Song to Song

Year: 2017
Director: Terrence Malick
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender, Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett, Holly Hunter
Written by Fiona Underhill

Full disclosure: I was lucky enough to see this film the day after its premiere at SXSW. It was at an advanced members’ screening at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood – so the overall experience of seeing this film may have coloured this review somewhat.

Despite having a ‘difficult’ time with Malick’s most recent film, ‘Knight of Cups’, I had high hopes for ‘Song to Song’. The cast is pretty mind-blowing: Rooney Mara, Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender, Natalie Portman and Cate Blanchett, not to mention the many cameos from the music world. There also seemed to be a bit more focus for this film (you can’t go so far as to call it a plot) – following an ensemble of characters and their successes and failures in the music world of Austin, Texas. Of course, it’s not really about that, it’s about sex and relationships, in a group of impossibly rich, white, glamorous and ridiculously good-looking people. Although there is not as much depth and substance to it as hardcore Malick aficionados believe, if you just let the stunning images wash over you, it is an enjoyable experience.

The acting is impressive and it is interesting to watch the loose, improvisational style. Fassbender is particularly impressive as the least likeable of the characters – an executive taking advantage of struggling musicians Gosling and Mara. One of the reasons I liked this more than ‘Knight of Cups’ was that at least the women got to be more fully realised, with more dialogue and rounded personalities. Although it seems as though Mara’s character is the protagonist at first, as she starts the internal monologue, the voice-overs are actually shared between several different characters, so we gain insight into different perspectives. Part of the thrill of this film is watching the characters backstage at various concerts and festivals and seeing real music artists and bands, some of whom interact impressively naturalistically with the characters.

Of course the film does get progressively more ridiculous, piling on the beautiful people in beautiful locations until it’s hard not to burst out laughing. While Gosling and Mara are estranged from each other, Gosling meets Blanchett who appears to live in a literal waterside castle. Mara meets Bérénice Marlohe (with the exact same physical characteristics of all the women – Malick certainly seems to have a type, like a modern-day Hitchcock), who lives in yet another stunning, albeit modernist house.

As with ‘Knight of Cups’ (which featured Brian Dennehy – the best thing about that film), it is the older actors playing parents/mentors who provide the scenes of real emotion and interest. Holly Hunter plays Portman’s mother and there is touching scene in which she almost ‘baptises’ Portman with bath water, juxtaposed with Fassbender watching prostitutes in a shower – one of the few symbolic images that I really ‘got’. Patti Smith (yes!) plays a mentor to Mara, dispensing advice with real humanity and warmth. There is a heartbreaking scene between Gosling and his father, who he has had complicated relationship with and is now gravely ill.

Of course it is a cliché, but it is true that every single shot of this film could exist as a photograph and be hung in an art gallery. It is hard not to get swept up in how beautiful everything and everyone is. This is the type of film that you really need to let wash over you, immerse yourself in and not get too hung up on plot. There are things I really like about this film and about Malick. I can understand why actors are lining up to work with him – they are given the opportunity to work in a unique way and are afforded a lot more creative freedom than they are used to. But, it is also frustrating. It is hard to feel any sympathy for the constant angst that these incredibly privileged people are suffering. Everyone seems to be suffering from self-indulgent existential crises, which would be understandable if the characters were teenagers (see ‘Edge of Seventeen’), but these are grown ups, lucky to be living in a glamorous world – you feel like shaking them and screaming “get over yourselves!”

Malick is always going to divide audiences and critics. He will always have his core, die-hard defenders and those who find him insufferable. I sit somewhere in between. On a purely aesthetic level, as a work of art, I appreciate his films. But in terms of character, narrative or many other aspects that most people expect from films, it is irritating. It’s just impossible to care for these people, compared to something like ‘Moonlight’, where your heart aches as you yearn for the characters to succeed.

Although I have avoided reviews of this film, I did read something interesting recently – it is hard to imagine that Malick’s films make much money and they would often be considered critical failures. Would a female director be allowed to keep making films under such circumstances? I will always be interested in what Malick is doing next, but I will always also approach his work with trepidation. But, I will probably turn up to the cinema anyway – ready to be enthralled by the beauty and frustrated by the characters in equal measure. Maybe this makes me a sucker, but I choose to treat the experience the same as going to an art gallery, something I love to do. Malick’s work is art and art is supposed to be challenging. Expect this film to challenge you!

Fiona’s rating: 7.5 out of 10
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Personal Shopper

Year: 2017
Director: Olivier Assayas
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz, Anders Danielsen Lie, Ty Olwin, Hammou Graïa, Nora von Waldstätten, Benjamin Biolay
Written By Charlotte Sometimes

When  I was at university many moons ago (three years ago), I would often have days where I had multiple deadlines to meet . On December 21st 2012 I had an essay on vampires in literature, an essay on the films of Douglas Sirk and an essay on Tess of The D’Urbervilles. Needless to say I worked right up until the deadline to write them. With minutes to spare I gave them one final proofread and felt the distinct feeling of being torn between thinking that what I had written was either genius, or really stupid. Fast-forward almost five years and I had the same feeling when leaving the cinema screen after watching ‘Personal Shopper’ – was that genius, or really stupid?

Days later and I’m still not quite sure. However, I can conclude three things. 1) It’s not as clever as it thinks it is or wants to be, 2) I wouldn’t be able to explain everything that happens, 3) I may not have completely understood all of it, but I can still admire and appreciate it. For all the strangeness that occurs – and there’s a lot of it – there are some clear things to celebrate about the film. The premise for one is excellent – an American 20-something living in Paris works as a personal shopper for a socialite whilst grieving for her twin brother, determined to make contact with him in the afterlife. This might actually be possible as she is a medium who made a vow with her brother that if either of them should die they would come back and make contact.

Within that premise, and within aspects of the film, there’s a real Gothic ghost story appeal. It brings to mind various works of Gothic fiction, from classics such as those of Edgar Allan Poe or Charles Dickens (excluding that Christmas one…) and contemporary fiction; there’s touches of Marcus Sedgewick’s ‘Heart of Another’  to name but a few.

But what the film really succeeds in is portraying the omnipresent paranoia that hovers over modern day existence.  Technology in film never feels truly realistic, it’s either shoe-horned in, used inconsistently or, due to the time it takes to take film from idea to screen, really dated. A huge chunk of ‘Personal Shopper’ is devoted to text exchange Maureen (Stewart) has with an unknown number. Assayas portrays the exchange in a subtle way that reflects the realities of texting. The focus is solely on Stewart as the text stays where it should be, on the phone. It does not dominate the screen. She does. We watch her reaction to the message, her possessing of it, her hesitant or hurried reply and her anxious waiting for a response. It’s a correspondence the majority of the planet will be well versed in, yet is not one we often see on the screen. It’s refreshing and immensely effective. This long sequence portrays the psychology of cyber-stalking, subtlety implying that this is the modern day equivalent of haunting – a malicious and unseen presence making us fear for our very existence.

The film also has some of the more familiar haunting – when Maureen visits her brother’s home and spends the night in the desperate hope he will make contact. These scenes are reliant on the traditional spooks caused by creaking floorboards and ghostly shadows (created by excellent use of lighting). These moments are under-explored and less developed than the film’s more psychological terrors, something which is not clear from the film’s trailers and advertising. For those under the impression that this is a horror film may be disappointed; instead the film is part-psychological thriller, part-reflection on modern day living and part-clothing pornography.

The greatest success of the film has to be Kristen Stewart’s performance, an offering that deserves to be remembered in the months (too soon to suggest as an awards contender?) and hopefully years to come. Her performance is enthralling, somehow simultaneously hollow & ambiguous yet listless and agitated. She’s a fascinating presence to watch, illuminating the screen in a character study about a character that refuses to allow herself to be understood. Mainly because she cannot understand herself. It is her innate need to her from her brother that drives her, as does an apparent want to be someone else- displayed in an almost fetishistic desire to wear Kyra’s (her boss, played by von Waldstätten) clothes. Maureen exists, it would be near impossible to describe as lives, wearing an ice-cold exterior. She seems impenetrable – a fact that is unsurprising considering the absence of sympathetic figures within her life – which makes the moments when she loses control, when vulnerability penetrates her steely exterior, all the more terrifying.

These are the moments where you are most unsure as to the nature of what has happened and whether they are figments of her imagination- the moments you’ll be examining with friends who’ve seen the film as you desperately hope they have the answers you don’t. Which is ironic considering the film’s main message seems to be about connection, the desperate search for it and the devastation the wrong connection can cause.  I’m still not sure if as a whole entity it’s genius or really stupid – yet I do know it’s unsettling, fascinating in a way the ‘other’ can only be and sure to linger on my mind for a long time to come.

Charlotte’s rating: 8.2 out of 10

The Thing

Year: 1982
Director: John Carpenter
Starring: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David
Written by Rhys Wortham

Horror is a tricky genre for me. I don’t care for splatter films, and I’ve never been into any of the “big” horror movies. Relying on shock value puts butts in seats, but it doesn’t make for a long-lasting impression with people who see films as a more worthwhile experience. I guess they’re fun, but I prefer a horror film that can either make you think, or something uniquely different. For me, this is where ‘The Thing’ comes in. This John Carpenter classic is like an eternal search for absolute truth in a desolate cold hell.

‘The Thing’ relies on the old concept of the “unknown” enemy. If after all this time, you still don’t know the ins and outs of ‘The Thing’, I won’t spoil too much for you. The horror element here really ramps up when paranoia is spread as to who might be a “killer”, with no way of figuring out the truth. People will wind up dead, or missing, and it all adds to the mystery. Yes, it mixes in some old aspects of monster movies and gore, but it doesn’t lose any depth to the despair of friends turning on each other, instead utilising the idea of fight or flight instincts to develop the terror. It’s masterfully done with every shot and actor; the mania drips from their eyes as the truth is slowly unveiled, and we all learn just what this “monster” can become and the power it holds.

Now, you may or may not know about the more recent imagining of this story in the form of a prequel, released back in 2011. The main difference between this film, and the prequel, is that the characters here are patiently developed; initially all is well, but madness and chaos is not far away. Whereas with the modern prequel, everything starts off completely hostile, and stays that way until the end. The 1982 film feels like a well-crafted, intricate effort, whilst the prequel is more like a car hitting you head on; a film which feels “alien” (pun intended) to the original. The short message to take away from this is that the original of 1982 is way better than the 2011 film. 

Carpenter uses a variety of long, meticulous shots here, and usually I’d hate long-drawn out shots in a movie, but with ‘The Thing’, it adds to the mystery and suspense of not knowing what will come next. It will make many wonder what is happening elsewhere, off-screen, while some of the characters examine a dug-up spaceship or a scene cuts to black. Often, the shot will jump back to another location or character, and leave you with more questions rather than answers. Whilst some might find this method frustrating, I hope most would find this kind of tension-building to be tantalising.

The only real complaint I have about this film is that the video quality, and audio in places, hasn’t aged well. There are some moments where the image becomes very pixelated, and other times there are some severe echoes, or canned sound effects – not necessarily disappointing, but very “of the time”, and noticeable. Nowadays, these kind of issues would draw most audiences out of the movie and ruin the experience. I know for some films this can’t be helped, like in the Hitchcock era, but with all the digital restoration techniques out there, it makes me wonder, and I’m inclined to recommend finding a high quality version of this film if possible. That said, the actual visual content and cinematography on show here is near perfect.

The lasting impression you’ll get from ‘The Thing’ is one of pure dread. Unlike most most movies where the bad guy has to lose, this film’s conclusion is one which is always kinda up for grabs. It’s something you’ll hear talked about in film classes, and contemplated between friends during a harsh winter season. If you watch this film for nothing else, watch it for the acting; these are probably some of the better of the 80s, and really helped to heighten the stir-crazy feeling, while embodying a morose and sullen atmosphere. 

Rhys’ rating: 8.5 out of 10

I, Daniel Blake

Year: 2016
Director: Ken Loach
Starring: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Sharon Percy
Written by Abbie Eales

Ken Loach has long been a fearsome and tireless campaigner for political change, giving a voice to those in society who might otherwise be overlooked, through films which merge drama and reality. When ‘I, Daniel Blake’ won the BAFTA for Outstanding British Film, Loach took the opportunity to thank the Academy for endorsing the truth of the film, “which hundreds and thousands of people in this country know, that the most vulnerable and poorest are treated by the Government with a callous brutality that is disgraceful”. In my opinion, ‘I, Daniel Blake’ is the best kind of cinema, one that entertains but that could also enact social change.

Written by long-time collaborator Paul Laverty (The Wind That Shakes The Barley, My Name Is Joe), ‘I, Daniel Blake’ focuses on the life of 59 year old Daniel. Daniel is a carpenter, living in Newcastle, who has recently had a series of heart problems that mean his doctors have ordered him to stay off work. Having worked in manual labour his whole life, Daniel find the transition difficult and finds himself having to rely on help from the State to see him through. The film follows Daniel in his battle to negotiate the welfare system and keep himself going.

Along his journey he meets up with Katie (Hayley Squires) a single mother to two children, who is forced to move out of London when the benefit caps leave her unable to afford to live anywhere other than a one bedroom, homeless hostel. Wanting some space and freedom for her family (with her son displaying some worrying behaviours) she has taken the plunge and moved away from everything she knows to give her son and daughter a better quality of life. Now, desperate to be able to go back to college, Katie tries to keep up appearances for her children as her life slowly unravels.

Both Daniel and Katie find themselves at the mercy of a benefits system which seeks to meet arbitrary sanctions targets, driving them both beyond poverty and desperation and into very dark territory. They form a kind of surrogate family and help support each other in their darkest times. The film looks at the benefit system through the lens of a country which has been brain-washed by a media intent on propagating the idea of the deserving and undeserving poor, and is unflinching in its portrayal of a system set up solely around numbers, and one which is absent of humanity.

As one of those hundreds and thousands of people who has seen the cruelty of the benefits system, I can also testify to Loach’s truth here. I have seen first-hand the arbitrary decisions that are made in order to fulfill an imaginary quota of “undeserving” poor, which in turn leads to callous abandonment of those in our society who are the most vulnerable. The tale told here is not one that has been exaggerated for dramatic purposes; this really is happening every day.

However, if politics isn’t your thing, there is still plenty to take away from this film. ‘I, Daniel Blake’ is a masterful piece of film-making, as you would expect from someone of Loach’s standing. Despite the subject matter, it never lectures, allowing the viewer to be caught up in the story at hand. It manages to balance warmth, humour and hope against the bleakest of backdrops and makes you truly care about Daniel, Katie and all those who have found themselves either trapped in, or cast out, by the system. A rare mix of the passionate and human, the gut-wrenching and the comedic, ‘I, Daniel Blake’ is an absolute must see and one of the most important films of recent years.

Abbie’s rating: 9.5 out of 10

Beauty And The Beast

Year: 2017
Director: Bill Condon
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Sir Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Nathan Mack, Audra McDonald, Stanley Tucci
Written by Sarah Buddery

We’re now fully in the age of live-action remakes, reboots, reimaginings or whatever you would like to call them, and the unstoppable juggernaut of Disney is rolling full steam ahead with its current slate, including the likes of ‘Aladdin’ and ‘The Lion King’. Many will ask the question of why, and you can argue until you’re blue in the face about this one, but the answer is simple; money. We might hate to admit it, but these movies make money. People will turn out in their droves for Disney, and quite rightly so. They haven’t got to where they are today without producing some of the finest films ever made, and in their new phase of live-action adaptations comes their latest offering, ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Going into this film, the general feeling was cautious optimism; on the one hand there was the promise of a gorgeous musical score from the master, Alan Menken, but there was also a Beast who looked like it had been digitally rendered by a five year old. The result is almost exactly what those who were cautiously optimistic expected – the good bits are really good, and the bad bits…well they’re a little worse than I had feared.

Starting with the good, the aforementioned Alan Menken score, which won him an Oscar for the original animated movie in 1991, is present, correct and as wonderful as you’d hope. Those first few familiar bars of the prologue will allow you to sink into your seat and relax, knowing that at least one of the magical elements of the animated classic is in tact. Try not to be lulled into too much of a false sense of security though, but we will come to that later. There are a handful of really strong, stand-out scenes scattered throughout, mostly in the biggest song and dance numbers, with “Be Our Guest” once again being the pièce de résistance, and the rousing “Gaston” perhaps having more pep in its step than before. The famous ballroom sequence, too, is still gorgeous, although the grandiose sweeping camera movements of the animated version are somewhat absent.

Character wise it is very much a mixed bag, but staying on a positive note for now, the highlights were Luke Evans’ comically grotesque Gaston and Josh Gad’s infatuated LaFou. They’re complete scene-stealers, and Evans in particular has an absolute ball hamming it up to the max, playing Gaston in the pantomime villain style that is necessary for this character. For all the unnecessary controversy over the more overt love LaFou has for Gaston (let’s face it, we all knew the animated one had the hots for him anyway), this new take on the characters does wonders for both of them and transforms LeFou from being a simpering sycophant to a character who has genuine depth.

Desperately wanting her to be good as Belle, Emma Watson’s performance was ultimately very disappointing, and whilst there is no denying she looks the part, and somewhat epitomises the feistier side of Belle, her delivery is flat and uninspiring. Much has been said about her singing, and whilst not completely awful, watching her lipsync isn’t even remotely convincing. Sure, it is pre-recorded and run through an auto-tune, but it never looks as if she ever sung those words. They feel detached and isolated, and considering the music is such a big part of the original, this is hugely disappointing.

The biggest fear based on the trailers was the use of CGI, particularly with the rendering of the Beast, and I’m afraid to report that this CGI work is indeed everything we feared. It really does look awful, and whilst Dan Stevens actually delivers a solid voice performance, the character is entirely lost in a poorly-executed character. Once again it feels detached, so obviously put together digitally, that it’s hard to ever  truly believe the chemistry between him and Emma Watson’s Belle. It could so easily have been done with practical effects, which makes this whole thing even more frustrating to watch.

On the whole then, whilst there are undoubtedly good elements, this latest version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is thoroughly disappointing. There’s drastic pacing problems throughout, with the original 84 minute runtime being fleshed out to a flabby 129 minutes. These extra 45 minutes are littered with some original songs and extended sequences, but it is difficult to see what exactly it is they add to the story overall. It retains so much of the animated version that it weighs the film down, resulting in the flow of the story feeling unnatural, laboured, and dare it be said, dull. Throughout the film you might be wondering what exactly is the point? The animated movie is perfect, it is a classic, and watching this version adds absolutely nothing to your life. You could gain 45 minutes of doing something else and watch a film which is completely wonderful from beginning to end by sticking with the original. There will never come a time, for me at least, when there is the urge to watch this 2017 version again.

‘Beauty and the Beast’ is a reimagining completely devoid of imagination or originality. Remaking Disney films is a catch 22 situation; on the one hand, a complete deviation from the story would upset fans, but on the other hand, sticking so rigidly to the original will lead many to question why the remake is needed in the first place? Of course, no one can stop the Disney remake train now it has charted its course, but this doesn’t bode too well for their future offerings.

Sarah’s rating: 5.2 out of 10  

Get Out

Year: 2017
Director: Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, LilRel Howery
Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

‘Get Out’ arrives in the UK soon, following incredible rave reviews from the States. It’s a horror-thriller directed by one-half of a world-famous comedy duo set in modern day that addresses social prejudices, that it feels most of us, whether we know it or not, are guilty of. It’s terror, comedy, and social commentary all thrown together in one easily digestible trip to the cinema. The end result is a triumph on several levels, but it’s one that I fear won’t find its audience as successfully over here as it has in America.

‘Get Out’ follows Chris (Kaluuya) and Rose (Williams), an interracial couple embarking on a weekend trip to meet Rose’s parents for the first time. The catch is a simple one; Rose’s parents don’t know Chris is black. To most, this wouldn’t seem like a problem unless Rose’s family are massively racist. It’s 2017, not 1917. Chris has some hesitation about this from his own personal experiences (there’s no doubt that this is a situation Peele himself has found himself in), but they go and endure a very, very strange weekend where things are not all that they seem.

To say much else about the plot would ruin the delights that await you. Peele, who also wrote this film, has managed to craft a fabulously entertaining story and portrays it so successfully that it manages to elicit a clear understanding and response from its audience, no matter their race. In arguably the film’s defining sequence, Chris and Rose meet various couples at a party their parents are holding and all of whom aim to make small talk with Chris that all revolve around Chris being black. Whether it’s talking about golf and swaying the conversation towards Tiger Woods or talking about how black is very much in fashion in this day and age; it’s an uncomfortable, hilarious sequence that showcases Peele’s comedic sensibilities while subtly showcasing the film’s message.

The performances in ‘Get Out’ are fantastic across the board. Kaluuya is evidently on the road to stardom after he stole the show in ‘Sicario’ a few years ago, and he leads this effortlessly, managing to portray his feelings of anxiety or awkwardness in the smallest facial expressions. Williams comes across as the world’s coolest girlfriend, while Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener play the awkward first encounter with a daughter’s boyfriend so perfectly that everyone can empathise with every party in it. The star of the show, however, is LilRel Howery’s Rod, Chris’ best friend. When things are starting to get even more tense and worrying, Rod is on hand to lighten the mood with laugh-out-loud lines to deflate the tension. He rambles on about now looking at serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in the wrong light (“you’re only NOW looking at Dahmer in the wrong light?!”) or his long-winded suspicions of what is going on at Rose’s parents’ house this weekend to the police. He’s a hilarious character in a film that is equal parts funny and intense and is justifiably being recognised as the star.

Where the film stumbles slightly is, for me, in its genre. I never found ‘Get Out’ to be overtly scary, aside from a couple of nicely played jump scares. The entire film is uncomfortable and awkward and tense, but it’s never horrifying. I would absolutely say ‘Get Out’ is much closer to being a psychological thriller than it is a horror as the film manages to cleverly to play with our expectations of how these kinds of weekends go and manages to critique our behaviour when meeting someone who is slightly different than what we’re accustomed to.

Further, while ‘Get Out’ has been so successful with American audiences, it’s success here is up in the air. ‘Get Out’ criticises a very American society and expresses commentary on race, police and politics, all of which are very relevant in the America of today. I hope it’s successful here because it deserves to find a global audience, but there are definitely some references that will be lost on your typical British viewer.

All that said, ‘Get Out’ is ultimately incredibly successful at what it set out to do. It criticises its viewing audience, it criticises class culture, and it criticises our expectations of the film itself. My one piece of advice going into this is you will benefit from really paying attention. The subtleties Peele has managed to embed into this film are so impressive. It’s a film that will no doubt benefit from second, third, and fourth viewings. Jordan Peele has an incredibly bright future, and this is as strong a directorial debut as I can remember seeing.

Rhys’ Rating: 8.6 out of 10

John Wick: Chapter Two

Year: 2017
Director: Chad Stahelski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ian McShane, Ruby Rose
Written by Rhys Wortham

Action movies usually get a bad rap, often for being over-the-top with explosion and seeming unrealistic. They tend to go one of two ways; either they feature super scary stunts (think anything starring Jackie Chan), or everything just explodes for no reason. If you have a pet dog, it explodes. If the mail man delivers the mail, the mail man explodes. It’s moronic, for sure, but thankfully ‘John Wick’ is slightly more realistic, although massively exaggerated. 

Cars hit the ground, and they shatter. Some guy gets shot, it shows a realistic-looking bullet wound and not something from ‘Scanners’. Whilst not everything explodes, it does deliver a gritty look at internal deals done in a “secret” underworld full of hit-men and eager to die lackeys. Sure massive oversight of “how the hell does anyone cover up this much collateral damage” kind of happens in every action movie, but whatever, it’s all in good fun. 

John Wick, AKA Mr Stoic, is ready for retirement again, and minding his own business. Another soon to be dead mob boss thinks that Mr Wick is back in business after reclaiming his car stolen in the first movie. This of course leads to a short dialogue and before you know it, Mr Wick is back on the war path. 

The most enjoyable part of this movie is the story. It’s more intense and deep then the last one. Side characters are developed well enough that if they die within a few seconds it feels like nothing was left out; they have a purpose to the scene rather then mindless filler. It develops further in this underworld and elaborates on who has control over everything and gives deeper insight into old Hollywood misconceptions about ruthless people and honour. I’ve met a few, and I can tell you many don’t have a concept of honour. Regardless the system they have in this alternate universe seems to work. 

The only problem I had with the movie is that John is virtually indestructible. Many of the mob know this, yet people still go out of their way to either piss him off or destroy things he loves. Each time he’s shot it’s only a matter of time before his luck turns around or has some reason for him NOT to have gotten killed by gun fire. Then small armies of people still try to kill him all the while being fully aware of who he is. At this point in the series I kind of expected for someone to give up in front of him. I don’t know if he would let them go, but still. To a certain extent I think the next sequel should be called ‘John Wick: Chapter 3 – Morons with Death Wishes’. 

So after pissing off the new King of Death, John Wick, we’re left with a story slowly unraveling into a sequel. I only have high hopes for the next one, because this one was better then the first. The action was steady, the violence was a little gritty but not too much, and the fact that the dog didn’t die this time was great. ‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ is everything a sequel needs to be without tiring an old idea. Please see this in theaters, it’s fantastic! 

Rhys’ Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Kong: Skull Island

Year: 2017
Directed by: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly
Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

When it was announced a few years back that ‘Godzilla’ (2014) was the start of a Monster Universe that also contains the iconic King Kong, there was a definite sense of excitement, mixed with some trepidation. These two have fought before, many many decades ago, back when it was established that their size was similar. 2014’s Godzilla is an absolute behemoth; a sky-scraper sized lizard with atomic breath. Meanwhile, King Kong’s previous appearance in Peter Jackson’s King Kong 12 years ago had him able to climb a sky-scraper and hang off the top of it. On paper, Godzilla could literally stamp on Kong and be done with it. Now, though, we have the King Kong of 2017, who is quite literally the size of a small mountain. Godzilla vs Kong in 2020 just got interesting.

‘Kong: Skull Island’ is set in 1973 and follows Bill Randa (Goodman), a scientist who has satellite images of one of the few remaining uncharted islands in the world. Seeking an army escort to investigate the island’s mysteries, he’s joined by ex-military man James Conrad (Hiddleston), war photographer Mason Weaver (Larson), and grizzled war veteran Preston Packard (Jackson), who seems to be one mission away from being too old for this shit. Once there, it becomes a survival/escape mission as the island has a few surprises up its sleeve upon their arrival, namely in the form of the eponymous Kong.

Starting with the good, I found ‘Kong: Skull Island’ to be, ultimately, a very entertaining, old-school monster movie blockbuster. ‘Godzilla’ (2014) kept Godzilla hidden from us for most of the film, only awarding him around 10 minutes of actual screen time. I found this to be a good thing as those 10 minutes of Godzilla are so monumentally epic that those fight sequences are ingrained in my mind 3 years later. Vogt-Roberts takes a different route. He shows us the first glimpse of Kong in a short pre-credits sequence in 1944, before giving him a full introduction 15-20 minutes later when our ensemble arrives on the island by helicopter. Kong’s introduction is, truly, spectacular. His size and power is on show from the off as he hurls a tree into a helicopter, jumping and slamming his fists down onto another, and generally expressing his distaste for these new visitors.

Kong, thankfully, is by far the film’s strongest suit. He is respected and given time to both be a destroyer and have moments of calm as he recovers from his previous bout (“It bleeds!” Packard yells when he sees a giant red hand print on a cliff-face). Vogt-Roberts clearly has a love for the character and the shots from the human perspective, at Kong’s feet looking sky-ward are breathtaking, as well as the great wide shots during his monster battles to show his power are well-paced and edited to give every hit some real weight. Cinematographer Larry Fong shares this sentiment and bathes Kong in sun and moonlight; one shot of which, Kong standing at full height against the setting sun as helicopters fly nervously towards him, is a stunner. Fong and Vogt-Roberts really emphasise their monster-movie-meets-Apocalypse-Now angle with these shots and, on a purely visual level, it’s one of the best-looking films of the year so far.

The ensemble, a veritable who’s who of A-List stars of today and years gone by, does what it can with what it’s given. There’s some good chemistry between Hiddleston and Larson, and an early face-off between Jackson and Goodman is an instance of two Hollywood power-houses battling it out and it’s as good as you expect. John C. Reilly, a man they find has been living on the island for nearly 30 years, is the film’s MVP as he offers both moments of levity and tragedy as he rediscovers society through the gaze of young soldiers. He also has the film’s best comedic line; I won’t spoil it, but it’s the film’s solitary F-bomb and it is glorious.

The film’s problems lay almost entirely on its script. From a story perspective, it’s a pretty simple one, and it’s an enjoyable alternate-version of Kong’s story that forgoes the woman-as-sacrifice angle we’ve become so familiar with. It’s the dialogue that really, really hampers the film’s progress. The characters are one-dimensional and are given some cheesy lines to deliver seriously, with no wink to the camera. A couple of characters have more screen-time than Kong, and yet somehow manage to speak less than a giant ape. The banter among the soldiers that escorted them to the island doesn’t always land, and the motivations around one of the men sacrificing themselves late-on are entirely lost on me, even after a second viewing. It should be said that going into a film in which a giant monkey uses a tree as a baseball bat, I didn’t expect Aaron Sorkin-standard dialogue, but you could and should have expected more from its screenwriters Dan Gilroy (writer of the excellent ‘Nightcrawler’), Max Borenstein (‘Godzilla’), and Derek Connolly (‘Safety Not Guaranteed’).

At the end of the day, ‘Kong: Skull Island’ is an entertaining, frequently intense, and surprisingly brutal film with some of the best monster on monster action we’ve ever seen. The CGI on Kong and the island’s other creatures is first-class, and it’s a film that gives you some great, HELL YEAH moments. I just wish it gave its characters more to work with.

Rhys’ Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Trespass Against Us

Year: 2017
Director: Adam Smith
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Brendan Gleeson, Lyndsey Marshal
Written by Tom Sheffield

‘Trespass Against Us’ is director Adam Smith’s film debut, having previously worked on shows such as ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Skins’, as well as his well-received 2012 documentary ‘The Chemical Brothers: Don’t Think’. Smith has done a cracking job with this film, and as far as debuts go, it’s a pretty promising start.

Three generations of the Cutler family reside in a beautiful plot of British countryside. Chad Cutley (Michael Fassbender) is a family man, living with his wife and 2 children in their little caravan. It’s immediately clear to the audience that Chad’s father, Colby (Brendan Gleeson), is the head of this family, and the ring leader of their criminal activities. After some close brushes with the law, Chad decides it’s time for him to call it a day being his father’s little errand boy and move his family away so his children can focus on school and get the education that he never had. Chad’s wife, Kelly (Lyndsey Marshal), is close to breaking point living under Colby’s rule, which is a constant strain on her marriage. Colby’s outlook on life and his uneducated ramblings are also a cause for concern for Kelly as her two young children look up to their grandad. Colby can sense that the power he once held over his son is slowly slipping away, so he takes it upon himself to make sure the Cutler clan stay together.

Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson were a major selling point to me when I saw this trailer for the first time because both are incredible actors with some brilliant films under their belts. The trailer didn’t beat around the bush about the story, it showed Gleeson’s character as a family man and father figure to those around him, but it also showed his darker, more abusive side when his son tries to stand up to him. ‘Try’ being the operative word. Fassbender delivers another belter of a performance, he portrays Chad’s struggle to stand up to his father brilliantly and you can see how much hatred he harbours for him, coupled with the struggle to stand by his loyal and family-orientated nature. He reluctantly does as he’s told but you can tell by his subtle mannerisms and facial expressions that it’s eating him up inside that he’s actually still running around at the click of his fathers fingers.

I also have to commend Georgie Smith on his brilliant performance as Chad’s son, Tyson. Tyson is young and easily influenced by his surroundings, which is very worrying for his mother. He’s very vocal about how much he hates school and wants to go on these ‘jobs’ with his dad and family, another reason Chad is desperate to move his family away from his controlling father.

The film flowed quite nicely, despite its often drastic change in scenes, for example all will be calm and quiet for the Cutler family, giving off a really nice family vibe and then something will happen that send the family into a swearing frenzy that leads to the exchanging of fists. It’s this change in atmosphere and pace that keeps you gripped through the film.  I think there were one or two missed opportunities in the script to truly show the strained nature of the family’s relationships with one another, with the odd 1 or 2 scenes feeling like it was missing that extra bit of dialogue to really close it off. There are a handful of other Cutler family members who get some screen time, mostly during the criminal activity scenes, but we never learn that much about them or how their relationship is with Chad or Colby, which is a shame.

I can’t praise The Chemical Brothers enough for the amazing soundtrack! The music in the trailer was superb and I downloaded the song straight after hearing it for the first time. It’s something a little different but somehow very fitting to the mood and the atmosphere of the film. Whether the scene was a car chase, heartfelt family moment, or somewhere in between, the soundtrack fit nicely in each scene and never felt out of place or unnecessary.

Despite its mixed reviews elsewhere, ‘Trespass Against Us’ is a brilliant family orientated crime thriller. It’s the family aspect of the film that I really think is its strongest point, as this family of travellers aren’t your stereotypical crime thriller leads. Watching the tension in the families relationship start to boil and bubble over is gripping viewing as you don’t know what any of the characters will do next. During some scenes you expect a huge outburst when there is none, and vice versa. It is 99 minutes of gripping performances from its leads and their character’s unpredictable nature.

Tom’s Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Lincoln

Year: 2012
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn
Written by Rhys Wortham

In this 2012 movie from Steven Spielberg, we meet Abraham Lincoln, the United States 16th president, struggling to keep everything together. It begins with Lincoln in the midst of the Civil War, and occasionally jumps further back to other important events in his life. One area I had hoped they would elaborate on was the loss of his son, however they skip over that and jump straight to his nutjob of a wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. This was interesting to see considering you wouldn’t think someone who’s supporting their husband during such a horrible time could be a complete witch about everything and mildly self absorbed. Then its back to Robert Lincoln, who’s the standard obnoxious rebellious youth. They even introduced some of the Senators who approved of slavery, and were tactful in their execution of presenting them as people instead of vilifying them. All are interesting concepts considering not much was said about his life outside the 13th amendment. 

Now with that being said the major disappointing thing about this movie, we already know how his story ends. Lincoln is one of the most prolific, telling, and lawful good men to have ever come out of the United State of America. To say what he did in his limited amount of time on Earth was impressive is a woeful understatement and everyone who has ever taken a American history course already knows this. We know he frees the slaves, we know what happens to him. Yes they diverted into some of the side characters like Thaddeus Stevens and it told multiple peoples story rather well, but I went to see ‘Lincoln’, not a revisited history lesson for the last hour on how he, and others, helped free the slaves. 

The reason this hour of the movie isn’t palpable to me is that some of the dialogue almost marries up to anything seen in politics today. Many of the scenes are angry old men yelling at each other in a cramped room. Its nice to revisit older ways of life and thinking, but I didn’t feel it added much to life of Lincoln. It added to the process of freeing slaves, but at this point it felt like that should have been it’s own movie or some of the other characters could have been one. 

If anything it was completely impressive visually. It captured a truly depressing atmosphere and a continued sense of chaos. It cuts from burning houses to chopped up body parts just thrown into a ditch while continuing the story. The attention to detail is truly impressive and and it immerses you in the time period. There are even scenes where the actors look like they’re covered in dirt, or continuously sweating, which would completely represent the fact that many didn’t bath during that period. 

This is a good period piece, but little else. They focus too much on other things rather then the main character. I mean ‘Lincoln’ is in the title. He’s one of the ONLY posters they made for the movie. They did this successfully with Hitchcock, even with his subtle nuances and idiosyncrasies that probably no one understood except micro-expression experts. The only reason I think this did so well is that it was a history lesson to the rest of world, while America likes to rehash old wounds and bring up the subject about race for the zillionth time. If you like period pieces see this, if not just skip it.

Rhys’ Rating: 7 out of 10

The Space Between Us

Year: 2017
Director: Peter Chelsom
Starring: Gary Oldman, Asa Butterfield, Carla Gugino, Britt Robertson
Written by Tom Sheffield

If this film taught me anything, it’s to maybe do a little reading up on the plot of a film and not just watching 1 trailer before going and wasting 2 hours of my life that I’m never going to get back. The trailer gave off a real sci-fi vibe and whilst it did also give off the impression of a slight romantic edge to the film, I thought this would be a sideline to the sci-fi aspect of the film. Well, it turns out it’s the opposite way round and I spent the majority of the 121 minute run-time questioning why I was even watching this film…

Sarah Elliot (Janet Montgomery) is a NASA Astronaut on an interplanetary mission to be the first to colonize Mars, but during her journey to the red planet she discovers that she’s pregnant. Sarah sadly dies during childbirth due to complications, so Nathaniel Shepard (Gary Oldman), the CEO of the organisation behind the mission, makes the controversial decision to keep the birth of the child a secret to anyone back on Earth so his organisation doesn’t have a PR nightmare on their hands. The story then fast forwards 16 years where Sarah’s son, Gardener Elliot (Asa Butterfield), is now adamant he wants to go to Earth so he can meet his father, but because he’s spent his entire life in Mars’ atmosphere, the scientists at NASA tell him his body wouldn’t be able to handle Earth’s atmosphere. After undergoing surgery to increase his bone density, Gardner returns to Earth and won’t let anyone get in the way of him finding his father, so he enlists the help of Tulsa (Britt Robertson), a girl he’s grown close to via an internet chat-room, to help him.

The premise of the film had my attention up until it ended up turning into a teenage romance film that is full to the brim of clichés and cheese. The scenes where Gardener is on Mars are probably the only scenes I actually enjoyed. We learned how intelligent this 16 year old is, experience a little of his life on Mars surrounded by scientists from across the world, and learn why he’s so desperate to go to Earth. Once Gardener meets up with Tulsa on Earth, the film becomes very predictable and honestly quite boring to watch. Butterfield and Robertson’s time on screen together felt awkward the whole way through, and for me I think it’s because they were playing characters that were both supposed to be 16 years of age, but 20 year old Butterfield still genuinely looks 16  whereas Robertson, who is 27, does not. Right from their first meeting I clocked this and for the rest of the film it was just weird to watch them together. Age differences aside, their performances were quite bland and uninspiring, and they didn’t really have any on-screen chemistry.

Gary Oldman’s performance, along with the first 15 minutes of the film, are the only things I enjoyed about ‘The Space Between Us’. Oldman, as ever, was a joy to watch, despite his character not being the most likeable of people. But as the story unfolds and we learn more about him, you learn why his character made the decisions he did and you find yourself empathizing with him. The film had such a promising premise, but once Gardener’s feet touch down on Earth the film completely lost any notion of sci-fi-ness that seemed so promising at the start, and it becomes over sentimental, predictable, and downright boring.

I will hand it to Barry Peterson though, the cinematography made for enjoyable viewing during this 2 hour snooze fest. On Gardener’s journey to find his Dad, we get to see the places he travels through and some stunning shots of the surrounding landscapes. I much preferred looking at the scenery than Butterfield and Robertson being all awkward and cringey.

Unless awkward teen romance, slow and boring boy meets girl films, or highly predictable endings are your kind of thing, I’d say you’re not really missing out if you don’t ever watch this film. All I could think of when I left the cinema screening was “I’m so glad Asa Butterfield didn’t bag the Spider-Man role” , as he was one of the names in the hat to play the role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe before, thankfully, Tom Holland secured the role of the web-slinging teen.

Tom’s rating: 2.0 out of 10

Donald Cried

Year: 2017
Director: Kristopher Avedisian
Starring: Jesse Wakeman, Kristopher Avedisian, Louisa Krause
Written by Ben Robins

Kris Avedisian’s ‘Donald Cried’ is just about as indie as they come. In fact, if you sat with a checklist throughout you’d no doubt have Sundance season bingo within a healthy five minutes of screen time. Minimal Kickstarter-backed budget? Check. Emotional, semi-nostalgic midlife crisis story? Check. Former indie hotshot attached as ‘executive producer’? Check mate. 

Of course all of these things tied up together don’t necessarily make for a bad film, just for something that’s quite often, frustratingly predictable. There’s a few neat flourishes here and there, sparks of genuine comedy and a central character that’s well worth the running time alone; it’s the base plotting that makes ‘Donald Cried ultimately a little hard to stick through. It’s a meaningful debut, sure enough, but one that we’ve all seen at least a hundred times before. 

Something of a buddy comedy at heart, Avedisian pairs straight-talking Peter (Jesse Wakeman), a small-town runaway returning twenty-or-so years later to clear up his dead grandmother’s estate, with walking calamity Donald (Avedisian himself), his former best friend who never quite managed to outrun his high-school days. One’s small and business-like, the other’s lanky and bearded, rocking out-of-date specs and an apparently filter-less conversational manner. It’s funny because they’re opposites, we get it.

 And we’ve been getting it for quite some time now, so it’s such a shame that the hefty portion of ‘Donald Cried’s humour feels derived from this ultra basic set-up. Narratively speaking, Avedisian finds some solid ground in forcing the two together, and Donald as a character is an indisputably clever creation; just awkward enough to warrant laughs without quite fringing on the audience-dividing ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ model. The two of them just really deserve a better movie to flex their comedic muscles in.

 Considering this comes from a short of the same name, apparently surrounding the same core character, it’s no surprise that Avedisian’s Donald works. He’s a refined creation, tested time and time again in the vein of a more subtle Sacha Baron Cohen or Mike Myers type. There’s so much potential for more, and whilst the plot ticks along fine enough, it never quite manages to escape the fact that it’s nothing more than a largely empty shell, weirdly avoiding Donald’s own dark-hearted sense of humour in favour of something a lot more straight-laced. 

With the likes of Jody Hill attached and plenty of room (hell, even set-up) for it, it comes as a sorry surprise that ‘Donald Cried’ never really tries to push the envelope as much as you’d expect. It’s clear he never means to be, but Wakeman ends up as something of a charisma vacuum; Peter’s just too difficult to pin down and seems totally hell-bent on steering the entire plot towards an unending sense of beige, that values indie stereotypes and never leans towards anything even remotely daring.

 On the surface there’s not an awful lot wrong with ‘Donald Cried’. It’s shot well enough, and strings together as you’d expect, with a neat little emotional finale, but it’s just all so middle-of-the-road pedestrian that it ultimately makes you wonder why you even bothered. You won’t come away changed or deeply affected; you probably won’t even laugh that much. Minus a few noted jokes, you’ll no doubt forget you’d even seen this film within days of that final credit roll.

 For indie fans, it’s a manageable 90 minutes, but there’s certainly better and, yes, more daring stuff out there that’s worth a try first.

 Ben’s Rating: 5.6 out of 10