IT.

Baby Driver (2017) – Though Edgar Wright had the idea for this film in the 90s, this plays as a rip of (the already derivative) Guardians of the Galaxy: not only the hero with his attachment to outmoded music technology, for whom a particular cassette is a talisman of a lost past, but the way the film piggybacks on its soundtrack, uses it in lieu of an attitude. It’s easy to like Wright’s corny soul, his film and music nerd enthusiasms – there’s no froideur in his sense of cool, no wish to exclude – and there’s wit in telling a story from the perspective of a millennial wedded to his earbuds. But this is corny in bad ways as well as good, more second-hand than it needs to be – when Ansel Elgort dances down the street or in his kitchen, every person he encounters is a movie cliché. The first half is almost as naff as La La Land; it’s only when Wright puts Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm in a room together that the movie develops any tension or stakes. (It helps that that these actors are fully present, unlike Ensort or Kevin Spacey, whose schoolmaster affect is weirdly reminiscent of Kevin Rudd.) From there it takes off: the next hour is a non-stop thrill ride, behind the wheel and on foot. **½

Colossal (2016) – There’s racism baked into the premise: Anne Hathaway’s monstrous avatar does not rampage through an American city (which would have a certain logic, given that her character’s made a different sort of mess in one), but in far-off Seoul, where the casualties never register as people. The disproportion between the American characters (Hathaway and the small-town loser played by Jason Sudeikis) and the destruction they wreak is meant to be part of the comedy, but this is a movie that never finds its tone. Much of it plays like a second-rate Young Adult: where Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman (or Chris Kelly in Other People) proved that it’s possible to wring something fresh from the tired trope of the big city failure going home, writer/director Nacho Vigalondo is not up to the task. Hathaway waking up with her hair mussed is no Charlize Theron, and Sudeikis manages to give two different unpleasant performances. The monsters never feel anything but grafted on; this is my candidate for worst movie of the year. *½

Dunkirk (2017) – Christopher Nolan takes the celebrated opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan and extends it to feature length: there are some sops to the audience, like the unlikely survival of most of the people we follow through the action, but Nolan shows a bracing indifference to Hollywood characterisation, the way we’re usually made to care about people in movies. In fact, personality is mostly irrelevant in this situation where life or death depends on the accident of where you happen to be standing when a bomb chews away part of the wharf you’re standing on, and our identification with the young man (Fionn Whitehead) who scrambles from deathtrap to deathtrap is very basic, based more on his scraped knuckles or the way he tears into a piece of jam and bread than any sense of who he is. The different time scales allow Nolan to orchestrate different perspectives on the evacuation, imbuing each with a similar sense of urgency, and he modulates visually too, taking us from the terror of open, exposed spaces to terrible claustrophobia and back again. My only complaint is that Hans Zimmer’s score, which overuses its one musical idea about the clock ticking (with bits of Elgar thrown in for uplift), often intrudes on the excellent sound design, hyping situations that have no need of it. Nevertheless, this is Nolan’s best film. ***½

It (2017) – This could use more modulation, both in its characterisation (unlike the Stephen King book, the adults here are uniformly monstrous) and visually (the kids’ homes are such dark, Expressionist caverns that there’s little difference between them and the haunted house or the sewers later on). It’s monotonously grim, in a way that flattens out the horrors: there’s no sense of shock or violation, only more of the same. The change in period cuts the story loose of its moorings too, rooted as it is in the kids’ consumption of 50s pop culture (particularly old monster movies), and director Andrés Muschietti and the screenwriters do not find equivalents in their new 80s setting. Nor are the kids as sharply individual as in the book: one reason that Bev (Sophia Lillis) is a standout is that we simply spend more time with her than the others. The monster loses much of its cultural and psychological resonance; the movie’s no more than a fairground ride. On that level it works, however, and the rapport between the band of child heroes is very charming. **½

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) – For the first half hour, every image is fit for framing, and the sensuality and the creation of a collective female consciousness anticipate the films of Sofia Coppola. The ensuing hour wrests the perspective from the girls and hands it to a rich young man, and belabours points (the mystery of the girls’ disappearance, the school as prison) made at the outset, often in single images, like the headmistress caged by upstairs banisters. The visual energy goes out of the movie in a rush, almost as soon as Miranda disappears: suddenly it’s a stodgy costume drama about our loveless forebears, an extended postscript to the actual story, as dull as an English detective show. This is a feature that should have been a short. **½