Who Killed Teddy Bear (1965)

Directed by: Joseph Cates
Cast: Sal Mineo, Juliet Prowse, Jan Murray, Elaine Stritch, Daniel J. Travanti

Written by Tom Sheffield

Who Killed Teddy Bear is a psychological crime thriller that was released in 1965 but was refused certification on its original theatrical release due to its “sleazy, taboo-breaking nature“. The film has been newly scanned from one it’s few surviving 35mm prints and is available for the first time on Blu-ray and Digital. The restoration carried out involved careful grain management, both automated and manual removal of film dirt and damage, and correction of major instability, warping and density fluctuations.

After Norah (Juliet Prowse), a nightclub dancer, receives a series of obscene phone calls,  police detective Lt. Dave Madden (Jan Murray) begins an investigation to find the unbalanced pervert before he can act upon the threats he’s been making. Nora befriends the club’s busboy, Lawrence (Sal Mineo), and Lt. Dave Madden as he investigates her case, but who can she really trust?

Who Killed Teddy Bear has a strong cast that all give a superb performance, but its Sal Mineo as Lawrence was a personal highlight for a number of reasons. Lawrence is an incredibly unpredictable character and Mineo really stands out from his castmates in this film with this performance. Mineo’s mannerisms and facial expressions really elevate the presence of his unhinged character.

The perverted stalker is revealed to the audience halfway through the film in a dramatic stroke of a match that illuminates his face. At this point, it doesn’t come as much of as a surprise to the audience, not if you’ve been paying attention anyway. I imagine the reveal was much more of a surprise for those who had the chance to see it during its original release. It is, however, still a very dramatic and well-shot reveal. This reveal allows the story to explore this character more and offers up some shocking surprises along the way.

What I truly loved about Who Killed Teddy Bear is how it captured the era in which it was filmed. The swinging 60’s vibe oozes from this film, whether it’s the busy disco dancefloor at the nightclub or the taxi-lit streets of Manhattan, Oscar-nominated cinematographer Joseph Brun’s breathtaking imagery is truly the highlight of this film and his work here surely inspired a number of films that followed it.

Whilst this thriller may have lost some of its thrill over the years, it’s an incredibly well-shot film that offers an authentic look at the fashion and style of the 60’s and an incredible amount of work went into restoring this film, and it has really paid off in the end product. The film handles its genuinely creepy and frightening subject matter by pulling no punches, and it’s easy to see why it failed to be certified for a theatrical release back in ’65. The ending takes such a sharp turn in tone, you won’t be forgetting it any time soon.

Who Killed Teddy Bear is available to purchase digitally on October 15th and is released on Blu-ray September 17th. 

 

Tom’s Verdict:

3-5

 

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Sicario 2: Soldado

Year: 2018
Directed by: Stefano Sollima
Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Jeffrey Donovan, Catherine Keener

Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

Taylor Sheridan has crafted himself a very successful niche in Hollywood. Following his writing successes on films like ‘Hell or High Water and Wind River’ (which he also directed), Sheridan has penned a sequel to the film that truly put him on the map, 2015’s ‘Sicario’. ‘Sicario’ is a crime thriller, directed by Denis Villeneuve and was one of the smash hits of 2015, earning Sheridan worldwide recognition for his superb screenplay and the way he handles dialogue. Flashing forward 3 years, ‘Sicario 2: Soldado’ is Sheridan’s first sequel, and it’s clear that Sheridan hasn’t lost his knack for piercing dialogue and riveting storytelling.

‘Sicario 2: Soldado’ stars Josh Brolin’s CIA Agent Matt Graver and his frequent inside man Alejandro Gillick (played superbly by Benicio Del Toro) as they attempt to find a solution to the increasingly troublesome drug war on the US-Mexico border. Their solution is as American as it gets – to incite a war between the biggest drug cartels in Mexico by kidnapping the daughter of one of the cartel kingpins and staging it as a rival cartel’s doing.

‘Sicario’ did a masterful job of unpacking the American approach to the drug trade in Mexico, examining why America does it, how it does it, and what it needs to do better. It criticises everything we have come to expect from a film like this by subverting our expectations, thanks in large part to the superb role Emily Blunt played as our audience surrogate. This time, Blunt is sadly nowhere to be seen, and as Graver says when recruiting Gillick again, there are “no rules this time,” with the ‘Sicario 2: Soldado’ team aiming to take a far more blunt approach to proceedings. While the overall effect of the film doesn’t match ‘Sicario,’ it delivers a satisfying follow up to one of 2015’s best efforts.

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Starting with the good, the performances are as great as we’ve come to expect from pros like Brolin and Del Toro, each of them relishing their cutting lines of dialogue to various people who sadly get on their bad side. Brolin chews up his script like a man on a mission, with the ham-fisted subtlety that we expect from a man whose plan to stop the drug war is to, well, start a different war. Graver is the embodiment of the American Way in ‘Soldado’, when presented with two options, Graver will choose the one that makes the biggest explosion.

Del Toro’s performance is far more nuanced, a welcome change to Graver’s brash nature, as he completes his tasks strategically and efficiently. He has moments of brutality, like an early assassination where he uses his left index finger to fire his handgun faster than his right index finger could for reasons other than this looks cool. Alejandro is faced with many moral quandary’s through the film, mainly related to the kidnapped daughter, Isabel (played by Isabela Moner, off the back of a supporting role in ‘Transformers: The Last Knight’). Those familiar with ‘Sicario’ will know why Isabela is important to Alejandro, but what could have been forced melodrama comes off really nicely thanks to Del Toro’s performance, the highlight of which is the eye-opening sign-language conversation he has with a deaf-mute man he meets on his travels. Del Toro continues to be on fine form whatever he does, whether it’s the subtlety of this role or the madness of The Collector in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’.

Further positives for ‘Soldado’ come from its music. With the tragic passing of Jóhann Jóhannsson earlier this year, soundtrack duties were passed to regular Jóhansson collaborator Hildur Guðnadóttir. The original ‘Sicario’ soundtrack is stunning, earning numerous award nominations including an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score. ‘Soldado’s’ soundtrack is naturally influenced by ‘Sicario’s’, but where ‘Sicario’ knew when to include moments of levity and calm before the ensuing storm, ‘Soldado’s’ is much more consistently intense. It has some superb moments where it’s the soundtrack to a shootout or a chase sequence, but the overall impact isn’t quite as strong as the original.

That becomes a theme as the film transpires. I found myself thoroughly enjoying the film all the way through, but ‘Sicario’ felt different. It had the vision of masters like director Denis Villeneuve and cinematography legend Roger Deakins to guide proceedings to where they needed to be. Where ‘Sicario’ had “the scene” in form of the US-Mexico border traffic jam scene, or where it had “the shot” in the form of the US military silhouettes descending into darkness against the Mexican sunset, ‘Soldado’ doesn’t have moments like that. It has flashes of excellence, there’s a very well-done night vision scene in the first act, and there’s a very good shoot-out in the middle of a dirt road that’s shown almost entirely from inside a car. Director Stefano Sollima, a veteran of the highly rated Italian drama series ‘Gomorrah’, plays things safer than Villeneuve did, opting for functional shots rather than impressive ones. That isn’t to say there aren’t great shots and moments in the film, but it’s not as well-executed as the original.

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“The Shot” from ‘Sicario’

‘Sicario 2: Soldado’ is a well-done film, it has great elements to it, mainly from its actors, but it doesn’t quite have the spark the original has, lacking the necessary subtlety to take on such a modern-day, real-world, hot button topic. I’ve read Sheridan say ‘Soldado’ is less a sequel to the original, it’s more of a standalone story within that world, and I buy that. I would like to see more of that. Take these characters, put them in a situation, see how it unfolds. It’s a good approach, because the further away from the original you take ‘Soldado’, the better it comes across.

I could’ve done without the final line, though.

Rhys’ Rating:

3-5

 

Ocean’s Eight

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Year: 2018
Directed by: Gary Ross
Starring:  Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Rihanna, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Poulson, Awkwafina

WRITTEN BY FIONA UNDERHILL

The ‘all-female reboot’ has been a controversial trend in recent movies, none more so than ‘Ghostbusters’, a film which I loved, after growing up with and being a huge fan of the originals. Although many have been mooted (let’s pray the female ‘Lord of the Flies’ never happens), only two high-profile examples have come to fruition, with ‘Ocean’s Eight‘ being the second. These reboots have been unpopular with some men (the ‘Ghostbusters ruined my childhood’ crowd) and also some women, who believe we should have new, original and risk-taking material for teams of women to star in, instead of rehashing male-dominated franchises. I fall somewhere in between; I have mostly found them fun, but my biggest issue is that they don’t have women directors or predominantly female crews. The female empowerment aspect feels somewhat empty without the women being behind, as well as in front of the camera.

When I first heard about the cast of ‘Ocean’s Eight‘, I couldn’t help but get excited. As each name was announced and added to the impressive roster, the anticipation built. Then on-set photos were released, revealing the ultra-cool costuming, especially of Cate Blanchett’s character in her velvet suits and scarves. The press tour has blessed us even further in terms of spectacular outfits and great humour, chemistry and flirtations between the cast members. With a cast clearly having this much fun, making and promoting a film, it’s hard not to fall a little bit in love.

The film begins with Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) blagging her way out of jail and immediately returning to her old criminal ways, which clearly run in the family. She contacts her old partner-in-crime Lou (Cate Blanchett), with whom she certainly shares a history, which seems both professional and personal. Debbie has spent her jail time (including deliberately landing herself in solitary) planning an elaborate heist (it wouldn’t be an Oceans film without one) and sets about assembling the team she needs. Key to the plan is fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter), who Debbie recruits to dress film star Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) for the event of the year – the Met Gala Ball. She wants Rose to pretend that she simply must have a 150-million dollar necklace from the vaults of Cartier to adorn the neck of Daphne and then the team can steal it. Further members of the team include diamond expert and forger Amita (Mindy Kaling), pickpocket Constance (Awkwafina), multi-talented suburban Mum Tammy (my favourite; Sarah Paulson) and lastly, in an inspired piece of casting, hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna).

The sparkling and in some cases, sizzling chemistry between the cast is definitely the main strength of this film. There is undeniable tension between Bullock and Blanchett especially, although the plot does hinge around revenge against Bullock’s ex-boyfriend (played by The Hobbit’s Richard Armitage). The glamour of the Met Ball is obviously a big selling point, including an abundance of celebrity cameos. The outfits, coupled with the actual exhibition of crown jewels makes for an impossibly beautiful backdrop and you cannot help but be sucked in by it. There is lots of humour, with Hathaway being particularly great as the spoiled film star who hasn’t eaten for days. Flavours of the familiar score from the original films are featured throughout, along with the trademark split-screen style.

Look, I don’t know what else to tell you. I watched this film in a gorgeous setting, with a cocktail, quality savoury snacks and a good friend. That may have prejudiced me in favour of this film, but so what? It’s meant to be an easy-going, fun, enjoyable ride for women (especially) to enjoy on a Friday night (as we did) and that’s exactly what it is. I really hope Rihanna continues making movies in exactly the vein of this and ‘Valerian‘ because it’s Rihanna and she does what the f**k she wants. As for the continuation of the ‘female reboot’ trend? It’s hard to say at this stage if I’m for or against. I certainly am here for films with amazing ensemble casts of incredible women. If they are new, original and have women directors, all the better.

FIONA’S RATING:

3

 

 

The Outsider

Year: 2018
Directed by: Martin Zandvilet
Stars: Jared Leto, Tadanobu Asano, Kippei Shîna

Written by Lucy Buglass

The concept of ‘The Outsider’ is a very interesting one, and partially why I was so drawn to the film in the first place. The film follows a former American GI by the name of Nick Lowell who joins the Yakuza, and that synopsis alone was enough to grab my attention.  The second reason was the fact it starred Jared Leto, as I believe he’s a very good actor based on his performances in ‘Requiem for a Dream’, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ and ‘American Psycho’.

Coming into this film, I had incredibly high hopes and was expecting an afternoon of thrilling scenes and engaging characters.  As it was so easily accessible on Netflix, I also had no excuse to pass up the opportunity to get it watched. Unfortunately for me, I was left mostly disappointed by what ‘The Outsider’ delivered.

Running at 2 hours, it seems to drag on for much longer than that because the pacing of the film is poor. To be clear, I have no issue with films that have long runtimes provided they can make it work (‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, for example, runs at 3 hours yet seems to fly by), but this film has tedious scenes that simply didn’t do enough to hold my interest. They could’ve easily cut out half an hour’s worth of footage and still made the film work, in my opinion. It seems strange that a film about the Yakuza could be so boring, but sadly it was.

Jared Leto’s character, Nick, doesn’t have a clear backstory and because of this he’s a very uninteresting character. When we’re first introduced to him, I liked the fact he was such an enigma and assumed we’d learn more about him, but we never really do save for a few chunks of information scattered randomly throughout the narrative. As a Leto fan, I was disappointed that he didn’t really bring anything special to the role and literally any other actor could’ve taken his place and still delivered the same story.

The characters that Nick encounters throughout the film aren’t particularly noteworthy either, as they seem to exist to just berate Nick and frown at him, and not much happens beyond that. It seems very lazy that a film like ‘The Outsider’ has so many characters that are sloppily written, with no backstories to keep the audience interested.

‘The Outsider’ did have some redeeming features, though not enough for me to say I particularly enjoyed watching the film. There are a few gory, intense moments that hold your attention and make you squirm, but much less than I expected from a supposed crime film, especially one that focuses on such a notorious criminal organisation. Cinematically, it’s a decent film to look at based on the camerawork and colour grading throughout, but the absence of any decent story makes it fall flat.

Martin Zandvliet’s cinematic portrayal of the Japanese Yakuza is mediocre at best, and not what I expected based on the marketing I’d seen prior to watching the film. I wanted a violent, sexy, engaging crime film and got absolutely none of that.

Lucy’s Rating: 

1.5

 

Anon

Year: 2018
Directed by: Andrew Nicol
Cast: Clive Owen, Amanda Seyfried, Colm Feore, Sonya Walger, Mark O’Brien

Written by Chris Gelderd

This 2018 British science fiction thriller is directed and written by Andrew Niccol and stars Clive Owen, Amanda Seyfried, Colm Feore, Sonya Walger and Mark O’Brien.

In the not too distant future, biosyn implants allow humans to be connected to an endles visual stream of information nown as the ‘Mind’s Eye’. What people see is recorded and stored in a grid called ‘The Ether’. Privacy and secrecy no longer exist.

Detective Sal Frieland (Owen) is soon brought in to investigate a string of murders where the killer seems to be living within the Ether itself; leaving no visual clues, footprints or streams against their victims – he is seeking a ghost within the system. Sal comes across an informant known only as Anon (Seyfried) who he suspects is linked to these crimes – but why? It’s clear the security of people’s minds has been compromised, and Sal needs to find the Anon before it’s too late…

An “original film” which at least comes across as original in context, but really it’s just a blend of other big-budget sci-fi thrillers before it like ‘Minority Report’ and even ‘The Matrix’. Yet it’s painful to watch with a un-engaging story, a less than engaging cast, and a pace that makes a snail look quick in comparison.

It’s a world where people “see” streams of information depending what they look at. They can see adverts ping up around shops and sidewalks, they can see information about everyone they pass including age, job, place of residence, criminal records. It’s not a million miles from what technology can find on people today, except here it’s a constant stream where your privacy and secrets are recorded and stored in a “cloud”.

It’s like Apple becomes Skynet.

And yet to compensate a basic formula for a crime-thriller where you don’t know who or what is behind an obvious major conspiracy or rebellion against the system, you need a good cast. We sadly don’t have that either.

While Amanda Seyfried does a mediocre job as our ‘Anon’ living in the void as a ghost, never really becoming anything other than a 2D hacker with a grudge, it’s left to Clive Owen as the sharp suited detective of this cyber world. A detective who juggles heavy drinking, a failed marriage and a traumatic past to do what he does best – solve crimes. But Owen just lacks any gravitas as Sal, either due to the material he’s working with or the fact he isn’t just that great an actor in a film that requires complex character studies. We get none of that here.

With Owen out to solve a crime as basic as this, it takes so long for the cogs to turn and almost an hour for things to just warm up. Cue lots of sub-par visual effects, over-used P.O.V shots (‘Hardcore Henry’ this isn’t!) and lots of talk. Too much of a relatively good thing soon loses the impact it initially set out. Exposition upon exposition makes it complicated to follow and adds so much more to things when it didn’t need to.

Maybe there’s a reason this is a Netflix ‘original film’, because in the mainstream swing of things, it’s not original. It’s been done before, and it’s been done better. This is just a basic offering with a premise that looks and sounds exciting in trailers, but comes over slow, amateur and boring in execution.

 

Chris’s Rating: 

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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

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

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