Game Night

Year: 2018
Directed by: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein
Cast: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Sharon Horgan, Billy Magnussen, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Jesse Plemons

Written by Tom Sheffield

With a very promising first trailer which boasted a fantastic cast and a genuinely funny and intriguing plot – I had my fingers crossed that this would be a comedy that would actually make me laugh and not be another waste time with predictable and repetitive non-sense similar to what we’ve been offered up over the past few years from studios. I’m happy to report that this isn’t the case at all, and what we’ve been given here is not only hilarious, unpredictable, and actually enjoyable – it’s also so stylishly shot for a film of this genre that it really does stand out from the crowd.

Max (Bateman) and Annie (McAdams) meet during a quiz night, where it’s clear they are both as competitive as each other. The pair fall head over heels for each other and are soon married. The couple host a game night every week for their friends, Ryan (Morris) and his wife Michelle (Bunbury), and Ryan (Magnussen) who brings a new girl every week. Max’s successful brother, Brooks (Chandler), turns up and quickly riles up Max and Annie as he boasts his ‘perfect’ life and shows up Max in front of his friends. Brooks offers to host game night the following week, in which he promises a night they won’t forget.  When the night arrives, Brooks reveals he’s booked a company to fake kidnap a member of the party, leaving the rest of them to hunt down their kidnapped friend through a series of clues – However, things don’t go to plan and Brooks is kidnapped by thugs as his brother and his friends sit and watch. It doesn’t take them long to realise that something isn’t quite right, and then the hunt begins!

The assembled cast are a fantastic choices for their characters, each providing a different style of humour but all successfully drawing laughs from the audience. Bateman is no stranger to the kind of character Max is, but he plays him to his strengths and with McAdams at his side (but by no means a sidekick), the pair are hilarious and have such electric chemistry. McAdams is a delight to watch as always, playing off her on-screen husband’s remarks and delivering some of the funniest lines of the film. Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbry play  happily married couple, Ryan and Michelle, who were high school sweethearts. The pair are great together on-screen, but they really deliver the laughs when Ryan accidentally discovers during a drinking game that Michelle has slept with a celebrity.

Billy Magnussen plays the dim but loveable Ryan who, unlike his closest friends, is single and brings a new girl every week to game night. We see some of these girls in a very quick montage after Max and Annie make a comment about how they’re all basically the same girl – self-obsessed model wannabes with very short attention spans. Determined to win a game night, Ryan invites his British (and therefore he presumes clever) co-worker Sarah (Horgan) to Brooks’ night. It was quite refreshing for a non-couple duo to have some screen-time, as their behavior, attitude, and motive to win the game differ from Ryan’s shacked-up friends.

Jesse Plemons is an absolute scene stealer as Max and Annie’s  neighbour, Gary the Police Officer, who they actively try to avoid so they don’t have to invite him to their game nights. That’s all I’ll say about Gary as it’s best to witness his character for yourself. Chelsea Peretti makes an almost unrecognisable brief appearance and is only in it the film for one short scene, which is a real shame because Peretti is such a wonderful comedian and actress and would have really made a great addition to the circle of friends. If I could change one thing about this film, it would be to have given her a bigger role!

As the couples head out investigating the ‘fake’ kidnapping in their pairs, we as the audience are kept in the loop with what’s really going on as each pair discovers that the situation they have found themselves in is very real, and the stakes at play are also very real. Even though we’re in the loop, there’s still some twists and turns in the plot that I did NOT see coming – and I loved them.

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I can’t write a review for this film and not mention the absolutely brilliant cinematography by Barry Peterson and the camera work at play. For a comedy, it’s not usual for the standout feature I take away from it being the camera work. I knew we were in for a treat as soon as the film started and the studio logos began to fall down the screen looking like game pieces, alongside lots of other game pieces from well known board games (including Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, and Battleship pieces) slowly falling down. One shot that has stuck in my mind since I saw it is an aerial view of the cul-de-sac Max and Annie live on, which made it look like we were looking down on a game board – anything off the street was out of focus and the houses on the street genuinely looked like small pieces on a board until the camera slowly swoops down to street level.

There’s also a fantastic one shot that takes place in a mansion, with the 6 friends frantically trying to escape being caught by security whilst attempting to keep an artefact in one piece. The friends hurling this artefact round the mansion to one another like a rugby ball and I found myself not wanting to blink in case I missed something! The camera work during some of the scenes involving driving were also really well shot, with one angle in particular feeling like something from a racing game like ‘Forza’ and even a similar feel to cruising around on ‘Grand Theft Auto’ with the camera fixed on the car from the back. The crew really went the extra mile for this film and it really does help this comedy stand-out from the often bland and uninspiring films in the genre.

‘Game Night’ not only delivered the laughs, but it also does it with such style and flair that I really wasn’t expecting from a comedy such as this. The cast are all on form, the plot keeps the audiences interest as well as throwing in a few twists and turns to keep us on our toes. A comedy as good as this is best seen with a big audience to laugh along with, so I highly recommend a trip to the cinema when it’s released!

John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein are reportedly Warner Bros’ choice to direct the upcoming ‘Flashpoint’ film, and if that is the case you can count me in. The film featured a lot of elements that a Flash solo film requires, and despite my earlier reservations about them working on it, I think they could actually do justice to my all-time favourite comic book hero.

Tom’s Rating: 8.5/10

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Mute

Year: 2018
Directed by: Duncan Jones
Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux, Seyneb Saleh

Written by Fiona Underhill

When I heard a new Duncan Jones film was coming to Netflix, I was excited. I loved both ‘Moon’ and ‘Source Code’ and it looked like ‘Mute’ would also have a sci-fi/futuristic element. When I saw the trailer, it looked even more up my street – a noir set in a ‘Blade Runner’-style world about a mute bartender searching for his missing girlfriend. The cast was also stacked, leading to me having really high hopes for this one.

Then came the reactions.

Woo boy, the reactions. According to the internet, ‘Mute’ is vile and offensive trash and yet another reason to blame Netflix for the death of movies (‘Cloverfield Paradox’ being another recent example). My take on ‘Mute’ is more complex – I neither loved it or hated it and I feel that most of the overreactions have been unduly harsh.

The film starts by showing the reason why Leo (Alexander Skarsgard) is mute, after a boating accident tears his vocal chords, his Amish family do not allow him to have the surgery that would repair them. As an adult in a futuristic Berlin, Leo tends bar in the same club as his girlfriend Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh). Leo wants his girlfriend to move in with him and take things to the next level, but in true noir-style, she keeps warning him that she has a secret – a dark hidden past that will change his perception of her. When she goes missing, Leo turns to her best friend Luba (played by a stunning Robert Sheehan) for help. He also becomes embroiled with two ‘doctors’ – Cactus Bill (played by Paul Rudd in a magnificent moustache) and Duck (an unrecognisable blond Justin Theroux) – who run an extremely shady side-line in torture, among other things. There is also a cameo by Dominic Monaghan, as one of the people Leo ‘questions’ in his search for Naadirah.

I shall start positively – this film had impressive visual effects, for a film that presumably had a limited budget and effective world-building. It featured believable touches such as your take-out being delivered by drone. Leo, who has been raised Amish is obviously struggling in this technological world, even resisting having a mobile phone. He also spends his time beautifully carving and crafting wooden furniture, in an attempt to create a homely environment for Naadirah. Skaarsgard gives a tender performance as Leo, in a totally different role to his award-winning turn in ‘Big Little Lies’. Something else I really liked about this film was the subtle nods to the fact that this takes place in the same universe as ‘Moon’ – the multiple Sams are shown on news footage on TV screens in the background. This film features one of my favourite Paul Rudd performances, purely because it’s so different to his usual charming fare. He uses his charm here as a weapon – to seduce those around him to do his bidding, including using prostitutes to babysit his daughter. Another extremely positive aspect for me is the score by my current favourite film composer; Clint Mansell. He can do no wrong in my eyes (ears?) and this is another stunning example from him.

Cactus Bill’s daughter is where the film becomes problematic for many viewers. A man who is capable of terrible violence, yet shows a softer, caring side with a young ward is a dynamic we have seen recently in ‘Logan’, among other films. This definitely adds a layer of moral complexity to Paul Rudd’s character, because he is happy doing evil to others, but when it came to his own daughter, he is obviously protective. The problem here is that Bill’s partner Duck is gradually revealed to be a paedophile. For me, this had a purpose within the plot because it added a lot of tension to the end which wouldn’t otherwise have been there. It is also used as a plot device in ‘Sin City’ – a film I can see as an influence on this and I don’t remember there being this level of moral outrage about that film.

I can understand the arguments leveled at ‘Mute’. The female characters are tropes, rather than fully fleshed-out characters. They really boil down to the missing girlfriend who only exists to give Leo his mission within the plot and a few workers at nightclubs, stripclubs and brothels. However, this is a staple of the genre and I heard similar arguments made against ‘Blade Runner 2049’ and ‘Baby Driver’ last year, both of which I loved (I’m clearly a terrible feminist). Another accusation against this film has been homophobia. I personally feel that Luba, played by Sheehan is a complex character and not just a caricature. He clearly loves Naadirah deeply and is allowed to show different sides of himself. Some people have said that Theroux’s character Duck shows that the film equates homosexuals with paedophiles, however that was not my interpretation of that character at all. Another thing people have been disgusted by is that the film is dedicated to Jones’ father, David Bowie and his nanny. I believe that Jones was exploring different types of parenthood in this film, from the seemingly ‘good’ mother to Leo, who actually damages him, to the perceived terrible father Cactus Bill, who actually has some positives. He is showing that there is no such thing as ‘traditional’ parenthood and this is understandable coming from someone who must have had an unconventional upbringing.

My main issue with this film, rather than being outraged or offended is that it did feel long and slow-paced. The plot lost its way at times, certainly in terms of holding my attention. However, the end did pick up for me and provided some effective tension. This film certainly is risk-taking and I can see why it found a home on Netflix, rather than on wide cinema release. I see it as a positive that films like this can be made and released and they won’t please everyone or always succeed, but are at least experimental and interesting. I would encourage people to look past the howls of derision that have greeted this film and give it a chance, particularly if you have enjoyed modern-day twists on noir, such as ‘Sin City’. It is violent, gritty and has adult themes that will offend some people, but I enjoyed it. I’m not sure what that tells you about me.

Fiona’s Rating: 7/10

Winchester

Year: 2018
Directors: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig
Starring: Helen Mirren, Sarah Snook, Jason Clarke, Angus Sampson, Bruce Spence

Written by Jo Craig

When whispers emerged of the unlikely collaboration between ‘Jigsaw’ directors The Spierig Brothers and British national treasure Helen Mirren, heads were turned ‘Exorcist’ style. Then followed the news that the production was in fact an early 2018 horror with ghosts and shit — starring a Calendar Girl? That’s when heads began to roll. The simple fact that our native Dame would be taming the supernatural in similar fashion to ‘Insidious’’ Elise Rainier was enough to peak interests and resign trepidation towards ‘Winchester’ being another cheap thrill-fest — combined with the brilliant tagline “Terror is Building”.

The intriguing true story of estranged widower Sarah Winchester — heiress of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company — brought validity to the narrative surrounding her 1906 creation of a nonsensical mansion — a labyrinth of rooms, corridors and stairways to nowhere that she paid constructors generously to keep expanding. The premise — if independently construed — would be hard to swallow without the affirming “Based on true events” intro that lurches fear factors to high alert. That being said, a handful of real account adaptations struggle to restrain from filling in the blanks of these events with confusing drivel. Winchester battles to be different but is ultimately lessened by plot babble, despite incorporating a unique perspective on guns (particularly the Winchester rifles) being the deadliest of weapons.

The auspicious beginning is made of a prologue that’s quick to establish the haunted house blues, painted with a palette of musky cool tones warmed by candlelight that’s visually quaint — much like admiring an old antique. Ben Nott’s artistic direction adds sophistication and texture to the storyboard featuring a beautiful introductory scene of San Francisco in twilight. Whether this was Michael and Peter Spierig’s inspiration from the ‘Saw’ franchise — that leans heavily on rich saturation — or a stroke of creative intuition that facilitates Winchester’s authenticity and becomes a gift for the eyes. Combining the senses of sight and sound, there’s an appreciation for the early 20th Century dialogue (penned by the Spierig duo) that’s pleasant to follow and highlights the beauty of the English language — emphasising the poetic creation that’s been abandoned by an age of abbreviations and hashtags. Both elements initiated the tale with hopeful expectations that was sadly crushed under the weight of the spooky house.

The grand unveiling of Helen Mirren’s Mrs Winchester quickly pegged her as enchanting and the main attraction of the manor from Hell. As the novelty of the opening perks wore away, Mirren competed to keep elegance in the air that rarely failed to intrigue but inevitably lacked the superhuman strength to withstand the conclusive earthquake — posing the question, does Helen Mirren really belong in this niche genre of horror? Unfortunately, not this time. Her eagerness that changed the usual suspects of a scary movie was admirable, but the story’s direction had her drowning in a sea of dark matter with no hope of revival. One could wonder what Winchester could have been in the hands of James Wan or Guillermo del Toro that would have played to Mirren’s finesse and Sarah Winchester’s complexity — Simply put, she was too good for this production.

Hired to assess Mrs Winchester’s mental state is Jason Clarke’s Dr Eric Price — an unorthodox psychologist who favours ingesting poison to mask the clichéd troubled past — aptly facilitating the “Is this scary shit real? Or is it all in my head?” scenario — a neat justification, but all too spoon fed for an audience that knows better. Price is introduced as a typical agnostic doctor who considers fear to be conquerable by the mind and ghosts to be a fabrication of delusion — so, denouncing these steadfast beliefs should take a bit of persuasion, right? Wrong. Scream queens show more restraint to investigating a noise in the basement.

Sarah Snook carries a credible presence in the 1906 setting — as Mrs Winchester’s unnamed niece — mothering a rather insignificant child who might as well have been a mute. Both share residence at the mansion where Snook’s maternal presence was unconvincing, stifling any emotional connection with the audience that could have been channelled by her independently. The niece showed strength in character that was grounding, but her resilience became underused instead of restoring balance to the chaos unravelling in the central storyline.

The Spierig’s deliver on visuals and hint at ‘The Conjuring’ styled tension, however Winchester still stands at the end of the day, a self-induced heart attack — poor jump-scares and a rushed conclusion to fit into a 99 min runtime that purged any defining qualities established from the outset. Essentially what should have been a biopic of Sarah Winchester and her architectural wonder, became a building of grandeur and intricacy that was unjustly ignored as a character itself and belittled to accommodate an unfulfilled farce. For all its disorientating features of doors and staircases that led to nowhere — the Winchester mystery house remained unexplored and misused.

Helen Mirren has poise and a strange seduction to convince you into believing that ‘Winchester’ is a game-changer — only to fool and leave you insisting through gritted teeth that she and Mrs Winchester deserve better. True stories can work in their candor, where the mystery of unknown details is more powerful than cheap Pollyfilla — and calls for a suitable director to build a durable platform and showcase this Dame’s talents in horror.

Jo’s Rating: 5 out of 10             

The Post

Year: 2018
Directed By: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk

Written by Chris Gelderd

For every ‘Ready Player One’, you have ‘The Post’. Director Steven Spielberg next two directorial efforts into 2018 following 2016’s ‘BFG’ include a political thriller and science-fiction fantasy. Both rely on source material, but one will include generous CGI, dazzling action and a pulse-pounding soundtrack to really blow the mind. The other relies on history, tension, engrossing acting and a grounded look at politics that transcends decades. ‘The Post’ is the latter and, in my opinion, shows when Spielberg currently is at his best delivering these kind of movies.

Much like ‘Bridge Of Spies’, ‘Munich’ and even ‘Lincoln’, this is a story with politics at the heart of it. Regardless of who or what is at the frontline of the story, it’s the looming and often unseen presence of the White House or the government in question that keeps the plot moving. With the Vietnam war as the catalyst (cue the tick box iconography of a 60s rock soundtrack, low-flying helicopters and jungle ambushes), this isn’t war film on foreign soil however – it’s a war film between the free press and the government fought in American offices and homes with printing presses, telephones and secret papers used as weapons.

At just under 2hrs, don’t expect this to jump back and forth between the Vietnam war, even if this is the root of everything. We have a few minutes at the opening, and then we are jetted back to Washington D.C for the real fight. The atmosphere is brilliant, and the sights and sounds of the early 70s look near perfect to someone young enough not to around in that decade. Everything from the press offices, the cars, the clothing and décor seems spot on and creates a perfect setting for the story. Shirt sleeves rolled up, cigarette smoke hangs in every room and a real sense of hustle and bustle that was the backbone to how the press operated under pressure.

But this is Meryl Steep and Tom Hanks’ film. While Academy Award nominated Streep delivers her role as Katherine Graham as a steadily simmering woman who fights so hard to keep her demeanour professional at all times, never letting her shell crack in front of others, I feel Hanks was over-looked also for his role as Ben Bradlee.

There is something so engrossing about Hanks in any role, and you just automatically invest in him and from the chain smoking, over-confident editor-in-chief we meet at first, he retains this but shows so much passion, drive and fight in wanting to do what is just and right that you really admire him and his team, and you cheer for him; you want him to push harder, to succeed at all costs. Streep and Hanks are the stellar actors of their generation and play off each other perfectly, and make a truly winning partnership.

With a supporting cast including Bob Odenkirk, Bruce Greenwood, Alison Brie and Tracy Lets, it’s a wide pool of talent who are character actors and need nothing more than a strong script to create a great deal of underlying tension and drama from something that is so simple when you read it on paper – no pun intended.

There are moments when the talking gets a little TOO talky, but it’s never boring or complicated to follow, and there is a strong narrative that cranks the tension up gradually every 10 minutes or so. Something happens. Someone appears. It’s little moments that build on everything else to make the bigger picture even bigger, and the outcome even more important. It has hidden messages that can be linked to the current Donald Trump administration without being a glaring “Trump Bashing” exercise, and yet never dwells on too much politics to turn you off. This is about working men and women, faced with choices that could either liberate the American people or put them all in prison – what do you do when faced with a choice like that?

You can smell the ink during a wonderfully simple moment where we witness what goes on in the printing room from creating the font stamps manually and the paper as it rolls off. Talk about a history lesson – this is how it was before the digital age, and my respect for everyone in that era increased 100% after Spielberg shows us how it was done. Plus, a nice cheeky foreshadowing of the scandal yet to come – Watergate.

‘The Post’ is a slow burning but well-paced political thriller, using every tool in the Spielberg arsenal from diegetic noise, contrasting shading, tight camera shots, stellar actors and a veteran crew without all the political conversations and jargon to deliver a relevant look at the hidden war fought on American soil that changed the free world.

As Alison Brie’s character beautifully reminds us: the press was to serve the governed, not the governors.

CHRIS’ RATING: 9 / 10

Black Panther

Year: 2018
Directed by: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis,
Martin Freeman

WRITTEN BY ANDREW GARRISON

While this is far from the first black superhero movie, it is still very important. Diversity is a gift, allowing us to see new stories and points of view we may have not yet considered. It opens our world to new exciting possibilities. Marvel Studios has grown increasingly diverse over the past decade, but this is the first time a primary non-white protagonist emerges. I was excited about this movie even before ‘Captain America: Civil War’ arrived. I thought Black Panther was a character the Marvel universe needed. Coming into this movie with high hopes, it did not disappoint.

‘Black Panther’ follows the return of T’Challa (Boseman) to his home, Wakanda, after the events of ‘Captain America: Civil War’. He is to be crowned king but must face the mistakes and adversaries of the past and attempt to guide his people toward the right future. This film has the most talented cast that Marvel has used to date. Chadwick Boseman plays the Black Panther very well. He dives into the character and never lets up. The main antagonist is Erik Killmonger played by Michael B. Jordan who delivers a stirring performance. Lupita Nyong’o is incredibly cool throughout this film, she nearly steals the movie from Boseman, which is an impressive feat all its own. You know you are watching something special when the secondary characters feature the likes of; Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Daniel Kaluuya, Andy Serkis, and Martin Freeman. Everyone did wonderful work in their roles.

This film may be fantasy, but it is loaded with profound concepts for the world we live in. Things that needed to be said and heard by the masses were exposed. This movie highlights some ugly truths about our own world. Things we need to accept as issues and then get to work finding resolutions. Granted it is early, but the cinematography, set designs, costumes, and makeup are flawless throughout this film and I hope will receive some award nominations in the future. You don’t just learn about Black Panther and his close circle, you learn about the spiritual, political, and social culture of Wakanda in stunning detail. This is a very fleshed out world, better than anything Marvel has done to date in this regard.

The music throughout this film is aesthetically pleasing, perfectly sewn into the film at the right moments. Combine that with excellent sound and CGI, and you have a film that is well-made all around. There are humor and action throughout, but the humor is tamed. It knows when it can be funny and when it needs to be serious. (Think ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ and not ‘Thor: The Dark World’.) The film mixes in periods of drama and character development with intense actions scenes. Marvel has gotten a bit more brutal in recent years. The violence was still very much PG- 13, but it was very much fitting of that rating. When the action goes down, it is some of the most impressive I’ve seen from any superhero film to date.

While I enjoyed ‘Black Panther’, it does have a few issues. Anyone familiar with these Marvel movies over the past decade knows they have some flaws. Without spoiling anything, this movie carries on a recurring Marvel issue regarding the fate of it’s villains. This by no means ruins the movie, but it is a fact that Marvel isn’t going unnoticed amongst fans.

While I tried to avoid a lot of news about this film, I was hearing a lot of hype for Killmonger as Marvel’s best villain. He has a compelling story, but there was so much of it glossed over. I wanted to know more about this character and he never fully developed as I hoped. There are a couple of decisions the movie makes that I didn’t like. I felt Marvel had built up something and then wasted a great opportunity. While not often, sometimes the camerawork would be erratic and hard to follow. ‘Black Panther’ wasn’t just a Marvel superhero movie, it was a rattling of the cages type film. It spoke a lot of truth that we often sweep under the rug about the world we live in. It raises awareness and then offers the global society an olive branch. ‘Black Panther’ is well-crafted in every sense of the word. Director Ryan Coogler continues to astound, and this may be the most beautiful Marvel movie made yet.

ANDREW’S RATING: 8.8/10

The 15:17 to Paris

Year: 2018
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone.
WRITTEN BY CHRIS GELDERD

This 2018 American biographical thriller, produced and directed by Clint Eastwood and  based on the autobiography ‘The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Soldiers’ by Jeffrey E. Stern, Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos; stars Stone, Sadler and Skarlatos as themselves alongside Judy Greer, Jenna Fischer and Ray Corasan.

In the late summer of 2015, three American friends, Alek Skarlatos (himself), Anthony Sadler (himself) and Spencer Stone (himself), bound by a lifetime of friendship, are taking a European holiday. Stone serves in the US Air Force, Sadler is a writer and Skarlatos serves in the US Army.

Travelling across Europe, the friends share the sights and sounds of the continent whilst remembering how their paths crossed in school and how they all wanted to serve their country in very different ways growing up.

Boarding the 15:17 train from Amsterdam to Paris, the friends are soon caught up in what appears to be a terror attack. Gunman Ayoub El-Khazzani (Corasan) is ready to bring terror to Europe, and Stone, Sadler, and Skarlatos will face a life-changing three minutes as the first bullet is fired on the train…

Clint Eastwood. American actor, producer, director, musician and all-around American icon. I love the man, and I love 99% of his work. He’s had a few blips along the way across a 60+ career in front of and behind the camera, but that’s nothing if not normal. Recently he’s become a director who takes ordinary people facing extraordinary true events often lost in the media and tells their story to show how real heroes act without capes, super-powers or blockbuster budgets.

He did it with ‘Changeling’. He did it with ‘J.Edgar’. He did it with ‘American Sniper’ and most recently with ‘Sully’. Clint is the director who makes the ordinary extraordinary.

‘The 15:17 To Paris’ is sadly in the 1% of his work I do not like, and not because of his tight, crisp direction but because of the thin source material, the thin story and the personal love-letter to our three ordinary heroes that would have been better left to a book rather than the big screen.

It just does not work.

From casting the actual three young men involved in thwarting the terror attack on the Amsterdam to Paris train in August 2015, Eastwood took a huge gamble that was the first step in spreading word of mouth. Sadly, as movies are made to entertain and engross, it’s hard to be entertained and engrossed by three people who can’t act, fail to replicate raw emotion when they have to repeat it for a director and simply aren’t the sort of people you front a movie with. Sure, have them tail-end the story with a short interview as many true biopics do today, but don’t have them lead.

It’s clear to say that while their bravery is second-to-none, seeing Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos on a journey that follows their younger selves through school, their older selves into pursuing their individual careers and then finally off on a European holiday isn’t the most exciting, engaging or gripping 80mins of cinema you’ll see this year. There’s no Matt Damon, Bradley Cooper or Tom Hanks to help you here.

Marketed as an action film, it’s more of a drama. In fact, we only have about 5 minutes of action towards the end for the moment the whole film is based around; the resolution of the terror attack on the 15:17 to Paris. There is no back-story offered on the terrorist motivations, no sense of danger. There awful foreshadowing from the trinity about “what they are destined to become”, so cue a painful script. There is no action. It’s not an action film, yet when the action DOES kick in, it’s over far too quickly and arrives at a point when you’ve probably either dozed off or given up caring.

Eastwood can do tense brutal reality near perfectly as he is an old-fashioned film-maker and one of the last of his treasured generation. No frills, no nonsense. He directs the attack with a gripping brutality and tight camera work and a diegetic atmosphere. And then it’s over. There’s little conclusion or dealing with the aftermath because the film has used up its short run-time focusing on school days, army days and eating ice-cream and partying in nightclub days. All the things we aren’t really here to witness as a spare part, because it offers us nothing as a viewer to invest in or take away.

What Eastwood as a director does well is understand the subject matter and explore the moments the media doesn’t capture. With ‘Sully’ and ‘Changeling’ he took a moment the world saw but spent the rest of the film exploring the humanity and real story behind it all, expanding what we know to leave us with a greater understanding. With ‘15:17’ he ends where his usual film would begin; we spend so much of the film involved with things we are forced to try and invest in and enjoy, but it’s just not what we are here to see. While the film looks good thanks to his old-school film-making and Europe gleams as a continent, it’s not a travel guide we are watching.

I wish I could like this more, but if this wasn’t a Clint Eastwood film I wouldn’t have gone to see it, which is a shame in a way because while this terror attack was foiled, it seems only disasters that come to fruition are ones that attract audiences to watch and absorb. ‘The 15:17 To Paris’ may be a brave film to make with brave casting choices, but it’s not going to make shock-waves or resonate with many people as either a biopic or an engaging piece of cinema.

Sorry Clint, but you didn’t go ahead and make my day.

CHRIS’ RATING: 3.7/10

Den of Thieves

Year: 2018
Directed by: Christian Gudegast
Cast: Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber, Curtis Jackson, O’Shea Jackson Jr

Written by Tom Sheffield

‘Den of Thieves’ was in development for a whopping 14 years before it finally managed to reach our cinema screens and is Christian Gudegast’s directorial debut. But after so many years in development limbo, was anyone expecting this film to be a game changer? No? Good.

‘Den of Thieves’ is a “gritty crime saga” which focuses on the on-going cat and mouse game between ‘Big Nick’ O’Brien (Butler), who works for the L.A County Sheriff’s Department , and Ray Merrimen (Schreiber) who is an ex-veteran-turned-bank robber that has a string of successful robberies under his belt that O’Brien can’t charge him for due to lack of evidence. When Merrimen and his gang steal an armoured truck and leave a handful of dead officers on the pavement, O’Brien sets out to put Merrimen behind bars once again.

The lines of law and order are often blurred, with O’Brien taking matters in to his own hands most of the time and throwing the rulebook out of the window (Oh, and he’s a huge dick). There’s only one likeable character in this whole film and that is Donnie, played by O’Shea Jackson Jr., but to delve any more into that would be quite spoilerific and if you intend on watching the film at any point it’s best you know as little about him as possible. Because everyone else is such an asshat you really don’t find yourself caring about character motivations or their fate. This has likely been done on purpose to demonstrate that the matter of ‘good guys vs the bad guys’ is too simple of a concept, and there are many layers to people. I’ll skip the onion metaphor and just say that if this was the route Gudegast was trying to take then it failed to come across how he intended and just becomes a film where you hate everyone in it.

I went in to the cinema with quite low expectations, but I was actually pleasantly surprised that this film was somewhat enjoyable. It does, however, feel like it overstays its welcome. With a runtime of 2 hours 20 minutes, there is a lot of build for the big heist, and of course to the inevitable final confrontation, but a lot of scenes wouldn’t have been missed had they been cut out. The first act drags a little as character motivations are revealed, but when things get going and plans get put into motion the film becomes enjoyable.  There are a few scenes that give us an insight into O’Brien’s home life, but I couldn’t really care less that his wife and children are leaving him (because, surprise surprise, he deserves it) and these scenes add nothing extra to the film or his character and therefore could have easily been left out.

As Gudegast’s directorial debut, I have to commend his efforts on this film. Whilst it will get a pretty average score from me, I think as a debut it’s a strong effort. However, I can’t help but feel had someone with more experience been in the director’s chair that the film may have been able to deliver some better action sequences and make the twist reveals a little more eccentric and actually surprising.

The cast are fine in their roles; it’s nothing out of their comfort zone. Especially Butler, who really needs to mix up the roles he undertakes. I’m quickly becoming a fan of O’Shea Jackson Jr., after seeing him in his debut ‘Straight out of Compton’, in which he played a younger version of his dad (Ice Cube), he is easily the standout of this film and I really look forward to seeing his future work. Curtis Jackson delivers the most memorable scene of the film, which involves him taking his daughter’s prom date to one side for the ‘dad talk’. This gives Keaton’s ‘dad talk’ in ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ a run for its money!

‘Den of Thieves’ has all the makings of a classic heist film, but sadly it doesn’t deliver anything game changing, or even that memorable, and so will inevitably become a film I’ll forget was even released in a few years time.  It’s definitely an enjoyable first time viewing, mostly due to the twist and turns that come in to play, but knowing the outcome of these lessens it’s re-watch value even more for me. My recommendation is wait until it’s home release, or the very likely scenario it lands on a certain streaming platform sometime in the near future.

Tom’s Rating: 4.5/10

Fifty Shades Freed

Year: 2018
Directed by: James Foley
Cast: Dakota JohnsonJamie DornanEric Johnson, Rita Ora 

Written by Fiona Underhill

Well, we’ve finally reached the conclusion of the filthy film trilogy and I don’t know where to begin telling you about it. I still maintain that the first film (directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson) was pretty good and holds up to re-watches. However, the subsequent two (directed by James Foley) have been terrible and I think the gender of the directors is more than a coincidence here. If ever a film were crying out for the female gaze – surely this is it? If only STJ had been given the creative control she desired and wanted to stay on the franchise, we may have ended up with something of better quality. Yes – the source material is trash but the books could have been turned into either higher quality ‘arty’ films or more fully leaned into the enjoyably cheesy trash, but instead we have something unsatisfying and middling, which helps no one.

The reason the first film works so much better than the subsequent two is that the first film is explicitly ABOUT the sex and the red room. In the sequels, it feels as if the sex is shoe-horned in and all the tension has been lost from those scenes. In the first, Christian is dealing with his traumatic abusive past (he doesn’t like Anastasia touching him) and there is a clear link between this and his need to dominate in the bedroom. Anastasia is figuring out whether she loves this man enough to cope with the ‘contract’ and all of the weird sex stuff. The tension in the sequels is fabricated by a force outside of the couple and this is why they are so much weaker.

Surprisingly, this film dispenses with the wedding very quickly in a montage right at the start of the film and we move onto the honeymoon in the blink of an eye. Of course, the money porn is at the forefront with the honeymoon, as Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) is whisked away to Paris and Monte Carlo by her new husband Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). The ‘big bad’ from the second film; Anastasia’s old boss (Jack Hyde – why didn’t they just name him Jekylland?) is back, causing Christian to up the security surrounding Anastasia. This causes tension, as she just wants to go get drunk with Kate (Eloise Mumford – one of the more appealing actors from the trilogy). Christian spontaneously buys a house and the architect firstly comes onto Christian and then his brother, Elliot (Luke Grimes). Of course, interspersed with all of this plot are the infamous red room scenes, which are, you know, fine I guess. Bizarrely, Christian’s former mentor Elena (Kim Basinger) is in the trailer but seems to have been cut from the final film – although she still manages to cause problems for Anastasia.

Sigh. I am so frustrated by these films. They could have made both characters hotter; by giving Johnson a better haircut and allowing Dornan to keep his Northern Irish accent instead of his painful attempts at an American one. Christian has a beard for one brief, shining moment and then Ana tells him to shave – so that’s the end of that. Both Johnson and Dornan have been so much better in other things (‘A Bigger Splash’ and ‘The Fall’ for example), so why they are so bad here remains a mystery.

The reason I get so annoyed is that teenage girls and women deserve better. We deserve to have sexy films told from a woman’s point of view and yes, that view men through the female gaze. The closest thing we have at the moment is ‘Outlander’ on television which uses many female writers and directors. I will defend the ‘Twilight’ films (which I truly love and were a springboard for ‘Fifty Shades’ of course) and the ‘Magic Mike’ films, which were WAY higher quality than they needed to be. Oh, and I love Nicholas Sparks films too – sue me. Yes, Fifty Shades was written by a woman and she is responsible for many of the problematic aspects of the film trilogy. However, I still feel that if women writers, directors, casting agents and producers had worked on the whole film trilogy, things would be different.

However bad I think (particularly the last two of) these films are; I get exasperated by the level of snark directed towards them. It comes from a place of misogyny and snobbery. If a group of girls or women want to get together, have a few drinks and watch these films, then good for them. They should be allowed to enjoy them without being subject to the level of howling derision that is aimed at this franchise. ‘Chick flicks’ will never be taken seriously, even though films such as ‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘Girls Trip’ did so well financially last year. I just hope that ‘Fifty Shades’ has a positive legacy. More sexy thrillers (the types of films that Basinger starred in during the 80s and 90s) would be a great result. Just please, put more women behind the camera

Fiona’s Rating: 5.5 out of 10

Roman J, Israel, Esq.

Year: 2018
Directed by: Dan Gilroy
Starring: Denzel Washington, Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo.

WRITTEN BY HUNTER WILLIAMS

Dan Gilroy’s 2014 debut ‘Nightcrawler’ was a bold and bloody portrayal of modern-day media and consumer culture, exploring the shocking dangers of L.A crime journalism. It struck a chord with critics and audiences alike, making it one of the most memorable films of the whole year. It’s surprising, then, to leap four years ahead only to find that Gilroy’s second film, ‘Roman J. Israel, Esq.’, fails to reach the same heights, or even fit into the same league as ‘Nightcrawler’. Luckily, however, Washington’s colourful performance brings excitement to an otherwise boring story.

In what may seem like an average courtroom drama, Gilroy instead presents a unique portrait for the driven and idealistic defense attorney, Roman J. Israel, Esq., contrasting the old with the new through much of what makes up his character: large wire glasses, poofy hair, an insecure posture, and a toothy smile complimented by quirky headphones. It’s the kind of role that begged for someone good, and, surely enough, there was Denzel Washington. He carries the whole story on his shoulders, imbuing even the worst of scenes with personality and excitement. For example, Roman’s small tendencies are explosive and unique, revealing themselves only when they are repressed or explored. It brings nuance to Elswit’s unusually dull photography and allows Washington to transform the small-time lawyer into a symbol of social justice.

Even with such noble intentions, Gilroy fails to keep the flame alive in what feels like the least passionate ode 60’s activism there could be. It lacks the urgency required to establish a strong sense of importance, undermining its crucial message of speaking truth-to-power. For example, the subplot in which Roman meets a civil-rights activist named Maya, feels woefully underdeveloped and cheesy, playing second fiddle to an elaborate corporate scheme that loses control of itself as soon as it begins. When, in fact, it should be the other way around. It’s for this reason that Gilroy’s character-driven story of justice quickly transforms into a plot-driven adventure that feels too forgettable and slow to be considered for the 2018 Oscars.

It would almost be reasonable to pan it off as ‘Oscar bait’, but it might just be worse than that. Roman J. Israel, Esq. is among the long list of films that come out of every year that doesn’t do anything particularly impressive, but they don’t reek of production issues or problems either. It just exists because it can. And there’s nothing worse than a movie being a movie if it doesn’t have to be one.

HUNTER’S RATING: 5.6/10