Hot Tub Time Machine 2

Year: 2015
Director: Steve Pink
Starring: Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke, Adam Scott
Written by Rhys Wortham
Edited by Jakob Lewis Barnes

Sequels can often be hit and miss, even off the back of a successful first film. One hopes that a sequel can extend the series and embellish the plot of its predecessor, whilst filling any plot holes. Unfortunately, ‘Hot Tub Time Machine 2’ is already destined to struggle, following on from a poor first installment. But this movie goes one better, and successfully manages to increase the gaping plot holes whilst leaving every question unanswered. In the long line of dire, gross-out movies that Rob Corddry and Craig Robinson seem to be fond of making, this is probably the darkest yet. The key to any comedy film of course, lies in its jokes. In this instance, director Steve Pink has deviated from his previous formula and made just about every joke darker and more vulgar, which only serves to make ‘Hot Tub Time Machine 2’ even more unwatchable than the original film. I just wish I had my own time machine to get back the hour and a half I wasted watching this film.

The cast from the previous film returns, with the exception of John Cusack (Adam), and are this time shoved into the future rather than the past. Once there, they attempt to find out what happens to Lou (Rob Corddry) and why people are trying to kill him. As they wander about on their crazy adventure, they encounter a few new faces and eventually find out that his life, as well as a few others, are completely in shambles. Speaking of shambles, the structure, quality and continuity of the plot is an utter disaster. Chevy Chase reprises his cameo role as as the hot tub repairman, for just two sentences and then disappears again, thus ignoring the question as to why he’s there and how he can just come and go as he pleases. The gang joke about John Cusack’s absence, but don’t explain any of the events leading to his disappearance, thanks for the inside joke guys! Adam’s son, originally named Adam Junior (Adam Scott), is introduced, again with no explanation. The half-assed plot holes just keep on coming, with Lou transforming from a moronic yet generous character in the original movie, to become an immoral, abusive, drug-fiend in this movie.

One of the most crass scenes in the movie highlights the slow, moral degrade of TV game shows, but it crosses the line when they hint at instances of sexual abuse. This crude tone completely ruined the second half of the movie for me, as I couldn’t ignore the crude sounds and innuendos. The rest of the time, there is a heavy focus is on the ill-treatment and abuse of Jacob (Clark Duke), which coming from Lou, is just a total oxymoron. For someone who has such poor impulse control, to watch him throw insults at his son is rather uncomfortable, as despite the comedic roots to this dialogue, it is unfair to mistreat such an awkward character.

‘Hot Tub Time Machine 2’ was a complete waste of my time at the cinema. By rehashing the previous storyline, neglecting to fill the small yet inexcusable plot holes of the previous movie, I was left feeling exasperated at the use of brainless dialogue as an attempt to compensate for this. Add this to the low-level, unintelligible humour and you have to question the value of quality to the makers of this film, who are apparently more concerned with just producing an embarrassing, thinly veiled, money spinning sequel in a poor series.

Rhys’ rating: 5.5 out of 10
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Flight

Year: 2012
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Denzel Washington, John Goodman, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly
Written by Sam James
Edited by Jakob Lewis Barnes

Trailers; the curse of the modern day blockbuster. Half the time you’ve got some fat kid from Utah putting these things together, hoping for more hits on his Minecraft demonstration. The rest of the time you realise that if they’ve managed to condense the entire film down to two and a half minutes, you’re likely to end up walking out of the cinema disheartened. For Robert Zemeckis’ film ‘Flight’ however, the trailer dwarves at flight control managed to buck the trend with their short preview, balancing cool, comedic elements against an unmistakable air of tragedy. This helps the feature massively; you can’t anticipate the melancholy theme that is disguised in the opening scenes as Captain ‘Whip’ Whittaker comes to from a heavy night and checks into the cockpit of the doomed flight.

Whip (Denzel Washington) is a severely troubled, alcoholic pilot who becomes embroiled in a plane crash investigation, as the routine hop between Orlando and Atlanta goes awry, with a possible DUI to blame. The thrilling focal point of the film however, is over within the first 10 minutes, much like the take-off of the Boeing airliner it depicts. Soon, there is a realisation that Whip not only survived, but unbeknownst to him, has garnered minor celebrity status through his heroic actions that saved ‘a heck of a lot of lives’. The peaceful interim allows the true tone of the film to shine through as Whip begins to understand the severity of the investigation. As the investigation in to Whip’s suitability in charge of an aircraft intensifies, we see the character regress and consistently fall in to the depths of denial. It is herein where the film succeeds; portraying a mental clash between Whip and his addictive personality, with most of the emotive sequences focussing their attention on Whip’s solitary battle against his demons rather than the widespread damage of the crash.

The trauma in Whip’s life has derived from his lying, yet in an intriguing script that offers much in the way of punchlines and pacey dialogue; it is a refusal to speak which packs the knockout blow. All Whip has to do is tell one more lie, and remain sober throughout the trial and he will walk away a free man. Despite all his efforts, lawyer Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle) fails to drive Whip to commit to the sobriety or the lie. The supreme effort with which Lang coaxes the lie in to being is surmised in a fantastical scene, where he employs the services of hippie Harling Mays (John Goodman) to practically restart the heart of Whip using a cocktail of cocaine and cigarettes. The coco puff is born, yet the outcome is the written in the sky. Whip knows he can’t take another binge that this last shameful lie would induce, and so, dedicates himself to the truth and the bottle, win-win.

John Goodman has always intrigued me, because no matter what the film concerns, he manages to bully his own style in to the director’s vision. If he was the bully at school, I for one would consistently refuse his demands for lunch money, just to see him get comically worked up. In ‘Flight’ the same is true, without some of the energy he brings, the film would feel slightly noir. The star vehicle, Denzel, is acting out of his skin in some scenes, with Whip exuding an odd charisma and an ill-placed confidence in his ability. As a viewer I was practically grasping at the screen in the closing scenes, where the choice between ‘hefty mini-bar tab’ and ‘go out with a bang Whip style’ is made. As love interest Nicole, Kelly Reilly has the good-girl-gone-bad vibe sewn up, producing the façade of that southern darling almost at will. So much so, that your mind would briefly visit the prospect of taking her home to meet the parents, but then rationality would step in to highlight the fact she is a former crack-whore that lives out of her car. All that and you’d still be annoyed at rationality.

I have to commend the achievements of the score throughout, with the non-diegetic pulse really inflating the film in its flatter moments. As soon as ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ kicks in you feel like racking up a line and going to wait in the airport lounge for the red-eyed air hostesses in a new city, just for one night. But no sooner have we allowed our ludicrous fantasies to seep in, and the plot becomes rather confused, as though the pilot has gone Whip-style-rogue on us. In some ways, this film doesn’t really know what genre it is. The trailer deceives some kind of dark, action, comedy, yet the Zemeckis influence would place it in fictional, biopic territory. The dramatic, engaging moments in the film are solely Whip’s, just as the drama on the binge is purely insular. The rock and roll scenes are performed well, with great comic timing, but the film suffers because of it, losing its way and becoming frustratingly predictable.

Whilst we’re still desperate for Whip to leave the mini bottle of grey goose, we are always aware he’s going to take it. The only redeeming qualities are those scenes which build on either pitiful or rousing elements. It’s just a shame that there isn’t enough of either to keep the film in check. And so, much like any other flight, we descend down and complete a safe landing. Some would say you can’t end it any other way due to the films inherent desire for a moral compass, but Denzel is charismatic enough that you could have let the lie continue a little longer, just to see one more binge.

Sam’s rating: 6.7 out of 10

Whiplash

Year: 2014
Director: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Miles Teller, J.K Simmons
 Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

Interestingly, ‘Whiplash’ is one of the few Oscar-nominated pictures that I hadn’t seen before the ceremony. After nabbing a hat-trick of awards on the big night, I was even more inclined to see what all the fuss was about. Initially, I was somewhat deterred by the musical undertones to the film, but retrospectively speaking, I can guarantee that whatever your level of interest in drum-sets or jazz music may be, you will enjoy this film regardless. Awards for sound mixing, editing and of course, the Oscar for supporting actor J.K Simmons, were all thoroughly deserved and indeed, ‘Whiplash’ could, and maybe should have won more. The whole ensemble involved in the production of this film, from top to bottom, creates one of the most dramatic films I have ever had the pleasure of watching.

First year student, Andrew Nieman (Miles Teller), aspires to be one of the greats, to be a drumming legend. His commitment and ability soon attract the attention of Studio Band director, Terrence Fletcher (Simmons), who grooms Andrew into his curious little protégé. Fletcher throws everything at Andrew (including a chair) to push him to greatness. He slaps him, he torments him, he manipulates him and he parades rival drummers in front of him, but Andrew just keeps going and going. The young drummer very literally, produces blood, sweat and tears in the pursuit of his mentor’s approval, until Andrew’s life and Fletcher’s reputation are put in jeopardy. Andrew tries to forget about drumming, but a chance encounter with his former tutor leaves him unable to resist the lure of the drums. A dramatic and incredibly fast-paced plot, culminates in a heartbreaking betrayal by Fletcher, but Andrew steals the show with one last, “FUCK YOU” bravado up his sleeve.

Miles Teller provides an uplifting air to the intense narrative, an eternally positive component of a rather tragic and uncomfortable viewing experience. From his appearance, to his dialogue and the behaviour he exhibited, Teller really gave the impression of a fragile and delicate young man, particularly in the face of extreme pressure from his viscous mentor. His flat tone of voice and quite literal perception of the world, make Andrew rather socially inept and at times he is guilty of being void of any real emotion. But when it comes to drumming, Teller expertly transforms his character to a boy bursting with emotion and pent up frustration, which inevitably concludes in an eruption of anger directed at his sergeant-like leader. Without J.K Simmons however, none of this would be possible. Due to the buzz around Simmons’ performance, I already had a preconceived image of the ruthless mentor, which meant that from the moment he walked into that room, I was genuinely afraid. The intensity and ferocity which Simmons brings to the role however, was greater than I ever anticipated; a truly detestable villain. The Oscar for best actor in a supporting role could not have gone to anyone else, with Simmons balancing meticulous aggression, alongside moments of humour amongst the chaos and even the rare glimpse of fragility. The chemistry between Teller and Simmons is riveting, and I can certainly see why homoerotic tensions have been so readily discussed in relation to ‘Whiplash’.

In a film where sound is key, it is beautiful to witness the power of silence. There is an almost endless, uninterrupted backdrop of a repetitive, drumming sound, be it from non-diegetic music, raucous applause or solitary footsteps. Everything is in place to remind us of the vivacity of the high-tempo band, which makes the absence of sound in places so noticeable and significant, a silence which is ALWAYS controlled by the abominable Terrence Fletcher. The use of close-up shots are too much to handle, a truly terrifying, unavoidable viewpoint of the onslaught of abuse from Fletcher, whilst panning shots help to immerse the viewer in the world of the orchestra. The ongoing symbolism of the blood, sweat and tears serves as a constant reminder of the consuming effect the drums, and in turn Fletcher have had on Andrew’s life. I fail to recall many films which were capable of maintaining such an intensity throughout. I mean it literally never stopped.

From start to finish, I was simultaneously in a state of awe and fear, a testament to a truly breathtaking piece of cinematic work by director Damien Chazelle. The unbelievable editing, the ceaseless power of sound and the jaw-dropping energy throughout was quite simply, amazing. ‘Whiplash’ is unlike anything I have ever seen; butterflies, shivers down the spine, you name it, this film causes it. The film never loses its pace, but rather continues to accelerate right up to the inspiring, final crescendo; a solo which I prayed would never end. I needed more, the drums had taken over my life too.

Jakob’s rating: 9.5 out of 10

 

Mud

Year: 2012
Director: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Tye Sheridan, Michael Shannon
 Written by Sam James
Edited by Jakob Lewis Barnes

Being a typecast actor is a concept which many in Hollywood find themselves victim to. Some rise to the challenge with great success, such as Angelina Jolie, who faceted a change of fortune when she moved away from action-led features, to take on engaging roles, with more depth. Others manage a flash-in-the-pan success, before reverting to type with subsequent films (think Nicholas Cage’s monotonous career).  With this in mind, I approached ‘Mud’ and the so-called McConnaissance with trepidation. There was no formula in place for Matthew McConaughey, mainly because nobody cared where his career went, so long as he remained topless. With ‘The Lincoln Lawyer’ and ‘Killer Joe’, the Texan was taking positive steps towards shedding his typecast, but ‘Mud’ is certainly the film that allowed him a clear break from the rom-com, pretty-boy cage.

The plot to ‘Mud’ is inherently simple, a tale of forbidden love, chance meetings and unlikely friendships, allowing McConaughey’s titular character to resolve the difference and see love prevail. Not much of a stretch for a man who has had ample practice in developing a familiarity with the opposite sex, judging by his back-catalogue of acting roles. With director Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories) at the helm, this project was certainly in safe hands. ‘Mud’ gives us an insight in to the world of Deep South river folk, in an environment where a sense of community is hard to come by, especially in tough times. After drifting the marshland a while, young Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) encounter a curious vagrant named Mud, with a bashfully vague backstory. With a pretext of domestic abuse and murder, it becomes clear that Mud is a fugitive, evading the consequences of his violent past whilst seeking reconciliation with his sweetheart, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon).

Tye Sheridan gives an endearing performance as Ellis, a young boy learning about love, life and loss. Ray McKinnon takes on the role of the typical, hand-to-mouth, redneck father, and offers fantastic tension opposite Sarah Poulsen, who does a stellar job portraying the dissatisfied mother. Reese Witherspoon is an inspired casting choice as Mud’s shot at a perfect life, partly for her girl-next-door looks and partly for the insecurities she exudes throughout the film. The runaway performance is undoubtedly from McConaughey however; the way he seeps in to the love-drunk reasoning is unnoticeable, I wanted to believe that love would ride the punches. In the film, it’s hard to find a flaw in Mud’s plan, yet as things unravel, it becomes apparent that this character has lived a life filled with quick-fix problem solving. McConaughey draws you in and aligns the viewer with young Ellis’ perception, momentarily convincing us that it takes a wild idea to tame a wild girl, that the world we encounter in those dusk-lit adolescent moments is how it will always remain.

The film drops seamlessly in to the lives of those on the river, as they slowly become connected by the arrival of the deluded philosopher cursing their banks. Watching through the eyes of Ellis, it is easy to identify with the love Mud harbors for Juniper, whether it be Ellis experiencing early teen romance or Neckbone finding love and support from his unorthodox uncle Galen (Michael Shannon) or even Ellis’ father’s love for the river. The film trickles on with the pace of a Southern drawl, allowing the optimistic illusions to grow steadily, before the cracks begin to show as each character is stripped of their comforts. A tragic chain of events ensue, culminating in an epic gunfire-heavy crescendo, which left me wondering whether Nichols’ right-hand man had gone rogue and taken the directorial wheel, turning the peaceful drawl into a chaotic screech.

‘Mud’ is a beautifully shot feature; with vignette light bathing every scene with a warm glow, making bell diving for crabs amongst the silt look oddly appealing. The only let down in this film is the finale, where admittedly, all the loose-ends are stuck together, it’s just that they’re banded with plasters and that’s not life. However judging by Matthew McConaughey’s performance, the McConassiance is here to stay, so long as he carries on depicting characters from the Deep South.

Sam’s rating: 7.8 out of 10

Enemy

Year: 2014
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Sarah Gadon, Melanie Laurent
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes
Edited by Molly Dolan

From the man who brought us the fantastic ‘Prisoners’, Denis Villeneuve, comes another thrilling mystery. Or a mystery at least. ‘Enemy’ is a quirky, subversive film, which oddly passed under the radar and onto our screens, ready to baffle indie film lovers the world over. Based on the novel ‘The Double’, written by Portuguese author Jose Saramago, this film has a tendency for the absurd and the fantastical, similar to other European films (think ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’). This is genuinely one of the most strange and creepy films I have ever watched, dealing with various psychological phenomena such as demons, the uncanny and of course, the double, leaving me with so many more questions than before I started watching, along with a touch of frustration and pangs of regret that I ever started in the first place.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as both lead characters; teacher Adam Bell, and his curious ‘movie star’ doppelganger, Daniel Saint Claire AKA Anthony Claire. We begin with Adam, a dull, disillusioned man in a seemingly troubled relationship with his partner Mary (Melanie Laurent). When a fellow teacher oddly recommends a film to Adam, he sees this as a possible, temporary escape from monotony, but upon watching Adam believes he has spotted his double, moonlighting as a bellhop extra. Desperate to know more, Adam tracks down the actor and obsessively stalks him, until the mystery man agrees to meet. Adam soon fears his creepily intense doppelganger, Anthony, who becomes rather dominant and develops an obsession of his own – Adam’s girlfriend Mary. Anthony threatens Adam and forces him into a trading-places situation, in order to facilitate an opportunity to sleep with Mary, whilst Adam entertains Anthony’s pregnant wife, Helen (Sarah Gadon). Confusing right? This is as simple as I can translate, believe me. This seedy plot descends into chaos and tragedy, all set to the backdrop of the recurring tarantula-themed nightmares which haunt Adam. I honestly have no idea what the arachnids were a nod to, even the cast of the film is bound to a confidentiality agreement, preventing them from discussing the significance of the surreal references.

The acting in the film is actually pretty accomplished, particularly Gyllenhaal who is at his versatile, intense best. As Adam, he is brilliantly authentic in his portrayal of a troubled, confused character but is far too hesitant and suspicious rather prematurely. There is no denying however, that his latter scenes with Helen are some of the most powerful and emotive of the whole film. It is as the aggressive, domineering, rather detestable Anthony though, where Gyllenhaal really flourishes. The amalgamation of the two characters resonates with his role as the titular character in ‘Donnie Darko’, an uncanny projection of a future Donnie, a 30-something schizophrenic with plenty more issues. I rank ‘Donnie Darko’ as my favourite film of all time, but this version of Donnie is so far over the line of ambiguity and disorder, that the whole experience became perplexing and exasperating. Of the two female characters in the film, Sarah Gadon is head and shoulders above her rather muted counterpart, depicting the fragile and vulnerable Helen faultlessly.

‘Enemy’ is an undeniably, clever piece of filmmaking, in terms of shot composition and editing, and the use of sound in particular was successful in framing the intensity of the unique sensation whilst viewing the film. Arguably, the moments of silence, in the style of ‘Drive’, were just as crucial in this function, if not more so. Ultimately, however, I was left very disappointed by the film as a whole. The impossibly vague, abrupt conclusion was incredibly mystifying and I certainly felt short-changed by the amount of time I had invested in the complex narrative. I love an ambiguous ending to a film because it allows me to decipher my own personal meaning, but ‘Enemy’ offered absolutely no hint of a resolution at all, refused to answer any of the major questions raised by the film and rendered me into a state of unsatisfying speechlessness. 

Jakob’s rating: 5.2 out of 10

Boyhood

Year: 2014
Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette
Written by Patrick Alexander
Edited by Jakob Lewis Barnes

Conceptually speaking, ‘Boyhood’ is a transcendent movement in the world of film. By creating a film over a 12 year period, director Richard Linklater has officially raised the bar for directors everywhere. I mean, to film one movie, for 12 years, it’s preposterous! But it worked beautifully. As of now, what Linklater has accomplished is a uniquely successful concept, which could hypothetically open the door for other directors to follow suit. Anyone with aspirations to work in the film industry should be inspired by the achievements of ‘Boyhood’, and challenge the moneymaking nature of Hollywood. At least for me, this film has given me an optimism that a few, artistically intrepid creators will attempt their own decade-long biopics in the future, and that a desire for a deeper aestheticism will become the standard once again. 

Tracking the development of a young boy on his journey through life, ‘Boyhood’ introduces Ellar Coltrane as Mason and proceeds to follow his personal progression from the age of 5 through to 18. As a viewer, we witness Mason transform from a curious young child, to an apprehensive pre-teen, to an experimental teenager, to a enlightenment-seeking young man on the cusp of manhood. It’s a journey that all of us have been through; we can relate to the journey that is life, discovering oneself, and our passions. This movie is a subtle reminder not only of what we once were, but what mattered to us and possibly what parts of life’s memories we should revisit. By using the same actor for the entirety of the 12 year filming period, Linklater manages to create a paradoxical experience where we are watching a very raw development of a real human being, under the guise of a fictional film. This is what makes ‘Boyhood’ such an intriguing and ultimately successful film, the fact that the whole ensemble involved, are able to convey such an unerring authenticity throughout.

Supporting performances from Ethan Hawke (Training Day) and Patricia Arquette (Medium), as Mason’s parents, were superb. The highest compliment I can pay the pair, is that they were just as believable as Ellar himself, the three of them combined producing an  almost documentary-esque atmosphere. In a most uncanny way, individually they felt and acted like my parents might. The most underrated part of the entire film has to be the parents portrayal of the beautiful task that it is to show unconditional love and unwavering support for children through everything. There is something so pure and unadulterated about it; you can really sense just how much it matters.

That’s what makes ‘Boyhood’ work on so many levels. It is highly believable and pragmatic. We were all kids once who more-than-likely felt similar feelings and experienced the same things as Mason: annoying siblings, comforting parents, and uncertainty about the future. As simple as it is, watching a boy try and figure life out, from the audience’s completely unbiased position, there is much to be learned about being a parent and the importance of honesty and love in a family. Overall, this is progressive filmmaking of the highest quality, setting a lofty standard for the creation of film as an art form. It took Michelangelo almost 5 years to paint the Sistine Chapel, so maybe it’s not such a terrible notion to take one’s time imagining and developing art after all.

Patrick’s rating: 8.7 out of 10

Seventh Son

Year: 2014
Director: Sergey Bodrov
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Ben Barnes, Alicia Vikander
Written by Rhys Wortham
Edited by Jakob Lewis Barnes

To say that ‘Seventh Son’ is one of the most predictable and boring films I have seen recently, in a month which has produced multiple box-office flops, speaks volumes of the manner in which this film crashed and burned. Treading the same narrative path as so many before it, in which a mystical chosen one is set on an exceedingly difficult journey, ‘Seventh Son’ felt like a poor, disastrous attempt at achieving what the likes of ‘The Matrix’ or ‘The Hobbit’ have been successful in doing. The gaping plot holes throughout are unforgivable, with no contextual attention for any of the characters, leaving me with an overwhelming feeling of disinterest and apathy to the events which unfolded.  

‘Seventh Son’ tells the story of Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges), the last living warrior of the Spooks clan, known for fighting off evil spirits. His claim to fame is his capture of the all-powerful witch, Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), but when an exorcism on a local child goes wrong, Mother Malkin returns and escapes to rebuild her fallen empire. To halt the evil witch and her plans for world domination, Gregory must locate and train his apprentice, Thomas (Ben Barnes), laying the foundation for the tried and tested training montage. Underlying the mild action, a rather contrived, romantic subplot forms between the chosen one and the villainous foe Alice (Alicia Vikander), as well as the stuttering love story between Master Gregory and Mother Malkin. These attempts at a plot ‘twist’ are both let down by a weak narrative, and a frightful lack of chemistry leaves much to be desired.

Jeff Bridges does add a certain degree of character to his role as Master Gregory, but ultimately just comes across as being completely odd. His character has developed some kind of unusual accent from somewhere, an accent which the entirety of the fictional world in ‘Seventh Son’ do not share, thus leaving this audible anomaly to stick out like a sore thumb. Some people will of course find Master Gregory’s character quips endearing, but such behavior is pretty much hit and miss at best, depending on the sequential circumstances. Ben Barnes is arguably the worst of a bad bunch here, with a stale deliverance in most parts, and an unnatural, very awkward chemistry opposite Alicia Vikander. Julianne Moore was accomplished as ever, but even her acting talent couldn’t compensate for a very average character profile.

The main problem with this movie is that it struggles to develop anything original. The characters are almost copied and pasted out of other movies, Gregory being the stereotypical war veteran who is also a drunken cynic. Malkin is a villain with a very curious motive, seemingly targeting world domination just for the hell of it. At least theatrical Bond villains have an excuse, whether it be a contempt for society and a desire to change the system, but with Malkin it’s implied she wants to destroy the system or get revenge, but it’s not something which is developed effectively. It is highly frustrating that the two main characters are so two-dimensional and simple. Every aspect of the plot, from start to finish, is dumbed down and nothing is addressed in any great detail so as to give the impression of development and growth.

‘Seventh Son’ is guilty of many things, but the biggest failure is the stale plot and very average action scenes. Maybe there should have been more focus on creating a solid narrative, rather than transforming dragons and futile fighting. Admittedly, the visual effects are reasonable, but with so many clichés and artificial elements, as well as an array of grossly incompetent acting, any minor triumphs are soon forgotten. For a fantastical, adventure movie, this was such a run of the mill, mundane experience and I would happily recommend, literally, just about any other film from the last decade.

Rhys’ rating: 4.5 out of 10

Nightcrawler

Year: 2014
Director: Dan Gilroy
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed
 
Written by Nick Deal
Edited by Jakob Lewis Barnes

I was expecting ‘Nightcrawler’ to be rather unnerving in tone, and it certainly did not disappoint. Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut is an exceptionally dark and twisted thriller, which throws up several questions of morality, presenting an interesting predicament for myself as a viewer. A well-balanced, powerful plot is complimented by slick action scenes, tense dialogue and an overriding sense of realism, enough to promote ‘Nightcrawler’ to the upper echelons of the films released in the past year, if not the past decade. The Academy, I’m afraid, have made a terrible mistake in failing to recognise the true brilliance of this film.

Lou Bloom, portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal in an impeccable all-round performance, is a nightcrawler – a freelance journalist constantly in search of the latest big story, be it a car crash or a multiple homicide, with the intention of recording camera footage and selling it to the highest bidding news outlet. Lou Bloom is not your average Joe however. Mercilessly, he works his way up the ladder, leaving his peers in his wake, often with tragic consequences. Bloom is such a divisive character, leaving me questioning whether to empathise with him or despise him for his ruthless, brutal methods. He is a clever and amusing man, and indeed at several points, I found myself chuckling aloud to his witty cynicisms, yet equally, I was stunned as I witnessed the dark and menacing behaviour of the mysterious Lou Bloom. From his speech to his actions, even his ominous slicked-back, jet-black hair, everything about Bloom betrayed a distorted image of an underlying villain.

As the personification of the battle between morality and career, of which Bloom certainly sides in favour of his career, he is guilty of rather callous and inhumane behaviour. Every example of which, is captured on camera by Lou himself, a man prepared to create his own news if necessary. Bloom remains one step ahead of everybody else, by means of hacking into the emergency services radio system, allowing him to be the first man on the scene to capture any footage. One aspect of the film that I thought was portrayed brilliantly was the cut-throat nature of the media working community where people are sacked and left behind without second thought. Lou’s love interest, Nina, is testament to this notion. Having never lasted more than two years in a job, Nina is under great pressure from her employers as her second anniversary looms. Bloom utilises the systems and pressures he is working amongst,   manipulating and blackmailing whenever he spots an opportunity for advantage. It could be argued that the unforgiving, uncompromising nature of the industry forces Lou to be the person that he becomes, but I believe his malevolent nature is more deep rooted within him rather than a response to his situation. 

I thought Rene Russo’s performance as Nina, was definitely worthy of acclaim. She perfectly portrays the role of the professional matriarch, riddled with personal and professional insecurity. As the star of the show however, I cannot praise Gyllenhaal highly enough for his fantastic rendition of the modern day monster. The fact that I was unable to pin down a love-hate opinion of Lou Bloom, despite his barbaric actions, is testament to Gyllenhaal’s performance. Reminiscent of his role as Detective Loki in ‘Prisoners’, Gyllenhaal maintained a stone-faced coldness, cutting the form of a character devoid of any human characteristics. This is a performance to be heralded as the defining and outstanding feature of a truly superb film, a compelling performance which lasted in my memory for a long while after. The only negative I can muster up, is my personal issue with the conclusion of the film, which may well be a result of my reluctance for the film to actually end. As I stated before, I really do believe The Academy Awards panel have overlooked worthy contenders for both the Best Picture and Best Actor category.

If you are looking for a bit of light, evening entertainment, then I strongly recommend you steer well clear of this film. However, if you want a provocative and thrilling, psychological experience that will throw you one way then the other, making you laugh and recoil in horror at the same time, then look no further. ‘Nightcrawler’ is a true masterpiece of modern cinema.

Nick’s rating: 9.2 out of 10

The Theory Of Everything

Year: 2015
Director: James Marsh
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

Like many others, including director James Marsh, when I first heard about ‘The Theory Of Everything’, I assumed it was to be a biopic of the brilliant Stephen Hawking. This is only half-true, whilst the film does centre around the life of one of the most celebrated and talented men of the modern era, it is more concerned with the struggles of his ex-wife Jane in living with and caring for her debilitated husband. Based on Jane’s memoirs, expect to see plenty of heartbreaking scenes and poignant moments from her perspective, rather than any kind of salutation to Doctor Hawking’s incredible work and scientific triumphs.

‘The Theory Of Everything’ covers a vast period of time, telling the story of the life of Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) from his studies at Cambridge University in the 1960s, to today being a man of unquestionable genius, a man whose amazing theories defined everything we understand of the world and the universe around us. Stephen’s brilliant mind was consigned to redundancy, when at the age of 21, he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and given just two years to live. With the love and support of his wife Jane (Felicity Jones) however, Stephen defies his death sentence and manages to overcome the loss of his movement and speech, maintaining a 25 year marriage and raising a family. Eventually the pressures of Stephen’s physical degeneration take their toll on Jane and the relationship, exacerbated further by the tension of outside help from choirmaster Jonathan (Charlie Cox) and professional carer Elaine (Maxine Peake), leading to their rather amicable divorce. The illustrious career of Stephen Hawking is admittedly skimmed over, but this just makes way for the touching, emotional private life to shine through.

Eddie Redmayne is rightfully touted as the favourite to win the Oscar for Best Actor for his depiction of the eminent Doctor Hawking, in a performance which is compelling and unerring from start to finish. The way he resembled Hawking in appearance was uncanny, but the real triumph was the manner in which Redmayne immersed himself into the role and portrayed the struggles of motor neurone disease so authentically. The gripping and powerful tone of the film certainly owes much to the emotive, near-perfect display from the talented Mr. Redmayne. Jane Hawking is an unusual support character in what is ultimately her own story, but Felicity Jones more than holds her own, conveying with great aplomb, the immense strain her character endures.

As I mentioned before, even director James Marsh was uncertain as to the origins of the project initially, claiming “when I was sent the script, I was assuming it was a biography of Stephen Hawking, and I thought I was the wrong person to do it”. Thankfully, he did make the film and I have to congratulate Marsh on crafting such a beautifully shot, rather magical experience. The use of slow motion and reverse action is superb, but is nothing compared to the application of colour and sound in places, which embellishes an already striking spectacle. The poignant and tragic tone of the film is encapsulated expertly by the cinematic techniques, just as perfectly as the more uplifting, positive moments are presented. In terms of the chances of ‘The Theory Of Everything’ winning the Best Picture award at the Oscars 2015, I will stick my neck on the line and suggest that is very unlikely, but the film absolutely deserves the praise and recognition it has widely received thus far.

Personally, I would have liked there to have been more emphasis on the professional success of Stephen Hawking, to give the film a more awe-inspiring edge. But of course that is not the story they set out to make with ‘The Theory Of Everything’. What we have instead, is an incredibly intense and intrusive insight into the more delicate moments of the Hawking family’s private life, a film one should treasure. I expected to be blown away by the amazing achievements of Doctor Hawking, and without detracting from his unquestionable brilliance, I was equally as impressed with the powerful and emotive on-screen imagining of his story. James Marsh should echo the sentiment of Hawking himself, and proudly say: “look what we made”.

Jakob’s rating: 7.7 out of 10

Need For Speed

Year: 2014
Director: Scott Waugh
Starring: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots
Written by Patrick Alexander
Edited by Jakob Lewis Barnes

One of the more curious movie ideas to me, is the increasingly common conversion of video games to film. It rarely works out, but studios seem to keep giving them the green light. From ‘Super Mario Brothers’ to ‘Lara Croft: Tomb Raider’, ‘Prince of Persia’ to ‘Hitman’, there have been a hell of a lot of misses when ambitious, fan-boy producers give such a gimmick a try. To give credit where credit’s due however, I do regard the ‘Mortal Kombat’ movie from 1995 as an awesome exception to this. There’s just something about a script being written into a universe with existing, inelastic parameters that always seems to stifle the creative interpretation of even the most riveting video games. Therefore, going into Scott Waugh’s second directorial attempt, ‘Need for Speed’, I was most certainly hoping for the best but prepared for the worst. What I witnessed was not so much ‘Breaking Bad: What Jesse Did Next’ but more another poorly written sequel to ‘The Fast & The Furious’. 

Aaron Paul takes on his first, big-screen lead role, on the back of his incredible success in ‘Breaking Bad’, as mechanic Tobey Marshall. Thankfully, the only addiction his character suffers from in this case, is an insatiable thirst for street-racing, a junkie of the adrenaline variety. Paul certainly made a shrewd decision, taking on a fairly safe role, where all that’s asked of him is to drive flashy cars and look cool in the process. Joining him once again as love interest Julia, is his co-star from ‘A Long Way Down’, the divine Imogen Poots. Her chemistry opposite Paul is magnificent, with lots of sexy, piercing stares. As the villain of the plot, Dominic Cooper plays Tobey’s rival, Dino Brewster. This rivalry between Tobey and Dino feels genuinely tense, in the classic ‘rich, devious bully vs. the kid with good intentions’ archetype, owing much to the authentic performance of Paul and Cooper. Also deserving of a mention, is the eccentric rapper-turned-actor, Scott Mescudi (AKA Kid Cudi), who delivers a number of witty one-liners as Brewster’s partner in crime, Benny.

As the pair do battle on numerous occasions, you can sense a building vitriol, which culminates in Dino Brewster crashing into Tobey’s protégé Pete, sending Pete’s car off a bridge and the youngster heading to a fiery death. The racing scenes are the real triumph for this movie, especially the final “De Leon” high-stakes road race, in which six extravagant sports cars fly down the California coastline. There’s nothing more enthralling than stunning cars going dangerously fast, but sadly that’s pretty much the only enthralling aspect of ‘Need For Speed’. A predictable ending sees the racers speeding around the track, evading police traps at every turn, until only the winner, our hero Tobey, remains. Having won the race, helping to incriminate Dino in the process, Tobey drives away over the horizon with Julia, to live happily ever after. How lovely.

From playing the multiple variations of the ‘Need For Speed’ video game growing up, I couldn’t help but compare the movie to the repetitive missions in the games, where you have one race to win, police in tow, and cars going really, really fast. If you watch this film solely for the high-speed car races and chases, then you won’t be disappointed. The visual effects are undeniably spectacular and the tense race scenes certainly compensate for the grossly thin plot. Overall, it’s worth seeing just for the flashy cars, going a few MPH over the speed limit. But don’t expect much more than that.

Patrick’s rating: 5.8 out of 10

Sex Tape

Year: 2014
Director: Jake Kasdan
Starring: Jason Segel, Cameron Diaz
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

I recently reviewed ‘Bad Teacher’, which was a welcome surprise, a film which broke the mould and refused to be just a basic, low-level comedy. Three years later and the same director who brought us ‘Bad Teacher’, Jake Kasdan, pairs up Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel once again. Sadly, ‘Sex Tape’ is just a clear indication that Kasdan has regressed, producing another cheap, average, rom-com that you would happily put on before bed and feel no remorse for falling asleep halfway through. All those expectations of an easy-watch comedy, which ‘Bad Teacher’ managed to prove wrong, are as accurate as ever with ‘Sex Tape’.

Jay (Segel) and Annie (Diaz) are introduced as a fresh, exciting couple during their time at college. Years later, a predictably stale marriage is on the verge of crisis as the tensions of parenthood take hold. Annie plans to spice up their awkward sex life, by suggesting her and Jay make an amateur pornographic video, for their eyes only of course. This doesn’t quite work out, as you may have guessed, as those pesky iPads (other tablet devices are available) have shared the video with anyone who owns one of Jay’s second hand devices. So begins the hunt for the sender of menacing text messages, 9 year old Howard, who blackmails Jay with the threat of uploading the home video to YouPorn (other pornographic websites are available). On the way, Jay endures madcap scenes at Annie’s new bosses’ house, where Jay inexplicably fights a dog, and Annie snorts cocaine, which is actually one of the funnier moments in the film. Then follows a surreal, uncomfortable sequence where the entire family end up at YouPorn HQ, confronted by an odd Jack Black cameo. Jay spouts a cheesy, family value message, which is strange considering this is not a family film, everything gets resolved and all is forgotten. The end.

Cameron Diaz portrays quite a different character to the brilliant Miss Halsey in ‘Bad Teacher’, this time depicting a more reserved woman, one who is concerned with other people’s opinions. As I mentioned before, Diaz’s very believable cocaine scene is arguably the highlight of the film and her attitude towards Jay throughout is, I imagine, very accurate of a woman in her position. Unfortunately, any of the redemption Jason Segel gained from ‘Bad Teacher’ was quickly tarnished by this showing. At times, he was quite funny, but mostly, Segel was guilty of some of the more cheesy and annoying parts of the film, most notably the slapstick, dog-fight scenes which I cannot forgive. Rob Corddry deserves a mention, for providing a very entertaining support role to be proud of, if only he had more screen time.

‘Sex Tape’ was mildly entertaining, and that is being generous of a film which never pushed any boundaries or even drew a genuine laugh-out-loud moment. I originally thought the premise of the film might produce another top-drawer comedy, but I was disappointed. The incredibly long drawn-out process of resolution became dull, ridiculous and very bizarre. I can’t help but feel the thin, tired plot was filled out by cheap, repetitive jokes just to get the movie made. As far as comedies of this type go, ‘Sex Tape’ is by no means the best, but sadly, it isn’t the worst either. Watch this very mediocre film once, it is just about worth it, but I did warn you.

Jakob’s rating: 4.5 out of 10

 

Argo

Year: 2012
Director: Ben Affleck
Starring: Ben Affleck, Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

Until recently, Ben Affleck was regarded as something of a joke in Hollywood. His acting was heavily criticised and his production and writing work was lamentable. But that is certainly no longer the case. ‘The Town’ really brought Affleck into the inner circle in terms of both acting and directing, but it is his work on ‘Argo’ which enabled Affleck to be recognised as a truly talented creator of film. I watched ‘Argo’ for the first time just the other day, and my only regret is that I didn’t watch it sooner. As you will gather from the review which follows, it is very easy to see why this film won three Oscars, including the coveted Best Picture award.

Based on true events, ‘Argo’ takes us back to 1979, the American Embassy in Iran is invaded by revolutionaries and all but six hostages are captured. These six men and women manage to escape to the home of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor. The CIA frantically tries to muster up a plan to retrieve the six hostages, consulting exfiltration expert Tony Mendez (Affleck). Tony suggests an ambitious plot to pose as the producer of an upcoming sci-fi movie, with the six hostages acting as his film crew, on a location scouting trip to Iran. Tony Mendez enlists the help of make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to create a backstory for the movie and generate a media buzz, to authenticate the film as a guise for the planned hostage escape. This fake movie needs to be so believable that it fools not just Iranian security, but the whole world, as political strategy threatens to undermine the rescue effort.

Ben Affleck is commanding and confident at the head of the cast, so much so that he is almost the solo star of the film. Indeed, he is the biggest name to stick around for the majority of the film. The charisma and leadership of his character Tony Mendez is brilliantly portrayed by Affleck, but nothing shines more than the intense and emotive scenes he delivers in the climax of the film. Alan Arkin was Oscar-nominated for his support role as Lester Siegel, and deservedly so. A passionate performance is balanced alongside moments of humour, which make Arkin’s relatively small role one of the standout displays in an already stellar showing from all involved. ‘Breaking Bad’ star Bryan Cranston offers more exceptional support as the man caught in the middle of political tactics, Jack O’Donnell, who has to protect the interests of the hostages and his friend Tony, whilst maintaining the integrity of the USA’s overseas actions. I was worried that he might slip away from the action early on, as he does in ‘Godzilla’, but my patience was rewarded with an assured performance amongst the frenzy and chaos in the latter scenes. I have to also mention an actor who I am fast-becoming a fan of, Scoot McNairy, who steps up out of nowhere with an impressive, little display in the airport, look out for it.

The use of genuine handheld camera footage helps to add to the powerful, hard-hitting messages the film carries and evokes the sensation of viewing a live footage documentary. The way the film is shot and edited throughout is a real triumph, culminating in the Academy Award for editing which could not be more deserved. This is particularly true in the incredibly intense combination of scenes of the firing squad, set to the backdrop of a script reading for the fake movie. Exceptional close-up shots, arc shots and of course the handheld footage, all contribute to the claustrophobic, aggressive nature of riot scenes and suspense-filled moments of tension. The manner in which the narrative is drawn out, where events are played out so slowly and dramatically, only serves to create a heart-stopping suspense to every scene which left me watching with baited breath.

The tensions of terrorism, revolution and Middle Eastern hostility still resonate just as strongly today as they did in 1980, giving ‘Argo’ a hauntingly authentic feel. The knowledge that these are true events builds an air of credibility and emotional attachment to the story, and though being “based on true events” allows for certain dramatic license, this is nonetheless a very real, very thrilling drama. ‘Argo’ is a gripping, captivating film of subtle brilliance and extraordinary intensity which, thankfully for my health, delivered a happy ending after enduring such an emotional ordeal.

Jakob’s rating: 8.8 out of 10