T2 Trainspotting

Year: 2017
Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle
Written by Tom Sheffield

I’m going to come clean straight away and admit that I only watched the original ‘Trainspotting’ for the first time a week before seeing the sequel, when it was shown at a special screening in my local cinema. It’s a film that’s been on my “to watch” list for a long time, but I can now proudly say I loved it, and it was blatantly obvious to me why it is seen as such a classic, and also why there was some uncertainty surrounding the sequel.

It’s been twenty years since Renton (Ewan McGregor) betrayed his friends and ran off with £16,000 that was meant to be split evenly between him and his 3 best friends. Ever since sneaking out of that hotel room with the cash, Renton has been living in Amsterdam, but after suffering a heart attack, he decides it’s time to return to Edinburgh and reconcile with his former friends. Spud (Ewen Bremner) and Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller) are stunned by Renton’s return, but it’s not long before the friends find themselves back up to their old tricks and a scheme is formulated. That is, until Begbie (Robert Carlyle) escapes from prison and catches word of Renton’s return, leading to a hatred-fueled revenge mission.

There’s always scepticism when a sequel to such a classic film is announced – it comes with the territory – but Danny Boyle has done an exceptional job here. He has captured what audiences loved so much about the original ‘Trainspotting’ twenty years ago, and delivered a sequel that is nostalgic, yet doesn’t solely rely on its nostalgia to keep the story grounded. Each member of the cast delivered tremendous performances in their respective roles, with honourable mentions to Ewen Bremner as Spud, whose life story for the past twenty years will tug at your heart strings, and Robert Carlyle as the psychotic, revenge-seeking Begbie, who quickly becomes an audience favourite. The addition of Anjela Nedyalkova to the cast, as Sick Boy’s girlfriend slash not girlfriend, was brilliant. She fit right in alongside the returning actors, and her character is often the voice of reason for Renton and Sick Boy, who struggle to see eye to eye on some matters. There is also a very brief, but welcomed scene, featuring Kelly Macdonald as Diane – you know, the young lady Renton went home with in the first film. I would have loved for her to have more screen time here, but at the same time, I also feel like any more involvement would have felt shoe-horned in, and as such, Danny Boyle handled her inclusion perfectly.

Compared to the original, the pacing here is certainly slower, but by no means slow. Visually, it’s far less ostentatious, but has the obvious signs of Boyle flare, and in truth has a much more melancholy narrative, but one which is perfectly appropriate for the story being told. These differences are all welcomed, and very much what I expected from a sequel both set, and filmed, two decades after its predecessor. T2’s charm lies in the fact that it has successfully captured the spirit of the original, whilst addressing the fact there has been this long period of time elapsed, and that life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. John Hodge, who adapted Irivne Welsh’s novel, hits the characters with brutal truths and harsh reality checks that make them question their own actions and reflect on where it all went so wrong, and leaves them wondering what the future could possibly hold for them.

Danny Boyle has delivered the sequel we all wanted, and the one the original deserved. The actors reprising their roles slip right back in with such ease that it feels like they’ve never been away. Their characters are facing much darker and troubled times, but you’re aware the whole time that these are the same characters who, when we last saw them, had no cares in the world as young twenty-somethings who thought a good time was injecting heroin into their bloodstreams and…well that was about it. There are some brilliant, hysterical scenes – when you see the film, you’ll know exactly what I’m referring to – and those will definitely be dominating conversations related to this film. I highly recommend catching ‘T2 Trainspotting’ on a cinema screen if you’re a fan of the original.

Tom’s rating: 9.2 out of 10
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Monsters

Year: 2010
Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able, Mario Zuniga Benavides
Written by Rhys Wortham

Aliens in a lot of movies usually come to Earth to kill us. For the past few decades this has been the main synopses of many sci-fi movies. A few times they decided to dole out hugs (‘E.T.’, ‘Starman’) or just goof around (‘Stitch’, ‘Galaxy Quest’). With Gareth Edwards’ 2010 film ‘Monsters’ however, our film in question, NASA decides to send a probe to try and monitor a near by planet that supposedly has life. It breaks up upon return and Mexico is overrun by malevolent aliens a few years later. A photographer is tasked with finding his bosses daughter amidst the chaos and escorting her back to the USA.

Apparently with the giant tentacle monsters that land on Earth in ‘Monsters’ their job was to bore us to death, and the movie is essentially watching two people walk around beautiful parts of Mexico for 1 hour and 30 minutes, before it abruptly ends. The story is completely absent of any kind of context, except whats said in the first paragraph. The aliens aren’t explained, their home world isn’t explored, and nothing is learned about them as they barely have any interactions with the humans.

The characters are one dimensional and under-developed. Andrew Kaulder (McNairy), the main guy, is made out to be emotionless in the beginning 30 minutes of the film, but this doesn’t really lead his character anywhere. Sam Wynden (Able), the main female protagonist, is made out to be a flake, and similarly, this goes nowhere as well. All of this lack of character development whilst the characters just meander around Mexico taking in the sights and sounds, doesn’t particularly make for an interesting watch. This affects the tone of the movie completely and strips the audience of any kind of drama or importance they are trying to place. There’s even one part where Whitney says she can’t walk anymore and Andrew finds a Mayan temple. No, really. So the first thing they do is hike the 3,000 stairs up to the top of the temple and talk about inane things till nightfall. This doesn’t seem to make any sense when more then half of Mexico is infested with killer aliens! 

Throughout the movie there are beautiful daytime shots of the vast landscapes of Mexico, however this was countered by the nearly unseeable night time scenes that were so poorly lit it made it near impossible to see what was happening, rendering a lot of the action scenes utterly worthless. Some scenes were so dark that it was like listening to a radio rather then watching a movie. There are a few times that the characters wait it out and seem to catch up to the action during the day. This is worthless. They expect us to care about people who wander out into the dark when in the beginning the movie emphasises that the aliens strike at night time. Death is altogether less dramatic when the characters are intentionally putting themselves in danger.

This film is boring. It is lacking in just about everything that makes a film a film, or at least a watchable film. It has an okay soundtrack and beautiful scenery, but that’s about it. The two main characters are totally devoid of any kind of normal thought or actions, and their chemistry is nonexistent and woefully contrived. There’s no memorable lines or memorable side characters and then there’s the fact that nothing happens after the first 30 minutes – there really isn’t anything here! Skip it.

Rhys’ rating: 3 out of 10

Fury

Year: 2014
Director: David Ayer
Starring: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña, Jon Bernthal, Jason Isaacs
Written by Rhys Wortham

It’s World War 2 and a tank battalion loses everything, but one tank. In the midst of the fight, one of the crew members gets killed. So they roll into the nearest US base and are immediately assigned a new gunner. Unfortunately, he’s a typist and doesn’t know a thing about tanks. They haze the rookie by making him clean out their gut and blood covered tank hoping it would toughen him up for what he’s about to face.

I liked this movie, but it was very intensely gory, and that’s worth knowing before you watch. Some areas don’t necessarily have ‘in your face’ gore, but it still shows it very subtly throughout, with gore hidden within the image. This style of editing slowly builds up and results in a very dreary and morose atmosphere. There’s one scene artistic shot of a tank rolling through mud, and if you look long enough you can see the uniform of a soldier, then as it slowly rolls forward it shows a dead soldier is still in it. It encapsulates the unforgiving nature of war, rather then spend half the movie about the soldiers wanting to go home, like so many other war films do.

The character development didn’t rely on stereotypes or tropes which are so frequently seen in most war movies, giving the film a more genuine feel. Jon Bernthal plays a redneck who knew he wasn’t worth much, except that he was good at killing. This isn’t seen much in movies because in many war movies they are the first to go insane, become just another ‘bad guy,’ and get killed. Shia LaBeouf plays a crazed Bible thumper who is suffering from various stages of PTSD. This is another type of character you don’t see too often, merely on the fact that strongly religious people are usually continuously mocked throughout the film.

While it was obvious he had problems, the character didn’t wane from his beliefs. He still respected his fellow allies and they respected him enough to keep their mouth shut about his preaching. Brad Pitt was a cool to the core Sergeant, and from my experience he’s what seasoned veterans are like. Logan Lerman was the every-man. Instead of having a long speech about how killing was wrong, instead his change in character was gradual and without dramatizations, which was nice to see. Due to all this, it built a foundation for a more believable look into soldiers lives during the war. Michael Peña was basically the guy with really bad PTSD and severe depression. Now in a lot of movies he’d go insane or be given a medical discharge, then never seen from again. This was refreshing because it showed they could be worked with while doing their job. Its like a lot of writers write about mental illness without any research.

Fury is above average when it comes to WW2 movies. This is a very worn genre, but this breathes new life into these kinds of movies just by simply telling a different kind of story. Its different approach in character development, its presentation of the tragedies involved, and even the way it shows other perspectives of war without making the people involved look psychotic, is welcoming. All of the acting involved was top notch, the visuals were stunning, grotesque, and a little different then most. All in all this is a great WW2 film and it would make a great addition to your collection.

 Rhys’ rating: 7.5 out of 10

Split

Year: 2017
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula
Written by Noah Jackson

Breaking news, M. Night Shyamalan has made another movie. From the acclaimed director of ‘The Sixth Sense’ and ‘Unbreakable’ to the truly incredible (note the sarcasm here) films like ‘The Last Airbender’, ‘The Happening’, and ‘After Earth’, M. Night’s storied career has been in the public eye for close to two decades now. As someone who likes watching movies, M. Night has always been a source of entertainment. Despite his string of films post ‘The Village’ to now, every awful film he made that should’ve ended his career has provided some great entertainment in recent memory. ‘The Happening’ is one of the better comedies from the 2000s and ‘The Last Airbender’ is a great movie to watch for aspiring filmmakers because it shows what NOT to do. So when the trailer dropped for ‘Split’ and M. Night’s name was plastered all over it, and James McAvoy was doing his thing onscreen, I knew he was making his return to form.

‘Split’ stars James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Betty Buckley in a story about a man named Kevin, played by McAvoy, who has Dissociative Identity Disorder and has manifested 23 separate personalities. One of these personas kidnaps three young girls, and then holds them in captivity in some undisclosed location. All of this is going on while Kevin’s psychiatrist, played by Buckley, is trying to figure out what exactly is going on in Kevin’s brain.

‘Split’ works as a movie, despite its somewhat ridiculous premise, due to McAvoy’s truly Oscar-worthy performance. Even though 23 personalities are advertised, he only shows 7 or 8, and each one has a distinct character. McAvoy changes his face, voice, characterisations, and general attitude to fit each new character, and he does it with the perfect amount of seriousness that keeps the film lighthearted enough to be entertaining and creepy enough to keep the audience on their toes. I love as an actor James McAvoy generally, but this performance is fantastic. The other leads also hold their own with McAvoy’s screen domination. Anya Taylor-Joy plays Casey, who is one of the young girls kidnapped. In the beginning, I found her to be somewhat underwhelming, but through the course of the run-time, I began to develop an appreciation for what she was doing, and by the end when her entire backstory comes into frame, her character and performance blew me away. She is the most in-depth character in the movie. Betty Buckley serves as our exposition character, where she gives the audience the information they need to know. She’s not particularly well-written, but she does well in what she is given.

The other notable thing that lets the movie work is its direction. M. Night Shyamalan has moments of smart, subtle detail being added in his films, and this movie is no exception. He gives depth to Kevin and Casey, not by blatantly showing the audience what they need to know, but by allowing the film to take its time and setting up the story. Sometimes his former, worse director self emerges, and this can be seen whenever Casey’s fellow hostages are on screen. They never find a good mix of over-the-top or underacting, and their characters are incredibly bland as well. He also shows his former self in the scenes where they just dump exposition on the audience. But other than basic stuff like this, he has made a return to form.

There’s one heavy element that weighs on my rating of this film, and of course, it’s the “big Shyamalan twist.” To avoid spoilers, I will not discuss specifics, but the more time has passed, the more it has grown on me, because what I originally saw as a giant ego stroke, it really has more nuance than that.

Overall, Shyamalan is back. Get hyped. ‘Split’ isn’t his best feature, but it certainly is top three and serves its purpose as an original suspense-thriller movie released in January of all times, when crappy movies get their time in the sun. ‘Split’ is more than a January movie, it’s a good movie for the whole year.

Noah’s Rating: 7 out of 10

Jackie

Year: 2017
Director: Pablo Larraín
Starring: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Billy Crudup, John Hurt, Richard E. Grant
Written by Tom Sheffield

One thing that has really been grinding my gears over the awards season this year is the fact that over half of the films that have been getting all the nods and the awards for 2016 haven’t in fact been released in the UK yet. Films such as ‘Jackie’, ‘La La Land’, ‘Moonlight’, and ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ have all received endless praise and nominations, but here in the UK some are only just being released. So I’m ecstatic that I am now slowly getting to see these films as they release this month in the UK.

‘Jackie’ follows an account of the days following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, through the eyes of his wife, and First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman).  The film is framed around Jackie’s interview with Theodore White of Life magazine, as she gives a very personal account of what happened after her husband’s assassination and the reasoning and thoughts behind her actions in the following days. Straight from the start of the interview, Jackie’s strong personality is clear as she takes control of the interview, making it clear what can and can’t be published. Her sharp and quick remarks and apparent cold demeanour are a far cry from the Jackie we see during the flashbacks, where we see a loving, caring and all round smiley Jackie, with her husband by her side. As her life begins to spiral following his death, she struggles to keep control as everyone tries to dictate her actions, and as a new President is sworn in, she has to start thinking of a future outside of the White House for her and her children.   

First and foremost, Natalie Portman truly deserves all the praise and nominations she is receiving. Her performance as the former First Lady is outstanding, and she really captures Jacqueline Kennedy’s mannerisms and style. Every single second she is on screen she has you in the palm of her hand. Even during the dialogue-less scenes, Portman’s expressive facial movements show Jackie’s heartbreak, her confidence, and self-consciousness so clearly, and sometimes you can really see her wrestling with her own thoughts and trying to put on a brave face for the cameras, or her two young children, despite how broken and beaten she may feel.

The supporting cast are also superb, I had to do a double take when I saw Caspar Phillipson come onto the screen as his resemblance to John F. Kennedy is remarkable. Peter Sarsgaard was brilliant in the role of Bobby Kennedy, brother to John and close confidante of Jackie, following his brother’s death. John Hurt was also a nice surprise appearance, playing the role of a Priest that Jackie confides in in the days after John’s death.

Pablo Larrain’s direction and Stephan Fontaine as the film’s cinematographer appears to be a successful pairing.  Some scenes saw Portman recreate the famous tour of the White House that Jackie Kennedy did in 1962, which was televised as ‘A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy’.  I watched this on YouTube the minute I got home from my screening and I couldn’t believe how perfectly it was shot for the film. Portman utterly captures Jackie’s voice, mannerisms, and her on-screen awkwardness during the tour, and Larrain even went as far as to copy the camera angles the original tour was filmed in which was a delightful authentic touch.

Accompanying the flawless direction and cinematography is Mica Levi’s intense score, which truly encapsulates the tone of the story at every turn. The score’s presence really does add an emotional gut punch during some of Jackie’s lowest and loneliest parts of the film, but also reflects her strength and resilience during others. The stunning set and costume designs (which is totally deserving of the Oscar nomination) give the film such an authentic feel that when the scenes of the White House tour are black and white with the crackling picture and sound, you’d be forgiven for questioning whether it was real footage or not.

Jackie is without a doubt worth every second of your time to watch, it’s not just a film about Jackie Kennedy the wife in mourning, it’s a film about Jackie Kennedy the First Lady, wife, mother, and friend, who wants to ensure the American people remember who her husband was, what he stood for, and what strides he made as President but was unable to fulfil. Her actions following her husband’s assassination will have you questioning her motives, is she doing it for vanity? Or is she genuinely doing what she thinks is best under the unexpected and heart breaking circumstances? It all becomes clear in the end, but witnessing how Jackie handled everything thrown her way made for superb viewing thanks to flawless casting, direction, cinematography and score.

Tom’s rating: 9.4 out of 10

 

Live by Night

Year: 2017
Director: Ben Affleck

Starring: Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Sienna Miller, Robert Glenister, Zoe Saldana
Written by Fiona Underhill

I have been a big fan of Ben Affleck’s since his collaborations with Kevin Smith in his strongest trio of films; ‘Mallrats’, ‘Chasing Amy’ and ‘Dogma’. Affleck’s career has been a rollercoaster – there have been the highs of the Oscar for co-writing ‘Good Will Hunting’ and the lows of the tabloid fodder relationship with Jennifer Lopez; also his co-star in the critically-panned ‘Gigli’. The transition to directing has taken Affleck back into the realm of the critically-acclaimed, with ‘The Town’, ‘Gone Baby Gone’ and ‘Argo’. I had high hopes for ‘Live By Night’ – I found the trailer visually stunning and I’m a sucker for anything set in the 1920s-1930s. Unfortunately, the film did not quite live up to my high expectations.

The story follows reluctant gangster Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) – an Irish-American policeman’s son, a bank robber sharing a moll (Sienna Miller) with his arch-nemesis Albert White. A robbery goes wrong, policemen end up dead and so does his love. This leads Coughlin to team up with an Italian-American kingpin and jetting off to Tampa, Florida to try to force White out of the rum bootlegging business down there. Coughlin finds love again (this time with Zoe Saldana) and becomes a successful ‘businessman’, despite having to contend with the KKK, the local police chief (Chris Cooper) and his evangelical Christian daughter (Elle Fanning). Affleck has certainly assembled an impressive array of acting talent, even recruiting the likes of Brendan Gleeson for the small role of his father. Chris Cooper is, unsurprisingly, particularly impressive. Affleck has, of course, made the fatal mistake of casting himself in the lead role, something best avoided for his future directorial efforts.

The film is sumptuous to look at – the costumes and scenery are enough to keep the eye entertained, if not the heart or brain. Where the film is flawed, is the story and screenplay (adapted by Affleck himself). This is surprising, given that it is based on a novel by Dennis Lehane (writer of ‘Shutter Island’, ‘Mystic River’, ‘Gone Baby Gone’ and excellent Tom Hardy film ‘The Drop’). I have discovered that there is a trilogy of Joe Coughlin books and perhaps Affleck has tried to shoe-horn all three into this one film. The editing is terrible – both structurally and in at least one instance of cringe-worthily bad continuity. This is one of those films that should have finished twenty minutes before it did – the final act feels tacked on, pointless and serves its characters very poorly.

 Live By Night is not bad enough to write Affleck off as a director. I’m still hopeful that he can salvage the character of Batman from the Zack Snyder travesty of last year. In some ways, this film is a leap ahead for him – it is his most visually impressive. Perhaps he should go back to original screenwriting, rather than adapting, next time and see if he can reach the dizzy heights of ‘Good Will Hunting’ once more. I feel bad for Ben – after the critical mauling of ‘Batman vs Superman’ and now again, with ‘Live By Night’. I want him to do better and believe he can do better. This is hopefully just another blip in what has been an extremely uneven career, and I look forward to seeing Affleck at his peak once more.

Fiona’s rating: 7 out of 10

xXx: Return of Xander Cage

Year: 2017
Director: D.J. Caruso
Starring: Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Kris Wu, Ruby Rose, Tony Jaa, Toni Collette, Samuel L. Jackson, Ice Cube
Written by Nazeer Vawda

When I younger, maybe between the ages of 9 and 12, I loved ‘xXx’ (2002). It was my favourite film at one point, and I used to watch it all the time, almost on repeat. I’m not ashamed to admit that it’s probably one of the films I’ve seen the the most. I haven’t seen it since my early obsession with it, but it still has a special place for me. So I went into the sequel hoping for something really good, but expecting (due to awful trailers) something not so great. Thankfully, the film leans more towards the former.

xXx: Return of Xander Cage’ could have been a terrible, cheesy, poorly made and dull action film (like the other ‘xXx’ film), but somehow it manages to pull through. Xander Cage is indeed back. After being picked up by the CIA again, he goes back to work to catch a group of criminals lead by Donnie Yen, who have stolen devices that can control satellites. This time however, Vin Diesel took a page out of the Fast franchise and Xander is now working with a crew. The first is Ruby Rose’s Adele, a brutal sniper with a lot of kills to her name, next up is Tennyson (Rory McCann), he crashes into things, then there’s Serena (Deepika Padukone) another extreme sportsperson, and lastly is Nicks (Kris Wu), a D.J. I don’t know why he’s there, but he is. 

The films action is both its strong and weak point. Most of the time, the action is great, well shot, well edited, and so much fun to watch. The downside is sometimes it goes a bit too “out there” with the stunts. It opens with Vin Diesel snowboarding down a mountain. That sounds fine right? Nope. There is no snow on this mountain  He snowboards down a dirt mountain with trees everywhere. It was so bizarre to see as it didn’t even look convincing. Outside of two scenes however, this isn’t that much of a problem. Honestly I was quite surprised by how well D.J. Caruso handled the action here. It’s almost entirely well shot, with some great choreography, although that’s to be expected with the inclusion of Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa. Yen is continuing a great streak in Hollywood with some great scenes, both in and out of action. Sadly, the film totally wasted Tony Jaa and I have no idea why. There are few actors who do action as well as him, and I was really looking forward to seeing him kick some ass. Disappointingly he doesn’t have a memorable scene at all. 

The films fun all comes from it’s script, the chemistry between all the cast is great, making every scene a joy to watch. Really all the very loose story does is string each set-piece together, but the characters and the cast manage to make you not care about this, and its always a fun film to watch whatever is happening. It does occasionally get a bit too self-aware, and that’s where its weakest points are. There’s one scene in particular that has no relevance to anything, but just goes on for like five minutes as its a throwback to the first film.

So overall I really enjoyed the film. If you go in expecting anything smart, or anything with a purpose, this isn’t the movie, but If you want to see absurd stunts, fun action, and an Indian that isn’t Dev Patel or Irfaan Khan in the main cast of a Hollywood film (I love the film so much because of that. I could write pages on how and why its such a great thing), this is totally the film for you. 

Nazeer’s rating: 7.0 out of 10

Silence

Year: 2017
Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Issei Ogata, Shin’ya Tsukamoto
Written by Noah Jackson

Martin Scorsese’s passion project, for what has been supposedly the last two decades, is finally here. The subject of many lawsuits for Scorsese as he continued to delay the making of this film, to make other great films such as ‘The Aviator’, ‘Gangs of New York’, and ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, and every movie in between. ‘Silence’ is the film that Scorsese felt he wasn’t experienced enough to make, or simply not in the right state of mind to direct. So after decades of waiting, it’s finally here, and whilst in my opinion it is not quite worth a twenty year wait, it does place itself on a rather selective list of movies that everyone should see at least once.

‘Silence’ stars Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, and Liam Neeson in a story of two European Jesuit priests, Garfield and Driver, that travel to feudal Japan in order to spread the faith despite intense religious persecution on the part of the Japanese, as well as finding their mentor, Neeson’s Father Ferreira, who has supposedly given up the faith. The film takes place in the 1600s and has a total run-time of 161 minutes.

After reading the plot summary, you may be thinking that this film isn’t going to be enjoyable for you, because it’s heavily involved with religious themes. Trust me, from someone that has written essays on questioning religion and not adhering to it, this film is for everyone on both sides of the belief spectrum. The boldness that Scorsese uses in his direction of this conflict, one side heavily opposed to the idea of Christianity, with the other trying to preach it as much as possible, is breathtaking. It doesn’t ever feel preachy or heavy-handed. It never comes across as pretentious. The simplicity of the topic and its either-or dynamic in the conversations held by the characters is what helps to make this film so complex. There should be no misunderstanding, this is a tough film to watch. Its run-time and brutal content combine to provide an experience for film-goers that promises to be both enlightening and haunting.

The performances and characterisations are the best aspects of this movie. Andrew Garfield’s performance as Father Rodrigues is truly Oscar-worthy. This film proves to me that Andrew Garfield is more than just a lame version of Spider-Man, he is an incredible actor, and his range in this movie further demonstrates this. He goes through every emotion, starting the film with an optimistic and bright demeanour, and by the end, he is a broken shell of his former self. I found noticeable parallels of his character arc with the trials and tribulations of Jesus, and I’m sure that that particular metaphor was the easiest to recognise aside from the literal usage of the concept of ‘Silence’ itself. The film truly is meaningful and not without purpose in its usage of imagery and analogy. However, just because something has meaning and metaphor does not grant it a perfect score.

Unfortunately, Scorsese’s passion bleeds into this project a little too much. The editing is slow, which creates unnecessary additions to an already enormous run-time. I don’t mind long movies, but I do mind repetition to an extent that it becomes boring to watch. This mostly comes through in the scenes where Andrew Garfield has conversations with the Japanese concerning the role Christianity could play in its culture. While I understand why there are so many similar scenes, I didn’t find it to be informative, but rather trying my patience. There’s also repetitive shots, not like repeating imagery, but an actual repeating shot. It’s an error ‘Gods of Egypt’ made, which is not a good comparison.

Aside from technical aspects of the film, ‘Silence’ has few errors. The awe-inspiring performances from everyone in the cast creates a multitude of interesting characters, but that doesn’t mean that all of the characters are likeable. There’s one specific recurring character, the Judas of the story, who got on my nerves so much that every time he appeared on screen, my enjoyment factor went down by a significant amount. The character itself was fascinating, and his subplot is very important to the main narrative, but ultimately he noticeably stood out as one of my least favourite parts of the overall film.

In summation, ‘Silence’ is a tough film. I tried to remain as spoiler-free as possible, but writing about it was tough, and watching it was tough. When I said that there’s intense religious persecution in the film, the scenes where it’s nothing but torture and pain onscreen make for the most captivating parts of the film. ‘Silence’ has moments where it feels like the next potential classic, but its shortcomings keep it from ever reaching the point of a “masterpiece film.”

Noah’s Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Born To Be Blue

Year: 2015
Director: Robert Budreau
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Carmen Ejogo, Callum Keith Rennie
Written by Rhys Wortham

Usually I avoid all things that say “Based on a True Story”, because in my opinion, 90% of the time they’re devoid of anything “true” in favour of an over-dramatised telling of the events. So when I was tasked to review ‘Born to be Blue’, I was hesitant. After watching it, and subsequently reading a little bit more about Chet Baker, I can attest that it’s rather accurate, which makes for a pleasant surprise considering how biased people can be when telling a biography nowadays. However it does take the pacing of smooth jazz and seems to apply it rather well to this film – by that I mean it’s really slow and depressing.

Most films about the old school jazz industry are either filled with drugs, or some kind of extreme struggle with the local district, that’s usually mob influenced. ‘Born to be Blue’ was a light blend of both, mixed with a lot of visualized internal struggles. At one point Chet Baker (Ethan Hawke) has his fingers and jaw broken, because he owes money to local drug dealers, which makes it difficult for him to play the trumpet for his jazz band. The recovery from this accident is rather slow and monotonous, which doesn’t make for the most interesting watch.

Half the time you’re watching him spit blood out his trumpet or struggle with his fingers, with multiple shots of this, and it’s very uncomfortable after a while. Eventually they introduce him to methadone, which is a substitute for heroin. This was rather drab, because there were only a few quick lines to explain how it made him feel, and then they quickly jumped to other subjects. It comes back up in the end only to be briefly revisited with little to no explanation as to why Chet decided to continue with the medication. This is a little puzzling to me because it does have a larger impact on his love life later in the film, and it is like he didn’t give it a second thought.

The subtle impact of the struggling relationship with his girlfriend hits home when its brought to the forefront by people that don’t approve of their mixed race relationship. While it’s a subplot that is anticlimactic, I’m kinda glad it didn’t go anywhere. If anyone knows anything about mixed race relations before the 1950s then most know that they don’t end well. There are a few conflicts with her parents, but most of the drama surrounds her struggle with trying to keep Chet clean, despite his access to other venues. It gives the impression that Chet isn’t too bright, but I’ll try to reserve my judgemenet.

The subtle nuances between a genius and his addiction are highlighted through the dialogue and light touches throughout the film. The scenery is beautiful and the social commentary of the time stays true to it’s origins. There’s a fair amount of times where the true origins of jazz shine through in the sorrowful dialogue. It’s entertaining in the end, but the relatively short 97 minute run time does feel like it drags on.

I’d recommend it to anyone who wants a look into reoccurring addiction and how it affects family, otherwise skip it!

Rhys’ rating: 6.5 out of 10

Manchester by the Sea

Year: 2017
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Casey Affleck, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams
Written by Gillian Finklea

The most surpassing thing about ‘Manchester By The Sea’ is how funny it is. It is branded as a proper drama, which it is, but the gritty and real humour seeps in at the most amusing times and makes it one of the funniest tragedies I’ve ever seen. 

Don’t get me wrong, ‘Manchester’ is tragic with a capital T. And an R, A, G, I, and C for that matter. At first look, the movie is about Casey Affleck’s character Lee Chandler losing his brother Joe (played by Kyle Chandler) and gaining custody of his nephew Patrick (newcomer Lucas Hedges). However there is an incident before that death even takes place which defines Affleck’s character and prevents him from moving back to his hometown and fully accepting guardianship. The incident is so tragic and profound I almost couldn’t process it as a viewer, much less understand how Affleck’s Lee could go on. Which is the point — he can’t. His inability to comprehend and move past this event defines his relationship with everyone who loves him. 

As Lee returns to his hometown the film becomes interspersed with flashbacks to happier times — the two brothers fishing with Patrick, Lee’s banter-filled marriage to Randi (Michelle Williams), and even trips to the hospital, as Joe Chandler learns he has a fatal heart condition, are filled with humour and warmth. The present-day scenes are more concerned with the sad side of things as Patrick tries to continue with a normal life after his dad’s death (complete with a band and two girlfriends). Everyone will be talking about Affleck’s tour-de-force performance but it is Hedges who has some of the movie’s sweeter and funnier moments. Your heart breaks every time his uncle tries to pawn him off because he can’t be his guardian. It sounds cruel but again, there’s a reason why Lee can’t care for Patrick, even if it is the time when Patrick needs looking after the most. Williams has probably less than 15 minutes screen time but completely steals the movie with a moving scene on the street with her ex-husband Lee. Affleck is great and I can see him winning an Oscar for his performance — although there are other factors at play here. 

Which bring us to Affleck’s sexual assault accusations. While I don’t want it to deter from the movie, which is great, they exist. Even if they are not being talked about as much as say, Nate Parker’s allegations. There are many reasons for this — Nate Parker’s allegations can be considered “more serious” since they actually went to a criminal court while Affleck’s were settled out of court. There’s also the obvious — Parker is a black man with no Hollywood clout. Affleck is a white man with powerful Hollywood allies. I mean, his brother is Batman. Also, they are two completely different movies and in my opinion, ‘Manchester’ is a just a better movie than ‘Birth of A Nation’.

For me, the allegations may be enough to change the conversations for Best Actor, but it should not affect the movie as a whole. This is Kenneth Lonergan’s movie through and through, Affleck is just (superbly) acting in it. But it’s Lonergans dialogue and images of the coldness by the sea (both literal and figurative) that makes the movie what it is. Lonergan has crafted these characters to seem so natural and dynamic that you can watch them do the most mundane things and you will want to be along for the ride. 

Manchester’ is the movie that makes you weep openly and then laugh out loud; an uplifting drama of the highest degree. 

Gillian’s rating: 8.1 out of 10

Fences

Year: 2017
Director: Denzel Washington
Starring: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson
Written by Sarah Buddery

The road to this film adaptation of August Wilson’s award-winning play has been an interesting one, with the concept for a big-screen version being touted around as early as 1987, with Eddie Murphy being considered for a role in it. Mercifully, that version was never green-lit, and within minutes of ‘Fences’ starting, you’ll be thanking all the gods that it is Denzel Washington starring instead of Eddie Murphy.

With the majority of the adult actors having already played these characters in the 2010 Broadway run, ‘Fences’ undoubtedly has the look and feel of a theatrical play, but these are actors who know and respect these characters so well that they could pretty much play them in their sleep. In many ways, ‘Fences’ is both helped and hindered by the fact that it was once a play. On the one hand, this medium means it never relents in its dramatic tension, and its dialogue-driven narrative really helps the characters to thrive. However, on the other hand, it is always evident that this story was intended to be a play, and a small part of you might wonder if it ever needed to be a film.

When analysing ‘Fences’ as a film though, it has to be applauded in its bold choices to maintain that feel of being a play, and it translates better than you might think. As director, Washington ensures that it is lacking in all cinema grandiose, keeping it remarkably grounded in its roots, resulting in a small, stifling, claustrophobic film which is so tightly wound, you’ll only remember to breathe when the credits start to roll.

The slow burn of tension, and the steady release of drama as the film progresses, feels consistently well-earned, and its bursts of revelations are like a bolt of lightening, steady but relentless gut-punches which will leave you a broken, exhausted and emotional wreck by the end. The trailer for ‘Fences’ was amongst the strongest I have seen in a long-time, giving enough of a hint about the type of drama it will throw at you, but really giving nothing away about the nature of the story, and despite its closed setting and distinctly “un-cinematic” feel, it is a pretty breathtaking film to watch, more than living up to the strength of the trailer.

Few actors are as consistent as Denzel Washington, who is continually able to elevate a film (no matter the quality of the film itself) with his acting ability. Fortunately though, ‘Fences’ is a film truly worthy of Washington’s talents, and he is absolutely mesmerising to watch in this. For thematic reasons which become evident as the film progresses, it is a film which centres around Washington’s character Troy, and he has some truly stunning big speeches and moments, for which Washington’s delivery and characterisation is perfect. It is a film built on the strength of its performances, and whilst Denzel Washington is incredible, Viola Davis is the star of the show, giving an absolute powerhouse of a performance. She is the matriarchal heart and soul of the film, whose gradual breakdown is utterly heartbreaking to watch. She is quite simply astounding, unafraid of letting her emotions drive her performance, bold in her choices, and she deserves all of the awards heaped upon her.

Whilst there is that overriding sense of the fact you are watching a play on the big-screen, the strength of the performances means this isn’t too much of a hindrance, and if a character-driven, dialogue-reliant film is right up your street, then ‘Fences’ will be the film for you. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis’ performances alone make this worth a watch, but it really is quite stunning – a stripped back, no-holds-barred, emotional rollercoaster that will stay with you long after the credits roll.

Sarah’s rating: 8.5 out of 10

Hidden Figures

Year: 2017
Director: Theodore Melfi
Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst
Written by Fiona Underhill

 

‘Hidden Figures’ is doing very, very well in America. Despite stiff competition from ‘Rogue One’ and ‘La La Land’, people are turning out in great numbers for the plucky little film that could. This is despite being almost totally ignored by awards season thus far (except for the crushingly embarrassing and frankly racist ‘Hidden Fences’ gaff at the Golden Globes). So, does it deserve to be the Number One movie in the US? The answer is a resounding, YES.

The film covers the astonishing story that in the early 1960s, when the space-race between the USSR and USA was at its peak, some of the most brilliant mathematical, technical and engineering minds behind the NASA space missions were African-American women. This coincides with the beginnings of the civil rights movement, where some states including Virginia (where the Langley Research Centre is based) were still segregated. ‘Hidden Figures’ focuses on three of these women: Katherine (Taraji Henson), Dorothy (Octavia Spencer) and Mary (Janelle Monáe), who start off as “computers” – which was a word for a person before it became a word for a machine. They work in a segregated cabin at the back of NASA, crunching numbers. Dorothy is performing the role of supervisor, despite not being given the title or pay to reflect this. Mary is promoted to the engineering department, but realises there are many barriers in the way of her becoming an actual engineer – the only way she can get the qualifications she needs is by attending courses at an all-white High School. Katherine is promoted into NASA’s inner-sanctum, working on the vital calculations needed to ensure the rockets can take off and land without killing the astronauts on board. Dorothy hears that something called an IBM is arriving at NASA and quickly realises that it may replace all of the human computers. So, she promptly teaches herself coding and learns how to operate this new-fangled machine.

The three central actors are exceptional, particularly Henson, who is the vulnerable human centre of the story, in a role starkly contrasting Cookie in Empire. Monáe, who is the ‘star of the moment’, plays the more out-going, out-spoken role, but it is Katherine who achieves the important break-throughs in the workplace. The supporting actors include the currently ubiquitous Mahershala Ali (‘Luke Cage’, ‘Moonlight’) as Katherine’s suitor and Kevin Costner as the director of the Space Task Group, proving that 1960s Costner is the only tolerable Costner. Jim Parsons also features (being admirably un-Sheldon-like, despite playing a maths/science geek) and Kirsten Dunst, playing a small role and unlikeable character – a surprising choice for such a big name.

My only minor grumble with the story is that we only see a tiny section at the very start, showing Katherine as a child maths prodigy. We don’t get any background on Dorothy or Mary or found out how they came to work for NASA in the first place, albeit in lowly roles to begin with. I wanted to know everything about these women and how they must have defied stereotypes and exceeded expectations at every stage of their lives to end up in the positions they did. The film culminates with the characters anxiously watching John Glenn achieve orbit (the fist time for an American) and manages to eek tension out of it, despite real life being a spoiler. It does bring home the fact that a human being was effectively shot into space in a tin can, with such basic technology and communication to bring him home.

Of course, this film has massive feel-good factor. It is incredibly heart-warming and is truly a family film that will appeal to multiple generations. It is equally an important educational film, as I have heard many Americans (of different races) crying out on Twitter “why did I not know this story? Why has it taken a movie to bring this to light?”. After last year’s “Oscars So White” furore, the Academy really should be spoiled for choice this year, with ‘Moonlight’, ‘Fences’, ‘American Honey’, ’13th’, ‘Lion’, ‘A United Kingdom’, ‘Loving’, and ‘Hidden Figures’ to choose a diverse ray of talent from. However, BAFTA has ignored some of these and the Globes frustratingly seemed to find people pitting ‘La La Land’ against ‘Moonlight’, as if it is an either/or choice. Hopefully the Academy will represent diversity through all of the categories this year, but that of course, remains to be seen. It would be a shame if ‘Hidden Figures’ were completely over-looked because it deserves to have a light shined on it. But, the fact that it is doing so well in the US is certainly encouraging, as this is a story that everyone should know about. Go see it!

Fiona’s rating: 8.5 out of 10