Logan

Year: 2017
Director: James Mangold 
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant 
Written by Andrew Garrison

Wolverine is by far my favourite Marvel character, in fact, he is on my shortlist of favourite fictional characters of all time. The reasons are personal, but Wolverine/Logan speaks to me on a profound level, and I think that is among the finest attributes of a fictional character we adore. We can find ourselves and reveal new truths about who we are and perhaps where we are going.

This is the reputedly the last time we see Hugh Jackman as Wolverine (Unless he finds his way into the Avengers supposedly.) It has been an incredible run through the X-Men and Wolverine franchise, and whilst these movies weren’t always great, and even I had some issues with Jackman being too tall for the role, once I saw him play the character, I was won over.  Hugh Jackman playing Wolverine has wound up perhaps the greatest casting choice in comic book film history (top five easily).   While I am a huge Wolverine fan, I am also a cinephile, therefore, I’ll gush about the best things, but still call out the flaws when I see them.

Logan’ is about the X-men known as the Wolverine in the near future and the world he is a part of. It is a cold and bleak place, but not without some beauty. In this world, he winds up watching a young girl and trying to get her and Charles Xavier to safety. ‘Logan’ changes the discussion about comic book films, it is something the genre needed. A gritty, violent, character drama with some profound and perhaps prophetic messages scattered about.  In a time where flashy superhero films are all the rage (they are fun, admit it), this film provides a solemn, personal journey of self-discovery and enlightenment which may stay with an audience for some time.  This movie left me speechless by the end.

Logan’ was beautiful in many ways and I’ll get to that, but first let us break down the flaws. While the first and third acts are brilliant, the second act lulls a bit too much. We need this slowdown to provide build-up of plot and character enhancement.  However, there is a limit and this film took a little too much time wandering before getting to the point. 

While I applaud ‘Logan’ for being rated R for its immensely violent and sometimes disturbing scenes, I wanted The Wolverine to be unleashed, but this pushed my limits.  Everyone has a tolerance for violence, I enjoy a film that uses violence as a tool, not a crutch.  There were a few times in this film that went a touch too far for my taste. It was effectively unsettling and sometimes quite hard to watch.  The violence was unlike any superhero film I have seen before. The closest we come is ‘Watchmen’ (2009) or ‘Deadpool’ (2016).

As for the positives, there is so much I could say, but won’t because I don’t like to spoil things for people.  I will leave you with the fact that this movie will likely make you think. You leave the film in contemplation of what you saw and the various meanings to it.  There are aspects of the positive to the film despite it being consistently sombre. This film reminds me of something I would write, a world that is recognizable to our own except darker. Even among this darkness, there can be situational humor to break from the despair. This film uses this humour effectively and not in abundance. 

The entire cast was exceptional, but the standouts were of course Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, and Dafne Keen. I expected the quality from Jackman and Stewart, but Keen was incredible. She is already on my list of the finest young actors I’ve seen in a long time; if you need a second opinion, ask Patrick Stewart what he thinks of her!

This film has a lot of character development mixed with some very good action. So, if you see the trailers and expect a nonstop thrill ride, you are mistaken. I wouldn’t say it is a flaw at all, but it can be off-putting to those who expect something different.  I found it refreshing that this film took the hardcore gritty route to finish off the Wolverine trio of films with a proper send-off. 

‘Logan’ is by far the best Wolverine/X-men movie ever made, but it is not my favourite. The violence is incredibly brutal to the point it bothered me a couple of times, however the beauty is far from forgotten.  Those moments of peace and redemption in an otherwise figurative and literal charred landscape are incredible.  While I don’t know if I would add this to my film collection, I would see this film again, and I plan to.  However, I will need to digest the many aspects of this film first. ‘Logan’ is a one of a kind in the comic book movie world, as brutal as anyone could hope and a touch more. I appreciate the efforts to change the superhero landscape further. (Give some credit to ‘Deadpool’ for the assist as well.)

Andrew’s Rating: 9 out of 10

 

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I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore

Year: 2017
Director: Macon Blair
Starring: Melanie Lynskey, Chris Doubek, Marilyn Faith Hickey, Elijah Wood
Written by Fiona Underhill

There has been some ‘buzz’ about this film recently, due to it winning the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance 2017 just a month ago. To my shock and surprise, the film arrived on US Netflix yesterday. Not even with any fanfare – I had to search for it and only knew it was there because of Twitter. Apparently it was always the plan for it to be released on Netflix at this time, but as someone used to waiting for festival hits for up to a year, this does seems refreshing, if not a little unsettling. We know that Netflix and Amazon are producing more of their own original material, particularly TV series. Netflix have recently debuted indie films such as ‘The Fundamentals of Caring’ and ‘Tallulah’ and Amazon were behind recent Oscar-nominated ‘Manchester by the Sea’. So, it is time for these streaming services to be taken more seriously as film distribution companies.

So, lets get to the film. Ruthie (Melanie Lynskey) is a nursing assistant having an existential crisis about herself and the world (hence the title). After putting up with a man spoiling the book series she’s enjoying and dogs pooping on her front lawn, Ruthie’s beloved Grandmother’s silver is stolen from her home and this proves to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The police seem disinterested and so Ruthie decides to take matters into her own hands. She recruits her neighbour, Tony (Elijah Wood) as her sidekick/back-up and seeks some vigilante justice. Of course, things go awry and start to spiral violently out of control.  

Melanie Lynskey made a big impression co-starring with Kate Winslet in Peter Jackson’s ‘Heavenly Creatures’ at the age of 16. She went on to supporting turns in “chick-flicks” ‘Ever After’, ‘Coyote Ugly’ and ‘Sweet Home Alabama’. In more recent years, she has been appearing in a greater range of art-house and independent films, as well as television. Since starring in a slightly more well-known series of Peter Jackson films, Elijah Wood has had an even more interesting career. In the immediate post-‘Lord of the Rings’ period, he chose idiosyncratic, smaller films such as ‘Eternal Sunshine’, ‘Sin City’, ‘Green Street’ and ‘Bobby’. He recently has starred in two highly unusual TV series – ‘Wilfred’ and the US version of ‘Dirk Gently’. I really admire Wood’s choices, similar to Daniel Radcliffe, who could have trod an easier path in more mainstream fare, but both actors have gone out of their way to not be pigeon-holed. Lynskey and Wood have great chemistry in ‘I Don’t Feel At Home’, both playing misfits who team up to take on the gang of thieves. They find themselves dangerously out of their depth, but also pushing the boundaries of what they’re willing to do to show they won’t put up with this shit anymore. Tony relishes finally being able to put his arsenal of obscure weapons to use and Ruthie is awakened by having the new-found purpose of the man-hunt. The adventure escalates into enjoyably ridiculous territory, with all sides (including the police) being morally dubious.

This film is not for the squeamish – it does get increasingly gory and violent towards the end. It is also a funny and easy watch for a Friday night. I’m interested in this new release pattern in film – to go from a film festival to being watched at home within the space of a month seems bizarre now, but could become more common. We will have to see what the future holds.

Fiona’s Rating: 8 out of 10

 

 

Patriots Day

Year: 2017
Director: Peter Berg
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, JK Simmons, Michelle Monaghan, Alex Wolff, Themo Melikidze
Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

‘Patriots’ Day’, a film no doubt to have its apostrophe placement checked and double checked before release, is the 3rd project that teams director Peter Berg up with star Mark Wahlberg, after 2013’s ‘Lone Survivor’ and last year’s ‘Deepwater Horizon.’ Berg seems to have crafted himself a niche in Hollywood today where he puts real-life American disasters or tragedies onto film. I had concerns going into ‘Patriots’ Day’ because of its intense subject matter, the Boston Marathon bombings of on April 15th 2013, as we are only four years removed from that tragic day. The film, if done poorly, could very easily have been a cash-grab on an American tragedy. Thankfully, this isn’t the case, and the Berg/Wahlberg duo have once again crafted a brilliant drama.

‘Patriots’ Day’ primarily follows Tommy Saunders (Wahlberg), a Boston Police Department officer who worked the finish line of the Boston Marathon, Ed Davis (Goodman), the Boston Police Commissioner, and Richard DesLauriers (Bacon), an FBI Agent assigned to the eventual manhunt for the two bombers. As it’s a story where I’d argue most the world knows what happened and how it ended, Berg and co. do very well to draw massive amounts of tension throughout the film’s second half. Where ‘Patriots’ Day’ utterly excels, however, is in its patience.

The first 20-30 minutes of the film is dedicated to introducing us to several characters who become embroiled in the story. If I were to list these characters, the starring section at the top would be longer than the film itself. These introductions were initially jarring. We visit 5, 6, 7 different residences in the Boston area, meeting different characters with different reasons for attending the marathon, who are all eventually connected through this tragedy. We meet runners, members of the crowd, security guards, university students, a foreign exchange student from China…the list goes on. It is somewhat overwhelming, but the eventual pay-off for these characters’ involvement, some fairly soon after their introduction and others a substantial way into the film, is wholly justified. Whether the conclusion of these characters’ involvement in the bombing is tragic or heroic, Berg manages to portray them all in a brave, powerful light, no matter if they played a part in the success of the manhunt or were the unfortunate victims of the attack.

‘Patriots’ Day’ doesn’t shy away from its villains either. We are introduced to the brothers, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsamaev, early on and we also follow their attempted escape. Berg could very easily have not shown the attackers at all and put us in the position of the police, trying to find a needle in a city-sized haystack. And yet, Berg, weirdly, manages to humanise the attackers somewhat, particularly Alex Wolff’s Dzhokhar. When they steal a car to make the investigation lose track of them, Dzhokhar asks if the car has an iPod jack or Bluetooth so he could play some music. It’s a disconcerting moment, but it does remind you that they’re people too. At this point, I’m still unsure as to whether I liked that aspect of the film. At one point, I thought to myself “wow, he’s an asshole” about one of the brothers, before doing a double-take and realised, of course he is, he just performed a terrorist attack. It’s a strange sensation. ‘Patriots’ Day’ shows you that these people are assholes in their own right, not solely because of the attack.

Once the bombing happens, the film escalates into overdrive and doesn’t let up on pace and tension for a comfortable 60 to 90 minutes of its 2-hour+ runtime. Berg wrings tension out of people watching CCTV cameras, and appearances on the cameras from the terrorists. Berg and cinematographer Tobias Schliessler are not overly flashy with their camerawork, aside from one stand-out, spine-chilling shot of several gun barrels poking through a garden fence that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a film like ‘Sicario.’ There is, however, an excellent combination of hand-held camera work and security footage to give the film a sense of genuine chaos. These investigators had to work on the fly for the 4 days they were searching. They had to set up command centres in two different locations and stay working while their centre was being built around them. They knew every second was precious; every second they didn’t have the terrorists in custody was a second they were getting further and further away.

The film’s crowning set-piece, a shoot-out in a suburb, is masterfully done. It’s a sequence that brings together several different police departments, all with clearly different budgets in what it can contribute to a gun-fight; where small, nearby Watertown PD only has handguns, Boston PD has machine guns, and the FBI have sniper rifles. This sense of chaos that has been building since the initial attack is none-more-evident here as the camera runs from cover to cover, almost hiding from the shooting and the explosions itself. I found myself nearly hyperventilating during this scene because I was so tense and utterly enthralled by the action on screen that I almost forgot to breathe.

There are some aspects of the story where I had to remind myself that this actually happened. This was a real investigation with real coincidences and real, huge strokes of luck. ‘Patriots’ Day’ does a fine job portraying that in a moving speech from Saunders in the final act. The Boston PD and the FBI had to ride their luck to succeed, they had to follow any tiny lead they could in the hopes that they’d find the terrorists, and they had to work together. This was an investigation with so many moving parts, from different police departments to shifts in who was in charge to being on too many radio frequencies. The success of this investigation was down to the very simple idea of working together towards a common goal.

Located near Boston, NFL team the New England Patriots’ motto for this last season, in which they won the Super Bowl, was #DoYourJob. This is what Boston did in April 2013. They did their job, they did it well, and they did it together. Boston Strong. Patriots’ Day Strong.

Rhys’ Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Oscar Nominated Shorts 2017

Written by Noah Jackson

Short films are an interesting medium, because despite still being shot on cameras and requiring all the technology of feature-length film-making, they have an entirely different appeal and formula. The craft of turning ideas into short stories, and then producing them with most likely budget and time constraints is what makes these smaller projects feel almost more special than widely produced features. Shorts can feel more personal and more specific than most. So when the Academy of Arts and Sciences drums up its always controversial list of nominations, the short films tend to go unnoticed compared to the wide features, because shorts are also harder to access. I had never heard of the five nominated shorts prior to seeing them, other than their names on the nomination list. I had no knowledge of those involved, the plots, not even the countries they came from. So, with no expectations other than good quality, as is expected of all films, I sat in a theater, popcorn in my hand, drink in my cup-holder, and watched the five Oscar nominated shorts, to be able to present my thoughts in this review.

Mindenki (Sing): A Hungarian comedy about a girl at a new school wanting to join their famous choir.

This short, at 25 minutes long, displayed everything that a short is supposed to be. The lead actress – whose name I won’t pretend to know – carried the audience through this moving story that I genuinely found to be unpredictable. The relationship between the lead and her eventual friend felt real, as though I was a fly on the wall watching this bond develop between two children. When plot points are revealed, they come at exactly the right moment in terms of pacing. The skill in the direction is what ultimately gives this film the leg up among the five. It’s my personal favorite, but not my pick to win.

Noah’s rating: 8.0 out of 10 
Silent Nights: A Danish drama about a volunteer worker falling for an immigrant.

I don’t use this description often, but this is a white people movie to make those that aren’t racist feel good about them being decent human beings. As someone hailing from outside Europe, I don’t understand the specifics about the immigration and refugee crisis in areas of the continent, but even I can tell when a film is trying to force an emotional response for something as stupid as what this movie tried to show. No spoilers, but does anyone remember how when ‘The Help’ came out, there was a little skirmish about how the movie was a white woman saving the African American women because of how helpless they were or whatever? Well, this film actually is entirely about a white woman helping the helpless African man because for whatever reason this character, someone capable of moving across continents and of a decent intelligence is unable to do simple living without the white woman stepping in.

There’s too much going on in this short. For only thirty minutes, if they had expanded the character development and given us reasons to care about these people other than the most obvious and superficial reason, then maybe it would’ve been better. The major plot points feel too sudden and not developed enough to invoke a response, so they come off as melodramatic and cheesy. I did not like this short. Ignoring my whole rant about the way this movie tried and failed to show race relations, there really isn’t anything special about this other than basic competence. Luckily, this was the only short that I found displeasing. “Oh Noah, you’re just nitpicking, it’s really a beautiful love story and they just love each other.” Cool. 

Noah’s rating: 4.5 out of 10
Timecode: A Spanish comedy about two security guards in a parking garage.

A 15 minute runtime, which feels closer to 45 minutes. That said, I can’t fault the film for being slow, as that was its intention. The beginning is painfully slow, as it demonstrates the two characters slowly going through their day-by-day process. But once the film shows where its going and what starts happening, it is a fun blast until the end.

Noah’s rating: 7.0 out of 10
Enemies Within: A French drama about an Algerian man applying for citizenship and undergoing “extreme vetting”.

The main word I would use to describe this short is “aggressive.” From beginning to end, the story moves along at a breakneck pace and transforms its tone from physically uncomfortable to emotionally unforgiving. The two main performances are outstanding and the script that accompanies them even better. Simply arresting in terms of verbal brutality, this short is my pick to win, though I don’t think I ever want to see this again. Though parts of it seem unrealistically harsh, it’s aspects of harshness are what make it special.

Noah’s rating: 7.5 out of 10 
La Femme et le TGV: A French drama about a woman who waves at the train passing her house everyday.           

For a short film with a message, it really seems like they didn’t want the audience to know the message until the very end, where the filmmaker then decided to hammer it in as many times as possible. Quirky in its presentation, the major flaw here is a lack of fleshed-out, well developed characters to fill out the film around its well-acted lead. Another unfortunate aspect is how infuriatingly stupid our lead character can be. Every action she does throughout is with conviction, but it’s almost never logical from a human standpoint. But where the script falters, the direction and acting pick up. For most of the first half, I felt like I was watching the French Wes Anderson, and certain sequences were more unique than others. Overall, not bad, but could be so much more.

Noah’s rating: 6.0 out of 10

Well, there you have it; a nice, easy way to decide which (if any) of these Oscar-nominated live action shorts you should watch and which you should avoid. And, it looks like our judgement was spot on, with ‘Sing’ taking home the award on the big night.

American Honey

Year: 2016
Director: Andrea Arnold
Starring: Sasha Lane, Shia Labeouf
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

Andrea Arnold is a director whose work I will always get excited about. Ever since stumbling across the fantastic ‘Fish Tank’ during my time at university, I have regarded Arnold as one of the finest British filmmakers working today, not least for her knack of drawing out amazing acting performances from her cast. So, you can imagine my delight when I learned of her latest project, ‘American Honey’, which appeared to be something of a step-up from the obscure ‘Fish Tank’. I mean, Shia “just do it” Labeouf is on the cast list for a start. 

This time round, Arnold has swapped the grit of estate life in London, in favour of the wild, rebellious highways of the USA. The story follows a young girl named Star (Sasha Lane), who decides to travel across America with a ragtag gang of door-to-door salesmen and saleswomen, in an attempt to make some money and hopefully escape her troubled life. Star soon slots right in with the sales crew and their hedonistic lifestyle, but her unpredictable relationship with Jake (Labeouf), the leader of the group, causes problems aplenty.

The first thing I have to commend about this film (and the list is long, trust me), is the acting. As I mentioned before, Andrea Arnold is very talented at drawing out these raw, visceral performances from her actors, and she has succeeded once again here. Similarly to Katie Jarvis (Fish Tank), Arnold has once again plucked an unknown actress from the streets to play her leading lady, and in Sasha Lane, she may have found a true star (pardon the pun). Lane is mesmerising as this vulnerable creature hiding behind a tough exterior, and she manages to display both these sides of her character with finesse. Sasha Lane was nominated for the Breakthrough Star Award at this year’s JumpCut UK Film Awards, and personally, I would’ve liked to have seen her take the award, even over the amazing little star that is Jacob Tremblay; so that should tell you just how impressive she is. Alongside her, Shia Labeouf pulls out a performance which hits, and possibly exceeds, the high standard he set in ‘Lawless’. A young man of questionable sanity, and even more questionable acting abilities, he once again proves that we shouldn’t write him off just yet. 

If I were to highlight a weakness in ‘American Honey’, it would be that the narrative never really peaks, instead we just meander through 2 hours and 43 minutes (yep, it’s a long haul trip) of kids driving across America trying to scam people. But, if you truly engage with the film and look deeper, beyond the basic narrative, you’ll find so much more. This is a story of youth culture and rebellion, romance, the “American dream” and hopes and desires, and also the perils of recklessness and naivety that come with chasing such ideals. The whole thing is shot beautifully, too. Kudos to cinematographer Robbie Ryan (who has also worked on ‘Fish Tank’, ‘Slow West’ and ‘I, Daniel Blake’), for helping to create a sense of dreamlike wonder for much of the film, and juxtaposing this with very dark, very real and harrowing scenes which bring us crashing back down to Earth. All of these thematic and aesthetic treats are tied up nicely by a subtle, yet immensely effective soundtrack, which makes ‘American Honey’ the whole package.

The incredibly lengthy runtime will undoubtedly put a lot of people off, but for those willing to commit, you shall reap the rewards, I promise. Andrea Arnold is definitely on her way to the top, but her work still goes under the radar for most people, and ‘American Honey’ is a severely under-appreciated gem from 2016 that I urge you all to make the effort to watch. It’s a film which requires patience, a keen-eye and an open-mind – it’s not an easy watch, by any means – but I defy any hardcore film buff not to fall in love with ‘American Honey’.

Jakob’s rating: 8.3 out of 10

The Founder

Year: 2017
Director: John Lee Hancock
Starring: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Caroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, B.J. Novak, Laura Dern
Written by Tom Sheffield

McDonald’s can be found in 118 countries across the globe, with 36,615 restaurants currently in operation. But did you ever wonder just how the McDonald’s franchise came to be? Or who came up with golden arches that are instantly recognisable to almost everyone? The trailer for ‘The Founder’ promised to fill us in on these details by telling the story of Ray Kroc and how he built up the McDonald’s empire. The trailer quickly gave off the impression that this was a story worth telling. And it was.

‘The Founder’ is the, sadly, true story of Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) and how he turned two brother’s humble but revolutionary fast food restaurant into a multi-billion dollar fast food company and squeezed them out of their family business completely.  Dick (Nick Offerman, sans facial hair) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch) McDonald always dreamed of running a successful business together, and after multiple attempts and some crushing failures, they finally found success with their little walk-up burger joint, that Kroc instantly falls in love with and expresses his desire to franchise it. Dick is very hesitant at the idea because it’s something the brothers had tried before with no success, but Kroc’s persistence proves fruitful when the brothers write a contract to make him ‘Head of Franchising’. Kroc has been a salesman for most of his working life, so he knows how to talk the talk when it comes to getting what he wants. It doesn’t take long before Kroc becomes power-hungry and let’s his greed destroy his relationships with everyone around him as he builds the McDonald’s franchise.

Michael Keaton is on form yet again with this performance. At first Kroc comes across like an excitable, energetic little puppy every time he hears the name McDonald’s but as the story unfolds and his true intentions come to light, he becomes more like a sharp-witted, blood thirsty wolf that’s ready to strike at any moment. You can see Kroc’s character progression quite clearly in the way Keaton presents himself, his posture and mannerisms begin to change, his stance and his facial expressions become sterner and the tone of his voice loses its persuasive tone and becomes much more aggressive and demanding.

Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch were a great pairing as the McDonald brothers, who you really can’t help but feel sorry for. During some points of the film you find yourself forgetting that it’s all based on true events because you think surely no one is that much of a dick to do what Kroc does. But sadly, it’s all true. B.J. Novak portrays Harry Sonneborn, who is the man responsible for pitching Kroc a revolutionary financial idea that changed everything for the entire franchise and ultimately lead to the development of Kroc’s power-hungry attitude.

As the story of how the McDonald’s brothers got royally screwed over by Kroc takes place in the 1950’s, we’re treated to some truly authentic looking shots of the American suburbs and diners/restaurants that look like they’d been pulled straight from that time period. This authenticity was one of my favourite parts of the film, and my eyes were constantly roaming the screen during the wide shots. The restaurant signs, menus, buildings, company logos and vehicles were all a treat for the eyes.

When it comes down to it, I think ‘The Founder’ is a satisfactory biopic. The script seemed to let down some of the more pivotal points of the story, but I do commend Hancock for sticking to the story at hand rather than getting distracted by the romantic subplot that could have swallowed up some screen time. Keaton, Offerman and Lynch are the real saving graces of the film, alongside the authentic look and feel of the film. Other than that, it’s not a film I’ll remember much of this time next year but it’s definitely a story I’m glad has been told. You’re going to want to stay seated after the final scene, as just before the credits role there are some photos of the real Ray Kroc and McDonald’s brothers, as well as some astounding facts and figures on just how much Kroc screwed over the brothers.

Tom’s rating: 6.5 out of 10

Raees

Year: 2017
Director: Rahul Dholakia
Starring: Shah Rukh Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Mahira Khan, Atul Kulkarni
Written by Nazeer Vawda

Only in Bollywood would you find a film that is a serious action thriller, a gangster movie, and a musical all in one, and only in Bollywood would they actually be able to pull that off without the whole thing seeming ridiculous. 

‘Raees’ is set in Gujrat, India, where for decades now there has been a ban on alcohol. The film takes place in the late 80’s and early 90’s and follows Raees (Shah Rukh Khan) as he rises as a maker and seller of alcohol. His problem comes with Majmudar (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a cop who won’t give up on catching him.

The story is pretty standard, but the film works because of its great direction. The film moves so well and everything just seems to work. The action is really well done, it was well shot and manages to avoid the trope of constant quick cuts. It constantly treads a line where it never crosses over to become too brutal to not be fun, and isn’t so light that it feels completely weightless. The set-pieces never feel forced, which sometimes proves to be a problem in Bollywood.

My biggest worry is that the songs wouldn’t really fit in. Much like action scenes in Bollywood films, they can sometimes feel very forced in, but in ‘Raees’ they work really well; assisting rather than hindering the plot, and the songs are actually pretty good. Oh and the dance sequences are marvellous! I know its a standard in Bollywood, but they are always great to see – so elaborate, colourful and fun. Honestly I have no idea why Bollywood isn’t more popular in the west; it is literally everything people would love!

The performances here are what really sell the film though, and the film wouldn’t work without them. Most of the work goes to Shah Rukh Khan, and he does great. He’s one of the few actors who can make any line, no matter how cheesy it is, sound good. He does really well with the character, and manages to make this criminal/messiah character not seem annoying. The other great performance comes from Nawazuddin Siddiqui, as Majmudar, the cop trying to arrest Raees. As we’ve seen in the ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ films, ‘Raman Raghav 2.0’ and most recently in ‘Lion’, he’s a fantastic actor, and he gives a great performance here again. However, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. It wasn’t to do with his performance, but with the character. Majmudar need more internal conflict, and whilst he was a fine character played by a fantastic actor, the character could have been handled better.

This brings me to my biggest problem with the film, some of the characters feel a bit one dimensional. Whilst Majmudar felt just real enough, the rest of the supporting cast doesn’t, and whilst they don’t really do enough to need it, it would have added an extra layer of depth. 

Overall I had a great time with ‘Raees’, it was a lot of fun, and often goes in directions you wouldn’t always expect Bollywood to go. ‘Raees’ could gave just been another throwaway Shah Rukh Khan vehicle, but it manages to be a lot more than that and is definitely worth checking out.

Nazeer’s Rating: 8 out of 10

Fifty Shades Darker

Year: 2017
Director: James Foley
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Eloise Mumford, Bella Heathcote, Rita Ora, Luke Grimes, Kim Basinger
Written by Fiona Underhill

The reviews of the sequel to 2015’s ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ have been dire, pretty much across the board. However, the worse the reviews have been (particularly from male critics), the more determined I was to go into this film and enjoy it – to prove the critics wrong. Full disclosure: I haven’t read any of the books. But, I have seen the first film quite a few times. I don’t hate it. However, the sequel is a LOT worse. You may think the bar had already been set pretty low. Well, somehow the ‘Fifty Shades’ team have managed to sink lower. 

What really frustrates me about this, is that this film is not helping the cause of making more quality (or at least, fun) films with a specifically female audience in mind. Make no mistake – these books and films are for women, however much they try to sell the ‘couples’ date night on Valentine’s Day’ angle. This film is much more likely to be seen by gangs of girls (possibly on Galentine’s Day – a Leslie Knope invention for the day before Valentine’s) and I don’t like the thought of these women being looked down upon for enjoying this sort of film. What I’m trying to say is that it’s slim pickings – even the romantic comedies and Nicholas Sparks films seem to have dried up. We had the recent delights of the two ‘Magic Mike’ films (genuinely good films – I won’t hear otherwise), but other than that, there are so few sexy films out there for a female audience. So, I understand why the ‘Fifty Shades’ films do well at the box office. It’s the perfect film for a ‘girls’ night out’. I just wish they were better. 

The first ‘Fifty Shades’ film was, of course, directed by the artist Sam Taylor-Johnson and her departure may be the explanation for the big dip in quality. Much like the first ‘Magic Mike’ (directed by Steven Soderbergh), the visuals and the soundtrack were better than perhaps the material deserved. Whereas ‘Magic Mike XXL’ maintained the woozy, sun-drenched feel of the first film, this ‘Fifty Shades’ sequel just feels like everyone (particularly the two stars) have just shown up to fulfill their contractual obligations and get their pay cheque. The story manages to be both boring and ridiculous. It appears as if Ana has officially ‘tamed’ the sadistic Christian and shown he is capable of love and commitment and all that jazz. She has somehow ‘cured’ him, despite the fact he’ll barely acknowledge his troubled childhood. The proverbial spanner in the works come in the form of two pantomime villains – Ana’s creepy boss and ‘Mrs Robinson’ (Kim Basinger) – the woman who taught Christian the ways of the dominant/submissive when he was a teenager. Of course you expect the script to be cheesy, but these two characters have scenes towards the end of the film that made me laugh out loud. 

Much has been discussed about the sex scenes. I don’t have a problem with what some consider the more ‘abusive’ aspects – I do actually think valid reasons are given for both characters to want to indulge in S&M and it was clear from the first film, that when Christian crossed a line that Ana wasn’t comfortable with, she walked away. Many people argue that the sex scenes are completely ‘unsexy’ across the board, whereas I would say some are and some are not. The more ‘extreme’ the scenes (e.g. The Red Room scenes), the more ridiculous and less sexy they are, for me. There wasn’t as much tension or emotional drive to those scenes in this film, as Ana and Christian are in a more settled place than the first film. These films are perhaps more about ‘wealth porn’ than actual porn anyway. Maybe it is Christian’s bank account more than his whip that is appealing to the audience? 

So… is ‘Fifty Shades Darker’ a good film? No, it is not. It is in fact, a laughably bad film at times and not in an enjoyable ‘so bad, it’s good’ way. However, I will absolutely defend people who do like and enjoy it. I understand the fact that it will do well at the box office. Those gangs of women who go out for a few drinks and watch ‘Fifty Shades’ are not morons (as I’ve seen them described on Twitter). They are an audience crying out for a film they feel is for them. They should not be patronised or condescended to by (overwhelmingly male), snobby film critics. Some films are trashy and popular and fun and while I might argue the last of those three, ‘Fifty Shades’ fulfils this need in the market. It is a modern-day ‘Mills and Boon’ on the big screen and I really do not have a problem with that. You can be a feminist and like ‘Fifty Shades’. You can be a cinephile and still understand why ‘Fifty Shades’ exists and finds its audience. Of course I wish that those women (and me) had more choice and a better choice. But until that happens, we’ll have to make do with ‘Fifty Shades’ and Nicholas Sparks.

Fiona’s rating: 4.5 out of 10

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

Year: 2017
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Iain Glen, Ali Larter, Shawn Roberts, Ruby Rose
Written by Tom Sheffield

When people talk about game franchises making the jump from console to the big screen, I don’t think you can find a bigger success than ‘Resident Evil’. Constantin Film acquired the rights for the film back in 1997 but we didn’t get the first film until 2001, after Paul W.S. Anderson wrote the screenplay in which he purposefully avoided the inclusion of characters from the game because Anderson wanted the films to stand out on their own. However, during the 2004 sequel ‘Apocalypse’ we were introduced to Jill Valentine, who was one of the protagonists in the first ‘Resident Evil’ game.  Since then, the films slowly introduced numerous characters and elements from the games as it endeavoured to become a success, which all lead up to this – ‘The Final Chapter’.

The sixth installment of the franchise picks up almost immediately after the events of ‘Resident Evil: Retribution’, where Alice (Milla Jovovich), a former security officer at Umbrella Corporation, is now the only survivor of the attack on the White House and we soon learn she was once again betrayed by Wesker (Shawn Roberts). Alice is now told she has 48 hours to return to where it all began, the Hive in Racoon City, in order to save the last of the survivors around the globe. Megalomaniac scientist, Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen), makes it his mission to ensure Alice doesn’t reach the Hive as we learn his role in the T-virus outbreak and how it’s a part of his biblical master plan.

Milla Jovovich performs the best she can with the script she’s given, whilst her character has never been the most talkative or emotive survivor on the planet, her performance and overall badass presence as the protagonist is a definite factor in the franchise’s success. The Resident Evil films have been no stranger to actors reprising roles of their once dead characters thanks to Umbrella Corporation’s cloning facilities, so the return of familiar faces such as Iain Glen, Shawn Roberts and Ali Larter are very much welcomed. Plot wise, this film gives us a greater insight into the origins of the T-virus, the purpose of its creation, and a satisfying yet loose ended finale that I found very fitting for the franchise. The story line tries to answer many questions the fans may have, but also leave many frustratingly unanswered. Much like its predecessors, this film doesn’t delve much in the way of character exploration when it comes to the new survivors Alice meets, which is a real shame considering that as this point in the story, these survivors have been fighting off the endless horde of zombies for 10 years, so they’ve obviously got stories to tell.

Paul W.S. Anderson returns to direct his fourth film of the franchise, having only been absent from the director’s chair for the second and third films. I often found it hard to focus on the screen during some of the action sequences due to the fact they were so choppy and edited so poorly. I found this to be a real shame upon reflection because the action sequences were some of the best of the franchise, mainly thanks to the improvements in CGI, but I struggled to focus on them as they played out due to the unfathomable thinking behind its editing. Anderson’s overuse of jump scares also becomes really tedious and makes them redundant further on in the film as it’s just something you come to expect and they come as no surprise during the eerily quiet moments. Sound in this film was also a big issue for me, some scenes were at a normal, acceptable level, whilst others were at eardrum piercing levels that really made me reel back in my seat. Near the beginning of the film there’s a scene with a dot-matrix printer in the process of printing message and Anderson cranks the sound up to a ludicrous level which was almost unbearable to sit through.

Overall, ‘The Final Chapter’ is just what we’ve come to expect of the Resident Evil series, it’s nothing spectacular and it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. The quality of the script and editing is close to being the worst of the franchise, which is a crying shame because the action sequences had the potential to be some of my favourite, if I could actually see what was happening. All that aside, it still makes for fairly enjoyable viewing those who have enjoyed the previous entries. Thanks to this latest installment; the Resident Evil film franchise has crossed the billion dollar milestone, making it the most successful live-action film adaptation of a video game to date. If you’ve followed the franchise from the get go then I highly recommend watching its conclusion whilst it’s in the cinema.

Tom’s Rating: 4.9 out of 10

Sing

Year: 2017
Director(s): Christophe Lourdelet, Garth Jennings 
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Scarlett Johansson, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, John C. Reilly, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly
Written by Dalton Brown

‘Sing’ is a movie starring a whole bunch of decently talented people. You’ve got Matthew McConaughey as Buster Moon (koala), Reese Witherspoon as Rosita (pig), Seth MacFarlane as Mike (rat), Scarlett Johansson as Ash (porcupine), John C. Reilly as Eddie (sheep), Tori Kelly as Meena (elephant), and – last, but certainly not least! – Taron Egerton as Johnny (gorilla). That’s about everybody in the movie, at least as far as main characters go. ‘Sing’ is an ensemble movie about anthropomorphic, singing animals. Sadly, I don’t think it’s as good as it sounds and I believe a big reason why ‘Sing’ didn’t live up to the standards I had it set at, is because there was just too many people. Funnily enough, the amount of people (and who they were) was why I was so excited in the first place. Ah well, as they say…they can’t all be winners, right?

So why am I being so negative, so fast? It’s because I was really hoping for this movie to rock. I even have an old article where I explicitly explained why I was so, very ecstatic. Speaking of, allow me to correct something now; in that old article, I said that I was hoping Taron Egerton was the elephant. This was before I knew much about the film, let alone that the elephant was female. so I’m sorry about that. But again, and I cannot stress this enough, I was beyond interested in what this movie could have been, and what it turned out to be wasn’t terrible but it could have been way, way better.

Firstly, as I tend to do, I’m going to point out some positives; I really like all the characters. They all brought something fun, unique, and exciting to an otherwise bland movie or, better yet, story. That’s where it starts to fall apart; in its narrative structure. The pacing is fast, so that’s nice – keeps the little ones entertained. However, it is so fast that it’s tiresome and by the time it slowed down I essentially stopped caring.

Which leads me to my next complaint, the town was just sort of empty. Weird complaint, I know so I won’t stay on it too long, but basically, it felt like a movie from 2005 or somewhere around there. What I mean is there was hardly anything happening in the background and that’s kind of bizarre for a “family-friendly” film; especially one released in 2016. A better example is that, at one point, Rosita is shopping in the grocery store; there’s only her in the aisles though. Maybe it was intentional? But it just made the movie feel more bland and uninspired and, honestly, it’s just lazy.

Going from there, I don’t have much else to say sadly. Mostly because I don’t remember anything else and I only just saw it yesterday (as of me writing this review). I don’t hate it nor do I dislike it as much as some of Illumination Entertainment’s other films; I just wish there was “more”. It was missing something, a certain charm perhaps? Or maybe it was because they decided to use copyrighted, unoriginal music.

I’m just left here shrugging, sighing, shaking my head, and wondering about what could have been. It’s not like any of the voice actors didn’t care or the directors, but it’s like the animators couldn’t care less which is sad. I’m done. I’m done with this movie, with this review, with caring about Illumination Entertainment. I’m done. They have, continuously, put out mediocre-to-shit films and I just don’t care anymore, but I’m going to go before I start spouting and spewing.

Go see this movie for yourself because there were other people in the theater who seemed like they were enjoying it. I, however, found it lacking. Screw it! It’s bad. Bad! I hate telling people what to do, but don’t go see this movie. It sucks. I’m done sugarcoating it. It was bad. Not good.

Dalton’s rating: 4.0 out of 10

The LEGO Batman Movie

Year: 2017
Director: Chris McKay
Starring: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Zach Galifianakis, Jenny Slate
Written by Tom Sheffield

After the huge success of ‘The LEGO Movie’ in 2014 , we could all pretty much guess that it would only be a matter of time before Warner Bros. got dollar signs in their eyeballs and were jotting down what else they could make a LEGO film about, aside from the obvious sequel. I don’t think they could have chosen a more iconic character than Batman to start the wave of LEGO movies that are sure to follow, and by god did they do him justice.

Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) replaces her father, Jim Gordon as Commissioner of Gotham City and as part of her plan to clean up the streets, she proposes that Batman (Will Arnett) joins the law enforcement and quits being a vigilante who makes up his own laws. Not being one to work as a team, Batman is left to wallow in his loneliness at Wayne Manor whilst his butler and only confidant, Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), drops some home truths about Bruce being afraid of starting his own family. After accidentally adopting Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), Batman takes the energetic and bumbling orphan under his wing and trains him to be his trusty sidekick, Robin. Meanwhile, Joker (Zach Galifianakis) sets up a monstrous master plan to finally make Batman admit that he’s his number one villain, and he enlists the help of some big-name villains to help him out.

The talented voice cast of the film deliver the jokes and gags so brilliantly that I genuinely can’t remember the last time I laughed so much at the cinema. Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson and Ralph Fiennes all had plenty of lines and jokes which they delivered perfectly, and even though we don’t hear much from him, it was great to have Billy Dee Williams reprising his role as Two-Face. Other members of the criminally underused voice cast include Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Seth Green, Mariah Carey, Eddie Izzard, Kate Micucci, and Jenny Slate who all play various characters that either only get one or two sentences of dialogue or are just voices in the background of scenes.

The film takes every single opportunity it can to poke fun at or reference the many different Batman portrayals over the years, various other DC Comics characters, and even the recent DC live action films, including those in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). Whilst these jokes and gags will fly straight over the heads of the film’s much younger audience, they’ll get a great laugh out of everyone else. The beauty of it is is that visually the gags are funny too, so the younger audience still get a laugh out of them. The Bat-Computer password even takes a dig at a Marvel character, but the joke doesn’t feel shoehorned in because if we lived in a world of superheros, I could definitely imagine that being Batman’s password. The jokes start from the the second the Warner Bros. logo appears at the beginning and it’s a laugh a minute all the way up to the song at the end.

Sometimes the film focuses on scenes a little longer than needed, time I think could have been better used to give some members of the Justice League more screen time, as we only meet them briefly and it would have been great, in the name of teamwork, to see Batman work alongside them for a bit. The presence of the message behind the film is pretty strong throughout, and at times things get a little bit deeper than I’d expect from a LEGO film. The cleverly timed jokes used to lighten the mood of these scenes don’t diminish the effort gone into subtly relaying the importance of family, trust and teamwork, which could easily have happened given the type of childish humour it uses.

‘The LEGO Batman Movie’ opens in cinemas alongside both ‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ and ‘Fifty Shades Darker, and whilst all three are undoubtedly going to be looking at incredible box office numbers, I think there’s a chance Batman can fight his way to the top spot. It’s got something that audiences of all ages are going to love, laugh and maybe even shed a little tear about. Whilst I doubt its accompanying soundtrack will be as memorable as the one from ‘The LEGO Movie’, the main song is pretty catchy, and it’s about Batman, ergo it’s got success written all over it. So basically, everything IS awesome about this film.

Tom’s rating: 8.7 out of 10

Hacksaw Ridge

Year: 2017
Director: Mel Gibson
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Vince Vaughn
Written by Mark Putley

Ten years have passed since Mel Gibson last took to the director’s chair; being one of his most highly anticipated films, ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ tells the gripping true story of a US Army Medic Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a ‘conscientious collaborator’ who’s religious views are as such that he refuses to bear arms as he serves in the Battle of Okinawa, a horrifying and deadly campaign in the Pacific during the second world war. ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ draws focus to Doss’ enlistment into the army, the struggles he faces through basic training and then his deployment to the Pacific.

The beating heart of ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ undoubtedly lies between Andrew Garfield’s Oscar nominated (dare I say Oscar winning) performance and the unrelenting battle sequences. Garfield is phenomenal as he gives a very grounded, sincere and profound performance.  Many war films successfully depict the violence, desperation and comradeship found in battle. Perhaps with the exception of ‘Saving Private Ryan’, very few films convey the sheer horrors of war to this degree. Huge credit must go to the hard work that took place in the editing suite, as ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ shows moments that are almost exclusively found in horror films.

‘Hacksaw Ridge’ hits a lot of the right notes, however it unfortunately lacks a subtler directorial hand; Mel Gibson’s religious symbolism is as understated as Mickey Rourke’s wardrobe, repetitive references ultimately becoming tiresome in areas. The film perhaps may have also done better to explore the supporting characters a little more, as relationships seemed to be in need of depth and sincerity, notably Doss’ putrid relationship with Smitty Ryker which is reconciled almost to that of best friends on a sixpence.

Hugo Weaving gives an astounding presentation as Tom Doss, Desmond Doss’ father and disturbed first world war veteran. A short scene that immediately leaps to mind would be when Tom’s troubled self becomes even more apparent as the family are around the dinner table. He recalls his service in the first conflict, specifically mentioning an old friend who once had looked smart in his uniform which was spoiled in battle, as he was shot through the back.

Vince Vaughn is perhaps a peculiar casting decision, however he surprises with a solid and charismatic performance as the ball-busting Sergeant Howell. Vaughn’s character has a hard exterior which is reminiscent of David Schwimmer’s Captain Sobel in ‘Band of Brothers’, although Vaughn periodically presents glimpses of compassion.

Despite its lack in subtlety, ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is a touching, suspenseful and thought provoking film, and is absolutely worth its Oscar nominations.     

Mark’s rating: 7.7 out of 10