Film Review of the Week


Gran Turismo (12A)

Review: Based on the inspirational true story of Darlington-born professional racing driver Jann Mardenborough, Gran Turismo explores the rarefied world of motor sport through the eyes of a panic attack-stricken teenager, whose only previous exposure to race circuits has been a highly realistic driving simulator. Screenwriters Jason Hall and Zach Baylin tinker under the bonnet of a conventional underdog sports drama, introducing arrogant and privileged rivals in the pit lane who Jann must beat to the chequered flag, sometimes by hundredths of a second. A romantic subplot to humanise the central character is on cruise control for the duration.

Director Neill Blomkamp and cinematographer Jacques Jouffret turbo-charge racing sequences with drone technology so cameras chase cars at up to 150mph and capture thrilling shots of vehicles jostling for position from vertiginous vantage points. Mardenborough serves as a stunt double for actor Archie Madekwe in these high-speed set pieces, augmented with video game-style graphics and polished digital flourishes that successfully visualise the conflation of real and virtual worlds in Jann’s mind.

We first meet shy 19-year-old Jann (Madekwe) in Cardiff, growing up in a working-class household with his former professional footballer father, Steve (Djimon Hounsou), mother Lesley (Geri Halliwell-Horner) and younger brother Coby (Daniel Puig). Using money from a job at a clothes shop, Jann builds a gaming station in his bedroom replete with driving wheel so he can shave fractions of a second off impressive lap times in the Gran Turismo racing simulator created by Kazunori Yamauchi (Takehiro Hira). The teenager yearns for the day when he can trade the adrenaline rush of virtual racing for a real-life performance car.

An impossible dream becomes reality when Jann enters the GT Academy competition created by Nissan marketing executive Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom), which brings together Gran Turismo players from across the world to secure a racing career on the track. Jann makes the cut along with nine other hopefuls and begins intensive training under cynical, washed-up former driver Jack Salter (David Harbour). The stakes are high as Jann feels the need for speed against fierce rivals including cocksure American gamer Matty Davis (Darren Barnet). Jann soothes jangling nerves by listening to smooth jazz before a race but Jack needs his protege to be firing on all cylinders. “Take all that Kenny G anger and unleash it!” he roars.

Gran Turismo accelerates smoothly out of a sluggish opening lap of character development and confidently gear shifts around the appealing double-act of Madekwe and Harbour. Father-son conflict (“I am doing it, whether you believe in me or not!” Jann angrily informs Steve) is fuel in the film’s tank for the initial stretch but feuds on international circuits quickly supplant tension back at home as Blomkamp seeks the perfect racing line to each literal and figurative grandstand finish.

Find Gran Turismo in the cinemas


Haunted Mansion (12A)

Review: The Haunted Mansion, a delightfully themed dark ride into the mouldering sanctum of the spirit world which conjures floating spectres using the Pepper’s Ghost illusion dating back to the mid-19th century, is a mainstay of Disney theme parks around the world. The original incarnation opened its creaking doors in 1969 at Disneyland resort in California and spookily themed variations of the ghost train have subsequently manifested in America, Europe and Asia (in Paris, the house is called Phantom Manor while Hong Kong welcomes guests to Mystic Manor). Characters, dialogue and spooky set-pieces from the attraction are exorcised by screenwriter Katie Dippold and channelled into a tonally uneven fantasy adventure that languishes in limbo between two demanding worlds: horror and comedy. A cinema release date around Halloween would have made more sense.

Decapitation and slapstick are buried in the same plot in director Justin Simien’s fright-free jaunt, which squanders a stellar cast of mortals including recent Oscar winner Jamie Lee Curtis, Danny DeVito, Tiffany Haddish and Owen Wilson. Long before phantasmagorical digital effects overwhelm the screen, Rosario Dawson’s traumatised homeowner invites a clueless guest to cross the threshold into her ghost-infested abode with a simple warning: “This could change the course of your entire life.” Regrettably, Haunted Manion doesn’t have a lasting impact.

Astrophysicist Ben Matthias (LaKeith Stanfield) creates a camera lens to photograph paranormal manifestations in honour of his wife Alyssa (Charity Jordan), who leads a ghost tour in New Orleans. When she dies in a car accident, Ben turns his back on Louisiana and his work. “Ghosts don’t exist. Life is dirt!” he rages during one grief-soaked outburst. Kindly priest Father Kent (Wilson) approaches Ben at his lowest ebb with an intriguing business proposition.

New York medic Gabbie (Dawson) has recently moved to New Orleans with her nine-year-old son Travis (Chase W Dillon) with the intention of transforming Gracey Manor into a bed and breakfast business. Unfortunately, the building is haunted and Gabbie and Travis are trapped inside at the mercy of a malevolent force known as the Hatbox Ghost (voiced by Jared Leto). Ben joins Father Kent, legitimate psychic Harriet (Haddish) and musty university professor Bruce Davis (DeVito) at Gracey Manor to create a bridge between the mortal and sprit realms.

Haunted Mansion is laden with Easter Eggs for fans of the ride – a grandfather clock that chimes 13 o’clock, the stretching gallery room, spirits sensitive to bright lights – but any tricks or treats end there, sadly. Considering the comedic calibre of on-screen talent and screenwriter Dippold’s previous credits (Parks And Recreation, The Heat starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy), it’s a mystery why so many gags are dead on arrival. If you glimpse anyone screaming in the darkened cinema, it’s more likely a yawn.

Find Haunted Mansion in the cinemas