Moana

Year: 2016
Director(s): Ron Clements, Don Hall
Starring:  Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Jemaine Clement, Rachel House
Written by Gillian Finklea

Disney’s ‘Moana’ is another continuation in the series that I am now calling the “Wide-eyed princess with a purpose” series. Fellow princesses in this series include Merida in ‘Brave’, Rapunzel in ‘Tangled’, and Elsa and Anna in ‘Frozen’. ‘Moana’ is Disney at its purposeful princess best with catchy music, plenty of life-lessons, and gorgeous animation. 

Moana is the daughter of a chief on the Polynesian island of Motunui. She is, of course, laden with all the chief-daughter duties one would expect but because she is a precocious princess, she is not having any of it. Instead, she wants to explore beyond the reef and be out on the sea, going against the one rule she has — stay on the island and lead your people. However, when a darkness starts to affect the island’s ecosystem, Moana realizes she must find the demigod Maui who once stole the heart of the island goddess Te Fiti. Moana, with the encouragement of her grandmother, believes that by restoring the heart of Te Fiti the island will be healthy again. On the way Moana discovers her true self by learning the history of her people — they were once Polynesian voyagers who sailed the sea in search of new lands — a desire Moana knows only too well. Oh, and she will have to defeat a lava monster. If it sounds a little convoluted, that’s because it is, but it is told in a way that makes sense and harps on the main idea — be true to yourself. 

Like ‘Brave’, this princess story features no love interest. You could argue that Moana’s most interesting relationship is between her and the ocean. She’s a Disney princess with a common Disney princess goal in the beginning — to go beyond what she knows. Her goal then morphs into what I believe to be one of the more interesting paths a Disney princess has taken— to become a way-finder. A position once held by her people when they use to explore the ocean. Her other main relationship is with the demigod Maui, a self-obsessed trickster with a heart of gold who only wants to help and serve the people he watches over. Maui has a lot to atone for (he did steal the heart of the island) but also a lot to teach the young way-finder. Their relationship is neither patronizing nor full of nagging, and it turns out Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is just as charming in vocal form as he is on screen. 

The music has clearly been written with the help of Lin-Manuel Miranda and if that doesn’t mean anything to you then I guess you haven’t been swept up in the ‘Hamilton’ craze. It consists of lots of repeating melodies intertwined throughout different songs and the use of talk-singing/rapping. It works out great for The Rock’s solo song “You’re Welcome.” Jemaine Clement, of ‘Flight of the Conchords’ fame, also gets a great song about a crab who is obsessed with sparkly things. While there are no ‘Frozen’ like ballads that will top the charts for the next year (thank goodness!) the music is pleasant enough and you will leave the theater humming at least one song. 

If you can’t stand musicals I can honestly say there is still enough here to hold your attention; mainly the gorgeous animation. I’m sure I say this about every Disney movie but the animation just continues to get better. In ‘Moana’, it is specifically the water that impresses the audience. In the movie, the ocean is a living thing and the animation certainly reflects that; I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. 

At its heart ‘Moana’ is still a princess movie, complete with familiar elements like cute animal sidekicks and disapproving parents. However, there are enough new elements that save this movie from the mundane, such as a character getting a tattoo with the encouragement of the young princess and a history of Pacific Islanders that has never been told before. This is the movie you should take your family to see, to make everyone happy, as there is a little something for every one. In the words of Maui — you’re welcome. 

Gillian’s rating: 7.8 out of 10
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Bleed for This

Year: 2016
Director: Ben Younger
Starring: Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart, Katey Sagal
Written by Tom Sheffield

I know I normally moan about the amount of times I see the same trailer in front of a film at the cinema, but the ‘Bleed for This’ trailer was always one I enjoyed watching, no matter how many times I had seen it. The music in the trailer always had me tapping my feet and each time I saw it, I would find myself wanting to know more about the real story behind the film, which I had a good read-up on before my viewing.  

‘Bleed for This’ is a biographical boxing film that is based on the incredible career of 5 times world champion boxer Vinny Pazienza (played in the film by Miles Teller), who was in a near-fatal car accident that broke his neck in 1991. After being told by Doctors that he may never walk again, Vinny is determined to prove them wrong and get back in the ring. Vinny refuses spinal fusion surgery and instead opts for the ‘Halo’ which is a brace to support his neck that has to be screwed into his skull. Despite the threat of worsening his injuries, Vinny secretly starts to train himself again in his basement and later persuades his coach Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart) to get him fighting fit again, ready to get back in the ring and be the champion he knows he was born to be.

Miles Teller gave an incredible portrayal of Pazienza from start to finish, really capturing the boxers charm, humour and determination. In the scenes following the car accident we see a different side to Pazienza, a man who is down but by no means out, despite what everyone else around him thinks. During both the highs and the lows, Teller delivers in each and every scene, giving one of his best performances to date. Aaron Eckhart, who plays Kevin Rooney, is almost unrecognisable in this role. Rooney had previously trained Mike Tyson and then trained Pazienza both before and after the car accident. Eckhart’s character has his own demons to battle, but this doesn’t deter from the main story and it’s actually evident that Vinny’s recovery is helping Rooney deal with his alcohol problem, but that fact doesn’t steal the spotlight from the real story here. Eckhart played this role brilliantly, even throwing in some seriously smooth dance moves during one scene, and it was clear to see how conflicted his character was during Vinny’s recovery when asked to help him train again.

This extraordinary story was brilliantly written and directed by Ben Younger and I think the story had the perfect amount of pre and post-accident scenes that truly show Pazienza’s character, strength and heart during this trialling period of his life. The fight scenes were tense, well-choreographed and superbly shot, with an excellent and fitting soundtrack throughout. The soundtrack, which is currently playing in the background as I type this, is a perfect mixture of songs that fit the tone of the film and never feel out of place, with songs to match the different tones of the scenes they’re in. The real Vinny Pazienza was very much involved with the making of this film, meaning a lot of the dialogue and scenes were as accurate as could be, even down to a leopard print thong that Pazienza wore to a weigh-in that is shown at the beginning of the film. Knowing that fact made the film even more astonishing for me because the content and dialogue were as close to the real thing as we could get.

I can whole-heartily say this film beat my initial high expectations, which is down to the terrific performances from all involved in this film, and Younger’s direction and screenplay. Vinny Pazienza is truly a man with heart and determination and a source of motivation and inspiration to many people. Whilst at first you may find yourself questioning his actions and thinking he’s just stubborn for refusing to listen to everyone around him, you quickly begin to realise that Vinny’s relentlessness is actually admirable and inspirational.

Tom’s rating: 8.8 out of 10

 

Allied

Year: 2016
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Lizzy Caplan
Written by Noah Jackson

‘Allied’ features some of the best talent working today, with two great leads in the form of Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, and a legendary director in Robert Zemeckis, known for classics such as ‘Forrest Gump’, ‘Back to the Future’, and ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ The filmography of these three people alone is interesting and varied enough to make you want to see whatever film they collaborate on together.

The plot of ‘Allied’ follows two spies who meet in World War II going through a mission together where they pretend to be in love, but after the mission they no longer pretend and get married. When an intelligence tip from London comes through telling one member of this happy union that their spouse may be a German spy, the paranoia starts to seep in, and we have a movie.

To be blunt, I was not the biggest fan of ‘Allied’. The writer of this film, Steven Knight, is someone whose scripts I find dull. He creates amazing concepts for plots, and then fills them with time-wasting and repetitive dialogue. That was my main issue with ‘Locke’, it’s why I couldn’t get into TV series ‘Peaky Blinders’, and it’s one the main reasons why I found ‘Allied’ to be underwhelming. The tension that should’ve been present throughout the entire story simply wasn’t there, and it’s from a mixture of bland performances, bland characterisation, semi-bland direction, and an overall mess of tone and pacing.

What is good in the film is the production design and character style. Much of what occurs and is seen on screen feels incredibly authentic, and it takes the form of the dialogue, the set design, the costuming, and the usage of subtle hints at the time-frame. I liked picking out the things that made the film feel as though it tried to be realistic with its WWII setting, from the sandbags everywhere to the music of Benny Goodman.

The performances are mediocre, however the standout by far is Marion Cotillard, who is amazing in everything I’ve seen her in. Supporting roles from character actors like Jared Harris, Simon McBurney, and Lizzy Caplan are all fairly replaceable. Any actor could’ve portrayed the supporting cast, and the majority of their purposes in the film from the script just seem so generic that I don’t know why they had such major parts in the first place. Brad Pitt lacked all the charisma that he’s known for in his work. His character as a spy is intended to be unreadable and mysterious, but Brad Pitt just looked bored. He is by no means awful, but from what we have seen in his past efforts, this is subpar.

For the direction of this film, I stand somewhere in between. Robert Zemeckis is talented without a doubt, but I think he was the wrong choice to make this movie. The script was plodding and slow, and when Zemeckis tried to match it with his direction, it became even slower. This is the director of movies that are fast and often filled with quick dialogue, from ‘Back to the Future’ to ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ This script doesn’t have any of the elements that make Zemeckis’s movies good. On the other hand, he does what he can with it. The shot composition is fascinating, with lots of good shots featuring mirrors and reflection. The action scenes are tense and suspenseful, but the main romantic story is devoid of the suspense that is needed. To further speak on the pacing, the first 45 minutes was intriguing, the next hour was boring and was basically the trailer expanded into an hour. There’s a good 10 minutes of action in that hour. And then the ending comes and it’s a rushed mess that makes the whole of the movie feel cheapened by how easy the resolution was.

Overall, the movie suffers because it tried to do much without knowing exactly what it wanted to be. It’s a WWII romance, action, suspense, drama with Brad Pitt. They did WWII correctly. I didn’t always buy the romance due to the chemistry not always being believable. The action is good, but there isn’t enough of it. There’s suspense layered throughout, but it never hits as high as it should. It’s slow and features a large amount of unnecessary dialogue with inconsequential characters, and runs out of gas long before the underwhelming finale. If it’s on TV one night with nothing else, it’s watchable, but it’s not worth spending money on. The film could’ve been a great addition to an already great list of WWII movies, instead, this one will be forgotten within the next year.

Noah’s Rating: 5.5 out of 10

Bad Santa 2

Year: 2016
Director: Mark Waters
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates, Tony Cox, Christina Hendricks, Brett Kelly, Ryan Hansen
Written by Tom Sheffield

We’re at that time of year again where almost every trailer preceding a film at the cinema is Christmas related. You know the ones, lovey dovey couples going to families houses for Christmas, and they usually have to resolve some sort of issue to ‘save’ Christmas. Personally, those films aren’t my thing and I am the epitome of the  Grinch when it comes to family festive films. Adult targeted Christmas comedies on the other hand are my idea of a festive cinema trip, such as last year’s Christmas favourite of mine ‘The Night Before’.

13 years after donning a Santa suit in the original ‘Bad Santa’, Billy Bob Thornton returns as the drunk and misanthropic Willie Stokes, who is roped into another Christmas-related robbery by his old accomplice, Marcus (Tony Cox), who betrayed him during their last robbery together. Willie discovers that the target is in fact a charity, and whilst he seems hesitant at first, it doesn’t take much persuading for him to agree to crack the safe. Willie later discovers he was followed to Chicago by Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly), who was the child in the first ‘Bad Santa’ film that looked up to Willie. Thurman is now 21 and still sees Willie as some sort of father he never had, despite Willie’s attempts to shake him loose, and will do anything to spend Christmas with the closest thing he has to a family.

The plot for this sequel is pretty much the same as it’s predecessor and it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table other than some up-to-date jokes, including a scene about ridiculous things children ask for at Christmas. It feels as if director Mark Waters, whose previous work includes ‘Mean Girls’ and ‘Mr Popper’s Penguins’, wanted the sequel to have a familiar feel to it and made the mistake of it feeling all too familiar and the film feels like a bit of a copy and paste job. Even the introduction of new side characters didn’t do anything to make this film feel fresh because we don’t see all that much of them and learn next-to-nothing about who they are.  I definitely feel like there was opportunity for the sequel to out-do the original in the beginning, but once the story kicked in it just slipped into the same old routine of occasional on the nose humour, sex jokes, and Willie’s drunken antics.

It was great to see both Billy Bob Thornton and Tony Cox return to play their characters because the sequel, much like the original, relies heavily on the humorous dialogue between Willie and Marcus as they express their hate for one another with foul-mouthed, non-politically correct, and abusive digs at one another, which if I’m honest is 95% of the humour in the film. Kathy Bates joins the sequel as Willie’s estranged mother, but this character feels like she was forced into the plot in an attempt to have a female character that’s heavily-involved in the story. In actuality if you took her out of the equation the film wouldn’t be be all that different.

Whilst it got a few laughs out of me in the cinema, I think it’s a film that will quickly be forgotten about. If rehashed Christmas films aren’t your thing then I would suggest giving this one a miss, however if like me you’re partial to some foul-mouthed Christmas comedy and you’ve got some time to kill, why not get a few laughs from Willie and Marcus’ wise-cracks at one another and just endure the tiresome plot.

Tom’s rating: 3.2 out of 10

Moonlight

Year: 2016
Director: Barry Jenkins
Starring: Ashton Sanders, Mahershala Ali, Shariff Earp, Duan Sanderson, Alex R. Hibbert, Janelle Monae, Naomie Harris
Written by Noah Jackson

Barry Jenkins’ ‘Moonlight’ burst onto the scene this awards season, grabbing everyone’s attention. Debuting in less than five screens, the film still broke the box office, meaning that not only was there mass attention coming out of festivals, but the wider release into 650 screens in the USA and the revenue that generated, means that the film has now reached a good portion of the public eye. The average Metascore stands at a whopping 99 out of 100, and the words “Best Picture” seem to be on people’s minds with regards to this movie. So with this review, I plan to not only say why this movie deserves the recognition in the box office, but why The Oscars need this movie in their thoughts come nomination time.

‘Moonlight’ is one of the more unique stories to come out of Hollywood this year. It centres around the life story of a young black man named Chiron, and the three main stages of his life – from his youth to his teenage years to his mid-20s. Chiron lives in a poor area of Miami, Florida, and the overarching theme surrounding his story is that of who he is versus who he wants to be. If you’ve seen the trailer, then it should be obvious what I’m referring to. If not, then either spoil it for yourself by watching the trailer or go see it blind (I think it’s more fun to see a movie blind).

Here’s why the movie deserves your money and all the profit from the box office. In all aspects of filmmaking, ‘Moonlight’ proves not only capability, but in some instances mastery, of the way films are supposed to move and feel. While watching this, there were scenes that felt real, like, I was standing in the room with the characters real. The atmosphere of the film is enticing, in that you want to learn more about Chiron, about the way he thinks, about his life. And every single performance in the movie helps in creating this vibrant tone. The actors and actresses involved were amazing, especially the child and teenage actors who play Chiron. There is not a single moment where I looked at an actor’s performance and thought it could’ve been better. The writing fleshes out each character so well, even if they only have one or two scenes. Going in, I could only name two actors in the movie. Coming out, I will remember a lot more.

The cinematography and direction in this movie are incredible as well. The movie never feels dull, and even when it slows down, the direction keeps the movement and grace of the film alive. Watching this felt like watching poetry in motion, it seemed like every frame had its purpose, every action had reason, there was nothing left out in the choices made to fully bring this material to life. There’s no grand, scenic shots like ‘The Revenant’ gave us, but the way the camera moves makes the film progress and makes the characters feel more alive. In terms of direction, the film is clearly (and astutely) split into three chapters, giving each a different sense of Chiron’s development. The themes and symbols used in the film make sense, given the story and some of its subjects. I personally enjoyed the middle chapter the most because I think it gave the more interesting moments out of every character; it acted as a tipping point in the film, and I loved the way it resolved.

Overall, ‘Moonlight’ is a must-see, and The Academy needs this film in its ranks. It’s original, unique, and has a range of diverse characters and concepts that have been sorely lacking from previous nomination lists of late. It’s not a film that panders to certain communities and should be an enjoyable experience for every mature film-goer (I emphasise mature, because some people at my screening found emotional moments funny when they are everything but funny). The film as a piece, serves as a great examination into black masculinity and how certain cultures value different things. It also serves as a great reflection on life and how certain experiences from our past shape our future. This was plain to see in the third act, with almost every scene taking place at night (under the moonlight, interestingly).

My only real flaws are the ending, and certain personal preferences. I think it ends too abruptly, but someone else could see it and think otherwise. I also had some grievances with certain character decisions, even though they made complete sense in the context of the story. All in all, it’s not as dynamic and entertaining as some other films out there, but the execution and raw beauty of the story make up for that. It’s not a perfect 10 for me, but it could easily be a 10 for you, and that is another reason why this is a must-see for everyone. I’m tipping (and hoping for) ‘Moonlight’ to be in the running for Best Picture come 2017.

Noah’s rating: 8.5 out of 10

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

Year: 2016
Director: David Yates
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Colin Farrell, Katherine Waterson, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Alison Sudol
Written by Sarah Buddery

After the recent news that ‘Fantastic Beasts’ was going to become a five film franchise, J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World shows absolutely no signs of stopping, and with returning ‘Harry Potter’ director David Yates, and a screenplay penned by the mastermind herself, ‘Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them’ was undoubtedly in good hands. The good news for Potter fans, is that ‘Fantastic Beasts’ certainly encapsulates all of the elements that made the ‘Harry Potter’ series so wonderful, and so popular, and whilst it is still very early days, it appears to be a series which will grow in strength and increase in quality as the films progress.

Whilst Hogwarts and Muggles are familiar terms to Potterheads, ‘Fantastic Beasts’ introduces us to the Wizarding World of New York and “No-Maj’s”, through the eyes of Magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). In this new setting, and with new characters to explore, is where ‘Fantastic Beasts’ is at it’s strongest, as it broadens the world we are so familiar with, opening up the scope for new stories and adventures, as well as exploring the lives of characters we are somewhat familiar with.

The ‘Harry Potter’ franchise succeeded in many ways because of the likeability of its characters, and ‘Fantastic Beasts’ certainly has this in abundance as well. Newt Scamander is instantly likeable as a character, charmingly foppish, and the wonderfully nuanced performance of Eddie Redmayne demonstrates this is a really perfect pairing of character and actor. Redmayne instantly feels like he belongs in this universe, which was essential for making it work. Katherine Waterson as Tina took a little longer to warm to, but she’s an interesting character who feels like she has a past just waiting to be explored in later films, which is great news for the future of the franchise. Dan Fogler provides wonderful comic relief as Jacob Kowalski, but there’s enough character development to ensure that this isn’t the only thing he is there to do.

The fantastic beasts of the title do not disappoint either, and there’s some wildly imaginative and varied creatures on offer. The special effects all round are also really good, and it is highly believable to imagine the real actors interacting with the computer generated critters. One of the strongest elements of ‘Fantastic Beasts’ is unquestionably the design; it really does look quite fantastic, and the aesthetics, set design and costumes are all absolutely spot-on. The world building is incredibly effective, and whilst it is very different to the ‘Harry Potter’ films, it stills feels like it is part of the same world, which is incredibly important.

Where the film stumbles slightly is in its overwhelming preoccupation with trying to set up the franchise, and as a result, the plot feels cluttered and messy. It jumps around quite a bit, and there’s some elements which could’ve been left out and saved for later films. It’s throwing so many different things at you, and sometimes lacks cohesion, but as a film which sets up the characters and the world, it is undeniably effective. It’s just a shame that it really feels like a segment of the story, and it’s not a film which will easily able to stand on it’s own. It’s also a slight concern how this story will be stretched across five films, but this is a judgement which needs to be reserved until the next few instalments.

Potter fans will absolutely not be disappointed with this film, and whilst it isn’t perfect, it’s still an entertaining watch, with enough magic to satisfy muggles and wizards alike. It’s a welcome return to the Wizarding World, and hopefully the start of even better things to come…

Sarah’s rating: 7.8 out of 10

Inferno

Year: 2016
Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Omar Sy, Irrfan Khan, Ben Foster
Written by Fiona Underhill

 

I have a confession. I have read all of Dan Brown’s books, even the ones that don’t feature Robert Langdon. Yes, they are my guilty pleasure, just as some may indulge in “chick-lit” occasionally, my little brain does need a rest from great works of literature from time to time. While, as the comedian Stewart Lee once pointed out, they do contain immense descriptions such as “the famous man looked at the red cup”, there is some entertainment to be drawn from them. Whilst the writing is simplistic and cringe-worthy at times, at least Dan Brown does go to some effort with locations and art history – what’s not to like about a tour of some of Florence’s great paintings in some gorgeous buildings? I like to think that at least some of his millions of readers have been inspired to travel, or find out more about the artists and works he describes (in such simple adjectives) and maybe they shouldn’t be judged for that? 

This is the third adaptation of the Langdon novels by Richie Cunningham-turned director Ron Howard, starring Tom Hanks as the “symbologist” – the academic in the tweed jacket with elbow patches, who is seemingly immune from stumbling into adventures taking him to exotic locations around the globe, ably assisted by a highly intelligent and beautiful woman half his age, who finds him irresistible. Of course the whole thing is ridiculous and made all the more hilarious by the casting of Hanks (he is no Harrison Ford) and in ‘Inferno’s’ case, Felicity Jones (soon to be seen in event-movie-of-the-year ‘Rogue One’). However, I cannot help but be swept along in the search for clues in Renaissance art, which always lead Langdon on an treasure hunt and race-against-time to avert some disaster. In this case, the disaster is a global one. 

Ben Foster plays Bertrand Zobrist, a billionaire who has decided that in order to save the planet from over-population, he will genetically engineer a plague that will cull the world’s people by half. This theme has been touched on a few times recently, most memorably in my favourite TV programme of the last few years – Channel Four’s ‘Utopia’. The problem is that it is very easy to side with the antagonist’s logical and rational arguments and find yourself rooting for the villain. 

The film does have a problem in that (like the book), it launches us straight into the plot at break-neck speed. Langdon is in mortal danger from the get-go, within minutes of the film’s opening, he is being shot at and on the run. Langdon is suffering from amnesia and this creates a disorientating experience as well, leaving the audience struggling to catch up with just what the heck is going on. I cannot imagine what it is like to see one of these Langdon films without having read the book first, but in ‘Inferno’s’ case, I can imagine it is confusing and frustrating. The film has to brush over the parts of Brown’s book which are actually worth your time – the art history – other than the scenes of characters painfully expositioning to each other, telling people onscreen what they already know. The film also sets up Irfan Khan’s character – who is very sinister and mysterious in the book, into a sort of comic foil – an odd decision in the adaptation.

OK – this may be a film that is designed to appeal to the masses, rather than the discerning cinephile, but usually I would still get some entertainment from a Tom Hanks/Ron Howard/Dan Brown film. Unfortunately, even by the relatively low bar of the previous two films, this one does fall short. This was only really worth my time for the whirlwind tour of Florence, Venice and Istanbul. It was also quite morbidly interesting to see Ben Foster turning up for his paycheck (when he appeared in the amazing Hell or High Water earlier in the year) and Felicity Jones visibly questioning her life-choices, when she has the year’s biggest film coming up. It was, however, refreshing that Langdon’s love-interest in this film was far more age-appropriate (I’m not talking about Jones) and it was quite sweet to see Hanks falling for a more mature lady, as he did in Hologram for the King. And the lovely girl really did have a nice face. I will still defend HANX to my dying breath, he can do no wrong for me and I still have a soft-spot for Ron Howard as well. But I guess if you can say that the book was better, in this of all cases, than this really wasn’t a very good film.

 Fiona’s rating: 5.5 out of 10

Sully

Year: 2016
Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney
Written by Fiona Underhill

It felt appropriate that the first film I saw at the cinema after moving from the UK to the US was a real-life story of an all-American hero, starring the all-American film star, Tom Hanks. I recently read an article accusing Hanks of wasting his talent on his choices of film since the Oscar-winning heyday of ‘Forrest Gump’; a statement I think is somewhat unfair. His three films this year alone (‘A Hologram for the King’, ‘Inferno’ and now ‘Sully’), have been diverse, if not exactly critic-friendly and let’s not forget that the excellent ‘Captain Phillips’ was only a couple of years ago as well. Two of his 2016 films have been directed by actors – Clint Eastwood in the case of ‘Sully’ – although I have to say Hanks was much more of a selling point to me than Eastwood for this film.

 I think few people will be going into this film unaware of the real-life events behind it – Captain ‘Sully’ Sullenberger successfully landed a plane that had both engines destroyed by a bird-strike on the freezing Hudson river in New York, saving all 155 people on board. Where this film seeks to find the majority of its drama though, is not from the events on board or even the immediate aftermath, but rather the investigation into Sully that took place afterwards. And that is where the major flaw of this film comes in – structure. Eastwood and writer Todd Komarnicki have chosen to show the events in such an odd order that you spend the whole film frustrated, internally crying out “just show us the crash!”

However, it is not until the final third of ‘Sully’ that we see the fateful journey. One of the most gripping aspects is watching the events from the point of view of the air-traffic controller – his panic unfolding as he watches the plane disappear. But instead, much of the time is spent watching Sully on the phone to his wife (the criminally under-used Laura Linney), having 9/11 inspired dreams/visions and having meetings with the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB are very much set up as the villains of the piece, questioning the actions of the heroic Sully. Sully is backed up by his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles – a slight role for a fairly major actor – Aaron Eckhart.

 The film is of course held together and completely driven by Hanks performance, doing his best vulnerable and humble hero, reminiscent of Captain Miller in ‘Saving Private Ryan’. Whether it will be enough for an Oscar nomination remains to be seen, but Sully does tick a lot of ‘Academy-bait’ boxes.

Hanks will always be able to lure me to the box office, with his humanity, humility and humour. Eastwood as director, on the other hand, must do better. This film is hampered by odd directorial choices, which left me frustrated and ultimately cringing (particularly the ending with the real-life Sully and the survivors, an all to common trope of biopic dramas). I expected sentimentality, of course, but that tipped me over the edge.

 As for cinema-going in the USA (from the point-of-view of a very recent ex-pat Brit)? I recommend the Milk Duds.

Fiona’s rating: 6.5 out of 10

 

Bad Milo

Year: 2013
Director: Jacob Vaughan
Starring: Ken Marino, Gillian Jacobs, Peter Stromare, Patrick Warburton
Written by Rhys Wortham

In the vast array of movies out there “sub-genres” usually don’t make for great movies. Take the comedy/horror sub-genre for a start. ‘Young Frankenstein’ is a great film, which shifts between the two but weighs heavily on the comedy side with little to no horror. ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ to me at least, makes no sense and isn’t a film I rate, but many would describe it as a comedy/horror movie. For all its ups and downs, it is a pretty diverse sub-genre, but where does our film in question ‘Bad Milo’ land? It’s hard to tell, but despite pitching itself in this sub-genre, it ends up being neither a comedy nor a horror movie.

‘Bad Milo’ is rife with all the blood, guts, and gore you’d expect from a horror movie, but sadly suffers from a measly story. It’s tonally all over the place as well; too dark to be funny, and has too many dumb moments to be a convincing horror movie. They do a poor job at introducing the titular character. Usually monsters have some kind of hidden reason behind them being the way they are or how they were created. With ‘Bad Milo’ its one quick scene in a therapists office which pretty much amounts to “things like Milo have always existed because reasons.” This didn’t sit well with me because it could have, and should have been explained in more depth, giving some kind of backstory like every other movie monster seems to receive. This is essential in building the characters reputation of being something to fear, and without this, it just didn’t work.

The actors I think get the short end of the stick with this movie. Ken Marino is known for doing obscure comedy, that is both off-beat and entertaining, and whilst we get to see a little of his dramatic side here, his character development is pretty rubbish. Gillian Jacobs is severely underutilized; she’s talented in most of the drama and comedy I’ve seen her in previously, yet she only gets about 20 minutes of screen-time in a movie that goes nowhere and doesn’t know what to do with her! Peter Stromare is great at being the oddball characters, and while he excels in this, his dialogue doesn’t do a whole lot for the plot. Patrick Warburton has a great talent for playing the straight man, however his character in this was so one-note, and easy to read that it left nothing interesting about the role.

The way the script under-utilizes characters is its major downfall. It’ll introduce important characters, either too early in the film or too late, and leave you with no reason to care about them. One good example is the Dad, sure it reveals a major plot point, but there’s no reason to care about him, and to some extent there isn’t a reason for the main character to care about him either! The film full of really brief scenes that basically have the characters complain about the past with little to no substance. Sometimes it amounts to ‘you treated me bad,’ and that’s about it.

The clue is in the name, but ‘Bad Milo’ is bad. Its rife with loose story telling, and full of too many subplots that go no where or don’t develop well. Many of the actors are under utilized, and even if you are a fan of any of them, you might still struggle to see the point to them being a part of this film. You could put anyone else in the role and people wouldn’t have noticed! Finally, as a comedy/horror movie there is very little comedy and the horror is really lackluster. Sure it’s super grotesque with plenty of blood and guts, but not much else. The only reason to watch this is for some intense gore, if you’re into that kind of thing, otherwise this is definitely one to skip! 

Rhys’ rating: 3.5 out of 10

Nocturnal Animals

Year: 2016
Director: Tom Ford
Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer
Written by Abbie Eales

It’s hard to believe that ‘Nocturnal Animals’ is only the second directorial outing for fashion designer Tom Ford, seemingly already establishing himself as somewhat of an auteur. Producing, directing and writing the screenplay, Ford’s ‘Nocturnal Animals’ is a dark, hallucinatory noir thriller which has already had a successful festival run, picking up the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival earlier this year.

Amy Adams is Susan, a rich LA art gallery owner with a magnificent house overlooking the glittering city, with an army of attentive staff and a handsome, successful husband, Walter (Armie Hammer). All is not well in Susan’s life however as she is finding herself increasingly dissatisfied with her life of material excess, and the absence of her travelling husband plays on her mind. As she wrestles with her own feelings of being trapped in a gilded cage, and battling with constant insomnia, a manuscript arrives at her door, from her ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). The book is entitled ‘Nocturnal Animals’ and has a letter accompanying it explaining that Edward would like Susan to be the first to read it, and has dedicated it to her. What follows is a masterful intertwining of Susan’s own struggles with her dissatisfaction, and insights into the book itself, interpreted through Susan’s own sleep-starved brain. The story that Edward presents to Susan is both violent and clearly a deeply personal tale of one night which changes a man’s life forever.

Falling somewhere between the nightmare worlds of David Lynch and the tangled thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock, ‘Nocturnal Animals’ manages to feel both timelessly classic and ultra modern all at once. The cinematography is beautiful, the production design is breath-taking and it just looks stunning, and boy, am I a sucker for a good-looking film!

The people  in Susan’s world are all beautiful too, all high-gloss, ultra-coiffed and in clothes that probably cost more than most of us make in a year. You can imagine everyone smells like lilies and cedarwood, as they waft through the glass corridors of their lives. Indeed marble and glass abound, with not one mote of dust present anywhere.

Meanwhile in the fictional world, which I’ll call Edward’s world, life is much harder. Set largely in the desert, Edward’s world is dry and dusty, filled with blood, sweat and tragedy. Cars are battered, people are fallible and life is cruel. From the opening sequence Ford makes a clear statement about the real value of art and materialism, with naked overweight women dancing with joyous gusto in front of a glittery backdrop (which we later discover is part of Susan’s latest exhibition) and this theme is followed up throughout the film with the two contrasting worlds.

The cast are all fantastic. Amy Adams is perfect in the role of the seemingly fragile Susan, Jake Gyllenhaal shows incredible range in his dual role, but for me the star turn was from Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Ray. Playing a suitably cartoonish fictional villain, as filtered through Susan’s fatigued mind, Taylor-Johnson’s Ray provides an insight into Edward and Susan’s perceptions of the world, and is both oddly charming and terrifying. Isla Fisher too is terrific in her short screen time in the story within the story.

The soundtrack too deserves a mention as Abel Korzeniowski’s (who also provided the soundtrack for Ford’s first film ‘A Single Man’) score echoes the sense of both classic film making and the ultra-modern, with swathes of orchestral melodrama reminiscent of Bernard Hermann’s scores for Alfred Hitchcock.  

While I was mesmerised by the psychological tension, beautiful visuals and grandious score it seems that ‘Nocturnal Animals’ won’t be for everyone, with two people walking out of the Friday night screening I attended, and another couple commenting as the credits rolled that they’d rather watch ‘Sausage Party’ again.

For my money though ‘Nocturnal Animals’ is a beautifully made, deeply affecting and tense exploration of the breakdown of a relationship, and is worth going to see in the cinema to enjoy those visuals and that soundtrack to best effect.

Abbie’s rating: 8.8 out of 10

Doctor Strange

Year: 2016
Director: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen, Benedict Wong
Written by Noah Jackson

‘Doctor Strange’ had the potential of being the best Marvel character we’ve seen on screen so far. He’s got the humor and arrogance that we love in Iron Man, the brute power that makes Thor and Hulk appealing, and even got the sense of duty and good looks to rival Captain America. The mythos and creativity associated with this character is endless, and this movie promised to give audiences a little bit of a stranger side to the MCU. Unfortunately, there’s always the mainstream audience to please, and for me, it shows up where and when the studio came in and said just that.

The first thing people want to know is if the movie is going to be fun. The answer is a resounding yes. The action scenes in this movie are astonishing, the characters each have great moments, there’s good jokes, and there’s bits that send chills down your spine. But is it the most fun Marvel movie out there? I don’t think so. I had more fun with ‘Civil War’on the MCU side of things and ‘Deadpool’ if we’re looking more broadly into Fox’s Marvel offerings.

What plagues ‘Doctor Strange’ in terms of negatives is that the story is incredibly undercooked. There’s noticeable cuts to what would’ve made the main character and his backstory so much more rich and interesting, and also to his training sequences. If anything, I wanted to see more Doctor Strange and more of him making that transition from antihero to hero. Instead, he just flips like a light switch, which was a little jarring. The pacing in this film is too fast. I turned to the people I saw it with and said that this movie was too short, which meant two things. One, it means I wanted more. Two, it shows that they clearly cut too much stuff out, because otherwise I would’ve gotten more!

Other big issues I have involve the villain and more of the character development (don’t worry, there’s still a whole positives section I’m getting to). For me, the villain wasn’t utilized enough. His backstory was cliché, like a lot of this movie, and his presence I didn’t feel was intense as it could’ve been. Much of what makes up the core of the plot of this movie is cliché. I could see where everything was going in advance, and though it didn’t bother me while watching it, I was hoping that when Marvel were making something as obviously weird as this premise, some risks were going to be taken. No risks were evident, other than the visuals.

Speaking of the visuals, I would argue that the VFX and the action scenes involving the twisting landscape and the defiance of gravity and time are some of the best made to date. The VFX absolutely make seeing this movie in the theater worth the price of admission. It’s a visual spectacle that earns every special effects award it gets nominated for. I would say that seeing this movie is warranted just on these effects alone. For other good things, I was impressed with the direction of the basic dialogue scenes. What hindered ‘Deadpool’ was the exposition and dialogue scenes felt bland and generally average in terms of execution. ‘Doctor Strange’ does have more style to it, and it’s more compelling. Scott Derrickson, an unknown director to me (he makes horror films that’s probably why), delivered a fun experience with this movie, if only there was more of it.

All of the performances are good, as is the Marvel standard; the casting is generally always excellent. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the physical aspect of being a superhero well, also bringing a lot of nuance and depth to the role. Tilda Swinton also had great subtleties added to her performance, where you can tell the duality of morals that she faces without her having to say it out loud. Supporting actors do well in their tropes of roles. Chiwetel Ejiofor seemed to be the popular favorite after the screening, and his character is definitely one of the more engaging ones. I wish he had some more backstory, but the runtime has to be under 2 hours, right Marvel? Rachel McAdams plays generic love interest, but she actually is a useful character rather than someone on the sideline. My biggest performance issue comes from the villain, Mads Mikkelsen’s character. I love this actor, and it was so disappointing to me to see him reduced to such a bland and vague character. I blame mostly the script, but it was a performance that didn’t bring much intensity to the role. As far as villains go, the power and threat factor are high, but he’s got almost no charisma, and it makes him hard to engage with.

In summation, I do recommend seeing it, and when they eventually make a sequel, I’ll be ready to see that too. The VFX are among the best to date, the character is really interesting, and the action is great fun. My grievances with the plot didn’t prevent me from having a good time while watching it, but it did have an effect on the overall quality of the actual movie as a whole. Who knows, we may get an “extended edition” that supposedly fixes everything I just griped about.

Noah’s rating: 6.5 out of 10

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Year: 2016
Director: Edward Zwick

Starring: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh
Written by Rhys Wortham

The action genre is filled with grizzly-voiced burly men who aren’t afraid to be violent in the name of peace. He might not seem fit that bill exactly, but Tom Cruise has slowly gone from being a multi-talented actor starring in a range of films, to being one of the main action/adventure talents. From the ongoing ‘Mission Impossible’ franchise, to the sci-fi action thriller ‘Edge of Tomorrow’, and even spoofing himself in action comedy ‘Tropic Thunder’, Cruise has shown great range in a variety of action movies. ‘Jack Reacher’ is the newest edition to his franchise building career and it’s satisfying enough for any action junkie.

Jack Reacher is basically a do-gooder, former military man who used to work with the US Army. He holds his own investigations, with some slightly unorthodox methods, and goes in to fix whatever is wrong. This routine is foiled when one of his coworkers gets framed for espionage. They eventually try to frame him for a number of things. They break out, he finds out he has a daughter, and then people try to kill them. All pretty standard stuff! 

This film is a bit of a mixed bag really. On the one hand it does an okay job with the main plot, revolving around illegal military arms deals in the middle east. The action scenes are frequent, fast paced, and mesh well with much of the dialogue and main plot. Then it tries to pick up a few subplots, like love interests for Reacher and trying to make him into a family man. Neither work when it’s very apparent that Reacher works best alone, and as all action movie clichés go, whoever tries to help out inevitably almost ends up getting killed and getting in the way a number of times. It eventually picks up another subplot with an ex-special forces person who ‘doesn’t come back from war’ and it absolutely isn’t interesting at all. Aside from the main plot, all of it is rushed and it doesn’t really develop any ideas that well.

‘Jack Reacher’ stretches the imagination a little thin sometimes by making him seem completely indestructible. Other times it seems he has more fighting experience then just about everyone, even though it seems they are supposed to be equally skilled as him. Sometimes it was like watching a bunch of red shirts from Star Trek trying to fight Iron Man in full battle armour. There were at least two scenes that would have killed the average human being which made it all seem pretty implausible. This hurt the narrative, as the story was highly, but then seeing super human feats of strength, stuck out like a sore thumb.

While this episode of Jack Reacher’s life isn’t for some it does have it’s entertaining moments. It had some of the best fist fights I’ve seen in a while. The mild family drama is slightly interesting, but only provided a filler between action scenes. Its very obvious that Reacher isn’t a family man, so I don’t know why they tried to force that subplot, and the crux of the story makes a slight downfall during the petty arguments. That aside, it’s undoubtedly flawed but makes for a fairly decent action film in amongst the mess! I’d suggest to at least check this out once.

Rhys’ rating: 6.0 out of 10