Daddy’s Home 2

Year: 2017
Directed by: Sean Anders
Starring: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson, John Lithgow, John Cena

Written by Tom Sheffield

Another year, another sequel that we probably wouldn’t have missed if it was never made. Sean Anders returns to direct this festive sequel to the 2015 comedy, ‘Daddy’s Home’. Thanks to a special screening at my local cinema, this happened to be my first festive film of the 2017 (after avoiding ‘Bad Moms Christmas’), and all I can say is the only way is up for my festive viewings this year.

In this festive sequel, Brad (Ferrell) and Dusty (Wahlberg) have a co-dad routine in place that they think is going swimmingly. It soon comes to their attention that their children don’t like having to spend Christmases at different houses every year, so the co-dads decide to have one big family Christmas. Coincidentally, Dusty’s estranged father, Kurt (Gibson), calls to say he’s dropping by for Christmas too, and Brad’s dad, Don (Lithgow), is also on a plane to spend Christmas with them. Kurt is intent on causing a rift between Brad and Dusty from the second he meets them at the airport, and it doesn’t take long before the cracks begin to show.

As with the first film, Wahlberg and Ferrell are a great comedic pair on-screen. Their friendship in this film is put through its paces, which leads to lots of arguing, hugging, fighting, and the exchanging of kind words through gritted teeth. Newcomers Gibson and Lithgow are fantastic additions to the cast, and play their respective roles superbly. Lithgow is an over-loving, coddling, old-fashioned dad, and Gibson’s character is anything but those things. The child actors also get a thumbs up from me, especially young Scarlett Estevez. The less you know why they’re brilliant in this film, the more hilarious they’ll be in the film if you see it, so I’ll say no more!

Where this film really falters is trying to make us care for each and every one of these characters. The plot delves into multiple character backstories and sub plots that, in all honesty, we don’t really care about. I think the forced addition of making it a festive film also hinders the overall story. Don’t get me wrong, introducing us to Dusty and Brad’s Dads was a great idea, but trying to delve into their backstories, whilst also having all the characters in the story interact with one another, then throwing Christmas shenanigans into the mix, all just lead to one gigantic mess of a plot, which admittedly occasionally got a laugh out of me, but overall is easily forgettable and feels wholly unnecessary.

The addition of Gibson, Lithgow, and Cena is the films only saving grace. The new characters meant some of the comedy didn’t feel as repetitive and I found their characters far more interesting and much funnier than the co-dads. The child actors also have their chances to shine during this film, and again, I found some of their scenes much funnier than Wahlberg and Ferrell’s.

As one of only a few festive films hitting cinemas this year, it’s probably worth a gamble going to see it as you may find yourself liking it more than I did. It does offer up a few good laughs, and a twist or two you don’t see coming! I will also add that there is a particular musical scene at the end of the film that would melt the ice-cold heart of the Grinch, and in those few minutes I forgot what I was watching and actually felt a little Christmas-y! That didn’t last long though, and I soon crashed back to reality and pondered on the other things I could have done in those 100 minutes I’d just wasted.

Tom’s Rating: 4.5/10

 

 

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Call Me By Your Name

Year: 2017
Directed by: Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg

Written by Fiona Underhill

I can’t promise that this is going to be my most coherent review, dear reader, because I’m still totally overwhelmed by the experience of watching this stunning film. Almost 24 hours later, I cannot get it out of my head and images keep washing over me, trying to take me back to the idyllic setting of Northern Italy in 1983. I will gladly be returning there as soon as I can, because this film will certainly be getting repeat viewings from me.

The third of an unofficial trilogy of films (after ‘I Am Love’ and ‘A Bigger Splash’) set amongst extremely privileged families in Italy from director Luca Guadagino, this one is based on the book of the same name by Andre Aciman. It follows a 17 year old American boy; Elio (Timothee Chalamet), who is summering in his parents’ holiday home. Mr Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg) is his academic father, who has a graduate student come to stay with the family for six weeks, to work as his assistant. This student is 24 year old Oliver (Armie Hammer) who swans into the family setting with supreme confidence and immediately rubs Elio up the wrong way. Elio is an astonishingly literate and cultured teenager, slipping with ease between English, French and Italian and who spends his time reading beside pools, lakes and rivers in the breath-taking countryside.

Elio has a lively group of friends, including the lovely Marzia, who he starts to become involved with. If I had any small criticism of this film, it may be in its treatment of the female characters. Elio and Oliver treat their ‘girlfriends’ appallingly, which is understandable, given their character development. However, I would have liked Elio’s mother and the house keeper, Mafalda to have had more agency and involvement in the story. Oliver swoops in and out of Elio’s life on a whim, always leaving with a cursory “Later”. The two young men bicker and get each other’s backs up until a trip to Lake Garda, to see a project that Mr Perlman has been working on. Here they reach a truce and start to become closer. Through a series of awkward and cringe-inducingly realistic encounters, it becomes clear that Elio has feelings that go beyond friendship and eventually, Oliver responds.

A highlight of ‘Call Me By Your Name’ is Sufjan Stevens’ beautiful piano score, which complements Elio’s own piano playing (something he uses as part of his seduction of Oliver). Of course, the house and its surroundings are a huge part of the appeal here. Every sun-drenched frame of this film could be a Hockney painting and the viewer is seduced as much as the characters are. The acting is phenomenal – this is now the third Chalamet film I’ve seen in a short space of time and he could go on to a career on the scale of someone like Leonardo DiCaprio, if he chooses to. Elio is absolutely the protagonist of this story (the novel is told from his point of view) and we experience the agony and ecstasy of each moment through him. It is incredibly gratifying to see Armie Hammer finally being given a role that shows what he can do. His Greek adonis looks are a huge part of the character, but Oliver’s swaggering charm is gradually stripped away and his vulnerabilities are laid bare as the story unfolds. Hammer’s acting in the first ‘morning after’ scene is incredible; as Elio starts to gain an upper hand and Oliver searches for clues as to his feelings.

The script (adapted from the novel by the octogenarian James Ivory) is a beautiful thing. There is far more humour than you might expect – with many laugh out loud moments punctured throughout. Much has been made of the ‘chaste’ nature of the sex scenes (you don’t see that much nudity or actual gay sex). However the full spectrum of the story is told; from fumbling beginnings, to desperation and the completely new way the characters see and respond to each other afterwards. We are taken through every single emotion of the journey of this summer romance, which is all the more tender and heart-breaking for its short-lived nature.

The film really ramps up the emotional stakes at the end, with a speech from Michael Stuhlbarg which will probably earn him an Oscar nomination. There is also a stunning final shot, as the credits role, which will keep you glued to your seat, even if the house lights have come up by that point. There are so many shots and moments from this film that I still have left to unpack. If I told you that the sight of two bicycles resting together by the side of a house was one of the most erotic things I have seen on film, you might gain an idea of where I’m at. There are so many visual clues and jokes – an enormous phallus-like bollard in the foreground of one of the shots (featured in the trailer) will definitely stay with me. This film is a sensory overload; from the boiled egg that Oliver smashes to smithereens during his first breakfast with the Perlmans, to the infamous use of peaches – this is a film that fills you with sounds, sights and even scents that will linger for a long time afterwards. Almost every shot contains visual metaphors that will take many repeated viewings to fully discover.

Ultimately, it is the performances (particularly from Chalamet) that make the biggest impression, however. I would love for the Academy to finally look past their ageism in the Best Actor category and acknowledge what is undoubtedly the performance of the year. Chalamet is one to watch for the future and I can’t wait to see what he does next. I urge you to seek out this stunning film, however you can. Hopefully awards recognition may lead to a re-release early next year and if that happens, snap up the chance to see this sensual feast of a film filled with desire. One of 2017’s best.

Fiona’s Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Lady Bird

Year: 2017 (UK: 2018)
Directed by: Greta Gerwig
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Odeya Rush, Timothée Chalamet, Lucas Hedges

Written by Fiona Underhill

Greta Gerwig is primarily known for her ‘auteur-muse’ relationship with director Noah Baumbach, which has produced such gems as ‘Frances Ha’, ‘Mistress America’ and ‘Greenberg’. I have also enjoyed watching her in the role of Natalie Portman’s best friend in the diverse ‘No Strings Attached’ and ‘Jackie’. Although she has directed before, this is Gerwig’s ‘mainstream’ directorial debut and she has very much stepped out from under Baumbach’s shadow.

There are a few surprising things about ‘Lady Bird’. Firstly, it is not set in New York, as one might expect from Gerwig, but in Sacramento. While it is the state capital of California, Sacramento is nowhere near as well known as Los Angeles or San Francisco and is described as the ‘mid-west of California’ in the film. It definitely has a small-town feel here and one that needs to be escaped, especially as Lady Bird literally lives on the wrong side of the tracks. I was also surprised to discover that it is set in 2002-2003, making the character of Lady Bird five years younger than me. Despite this age gap, many of the music and fashion references did feel painfully real to me and it doused the whole thing in the heavy pall of nostalgia; not all of it positive.

Soairse Ronan plays Christine McPherson, who insists on being called ‘Lady Bird’. She is a Catholic high school senior, dealing with typical problems such as friendships, boyfriends and what she’s going to do with the rest of her life. Her parents are going through financial problems, leading to her mother (in an amazing performance from Laurie Metcalf) working double shifts in a psychiatric hospital. Lady Bird and her best friend Julie (the very appealing Beanie Feldstein) decide to audition for the school musical, where Lady Bird immediately takes a shine to Danny (Lucas Hedges). Further down the line, Lady Bird gets involved with new friend ‘rich bitch’ Jenna and new boy, the rebellious Kyle (Timothee Chalamet) which works out about as well as could be expected.

The real success here is in the writing – it makes the whole thing feel so real. It is very funny – early scenes of Lady Bird ‘running for office’ in her school and coming into conflict with her teachers are hilarious. The naturalistic performances are also a key part of what makes this film so good. The 23 year old Ronan plays a 17/18 year old incredibly convincingly in a vanity-free performance, including showing her ‘adolescent’ skin and I would love to see her get a Best Actress Oscar nomination. I have heard everyone who has seen ‘Call Me By Your Name’ (still not out in the US) going crazy about Timothee Chalamet, but hadn’t really seen the appeal, based on photographs alone. Having now seen ‘Miss Stevens’ (recommended) and ‘Lady Bird’, I am beginning to see it more. He does have a magnetic screen presence and is very charismatic, even when playing an enormous douche, as he is here.

Smaller roles are taken by Lois Smith as one of the nuns at Lady Bird’s school and Stephen Henderson as the priest who runs the musical. Both put in funny and emotional turns. Another highlight is Lady Bird’s brother Miguel (a Berkeley graduate who now has a job bagging groceries) and his girlfriend Shelly who has moved in with the family. Lucas Hedges (both funny and devastating in last year’s ‘Manchester By The Sea’) gives another nuanced performance – demonstrating that he is definitely one to watch.

The other acting highlight is without doubt, Laurie Metcalf as Marion McPherson. This film is really about the mother-daughter relationship and is painfully real. There are the typical teenage conflicts, exacerbated by financial strains and Marion trying to keep her daughter’s college expectations in the real world. Of course, the real source of the conflict is Lady Bird’s rejection of Sacramento and her family, but this comes full circle into revealing the clear affection she has for both by the end. I almost had to watch the scene of Lady Bird trying on prom dresses through my fingers – its a scene that could have been pulled straight from my life. The audience’s empathy is pulled in both directions, between the two characters. Marion gets understandably frustrated by Lady Bird’s lack of appreciation for everything her family are doing for her. However, her mother’s hypercritical negativity does engender sympathy for Lady Bird, who at times, reaches out to her mother and is rejected. Safe to say, I was an emotional mess by the end, despite having laughed out loud throughout the whole film.

On fairly limited release in the US at the moment and not hitting the UK until February (which will be good timing for Oscar buzz), Lady Bird is definitely worth seeking out. There is something for all ages to identify with and you will find yourself torn between the generations, but ultimately feeling great affection for all of the characters. Lady Bird is a success because of the exceptional writing and directing from Greta Gerwig and I cannot wait to see what she does next.

Fiona’s Rating: 9.0 out of 10

Justice League

Year: 2017
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Ciarán Hinds, Amy Adams, J.K. Simmons, Diane Lane

Written by Tom Sheffield

Having thankfully managed to avoid spoilers, major plot points, and reading the opinions of film critics, I walked into the cinema at midnight last night full of hope and excitement – and I left completely blown away by what I just witnessed. I think even the DCEU sceptics reading this will be find themselves pleasantly surprised with ‘Justice League’ and the direction it takes.  I will avoid writing any spoilers in this review as I strongly feel that it would really dampen your viewing experience if you knew what to expect!

Following the death of Superman, Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince attempt to assemble a team to be humanity’s defence against a new threat to Earth. The pair recruit rookie speedster Barry Allen (The Flash), half-human half-Atlantean Arthur Curry (Aquaman), and Victor Stone (Cyborg), who was recently brought back to life through the power of a Motherbox. The team must come together to stop Steppenwolf and his terrifying Parademons gaining the Motherboxes.

Affleck, Gadot, Momoa, Miller, and Fisher are a delight to watch on screen together. Whilst their characters don’t always see eye to eye, it’s clear to see the cast had a blast working together. Each has their moment to shine, and boy do they deliver! Miller was a standout for me, but I may be a little bias with Flash being my all-time favourite superhero. Miller was the perfect choice for Barry and his humour and charisma were spot on. The cast as a whole were brilliant in their respective roles, so I tip my hat to Snyder and the folks in casting for their choices!

Ciarán Hinds lends a menacing voice to Steppenwolf, and whilst his performance is respectable, the poor CGI is quite attention drawing and sadly weakens his stature as a villain. Steppenwolf shines when he comes face to face with the League – but I couldn’t help but feel we didn’t get to see enough of him. Hopefully this is something that can be resolved in the inevitable extended cut.  Witnessing Henry Cavill back in action as Superman was a beautiful sight to behold – and whilst my review will remain spoiler-free, it’s easy to spot which scenes were part of Whedon’s reshoots as the FX team attempt to CGI-out Cavill’s moustache he grew for ‘Mission Impossible 6’.

Unfortunately, during the filming of ‘Justice League’ Zack Snyder had to step away from the project to be with his family following the tragic loss of his daughter. Joss Whedon, who was already working with Snyder on the film, was asked to step in as Director and finish the film – which included reshoots. Anyone familiar with Snyder and Whedon’s portfolio can easily pick out who directed and wrote the dialogue in which scene, but thankfully they gel well enough together to deliver a sturdy and action-packed 120 minutes. It is a real shame the film got cut to pieces, with lots of footage from the teasers and trailers nowhere to be seen – a thread of which can be found here – but following the bashing the previous films received, it’s understandable (but not welcome) why Warner Bros. would limit the film’s content and run-time to try and appeal to the general audience.

In another twist during the production, Junkie XL was replaced by Danny Elfman as the composer for the film. In all honesty, his score as a whole was a little underwhelming, but there are a few notable moments where the score gave me actual goosebumps , and when you watch the film you’ll know EXACTLY which scenes I mean. Hearing some familiar notes just added to the joy and wonder of what I was witnessing. It really did give off JLA vibes and I felt like I was witnessing my childhood come to life in front of my very eyes.  I would have loved for Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL to score the film, but I guess we don’t always get what we want!

To wrap up, ‘Justice League’ is popcorn blockbuster of epic proportions. Zack Snyder’s  vision comes to fruition with the return of Superman, and with him, the return of hope for the future of the DCEU. I’ve made no secret of my admiration for Snyder and his work, and if this happens to be his final directorial work within the DCEU (which I really hope it isn’t) then he should be proud of his trilogy and what he’s achieved.  ‘Justice League’ is full of heart, humour, and most importantly…hope. It’s flawed and suffers in places with bad CGI, but to finally see these characters on the big screen together and to witness the group dynamic come to life with such an incredible cast is just a childhood dream come true.

You’ll also want to remain seated for the TWO post credit scenes, and believe me, they are well and truly worth it. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Tom’s Rating: 7.0/10

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Year: 2017
Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Alicia Silverstone, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic

Written by Jessica Peña

It’s not often enough a film will come around that will leave you in awe, laughing, cringing, and downright terrified. Yorgos Lanthimos’ ‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer’ will find you in these states and will claw at your psyche well after its ending credits. It carries very dark comedic tones and chilling subjects. The film examines the absence of any virtue and becomes one of the most unsettling and gratifying cinematic experiences of the year.

Dr. Stephen Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a renowned cardiovascular surgeon who lives a comfortable and pristine suburban life with his wife (Nicole Kidman), son (Sunny Suljic), and teenage daughter (Raffey Cassidy). It becomes known that he’s struggled with an alcohol problem in the past, leading to the death of a man on his operating table. Here’s where things get a little interesting. Held with a guilt, Stephen meets Martin (Barry Keoghan), the deceased patient’s 16 year old son. Martin begins to spend time with Stephen over the course of a few months. They get to know each other a little through meeting each other’s families, dinner visits, and ‘too close for comfort’ conversations. Martin tries endlessly to have Stephen in his life. There comes a point where Martin begins to cross the line on what he says to Stephen, making his family uncomfortable, and so Stephen ends all forms of communication with Martin. The youngest child, Bob, suddenly loses all feeling and mobility in his legs, causing Stephen and his wife to rush him to the hospital.

With no scientific or realistic explanation, the family is stumped. Martin shows up and asks Stephen for ten minutes of his time. Reluctantly, Stephen agrees. This is where Martin abruptly continues his ominous front. He tells Stephen to choose which of his loved ones to kill. If no decision is made within a timely manner, they will die one by one. First, they will lose function of their legs. Then, they will lose their appetite. Finally, they will begin to bleed from the eyes before their eventual death. Martin delivers this line so simply and so poised that we begin to wonder if he is the Devil incarnate. Martin’s vendetta becomes clear and Stephen’s world gets turned upside down. This is where ‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer’ shoots its cold hearted madness through our soul.

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We watch misfortune strike this family and Stephen almost doesn’t know what to make of it all. Something that Lanthimos nods to is his recent film ‘The Lobster,’ where dialogue and normal human reaction is made to appear desolate. His characters are so very modern but there is a certain way of speech that will transport us deeper into the film, but will also bother us. In many instances, people would not react the way that these characters act. It throws a person off. Farrell and Kidman give exceptional performances that aren’t over the top, but succeed in helping such an eerie script. Beside Lanthimos’ excellent direction, Keoghan as Martin is what terrifies us the most. The young Dublin-born actor makes it seem so effortless in presenting this dead-eyed character. It’s not explained where Martin gains this supernatural power to bestow onto Stephen’s life. Another thing Lanthimos enjoys is presenting an automatic acceptance that this is just how things are. We do not question it and we do not argue. The notion of sacrificial trial, justice, and human nature is all challenged through Martin’s menacing proclamation. ‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer’ looks to rattle us and it does a fine job at it. The first shot we see is a close up of an open heart surgery to the sound of jarring classical opera music. Be careful in choosing to see a film so unconventional and Earth-altering.

The gratification comes to us through its visual nightmare-like world. From slow pans to long wide shots, the minimalist cinematography by Thimios Bakatakis captures the rarity of the film entirely. Lanthimos completely throws us into this very dark and ethereal atmosphere. It can’t be measured just how much discomfort this film will make you feel. The soundtrack itself thickens tension and raises heart rates. Even the melody of the Christmas tune, “Carol of the Bells,” becomes something haunting when we remember what we’re sitting through. Accordionist Janne Rattya lends her horrifying “De Profundis” to the film, which sets the tone of no hope for Stephen’s family. With its devastating Greek tragedy theme, all the components of sound and visuals will meet in the middle where it pains us the most.

Sincerely noted, this film won’t pan too nicely to a lot of people. If you are a fan of psychological thrillers that stop at nothing to wreak havoc, this may be for you. Dark comedy makes a bigger occurrence in the film than one would think. We find ourselves laughing at something (that was probably meant to be taken very seriously in context) and then immediately feeling uneasy again. It’s quite a refreshment, honestly. It makes the film so distinct, just how we like it. If you’re alright with welcoming bizarre behavior, insane metaphors, and uneasy scripts, be my guest. We need more films that aren’t afraid to terrify us in such a way. Yorgos Lanthimos continues to prove himself as an uncanny heavyweight among directors and this film, as strange as it was, serves to break barriers.

‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer’ does not know forgiveness. It squeezes your senses until you can longer withstand the agony. It surprises you with its antics and decisions. It is heart-wrenching and will not stray away from you. It is certainly a sinister experience that won’t leave your thoughts even days after its viewing. You find yourself leaving the theater puzzled, disgusted, stunned, and most of all, unsettled to the core. Lanthimos gives us one of the most unnerving and masterful pieces of art in recent cinematic times.

Jessica’s Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Murder on the Orient Express

Year: 2017
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Leslie Odom Jr.

Written by Jo Craig

A packed Friday night screening jostling with curiosity from a varied audience sees Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ as an impressive turnout for the classic enigma’s opening night, prompting a relentless interest we as a nation have in a good whodunit with an itch to solve the crime before the protagonist. Furrowed brows, swift chuckles and an envy for lavish conduct awaits on this expedition, but instead of partaking in the detective work more is to be gained from kicking off Jessica Fletcher’s slippers and settling for spectator as a sedative to preclude headache.

Previously made for the big screen in 1974 by Sidney Lumet and Albert Finney, ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ joins Hercule Poirot, the greatest detective in the world on his most puzzling case, becoming the sole investigator of a murder on-board the long-distance passenger train while travelling on its isolating journey from Istanbul across Europe. Transporting an opulent array of passengers, it’s Poirot’s duty to catch the killer before arrival and keep his head above its surrounding secrecy.

Humour is not a common factor when it comes to productions in the crime genre of late, however Poirot’s resume equips us for a level of tongue-in-cheek quips that colour his meticulous problem solving and is a component that’s used to the advantage of Kenneth Branagh’s retelling. Performing on and off camera validates the skippers acting flair and stability with directing, not to mention his dazzling blue eyes that looked as if the universe existed within them against the niveous scenery. Comic timing contrived on both sides of the 65mm camera remained impeccably placed from the outset and operated as the features redeeming asset when the plot bottle necked but ultimately became a distant memory during the last quarter. Branagh’s emphasis on Poirot’s obsessive trait towards “unbearable” imperfections addressed an insecurity that stuck, despite being labelled unshakeable and supplied a quirk to the police work.

Daisy Ridley and Josh Gad kept the 1930’s current for modern day viewing and worked a vital freshness into the timeless mystery that was threatened with regenerated humdrum. Ridley’s Mary Debenham teases with a bubbly demeanour but is frequently deprived of independence, while Gad’s theatrical background sufficiently peddles his engagement as the shady MacQueen. Pfeiffer and Depp remain sturdy as the backbone to a polished cast while maintaining the progressive gravitas alongside Branagh, unlike Dame Judi Dench who became outclassed by her servant Olivia Coleman, whose fleeting but expressive role surpassed Dench’s few humorous lines. Performances from a dreary Cruz, and doctor on-board Leslie Odom Jr. are forgotten amongst larger personalities, adding extra baggage to an already crowded compartment that demanded extra scrutiny.

A long-winded introduction presenting the movie as a character piece rather than a wholesome thriller emerged as wasted time when arriving at the films core, presenting the crime’s foundation as a careless interjection into the narrative which ultimately caused a detachment from Poirot’s deliberating, abandoning all hope of solving the puzzle with him. This late addition of a critical layer to the plot, combined with a plethora of identities and jigsaw pieces caused major brain cramps when tasked to juggle them all at once, all the while trying to decipher Branagh’s often incomprehensible speech that muddled a decent French accent every time Hercule got excited. A retrospective scene delved into a fitting noir-scope which brought punch to the denouement and bound any loose ends, but stretched into a dragging conclusion that begged for the inspector’s no-nonsense psyche to halt its runaway manner.

Hair-raising scenery of snowy mountains and vertigo-summoning drops were efficient in contrast to a packed locomotive interior, with credible cinematography from Haris Zambarloukos (‘Thor’) and Rebecca Alleway’s (‘The Duchess’) convincing set decoration that brought the allure of the era and a rather majestic looking choo choo. Branagh’s clever trick in the director’s chair pinned our stellar actors to the background as much as the foreground, encouraging the viewers to look beyond the spotlight for evidence like the cunning detective.

As it stands, no vehicular journey is without shoogling as ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ plays to its strengths as a kitsch conundrum with Hollywood’s most glamorous, almost excusing its accelerated second act pace and a platter of redundant clues that lend no hand to budding crime aficionados who haven’t read or watched the original material. Viewers young and matured will certainly get a thrill from Branagh’s version as an alternative to family Cluedo night and ‘CSI’ re-runs, with the exception of Branagh’s quality act hiding behind a two-layered, preposterous moustache.

Jo’s Rating: 6.0 out of 10            

Stronger

Year: 2017
Director: David Gordon Green
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson

Written by Fiona Underhill

To be honest, by far the main reason I went to see this film was the live Q&A afterwards with Jake Gyllenhaal. This film hadn’t massively appealed to me beforehand (apart from my love for Jake) because it did seem to be that classic “able-bodied movie star plays a real-life disabled person in blatant Oscar bait”. This is the same reason that wild horses could not drag me to see the upcoming ‘Breathe’ with Andrew Garfield. I know disabled film writers who are very uncomfortable with all films about disabled people having to be ‘inspirational’ and ‘heroic’, instead of representing disabled people as nuanced and flawed humans. The other reason for my discomfort is that this is already the second film we have had on the very recent Boston marathon bombings. It seems soon to be unpicking a complex situation and casting very clear heroes and villains.

However, after hearing Gyllenhaal speak, as a producer as well as star of the film, it is clear that he got to know the real-life Jeff Bauman very well during the development of this biopic. Also, Jeff is portrayed as a deeply flawed person, even after the tragic events that result in his legs being amputated above the knee. Before the marathon, Jeff is a young guy who works at Costco (which turns out to be extreme lucky due to their excellent health insurance), drinks too much and has an on again-off again girlfriend, Erin (‘Orphan Black’s’ Tatiana Maslany). For a significant amount of time after the bombing, he is still pretty much the same and quite unlikeable. If anything, he’s more hard-drinking, argumentative and prone to tempers and depression. Additionally, the realities of being a wheelchair user in a tiny apartment on the second floor are not shied away from, including using the toilet and shower.

Some of the most effective parts of this film come in the immediate aftermath of the bombing, when Jeff is in hospital. I found out from the Q&A that they used many of the real doctors and nurses that attended Jeff to add authenticity to these scenes. There is an excruciating section in which Jeff has his bandages changed for the first time and it is shot from his point-of-view, mostly blurred, with the doctors’ soothing tones coming from off-screen. The physical therapist who helps Jeff in the following weeks and months is also played by the real-life person. I was delighted to see Miranda Richardson, playing very much against type as Jeff’s alcoholic working-class Boston mother. The acting from all concerned is impressive, including Gyllenhaal of course. It will gall me slightly if he wins an Oscar for this though, when he has had far more interesting performances and films (‘Zodiac’, ‘Nightcrawler’, ‘Enemy,’ ‘Nocturnal Animals’) which have been overlooked.

It is after things come to a head with his girlfriend Erin, that Jeff hits rock bottom and is forced to evaluate his life. This is when the film falls into the classic ‘disabled hero’ trope, featuring montages of him getting incrementally stronger, learning to walk on prosthetic legs and turning his life around. It is the ‘triumph over adversity’ heroics and sentimentality that don’t sit well with me. However, the film could have gone further with this and does reign it in to a degree. The film also shows Jeff’s discomfort with all of the media attention, fan mail etc labeling him a hero (he even gets a catchphrase; Boston Strong!) when he does not feel like one. In summary, Stronger is not a terrible film, but not a particularly amazing or memorable one either. It is definitely saved by its performances and occasional interesting cinematography/editing. A solid addition to a genre of film that I generally do not like.

 Fiona’s Rating: 7.0/10

The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg

Year: 1964
Director: Jacques Demy
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo, Anne Vernon, Marc Michel

Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

There’s a long list of things I can thank my grandmother for; helping to give me a lovely childhood, being a calming and wise presence in my more difficult adult years, and even my secret knitting skills. You can now add to that list, the introduction to a most delightful French musical. After I fell in love with ‘La La Land’ earlier this year, my grandmother has urged me to watch ‘The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg’ to behold one of the inspirations for Damien Chazelle’s modern classic, and to feed my newfound love for musicals. A few years ago, a more foolish and ignorant me wouldn’t go near a foreign language film or a musical, but now I’ve fallen in love with a combo of the two. So much so, that I found myself compelled to write my first review in a very, very long time.

Anyone who’s seen ‘La La Land’ will immediately spot the similarities here as I break down the plot for you. We meet two young lovers who are absolutely crazy about each other, intent on spending the rest of their life together. That is until fate tears them apart and puts their lives on different tracks. Guy (Nino Castelnuovo) is shipped off to complete his military duty, leaving Genevieve (Catherine Deneuve) in Cherbourg to pine for her lover for two years. Through fear of being alone, under pressure from her mother (Anne Vernon), and suffering from the cruel absence of her love, Genevieve eventually gives in and accepts the marriage proposal of another – Roland (Marc Michel). Years later, they will meet once more, both now very different people leading very different lives.

Now, I’ve always been of the opinion that most actors from this period are usually pretty poor and lack subtlety, save for a few exceptions of course. The golden age of Hollywood has given us many great stories, but there just wasn’t the kind of nuance and craft in the acting that we so often see today. Well, let me tell you, Catherine Deneuve is certainly an exception to that. Her performance here blew me away. Sincere and genuine, I truly felt and believed the emotional rollercoaster she went on over the course of this story. When people say “it’s all in the eyes”, this performance is what they’re talking about. Her co-star, Castelnuovo, was far more impressive once when he returned, and has to deal with the crushing heartache of losing his true love to another. Whilst he is rather one-dimensional and generic in the first act of the film, Castelnuovo more than makes up for that in the final act, delivering plenty of emotion and actually becoming rather endearing as we see his character develop.

The film is most definitely strongest in its bookends, with act one and act three providing moments of touching romanticism, and cruel fate. But, the story does arguably lose some steam in the middle, when our lovers are separated – which I would say is no coincidence. The short runtime (just over 80 minutes) does leave the decisions that are made and the direction the story heads in seeming even more rash, shall we say. Perhaps Genevieve and her choices are flawed, but aren’t we all? Maybe she gives up on love too quickly. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe we all could learn from this and be more patient and romantic. It’s funny how a film from 50 years ago still resonates so much and can reflect the intricate, complicated mess that human relationships remain.

The inspiration for ‘La La Land’ doesn’t end with the narrative here, with Chazelle and his team clearly taking note of the audio and visual treats on offer too. The colourful costumes and set designs were meticulously beautiful, and you can really sense the care and ambition that went into creating such a wonderful aesthetic. For a film of its era, ‘The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg’ is so impressive, and still holds up today. The ever-present, all-important music, by legendary composer Michel Legrand, is also sublime. Legrand perfectly picks every note along the way, creating more than just an accompaniment, but something which is crucial to the overall experience. I guess that pretty much goes without saying when it comes to a musical, but crafting  something like this is no mean feat, I’m sure. There is an exquisite simplicity to the whole picture, which only adds to how stunning it all is. Chazelle clearly has great taste, as does my grandmother.

This is really a love letter, from me to Demy. I couldn’t criticise this film even if I wanted to, or had cause to. Sure, its cheesy and somewhat dated, but it’s a musical from 1964, what do you expect? I don’t know what it is, but I just get so affected by stories like these, where young love doesn’t quite work out how it should, or how we want it to – there’s something so beautifully tragic about it all.  Whilst I would still argue that ‘La La Land’ is better (sorry Nan), for those wanting to discover cinematic classics, magical musicals, or take a foray in to French cinema – or all three – please watch ‘The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg’. It is short but sweet; gorgeous to look at and to listen to; an iconic piece of cinema.

Jakob’s Rating: 8.2 out of 10

Only The Brave

Year: 2017
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski
Cast: Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, Taylor Kitsch, Jennifer Connelly, James Badge Dale

Written by Jessica Peña

‘Only the Brave’ is the biographical drama that tells the fateful true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a unit of trained wildfire control men who lost their lives during the Yarnell Hill Fire in Yarnell, Arizona back in 2013. It is the second greatest loss of firefighter life in the United States since the attacks of 9/11. With a film of this nature, it can be an easy mistake to misinterpret real life people, and even come off as exploitative as a Hollywood project. Director Joseph Kosinski keeps a sensitive dedication to the story that runs deep through its characters and its heart.

The story begins in Prescott, Arizona where a team of forest firefighters are training under the wing of their chief, Eric Marsh, played magnificently by Josh Brolin. The team work hard to get certified to become the country’s first municipal hotshot crew. The term ‘hotshot’ refers to the crew first in line to stabilize forest areas that are on fire. With the inevitable event that this film was based on, the film decides to spend its time capturing our hearts through the stories of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.

The film is in no way manipulative of its true events, and I loved that. Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer wrote the script with real life emotions in mind. It was careful to let the characters strengthen the film. Miles Teller embodies Brendan McDonough, the lone survivor of the Yarnell Hill Fire. We follow Brendan through the first part of the film getting to know his struggles with addiction and the sudden news that he’s going to have a daughter. He decides to turn his life around and join the firefighter crew to the doubt of Chief Eric Marsh. Teller proves to be one of Hollywood’s promising young actors. Could the man be in his prime? It’s safe to say so. He just doesn’t quit. Through Brolin’s performance as Marsh, and Jennifer Connelly’s performance as his wife and widow Amanda Marsh, it took the film to a whole new level. Passing its halfway point, we begin to see and understand the character arcs even better. Connelly gives an outstanding and heart breaking act during a scene where Eric and Amanda have a sudden fallout argument in their truck one night. You can feel just how much of it is character driven. Sure, the pace of the story was a tad bit slow in the beginning of the film, but later redeems itself full heartedly.

The cast and crew worked closely with Brendan McDonough as a direct source. In interviews promoting the film, McDonough no longer expresses guilt for not being with his brothers, but gratitude for what can come out of things. ‘Only the Brave’ allowed for a spotlight on forest firefighters and those who put their safety on the line in order to secure that of their community’s. The cast was able to shed a lot of weight and be empowered through the performance in remembrance of the fallen. With the blessing of the families involved, the film was able to exemplify true heroism in light of these real personalities who were truly unforgettable. With excellent portrayals we also see the wildfires come to cinematic life with beautiful aerial cinematography by Claudio Miranda. His past work in ‘Life of Pi’ and ‘Oblivion’ have made him a dominant and worthy director of photography for this project. ‘Only the Brave’ shows us gorgeous mountain tops and a particularly scathing, but beautiful, side to Mother Nature. The environment within the film is warm, it’s dirty, and it’s raw.

There’s a strong sense of community and brotherhood tied into the film. These men were a family. With promising performances from James Badge Dale and Taylor Kitsch, we can feel the bonds get stronger as they spend more time in harm’s way. There was some shortage of performances of the crew that I’m not sure is too inexcusable. With a runtime of 133 minutes, the film remained in focus and was never truly dull for a moment.

‘Only the Brave’ is a well-driven salute to what real world heroism looks like. It is humbling and honest. The stories of these real heroes never miss a beat to tell it straight. It is not a story about chaotic wildfires, it is the incredible collective story of brotherhood and what it was to be one of the Hotshots. As the tagline reads, ‘It’s not what stands in front of you, it’s who stands beside you.’

Jessica’s Rating: 7.5 out of 10