Noah

Year: 2014
Director: Darren Aranofsky
Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Ray Winstone
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

As a devout atheist, it goes without saying that I’m not big on the old biblical tales and as such, religious themed films tend not to be my thing. That said, the story of Noah’s ark was probably the most appealing to me as a child, not least because of the abundance of animals. I was curious then, as to how the live-action feature ‘Noah’ would portray such an array of wild creatures successfully. From what I had heard, ‘Noah’ was rather poorly received by audiences; my twitter feed around the time of its release is testament enough to the controversy the film provoked and the pitfalls of revitalising an antiquated, sacred story. So I was setting ‘Noah’ up for a fall before the DVD even entered the player – I had already postponed the viewing a few days previous – and to make matters worse, I’m not really a huge fan of Russell Crowe either. This film had some serious convincing to do.

We all know the story, right? I will keep this brief. Noah, descendent of Seth, and further Adam, is a peaceful man, with a love and respect for God and his creations. When God smites Earth with a raging flood, Noah is entrusted with saving two of each animal on board an ark. Unfortunately, Noah (Crowe) believes it is God’s will that the human race should be exempt from the new world. This means his family, including his adopted daughter’s unborn children, must perish during the flood. Noah must fight off King Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone) and his army, before making a decision which will determine the future not only of his family, but the whole planet.

I have to admit, Russell Crowe is rather impressive in the titular role. He certainly looks the part, and delivers a powerful display to stand head and shoulders above his co-stars. Crowe absolutely carried the film and brought a new energy to an aged story. Opposite Crowe once again, Jennifer Connelly plays the loving wife who has to put up with her spouse’s shit. Unfortunately, Connelly gives a pretty nondescript and ordinary performance, but it could have been any actress in that role for all the difference the character makes. A very subordinate role, very blandly portrayed. Emma Watson is by far the best of the supporting roles, playing Noah’s adopted daughter/daughter-in-law Ila (it’s complicated). The traps of the ‘Harry Potter’ stereotype are hard to escape however, and her performance is very Hermione-esque.

The film was surprisingly artistic, with interesting, recurring cuts to images from the garden of Eden, of the serpent and the forbidden fruit. Add to this a collection of stunning, panning shots of the vivid mountains, expanse of land and ominous oceans and you get a welcome break from the action, as well as some rather clever symbolism. I expected the film to be really linear and dull, but alongside the odd thrilling fight scene, there was plenty of excitement and depth. The depiction of the vast floods and tumultuous conditions is very impressive but the animals, in particular the birds, were poorly animated. Perhaps director Darren Aronofsky took note of Alfred Hitchock’s disregard for authentic animal representation in ‘The Birds’ (go to 0:38). Worse still, were the bizarre creatures called The Watchers, fallen angels condemned to a life in stone, whose movements were reminiscent of the 1950s ‘Godzilla’.

Although the film was quite slow-moving at first, it hits a quick turn of pace and races to a climax before you know it. I would say the criticism ‘Noah’ received is unfair and unfounded, a film which profited from such low expectations upon my viewing, to exceed everything I imagined it would be. It is very hard to retell such a well-known tale, but Aronofsky puts together a powerful, precise and moving film, adding poignancy and depth to an inevitably predictable story.

Jakob’s rating: 7.0 out of 10 
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The Usual Suspects

Year: 1995
Director: Bryan Singer
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, Chazz Palminteri, Stephen Baldwin, Benicio Del Toro, Pete Postlethwaite
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

I’m often guilty of neglecting the “classics”. I tend to convince myself that “I will watch them soon” and that “they will always be there to watch another time”. But when ‘The Usual Suspects’ appeared in two of our writers’ top 5 films of all time, I knew I had to watch this one. I’m only 20 years late. Director Bryan Singer is responsible for the X-Men films of which I’m not so keen, so forgive me for being apprehensive. But Kevin Spacey is brilliant at everything he does, so along with the hype of my peers, and the pair of Oscars the film won back in 1996 – for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and Best Original Screenplay – I had pretty high hopes.

The film processes a chain of events from the account of one Verbal Kint (Spacey), taking us through a story full of twists and turns right from the moment five conmen are wrongly apprehended for a truck hijacking. The suspects then join forces to get revenge on the police, before being forced into a much bigger, more dangerous job by the strange influence of the mythical Keyser Söze. Back in the present day, Agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) interrogates Kint as the lone survivor of a heist which left 27 victims, including his accomplices. Under intense pressure to uncover the dark dealings of his friend Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), and to identify the fabled Keyser Söze and his lawyer Kobayashi, Kint tells all he can to gain immunity from the police and walk free. But he leaves plenty of mysteries still unsolved.

Kevin Spacey is outstanding as ever. The dry, sardonic humour and flat tone of voice which have become synonymous with Spacey are evident here, long before his ruthless ‘House Of Cards’ persona. I’m not sure what competition he faced in the 1996 Best Actor in a Supporting Role category, but I’m confident he deserved the Oscar. The dark, suspicious air surrounding the character of Keaton owes much to the performance of Gabriel Byrne, who brings a mean, authoritative and dangerous edge to the role. He was definitely my suspect for the man-behind-the-myth, but for those of you who don’t know the identity of Keyser Söze, I won’t spoilt it for you by saying if I was right or not. Chazz Palminteri, who you may know as Shorty in ‘Modern Family’, offers a fantastic, at times funny, chemistry opposite Kevin Spacey. He plays the bad cop role perfectly, whilst maintaining the dark, humorous tone of the film.

I found myself feeling very confused for much of the film; maybe I’d had a long day and wasn’t ready for such a perplexing experience. As much as I lamented the predictability of ‘Days Of Future Past’, Singer certainly kept me guessing with ‘The Usual Suspects’, teasing me until revealing all at the end. Through flashbacks and jumbled, deceitful recollections, the whole narrative became distorted until I didn’t know what to believe. I suppose the ongoing ambiguity is all part of the fun, they want you to sit there scratching your head, trying to figure out whodunit, and the more I think about it, the more I did enjoy the guessing game.

I read on the IMDb reviews for ‘The Usual Suspects’ that you need to watch the film twice; “First time is for entertainment. Second time is for art”. I think I need that second viewing. I was definitely entertained on my maiden viewing, if not a little lost. Now I know what’s coming, I can just sit back and enjoy an exceptionally clever and fascinating, well-made film, with acting of the highest quality and a dark, thrilling plot. I will reserve judgement on whether to brand this one a “classic” until that all important second viewing, but I can absolutely agree that this is a brilliant film nonetheless.

Jakob’s rating: 8.2 out of 10

Lucy

Year: 2014
Director: Luc Besson
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

Imagine if human beings could utilise their brain to its full potential. It’s an interesting concept, one which we’ve seen before – in 2011 with ‘Limitless’ – and one which has been revisited rather prematurely with ‘Lucy’. It is particularly odd that the idea has been used again so quickly, when you consider the positive manner in which ‘Limitless’ was received; a lot to live up to. From the looks of things, ‘Lucy’ is basically Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow hitting new levels of badass. With a short run time and pretty impressive headline acts, I’m all set for what should be a powerful, action-packed watch.

The movie follows our protagonist Lucy (Johansson), who gets wrapped up in a Taiwanese mafia drug deal, where she is forced to smuggle the highly dangerous CH4 drug to the West. The drug, based on a hormonal chemical which stimulates rapid development in a foetus during pregnancy, allows users to access 100% of their cerebral capacity. Of course, Lucy has a reaction to the drug and becomes a little too much to handle. Those pesky Taiwanese criminals have created a monster. There follows lots of chase scenes, fighting and deaths in the attempts to retrieve the drugs, but the omnipotent Lucy also develops a penchant for violence and an apathetic disregard for the victims of her destructive behaviour. With time running out for Lucy, she opts for martyrdom, and with the help of evolutionary scientist Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman), decides to travel through time and educate the world.

Scarlett Johansson becomes very robotic after her superhuman transformation, which is probably intentional, but left me feeling rather disengaged with the whole narrative. Her indefatigable, relentless character makes it hard to have any kind of connection, or for that matter, any interest in her story. I think you should stick to aliens and The Avengers Scarlett, much more relatable. Morgan Freeman could (and probably should) have featured more in the film. That way, he might have been able to rescue the film from absolute absurdity. I’m personally surprised he went along with it all in the first place. But I guess you either quit at the top, or act long enough to find yourself involved in a few disasters.

From the very first moments, ‘Lucy’ just seems to be a poorly thought-out, rushed and bizarre project. The opening scenes featuring nature documentary footage should have been a hint as to what would follow. The whole thing is overly fantastical and ludicrous, compensated for by means of the laughable Taiwanese mafia villains. Whilst watching, I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was just watching a wacky, low-budget Kung-Fu film. Full of gimmicks and cliché moments – montage sequences, car chases and cheap gun fights – I soon wished the short run time was even shorter. Director Luc Besson, trusted with a $40m budget, clearly saved the majority of this for the final five minute crescendo. Dinosaurs Luc, really?

If you want to watch a film about the potential of the human mind, ‘Limitless’ should remain your go-to flick. It’s hard not to compare ‘Lucy’ and ‘Limitless’, with such similar concepts, but where ‘Limitless’ succeeds in being more grounded to reality whilst maintaining an air of excitement, ‘Lucy’ takes a dive into the ridiculous and just keeps falling.

Jakob’s rating: 3.5 out of 10

22 Jump Street

Year: 2014
Director(s): Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
Starring: Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill
Written by Chris Winterbottom

After the success of ‘21 Jump Street’, one would have been forgiven for thinking this sequel would be a cynical cash-in. The original film was entertaining, warm and funny and seemed a refreshing reboot of a somewhat dated TV show of the same name. Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the guys responsible for the superb ‘Lego Movie’, ‘22 Jump Street’ returns to the same winning formula that worked the first time around. After all, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

This is not a bad thing; Lord (both Phil and God) knows that the modern American comedy often boils down to nothing more than tired phallic jokes and casual misogyny. Recent examples of this are ‘Bad Neighbours’ and ‘Sex Tape’, where both films tried so hard for laughs only to see them fall flat. ‘Sex Tape’ was, in my opinion, the worst of those two examples, yet both highlight the ill-discipline and lack of intelligence common in today’s American comedies. Long gone are the days of wit and irony which brought us ‘Anchorman’ and ‘Team America: World Police’ – or so it seems.

The reason why ‘22 Jump Street’ works is that the script is tightly written, with improvisation kept to a minimum. This is a rarity nowadays, where filmmakers often leave the tape running on their stars in the hope of finding comedy gold. Lord and Miller seem to have the same motto as I; leave the hard stuff to Larry David. By reducing the amount of ad-libbing from the two stars – Jonah Hill and the increasingly impressive Channing Tatum – the film feels disciplined and well constructed as opposed to flabby and inconsistent. That is not to say the film is hilarious. But what it lacks in genuine belly laughs, it makes up for in fully-fledged entertainment, which owes a lot to a smart script and a great bro-mantic chemistry between the two leads.

Channing Tatum is an actor I have come to admire over the last few years. After starting his career in generic schlock like ‘Step Up’ and ‘Fighting’ (what was that about again?), he has now become a genuinely strong screen presence. Performances in ‘Magic Mike’ and ‘Foxcatcher’ have shown that Tatum can do the serious stuff just as well as he does the comedies, and the key to this is simple – he doesn’t take himself too seriously (see ‘This Is The End’ for proof). The film would not work half as well as it does if it were not for the efforts of Tatum and Hill, and the directors have a lot to thank them for in that regard.

In a bid to be self-aware and intelligent, the film at times becomes overly self-indulgent with constant references to how cynical it seems to make a sequel of the original. It’s funny how discerning the film is to begin with, but it soon grows a little tiresome. Despite this flaw, the film is as entertaining as you’d expect and hope for; but no more so than the original. This is a film very much on a par with its predecessor, but in this age of endless reboots and remakes, this is an achievement not to be taken lightly. ’22 Jump Street’ is made with heart and humour, and while it doesn’t completely work, it is far superior to other “comedies” defacing the silver screen of late.

It will be interesting to see where these talented filmmakers are in a decade or so; they clearly have an understanding of how to make comedy work and, more importantly, how to entertain their audience. For now, it seems we are witnessing the birth of the Coen Brothers of comedy. A bold statement, you may say, but I expect even bigger and better things from these two in future.

Chris’ rating: 7.0 out of 10

American Hustle

Year: 2013
Director: David O Russell
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

With a total of ten Oscar nominations, in just about every category going, and a cast boasting some of the biggest and best names in Hollywood, I was expecting something special from ‘American Hustle’. Sure, it didn’t actually win anything at The Oscars 2014, but it was in very good company that year. I just can’t believe it had took me so long to finally get around to watching this film. From what I knew already, I was expecting a rather dark crime-thriller, full of backstabbing, underground meetings and a bit of danger to boot. What I got, was a much more light-hearted film, with any threat of danger quickly banished from the screen and replaced by clever humour and irony. All the fun of ‘The Wolf Of Wall Street’ but this time the mafia is involved.

The film opens with the pledge that “some of this actually happened”, so we know we’re in for some embellishment of the truth here; just how we like it. The balding, overweight Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) is a natural con-man, but he meets his match in Sydney Prosser AKA Edith Greensley (Amy Adams), and the two of them begin a seedy business and pleasure relationship of fraudulent affairs. Enter Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), an ambitious FBI agent who stings the pair and forces them into earning their freedom. Their target, the Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), is embroiled in criminal dealings that run much deeper than anticipated and the FBI agent now finds himself on the verge of nabbing not just corrupt congressman but the top dogs of the Jersey mafia. It’s a dog-eat-dog world on the streets of Jersey however, as the alliance quickly learns, and the biggest risk to the operation is Irving’s lonely wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), who can’t wait to spill the beans to anyone who’ll listen.

Heading the A-list cast is Christian Bale, who undergoes a shocking transformation AGAIN. His rotund belly alone is hilarious enough, but his portrayal of the shrewd, enigmatic, lothario Irving Rosenfeld is both entertaining and accomplished – another star performance from an exceptional actor. I have never been a huge fan of the leading lady Amy Adams; I was always of the opinion that she was just a run of the mill, half-decent actress. I was wrong. She explodes here, channeling smart and sexy, with a ruthless edge and a firm control on the men around her. Bradley Cooper is a man on the up and up, gradually proving that he is a top Hollywood actor. His performance in ‘American Sniper’ is further evidence to this, but in ‘American Hustle’ the wheels are very much in motion. One minute he is bouncing around, a power-mad maniac on the brink of greatness, the next a fool who has lost it all. And he is utterly convincing in both instances. If it were ever in doubt (it wasn’t by the way), Jennifer Lawrence proves she is a woman at the top of her game by making the most of her relatively short amount of time in the thick of the action here. She is a woman possessed; stealing the limelight as the erratic, deranged and very funny Rosalyn.

Set in the 1970s, ‘American Hustle’ puts to good use a fantastic soundtrack – with an eclectic mix ranging from ‘Delilah’ to ‘Live And Let Die’ – to frame the retro feel of the film. Even the filming style had a vintage touch to it, making the whole experience satisfyingly genuine. With so many twists and turns, a change of heart and a change of plan every other minute and a merry-go-round of interchanging lovers, it was hard to keep up at times, but a very thrilling ride nonetheless. The comical edge was a fantastic addition to a film which could have very easily taken us on a dark and brutal path, instead opting for the more cleverly amusing approach. Not once did director David O Russell let his foot off the pedal though, and the narrative maintained a sense of tension right the way through, helped on its way by an impeccable cast on TOP form.

Jakob’s rating: 8.1 out of 10 

RED

Year: 2010
Director: Robert Schwentke
Starring: Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker
Written by Andrew Garrison
Edited by Jakob Lewis Barnes

When I first heard about ‘RED’, I was unsure if I would like it. Sure, Bruce Willis was responsible for the legendary ‘Die Hard’, but that’s the problem with legends – they’re in the past. Willis has been very hit and miss since then, at least for me. However, I looked at the cast featuring the likes of Helen Mirren, John Malkovich and Morgan Freeman among others and I realised there was no way I could miss out on watching this movie. My faith was rewarded with a lovely action-comedy, a film which kept me thoroughly entertained throughout.

The movie centres around a bored, lonely, retired CIA agent named Frank Moses (Willis). Frank is trying to live a peaceful post-retirement life and fills his time with house repair and phonecalls to the government pension processing centre where he converses with Sarah (Mary-Louis Parker). The two count each other as the only fun aspect of their life, until one day he and his love interest become targets of a high-tech assassin. He decides to bring back his old team of Retired and Extremely Dangerous agents, to track down his attackers and get his peaceful life back by any means necessary. The movie does have a tendency to go off on a tangent, with quite a few different storylines, some of which aren’t exactly crucial. If you are really into the movie you probably won’t take issue with this, but there is a risk of this rubbing you up the wrong way. Even I found that these extra storylines meant the film probably dragged on for an added 20 minutes that wasn’t necessary.

‘RED’ has a great cast of talented actors who work very well together. John Malkovich has often been cast as that eccentric, crazy guy but arguably never as effectively as in this film. Meanwhile the likes of Helen Mirren and Morgan Freeman add a touch of class to complement the brass and grit of Bruce Willis. I personally love Helen Mirren’s character in this movie; Victoria is sophisticated, a well-trained assassin, and as witty as ever.

It’s hard to find fault with the movie, on the whole it delivered exactly what I expected. However there are moments which become rather silly and unrealistic, so if you are looking for something more grounded you may be disappointed. I enjoy a bit of gun-slinging as much as anyone, but it gets to a point where it becomes almost excessive and tiresome. But just when you think the violence and action is getting you down, a refreshing tide of humour lightens the mood of the whole film, with plenty of great one-liners combined with fun action scenes reminiscent of a bygone era.

The movie is packed with lots of great action scenes, brought to life by a wonderful cast. I really enjoy seeing older actors who can still hold their own in terms of physical based acting when compared to younger actors. ‘RED’ is highly enjoyable and entertaining throughout, with a little love story or two along the way; all the ingredients for a truly wonderful film. Just remember that you are unlikely to gain any insight into the reality of CIA operatives and their work here, so overlook the fantastical elements and just enjoy a fun action flick.

Andrew’s rating: 8.7 out of 10 

The Breakfast Club

Year: 1985
Director: John Hughes
Starring: Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes
Edited by Molly Dolan

As I go to pop ‘The Breakfast Club’ into the DVD player once again, I examine the cover; Empire magazine describes this as “THE DEFINITIVE 80s TEEN MOVIE”. They’re right, this is the standout cult classic from such an iconic era of filmmaking. Amongst the genre of coming-of-age teen comedy/drama, there are few films that can rival the appeal of ‘The Breakfast Club’ even today. Everyone has heard of ‘The Breakfast Club’, you’ve all seen the image of Judd Nelson punching the air in the closing scenes, or Anthony Michael Hall taking a drag on his first joint. This is a film which shaped the youth of the 80s, a film which addresses subcultures, identity and the importance of substance over appearance; a delightful message to transmit to a rebellious generation.

The plot is so simple, yet original, rich and very powerful. For a film which is framed mostly within one classroom, and which certainly never leaves the confines of the school grounds, it is refreshing to witness such a deep, meaningful journey for the five protagonists. Forced to endure Saturday morning detention for their various ‘crimes’, is a diverse mix of students; the jock, the brain, the criminal, the princess and the kook. A group of teens who would ordinarily ignore each other on the school corridor, or worse, mock and humiliate. The kids are ordered by the detestable Mr Vernon (Paul Gleeson) to write an essay addressing the question “Who are you?”, underlining the social message buried within the film. Having learned their lesson, the detainees unite in their battle against their oppressor to become friends, at least in secret, and eventually pair up in the most unlikely of fashions.

Molly Ringwald plays the bratty, prom queen Claire, in a role which should have led to a glittering career. Unfortunately this didn’t quite work out, despite Ringwald actually delivering some really impressive, emotional scenes. Judd Nelson, the guy who looks at least 30 years old at the time of filming, is the teenage bad-boy who doesn’t give a shit about anything. Or does he? Nelson portrays the cruel, cynical John Bender rather perfectly. Not only is he responsible for some excellent monologue but also gives birth to the phrase “eat my shorts”. You’re welcome Bart. As the cringe-worthy jock Andy, Emilio Estevez is guilty of the most uncomfortable moments in the film. From his odd running/dance scene culminating in the breaking of a glass door, to his own little speech about his difficult family, he comes across as awkward and false rather than upholding the poignant tone already in place. The star of the show for me is the geeky Brian, played by Anthony Michael Hall, who is endearing throughout and probably the funniest, most genuine character of the whole bunch. Completing the group is Ally Sheedy, who nails the depiction of a messed up, introverted weirdo, with very convincing animalistic behaviour.

The musical accompaniment to ‘The Breakfast Club’ is fantastic, most notably the Simple Minds track ‘Don’t You’, a classic tune which you may recognise from the ‘Pitch Perfect’ finale. The use of music is good, but not half as effective as some of the moments of silent awkwardness and tension in the detention hall. Arguably, the best and most iconic scenes of the film arrive when the teens really let loose and get stoned together, one which is pivotal, without turning the film into one of the tired ‘teens-get-high-together-and-social-balance-is-restored’ genre. As they open up to one another and start to be unflinchingly honest, the tone of the film drops into rather emotional, dark territory before the uplifting atmosphere returns with abundance and crazy dance moves.

Director John Hughes throws in plenty of cheesy montage sequences, poetic moral speeches and predictable gag scenes full of slapstick humour, fulfilling all the generic requirements you expect from a film like this. But aside from all of the above, the intense focus on themes of family, sex, drugs and the future, highlight all the things that matter to teenagers, showing that ‘The Breakfast Club’ is expertly created to hit the target audience. If you are one of the few people who haven’t had the pleasure of watching this film, I ask “WHY!?” and implore you to change that as soon as possible. Whether you’re an 80s rebel wanting to revisit the fun of your youth, or a modern day hedonist seeking inspiration, ‘The Breakfast Club’ is one of those must-see movies that everyone should watch again and again.

Jakob’s rating: 8.0 out of 10

Pacific Rim

Year: 2013
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, Charlie Day
Written by Patrick Alexander
Edited by Nick Deal

When you go to watch a movie like Pacific Rim, your expectations should always be somewhat realistic – remember, this is never going to be a film that is stylistically amazing or one which is knocking on the door for Oscar nominations. If you want a comparison to base an understanding of what this film is about: it’s very Godzilla-esque. An army of sentient monster-lizard-warriors, for ambiguous reasons, is terrorising the world and all of its inhabitants. So, naturally the world has engineered an arsenal of massive mega-robots manned by the military to police the Pacific Ocean and fight off these creatures, called Kaiju. Whether it’s ‘Independence Day’ or the Avengers, Earth never takes too kindly to alien terrorists. Perhaps it’s not the most unique concept, yet in some bizarre way, ‘Pacific Rim’ feels completely original; because the Battle Bots vs. Godzilla-like alien invaders is a concept too fantastical not to deliver just what fans of the sci-fi genre want.

Idris Elba and Charlie Hunnam (Green Street Hooligans), while both highly likable actors and characters, as well as being two guys whose material I usually enjoy, fail to deliver outstanding performances. It felt like neither of them got out of second gear in this film. Both of their roles were just so disjointed and predictable, which was disappointing because as the two main protagonists, these are very important roles to not get right. Maybe that’s partially down to the writing, but I’ve seen both of them produce much better offerings to showcase their talents than this. However, Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) miraculously steals the show as a renowned Kaiju scientist tasked with unlocking the science of the Kaiju brain. Besides adding much-needed comic relief, his character really lightens up the dark overtones, and I believe, saves what might have been a very monotonous and one-dimensional film without his presence.

When push comes to shove, the plot is rather substandard, the script needed some touching-up and the lead roles deserved more enthusiastic participants. Nevertheless, giant super-soldier robots punching huge monster invaders over and over, doing battle in the streets of Hong Kong, blasting them with energy cannons and slicing them up with futuristic robot swords is undeniably awesome. The action scenes are absolutely the saving grace for this movie, rescuing ‘Pacific Rim’ from the doldrums of failure. Arguably, even the best film of this nature lives or dies through its action sequences, and thankfully ‘Pacific Rim’ flourishes on this side of things. Call it “Michael Bay-ism,” but loud, extravagant explosions and testosterone-filled action sequences along with top-notch special effects make for a decidedly watchable product. Go ahead then, treat yourself to some brainless, humans against the universe destructive fun, but just don’t expect anything too ground-breaking.

Patrick’s rating: 6.3 out of 10 

Still Alice

Year: 2014
Directors: Wash Westmoreland & Richard Glatzer
Starring: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth
Written by Wan Tyszkiewicz
Edited by Jakob Lewis Barnes

Imagine the loss of your memories. The familiar faces of your loved ones gradually becoming unrecognisable – your world distorting until all meaning is lost. Not a pleasant thought, but tragically real for many people. This is exactly what we see in ‘Still Alice’, where Julianne Moore portrays the damaging effects of Alzheimer’s disease in a stunning performance more than worthy of her Oscar win. 

The film follows the decline of 50 year old Alice Howland (Julianne Moore), a respected professor of linguistics at Columbia University. Alice is happily married, with three grown up children. When Alice suffers a series of minor memory lapses, she consults a neurologist and is subsequently diagnosed with familial Alzheimer’s disease – a rapid onset condition that is hereditary. With the support of husband John (Alec Baldwin), Alice delivers the bad news to their children, who may now be at risk of developing the disease. 

There are elements of dysfunction disrupting Alice’s perfect family veneer; for instance, sisters Anna (Kate Bosworth) and Lydia (Kristen Stewart) are diametrically opposed. Lydia is the rebel of the family who has refused a college education and is pursuing a career in acting. Alice is desperate for Lydia to have a “backup plan”, but Lydia holds her ground much to the disdain of her family, because acting simply makes her happy. Kristen Stewart delivers an outstanding performance as Lydia and is the knockout surprise in this film. Dreary Bella from the Twilight Saga is gone – Stewart has matured into a strong woman who knows how to hold herself in a weighty role. While Julianne Moore absolutely deserved the Academy Award for her outstanding performance as Alice, it’s disappointing that Kristen Stewart wasn’t nominated for best supporting actress because she really deserved more recognition. 

‘Still Alice’ is a sensitive and well-researched screen adaptation of Lisa Genova’s 2007 novel and shows the devastation that Alzheimer’s disease inflicts on an individual and their family. The film is co-written and co-directed by Wash Westmoreland and the late Richard Glatzer. Given the subject matter of the film, ‘Still Alice’ avoids being over-sentimental whilst maintaining the elements of a beautifully constructed film, with some remarkably poignant moments as we witness the heartbreaking deterioration of Alice’s mental state. The film elicits an emotional response from the audience through the camerawork, which uses frequent close-ups of Alice and captures her confusion, anger and despair as she gradually loses all sense of who she is. 

The cinematography, from French cinema veteran Denis Lenoir, is heartwarmingly poetic in the way it highlights nature and the changing seasons to indicate the passing of time. A family break at the summerhouse by the sea, treats us to a visual feast of the ocean and vast landscapes that contrast with the diminishing interiority of Alice and her condition. Westmoreland and Glatzer are avid fans of French Cinema and together they have produced a film  which exhibits all the best qualities of this movement, successfully marrying restraint with excess through the film’s imagery and dialogue. The narrative is surprisingly linear with just a couple of references to Alice’s childhood, by means of old film footage. Through this method, we are sufficiently engaged by Alice in the here and now whilst empathising with the person that came before her decline. We are voyeurs observing her deterioration and the impact that this inflicts on her family as they struggle to balance being supportive for Alice and continuing with their lives. 

‘Still Alice’ is a must see film for everybody. Whilst the topic may be less appealing to some viewers because of the intense content, it’s a very revealing and educational film that accurately depicts Alzheimer’s and some of the issues surrounding the disease. It also shows Julianne Moore at the top of her game – an artist with many great film roles and performances in her portfolio and at last she has an Oscar. 

Wan’s rating: 8.0 out of 10

United 93

Year: 2006
Director: Paul Greengrass
Starring: David Alan Basche, Olivia Thirlby, Liza Colon-Zayas, J.J Johnson
Written by Chris Winterbottom
Edited by Jakob Lewis Barnes

There was a lot of concern surrounding the release of ‘United 93’ in 2006, with inevitable cries of “too soon” heard before the film opened. Four years passed since the horrendous events of 9/11, before director Paul Greengrass stepped up and took on the challenge of making a film about one the darkest moments in modern history. Despite the concerns, the film undoubtedly carried an air of importance around it, creating a heady mix of trepidation and fascination as to what the film would be like.

The film centres on United Flight 93, one of the planes hijacked on 9/11, which crashed near the borough of Shanksville, Pennsylvania; a crash which received far less media coverage than that of the attacks on the World Trade Centre yet one which is no less horrific. To tell a personal story in the midst of the chaos of the World Trade Centre attacks would be a nigh on impossible task, as Oliver Stone found out in his sentimental ‘World Trade Centre’ project. By focussing on this particular flight, and depicting the events as they unfold in real time, from multiple perspectives, Greengrass allows the personal stories of those on board to be front and centre.

Greengrass chose unknown actors for the film; another wise decision, as picking well known Hollywood stars would have, perhaps, undermined the poignant tone of the film. After all, the tragic event was never about any one person, and the film effectively highlights this. The whole cast give brave and believable performances and to talk about one individual would do a disservice to an ensemble that tastefully channel the desperation, fear and the defiance of those on board. Greengrass gets subtlety and nuance from each actor, and considering the limited screen time for most characters, this is a remarkable achievement.

The real star of the film is Paul Greengrass. The director has had a diverse career, spearheading the latter two films in ‘The Bourne Trilogy’, as well as the recent ‘Captain Phillips’. Arguably, the success of ‘United 93’ is almost entirely down to him. To make a film with a subject matter this delicate, it would have to take a person more emotionally removed from the events, basically a non-American; the events would almost certainly be too raw for an American to deliver in an unprejudiced manner such as this. As with his other films, Greengrass tells the story from both sides. This was not a decision made to draw sympathy with these people, nor was it a misguided attempt to liberalise the events of 9/11. This film was made to highlight the fact that there are more complex reasons behind the actions of those involved. The film’s opening sequence shows the terrorists preparing themselves for the day, shaving and praying; a quick reminder that they weren’t incarnations of the Devil but people like you and me. And is that not more frightening? On a technical level, ‘United 93’ is groundbreaking. Very few directors can put sight and sound together the way Greengrass can. He manages to build tension in the film over a nerve wracking 111 minutes, with pacing of sublime precision and a climactic crescendo so overwhelming, it would take a man with a stone heart not to be immeasurably moved.

Many claim that in reality, the passengers on board United Flight 93 never fought back against their attackers and there has been a backlash against the film because of this. Criticisms of the films factual accuracy, to me, seem devoid of sensible reasoning. In the end, does it matter whether they did? It has taken a filmmaker of immense talent to sift through the mire that was 9/11 in a bid to find what really matters; the beauty and courage of the human spirit.

Chris’ rating: 9.0 out of 10 

Home

Year: 2015
Director: Tim Johnson
Starring: Rihanna, Jim Parsons
Written by Andrew Garrison
Edited by Jakob Lewis Barnes

I approached the movie ‘Home’ with expectations of mediocrity. Aside from ‘Lilo & Stitch’, the majority of movies featuring animated aliens have faltered; ‘Aliens In The Attic’, ‘Planet 51’ and more recently ‘Escape From Planet Earth’, to name a few. With DreamWorks pushing the release of this film back several months, more often than not a sign of trouble, I was ready for another movie miss.

‘Home’ centres around an alien named Oh, from a race known as the Boov, famous for their talents in the field of escape. Oh meets a young girl called Gratuity Tucci A.K.A Tip, who is looking for her mother. The two characters find themselves requiring one another’s help, and together they go on an adventure to find Tip’s missing mother.

My biggest issue with the film was probably in its approach to elements of comedy . It was juvenile at times and would dive low to scatological jokes a bit too often for my taste. I appreciate that more complex jokes may be lost on younger audiences, but you can still make a decent kid-friendly film without such low-brow humour. The plot was also fairly thin and predictable; once you understand the circumstances of the movie, you can pretty easily figure out where it is heading. Even younger audiences may find that the movie drags on a bit longer than desired and become disengaged with the various converging storylines.

The movie does have plenty of positives however, with some of the humour working very well. Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory) was a perfect casting choice as the voice of the alien Oh. He fit that character so well and although the dialogue sometimes got too silly, he played it well on the whole. Legendary comic actor Steve Martin offers his voice, as does Jennifer Lopez, but star billing has to go to pop princess Rihanna, with her first foray into the world of film overshadowing pretty much everything about this production.

The visuals may not have been on par with the ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ franchise, but it still had quite a few visually appealing scenes. One of the interesting things about the Boov is that their skin changes colour depending on their mood. They also don’t have a complete grasp of the English language and I liked that. It was an interesting aspect to the movie, one which made it stand out for me in a positive manner. Despite their inability to speak fluent English, their point was always clear and aided by the transformative nature of their appearance.

Overall, the film was rather enjoyable. ‘Home’ is definitely aiming for the younger audience with its humour, but it has enough heart that parents can enjoy it as well – what more can you ask for? It may not be Oscar worthy but I think you can walk out of the movie satisfied and adequately entertained. ‘Home’ certainly had opportunities to be better, but it’s worth the cinema trip with the kids.

Andrew’s rating: 6.8 out of 10

’71

Year: 2014
Director: Yann Demange
Starring: Jack O’Connell, Sean Harris, Richard Dormer
Written by Nick Deal
Edited by Jakob Lewis Barnes

When I heard that Jack O’Connell was starring in an intense, edge of the seat, action-thriller, I immediately shortlisted ‘71’ as a film that I had to watch. As a big fan of his work I had high hopes for this film, despite me having very limited knowledge of the Irish and Northern Irish conflicts or any knowledge of Yann Demange’s style of directing. I was expecting brutality, violence and killing, which I was offered in abundance, yet this film still managed to shock me.

The story follows Gary Hook, a young man from Derbyshire – aptly portrayed by Jack O’Connell – as he and his comrades are thrown into the frontline during the Belfast conflicts of 1971. After becoming separated from his squadron, Hook must survive in the dangerous urban jungle that he finds himself in, and try to find his way back to the safety of his barracks. The claustrophobic manner in which these alien surroundings were shot made Hook’s struggle and fear all too real, and I really felt as if I were running, hiding and fighting alongside him. There are two sequences in the film that stand out from a stylistic viewpoint; firstly when Hook is being chased and shot at down the narrow side streets of Belfast, the handheld camera style contributing to the sensation that we are running along side him. Similarly, after an explosion, Hook is stalked by the same handheld camera technique, helping to create a sense of disorientation and confusion, which again results in us as the viewer feeling like we have felt the full extent of the blast as well. This is a technique which runs throughout the film, manifesting itself in various different scenarios; whether we are in the thick of the action on the front line of a protest or in the barracks with the soldiers. All in all, this technique reinforces the sense of this as a very personal experience; that we are facing this struggle alongside Gary Hook and that we are just as helpless as he is to the vicious environment he finds himself at the heart of.

There were two excellent performances that deserve mention. An outstanding, albeit brief, performance from Corey McKinley – as an unnamed, foulmouthed Loyalist Child – threatens to steal the show. From hurling urine at soldiers, to taking Hook under his wing and intimidating men old enough to be his father, McKinley has an aura way beyond his years. Although it is a somewhat disturbing social message to display a young child in such an environment, his character and performance were an uplifting contrast to the dark and menacing people around him, with McKinley offering a comedic break from the brutal nature of the streets of Belfast. Secondly, the performance of the star Jack O’Connell is brilliant but the powerful narrative of the film definitely takes precedence over his performance, meaning that he doesn’t have the scope to be quiet as memorable as his previous roles. He is an actor who I have watched a lot of recently and it’s difficult not to be hugely impressed with his work.

Jack O’Connell’s performance in ‘Starred Up’ is truly exceptional and this offering confirms the idea that he really has the potential to be, the best up and coming superstar that the country has produced, and it appears that the British public agree when they voted to award him with this year’s BAFTA Rising Star award. Having already broken the surface of Hollywood, starring in Angelina Jolie’s ‘Unbroken’ and the disappointing second installment of the ‘300’ franchise. It appears that the future is rosy for this Jack The Lad, but my only fear is that he will find himself typecast to similar roles in his films, a notion that actors like Liam Neeson has made us all too aware of. Yet his recent performances in Hollywood blockbusters highlight his ability to steer away from characters in the likes of ‘Skins’, ‘Starred Up’ and arguably ‘71’ – a modern day “Angry Young Man”, similar to the likes of Albert Finney and co. who  dominated British realist cinema for decades. 

Stylistically, ‘71’ is one of the most accomplished films I have seen in recent times. The simple technique of using handheld cameras has such a powerful effect on the action and the narrative, that it makes it impossible to distance ourselves from what is happening on screen. In a film that packs the narrative full of social messages, the overriding feeling I got from Demange’s portrayal of war, is that there is no such thing as good and evil, but more “every man for himself”. The Tarantino-esque finale, in which multiple individuals converge on the same space, is the culmination of this selfish nature upon which wars are started. ‘71’ throws us into the heart of the conflict and by the end we feel the same sense of futility and hopelessness that Gary Hook and his counterparts are overwhelmed by throughout.

Nick’s rating: 8.7 out of 10