I Kill Giants

Year: 2017
Directed by: Anders Walter
Cast: Madison Wolfe, Zoe Saldana, Imogen Poots, Sydney Wade

Written by Tom Sheffield

The poster for this film depicts a young girl stood hammer in hand facing a giant with the words ‘from the producer of Harry Potter’ placed at the very top. Having not seen the trailers or read anything about this film beforehand (or even the graphic novel on which this is based), you’d forgive me for expecting some massive fantasy showdown between a teenage girl and giants on a similar scale to the Harry Potter series.

What I actually got was something I wasn’t expecting, but I loved it all the more for it…

Barbara (Wolfe) isn’t like the other children at her school. Rather than sitting at home watching TV, or gossiping about boys, 12 year old Barbara is out protecting her family, and the Earth, from giants. We soon learn these ‘giants’ are Barbara’s very imaginative coping mechanism after her mother becomes ill. Sophia (Wade) is new to the school and Barbara’s imagination piques her interest from the moment they meet – but as Barbara’s grip on reality begins to slowly slip away, Sophia must help her new friend any way she can with the aid of new school psychiatrist Mrs. Mollé (Saldana).

Madison Wolfe is an absolute tour de force. She delivers a truly wonderful and completely captivating performance that makes her one young actress you should keep your eye on! After her impressive role as the lead in ‘The Conjuring 2’, I am positive Wolfe will become a much more familiar name over the next few years if she continues to deliver such solid performances. Imogen Poots plays Barbara’s older sister, Karen, whose suddenly thrown into a caretaker role to her two younger siblings as their mother becomes ill. Karen struggles to balance work life with her new found responsibilities, and her unappreciative siblings only add to her troubles as it becomes clear that all three of them are trying to cope with their mother’s illness in different ways. Whilst Barbara is off defending the world from giants, her brother uses his videos games as means to escape from his real life woes, and Karen does her best to keep everything feeling as normal as possible.

Zoe Saldana’s Mrs Mollé doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time, but Saldana, who received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame earlier this week, brings her A-game. Mrs Mollé tries her best to support Barbara through therapy sessions, but it’s clear to her that Barbara’s powerful imagination is having a detrimental effect on her school and social life, and her poor attitude and disrespectful nature towards teachers and adults in general stems from the fact that she thinks everyone will be thanking her in the end. Barbara’s personality traits mean that if her character was in any other film, she’d be that character you instantly don’t like – but because you learn more about her as her story goes on, you can’t help but sympathize as we see things from Barbara’s point of view.

‘I Kill Giants’ is Anders Walters’ debut feature film, and it’s an incredibly impressive and very promising start to his career. His direction and vision for this adaptation were a great combination for this screenplay, and despite the films small budget, the CGI is still fairly impressive. Knowing the CGI was never going to match that of ‘A Monster Calls’, which features similar themes and is being heavily compared against in other reviews, Walters cleverly uses the scenery and weather to conceal some of the giants flaws. That being said, the story at hand is much bigger than the giants and the mid-quality CGI was a non issue for me because I was much more focused on Barbara throughout the whole thing.

The cinematography really captures the theme of this film, with the surroundings often being bleak and uninviting, but Barbara and Sophia inject a lot of colour into each scene in the form of their clothing. The scenes that take place inside the school and forest in particular are some of my favourite shots because they’re a great representation of Barbara’s mindset at the time – for example there’s a particular scene where Barbara is scared and the whole school fades to black around her and you can really feel how isolated, alone, and scared she feels at that point in time.

‘I Kill Giants’ is available to download today and I would highly recommend you take some time this weekend to give it a shot. I think it’s a real shame this film never got a UK cinematic release, but at least no one will see your tears as Barbara’s story unfolds. As much as you may read about this film being compared to J. A. Bayona’s ‘A Monster Calls’ , I think both films stand firmly on their own merits and if you ever have a day you just want to let some tears out, here’s the perfect double bill for you!

Tom’s Rating: 8.5/10

We’re currently offering you the chance to win a free copy of this film over on our Twitter page!

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Ready Player One

Year: 2018
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance

Written by Jo Craig

During the eighties and nineties, standing before a chunky black mirror — fingers and thumbs strategically placed over buttons — was the norm for the vintage gamer. Saturday nights resembled the ‘Stranger Things’ arcade scene and the blind belief of beating an anonymous high score was initiated by one on-screen statement: “Player One, Ready!”

Encasing this nostalgia within a fictional epic was Sci-Fi writer Ernest Cline back in 2011, praised for his tale of friendship and pop culture explosion inside novel ‘Ready Player One’. Arriving seven years later — amidst a flurry of disco era revival in TV and film — marks the thirty-third release from the BFG of directors, Steven Spielberg. As predicted, it’s a spectacle not to be missed.

Masterful in filming thrilling adventures and creating memorable companionships, ‘The King of Entertainment’ was undeniably the man to bring Cline’s vision to life. Quoted as being his third most difficult movie to shoot behind ‘Jaws’ and ‘Saving Private Ryan’, Spielberg has roared a geek war cry and we have come running.

The complexity of RP1’s world of pure imagination was always going to be a high level endeavour to visually reconstruct. For Spielberg (who is no stranger to tackling Science fiction), transitioning a story largely set in a virtual reality interface demanded attention to detail and creative trust in effects team Industrial Light and Magic. Shot in Panavision, our first trip down the technicolour rabbit hole — where a rush of mass media characters are live, active and driven by civilians of the year 2045 — is nothing short of an eye-widening wonderland.

The OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation) is a limitless, retro universe and in outline, provides real-world outcast, Tye Sheridan’s Wade Watts, a platform to enter Anorak’s Quest — a competition designed by the late OASIS inventor James Halliday (Rylance) — and win full control of the multi-user program. Watts’ VR avatar Parzival is rock star cool — sporting hypnotic locks with a sleeveless, denim jacket — and introduces the OASIS’ main attraction: Being somebody/something else. In addition to escapism, themes of friendship, innocence and courage give a gooey centre to this technological gobstopper and equips a diligent plot with a solid, emotive core.

A level balance is constant between reality and fantasy, guiding you back to the grounded motifs after gawking too long at the ‘Gears of War’ styled gunfight surrounding The Iron Giant’s PvP battle against Mechagodzilla. Frontrunners Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke avoid scrutiny by being their charming selves, proving — along with Mark Rylance’s quirky Halliday and Ben Mendelsohn’s deceitful businessman Sorrento — that Spielberg’s casting is meticulous and loyal to the source material.

As awesome as it is watching central Gunter (Easter egg hunter) Art3mis (Cooke) annihilate Sorrento’s (Mendelsohn) army of Sixers by use of a Lancer assault rifle with a chainsaw bayonet, viewers unfamiliar with Cline’s material will be forgiven for missing plot details in the thick of ocular overload. While 3D IMAX might be a component too far for our motion sickness threshold, Spielberg enhances our first-person experience of virtual reality gaming by altering Cline’s Halliday challenges to accommodate a more visually acceptable result on screen. Left unaltered and we might have had to watch Parzival play hours of competitive Joust.

Weaving through a plethora of movie references (including a whole sequence dedicated toThe Shining’), gaming-inspired escape plans and equilibrium-altering camera movements, Spielberg — working closely with writer Zak Penn and Cline — stack several elements and every Easter egg imaginable into a cyberspace treasure hunt on steroids, without letting any eggs fall out of the basket. In simpler terms, it’s an adrenaline-pumping, good versus evil race to the finish line, complete with a down memory lane Alan Silvestri score blended with an 80’s classics soundtrack.

‘Ready Player One’ is a geekgasm that incidentally excites us for Marvel’s behemoth later this month, achieving $53 million coins on its four day debut at the Easter weekend box office. After Warner Bros. pushed forward RP1’s premiere from December – to avoid clashing with ‘The Last Jedi’ — fans of lightsabers, video games and cheeky superheroes will be grateful for the release date staggering, precluding the possibility of geeky heart-failure. Ultimately, one of 2018’s most anticipated productions does not disappoint, nor purge Ernest Cline’s concept of its defining qualities. Instead, Sir Steven — God of euphoric adventure — deserves one thunderous high-five for letting us break free from the mundane and witness a magical journey too colossal for the real world.

Jo’s Rating: 9 / 10

Tomb Raider

Year: 2018
Directed By: Roar Uthaug
Cast: Alicia Vikander, Walter Goggins, Daniel Wu, Dominic West, Kristin Scott Thomas

Written by Tom Sheffield

It doesn’t feel all that long ago since Alicia Vikander was announced to play the iconic role of Lara Croft in a new ‘Tomb Raider’ reboot and now here she is! It was only a matter of time before a reboot was inevitably made with it being 15 years since Angelina Jolie wielded Lara’s iconic dual pistols and went on the hunt for ancient artifacts. Jolie played Lara twice in ‘Lara Croft: Tomb Raider’ back in 2001, and then again it it’s sequel ‘Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life’ 2 years later. Whilst it’s considered Jolie’s breakthrough role, the films themselves are pretty forgettable and I think now is the perfect time to for Lara’s return to the big screen (for many reasons).

Following the disappearance of her father, Richard Croft, seven years ago, Lara has since refused to believe he is dead and rather than claim her inheritance by signing a document acknowledging his death, she opts for a carefree approach to life whilst looking for new ways to give herself a rush. After years of trying, Richard’s business partner manages to persuade Lara that claiming her inheritance and his business is the right thing to do for her family – but before she signs the document she discovers her father has left her some clues that lead her to discover the truth about his line of work. This in-turn leads Lara to enlist the aid of drunken sailor Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) to take her to the island of Yamatai, in the heart of the Dead Sea to try and discover what happened to her father. Here she discovers an organisation called ‘Trinity’ are trying to unearth Himiko, the ancient Queen of Yamatai who was said to bring death to whoever she touches. 

Alicia Vikander put absolutely everything she has into this role and it really does show. Her athleticism and determination to perform the majority of stunts herself really paid off in the final product, making them believable feats and a visual treat for the eyes. I was always on board with Vikander portraying Lara from the moment it was announced, she completely encapsulates young Lara’s naivety in the beginning but also absolutely kills it when the action kicks in. Walton Goggins is Mathia Vogel, a head lackey for Trinity who has spent seven years on the island looking for Himiko’s tomb. Vogel can’t leave the island until he is successful, so his exhaustion and rage make him a rather unpredictable villain, and it’s easy to see that these are merely masking Vogel’s utter desperation to return home at whatever cost.

Daniel Wu’s Lu Ren got less screen-time than I was expecting, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The trailers gave off the impression he would be kind of sidekick to Lara on the island, which he was but in a very small way. The plot only dips its toe into Ren’s backstory, which felt like just the right amount. The focus wasn’t pulled from Lara or her quest to find out what happened to her dad, but we did learn enough about Ren to buy his character and his new relationship with Lara.

From the the moment this film was announced, Warner Bros. made no secret of this film would loosely be based on the 2013 ‘Tomb Raider’ reboot game that had been a huge hit with gamers. Obviously, this news went down a treat with fans and I think it’s fair to say that this is easily one of the best video game adaptations to make it to the big screen, but that might not be saying much given the poor attempts we’ve witnessed in the past. Some of the action sequences and shots feel like they were ripped right out of the game, as does Lara when she sports her bow and arrow in her ripped tank top and combat trousers. Square Enix’s close involvement with the film has obviously been of great benefit to the end result and is likely a huge factor in why it works so well. 

I feel like the marketing for this film may put a lot of people off. From the lacklustre posters, to the trailers with (what I now know are) over exaggerated grunts from Lara (which sparked a lot of conversation online), it’s like Warner Bros. didn’t want to get people excited for Lara’s big return. Don’t let their apparent lack of enthusiasm or faith put you off from paying a visit to your local cinema to see this film.

As an origin story I expected it to be played a little safe, which it was, but it’s understandable given it’s Lara Croft’s story. It’s one that needs to be told in order for her sequels to go bigger and better(should we be lucky enough one gets greenlit by Warner Bros) and for her character development. Origin stories almost always struggle to nail that perfect balance between giving the audience what it really wants and avoiding relying heavily on flashbacks – Geneva Robertson-Dwore and Alastair Sddon, who both penned the screenplay, make a fair attempt at striking this balance but the start of the film is quite slow in comparison to what comes in the second and third acts, but there is  never a dull moment. 

It’d be criminal if a sequel wasn’t to happen because future stories wouldn’t need to be slowed down by a backstory on Lara’s father, we can entirely focus on Lara as she sets out on this new path of stopping Trinity and we can watch her grow and become the iconic Tomb Raider that many of us grew up knowing and playing in her video games. With the game franchise’s continued success, and a third one on the way, there’s huge potential for a film franchise if the studios continue to work closely with Square Enix.  Whilst I was quite skeptic of the fairly unknown Roar Uthaug being in the director’s chair for such a potentially huge film, he did a more than respectable job with this film and I’d be all for him returning for a sequel, should that be the decision of the studios. 

It’s a visually compelling, albeit slow starting, origin story for Lara that shows a lot of promise her future adventures. Accompanied by a sublime score from Junkie XL that really elevates some of the action sequences, this compelling adaptation is an applause worthy success in my eyes and I highly recommend putting any reservations you have about the film to one side and support it whilst it’s in cinemas.

Tom’s Rating: 7.5/10

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 Shape of Water

Year: 2018
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, Doug Jones

Written by Sarah Buddery

It is hard to believe that over 11 years have passed since arguably Guillermo del Toro’s finest work, ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’. Considered by many as his magnum opus, his films have been varying in quality since, although never not magnificent to look at. Supposedly the only film the visionary director has been 100% happy with, ‘The Shape of Water’ is possibly the only other del Toro film to rival the masterpiece status of ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’, and that is not something which should be said lightly.

Back in familiar territory of dark, gothic fairy tales, ‘The Shape of Water’ is an absolute masterstroke, full of fantasy, wonder, gorgeous visuals, and a subtle nod in the direction of influential old Hollywood movies. This does put it into the category of films the Academy will unquestionably fawn over, but it is impossible not to fall in love with this film. ‘Pan’s’ was beautiful and twisted tragedy, whereas ‘The Shape of Water’ is beautiful and twisted romance, and it is completely stunning.

Eliza Esposito (Sally Hawkins) plays a mute woman, obsessed with routine, she works nights at a government facility. Whilst she has strong friendships with her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), and her neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins), her disability prevents her from forging meaningful connections with the people she comes into contact with. That is until she happens across an amphibious creature which is being held at the facility she works at for testing. Somehow able to develop an unexplainable bond to this creature, they connect through basic communication and a mutual understanding.

To spoil much more of the story than mentioned above would be a crime, and this is one of those films which is good to go into as blind as possible; although its festival buzz may be hard to silence! The relationship between Eliza and the creature goes to wonderful and incredibly unexpected places, and despite being fantastical in nature, it never feels anything less than completely and utterly genuine. To watch this relationship develop is simply mesmerising, and Sally Hawkins gives a performance which is breathtaking. To be able to communicate so passionately and with the range that she does, without words, is a monumental achievement, and if you were yet to make your mind up about Best Actress Oscar prospects, it might just be worth putting some money on Hawkins right now.

The supporting cast, particularly Octavia Spencer and Michael Shannon, are also perfectly matched to their characters. Spencer provides some welcome light relief, and fresh from her acclaimed supporting role in ‘Hidden Figures’, she continues to be a dependable and consistently watchable actress. Whilst normally the best thing about any film he is in, Michael Shannon does play second fiddle to Hawkins’ incredible lead performance, but he excels at playing the genuinely menacing and detestable villain. He’s not quite up there with the abhorrent Captain Vidal from ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ – few people are – but he is on fine form and gives an incredibly memorable performance.

Whilst on the whole it is a thing of beauty, it equally never shies away from some truly horrifying moments, and there’s a couple of genuinely shocking, gory scenes, just in case you’d forgotten you were watching a del Toro film! Initially this may not seem in keeping with the rest of the film, but it works so perfectly, and gives it an edge which helps it to truly stand out.

Put simply, ‘The Shape of Water’ is utterly magical in every sense of the word, and “more” than what you could wish for in all conceivable ways. It is more than a love story, more than a fantasy, more than a story, and more than a film; it is a transcendental masterpiece, and one which words can hardly do justice. With incredible performances, absolutely stunning visuals (special nod to the underwater scenes which are totally breathtaking), masterful direction, and a unique and memorable story, ‘The Shape of Water’ deserves to be looked back on with the same fondness and reverence that ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ is. A modern masterpiece, and a truly spectacular film.

Sarah’s Rating: 10/10

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Death Note

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

Written by Sasha Hornby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sasha’s rating: 5.5 out of 10

 

The Dark Tower

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

Written by Jo Craig

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jo’s rating: 7 out of 10