Why Him?

Year: 2016
Director: John Hamburg
Starring: Zoey Deutch, James Franco, Bryan Cranston, Tangie Ambrose
Written by Patrick Alexander

Picture the scene – you’ve met the love of your life, he’s sweet, charming, and does well for himself, and believe it or not, you two are a perfect match! But there’s a catch – you don’t know if Daddy’s going to like him. Oh no, he’s nothing like your father; they have nothing in common; and Daddy hates him! Sound familiar? 16 years ago, a little picture starring a young Ben Stiller hit theaters. ‘Why Him?’ is a faster, more technologically advanced, and racier version of ‘Meet the Parents’. For a more evolved culture, ‘Why Him?’ is a natural modernization of the Stiller hit – a relevant redux of the tired father vs. fiancé formula.

Stephanie Fleming (Zoey Deutch) is a Daddy’s girl, the daughter of Detroit printing press “mogul” Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston). Stephanie has met a guy, who happens to be tech billionaire playboy Laird Mayhew (James Franco). When Stephanie brings the family out to California for Christmas at Laird’s mansion to meet her new beau, all hell breaks loose as Laird’s free spirit and lavish lifestyle rub Ned the wrong way. From freely exploring all the uses for various curse words, proudly displaying his racy tats, digging his “octopus tentacles” into the rest of the family, and generally being a bad influence on young Scotty Fleming (Griffin Gluck), Laird creates the worst first impression on Stephanie’s conservative, protective dad. Until he ultimately comes around like they always do.

Where ‘Why Him?’ succeeds is in its grandiose nature. The extreme affluence of tech’s nouveau riche personified through in-house, ‘Top-Chef’-winning personal cooks, new-tech Japanese toilets, and exotic pets. The hearty laughs run hand in hand with high class, romantic notions of greater wealth and prosperity. ‘Why Him?’ helps you lust for the good life with all its sweet treats and amenities.

However, ‘Why Him?’ relies heavily on fatigued tropes of trying to win your future in-laws favor and introducing the one you love to family. It’s been done before and it’s been done better. Whereas Gaylord Focker (Stiller in ‘Meet the Parents’) was a nice guy in plain clothes, Laird Mayhew is nice guy under decades worth of emotional baggage. ‘Why Him?’ tries to make too many small statements on getting to know the real person behind the tattoos that drag away from the aesthetic. ‘Why Him?’ is supposed to be a comedy not a thinly veiled social commentary.

From the superb Keegan-Michael Key performance as Gustav, Laird’s estate manager, to the fun cameos from Elon Musk, Gene Simmons, and Peter Criss, there is a lot to be entertained by in ‘Why Him?’ The laughs come cheap and fast in the manner that comedy films have trended towards recently (see: ‘Office Christmas Party’ and ‘Keanu’). The spectacle adds to every moment, but in the end, ‘Why Him?’ is a run back version of a slew of films you’ve seen before. The dad comes around, the guy gets the girl, and they all live happily ever after. Isn’t that how its supposed to be?

Patrick’s rating: 6.2 out of 10
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Don’t Think Twice

Year: 2016
Director: Mike Birbiglia
Starring: Mike Birbiglia, Gillian Jacobs, Kate Micucci, Tami Sagher, Keegan-Michael Key
Written by Rhys Wortham

Movies about comedians tend to be one of two things; tragic or just plain weird. ‘Funny People’ extrapolated on the unfunny characteristics of comedians personal flaws, some of which get pretty dark and unsettling. ‘Man on the Moon’ looked into the very awkward and thorny experience that was Mr Andy Kaufman. Neither were really about “comedy”, but rather the depressing existence that is a comedians life.

‘Don’t Think Twice’ is a movie about a group of improv comedians trying to make it in New York City. It seems like everyone’s main goal is to get on some television show called “Weekend Live.” I was keen to watch this because it seemed like it wasn’t going to be as dark as some of the films mentioned previously, and I was pleasantly surprised how heart warming this film handled everything.

This films is pretty much what a comedy drama should look like. It gathers very serious topics in all the characters lives and lists how the problems impact their lives, and their friends lives. Between scenes, the characters develop enough to show how they deal with the problems, regardless if they are healthy decisions or not, and a lot of this revolves around comedy and how they use it as a coping tool with their struggles. Some of the more morose points were where the group would try to help their friend get his mind off of his father who was severely injured by a motorcycle crash, and whilst some of the jokes were in poor taste it was a good insight on how they tried to keep high spirits in very dire circumstances.

This film is best looked at as a decent commentary of how some comedians don’t want to do other things with their career. Like Mitch Hedberg once complained that it seemed like Hollywood wasn’t satisfied with him working himself to death in order to be a standup comedian and insisted he tried other things. This can easily be seen in the characters and their fear of change. Samantha (Gillian Jacobs) repeats this often because she fears she wouldn’t be good enough for the larger jobs like network tv and takes comfort in her stand-up job.

There were only a few flaws with this film. Some of the shots were simple, but I think in some areas they took away from the impact of the scene rather then enhancing the emotion of the moment. A few involved the characters eating at a café, and I don’t know if the natural lighting from outside was interfering from the stage lights, but often there was a massive light on the characters and when it switched places it seemed like there wasn’t any shadow cast by the actors at all or it shifted. The camera was suppose to take the view of a outsider looking in, but lighting doesn’t change that drastically when moving over a few steps. Other than that it was very minor things; the sound track was mellow and a few scenes where the actors probably needed to be a little more intense, they didn’t quite get there.

This warm piece dissolves into a positive note. The collective group develops enough to be a enjoyable bunch and most are either relatable or even endearing. They have their flaw, they jump down each others throats, and still manage to put it all behind them in the end. While dealing with their own personal problems, financial, and career problems it balanced it enough to tell everyone’s story. It does have its flaws, but they are minor and I was able to ignore them amongst all the laughs. If you get a chance to see this please do.

Rhys’ Rating: 7.5 out of 10

 

Assassin’s Creed

Year: 2017
Director: Justin Kurzel
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson
Written by Noah Jackson

There is a curse running amok in Hollywood, and it has made every video game based movie to come out of their suck, ever since the first dawn of these movies, including titles like ‘Super Mario Bros.’ and the ‘Resident Evil’ franchise that ends in 2017, thankfully.

But 2016 was supposed to be different. It started at the beginning of what was a terrible summer for blockbusters, with Duncan Jones’s ‘Warcraft’, which despite everyone’s high hopes, not only was a bad movie, but also didn’t succeed much in domestic box office. It lacked interesting characters, interesting storylines, and was overall a mess of a boring film.

Arriving at the start of 2017, we now have ‘Assassin’s Creed’, starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, and Jeremy Irons. The hopes were high for this as Michael Fassbender has established himself as one of the most respected big-budget actors as of late. Not only was there mainstream talent to sell tickets, but the director was one that interested me after his film ‘Macbeth’ which also starred Fassbender and Cotillard. The director, Justin Kurzel, showed great skill at handling the battle scenes in ‘Macbeth’ as well as imbuing it in dark shades of red, to give the whole film a bloody, scarred look. None of his skill in ‘Macbeth’ transferred over to this, and the curse still reigns over Hollywood and video game movies.

‘Assassin’s Creed’ is lacking in cohesive storytelling, a plot that makes sense, and it has a generic sense of urgency that they don’t ever really make up for. It’s another movie that was told to have a short run-time, incorporate a lot of CGI, and just be a cash grab for those who like the property it’s based on. As a result, the film has a ton of flaws, in every department. The biggest reasons being that the movie makes no sense as a story, the characters are wildly inconsistent, there’s no substance, the action is subpar, and it’s just really boring.

The story is complete nonsense. The basic premise is explained at least five times in the first 15 minutes, with this long war between Assassins and the Knights of Templar. The goal for the war is to get this device that supposedly controls humanity’s free will, and they want to use it to end violence, so they have a centuries-long war…to end violence…using a device…that controls free will. WHAT?! The machine that gets used to transport Michael Fassbender’s character into the past doesn’t make sense; supposedly, there’s some DNA that they have of his 500 years dead ancestor that they match Fassbender with in the machine. It’s a bunch of scientific jargon that is completely implausible. “Genetic memory” is what they call it, but that’s not at all how genetics works, and that’s not how memory works either – the whole thing makes no sense.

In the trailer, they reveal that they bring Michael Fassbender back from the dead, however they never even attempt to explain that. It gets worse when it’s revealed that everyone else in the facility has also been revived somehow, and some people have been like that “for 200 years” as one character says, even though he looks 40. But other people in the facility, who the audience knows has been “dead” for less than 200 years, has aged a lot. There’s just too much wrong from a logical standpoint to even call this “science fiction” – it’s just bad fiction!

The action is quick cuts and a lot of unnecessary CGI; what should’ve been long takes of running, jumping, martial arts, and people being assassins is unintelligible at times. There’s a lot of sequences that, again from a logical standpoint, don’t add up; if Michael Fassbender is supposed to be performing all of these actions in the laboratory of dead people while imitating his ancestor (WHAT?!), then where’s all the room for this in the laboratory? The way these scenes are edited don’t really know how to answer that question either.

My final major gripe is that too much is uninteresting. Every scene that takes place in this laboratory, where they say scientific stuff and do scientific stuff, is boring. There’s no character to be invested in, and their purpose in existing is super predictable, because everything is over-explained in the first 15 minutes. The performances are average because it doesn’t ever feel like anyone is trying. If they ever decide to do something like this again (and it is clear they’re trying to set up a franchise), they should listen to me on this…if they simply did an action/adventure film set in whatever ancient event, like the Spanish Inquisition (“no one expects the Spanish Inquisition”), and CUT OUT all the scientific scenes in between, it would at least be interesting throughout. The action scenes where it was the Assassins doing their thing were good. Unfortunately, they make up about 20 minutes out of 120.

Also unfortunately, they really chickened out and went for a 12a/PG-13 rating, so all of the action and intensity that could’ve been there was intentionally left out, with no effort to replace it. This cowardly ploy shows that the studios have no faith in letting a director make the film they have the potential of making. The same studio that made this also produced ‘Deadpool’, so they should’ve learned that R-rated movies make money when they’re done right. The games that ‘Assassin’s Creed’ is based on are rated M, for 17 and up, so dumbing it down for the 12+ market makes absolutely no sense. It shows that they have no understanding of how the public decides to see certain movies; the studios thought money would rain in on the name alone, but now that this movie is turning into a massive flop, maybe they’ll realize that it takes talent to make the money rain in. Or at least the foreign box office.

Noah’s Rating: 4 out of 10 

Passengers

Year: 2016
Director: Morten Tyldum
Starring: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne
Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

‘Passengers’ is a rare breed of a film, and in an era dominated by comic book films, remakes, reboots, prequels, and sequels, it comes along as an original sci-fi. Lately, we have been crying out for more original sci-fi films, and yet even when we get one, we get films like 2015’s much maligned ‘Jupiter Ascending’. This year, however, has been different – early in the year we had the excellent, underseen ‘Midnight Special’, and more recently we had the superb, possibly Oscar contender ‘Arrival’. Unfortunately, we also have ‘Passengers’, putting somewhat of a dent into that upswing.

‘Passengers’ is a strange film. On the drive home from the cinema, I was thinking how on earth I was going to write about it. Finally, I think I came up with a solution.

Film 1: ‘Passengers: The Survival Drama’ – ‘Passengers: The Survival Drama’ is the story of Jim Preston (Pratt). An enormous conglomerate, Homestead, has built an Earth, Homestead II, that needs populating and one of its starships, the Avalon, is transporting 5,000 passengers to Homestead II to start a new life. The Avalon’s 120 year voyage is interrupted and causes a malfunction, waking Jim from his cryo-sleep 90 years too soon. He is alone on a giant, cruise ship-style spaceship with only an android bartender (Sheen) to keep him company.

Pratt holds his own in this survival story akin to ‘Castaway’. He occupies his time using the ship’s many distractions, drinking with the Android, and trying to find out why he was woken up. The film follows Jim as he begins to lose his way and his mind, driven to breaking point when the crushing reality of his situation hits.

Passengers: The Survival Drama’ showcases Pratt’s under-utilised acting ability beyond the wise-cracker we have been used to thanks to ‘Jurassic World’ and ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’. He manages to subtly portray a man losing hope. A man out of options, out of ideas, with no escape. It’s a genuinely interesting drama set in a sci-fi world that I fully recommend.

Film 2: ‘Passengers: The Romance’ – I won’t get into the controversy surrounding this film as it delves into spoiler territory, but enter Jennifer Lawrence. ‘Passengers: The Romance’ sees two seemingly random people woken up from cryo-sleep on their 120 year voyage 89 years early, forced together to find a solution to their complicated situation. They problem solve, they enjoy themselves, they lose hope, they find hope, they fall in love. It’s a fairly stereotypical, clichéd love story about two people thrust together in a unique situation.

Chris Pratt portrays Jim, a man smitten with his new partner, Aurora, and yet so evidently hiding something, a hidden secret he entrusts the Android Bartender with. Aurora Lane (Lawrence) is a journalist, who is attractive. I only know this because Aurora says she is a journalist, and she is played by Jennifer Lawrence, an attractive actress. The character is empty, devoid of personality or depth, something which is equally the fault of the writer, and of Lawrence herself. When Lawrence is on screen, she would stand there, deliver her lines, and move on to the next scene. Where Pratt managed to show a potentially dark undercurrent to his normally charming, playful demeanour, Lawrence showed nothing of note that extended beyond her surface-level character, something of a missed opportunity for an Oscar-winning actress.

Passengers: The Romance’ has its moments, but it is largely aimless, and struggles to overcome Lawrence’s lacklustre performance.

Film 3: ‘Passengers: The Disaster Movie’ – ‘Passengers: The Disaster Movie’ stars Jim and Aurora as they wake up from their cryo-sleep to find they have woken up 88 years too soon, and must find a way to survive the slowly disintegrating and malfunctioning starship. ‘Passengers: The Disaster Movie’ delves into sci-fi jargon that involves finding lost data, nuclear reactors, meteorites, and trying to fix a hole.

Passengers: The Disaster Movie’ suffers from a lack of tension or genuine care for what’s going on. The stakes are never truly realised, the characters don’t seem to ever react appropriately to the situation (it’s life or death but it’s treated very casually, especially from Pratt), and it all descends into dumb moment after dumb moment that culminates in the dumbest of moments, that does that unforgivable thing of directly contradicting certain rules the film has previously established.

‘Passengers: The Disaster Movie‘ is visually impressive, but lacks the substance the best disaster movies require in order to truly engage its audience.

In summary, as previously mentioned, ‘Passengers’ is a strange film. Hopefully I managed to convey the problems I have with it, and indeed the problems the film has. It tries to be too many things at once, and in one of the weirdest traits I can remember seeing in a film, its lead characters are all the physical embodiment of the film’s 3 acts. Pratt does well with what he is given, despite his lacklustre final act, but Lawrence lets the film down with a real phoning-it-in performance. It is visually impressive and it has some interesting moments and scenes, but it leaves a lot to be desired.

Rhys’ Rating: 5.8 out of 10

Collateral Beauty

Year: 2016
Director: David Frankel
Starring: Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Michael Peña, Helen Mirren, Naomie Harris, Keira Knightley
Written by Noah Jackson

Once upon a time, in a composition/language class, we were studying fallacies of logic, in other words, things not to do in writing and argumentation. One of these fallacies was “overly sentimental appeals,” which basically means don’t take the sappy route in making an argument because there isn’t anything to argue about that’s constructive. Ladies and gentlemen, whoever wrote this steaming pile of garbage clearly needs to take that class.

Collateral Beauty’ stars 8 top-notch actors, including Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Michael Pen͂a, Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, Jacob Latimore, and Naomie Harris. These actors are talented and are indeed talented in this movie, however the movie has no idea how to respect their talent. Smith and Mirren are easily the best of the bunch, because they have actual characters to play and not just emotional set-ups designed to give the audience a reflexive, tear-jerking response. Every time Edward Norton was on screen, I wanted to scream, because he’s my favourite actor and I think he’s amazing, and what the hell was he doing in this movie? He plays a generic dude. Everyone plays a generic form of person. There’s no characterisation other than the aforementioned “overly sentimental appeals.” Giving someone cancer is not characterisation. Having someone walk around being moody and catatonic isn’t characterisation if there’s no comparison. And it’s not like the film couldn’t have included comparison because it’s only 97 minutes long, thankfully.

The plot for this movie is absolutely ridiculous. The trailer tells you that Will Smith is this broken person because he lost his child, and in self-healing, he writes three letters. The letters are to Love, Time, and Death, and then the next thing he knows, Love, Time, and Death respond to him personally and he goes on some soul search or something. And it’s around Christmas, and it’s in New York City, and there’s crying and drama and monologues with yelling about feelings and it looks like Oscar bait…BUT THAT’S NOT THE MOVIE!

Because the real movie (and this is not a spoiler because it gets revealed in the first 15 minutes) is about how Norton, Winslet, and Pen͂a (I don’t remember the character names and I saw the movie about 3 hours before writing this) want to convince the board of this company that they all work in that Will Smith is crazy and not capable of being in charge. So they hire actors to portray Love, Time, and Death to “respond” to his letters, and then they film him talking to these people, but in the footage they remove the “actors” to make him look crazy. And these guys do it out of so-called friendship or love or some bullshit, IT DOESN’T MATTER. The movie is bad! Don’t go see it! Unless you really like feeling like you got scammed, don’t see it!

The only positives I can say about this is that there’s clear competence displayed. The editing has good continuity, the actors are acting realistic, the direction is evenly paced, the cinematography is skyline shots of New York and bland dialogue scenes. Nothing is exceptional, nothing is above average. The script is absolutely horrible, starting with some stupid speech that Will Smith is giving and then immediately transitioning into him being sad and depressed with the next scene being his three “friends” explaining to the audience that his life was destroyed because his kid died. Not like the audience is smart enough to figure that out on our own. Everything is emotionally manipulative, with nothing really stemming from a place of organic interest, just sweeping violin music with actors crying on screen. A kid dies, someone has cancer, everyone’s sad, therefore audience is sad as well. Someone forgot to tell the production that generating emotion from an audience requires the audience be attached to something in the story. I don’t what I was supposed to attach to, but it sure wasn’t the characters.

In summation, the movie is Lifetime TV Original quality. I don’t know how these actors got involved. Maybe the studio wanted them all to opt out of their collective contracts. Maybe the script the actors got was different than the one read on screen. Maybe they had a death wish for their career. Either way, don’t blame these actors for being in this garbage. Blame the screenwriter. Go see another movie in theatres. I hear Rogue One is pretty damn good.

P.S. What does “Collateral Beauty” even mean? They never explain it in the movie, and it just comes off as some phrase that tries to be deep, but doesn’t know how. Which is very similar to this movie.

 Noah’s Rating: 3.0 out of 10  

Knight of Cups

Year: 2016
Director: Terrence Malik
Starring: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Antonion Banderas, Freida Pinto, Wes Bentley
Written by Fiona Underhill

Terrence Malik is going through an ultra productive period in recent years, with ‘Tree of Life’ (2011), ‘To the Wonder’ (2012) and now ‘Knight of Cups’. This is after famously having a twenty year gap between ‘Days of Heaven’ and ‘The Thin Red Line’. I loved ‘The Thin Red Line’, but tried ‘To The Wonder’ and gave up on it. Malik’s style is definitely polarising – all beautiful lingering shots with minimal dialogue and plot. I have deliberately avoided reviews before writing my own, but I’m guessing they will vary widely. I am as arty (and indeed, farty) as the next guy, but this style has stretched even me to my limits.

I also have a complex relationship with Christian Bale. ‘Empire of the Sun’ is my favourite film of all time and when I was young, I couldn’t wait to see what the adult Bale would accomplish. He showed promise in the 1990s with ‘Metroland’, ‘Velvet Goldmine’ and ‘American Psycho’. But then he achieved meteoric fame with ‘The Dark Knight’ Trilogy and although I am a fan of the latter two films (I have never made it through ‘Batman Begins’ awake), Bale is by far the weakest link in Nolan’s work for me. This is also when he appeared to go full ‘method’ – giving interviews in different accents and also when he had his famous ‘Terminator’ on-set meltdown. For every good performance (‘The Prestige’, ‘The Big Short’), there seems to be a bad one – I could not stand him in ‘The Fighter’. This has left me feeling crushed, wounded, betrayed and very wary about each new Bale film that comes along.

Ironically, Bale’s performance in ‘Knight of Cups’ is one of its strongest elements. He has to hold together this dreamscape of a film, meandering through beautiful scenery and locations with only a voice-over to give any context to the series of images we’re seeing. This film would be more appropriate for a modern art gallery than a cinema – it is a collection of stunning visuals, barely held together by any narrative or plot. It is loosely thematically linked by ‘characters’ from tarot – the ‘Knight of Cups’ being one. It also has allusions to the Bible – perhaps Jesus’ lost 40 days and 40 nights in the desert when he tries to find himself and avoid temptation from Satan. There are also similarities with the medieval morality play ‘Everyman’ and Bale’s Rick is clearly supposed to be the everyman at the centre of the ‘story’ – one clue being that he wears the same clothes throughout the film. The problem is that Rick’s trials, tribulations and temptations come in the form of a succession of increasingly attractive women. Two of these women are two of the most beautiful and best actresses of our generation – Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman. The fundamental problem is that it’s hard to feel sympathy or even care for a rich, white Hollywood writer who is being ‘tortured’ by stunning surroundings and stunning people.

A slightly more interesting side-note is Rick’s younger brother, played by Wes Bentley and his father, played by the phenomenal Brian Dennehy. ‘Knight of Cups’ picks up hugely when either of these characters are on screen, as it makes a change from Bale dancing around one of his gorgeous girlfriends. The film held my interest mainly because it is set in LA, which I have recently moved to and I enjoyed identifying the locations. It makes an interesting counter-point to ‘La La Land’, which I recently saw – with the Warner Bros lot vast and empty, rather than busy and colourful. Although Bale’s almost wordless performance was strong, the film would have worked better if it was entirely from his point-of-view, with the camera as his eyes. This may have made it easier to empathise with a character it is hard to feel for. The film meanders along and it seems as if the protagonist doesn’t learn, grow or change. His journey of self-discovery doesn’t really go anywhere. You are left feeling as if you’ve witnessed something beautiful but empty. Perhaps it is a critique of Hollywood after all.

 Fiona’s rating: 5.0 out of 10

Lion

Year: 2017
Director: Garth Davis
Starring: Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham, Rooney Mara, Sunny Pawar, Abhishek Bharate, Priyanka Bose
Written by Tom Sheffield

This week I was lucky enough to catch a showing of ‘Lion’, which is set for release on the 20th January 2017, and from the moment I watched the first trailer it had been a film I was eager to see. I’m a sucker for a film based on true events and this story is one I knew I had to watch!

‘Lion’ is the true story of Saroo, a five year old Indian boy who loses his brother one night at a train station, who then boards (and falls asleep on) an abandoned train that takes him thousands of kilometres away from his home village. After surviving for months on his own on the streets, and facing many difficult challenges, Saroo is adopted by an Australian couple and is flown to Australia to start his new life with them. 25 years later, Saroo becomes increasingly anxious about his real family and so he places his life on hold to try and discover where he comes from in the hope to return one day and find his mother, brother, and sister.

Before I comment on anything else, I think the biggest mention needs to go to young Sunny Pawar, who plays Saroo as a child. The first half of the film focuses on Saroo’s struggle to survive in Calcutta and whilst he doesn’t have all that much dialogue to go with all his screen-time, he really pulls at your heartstrings with his facial expressions and his performance. He completely has the audience in the palm of his hand every second he’s on screen and you find yourself worrying about this lost little boy from the very start of his traumatising journey.

Dev Patel plays Saroo when he is older, and he is an actor I’ve really enjoyed watching these past few years. He continues to improve, and delivers strong and emotional performances consistently. David Wenham and Nicole Kidman play the couple who adopt Saroo as a child, but it’s late on in the second act where their performances begin to really shine and their characters bare their souls and share their true feelings. During their earlier screen-time in the film it’s obvious their smiles and happiness are just a front for Saroo’s benefit, so when we finally see the real side to their characters, it’s incredibly emotional and eye opening, and there is one scene in particular that features Patel and Kidman that will definitely have you reaching for the tissues..

It was revealed this week that ‘Lion’ is nominated for 4 Golden Globe awards for best drama, Dev Patel is nominated for best performance by a supporting actor, Nicole Kidman is nominated for best performance by a supporting actress and finally, best original film score. The Golden Globe nominations this year will be a close one to call, but I would love for Dev Patel to win his nominated award because this was by far his best performance to date.

I would highly recommend witnessing this true story in the cinema when it’s released. It definitely has to be seen to be believed. What Saroo had to endure as a child is something no child should experience and despite the traumatizing and life changing experiences, he never gave up hope. The whole cast give emotional performances and will have your attention for the entirety of the film. You’re also going to want to stay seated when the credits begin to roll because there are photographs and videos of the real Saroo that will definitely require more tissues.

Tom’s rating: 7.9 out of 10

 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Year: 2016
Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Alan Tudyk, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen
Written by Sarah Buddery

There was a time when a new Star Wars film might fill you with dread rather than excitement, but in the capable hands of Disney and JJ Abrams, ‘The Force Awakens’ proved there was life within the franchise yet, and Episode VII turned out to be an overwhelming success. 

Making the bold decision to move away from the episodic story for the first time ever (look, I don’t count the Ewok movies), ‘Rogue One’ promised to expand on the Star Wars lore, and give us the story behind a paragraph in the opening crawl to ‘A New Hope’ which you may have very easily glossed over. Telling the story of just how the Rebels stole the plans for the Death Star, ‘Rogue One’ single-handedly manages to tick all of the Star Wars boxes, yet also comes across as something so fresh and exciting, recreating the feeling that you might have when watching one of the films from the original trilogy for the first time. Yes, ‘Rogue One’ is just as good as the films in the original trilogy, and yes, it is even better than ‘The Force Awakens’. 
‘Rogue One’ quite rightly feels like something set outside of the Star Wars universe – there’s no familiar opening crawl for starters – however it is still very much a part of it, both aesthetically and thematically. It looks and feels like Star Wars, yet also feels like something completely fresh and different. It is sometimes easy to forget you are watching a Star Wars film when watching ‘Rogue One’, however this is in no way a criticism. It combines elements you love from Star Wars, yet creates a film which could just as easily stand on its own as a really entertaining war movie; it’s neat, self-contained narrative only helps to serve this, yet it is undeniably and so intrinsically woven into the Star Wars universe that it is hard to ever imagine a time when this story didn’t exist, in the movie universe at least. ‘Rogue One’ really does finish minutes before ‘A New Hope’ kicks off and it’ll make the most amazing of double bills – go on, treat yourself. The closing moments of ‘Rogue One’ are utterly thrilling, and any doubts I had about the story not being compelling because we basically know how it’ll end, are quashed long before the credits roll. 

What Gareth Edwards has crafted here is utterly beautiful; it is arguably the most gorgeous looking Star Wars film, and the combat scenes and dogfights in particular are amongst the most spectacular you will ever see. The story never gets lost in the grandiose spectacle though, and there are some genuinely, really touching moments. 
The cast are on the whole really excellent, with Felicity Jones proving to be a badass and sympathetic heroine simultaneously. As expected, the star of the show is Vader – just try not to get chills when you see him for the first time! To spoil too much would be a crime, but I will just say that there is some incredible CGI work on some of the characters that will both blow your mind, and if you’re like me, make you weep with happiness as well. 
The trailers had me believe this would be a very serious and dark Star Wars movie, and whilst it is that as well, it still has the trademark humour we come to expect from the franchise, and my word is it entertaining. The two hours simply fly by and you’ll find yourself wanting to watch it again immediately the moment it’s over. I really only have one criticism of ‘Rogue One’, and again it’s not something I will spoil, but there is one moment of unashamed fan service that I think it could’ve done without. Granted, it’s not quite as brazen and in your face as the prequel trilogy was with its attempts at “fan service”, but it was a little bit too wink-wink towards the audience, and didn’t add much to the bigger picture. With so many amazing things about this film however, it was very easy to overlook this, and I don’t doubt that some people will absolutely adore this moment.
Many headlines were touting ‘Rogue One’ as the best Star Wars film since 1977, seemingly forgetting the masterpiece that is ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ in 1980, and whilst this claim may seem bold, it is very nearly correct; ‘Rogue One’ might not be the best Star Wars film since 1977, but it is the best Star Wars film since 1980. Believe the hype, ‘Rogue One’ is amazing! 
Sarah’s rating: 9.8 out of 10

Storks

Year: 2016
Director(s): Nicholas Stoller, Doug Sweetland 
Starring: Kelsey Grammar, Ty Burrell, Jennifer Aniston, Andy Samberg
Written by Andrew Garrison

I walked into ‘Storks’ with low expectations. I saw plenty of great animated films this year, including ‘Kung Fu Panda 3’, ‘Zootropolis’, ‘Finding Dory’, ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’, and ‘Moana’, but I was not looking forward to this film.  Not that it was terrible, but I was simply lacking excitement or interest towards it; I ended up seeing this movie because I was really bored and wanted to get out of my house for a couple of hours!  It didn’t hurt that Kelsey Grammar, Ty Burrell, Jennifer Aniston, Danny Trejo, Keegan-Michael Key, and Jordan Peele all lend their voices to the cast.  I went in expecting little less than mediocre, but came out pleasantly surprised.   

‘Storks’ is all about the fabled birds who once delivered babies to waiting parents.  After a long history of this, these storks rebranded and become a successful total package delivery company that shipped just about everything you can think of except babies.  When an unusual order for a baby comes in and one appears, the unlikely duo of the orphan human Tulip, and Junior, the best delivery Stork in the business, team up to get this last baby to its rightful home.

The movie is geared towards the younger audience which is to be expected with it being an animated comedy. However, this film sometimes goes to the lowest bar for humor, and really spoon-feeds it to the audience; I didn’t really care for that as a kid and I certainly am not a fan of it now. It was almost like the writers had a big fight about the kind of humor they were going to put into this movie and they compromised and added every kind you can imagine from slapstick to meta, and this doesn’t always work.

The movie lacks a little direction at times, it gets caught up in a variety of other stories coming together.  This fails because we don’t get to see the villain aspect as much as I would have liked. There is little conviction to that character, and as a result, the ending becomes muddled.

While the film has some flaws, it was also wildly entertaining.  While not all of the humor tends to hit its mark with older audiences, there is plenty that does. A film that caters not only to smallest of viewers, but also the adults; the best animated movies of today will do this and it was achieved here. Some of the jokes were very mature when discussing parenting and father and mother dynamics, and when they hit their mark, it was hilarious.

This is a very entertaining film. The backgrounds and characters are vibrant and engaging.   They may feel wooden at first, but as the story develops you see them fleshed out well.  The purpose of this film was to make people laugh and not try to be too heavy or morbid in any sense and it achieves this brilliantly. 

I really appreciated when the film does something unexpected. The director and writers could have mailed it in and followed a familiar path to finish the film in minimal effort. However, this movie chooses an alternative path and gains more heart and depth than I ever thought it could, and the ending adds some heart I didn’t expect from this film.

‘Storks’ is not the best animated film of this year, it has too many flaws for that, and it has been a very strong year for animation! However, it is fun, has plenty of humor and action with likeable characters.  If you have an eccentric sense of humor, love something absurd, or enjoy an animated movie that takes the road less travelled – all the while still finding a means to pull at your heartstrings – then ‘Storks’ is the film for you. 

Andrew’s rating: 7.1 out of 10

The Edge of Seventeen

Year: 2016
Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner, Kyra Sedgwick, Woodey Harrelson, Hayden Szeto
Written by Fiona Underhill

Teen films have a long and rich tradition, stretching back to the golden age of the John Hughes classics of the 1980s. However, I’m struggling to think of many good recent examples of the genre, apart from this year’s Dublin-set ‘Sing Street’. Therefore, it was a delight to discover this fresh voice to American high-school black-comedies, and from a female writer-director too. 

Hailee Steinfeld plays the classic trope of the social outcast protagonist, Nadine. Her misery at her lack of friends is compounded by the fact that her older brother, Darian (Blake Jenner – ‘Everybody Wants Some!’) is a perfect, popular jock and her father died suddenly when she was 13. Nadine clashes with her mother (it’s nice to see Kyra Sedgwick in a recent film role, as she’s from one of my favourite films – ‘Singles’) and seeks solace in an unsympathetic teacher (played by a hilarious Woody Harrelson), so all-in-all, her life sucks. The only saving grace for Nadine is her one-and-only friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), who remains loyal, despite Nadine’s indulgent self-loathing. Things take a turn for the even-worse though, when Krista hooks up with Darian one drunken night and they start a relationship. 

It’s probably my age and experience as a secondary school teacher, but I found myself empathising much more with Nadine’s mum and teacher than with the central character. Mr Brener (Harrelson) says the outrageous things out loud which many teachers are thinking and feeling (sometimes screaming) internally and he is gifted the film’s funniest lines. I also felt sympathy for Darian, struggling with his paternal role in trying to hold his family together. Of course, the film centres around Steinfeld’s performance as the titular seventeen year old in turmoil, making bad choices (inevitably going for the rebellious boy when a lovely one is throwing himself at her) and being as dramatic as possible at all times. Although she is, in many ways, a terrible person – we don’t hate her because we can hopefully all remember what it was like to be that self-involved teenager and also because she’s very funny. The only thing that grates on me with films where the protagonist is supposed to be a social reject, is it is slightly more unbelievable when they are played by a stunningly beautiful actress. 

It is nice to see a recent high-school movie which is set in the present day and although it has a retro feel because of Nadine’s idiosyncratic fashion choices, it is interesting to see a modern-day teen navigating the many pitfalls of mobile phones and Facebook. Not enough films, in any genre, are tackling contemporary themes such as this, in my opinion.

The film has a zingy script and fantastic performances from all of the acting talent involved. Still only 19, Steinfeld is now building on the promise of her Oscar-nominated turn in ‘True Grit’ and hopefully has a long and illustrious career ahead of her. Blake Jenner is also making some interesting choices, when he could have gone simply down the teen heart-throb route. The film has a nice artistic side-line (also a feature of ‘What If’ and ‘Diary of a Teenage Girl’), through the animation of Erwin (Hayden Szeto), who is possibly even more adorably socially awkward than Nadine.

I feel excited to have discovered a fresh female voice in film and hope this isn’t a one-off fluke from this writer-director. This is the type of film which could very easily slip under the radar in Oscar-season (I’m feeling overwhelmed by all of the films I need to see before the year is out), but it is definitely worth seeking out. You won’t regret it.

 Fiona’s rating: 8.5 out of 10

Office Christmas Party

Year: 2016
Director(s): Josh Gordon & Will Speck
Starring: Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, Jennifer Aniston, Kate McKinnon, Courtney B. Vance, Jillian Bell
Written by Tom Sheffield

As I mentioned in my ‘Bad Santa 2‘ review, I’m not really one for festive family films and cheesy Christmas messages, but show me a film about a wild office Christmas party, where (as the trailer shows) there will be Christmas tree jousting, snowmen busting some moves on the dance-floor and a brilliant looking cast, and my ticket is as good as booked!

When Clay Vanstone (T.J Miller) receives an out-of-the blue visit from his no-nonsense sister (Jennifer Aniston), who is the interim CEO of his late father’s business, he’s threatened with job cuts and even branch closure just days before Christmas. Josh (Jason Bateman), Tracey (Olivia Munn) and Clay believe a signed deal from a new potential client could save their jobs. Their idea to win over this important client is to throw the best Christmas party that he’s ever been to, despite Clay’s sister, Carol, making it very clear that a Christmas party is off the table. As so often happens with office Christmas parties, it quickly gets out of hands, and Clay’s attempts to cheer up his unmotivated employees results in poor decisions, drunken antics and of course, bare ass cheeks on the photocopying machine.

The cast assembled for this film alone gave me a good impression that it’d be a film I would enjoy. Bateman, Munn and Miller share most of the screen time, but where Miller is the fun boss that wants to be everyone’s friend, and also has the attention span of a toddler, Bateman and Munn are more professional and try to keep their Branch Manager grounded and focused, without being all that serious themselves. Which you’ll see when the party really starts! Kate McKinnon plays her role as HR working stiff, Mary, brilliantly and she’s definitely someone to keep your eye on throughout the film. Other notable mentions for actors to keep an eye on in this film are Jillian Bell, Rob Corddry, Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Karan Soni who all bring a little extra something when their characters are on screen. Jennifer Aniston played her role as uptight and work-focused sister/CEO brilliantly and whilst she may get less screen time than some of the other characters, she’s definitely one of my favourites in the film.

The film doesn’t take long to build up to the main event, but we’re given enough time beforehand to get an insight into the characters, their personalities, and what they’re like at work. As you can imagine, throw alcohol and up-beat remixes of Christmas songs into the equation and the employees come out of their shell.  The party itself takes up a good portion of the film, as you can imagine, but because there’s that much going on and the camera is never focused on the same character for too long, we get a good look at what everyone is up to, which most of the time is definitely something they shouldn’t be doing…

If you fancy a few festive laughs at the cinema this Christmas then I highly recommend going to watch this film. The film doesn’t delve into its sub-plots too deep and refrains from turning into a Christmas cheese fest, which more often than not Christmas comedies tend to do. With some catchy music on its soundtrack and plenty of verbal and visual jokes thrown in, this film makes for a great Christmas comedy that will surely get some laughs out of you.

Tom’s rating: 7.5 out of 10

 

Loving

Year: 2016
Director: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton, Will Dalton
Written by Andrew Garrison

I was excited for ‘Loving’, having first been introduced to writer and director Jeff Nichols with the movie ‘Mud’ starring Matthew McConaughey, a film which is a modern dramatic masterpiece. Earlier this year was ‘Midnight Special’, a unique science fiction film with several thought provoking ideas scattered throughout, about our world and the various philosophies and powers which guide us.

Loving’ is a film about Richard and Mildred Loving, a married couple who were targeted and arrested by the state of Virginia because they were interracial.  This is an ugly part of modern American history, and as a strong believer in equality for all men and women, a film which depicts the ignorance and hatred which once was fully endorsed by American society is troublesome.  However it also gives me hope, because we as a nation have made great strides in the proper direction and this is the story of that fight and that progress. This is a film about the fight for two people’s right to love one another and share that love openly.

There are a few negatives, which are to be expected in a character drama like this.  There is a lot of detail about the relationship of Richard and Mildred, some of course is absolutely necessary, however at times it did really drag.  As much as I support the message and the intention, the film does suffer with pacing issues.  I would say 15-20 minutes of the film could have been removed to make it more crisp, though making such cuts can be difficult to a filmmaker with a clear vision.

Aside from this, I enjoyed everything else about this movie. Ruth Negga was incredible as Mildred Loving, her variety of expressions, and slight facial movements were indicative and powerful. You could tell when she was broken, scared, worried, or filled with hope, and you could feel her strength in a time where she needed it most.  Ruth’s depiction of Mildred felt heroic. The fact that she was thrust into a situation she never asked for, but delivered something powerful for the whole world to see, is very inspiring.

Ruth may have stolen the show for me, but Joel Edgerton was also phenomenal. To some, his quiet demeanor may come off as irritating after some time, however, what can’t be questioned is the character’s love for his wife.  Negga and Edgerton’s chemistry made me believe that they were a loving couple who were enduring such heavy oppression; they were quiet, but also very strong.

What I find best about Jeff Nichols is that he seems to develop a strong repertoire with his actors and that allows them to shine brighter than they ever have before. The leads may be superb and possibly even award-winning level, but the entire cast right down to the youngest actors, were well structured and reliable. 

Nichols ability as a filmmaker to show a full range of emotion with limited words is excellent. When the characters do speak, they are saying something important.  The musical score is beautiful, the cinematography while not up to the grand nature of previous movies was still of sound quality.  The set designs and costumes were fitted to look like the 1950’s and early 1960’s with great care and detail.

Finally, the message of the movie is one of love and endurance against adversity, a thrilling idea in today’s testing times. While the film isn’t always pleasant for what it displays, it is important to never forget it.

Jeff Nichols has once again made an impacting film with outstanding lead actors, beautiful cinematography, and a valuable lesson about love and what we must sometimes endure to have justice. Nichols has proven himself in the upper echelon of master storytellers in modern film. He unearths a sometimes-forgotten dark time in American history to show us something beautiful and a future worth fighting for. It may not be the fastest paced movie of this year, but it is certainly among the more well made.

            Andrew’s rating: 7.7 out of 10