Molly’s Game

Year: 2018
Directed by: Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong

Written by Jessica Peña

Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut boasts an excellent script that enables a stellar performance from Jessica Chastain. ‘Molly’s Game’ is a calculating, fast-paced film about the woman media outlets dubbed, “The Poker Princess,” Molly Bloom. A former Olympic level prospect, Bloom endured a devastating ski fall in the 2002 Winter Olympics qualifications that led her to rest that dream. Upon moving from Colorado to Los Angeles, she works at a bar, then soon gets offered to work as a secretary for a real estate developer, an arrogant  man who refuses to eat “poor people bagels,” when Molly is ordered to fetch him breakfast. Invited to help run his poker games, Molly is enthralled with the slopes of the game and the power to seize her life, getting into deep pockets of legal trouble and an eventual FBI investigation.

Sorkin has penned several iconic personalities into big screen scripts such as Charlie Wilson, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs. There’s something captivating when it comes to his approach with his latest subject, Molly Bloom. Sorkin immediately fell in love with how competent and thrilling Bloom’s life story was. Based on the telling autobiographical memoir, ‘Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker’, Sorkin uses his penmanship to dramatize challenging situations in Bloom’s real life to fit a very smart plotline. The film tells of Bloom’s brushes with A-list actors, studio heads, politicians, and star athletes, as they gathered into her poker games to challenge their luck. From the first poker game with her boss, he clearly disapproves of her dress and it leads her to refresh her wardrobe with the hefty tips she begins to earn from the games. She gets a taste for the entrepreneurship influence and being her own boss. We start to see more dominance in Molly Bloom and she becomes an effective player herself.

Jessica Chastain delivers such a distinct and powerful performance that it completely blows you away. We see her utilize the lovely, but strong force of nature that enabled her past personas from ‘A Most Violent Year’ and ‘Zero Dark Thirty.’ Chastain is infectious as Molly Bloom. Even in a smoky room full of billionaire men playing poker, it is her that demands the most respect. Her role encapsulates a stunning reality to a woman’s perseverance and wit.

The men of the industry, the government, and from her own family, cripple Molly’s personal gain in more ways than one. It’s easy to notice how she’s come so far in her profession driven by the illusion of “power over powerful men,”  She doesn’t notice this until the end, though. Thing is, it’s not the sole purpose for her. This is a story about her taking control of her own life. Mistakes come back to haunt you and it’s not always an easy hurdle to get over. From an early life of being pushed too hard by her father, Bloom carries a weight on her that refuses to be seen. The dynamic she has with her estranged father, played respectively by Kevin Costner, plays a huge role in her life. Sorkin writes in aspects of gender politics that make for some good commentary on this. Bloom’s unlikely heroism in the film peeks through in moments of dignity and how true she is to not only the rules of the game, but those of her own.

Idris Elba gives us such a solid and consoling presence. We see him star alongside Chastain as her highly competent, and at first very reluctant, lawyer, Charlie Jaffey. He advises Bloom throughout her entire legal case, never straying away to tell her the realities of her situation. He encourages her to seek vindication with honesty- to be on open book to the feds with information. Nothing in the world, not even her cleared name, would convince Bloom to provide the identities of the big names who sat at her poker tables every week. Chaffey is at first very cautious in meeting her. He assumes she is a definite loss of a case, considering her implications with the Russian mob. His relationship with Bloom becomes confident as they deliver the best lines to the other and begin to establish trust. It makes for some entertaining discourse, thanks to Sorkin’s ability to single out tension and give it a spotlight.

‘Molly’s Game’ is a film that deals a lot with Bloom’s strength and resilience in a way that finishes with redeeming effect. The only disadvantage is its 140 minute runtime. Sometimes you feel as though Sorkin could have cut out a scene or two. It’s nonetheless gripping throughout. Sorkin’s first time feature helming the director’s chair is a solid and clever venture. In an interview, Sorkin himself called the project a “triumphant collaboration.” His dialogue leads its characters to take control completely, especially with Molly’s integrity at stake. Sorkin doesn’t disappoint in his debut. ‘Molly’s Game’ is a film that’s very self aware of its characters with clever plays in dialogue and a hefty payoff.

Jessica’s Rating: 7.5 out of 10

 

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Good Time

Year: 2017
Directed by: Benny & Josh Safdie
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdie, Jennifer Jason Leigh. 

Written by Hunter Williams

The Safdie brothers promise very little with a modest title of only being a ‘Good Time’, when it is, in fact, the best adrenaline rush of 2017. After their previous success with Heaven Knows What, the Safdie’s received an unexpected email from Robert Pattinson. The Twilight star expressed an interest in collaboration, resulting in the ultimate vehicle for everyone involved. It pushed the Safdie’s into Hollywood and launched Pattinson back to the top again. The only expected thing, however, was to be shown a good time. Spoiler alert: I was.

In the opening shot of Josh and Benny Safdie’s ‘Good Time’, the audience is immediately thrown into the head rush of Williams’ fast-moving camera steadily approaching the building in which the frantic New York night begins. Connie Nikas (Robert Pattinson) bursts into the room, forcibly removing his developmentally disabled brother Nick from his therapy session. The audience will soon learn that this is one mistake among many in the coming hours once the two brothers huddle together in the elevator in order to discuss their plan of robbing a bank for $65,000. It’s not the first time a story followed the aftermath of a failed bank heist, but it’s never been done with such an electric and powerful momentum.

‘Good Time’ understands not to waste any time before the heist, immediately pushing on the gas pedal without ever looking back. Connie and Nick move with the rapid force of the camera, detailed mostly through close-ups and wide shots in order to capture the anxiety and claustrophobia of doing something completely nuts. As the plan is set in motion, the Saftie’s begin to orchestrate the frantic feeling that’ll be prevalent throughout the story, combining the cheesy electric guitar sounds of the nostalgic 80’s with the buzzing synths that feel more like an intensified version of Blade Runner than something of a modern thriller flick. It’s the textured atmosphere of Josh and Benny Safdie’s ‘Good Time’ that not only separates itself from similar heists films, but also distinguishes itself as a true Safdie film that isn’t afraid to indulge in the pure grunge and grease they’re known for.

After the bank heist goes wrong, the audience is left with a wild goose chase lead mostly by Connie Nikas. It’s in this moment in which the weight of the whole story falls on his shoulders, presumably motivating him to do the very best he can. Robert Pattinson embodies the desperate and sometimes intelligent brother who attempts to share his love with his brother Nick, unfortunately not understanding the difference between good and bad love. This is further emphasized by a particularly heartbreaking final scene that does not include Pattinson at all, but rather the feeling he’s left behind. Josh and Benny Safdie develop an aching pain at the centre of their story by demonstrating the character’s inability to sit down and breath through the film’s determination to run them through until they have to.

‘Good Time’ is a precious and deeply affecting thrill ride that’ll be remembered for a lot more than just being a good time, and surely there’s no more of a reason to see it than that. But if there’s one thing to be learned from the whole endeavour, it’s that taking risks on independent film-makers with potential, even if you’re Robert Pattinson, can mean a whole lot more than just a few dollars. It can mean the difference between changing someone’s view of cinema  (i.e me and maybe even you).

Hunter’s Rating: 9.5/10

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The Commuter

Year: 2017
Directed By: Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Sam Neill

Written by Chris Gelderd

From the off, this is better than the 2015 Collet-Serra / Neeson debut ‘Non-Stop’. The whole film is more restrained, as it can be, and suits Neeson much more than recent offerings, taking into account his age and the daft logic of these films. Basically, Liam Neeson does ‘Murder On The Orient Express’. Sound good? Then you’ll enjoy this guff.

Think ‘Speed’, blended with ‘MOTOE’, with a hint of ‘Strangers On A Train’ and you’ll have the dumbest Agatha Christie / Alfred Hitchcock modern-based thriller ever. First Collet-Serra had Neeson save a passenger airline, now we are on the ground on a passenger train across New York. It’s 100mins of everything you’ve come to expect from our Irish pensioner.

The fact the whole film is much more…grounded, I think is the word… makes it more enjoyable. It’s marketed as a thriller and actually plays out like one for a good hour or so before it rewards us with that over-the-top, laws-of-physics defying action finale and cliché plot twist. Yeah it’s been done before, we probably know who the villains are, but we didn’t expect a masterpiece. If you did, then you’ve come to watch the wrong Liam Neeson film.

He’s got the Academy Award nominations. He’s got the critical and fan acclaim for his entertaining and equally powerful movies. He’s been a Jedi Master, trained Batman and been a talking tree monster. Now he’s having fun in his prime by taking down bad-guys as the “ordinary man” who happens to always have a particular set of skills in a variety of “ordinary situations”. Today he sells life insurance, is a former cop, and can’t leave a train without his family being killed if he fails his task. But he’s not going to let that happen – cue the chaos.

Well, no, first, put the chaos on hold and actually let the thriller unfold. It’s a well paced and interesting set-up that takes it’s time to introduce us to the key players in a clever opening credits sequence and then doesn’t rush getting us into the main story. When it arrives, then it’s time to focus and watch it unfurl. But, yes, it does get a little slow during the mid-section because it literally just is Neeson stalking the aisle looking for his target, throwing as many curve balls and clues and twists as possible to keep us and him guessing. It hits a point where nothing seems to really happen for a long time and we are stuck padding out the plot until we can move on to the next.

Set in, on and around a packed commuter train for the rest of the movie, it’s simple to follow and Neeson does what he does best – he stalks back and forward, talks angrily on mobile phones, finds suspicious packages and weapons and packs one hell of a punch before disarming people with a charming smile. He’s got so much respect that it’s hard to not enjoy him now in whatever he does, because he puts his all into it and doesn’t try to re-invent the wheel. He knows what you expect and he’ll give it to you.

The action and slow burning “who-dunnit” style tension suits him much more than the god-awful OTT ‘Taken 2’ and ‘Unknown’. He actually doesn’t do too much in the first half that he couldn’t do in real life, and there is a certain hand-to-hand/guitar/axe fist fight that looks pretty damn impressive and Neeson never looks out of his depth doing this.

With support from Patrick Wilson, Vera Famiga and Sam Neill, you know one,none or all of them must be shady, and you’ll probably guess straight away, but maybe you won’t. They are as invested as Neeson in driving the story and taking things seriously, which is good. Apart from that, the time is spent with actors you won’t recognise, which works in the plot’s favour as its these “nobodys” who may hold the key to the puzzle, so we have no idea who it could be, and you’ll be guessing all the way through.

So, yeah. It’s not a game changer at all but it’s one of those decent 100min popcorn action thrillers that will satisfy all those who to watch something of the “best film with Liam Neeson set on a train” genre. Turn your brain off and just have some forgetful fun!

Chris’ Rating: 6.0 out of 10

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Directed by: Martin McDonagh
Year: 2018
Starring: Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Lucas Hedges, Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes.

Written by Corey Hughes

British-Irish playwright-turned-filmmaker Martin McDonagh returns to the director seat in emphatic fashion with ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’, his third feature film that follows the success of ‘In Bruges’ and ‘Seven Psychopaths’, a film that alludes to the conflicts of hatred versus empathy, and tolerance versus change. This, in short, is a triumphant outing for McDonagh, and is completely deserving of the tremendous buzz that it has been receiving during this competitive awards season.

7 months after the rape and murder of her teenage daughter, Mildred Hayes, played ruthlessly by Frances McDormand, challenges the local police authority when they fail to find a single culprit responsible for the attack. ‘Raped while dying. And still no arrests? How come, chief Willoughby?’ The three billboards ask a simple question: who is responsible for the death of Mildred Haye’s daughter?

Whilst the film seeks to uncover the mystery surrounding the death of Angela Hayes, this is not a mystery per se. Instead, this is a courageous tale of one mother’s dedication in seeking justice for her daughter, a justice not given to her by the local police department. With a few ‘fuck’ and ‘c**ts’ thrown in. (Yes, I censored myself. I’m not an animal.) This trademark use of explosive, vulgar writing is something that acclaimed writer and director Martin McDonagh is renowned for, and he holds no punches this time ‘round either. McDonagh’s prowess as both a playwright and a cinematic dramatist has resulted in a mesmerising fusion of drama and comedy; a film that is brimming with moments of laughter and melancholy, and a mosaic of compelling characters.

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At the helm of McDonagh’s piece is Frances McDormand, an actor not known for leading the screen, but more so for her supporting contributions, although that wouldn’t seem the case here. Her portrayal of the tortured Mildred Hayes is a fascinating one: she is not a good person, nor is she a particularly good mother, but what she lacks in manners she makes up for in grit, determination and complete badassery. A mother of a grief-struck son (Lucas Hedges) and a divorcee from an abusive husband (John Hawke), Hayes appears to be in constant battle with herself and those that surround her. Yet despite her fighting, unforgiving nature, she is not immune to emotion – she’s simply a mother seeking justice for her daughter. Whenever she breaks down there is a real sense of devastation, an accomplishment that must be applied to the remarkable talent of McDormand who is able to simultaneously make one laugh or cry. This is simply the perfect role for McDormand, who fits the role like a tightly worn bandana.

As for the rest of the cast, there’s a lot of excitement to be had. Whether it’s Woody Harrelson as the charismatic chief of police and loving father, or Lucas Hedges as the tormented son (a role not too distant from his performance in ‘Manchester by the Sea’), ‘Three Billboards is bursting with compelling characters; all of which given the necessary depth to flourish alongside McDormand’s lead. Yet I feel extra credit needs to be given to the immensely underrated Sam Rockwell, who this time ‘round plays an inexcusably monstrous police officer who embodies the societal anxiety of police brutality and racial prejudice that is far too prevalent in today’s current climate. Yet this totally unsympathetic character is graced with the most compelling arc within the movie, which to some may be an unforgivable decision made by McDonagh. Though, for me, this change in character is justified, a transition that is fuelled by his incompetence as an officer of the law, and by his understandable castigation from his local community. Rockwell captures this sense of divisiveness with ease, by bringing to the fore what could be a career-best performance.

At the heart of it all, McDonagh’s film is a hilarious, raunchy and poignant story of a mother’s unrelenting desire for justice. But more so, it is an intriguing psychological analysis of one’s response to tragedy, which in this case, is one fuelled by anarchic rage.

This is an utterly fantastic piece of work by McDonagh.

Corey’s Rating: 9.5 / 10

Suburbicon

Year: 2017
Directed by: George Clooney
Starring: Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Noah Jupe, Oscar Isaac

Written by Tom Sheffield

George Clooney returns to the director’s chair once again for a trip back to the 1950’s in ‘Suburbicon’, which was written by the Coen Brothers. With Matt Damon and Julianne Moore as the leads, things were looking promising, even though the trailer left me a little confused as to what genre the film was trying to plant itself in.

But were Clooney, Damon, Moore, and the Coens a winning formula? Unfortunately not… The pieces for success were all there, but unfortunately they just didn’t come together for this film.

Suburbicon is a family-centred utopia in which Gardner Lodge (Damon) and his family live. One night, robbers break into Gardner Lodge’s (Damon) home and tie up his wife, Rose (Moore), her twin sister Margaret (also Moore), and his son Nicky (Jupe). The robbers chloroform the family, and when they wake up they learn the devastating news that Rose has died. The story then delves into why the robbers went to the Lodge’s household that night and we learn that appearances can be deceiving.

I’ll keep this relatively spoiler-free for those of you who want to watch the film, but it must be said that I think the trailer actually showed us all the only decent parts of the film, and it also doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out the obvious incoming plot twist. It has to be said, Damon, Moore, and Noah Jupe (who plays Damon’s son) are all fantastic in their respective roles, which only increases my disappointment with this film. Jupe in particular gave a very career promising performance, and perhaps my favourite of the film.

The film was marketed as a comedy, and whilst it does have a couple funny moments, it doesn’t contain enough to call itself one, and here-in lies my biggest gripe with the film. I went in expecting a comedy with a darker sense humour with a dash of mystery, and what I watched was, well… none of the above. The film fails to actually nail a genre and I left the cinema genuinely questioning what it was I just watched. The screenplay dips it’s toe into multiple territories, but it never fully submerges itself into one, meaning you’re often left wondering if something was meant to make you laugh, or if a rather obvious reveal was supposed to actually be a surprise.

Another gripe I have with the film revolves around the fact the plot puts focus on the first African-American family that move into Suburbicon, much to the other resident’s dismay. We are frequently shown scenes of the horrors this family suffer at the hands of their racist neighbours, who constantly rally outside of their house to try and force them out of the neighbourhood. This sub-plot doesn’t really seem to fit in with the rest of the film though, and its addition in the film is also a contributing factor as to why I left the cinema confused. I sat there thinking that witnessing the horrible daily struggles this family are put through would lead to some sort of pay off at the end, but there is none and it’s incredibly disappointing. I feel like I might have missed something here? But from the general consensus amongst other reviewers, it appears my thoughts reflect the majority of theirs when it comes to these scenes.

Don’t get me wrong, the film does have its watchable scenes, especially Oscar Isaacs’s brilliant but brief appearance in a couple of them, and I’ll happily admit that my eyes were well and truly glued to the screen for the final couple of scenes. But the poor script and direction really resulted in an underwhelming film that truly did have potential to deliver a dark comedy.

To wrap this review up, I think I’d recommend catching ‘Suburbicon’ in the comfort of your own home when it’s released on DVD or streamable somewhere. It’s an okay watch at best, but with it failing to figure out what kind of film it’s trying to be, it may leave you confused and annoyed.

Tom’s Rating: 3.0/10

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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            

The Snowman

Year: 2017
Directed by: Tomas Alfredson
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Chloë Sevigny, J.K. Simmons, Val Kilmer, Toby Jones

Written by Corey Hughes

After a 6-year directorial break since ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in 2011, Tomas Alfredson returns to the director seat for the woeful adaptation of Jo Nesbø’s best-selling Scandi-noir murder mystery ‘The Snowman’, the fifth entry to the Oslo Sequence series of books starring Harry Hole.

Following a series of missing persons and murders in Oslo, acclaimed detective and loose-cannon Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) and newcomer Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), with their own personal intentions, hunt the aptly named Snowman down; a serial killer who leaves a snowman in his wake.

Fassbender, whilst trying his outmost to provide a plausible performance, fails to play the inner-tormented, broken man with the same gravitas that he brought to the table in similar roles in ‘Shame’ and ‘Hunger’; an unfortunate addition to a string of bad decisions from the immensely talented actor. The performances from the rest of the cast are moderate at best – Kilmer; an odd casting choice whose dialogue appears to have been dubbed in post production, Ferguson; who is unconvincing in filling the boots of the strong-willed Bratt, and J.K. Simmons; who provides a caricature-esque performance as the grotesque and completely unsympathetic Arve Støp.

Keeping within touching distance with Nesbø’s novel, Alfredson brings to the table experience from working on ‘Let The Right One In‘ by showing the goriness of the Snowman’s murders in their most truthful, explicit and uncensored form. The murders are set against the backdrop of Dione Beebe’s swooning cinematography, a successful depiction of bringing the cold, snow-engulfed Oslo to life, but in the grand scheme of things he is merely disguising what is ultimately a bleak, unforgettable experience.

There have been reports surfacing that during the editing process, Alfredson and editor Thelma Schoonmaker came to the realisation that chunks of the plot were missing, resulting in last-minute reshoots. Such disorganisation not only shows Alfredson’s lackadaisical approach in adapting the novel to the big screen, but also accounts for ‘The Snowman’s’ directionless nature; focusing on things that are insignificant whilst quickly glossing over things that are instrumental to the plot, an oddity that Schoonmaker is far from accustomed to from her partnership with Martin Scorsese (who was supposed to direct this mess before Alfredson stepped in).

Disregarding the inclusion of intricate, overlapping subplots evident in Nesbø’s novel, screenwriters Hossein Amini and Peter Staughan provide an unfaithful translation of the source material. Condensing a layered, 400-page novel to a mere 2-hour film is difficult but undoubtedly achievable, yet Amini and Staughan seem to struggle with adapting Nesbø’s multiple plots into a conceivable screenplay. The film cuts out a catalogue of important moments from the novel, which ultimately results in each character having the most minimal amount of depth and motivation possible. You aren’t given any reason to care about the characters, or the situations they find themselves in, an extreme flaw for any murder-mystery story.

‘The Snowman’, with so many acclaimed names attached to its production, with even Martin Scorsese as an executive producer, is a gargantuan disappointment. Use your price for admission towards Nesbø’s novel instead. You’ll thank me later.

Corey’s Rating: 4.0 out of 10

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Logan Lucky

Year: 2017
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes

Written by Corey Hughes

From time to time directors need to take a break, and I get it. Filmmaking must be an exhausting and difficult process. Even the great Stanley Kubrick took a well-deserved 12-year break between ‘Full Metal Jacket’ (1987) and ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ (1999). So when Oscar-winning Steven Soderbergh announced his ‘retirement’ from directing, it came as a surprise to see him back just four years later from his last feature.

He left on a high note with the critically acclaimed biopic ‘Behind The Candelabra’ being a film that defied expectations and met some sturdy opposition from audiences across the globe, due to its somewhat ‘controversial’ subject matter.

But an eagerly anticipated return to our screens means a return to a genre that is close to Soderbergh’s heart: the heist movie. The heist movie for Soderbergh is what I imagine the Sci-fi genre is for Spielberg.  Whilst both directors have ventured into unfamiliar territory, they both have their best films (arguably) in these particular genres. Although Soderbergh has made other interesting films (look no further than ‘Traffic’ and ‘Magic Mike’) it’s the ‘Ocean’ trilogy that puts his name on the movie-map.

His return to the heist genre has brought us ‘Logan Lucky’. The movie begins in West Virginia, where Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) is fixing a car with the adorable assistance of his daughter (Farrah Mackenzie, write it down). After being laid-off from his job due to being a liability to the company, Jimmy encourages his younger brother Clyde (Adam Driver) to assist him in his criminal adventure.

The seemingly simple-minded Logan brothers are both disabled, Jimmy having trouble with his knee and Clyde being an amputee (“it’s like the two of you add up to one whole person”), but the limit of such similarities end with Tatum and Driver’s contrasting performances. Whilst Tatum’s character is often cheerful and light-hearted in his approach to the unfortunate circumstances he finds himself in, Driver’s Clyde is much more solemn and serious. Put them both together, and Soderbergh has managed to bring forth a pair of interesting and empathetic characters.

Cauliflower. To you and me, an awful tasting vegetable. To the Logan brothers, a code word that acts as a trigger to a life of crime. Jimmy’s utterance of the word to the unfavourable ears of his younger brother means that they must work together to pull off a complex robbery that will be later known as the ‘Hillbilly Heist’ during a NASCAR race in North Carolina. But they can’t do it alone…

In comes Joe Bang and his two highly uneducated and unsophisticated (but utterly hilarious) hillbilly brothers. Joe Bang is a fitting name for Daniel Craig’s character, a name that emphasises his expertise in the explosive-making business. Craig’s unrecognisable performance couldn’t be further away from the debonair persona that he has become known for, playing James Bond over recent years; expect no sexy British ambience or sophisticated suave here!

As the opening scene reaches your eyes there’s an undeniable neo-Western vibe to Soderbergh’s return, from the Creedance Clearwater Revival soundtrack to the ‘tang’ of the West Virginian accent, there’s something truly appealing about modernising the somewhat out-dated Western genre. When it’s done right, it feels nostalgic and has a sense of resonation that can be enjoyed.

That’s not to say that the modern aspects of the film aren’t to be enjoyed, either. Most of the humour throughout the film, written by mysterious first-timer Rebecca Blunt (perhaps one of Soderbergh’s many pseudonyms?), is both fresh and effective. There are some truly hilarious moments, particularly the shots being fired at George R.R. Martin for his rather slow writing style. They’ve got a point, George…

Where ‘Logan Lucky’ really shines, is through Soderbergh’s trademarking caper-movie style. The heist plan montage explained methodically via non-diegetic narration, or even the final revelation explaining how the heist really panned out, is smartly executed; yet I do still have issues with the final third of the movie.

The main reason Soderbergh’s ‘Ocean’ trilogy succeeded, for me, was because it was exhilarating; it had an edge of excitement to the way in which the action unraveled on screen. Whilst those films had people on the edge of their seats, ‘Logan Lucky’ will have you firmly laid back against the backrest. This time round, Soderbergh guides you along an A-Z heist with no bumps in the road, nothing that feels detrimental to the gang’s success. Was this a perfectly planned crime, or perhaps a victim of plot convenience?

Find out for yourselves. Of all the films to be enjoyed this month, Logan Lucky is up there with them. It’s definitely worth your hard earned cash.

Corey’s rating: 7.5 out of 10

Detroit

Year: 2017
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, Algee Smith, Will Poulter, Jason Mitchell, Jack Reynor, Hannah Murray

Written by Fiona Underhill

On paper, this film has many elements that appeal to me; a female director, set in 1960s America, a true story set during the Civil Rights era and actors (particularly two British stars) who I like. I also visited the city of Detroit in January of this year and when I first heard of this film a few months ago, I thought it could be among the best of the year. Unfortunately, I was left frustrated and disappointed by this film. 

The film begins by showing the unrest and rioting in the city of Detroit in 1967. We focus in on several characters; Larry (Algee Smith) and Fred (Jacob Latimore), members of a band trying to make it big in Motown, Dismukes (John Boyega) is a factory worker and security guard, juggling several jobs while trying to keep his head down and stay out of the trouble bubbling up around him and white police officers Krauss (Will Poulter), Flynn (Ben O’Toole) and Demens (Jack Reynor – following his breakout roles in ‘Sing Street’ and ‘Free Fire’). While trying to make it home after an aborted gig, Larry and Fred take refuge at the Algiers Hotel and there they meet two white girls; Julie (Hannah Murray) and Karen (Kaitlyn Dever). The rioting has reached the stage where there is a curfew and there is a heavy military presence on the streets. It is in this highly-charged environment that some young black men, horsing around, decide to fire a toy gun out of one of the hotel windows. This, of course, gives the police an excuse to invade the hotel, round up everyone there and start interrogating them, using methods of torture.

The true story behind this film is fascinating, particularly in the context of black American history and the current reality of black people experiencing police brutality, with the white cops getting off scott-free. However, director Kathryn Bigelow somehow manages to make the story feel long and boring. It is definitely pacing and editing that are the biggest flaws here. It feels like it takes a long time for the film to get to the events at the Algiers, then the main event (which is an extended sequence of brutal torture and murder) feels like it goes on forever, THEN, by far the worst section takes place AFTER this – when the narrative structure just seems to go haywire. The whole film felt like it was at least twice as long as it actually was and this is a disservice to the real people involved.

It’s a shame because the acting is mostly fantastic. I have watched Will Poulter’s career closely since he was in one of my favourite films, ‘Son of Rambow’. He plays an evil character extremely well here. Bizarrely, one of the biggest stars, Anthony Mackie (currently playing Falcon in the MCU) has a relatively small role; as a Vietnam veteran who happens to be the one caught in the same room as the two white girls – making him one of the main targets for the police. However, his character is not given any backstory before we get to the Algiers, so he feels like a tacked-on side character. I feel for Boyega, who seems to have had several misfires since showing such potential in ‘Attack the Block’, then exploding as an international star in ‘The Force Awakens’. His characters in both ‘The Circle’ and now this have NOT served him well. Dismukes should be the most fascinating character here, he enters the scene at the hotel ostensibly on the cop’s side. However, he makes some questionable and unbelievable choices and the way his character is handled after the night in the hotel is confusing and muddled. John Krasinski (again, a pretty big star) enters the film right at the end, as a lawyer hired by the police union to defend the racist cops. Smith and Latimore are great finds as probably the ‘central’ characters – they are the ones we follow most closely across the three acts of the narrative. If this film falls down, it is not the actors’ fault.

There are some unbelievable moments in this film that you cannot help but wonder if they would have been handled differently by a black writer or director. The racist cops are almost handled as ‘a few bad apples’, as opposed to being a product of institutional racism. I cannot go into details because of spoilers, but after the events at the hotel, some of the cops (especially at a high level) are portrayed as sympathetic to the black victims and appalled at the actions of the three police officers at the centre of the action. This just does not ring true to me. It is disappointing that a film that was highly anticipated by me and many others, mainly because of the director, has fallen short at telling would could have been a vital and relevant story to today’s America. A missed opportunity.

 Fiona’s rating: 6 out of 10