The Judge

Year: 2014
Director: David Dobkin
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Robert Duvall, Billy Bob Thornton
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

Robert Downey Jr. is the fucking man, no question. In the last decade at least, he hasn’t put a foot wrong, everything he does turns to gold. In Robert Downey Jr.’s case, I mean this very literally; topping Forbes’ list of the highest paid actors in Hollywood for the past two years. It pays to be Iron-Man. Alongside him in ‘The Judge’, is Robert Duvall, Oscar nominated for his support role in this film. All sounds pretty good, right? But that is all I expected – a pretty good film, a slightly-above-average courtroom drama with a couple of star vehicles to raise the profile. I was not prepared for such an emotional and gripping experience and I paid the price in human tears.

When hot-shot city lawyer Hank Palmer (Downey Jr) receives news of his mother’s death, he must return to his childhood home in Indiana for the funeral. He leaves behind his young daughter and a failing marriage, to visit his estranged family, but when his father, the respected, revered Judge Palmer (Duvall) becomes the suspect in a hit and run case, Hank begrudgingly commits himself to saving the family. The victim is Mark Blackwell, a man Judge Palmer once set free, only for him to go on to drown a 16 year old girl. With a very clear motive and incriminating evidence, everyone points the finger of blame at The Judge. Due to a debilitating cancer however, Judge Palmer cannot be sure exactly what happened that night, but he is certain he committed the crime. Hank is put in a difficult position, where he must defend the most awkward client of his career – his stubborn father – a man who wants to be convicted, against the clinical lawyer Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton). Away from the courtroom, Hank tries to deal with tensions in the Palmer household, as well as attempting to salvage his own marriage and a complicated transition back in to the community in Indiana.

Robert Downey Jr. just can’t help being a little bit funny, all the time. In reality, I can only assume, that he is just as funny, likeable and charming as he appears to be in his many different roles. But you should forget everything you think you know about RDJ. His portrayal of Hank Palmer is enigmatic, yes, but a more powerful and emotive performance than ever before. Robert number two, Mr Duvall, is fantastic as the vulnerable, deteriorating Judge Palmer. He conveys perfectly the distressing effects of his horrible illness, whilst maintaining a nostalgic sense of power and authority as the head of his family. In impressive post-Fargo form, Billy Bob Thornton is the villain of the play, sort of. Prosecuting lawyer Dwight Dickham is ruthless but undeniably fair, a calm man with a cold and calculated edge, all of which Thornton expertly communicates.

This film draws so many similarities to other films yet remains rather fresh and original. The family dynamic of the dysfunctional Palmer brothers is reminiscent of the Bondurant brothers in ‘Lawless’, with brutish Glen at the head, the shrewd Hank in command and poor Dale trailing in their wake. It is the autistic Dale however, with a penchant for home movies, who brings to life some of the more poignant and upsetting moments in the film. The happy memories contained in his short films only serve to highlight the tragedy of the family’s current plight and exacerbate the tensions. There is also clear reference to the classic ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, with Hank placed in a similar dilemma to that of Atticus Finch, where he must represent a ‘guilty man’ with a heartfelt defiance against a hostile community.

There are so many moments of heart-wrenching emotion throughout the film, moments which are skimmed over rather quickly, giving you no time to dwell on the unfortunate events. I consider this an interesting and powerful message from the filmmakers, in terms of the way we deal with grief and tragedy. Initially, I wanted to watch ‘The Judge’ alone, as I didn’t think anyone else would be too interested and worse, I didn’t think the film would be that good. Turns out, I made the right call; after all crying in front of people isn’t too much fun and this film is so fucking sad, I guarantee you will cry a few times. ‘The Judge’ is upsetting and uplifting in equal measure, a beautifully composed film, crowned by outstanding performances from all involved. Everyone should see this film, but watch it alone if you are a self-conscious weeper.

Jakob’s rating: 8.2 out of 10
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Fifty Shades Of Grey

Year: 2015
Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan
Written by Wan Tyszkiewicz
Edited by Jakob Lewis Barnes

Sam Taylor-Johnson, director of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, has taken a badly written novel and turned it into a piece of gold-plated schlock. Worldwide, the film has been a box-office sellout, taking more than $500 million in its first few weeks. Admittedly, this audience is probably 99% female and unlike ‘Sex and the City’ (2008), which had a large gay male following, men are highly unlikely to flock to see ‘Fifty Shades’. This one is exclusively for the girls.

In case you have been living under a rock, here’s what all the fuss is about. ’Fifty Shades’ introduces Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), a final year university student who, as a favour to her sick roommate Kate (Eloise Mumford), interviews wealthy businessman Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) for the college magazine. Anastasia slowly becomes romantically involved with the enigmatic Christian. She has never been in a sexual relationship before, whereas Christian has had many and has developed very “particular” tastes that involve bondage, domination, submission and a requirement that Anastasia sign a non-disclosure agreement. She must therefore go through the contract and decide which items and clauses she can agree to and which she cannot. Anastasia must also agree never to talk to anyone about Christian or anything that happens in “the red room of pain” – sometimes referred to in the film as “the playroom”.

There was an intense media buzz surrounding the film, particularly in reference to the dilemma of adapting an X-rated novel into a film suitable for cinema audiences, with promises that the big screen experience would be sufficiently packed with sex scenes. However, there are no sex scenes in the first 40 minutes of the movie. In fact, the collective sex scenes contribute to just 20 minutes of this exhausting two hour plus film. Although the original author EL James retained overall control of the script and the final film, there were run-ins between the writer and director throughout the filmmaking process. Whatever the challenges, Taylor-Johnson has managed to create a very painterly film where her artistic roots undeniably shine through. From the opening shots of ‘Fifty Shades’, Taylor-Johnson has filled every space with a richness of colour, perfect lighting and a profusion of art and artistic devices. The detail in Grey’s penthouse apartment is opulent and perfectly placed and indeed, Taylor-Johnson demonstrates with just about every shot and frame, that she understands the importance of the mise-en-scene and the blocking of the set. This is probably down to her work as a photographer but in the absence of a strong script and any chemistry between the leading actors, Taylor-Johnson has had to fill the void with something worth looking at. 

‘Fifty Shades’ has very little real substance; Taylor-Johnson has polished it up by removing a lot of the original corny dialogue and replacing it with a toned down ordinariness that is slightly more believable and relatable. The film is an outrageous fantasy that has attracted a huge female audience as well as great criticism and opposition. At the same time it is impossible to ignore the fact that the book was self-published first as an e-book and then, through word of mouth quickly became a viral phenomenon. Appealing initially to women over thirty, it was rapidly picked up by younger women and higher education students. By April 2012, James had a publisher and the story was purchased primarily for e-reading devices. This meant people – who are we kidding? This meant women could read the novel in public and nobody would know that they were enjoying an ‘erotic novel’. Now however, that comfort zone of secrecy has been removed, and women in their droves have flooded the cinema to watch their fantasies come to life.

The film was released on Valentines Day, with a view to marketing the film as one for couples, an exciting and romantic experience to share with your partner. This failed. Of all the people I have spoken to, not one has been able to persuade their partner to join them. Opposition groups targeted cinemas in the US and the UK in order to highlight the abusive and violent content directed against women that ‘Fifty Shades’ romanticises and the film has been critically panned across the board. Nevertheless, Universal Studios signed the writer, director and actors into the next two films in the franchise. So it will be interesting to see if this extremely divisive film will return for a sequel or retreat back into the safety of our imagination.

Wan’s rating: 5.2 out of 10

Guardians Of The Galaxy

Year: 2014
Director: James Gunn

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper (voice), Vin Diesel (voice)
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a Marvel B-side project to please the kids? No, no, HELL NO! There are of course, inescapable comparisons between ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’ and its big brother team over at The Avengers HQ. The epic ‘Avengers Assemble’ of 2012 eclipses ‘Guardians’ in the financial world, grossing $1.5 billion compared to the $700 million ‘Guardians’ accumulated. But if you take a look at IMDB’s reputable list of the top 250 movies of all time, it seems the little brother may have outgrown its senior sibling. Could ‘Guardians’ really be better than ‘Avengers Assemble’? I couldn’t imagine it, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, as they say.

We begin our story on Earth in 1988, where we meet a young Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) tragically saying farewell to his dying mother. Moments later he is abducted from Earth by a mysterious alien spaceship. Skip forward to 2014, and Peter is now (kind of) famous as the outlaw named Star Lord. When Star Lord steals a valuable orb, he becomes the subject of an intergalactic manhunt which leads him to the planet Xandar, where he meets the beautiful huntress Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket Racoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and his wooden side-kick Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). The quartet are arrested after a street-brawl and sent to a high-security prison where they join forces with the fearsome Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) to plot an escape and make a profit on their prized orb. Unfortunately for the team of outcasts, the evil Ronan the Accuser is desperate to get his hands on the orb, which contains an all-powerful infinity stone. Ronan hopes to deliver the stone to the mighty Thanos, with a view to ruling the entire universe and destroying planets at will, and only the newly assembled team of unlikely heroes stand in their way.

Apparently, director James Gunn wasn’t interested in seeing Chris Pratt audition for the part of Peter Quill and had to be persuaded by his assistant to let him through. Thankfully he did, and Pratt won the role on the spot and delivers an excellent performance as the loveable, Han Solo inspired rogue. Being such a charming, entertaining and cool character, I can absolutely imagine Chris Pratt winning over James Gunn there and then. He is a man very much on the rise, with the upcoming summer blockbuster ‘Jurassic World’ and rumours of an ‘Indiana Jones’ reboot in the pipeline. Zoe Saldana offers lots of attitude as the feisty Gamora, as well as fantastic chemistry with Pratt’s Star Lord. Saldana certainly stands out as the main support role in the cast, not least due to her green skin. I think Dave Bautista deserves special mention too. It would be easy for someone of his physique to be typecast as the big, tough guy, and don’t get me wrong he does pack quite a punch. But Bautista also offers moments of comedy and emotion to make Drax the Destroyer much more than just a battering ram.

With very little human presence in the film, you may think it will be hard to form any real empathy or attachment to the characters or narrative, but it grows on you, I promise. ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’ is a story which is very literally out-of-this-world, closer to ‘Star Wars’ than your average superhero movie, with no threat to Earth or humanity as such. Nevertheless, there are plenty of hints as to the film’s effect on the Marvel cinematic universe, with reference to Thanos and the infinity stones, which are set to be the basis of the ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ movies in 2018/19. In addition, the Awesome Mix which Peter Quill treasures so dearly, is a very impressive soundtrack indeed, with the likes of David Bowie, Marvin Gaye and The Jackson 5 bringing an Earthly feel to proceedings.

As far as light-hearted superhero movies go, I think ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’ achieved just about everything it set out to achieve. From start to finish the film was action-packed, entertaining and funny, with a happy ending to boot. There is none of the gritty or dark elements you find in DC movies, make no mistake this film is very theatrical and Marvel in essence; just a lot of fun to watch. Despite a couple of instances of strong language, ‘Guardians’ is definitely suitable for families and young children, and whether you’re a hardened fan or completely new to the superhero world, you will love this film. The credits begin with the message “the Guardians of the Galaxy will return” and I am personally delighted at this promise of a sequel, roll on 2017.

Jakob’s rating: 8.8 out of 10 

This Is Where I Leave You

Year: 2014
Director: Shawn Levy
Starring: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll
Written by Wan Tyszkiewicz

On a recent long-haul flight, ‘This Is Where I Leave You’ was all that was available, so I pressed play and was pleasantly surprised by this take on the family-gathering scenario. Each year, one or two notable films pop up in this like-it or hate-it genre, divisive films which just about verge on the side of adequately entertaining. Coming hot on the heels of the star-studded 2013 flick ‘August: Osage County’, ‘TIWILY’ was going to have to dig deep to better its more dramatic counterpart. 

‘TIWILY’ starts with the reasonably successful and happily married Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) coming home early to surprise his wife on her birthday, only to discover wife Quinn (Abigail Spencer) in the marital bed with his boss Wade (Dax Shepard), in an affair which has been going on for a year. Judd withdraws having lost his job, his wife and his apartment. Things go from bad to worse for Judd, who receives a call from his sister Wendy (Tina Fey) informing him that his father Mort has died. The Altman family reunite for the funeral with the widowed matriarch Hillary (Jane Fonda) insisting that Mort’s dying wish was for the family to observe the Jewish mourning ritual and reunite for seven days. Judd’s older brother Paul (Corey Stoll) is a responsible, upstanding man, trying to start a family with wife Annie (Kathryn Hahn) and running the family business. By contrast, younger brother Philip (Adam Driver) is utterly incompetent, arriving late for the funeral and then introducing his new, much older girlfriend; a woman who used to be his therapist. A huge family dynamic, and in turn sizeable cast, is stretched further with the introduction of family friend Linda (Debra Monk) and her brain-damaged son Horry (Timothy Olyphant), as well as the beautiful manic-depressive Penny (Rose Byrne) who provides the love interest for the Judd in his newfound singledom.

‘TIWILY’ has some good ingredients – the prolific Shawn Levy, as director and producer, for one. His credits include the hugely successful ‘Night At The Museum’ trilogy, working with Hugh Jackman on ‘Real Steel’ (2011), as well as recurring collaborations with Rose Byrne and Tina Fey, in ‘The Internship’ (2013) and ‘Date Night’ (2010) respectively. But what Levy has done in this film, which is interesting, is to take a set of current and immediately recognizable actors from some very successful TV shows. He then throws them into this washing-machine of a film to great effect. Adam Driver plays the same offbeat character that we see in the highly successful HBO series ‘Girls’. Then there’s Corey Stoll who played Peter Russo in ‘House Of Cards’ – providing a similar intensity to his character here. We also have Ben Schwartz playing a much nicer character in ‘TIWILY’ than the Machiavellian shark Clyde Oberholt from the SHO series ‘House Of Lies’.

Bateman has played the same phlegmatic character in a few too many films in his career, but his portrayal of Judd is solid and steers this film through sheer madness at times. ‘TIWILY’ is an intertextual stew where nothing has happened by accident. At the head of this family is Jane Fonda who famously starred with her father Henry Fonda in ‘On Golden Pond’ (1981), a family-gathering film of great significance in its time. Fonda is worth watching as the unorthodox mother that really does understand each of her offspring better than they understand themselves. And she still has surprises up her sleeve even now.

‘This Is Where I Leave You’ is a carefully crafted film that is intelligent, funny in parts and quite moving at times. Although many of the critics gave it mixed reviews, the public received this film much better. And that probably has a lot to do with the fact that there is something inherently recognisable in films from this difficult genre.

Wan’s rating: 6.4 out of 10

The Imitation Game

Year: 2014
Director: Morten Tyldum
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Charles Dance, Mark Strong
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

You know you’ve done something right when your film is nominated for the Best Picture category at The Oscars. So Morten Tyldum’s ‘The Imitation Game’ must be an exceptional film, right? That was my inherent reasoning, but I still had some reluctance to watch it, I just didn’t feel excited like I am by so many other films. Judging by the results at The Oscars 2015, where ‘The Imitation Game’ scooped just one award, I wasn’t expecting anything outstanding. But I just kept remembering the heartfelt winner’s speech delivered by Graham Moore, for Best Adapted Screenplay; the man deserved my time and attention for two hours at least. The tragic tone of Moore’s speech certainly resonates with the tone and composition of the film, something which the whole production should be proud to have conveyed so acutely.

‘The Imitation Game’ delves into the life of Alan Turing, the man who cracked the Nazi Enigma code and helped to end World War II. Honestly, I was expecting more of a focus on the genius and his success in cracking the code, but the story goes deeper than that, to explore the dark private life of the complex character. With Germany dominating the war, the British government secretly hired a team of brilliant mathematicians to decrypt Nazi messages. The problem was, Enigma recoded each day at midnight, and was capable of an almost infinite amount of different codes. At the heart of the group tasked with such an impossible mission, was the solitary Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), whose rare interactions with his peers were always tinged with a frustrating sense of superiority. Alan Turing was awkward but incredibly driven, and it was his magnificent vision of a super-computer which effectively won the war for the Allies and saved an estimated 14 million lives.

Benedict Cumberbatch must have been taking notes from his other problem solving alter-ego when preparing for this project, as the arrogance, apathy and wit he brought to the role of Alan Turing was unmistakably Sherlock-esque. He clearly enjoys playing the oddball genius, and why not, he’s very, very good at it. Cumberbatch manages to make a pretty good film, just that little bit better, as all others involved seem to pale in insignificance next to this star performance. Opposite Mr Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley is somewhat a non-entity as Joan Clarke, the ‘wife’ of Alan Turing. There is an overwhelming British tone to the film, and whilst the settings and the music add to this, no one makes a film feel like a period drama quite like Keira. I think that could be the reason she fades into the background for me, maybe I heard her awfully pompous accent and ignored the protestations of “I was born in the wrong era, look at me”.

Now, I’m always keen on biopics; I love deciphering the realism of it all and understanding people who do amazing things that the world needs to know about. But as I said, ‘The Imitation Game’ is more concerned with Alan Turing’s secret, personal life than his accomplishments during the war. So once the war is won, we only just begin to fully understand the struggle Turing endured through his tragically short life. Unfortunately, such a poignant story was betrayed by a disjointed narrative which shifted between various different points in Alan Turing’s life, leaving me feeling a little lost at times.

I have to commend the intense use of sound and the more dramatic scenes in the film, which at times reached heights of brilliance. But these were sporadic to say the least, and the film lost its way with half an hour to go. Whilst there was a lot of attention paid to the internal affairs of Alan Turing, which made for quite powerful and emotional cinema, I feel there could have been more of a focus on the brilliance of the man too. There is no doubting that ‘The Imitation Game’ is a good film, and it is certainly worth a watch, but I have to say this was personally my least favourite of the Oscars 2015 Best Picture nominations.

Jakob’s rating: 6.2 out of 10

Wayne’s World

Year: 1992
Director: Penelope Spheeris
Starring: Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Rob Lowe
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

I was about six years old when I first watched ‘Wayne’s World’, and I didn’t have a clue what was going on. I only watched it then because it was my auntie’s favourite film, and she had exhausted all other options for a viewing buddy. All I remember is the wacky, repetitive, slapstick comedy that appealed to my post-toddler sense of humour. Nearly twenty years passed before I watched ‘Wayne’s World’ again, this time fully aware of the film’s cult status as a classic teen comedy, a film which captures perfectly the cultural transition between the late 80s and the early 90s. Yet even this time I was still wonderfully oblivious to what exactly was happening.

The plot to the film isn’t really that important, it’s not what ‘Wayne’s World’ hinges on. Broadcasting from a basement in Chicago, Wayne (Mike Myers) and best pal Garth (Dana Carvey) have their own mad, amateur television show called (you guessed it) ‘Wayne’s World’. When hotshot TV exec Benjamin Oliver (Rob Lowe) stumbles across the show, he sees dollar signs and takes the pair to arcade tycoon Noah Vandahoff to fund the production of the show to a larger audience. With the duo’s creative freedom stifled, Wayne walks away from the show and abandons Garth, before pushing away his new girlfriend Cassandra. What ensues is Wayne’s attempts to make amends and win everyone back, with lots of capers and surrealism along the way. We are even given the privilege of a bad, medium and happy ending.

Mike Myers leads the line as Wayne, and is truly ‘excellent’ at making it all about him throughout the film. Hints of his future alter-ego, Austin Powers, are clearly evident and it’s obvious that Myers was a real star in the making. As oddball Garth, Dana Carvey manages to come across as super weird, even by ‘Wayne’s World’ standards. He is exceptionally awkward and strange, but is all the more endearing for it. Rob Lowe is effortless in his portrayal of the sleezy, double-crossing, slimeball Benjamin. It is no coincidence that Lowe went on to play such a character time and time again on the back of this role.

As a film at the heart of the teen-stoner-hipster demographic, ‘Wayne’s World’ excels in its very self conscious irony, underpinned by repetitive catchphrases and gimmicks. This is a stoner film to rival all others, a simply bizarre and stupid film but one which is adequately entertaining. I would describe ‘Wayne’s World’ as the 90s equivalent to ‘Pineapple Express’, with a little less of a narrative, or at least a little less of an interest in the narrative. But every bit as concerned with the comedic value of gags, slapstick humour and the irony of youth culture.

I would say ‘Wayne’s World’ is just about as good as it gets for a film of this style and subgenre. And I mean that as high praise. It is a film which champions stupidity and irony, whilst cleverly poking fun at the film industry, and indeed the whole global commercial market through thinly veiled satire. ‘Wayne’s World’ is so wacky you just have to sit back and laugh, and that’s the beauty of it, this basic comedy is deceptively entertaining. Party on!

Jakob’s rating: 7.7 out of 10

It Follows

Year: 2015
Director: David Mitchell
Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe
Written by Nick Deal

Let me begin with stating that I am not the world’s biggest horror film fan. I’ve dabbled occasionally, but never really found the spark or connection with a film that others claim to have had. I have found that on the whole, horror films tend to be relatively poorly made, very predictable and completely reliant upon the jump factor, which is scary initially but soon forgotten. ‘It Follows’ however, was a completely different experience, and for the first time I felt the full effect that a slick, powerful and well made horror film can have upon its audience. This film is truly and genuinely terrifying.

For a brief plotline, the film follows Jay, a teenage girl, and her adolescent friends on a journey through sexual exploration, with terrifying consequences. Jay is portrayed by the impressive Maika Monroe, who stands out from the rest of the somewhat indistinguishable cast. ‘It’ is a curse which follows an individual, and is passed from person to person through sexual intercourse. The curse then manifests itself through varying human forms and follows its victims at a fast walking pace, never at a run, until it catches them and kills them. This film then, acts as a crossover between the coming-of-age and horror genres and I thought that it was a particularly refreshing move away from the “slasher” films that have dominated the markets in recent years. ‘It’ adopts many different human forms, varying from a small child to its most terrifying form of an eight-foot tall man. This giant of a man is present in the most horrifying moment of the film, appearing from the shadows to tower over the group of protagonists, in such a menacing way that it is the single lasting image I have taken from the film. A moment which drew gasps of repulsion from the entirety of the cinema theatre.

Stylistically, the film is stunning, wit the use of panning shots proving to be particularly effective. Shots that were, at times, minutes in length, were the cause of great discomfort for me, as I found myself constantly scanning the scene for the slightest glimpse of the curse. It’s a technique that’s been used before in many a horror film – much like ‘Paranormal Activity’, but it just seemed in this instance, to be much more effective and much more intense. I think the intense nature of the film was achieved by steering clear of the jump tactics favoured by films previous horror films, and focusing instead on a subtle presentation of our main antagonist. ‘It’ is always there, it’s ever present on screen and in our minds, so we have no need to be jolted in to fear, we just need to be quietly reminded that ‘It’ is following us, always watching us. 

The reason why I think the film was so powerful and has been so well received is the result of a couple of things. Firstly, this is an experience that director David Mitchell says he experienced as a child in a dream. Consequently, the film emanates a rather personal and heart-felt story, to the extent that it felt horribly real. Indeed, when I left the cinema that night, I found myself anxiously approaching my car, worried that something was following me – much like Mitchell said he experienced in his childhood dreams. Secondly, Rich Vreeland’s musical score is nothing short of fantastic. An accomplished mix of classical accompaniment and electronic riffs contribute to this truly terrifying spectacle.

I was convinced to go and watch ‘It Follows’ by BBC’s Film 2015 review show, when they reviewed it as the film of the series. But their adulation for the film came with a warning: “do not watch this film on your own!”. I can only concur with this statement, and in fact I strongly recommend that you go and see the film in the cinema, as your experience will be greatly enriched, and it’s always entertaining to see and hear people’s reactions to what’s happening on screen. As I said before, I am no horror fan. ‘It Follows’ however, is a wonderful piece of cinema; beautifully and thoughtfully made and Mitchell’s dream has been adapted perfectly for the big screen experience. There are so many reasons that I won’t be forgetting this film for a long time to come, even when I’m laying in my bed, in the dark of night, desperately wanting the images to disappear.

Nick’s rating: 8.3 out of 10

Foxcatcher

Year: 2014
Director: Bennett Miller
Starring: Steve Carrell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo
Written by Patrick Alexander
Edited by Jakob Lewis Barnes

If sex sells, then there’s no reason for Foxcatcher to have made a dime. It’s filled with inherent contradictions to such a simple, popular and successful concept. A movie about Olympic Greco-Roman style wrestling? I’ll pass. Steve Carrell trying to be serious again? No thank you. Half-naked men in tights grabbing each other and rolling around on the floor? That’s definitely not for me. For whatever reason however, Foxcatcher is undeniably brilliant. It paces itself and runs so smoothly, keeping the story alive and kicking for the entire 130 minutes. Director Bennett Miller (Moneyball, Capote) managed to make a film about Greco-Roman wrestling actually interesting, probably helped by the fact that the story is based on an exceptionally scandalous true story.

The basic story centres around the Schultz brothers, who won gold for the USA wrestling team at the 1984 Olympics. In preparation for the 1988 Seoul games, younger brother Mark (Channing Tatum) joins team Foxcatcher and trains at the du Pont esate. Everything’s hunky-dory, the wrestlers get state-of-the-art training and are well accommodated. Mark however becomes dependent on his new father figure John du Pont who, driven by hidden motives, slowly transforms from a supportive mentor into a crazed manipulator. John du Pont’s attentions are instead focused on the older Schultz brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) with tragic consequences. In a fantastic and very real twist, a narcotic-fuelled du Pont reneges on a cordial reconciliation of differences and produces a moment which comes at you so unexpectedly, much like every other aspect of this movie.

Steve Carrell, in his first dramatic role that’s actually worked, carries the film as the eccentric heir to a multi-billion inheritance and wrestling enthusiast John “Golden Eagle”  du Pont. Carrell nails the neurotic tendencies and idiosyncrasies that were characteristic of the real life John  du Pont. It’s disturbing, but in a good way. Further, Channing Tatum is splendid as Mark Schultz. To be honest, until now I have been supremely anti-Tatum; he’s never been more than a “flash-my-abs-make-the-girls-swoon” actor. Yet, he too nails such a serious role, flexing more than just his biceps for once – his acting credentials. Throw in a dash of Mark Ruffalo as the more confident, independent, senior Schultz brother, with a sterling performance, and you have a cast performing out of their spandex.

Foxcatcher garnered 5 Oscar Nominations, and with good reason. The design is meticulous, the acting is precise and the screenplay is thrilling. After finally seeing all five Best Actor nominees, without a doubt, Steve Carrell was robbed of his first and potentially only shot at the title belt. He was THAT good. Overall, Foxcatcher is weighty and unsettling at times. Yet, if you can hold on when things get icy and dark you’ll find yourself having watched one of the best films of the year.

Patrick’s rating: 8.9 out of 10

Interstellar

Year: 2014
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

Going boldly where no man (or woman) has ever been before; an astronaut’s ultimate goal. Finding a new home for humanity; an astronaut’s wet dream. Can you imagine the hero’s welcome? I imagine it’s something like the kinda party Matthew McConaughey and Christopher Nolan hoped for when they ventured into the unchartered territory of a true sci-fi movie. Despite Nolan’s dalliances in multi-dimensional worlds for ‘Inception’, heading out into the wilderness of space with ‘Interstellar’ was a giant leap. Even teaming up with the best actor in the world (according to The Academy), this project was a risk, yet if anyone could make it work it was these two, right? A man with a rapidly accelerating status as a serious, accomplished actor, and one of the most ambitious and capable directors in the industry, this had to be a success.

We all know planet Earth is fucked. At some point, our great-grandchildren will probably have to get out of here before the whole thing blows or fizzles out, whatever takes hold first. So when ‘Interstellar’ drops us in the middle of an Earth ravaged by famine, drought and incessant dust storms, we are presented with a future that is by no means unimaginable. Not quite apocalyptic, but haunting enough to make you want to look after our home a little better. With humanity facing extinction, the hopes for the survival of the human race lie outside our planet and indeed our galaxy. A group of explorers, led by Coop (McConaughey), are tasked with heading into a rip in the space-time continuum to find us a new home. The crew on board the Endurance ship voyage into the unknown of multi-dimensional worlds and dangerous planets where time and space are distorted; forced to fight rogue explorers and battle extreme conditions to discover a hospitable planet for the human population. Beneath the intergalactic journey, lies the true battle for Coop, who has to decide between seeing his family again and saving the human race, which delivers the more poignant, heart-wrenching scenes with his daughter Murph (Jessica Chastain). I won’t say much more on the plot as I don’t want to spoil anything, and honestly, I don’t think I could explain much more. In typical Nolan fashion, ‘Interstellar’ is bewildering and exhilarating in equal measures.

Matthew McConaughey doesn’t look out of his depth for one second in what is undoubtedly his biggest film to date. Refusing to drop that Deep South drawl we all love, he exudes a cool composure throughout, which is only ever replaced by a gripping intensity. McConaughey leads the line impressively, adding another string to his bow and giving the McConnaissance even more momentum on its journey to world domination. Thanks to the twists in time, Jessica Chastain is able to portray McConaughey’s daughter, Murph. Chastain is responsible for bringing to life some of the more touching, emotional scenes I mentioned earlier, as well as providing a little much-needed attitude and spirit at Earth HQ. As one of the more prominent crew members, Anne Hathaway is uncharacteristically forgettable. Her character, Brand, has a key role on board the Endurance mission, yet her performance failed to register in my memory as anything but average and at times dull. Again, without spoiling anything, keep an eye out for a superstar cameo of which nobody seems to talk about.

I have to devote some time to discuss the incredible special effects used in ‘Interstellar’, which were unbelievable even on the small screen (of our 47inch television, read it and weep). The Oscar for achievements in visual effects could not be more deserved for a film which is simply stunning, taking us to exciting worlds which are incomprehensible. The way the movie plays with time and space is nothing short of a masterpiece, a really awe-inspiring, unforgettable visual experience. From bending vast oceans, to twisting galaxies, even the scenes on Earth of the inescapable dust storms, every mesmerising scene is literally out-of-this-world.

I truly regret never seeing ‘Interstellar’ at the cinema, it’s a film which deserves the special treatment of big IMAX screens and the 3D experience. But as I said, even at home, this was still an absolutely amazing 3 hours of my life, time well spent. I can’t honestly recollect a film in recent years of such stunning, breathtaking proportions, and it is probably the only space film which comes close to the classic ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. Although I’m not quite sure ‘Interstellar’ lived up to my huge expectations, I admit that I maybe set the bar a little too high and that nothing could be done to justify my personal, self-generated hype. But to take the viewer away from our planet is a daring move by Nolan, a man who constantly looks to “aim higher, to break barriers, to reach for the stars, to make the unknown known”. And with ‘Interstellar’ there can be no doubt that the risks were worthwhile, bravo Mr Nolan.

Jakob’s rating: 9.0 out of 10

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Year: 2014
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton
 Written by Rhys Wortham
Edited by Jakob Lewis Barnes

I personally consider most British comedies to be wittier than their American counterparts, mainly due to well-placed gags and expertly crafted dialogue. With ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’, where it lacked at times on the gag front, it more than made up for with delightfully crass humour, simple pokes at American stereotypes and in-your-face violence, examples of which can be found in the various trailers for the movie. Indeed, it was during many of the more violent scenes where I found myself sniggering the most, particularly when the Kingsmen confront a racist church group. Similarly, the blatant references to just about every other spy film, whilst maintaining its own unique, ironic style of humour, was commendable, a tribute to the spy movie genre.

Based on a comic book, director Matthew Vaughn brings to the big screen, the story of Harry Hart. Harry (Colin Firth) is an undercover spy, who owes a life debt to a fallen friend and former colleague, Lancealot. The Kingsmen work for a socially elite group and are Britain’s best undercover. Taking their names from the fairy tales of King Arthur, some of these spies even exude the qualities of their mythical counterparts. Colin Firth plays the straight man to Taron Egerton’s young, foul-mouthed social delinquent, Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin. When Gary is arrested, he calls on the Kingsmen to get him out of trouble. They do, and in turn decide to recruit him for their undercover training program.

Sadly, the film was guilty of a rather jumbled development, with Egerton’s character in particular, jumping between lovable dumbass, to killing machine, to then being nothing more than an arrogant prick. The anti-US undertones, whilst being consistent, were at times a little obnoxious. Admittedly, the ‘attack’ was focused on berating the evil of corporate America, a thing of fiction right? The fact that one of the crucial parts of the story involved mass genocide, which all of the world’s billionaires were passive to, seems a little absurd. I mean, who would run their businesses and provide them with sustenance if all of society had collapsed. [SPOILER ALERT] After one of the main characters dies, there is a clear switch in the style of humour, leaving behind a mixture of mellow wit, for a more oafish, simple humour. So when you start to think “hang on, these jokes are suddenly a lot worse”, you know you’re nearing the end of the movie.

Most spy films that try add a comedic edge fail at the first hurdle, by hiring writers who don’t know how to blend the two genres, or who allow the comedy to become too experimental. ‘Kingsman’ however, showed a nice balance of everything without having one genre overpower the other. The characters were likeable (if not a little cliché) and whilst the story might be regarded as bland by some people, but how everything is set up certainly separates it from the rest of the genre. I implore you to see this at the cinema before it’s too late. ‘Kingsman’ might not go down as a comedy classic, or a spy film classic, but it will definitely be discussed for a good while yet. In secret of course!

Rhys’ rating: 7.5 out of 10

The Boxtrolls

Year: 2014
Director: Graham Annable & Anthony Stacchi
Starring: Ben Kingsley, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Jared Harris, Nick Frost, Richard Ayaode (voices)
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

As any parent knows, and anyone else can imagine, it can be frustratingly difficult to take a child to the cinema. Picking the right film, satisfying their sweet-tooth cravings, getting the perfect seat, battling to simultaneously keep them awake whilst ensuring they don’t go the other way and burst with energy; a successful visit to your local theatre is no mean feat. It is a venture that I don’t embark upon very often, but the delightful experience we enjoyed whilst watching ‘The Boxtrolls’ is enough to inspire many more in the future. My young daughter loved the film and for the week following our trip, she maintained the façade that she herself was a Boxtroll, temporarily displacing her favoured alter-ego of the indefatigable Queen Elsa.  

‘The Boxtrolls’ tells the story of the adorable, innocent titular oddballs, a race of underground scavengers who have been demonised for decades as malevolent child-snatchers and pesky thieves. The villainous Archibald Snatcher (voiced by Ben Kingsley) is the leading man in the art of anti-Boxtroll propaganda, building his lies upon the disappearance of inventor Herbert Trubshaw (Simon Pegg) and his baby. The truth is, the Boxtrolls were entrusted by Trubshaw to adopt his baby and keep him safe, raising the young boy in the belief that he is one of them. Snatcher aims to eradicate all Boxtrolls and claim his white hat, a signal of power and decadence in the city of Cheesebridge. When all but a few of the Boxtrolls have been captured, the young human boy, nicknamed Eggs, decides that something must be done and heads above ground to prevent the extinction of his subterranean race. With the help of a young girl named Winnie, Eggs discovers his human roots and battles the evil Archibald Snatcher to save the Boxtrolls and earn them a place in the Cheesebridge community.

Eggs, voiced by Isaac Hempstead Wright, is the classic child hero standing up for justice, a determined and caring young man who transmits the longstanding message that it’s “what’s inside that counts”. The eminent Ben Kingsley adds his voice to the cruel villain, Archibald Snatcher, expertly conveying a creepy, vile air to an already detestable man in both appearance and behaviour. As his henchman, Mr Trout and Mr Pickles, Nick Frost and Richard Ayoade cleverly insert topical debates on the values of right and wrong whilst maintaining a comedic edge to keep the kids happy. The stars of the show however, are of course, the wonderful, little Boxtrolls, who are funny, heart-warming and endearing throughout. The whole thing is framed in an old school, retro style of animation. With such a simple and raw feel to the creation, there is a clear nod back to the classic Aardman animation stories that I loved as a child.

Unfortunately, in today’s market of endless animation films for the family, it was always going to be hard for ‘The Boxtrolls’ to stand the test of time. Indeed, I fear that if I mentioned ‘The Boxtrolls’ to my daughter right now, she would probably not even remember them. This aside, at the time of viewing at least, I cannot fault the pleasant, positive tone of the film, underpinned by moral messages of identity and right versus wrong. There are the odd moments which threaten to spill over into slightly sinister territory, but this is nothing too harrowing and any such moments are immediately followed by light-hearted humour and a return to the friendly, comedic tone which make this film a must-see for all families.

Jakob’s rating: 7.0 out of 10

Dracula Untold

Year: 2014
Director: Gary Shore
Starring: Luke Evans, Dominic Cooper, Sarah Gadon
Written by Patrick Alexander

Origin stories have always made for immensely appealing viewing to me. Whether it be in film, literature, or even television; something about the backstory and learning how the character’s personality, afflictions and psychology came to be, is wildly intriguing. This insight adds depth to a character and enriches the narrative, to the point where I find myself longing to know the origins of a character when I visit the cinema. So when presented with the chance to get a little, albeit embellished, backstory on the time-honored anti-hero, Dracula, I readily obliged and hoped ‘Dracula Untold’ would not betray my enthusiasm. To proclaim that Dracula is in fact the great Romanian prince and warrior, Vlad the Impaler, was a bit of a stretch. However, given that Vlad’s patronymic namesake of Dracula was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s iconic novel of that same name, it’s easily forgivable and helps create a smooth transition into 15th century Romania – a place I am admittedly quite unfamiliar with. 

Luke Evans (The Hobbit) nails our main character Vlad the Impaler as he suffers under the oppression of the Ottoman Empire, until his awakening as the evil, vampire beast and commander of nature’s spirits, Dracula. Admittedly, the writing is extremely cliché and puts his character into a handful of spots that seem absurd for a formidable being like Vlad the Impaler. Likewise, Dracula’s antagonist, Mehmed the Conqueror, is a Turkish King played by Dominic Cooper, who’s making quite a name for himself as an antihero after his similar villainous turn in Need for Speed as Dino Brewster. Cooper again delivers a subtly strong performance within this film, but unfortunately falls victim to being tragically underwritten.

The battle scenes, especially where Dracula takes over in his mystical, evil, flurry-of-bats mode, are fantastic; ripe with violence and the kind of dark, non-cheesy fighting we all love. Meanwhile, the film is, at times, particularly harrowing. There’s one sequence which deserves special mention, in which the entirety of Dracula’s citizens have been ravaged, and upon discovering this, the vampire prince brings his people back to life with a few hearty chomps to the neck. Dracula then leads his newfound army of vampiristic village people (nothing to do with the people who brought you the ‘YMCA’) into battle against the Ottoman Empire’s armies, unleashing a devastating, demonic revenge in the least polite way possible. That whole scene is rather graphic for horror-averse cinemagoers like myself,  so unless you have a penchant for gore and violence, you might want to shield your eyes.

As I digest the whole viewing experience, sadly the one thing which stands out from ‘Dracula Untold’ is the exceptionally abysmal plot. Add to this the non-existent romantic chemistry between Dracula and his supposed wife and I struggle to commend any tangible aspect of the filmmaking process for the film. Director Gary Shore could and should have done a lot better, but neglecting to develop the character of Master Vampire (Charles Dance – Game Of Thrones) is a major pitfall. Instead of adding depth to an intriguing character arc, this role is criminally overlooked. The portrayal of the Transylvanian devil has certainly come a long way since F.W. Murnau’s ‘Nosferatu’, but in this instance I’m afraid we’ve all seen far better.  

Patrick’s rating: 4.1 out of 10