Alien: Covenant

Year: 2017
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo

Written by Jo Craig 

Met with scepticism from devout fans of earlier episodes, ‘Alien: Covenant’ divided audiences after it was unleashed onto the chopping block for worldwide cinema release. Many viewers claimed that an ‘Alien’ installment without Ripley was just another Sci-Fi rehash with Xenomorphs, along with the speculation that ‘Covenant’ left unanswered questions circling the conception of the deadly alien species and the Engineers that posed a real threat of shaky continuity. Dissecting all the conflict, JUMPCUT can hopefully shed some light on these dubieties.

‘Alien: Covenant’ joins officers Oram (Billy Crudup) and Daniels (Katherine Waterston) with their crew on-board the titular vessel as it journeys to an uncharted planet that promises sustainability for their colonial mission. Disguised as an idyllic ‘paradise’, the newly discovered planet reveals a dark infestation that threatens to compromise the mission’s success.

As much as Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley will forever be noticeably missing from the line-up, as ‘Covenant’s’ events occur before the Nostromo mission, Ridley Scott has had success in finding fairly equal momentum and survival instinct mentality in his ‘Prometheus’ crew that Ripley carried fearlessly in the first four films. Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw showed promise of conserving the push of self-preservation in the first prequel, showing strength in progression and the ability to propel the story forward to face greater threats in the future, before Katherine Waterston’s Daniels and her Ezra Miller inspired locks from ‘Fantastic Beasts’ undoubtedly failed to deliver the same values.

Ridley’s third outer space squad provided some fresh energy from Danny McBride’s Tennessee that offered distinct likeability to bestow faith in, however the rest of the crew appeared to serve no purpose other than tasty bait for far superior predators and a healthy extension to the franchises kill count. Leads Daniels and Oram spent most of the film dick-measuring, giving two capable actors incredibly stale roles that overruled any impressive leadership qualities. A vacant on-screen relationship between Waterston and Crudup fractured any connection the head officers were meant to possess, meanwhile Daniels and Tennessee’s relationship bellowed charisma that failed to get a glimmer of attention until the conclusion which by then was too little, too late. James Franco’s anticipated cameo as captain was cut short to the bewilderment of viewers, annihilating a component which could have supplied another dynamic addition to this weary feature.

On a higher note, an integral part of ‘Covenant’s’ storyline is refined droid Walter and his encounter with ‘Prometheus’ survivor David, Walter’s predecessor cyborg. The preordained plot takes a detour during their meeting as we learn what David has been involved in during the ten years between the two films and to what lengths he has gone to for answers. David’s detective work advanced the franchise to greater heights as it side-lined the accustomed action in the foreground to address the deeper question of creation. Who created the Xenomorphs and for what purpose? ‘Covenant’ also introduces a new breed of Xenomorph named Neomorphs, a livelier form of alien that further aids the mystery behind the Engineers.

Despite Scott wasting no time in establishing his classic oppressive ambience against a stunning display of Australian scenery that stimulates the films tension, a series of predictable outcomes and a rather shaky final showdown were both the fatal acid poured onto a once unique hypothesis. ‘Covenant’ and its big question of creation is ultimately the influence that could have lifted this second prequel into the Sci-Fi hall of fame, but instead this opportunity to delve deeper was flooded with time-wasting characters and a lot of infuriating faffing about. Scott sets emphasis on the two droids whose morals become the key fascination to the narrative, but is diluted by a sense of desperation to churn out violent sequences to keep audiences engaged.

For die-hard fans of the franchise, like myself, ‘Alien: Covenant’ provided a solid fix of Xenomorph action whilst addressing a biblical subtext that added an intriguing continuation to Ridley Scott’s original concept, but fell short at supporting this development by focusing on a rudimentary storyboard. With Scott slipping the title of his next Alien film ‘Awakening’ in an interview with Fandango, stating: “It will go ‘Prometheus’, ‘Awakening’, ‘Covenant’ [and] “If [Covenant] is successful, and then [Awakening], then there will definitely be three more.”, we can guarantee that one of the greatest loved Sci-Fi chain’s will be delivering exciting space chases for years to come, providing ‘Awakening’ has audiences running back for more at light speed.

Jo’s rating: 5 out of 10
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Geostorm

Year: 2017
Director: Dean Devlin
Starring: Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess, Abbie Cornish, Alexandra Maria Lara, Daniel Wu, Amr Waked, Andy Garcia, Ed Harris

Written by Chris Gelderd

When an internationally created series of satellites blanketed across Earth, controlled from the International Space Station, starts to malfunction and strange weather occurrences take place across the world, US President Palma (Garcia) demands it to be fixed.

Former station commander Jake Lawson (Butler) is commissioned to go up to the ISS and investigate and repair the fault. On Earth, Max Lawson (Sturgess) and his Secret Service girlfriend Sarah (Cornish) uncover a deadly conspiracy.

It seems somebody in the Presidential party wants the satellites out of action and has been sabotaging them, creating deadly weather that will build up to a Geostorm, killing millions. Only Jake and Max, millions of miles apart, can save the world, prevent the Geostorm and uncover the truth before it is too late…

Hello and welcome to the weather forecast from Jumpcut Online, but one you may be doubting due to the fact there have been rumours of a ‘Geostorm’ hitting cinema shores? What is a Geostorm? A Geostorm is a series of large consecutive weather disasters around the world that will wipe out cities, kill millions and re-shape Earth as we know it. Sadly, there is nothing of the sort in the ‘Geostorm’ movie and so, pretty much, is one big fake marketing campaign.

So. What can you expect? A Scottish actor with a bad American accent known as a Gerard Butler will sweep in from the West to lead this event. You may have experienced some intense activity from Butler in the past like ‘300’, ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ and, goodness, even ‘Phantom Of The Opera’. Butler usually causes chaos, but somehow he is a poor man’s Bruce Willis action hero, and delivers many cheap, fun bangs for your buck. Here, however, he blows in and fizzles out rather quickly.

The Butler today appears rather weak, lazy, bored and a little pasty around the edges. When the driving force behind such a weather event is this useless, it spells certain doom for the longevity of such an event as ‘Geostorm’.

Sadly, the Butler is just the head of the breeze blowing in, because behind him we have many other faces who just blow in, do what the script says and then fizzle out. We have the Abbie Cornish, the Ed Harris, the Andy Garcia and the Jim Sturgess winds who are your run of the mill supporting winds. Each character has been seen many times before in various genres, and they offer nothing new or engaging – it’s one big cliché and nonsense that none of them seem to eclipse.

I will say, just behind all the hot air is a little ray of sunshine dubbed Tabitha Bateman as Butler’s daughter. When a thirteen year old performs better than her elder, more acclaimed supporting cast, you know it’s a poor show of talent on the whole.

Brace yourselves, for the hot winds do not ease off over the 100 mins or so of this boring, hap-hazard storm. Freezing temperatures created by a terribly over-serious plot react badly with the hot winds and elongate everything. You’ll feel trapped. You’ll feel restless. You’ll feel tired. You’ve seen these sorts of disaster events done far better, such as the ones dubbed ‘The Day After Tomorrow’, ‘Volcano’ or even ‘2012’. They had a purpose and they were creative. They felt dangerous and left their mark visually with viewers with those big dramatic money shots. This does not.

This ‘Geostorm’ doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it some strange science-fiction adventure? Is it a family drama? Is it a disaster film? Is it a political thriller? It’s a big mess, and it shows. Too much gas and bloated weather pockets, not enough release.

Hot winds and freezing temperatures don’t react to make anything enjoyable, and sadly it’s not over yet. During this we will see a big old gust of smog roll in under the guise of CGI. All the smog you’ve seen before in trailers and marketing is as much as you see in reality. It’s the same old smog of people running away from CGI weather, mostly on beaches for some strange reason, and all of these moments last a minute or less. You will get fire, snow, tidal waves, hail and wind all in under 5 minutes. That’s your lot. If you’re expecting a pay-off for bracing this storm, you won’t get it. You don’t need to prepare yourself – you can stand out without aid and it will blow over you no matter how hard it tries to batter you with spectacle, danger, drama or forced emotion.

So looking ahead to when this storm passes, what will it leave? My answer? Nothing. There will be little damage left to you all once you emerge, and you will be more annoyed at the inconvenience than anything else. I can’t even lie and say there is anything positive to take away here.

The winds and temperature will die off as quickly as it came, and you won’t remember this storm in the days to come, and nor will it go down in history. Well, it might, as one of the most disappointing and lackluster Geostorms ever, due to the fact you never saw or experienced one at all.

Chris’ Rating: 1 out of 10

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Year: 2017
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, Pedro Pascal

Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ was released in what’s commonly known as “a movie dead zone”. February is typically home to sub-par horror films, animations, and generally any film that is lacking in faith from its production company. It’s the post-Oscar lull of the calendar year. And yet, in 2014, ‘Kingsman’ defied all expectations and became a surprise hit, thanks to a fun concept, good performances from a good cast, and great action sequences. Three years later, ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’ comes along, on a bigger budget, and in the much more consumer friendly slot of September. What does a bigger budget mean for ‘Kingsman’? A damn fun ride, with more than a few flaws.

‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’ sees the return of Eggsy (Egerton), Merlin (Strong), and the Kingsman, a secret spy operation working out of a London tailor shop. Since the events of the first film, Eggsy has become a true super spy and is protecting the country from threats, big or small. When a new drug trend appears around the world from the mind of Poppy Adams (Moore), referred to as “Blue Rash” which appears after taking any sort of illegal substance, it’s up to Eggsy and Merlin to find the source of the drugs before it wipes out hundreds of millions around the world. A spanner in their works, however, is Poppy appears to be two steps ahead of the Kingsman and promptly destroys all known Kingsman locations around the UK, prompting Eggsy and Merlin to head stateside and work with their American spy cousins, Statesman.

If any of Poppy’s plan sounds familiar, it’s because it’s mostly the same idea Richmond Valentine had with his new SIM cards in ‘The Secret Service’ except on a massive scale. Herein lies the first real problem ‘The Golden Circle’ must overcome; how can it beat its predecessor? ‘The Secret Service’ had the unknown factor upon release, nobody really knew what they were getting themselves into, and it took us all by surprise. Now, ‘The Golden Circle’ successfully gives us what we all wanted, but doesn’t manage to give us anything new. What it does is very impressive, which I’ll get into later, but it doesn’t have that “X factor” that the original had. The story beats are familiar, and even destroying their headquarters and having them work alone is solved rather easily with the help of the Statesman.

Beyond that, as everyone is aware thanks to the trailers, Colin Firth returns as Harry, Eggsy’s original Kingsman mentor. Harry was very definitively shot in the face two-thirds of the way through ‘The Secret Service,’ but they brought him back through what can only really be understood as magic. On the surface, this is fine because Firth was terrific in the original and Firth’s presence typically elevates any film he’s in, but here with his return, it ruins any weight or danger for the characters. With Harry’s death in the first film, it was a genuine shock, telling us that the world of Kingsman is brutal and unfriendly. Now, knowing this magic is in play, a character’s death isn’t so dramatic, or any situation our protagonists find themselves in isn’t ever truly a dangerous one.

Having said all that, I still found myself enjoying the hell out of ‘The Golden Circle.’ Firstly, the veritable A-list cast is great, particularly Taron Egerton and Mark Strong. Egerton has made himself a genuine star with his roles in these films and in ‘Eddie The Eagle.’ His charisma and his style are abundantly clear throughout as he embodies the James Bond-lite character we’ve come to love. Strong’s Merlin is more the strong, silent type, but he’s the reliable partner that every spy needs, and as we’ll find out, he has a terrific singing voice. On the Statesman side of things, one can argue that the likes of Channing Tatum and Jeff Bridges are somewhat wasted in their roles, but new additions Halle Berry and Pedro Pascal make more than a great impression as Kingsman’s comrades in the field. Pascal’s Agent Whiskey is involved in two of the film’s best fight sequences, a snowy, one-man-against-eight, stylish shoot-out, with an electric lasso thrown in for good measure.

Something that has become abundantly clear with Matthew Vaughn at the helm is this; the man can shoot action. Too often I have seen films where fight scenes are a mishmash of fast cuts and silly angles that it’s impossible to see what’s going on. Vaughn has a style of shooting action scenes that works beautifully; the camera flows seamlessly from movement to movement, letting you see every bullet impact, every punch, every dodge. Nothing is left to the imagination as the brutal impact of the fight scenes isn’t lost. There’s fabulous stunt work on show from everyone, with clever take-downs and uses of the environment. So many characters get their moment in the spotlight, and every action sequence is worth it.

‘The Golden Circle’ does, for better or worse, double down on its ridiculous premise. Where the first film gradually built to its ridiculous mind-blowing conclusion (pardon the pun), ‘The Golden Circle’ starts off ridiculous and becomes more ridiculous as it goes. One of ‘The Golden Circle’s’ key criticisms in its less than ideal critical response is how much the film bends the laws of gravity in its fight sequences and they become unbelievable. In the first 10 minutes, Eggsy has a fight inside a black cab against a man with a robot arm, turns said black cap into a sports car, then into a submarine, then Poppy commands her two robot dogs to kill a traitor. If that doesn’t set you up for its ridiculous nature, nothing will. For me, the ridiculousness was jarring initially, but once you accept that this is the way it is, a ‘Moonraker’-ramped-up-to-11 style romp, you’re going to have a good time; I certainly did.

What should be addressed, however, is ‘The Golden Circle’ doesn’t have its true standout scene; its own Church Fight. The one thing everyone could agree on with ‘The Secret Service’ was how incredible the Church Fight is. It’s a seamless, near one-take scene in which Harry takes on 100 crazed, religious nuts affected by Valentine’s SIM cards. It was the peak of the original, and while ‘The Golden Circle’ has its fair share of cool scenes, it doesn’t have that one scene. You could argue the final fight comes close as its shot in a similar style, but it isn’t as bonkers as the Church Fight.

To summarise, while ‘The Golden Circle’ falls short of matching its predecessor, it’s still a lot of fun for fans of the original. There are ridiculous moments (one scene at a popular music festival is going to divide opinion very heavily), very funny lines, great, silly action sequences, and it’s clear most of the cast are having a lot of fun, particularly Julianne Moore chewing the scenery as the big bad. If you love Kingsman like I do, you’re going to really enjoy this one. If you didn’t, it’s probably best you stay away.

Rhys’ rating: 7.2 out of 10

 

Mother!

Year: 2017
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer

Written by Sasha Hornby

‘Mother!’ is the latest film written and directed by American auteur Darren Aronofsky, director of ‘Black Swan’ and ‘Requiem for a Dream’, about a couple whose relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home.  At least, this is what the official synopsis and trailers would like you to believe; the tagline ‘seeing is believing’ has rarely been more apt. 

‘Mother!’ is part metaphysical thriller, part psychological drama, sometimes black comedy and perhaps a little surreal mystery.  In all honesty, it defies description.  The film takes place entirely in one beautifully quaint, grand house.  Burned down at an unspecified point in history, Jennifer Lawrence’s character, ‘Mother’, has painstakingly restored the abode in which she resides with Javier Bardem’s character, ‘Him’, whilst he sits in his study suffering from chronic writer’s block.  When the ‘Man’ and ‘Woman’ (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) turn up univited, the paradise Mother is building begins to unwind.

Jennifer Lawrence as Mother is transcendent.  Undoubtedly a career-best performance, ‘Mother!’ is her film.  Rarely panning out beyond 12 inches from her face when she is the focus, and when she isn’t, giving only her viewpoint of the world around her, the camera is her.  Her sanity and reality is consistently brought into question, and so too is the viewer’s.  In one scene, she questions Him about the supposed stranger, “he has pictures of you in his luggage”.  Instead of attempting to explain this obvious non-coincidence, he simply retorts “what were you doing in their luggage?”. There is a lot to be said for instinct, and it is natural for a person to investigate when something feels wrong or out of place; such as a man turning up at your door claiming ‘they’ told him the house was a B&B.  Him is elusive in his non-answer, twisting the narrative, and manipulating Mother to feel she is in the wrong.

She personifies introversion and anxiety – unable to leave the house she has built and unwilling to accept visitors.  As hers are the eyes through which we see events unfold, her agitation and emotional strain begin to fuse with our own, making for an increasingly intense and claustrophobic experience.  This is only heightened by the bold lack of scoring, which becomes deafening, as mundane, everyday noises scream in the background.  When she meets the Woman, the Woman observes “you really love him, god help you.”  Her love for Him is toxic.  She does everything for Him, to protect Him, to provide for Him, to support Him, without question, whilst getting very little back in return.  She gives Him her all, free from expectation; the purest of love. 

Javier Bardem is perfect in the role of Him.  He is, of course, considerably older than Mother, though this is acknowledged.  He speaks calmly, with a cool smile, and calls Mother his goddess.  He loses his ‘cool’ once – when the mysterious glowing crystal he keeps in his study is smashed beyond repair by the Man and Woman.  It will only become clear in the final scenes why he is so creepily possessive over this trinket.  In the first half of the film, he is cold and distant, consumed by his lack of life, lack of inspiration.  After one passionate encounter with Mother, he is full of life and inspiration, yet still distant, consumed with completing his finest work.  He is not an obvious villain, but a man selfishly obsessed with his poetry, his legacy. 

The Man and Woman, as played by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, are deliciously devilish.  He, a dying old man looking to meet his idol; her, a cynical woman who cannot resist prying into the lives of the protagonists.  The Woman has some of the keenest insights throughout.  When a tragedy is bestowed upon her, she talks of being a mother herself – “you give and you give and you give, its just never enough”.  ‘Its just never enough’ is a recurring theme throughout ‘Mother!’.

The Man and the Woman are not the only visitors.  As events unfold, more visitors arrive to worship Him; and more and more and more.  The worship is poisonous; they are infatuated with Him, and treat Him like a deity, and Him accepts this worship as though it validates his existence.  When Mother questions “who are they?”, he answers excitedly “they’ve come here to see me.”  His ego is ultimately more important than the safety and mental well-being of his ‘goddess’.  When that moment (believe me, you’ll know it when you see it) occurs, he is still willing to forgive his followers, rather than chastise them for their abhorrent, sickening, shocking behaviour. 

If you hadn’t already noticed, no one in ‘Mother!’ is named.  This only adds to the prophetic feeling, like ‘Mother!’ is an allegory for society, for religion, for pathologically abusive relationships, for the current political climate, for war, for everything that is wrong with the world.  All showcased in one house, in one woman’s nightmare. 

One of the several trailers claims “you will never forget where you were the first time you saw Mother!”  I definitely won’t.  Never, and I mean never, has a film had me so on the edge of my seat, mouth agape, eyes unblinking, in the final act.  It is a slow burn, that at it’s crescendo, will tear you apart.  ‘Mother!’ may be the best film I won’t ever revisit; a dizzying experience that I will recommend to all at least once. 

Sasha’s rating: 8 out of 10

 

IT

Year: 2017
Director: Andy Muschietti
Starring: Bill Skarsgård, Jackson Robert Scott, Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Grazer

Written by Corey Hughes

Movie remakes, whether you like them or not, have become a ubiquitous force in the film industry, pushing away originality in favour of rehashing a cult favourite.

It seems that it’s the horror genre that continuously fails to resist the temptation of replacing originality for a simple remake. Sometimes it works (see Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead or Carpenter’s The Thing), but more often or not they remain in the shadow of their predecessors. Yet on a rare occasion a remake makes sense. Maybe the original hasn’t aged well; maybe new advancements in technology would bolster the success of an outdated predecessor. Enter Andy Muschietti’s ‘IT’.

The original 1990 two-part mini series does not hold up in today’s current climate. Re-visiting Tommy Lee Wallace’s 3-hour adaptation brings with it laughs and disbelief at its cheesiness, something that King would have wanted to avoid entirely in his original novel. The stop motion CG is unconvincing, the performances are droll, and more devastatingly, it’s just not that scary.

Andy Muschietti was the perfect choice for directing the 2017 remake. An up-and-coming horror director with just one feature length credit to his name (the completely undervalued ‘Mama’), Muschietti had big boots to fill. There was a lot of expectation delivered by the cult following that the 1990 series had acquired since its release, and boy, Muschietti did not disappoint.

The structural similarities between King’s novel and the 1990 original, the constant interloping between the present day and the past, is a formula that Muschietti wanted to avoid. Much of the original’s many criticisms was its continuous need to shift back and forth between two time zones (with some pretty cheesy transitions) that just became overly convoluted and confusing for the viewer to follow. Muschietti, thankfully, solely narrates the childhood story of the Losers Club, and chooses to neglect the adult aspect of King’s novel. Perhaps we’ll delve into that story at another time, eh?

Muschietti’s 2017 re-hash begins with perhaps the most iconic scene from the original. Young Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) and his little paper boat, created by older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), journey through the rainy streets of Derry, Maine (can you tell this is a Stephen King adaptation?), the young boy enjoying the endless puddles and streams with no care in the world. Until his boat ends up in the sewers…

The introduction of Pennywise is one that is met with gasps from the audience. The upgraded appearance of Skarsgård’s clown is a terrifying sight to behold, thanks to the wonderful work of costume designer Janie Bryant and the makeup crew. But there’s a certain uniqueness to Skarsgård’s portrayal that predecessor Tim Curry couldn’t quite deliver. Skarsgård maintains the deceivingly cheerful and witty nature that Curry so excellently delivered in the original, but undeniably adds more to the table; a terrifying demeanour that’ll send shivers down the spine of the viewer. He dominates every scene he’s in, and much like Ledger’s portrayal of Joker in ‘The Dark Knight’, you find yourselves eagerly waiting for his appearances in the film. It’s just a shame that ‘IT’ only pops up once every 27 years isn’t it?

Pennywise’s treatment of Georgie sets the tone for the rest of the film. Muschietti’s remake is by far a more faithful adaptation of King’s often gory and explicit nature than the 1990 original, holding back no punches in the deliverance of the bloodshed that is shown on screen. Pennywise is a real threat to the children of Derry, something that was only alluded to and never truly shown in Wallace’s adaptation.

After a series of missing children in the Derry town, one of which being Georgie, the local population remains under curfew, with parents being more cautious about their children’s whereabouts. Brought together through cruelty from the town’s local bullies, a gang of misfits find friendship in such evil circumstances. Stuttering Bill (Lieberher), big-boned intellect Ben (Jeremy Taylor), misunderstood Beverley (Sophia Lillis), crude Richie (Finn Wolfhard), industrious Mike (Chosen Jacobs), and mother’s boy Eddie (Jack Grazer) make up the Losers Club, friends bound together by blood oaths and hilarious banter. Muschietti’s ‘Stand By Me’meets-‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ story adheres to the coming-of-age clichés visible in the novel and the 1990 mini-series, from the one-dimensional bullies to the dysfunctional family relationships, yet it’s never eye-rolling in its presentation, if anything, it feels nostalgic and charming.

The youthful ensemble cast of the Losers Club is one of the film’s many redeeming qualities, helping to create a perfect balance between humour and horror, so that it’s not an all out creep fest, nor a mere parody of its premise. The organic chemistry between the cast allow the viewer to invest into, and be convinced by, the somewhat absurd premise of King’s shape-shifting killer clown story. Yet the pioneer of the film’s many, many laughs is Finn Wolfhard’s Richie, (note the similarities between Stranger Things, I dare ya!), whose crude, off-the-cuff humour drives the narrative forward with a touch of charm. Albeit this sense of charm shouldn’t really fit in a horror narrative, it somehow does, and at times places more emphasis on Pennywise’s appearances when IT arrives.

And when Pennywise does arrive he brings with him some hair-raising and chilling moments. The clown’s ability to shape-shift into whatever his victims fear is a clear metaphor for the childhood issues that each of the Losers Club battle against. Each of the members are burdened with their own issues, and IT thrives on their fear and exploits their weaknesses. Skarsgård’s monster is a formidable foe for the young misfits of Derry, leading to a final confrontation filled that, in truth, is the only nit pick I have of the film. It’s predictably action-oriented instead of suspenseful, and the stakes that were so excellently built from the offset of the movie were reduced to something as trivial as a final boss battle in a video game.

Yet in the end this is a step in the right direction, for both Andy Muschietti and the reputation of movie remakes. When it’s done right, with respect to the source material that Muschietti clearly has, the final outcome can match its predecessor, or even in this case, trump the original.

IT’ is terrifying, hilarious, and endearing, and by far one of the biggest surprises that Hollywood has had to offer over recent years. Take a friend and scare yourselves senseless, because ‘IT’ is definitely worth your time and money.

Corey’s rating: 8.0 out of 10

Wind River

Year: 2017
Director: Taylor Sheridan
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Gil Birmingham, Julia Jones, Kelsey Chow

Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

If you haven’t heard of Taylor Sheridan by now, I’m sure he is going to be a household name from 2017 and beyond. Following up two stellar films he wrote (‘Sicario’, ‘Hell or High Water’) with his directorial debut, ‘Wind River’, Sheridan is making a name for himself as one of the most exciting writer-directors in the business today.

According to Sheridan himself, ‘Wind River’ is the end of his “American frontier trilogy”, an anthology series documenting varying aspects of American life. Where ‘Sicario’ took on the military and immigration, ‘Hell or High Water’ took on crime and class culture, ‘Wind River’ takes aim at sexism and secluded societies around the country. Across all three films, Sheridan criticises aspects of life that have become part and parcel of American culture, while managing to tell a riveting story on top of it; and the final part, ‘Wind River’, is no exception.

‘Wind River’ is set in an Indian Reservation in Wyoming, a stunning, mountainous, snowy tundra of a place that is miles away from any sort of city. The people of Wind River are on their own, any problems that arise will have to be solved by themselves or not at all. Police are few and far between as the town’s police department is a 6-man operation that covers hundreds of miles of mountainous terrain. This is Cory Lambert’s (Renner) playground. He is a hunter, a man who roams the mountains and does odd jobs for the locals, hunting and killing the wild animals that are terrorising the town and their farm system. During one of his expeditions, Cory stumbles across a dead body in the snow, and suspecting murder, calls in young FBI Agent Jane Banner (Olsen) to investigate. What follows is a tense murder mystery that is sure to leave a lasting impression long after you’ve left the cinema.

What struck me during the film, and after the film had ended, was how assured a debut this was for Sheridan. It is as confident and as good a debut as I’ve seen since Steve McQueen’s ‘Hunger’ or Ryan Coogler’s ‘Fruitvale Station’. Everything in the film is done to such a high standard in front of and behind the camera that Sheridan was evidently in total control of his cast and crew, going as far as bringing out a career-best performance from Jeremy Renner. The cinematography gives the film a gorgeous, bright tone that does the area’s stunning scenery justice, the soundtrack complimenting the action on screen with both foreboding and uplifting moments, and the clever editing during certain scenes (there’s one sumptuous, intentionally surprising and jarring cut with an opening door that gives the upcoming scene an entirely different meaning) add to the film’s escalating tension.

As previously mentioned, Jeremy Renner is terrific in the role of mysterious recluse Cory. Living a life away from his ex-wife and son (who gets occasional visits), he has intentionally placed himself in an environment where he is effectively in charge of his own destiny. He has forged a small career out of his hunting and he thrives upon it, to the point where once the body is discovered, the FBI agent called in is effectively helping Cory solve the murder, rather than the way it was intended. Olsen is equally excellent as the underestimated agent, someone left on her own to solve a bigger crime than the FBI had anticipated, facing a constant stream of sexism and ageism from the locals and even the local police department. Olsen gets her moment in the spotlight in the final act as things begin to escalate out of control, and she brings out a fiery temperament that is sure to be a major reason for Banner to have climbed the ranks of the FBI.

Where I found the film stumbled slightly is in its climax. The story up to this point is so intriguing and well-thought out, the eventual reveal of how the events happened comes somewhat out of left field. In the best-written murder mysteries, an initially innocent moment or character is revealed as a major factor in the mystery; in ‘Wind River’, there is no earlier suggestion of “whodunnit”. As such, initially, the climax of the main murder lands with a hefty bump.

Since, however, the ending has improved in my mind. Sheridan doesn’t exaggerate the story for dramatic purposes; this is a story that happened, and this is how it ends. In real life, there is no dramatic final act twist. There may not be a wholly satisfying resolution to every last thread. People wish to put the dramatic events behind them, and people move on. I’ll be stunned if Sheridan doesn’t end up with an Oscar nomination for his script next year.

‘Wind River’ is a terrific film. There’s no other way of saying it; so much of this film is made to such a high standard that Sheridan has set himself an improbably high standard to exceed with his next film. If you can, avoid any trailers, go into ‘Wind River’ as blind as you can. You won’t regret it.

Rhys’ rating: 9.0 out of 10

The Limehouse Golem

Year: 2017
Director: Juan Carlos Medina
Starring: Olivia Cooke, Bill Nighy, Douglas Booth, Maria Valverde

Written by Abbie Eales

Set in the gloomy East End of London, ‘The Limehouse Golem’ is a gory Victorian whodunnit with a gloriously twisted difference.

Directed by Juan Carlos Medina (director of 2012 film ‘Painless’) the film is based on a 1994 novel by Peter Ackroyd, “Dan Leno and The Limehouse Golem”, a meta-fictional pastiche on the Victorian ‘shocker’ which interwove theatrical drama around a spate of murders, featuring real-life historical figures from Leno himself (a lauded music hall star) to the very-much-original Marxist, Karl Marx. The unusual source material has been adapted for the screen by ‘Kick-Ass’, ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ and ‘Stardust’ scribe Jane Goldman, who has added additional layers to the tale shifting the action away from the famous men, and back to a female perspective.

The films starts with curtains drawing back on the stage with the words “Let us begin my friends, at the end” uttered by Dan Leno, (Douglas Booth, escaping his usual type-casting as pretty posh-boy for a wonderful outing as a cockney music hall blend of Freddie Mercury and Russell Brand) and so the tale begins to be told, shifting between flashbacks aided by voice-overs to the escalating events relating to the central story-line.

Bill Nighy plays John Kildare, a detective with a stalled career (“he’s not the marrying kind”, said with a knowing head nod) who is brought in by Scotland Yard to carry the can on the stalled investigation of a series of extremely brutal murders in the largely Jewish area of Limehouse. The murder victims have ranged from prostitutes to elderly men and children, with seemingly no pattern to the killings, other than the gruesome tableaus the murderer leaves behind.

Kildare is paired with enthusiastic native Eastender, Constable George Flood (played with some aplomb by the ever fabulous Daniel Mays), who has recently been investigating the death of a playwright, John Cree. Cree’s wife Lizzie (Olivia Cooke), herself an ex-music hall star, stands accused of her husband’s murder and will face the death penalty if found guilty. The two cases begin to interweave as Kildare finds himself fascinated by Lizzie Cree’s rags to riches tale, learning how she was abused as a child, the two outsiders become drawn together, with the detective going to desperate lengths to save her.

‘The Limehouse Golem’ is a wonderfully atmospheric, Victorian murder mystery, with a twist in the tale. Elements of Hammer horror meet scenes which wouldn’t have felt out of place in ‘Se7en’, with the odd bawdy song and dance routine thrown in for good measure. The production design is beautifully realised, with the grim and grimy back alleys of Limehouse contrasting with the grease-paint of the music hall and the splendour of Lizzie’s married life.

Olivia Cooke as Lizzie is terrific, playing on her wide-eyed innocence with some joy, drawing  us in as she recounts her tale to Kildare from her prison cell.

“You don’t need saving,” Kildare tells Lizzie. “Not by me. Not by any man.” While it is the famous men whose names initially draw the detective’s eye, this is a film about women claiming centre-stage.

Abbie’s rating: 8 out of 10

Death Note

Year: 2017
Director: Adam Wingard
Starring: Nat Wolff, Lakeith Stanfield, Margaret Qualley, Willem Dafoe, Jason Liles

Written by Sasha Hornby

When Adam Wingard’s live-action US-set reimagining of ‘Death Note‘ was announced, I had mixed feelings.  Excitement at the prospect of another film from one of my favourite genre directors (The Guest is in my top 10 of all time, a criminally underseen B-movie flick).  But also trepidation.  The incredible source manga of the same name, written by Tsugumi Obha and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, is 2,400 pages long, and was my gateway into manga over 10 years ago.  The best adaptation (and there have been many) thus far, is the wildly popular 37-episode anime series, which is often touted as one of the best anime series, period.  The big question forming in my mind was ‘how on earth do you fit such a rich mythos into 100 minutes?’

And let me tell you now, the answer is, you don’t.  With a simplified plot, Death Note tells the tale of high school student Light Turner (Nat Wolff) who is handed a supernatural notebook, the Death Note, that belongs to Ryuk (voiced by Willem Defoe), a bored Shinigami (God of death).  As owner of the Death Note, Light has the power to kill any person whose name he writes in it.  With his girlfriend, Mia Sutton (Margaret Qualley), he begins a vigilante quest to rid the world of evil, ending the lives of those they deem unworthy of life – criminals, mostly.  As the death toll exceeds 400, he attracts the attention of the mysterious master detective known only as L (Lakeith Stanfield), and a deadly game of cat-and-mouse ensues.

The cast for the most part are adequate, with two stand-outs, who are both, unfortunately, underused: Lekeith Stanfield as L and Willem Defoe as the voice of Ryuk.  L is a curious man, preferring to crouch on chairs rather than sit and eating copious amounts of candy for nutrition.  Stanfield plays the character note-perfectly, never making his quirks a comedic crutch, but rather giving insight to an incredibly intelligent man most likely on the autism spectrum.  L is the voice of reason.  Comparatively, Ryuk is the voice of chaos.  Even though all Defoe lends is his voice to the character, he is at his menacing best.  In an interview with IGN, Defoe describes Ryuk as “half-mentor, half-tormentor”, and Defoe taps into that with ease.  Ryuk’s laugh in this film will stick with me for the rest of my natural-born life.

As a person knocking on 30’s door, my empathy for whiney-ass teenagers has all but gone.  And I think this is why I struggled with the central couple.  Nat Wolff and Margaret Qualley do what they can with the roles they given, but somehow they felt predictable and one-dimensional.  Almost stereotypical.  He, a supposedly intelligent nerd boy, and her, a sassy cheerleader turned bad girl.  There’s a bit of a Bonnie and Clyde vibe, that is never fully realised.

The new setting of Seattle feels grounded, whilst allowing for the more fantastical elements of the story.  Pier 57 on Elliott Bay, adorned with the Seattle Great Wheel, features in two pivotal moments: a moment of love under the bright sunshine, and a moment of despair in deepest night.  It forms a iconic backdrop to the film – much the same as the Coney Island ferris wheel does in The Warriors (1978).

Director Adam Wingard has such a destinctive style that is painted all over Death Note.  From the synth-dreanched 80s-inspired soundtrack (which I absolutely loved – hurry up onto vinyl already), to the pulpy neon colours, to the ultra-violence, to the electric final act, this screams “I am a Wingard movie!”  Unfortunately, none of the elements I adore in Wingard’s work could save the film from it’s own pacing issues.  Plot point after plot point after plot point are fired in such quick succession, it is both jarring and discombobulating.  It took me a solid 40 minutes to aclimatise to the unrelenting speed – I just really wish it had been given a bit of space to breathe.

Death Note could have been a truly great American adaptation of the famous Japanese property, and more to the point, I really wanted it to be.  If given an extra 30 minutes, and stronger leads, perhaps it would have been.  My advice to fans of the source material (I count myself in this group) is to approach the film as though you know nothing, and it is still serviceable.  For everyone else, its an enjoyable, if hurried, mystical thriller.

Sasha’s rating: 5.5 out of 10

 

The Dark Tower

Year: 2017
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Starring: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor

Written by Jo Craig

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

The brilliance of horror alum Stephen King, who must be close to finishing his fortress of dollar bills and near to retiring to Mid-World, has reigned king over his niche genre for years, writing unshakeable stories and creating meaty characters in his award—winning collection. Although there have been some questionable adaptation efforts in the form of ‘Cell’ and ‘Under the Dome’, King’s magnificent ‘The Dark Tower’ series has taken its time being brought to life on the big screen, much to the distress of fans, and has been met with radioactive devastation by receiving a magnitude of underwhelming opinions.

Keeping this punt to the stones in mind, and still remaining in the minority who shed some z’s watching ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, I want to turn the tide again and give logic to why ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ skipper, Nikolaj Arcel’s summarised end of summer blockbuster, might not be the sleep aid that everyone thinks.

Based on an eight-volume series of the same name, ‘The Dark Tower’ introduces eleven year old, Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), who with the aid of his apocalyptic visions, locates a portal to Mid-world; a derelict wasteland in a parallel universe home to an ongoing battle between a gunslinger, Roland Deschain (Idris Elba) and his nemesis, Walter O’Dim (Matthew McConaughey), known as the “Man in Black”. Combining their efforts, Jake and Roland travel between worlds in an attempt to terminate Walter’s psychopathic plans to destroy a mythical monolith protecting both worlds from the evil behind the vale.

I will always adhere to the “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” scenario, and while a majority are black-bagging, there is a trail of Stephen King fans that commend ‘The Dark Tower’s’ natural ability to somehow remain loyal to the earthy tone of volume one, ‘The Gunslinger’, despite a good soaking by a watered down 12a certificate. Let’s be honest, a diluted, 95 minute visual representation of King’s raw kaleidoscope of survival, loyalty and dirty badassery, isn’t exactly what we had in mind. Be that as it may, knowing the potency of Roland Deschain’s undertakings on paper, certainly gave readers the advantage of previous emotional investment and a familiarity with the intricate components in King’s mad world. This leverage for readers inadvertently made the plot and concepts puzzling to newcomers, confusing where their perspective should lie. Arcel changed the point of view from The Gunslinger’s to Jake’s in a significant switch from the book that seemed to prevent the film from running on Cormac McCarthy steam, to being fuelled by a fresh injection of imagination and sorcery that delights after the recent success of the otherworldly TV Series adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’. Both of these visually reimagined stories gives credence to the idea that there is method in the madness that pleases both literally and visually, but takes the risk in abandoning new audiences.

An attractive cast list was undoubtedly going to be the water fountain in the desert, offering gritty chemistry between elite duo Idris Elba, entertaining with a grounded but cool-as-shit Gunslinger, and Matthew McConaughey, destroying everything in his path with his alluringly terrifying sorcery tricks. Newcomer Tom Taylor gave a believable performance as Roland’s protégé, acting out that kid explorer we all wanted to be at eleven with a charming energy. The dynamic trio slayed each of their roles by dominating the screen with strength and drawing those distinguishing rustic qualities from the written characters. “I do not kill with my gun; I kill with my heart.” was an overused Gunslingers oath, but incredibly satisfying to hear from Elba for any King buffs out there.

Getting the fandom points across, it’s fair to say ‘The Dark Tower’ is by no means an “outstanding” movie, with viewers expecting to immediately accept that some tower is under attack by a sorcerer in another dimension that causes rippling consequences in our world, while a stern cowboy’s running around New York with a psychic kid. I get it, it’s a lot to comprehend and pack into one film with a short running time, and this over-accelerated pace forced non-readers to uninvest. Our limited scenes in Mid-world showed true promise for a spectacular dystopian showdown, however our attention was called to the commercial world that ultimately banished a lot of the fascination. The exhausted slow-Mo action sequences were thankfully in short supply, aiding a few aptly timed scenes concerning The Gunslinger handling his weapons, enticing the coldest of demons to melt, and a reasonably sharp script from ‘I Am Legend’ writer Akiva Goldsman, was befitting for the actors to play with. 

While The Gunslingers first cinematic experience hasn’t broken new grounds, admirers of the book series may resonate with this anticipated fantasy being shown solid actors to stabilise the intricacy of Stephen King’s characters, and class ‘The Dark Tower’ as a sound addition to the geek bank. Certain insights during the film have indicated that the series will continue for another two films to make a trilogy, although this is now debatable after so many critics played the boredom card. Standing as a loyal enthusiast of both book and film, with any luck a change of director and restructuring could benefit this franchise before the bullets run out. 

Jo’s rating: 7 out of 10