobody like to feel wrong and changing minds is never easy.

The Ugly Truth

Quiz is a fascinating theatrical experience that provides audiences with frequent laughs and many lingering questions. It’s playful and interactive approach allows it to gently confront audiences with uncomfortable truths about what we believe and just how easily we can be deceived. Quiz is a fun and thoughtful night out combining technology and mass media motifs with classic West End showmanship.

Review by Russell Nelson

Ready Player One Review

The Plot

In the future people escape the grim realities of the real world in the Oasis, a fantastical virtual reality where the only limits are your own imagination. A group of young players set out to solve a series of mysterious challenges left behind by the enigmatic creator of the Oasis, in order to win control of this digital world and keep it out of the hands of an evil corporation determined to exploit it and its inhabitants.

The Good

As the legendary creator of so much iconic pop culture, Steven Spielberg is a director uniquely positioned to turn author Ernest Cline’s novel of retro digital delights into a big screen reality. The film does an astonishingly good job of not only making the Oasis a wildly fun and beautifully realistic digital playground, but also populating it with an endless array of pure pop culture magic.

Ready Player One is a shameless love letter to the movies, comic books and video games that define us. The mash up of beloved characters is a wondrous toy box for Spielberg to play with. Seeing the flying Back to the Future Car racing Akira’s bike through a booby-trapped New York, dodging Jurassic Park’s T-Rex and King Kong, is a dazzling assortment of cinematic delights. It’s impressive just how many familiar content the film manages to cram on screen, whilst also simultaneously telling an entirely original story.

In truth it really has been a while since Spielberg made an unapologetically crowd pleasing science fiction epic on this scale and it’s a triumphant return for the master storyteller. It’s hard to imagine a better nostalgic homecoming than Ready Player One. Spielberg manages to inject healthy portions of genuine emotion into effects laden big screen adventure, crafting the film with his trademark gift for wonder and heart.

Rising star Tye Sheridan graduates from a recent supporting turn in the new X-men franchise to competently play Ready Player One’s leading hero. He manages to deliver plenty of exposition heavy dialogue whilst still giving digital dreamer Parzavel some infectious enthusiasm. Olivia Cooke is even more impressive as mysterious heroine Art3mis, a charismatic digital dream girl who lends the film wry wit and some surprising emotional depth. Likewise, Ben Mendelsohn adds another convincing performance to his growing list of recent villainous turns, playing a ruthless corporate slime ball with just the right mix of greedy smarm and maniacal menace. Meanwhile TJ Miller is on typically scene stealing form as evil digital henchman I-Rok.

Spielberg’s latest muse Mark Rylance delivers typically brilliant work as the digital ghost of reclusive tech billionaire Halliday, the creator of the Oasis and a literal spiritual guide for the young heroes playing his game. His performance channels real life iconic figures such as Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg into precisely the kind of awkward genius that can change and inspire the world despite their own obvious personal flaws.

Though a solid cast are a strong asset for the film, the undeniable star of Spielberg’s digital wonderland is the impressively crafted CGI visuals that fuse nostalgia with inventive fun in virtually every frame. It’s heartfelt crowd pleasing escapism on the most spectacular scale.

The Bad

While every inch of the screen in Ready Player One is frequently bursting with beloved video game and film references, it can at times feel just a little oversaturated. In order to fully appreciate every geeky in joke and familiar character featured you would literally need to freeze frame the action. For every fan favourite that gets their moment of glory there’s another 100 blink and you’ll miss it cameos. Some fans may be a little disappointed to find their personal favourites given a split seconds attention or omitted entirely. It’s simply impossible to cram the entirety of modern pop culture into just one film.

Although it doesn’t majorly spoil the fun, it’s also fair to say that the world of Ready Player One does sometimes suffer from slight gaps in logic and noticeable inconsistencies in how the real world and Oasis effect one another. Not an uncommon flaw for stories built around virtual realities. It’s also a little ironic that a film that exists as the ultimate escapist fantasy also tries at some points to heavy handily warn audiences about the importance of facing up to reality.

The Ugly Truth

In Ready Player One, Steven Spielberg leads audiences on a fun romp through a boundless digital playground, packed to bursting point with our most beloved pop culture. It’s an action and special effects fuelled ride though our collective imaginations that puts our capacity for joyous wonder up against the forces of greed and gloom. It’s a film that neatly encapsulates both our fearful cynicism and our inspired optimism for the future. It also deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible.

Review by Russell Nelson

Midnight Sun Review

The Plot

A music loving 17 year old girl lives her life behind protective glass and the safety of night time due to a rare illness that keeps her out of sunlight. When she finally meets a local boy the pair strike up a determined romance.

The Good

Midnight Sun is a well-crafted tale of teen romance, armed with a deeply poignant backdrop and a pair of genuinely charismatic leads. In a very similar fashion to film’s like The Faults In Our Stars or Me Earl and The Dying Girl, this film juxtaposes the magically promise of young love with the cruel tragedy of illness. It’s a powerful contrast that gives the film an instant emotional weight, almost certainly leaving a lasting impact on audiences.

Patrick Schwarzenegger may be the son of the world’s most iconic musclebound action star, but his own handsome charms are gentler and well suited for a romantic leading man. In Midnight Sun he does much to prove that he has talent in his own right that go well beyond having one of Hollywood’s most famous last names. His clean cut all American good looks are a perfect fit for duties as the kind and cute boy next door.

Bella Thorne delivers a terrific star turn as Katie Price, the young girl grappling with her medical limitations and the awkward excitements of first love. It’s refreshing to see her graduate from silly supporting roles in more light hearted teen comedies and fully flex her dramatic muscles of a change. Undeniably beautiful Thorne is also able to carry the full weight of responsibility that comes with handling themes of terminal illness with appropriate sincerity and sadness.

Ultimately the highest compliment for Midnight Sun is that its talented and compatible young stars make it impossible to avoid fully emotionally investing in their adolescent romance, despite audiences being fully aware of how tragic and heart-breaking the consequences may prove to be.

The Bad

Midnight Sun is precisely the kind of bittersweet tear-stained romance that will leave some people reaching for tissues and possibly in need of a good hug. Despite the film’s many excellent qualities, it‘s only fair to warn more sensitive souls that the film may leave them more than a little emotionally shell-shocked. While it’s no doubt laudable for a romantic drama to tackle genuine tragedy it’s obviously an acquired taste that won’t appeal as much to those that are more used to using big screen romance purely as a satisfying cinematic escape from real life.

The Ugly Truth

Midnight Sun is a charming tear stained romance that captures the uniquely precious magic of first love. Bella Thorne and Patrick Schwarzenegger are a pleasingly beautiful young pairing that demonstrate considerable star power together, leading audiences on a memorably bittersweet journey.

Review by Bernadette McIntyre

My Days of Mercy Review

The Plot

Two young women from opposite sides of fierce protests over the death penalty meet on the picket lines outside prisons and form an unlikely friendship. While both deal with their respective personal issues they grow ever closer, leading to dramatic personal revelations, passion and life changing romance.

The Good

My Days Of Mercy is a compelling romantic drama that avoids being merely an issue film. While its death row setting and LGBT themes are important facets in each character’s journey, the film never feels like being only about either ‘issue’. The film also adeptly tackles universal themes of family, unlikely romance and overcoming traumatic grief.

The film makes a very deliberate choice to avoid explicitly endorsing any particular opinions about the death penalty, instead the film does a brilliant job of depicting the true human cost and emotional pain of both sides of the debate. The issue serves as a compelling backdrop for the journey of both central characters, providing contrast and context for their own specific inner turmoil’s. In particular Ellen Page’s character and her resilient family unit serves as a very dramatic illustration of just how emotionally complex and intense the reality of death row is.

Ellen Page and Kate Mara make for an utterly compelling on screen couple, expertly portraying the tension and raw passion that comes from opposites attracting. Page’s character is vulnerably fragile and endearingly shy, while Mara’s bleached blonde upper class character exudes both confidence and a surprising kindness. It’s a testament to the acting talents of both actresses that they are able to pack constant subtext and emotional nuance into even the film’s quieter moments. It’s also worth noting that when the embers of their unlikely romance do finally explode into full on flames their on screen passion is convincingly raw and real.

My Days Of Mercy is a tender and thoughtful piece of cinema that benefits from a well-crafted combination of indie soundtrack and lush cinematography. The film has a calm and compassionate tone that does a great job of treating abstract moral issues as merely one component of character’s lives. Grounding the story and each character in a believable reality allows the film to explore love and loss without resorting to heavy handed melodramatics.

The Bad

Although the film is set against the constant backdrop of the fiercely contested death penalty debate in truth it remains fairly neutral on the issue, focusing primarily on its central love story rather than wading too deeply into direct moral debate. That may slightly disappoint those with strong opinions on the subject who would rather see their views more explicitly endorsed on screen. But it’s a deliberate storytelling choice and in truth the film has little ambition to suffocate audiences with heavy handed moralising.

Likewise while the film’s quiet moments and casual pacing gives it a thoughtful tone and leaves plenty of room for some brilliant acting performances, some people may find this sedate quality less attention grabbing.

The Ugly Truth

My Days of Mercy was a successful addition to TIFF and is now a very fitting opening film for the BFI LGBTQ+ Flare Film Festival. Emotionally compelling subject matter and achingly sincere performances form Ellen Page and Kate Mara makes My Days Of Mercy a memorably passionate and thoughtful love story.

Review by Russell Nelson

Pacific Rim Uprising Review

The Plot

10 years after the people of earth defeated the giant monster Kaiju with their own towering Jaeger machines, the son of one of the heroes that saved the world finds himself reluctantly brought back into the fight, uniting with a new generation of Jaeger pilots to face a deadly a mysterious new threat.

The Good

John Boyega continues his meteoric rise once again in increasingly comfortable sci-fi fantasy territory. He delivers arguably his most well rounded and charismatic performance to date as roguish Jaeger pilot Jake Pentecost. Sparring well on screen with co-stars Scott Eastwood and Cailee Spaeny, Boyega is genuinely heroic in ways he largely hasn’t been in his very high profile Star Wars role. After The Last Jedi it’s particularly nice to see the young star showcase the full range of his talents as a legitimate leading man, rather than see him stranded in unnecessary subplots.

Fans familiar with the first film will welcome the return of original stars Charlie Day, Burn Gornan and Rinko Kikichi . Their presence and the film’s careful adherence to the distinctive look of Del Toro’s world helps tie the franchise together into a coherent continuation.

Those that found Del Toro’s original film to be occasionally slow moving and more preoccupied with human melodrama than non-stop monster fighting will welcome a sequel that unashamedly focuses on more frequent action. Similar critics of the most recent Godzilla reboot will be pleased to see a film which places the giant monsters and their mechanical fighting partners on full glorious display throughout. Its cartoonish fun but on the grandest scale possible, giving fans exactly what they want, a giant guilty pleasure.

While the film’s plot is at times a little predictable, this is perhaps less of an issue given the heavy focus on fun and action. Uprising is also fairly accessible to those who have yet to see the first film, but many of the subplots and character relationships may require at least a basic knowledge of the first film to fully enjoy.

The Bad

Del Toro’s Pacific Rim was beautifully crafted fun, born out of his own evident passion for the giant monster genre. By contrast this is a sequel seemingly more born out of a studio desire to repeat the modest international box office success of the first film. Del Toro’s original was a largely self-contained story that left audiences with a satisfying and seemingly definitive climax. So this sequel’s efforts to integrate new characters and plot points into the original story feel at times a little forced and distracting.

While John Boyega’s character being the son of Idris Elba’s heroic leader Stacker Pentecost may serve the narrative of this new chapter, it’s awkwardly inconsistent with the fact that he was never referenced in the first film, much of which dwelt so extensively on the relationship between Stacker and his adoptive daughter Mako.

While much of the surviving cast of the first film make a welcome on screen return, it is difficult to ignore the unexplained absence of leading man Charlie Hunnam’s character Raleigh Beckett. Director Steven S. DeKnight apparently made a conscious choice to leave his fate uncertain, keeping options open for his hopeful return in a third film. But it’s another example of a messy loose thread left by attempts to tie the two films together.

While visually the film does a fine job of matching the well-established look of Del Toro’s world,  faster paced action and less memorable monsters does at times give the film a more generic ‘Transformers’ quality. The Kaiju in the new film are far less distinctive and aside from their newfound ability to ‘combine’ (heavily showcase in all film’s promotional material) they offer little to improve on Del Toro’s eccentric creature creations.

The Ugly Truth

Pacific Rim Uprising will be a welcomed treat for fans of the original film who were left eager for more giant monster sized fun. Uprising boasts a talent young cast alongside it’s scattering of familiar faces, eagerly injecting fresh life into the potential franchise. Overall Uprising does a fine job of replicating Del Toro’s impressive visuals while adapting the franchise into something perhaps more widely appealing for generic blockbuster crowds.

Review by Russell Nelson