The Light Between Oceans

Year: 2016
Director: Derek Cianfrance

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz
Written by Tom Sheffield

In a year that has brought a fair amount of novels to the big screen, including ‘Girl on the Train’, ‘Room’ and ‘Me Before You’, it’s no surprise that New York Times bestseller ‘The Light Between Oceans’ would get the film treatment sooner or later. Whilst I haven’t read the book myself, I had heard quite a lot about it when the film was announced, and ever since the names Fassbender and Vikander were announced in the leading roles, I was sold. 

Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) is a war veteran who signs up to be a lightkeeper on an island off the coast of Australia. It’s not long into the story that we see Sherbourne fall for local girl, Isabel (Alicia Vikander) and they marry so she can live with him at the Lighthouse. After two heartbreaking miscarriages, Isabel has fears she’ll never be able to have a family, until one day Tom spots a rowboat washed up on the shore near the lighthouse and cries of a baby can be heard echoing from it. Tom and Isabel rescue the baby from the rowboat, which also has the baby’s dead father in it. Isabel begs Tom to let her bring up the child as their own, despite Tom wanting to report the incident as he is supposed to, by company and government regulations. Despite his rule-following nature, Tom wants to see his wife happy and they bring up the baby, Lucy, and bury her father’s body.  A couple of years later Tom and Isabel have Lucy christened and Tom discovers the identity of Lucy’s birth mother, who actually named her Grace. Tom, now racked with guilt and overcome with emotion, now faces a moral dilemma which will tear him apart emotionally and truly test his love for Isabel and Lucy.

Michael Fassbender’s character isn’t a very talkative person, he’s very closed off and I think due to his time in the army and his experiences, he struggles to communicate his feelings. Fassbender delivers an awards worthy performance, and despite the lack of dialogue he’s given, his eyes, body language and mannerisms are enough for the audience to know what his character is thinking at all times. His on-screen romance with Alicia Vikander seemed so effortless and real that you truly felt for the couple during the heartbreaking scenes of her miscarriages. Vikander also gave an awards worthy performance in this film. Her character goes through a lot of highs and devastating lows throughout the film and her deliverance of her lines and the portrayal of her emotions were truly heartbreaking and like Fassbender, during her dialogue-less scenes you could read her thoughts like a book by just looking into her eyes and reading her body language.

Throughout the film we are treated to some incredible aerial shots of the lighthouse and the island the couple live on, as well as some wide shot scenes that truly show the beauty of the locations where the crew filmed . The scenes are beautifully shot and really match the tone of the film, with some nice wide angles, and a lot of scenes shot at eye level, as if we were in the room with Tom and Isabel. The small town Isabel is from has a genuine 1920’s look and feel and it’s a real shame we weren’t shown some more of it during the few scenes that took place in it, as it seemed really authentic. 

As I mentioned, I haven’t read the book so unfortunately can’t comment on my thoughts on how it’s been adapted to screen. I will say that the plot and script were incredible, and normally this kind of film wouldn’t be my cup of tea, however it’s easily secured a place on my list of favourite films this year; no easy feat this late into the year since we’ve had some absolutely incredible films released so far. ‘The Light Between Oceans’ will nicely sit alongside ‘Macbeth’ on my list, which similarly featured an outstanding performance from Fassbender.

I would highly recommend watching ‘The Light Between Oceans’ for the incredible performances from Fassbender and Vikander, beautiful cinematography, and a morally challening plot that will keep you questioning what the characters will actually do, and perhaps what you would do. Whilst there are big jumps in the timeline of the film to keep the run-time at a decent length, the scenes still flow together nicely. The result is a well presented story of love and family, that is well worth a watch, and will undoubtedly see some recognition in awards season. 

Tom’s rating: 9.2 out of 10
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I am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House

Year: 2016
Director: Oz Perkins
Starring: Ruth Wilson, Paula Prentiss, Lucy Boynton
Written by Abbie Eales

Netflix Originals film output is almost as strong as its excellent TV output these days. From the award-winning Idris Elba helmed ‘Beasts of No Nation’ to the funny and touching ‘The Fundamentals of Caring’, Netflix films are becoming a force to be reckoned with (if only they would drop their obsession with Adam Sandler).

Their Halloween offering to the viewers, ‘I am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House’, thankfully keeps up this trend of high-quality entertainment. Written and directed by Osgood Perkins (son of actor Anthony, who gets a sly nod during the film), ‘IATPTTLITH’ (as no-one will call it) tells the tale of a young nurse, Lily (Ruth Wilson), who finds herself caring for an elderly horror writer, Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss). The two women remain largely alone in Blum’s isolated New England home, with no television and just the one telephone connecting them to the outside world. So far, so Stephen King. However within the opening monologue Lily reveals  that the house has seen previous deaths and that she won’t live to see her next birthday, which leaves us in a constant state of tension as we wonder what is going to happen to Lily over the next 90 minutes.

The film itself is one giant, elegant exercise in building tension. The narrative itself could be condensed to 2 sides of A4 paper, and very little happens. There is only one jump-scare, no gore and no terrifying demons. The end result however is a masterful and poetic exercise in making your skin crawl. Lingering shots of dark doorways become way more frightening than any CGI monster, and I found myself going to check my doors were all locked after the film finished. This is not a horror film for fans of the standard horror tropes, as it is much more measured in its scares.

It is hard to pin down when the film is set, although the lack of mobile phones, the nods to The Grateful Dead, and mentions of Blum’s books being a hit in the 60’s, all hint that this is possibly set in the early 80s. This sense of timelessness seems perfect, as the film  itself could be either an Edgar Allan Poe poem, John Carpenter film, or the more avant garde scares of Jonathan Glazer’s ‘Under the Skin’. Osgood Perkins clearly knows horror inside out, and it shows.

The success or failure of the film hinges entirely on the quality of the performance of our protagonist, who occupies about 90% of the screen time. Ruth Wilson puts in an amazing performance as scaredy-cat Lily, managing to balance being shy and naive, whilst giving some seriously creepy vibes in her voiceover. Paula Prentiss too is great in the few scenes she has, veering from illness-induced absence, to absolute and terrifying lucidity.

The soundtrack, or lack thereof, adds to the insidious scares, with the creaks and bangs of the old house adding to the sense that there is a malign presence within.

The ending was a little lacking, and seemed to be a bit of compromise after such an audacious exercise in stringing out tension, but overall ‘IATPTTLITH’ left me feeling unsettled and hiding under my covers, which surely is what good horror should do.

Abbie’s rating: 8 out of 10

The Girl on the Train

Year: 2016
Director: Tate Taylor
Starring: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Edgar Ramirez
Written by Abbie Eales

Paula Hawkin’s 2015 novel topped bestseller lists all over the world, and was highly visible on sun loungers and train carriages over that summer. Everyone was lapping up the complex, dark thriller, that interweaves the tales of 3 different women, as murderous events unfold in the houses alongside a London train track. It has us all asking the question, “who really killed Megan Hipwell, and what did the various narrators have to do with it?”

Tate Taylor’s film adaptation (with screenplay by ‘Secretary’ writer Erin Cressida Wilson) relocates the thriller from the compact grey back gardens of London, to the large, sprawling yards of outer New York. Straightaway this leads to questions about why some of these people are parading around in their underwear outdoors! The London setting makes sense of this, as we’re all so on top of each other we do tend to see everything, in New York however the only answer seems to be plain old exhibitionism.

Dowdy alcoholic divorcee Rachel, the first of our unreliable narrators, remains English and is played beautifully by Emily Blunt, while all the other characters become New Yorkers. Unfortunately even with a red nose and slightly ruffled hair, Emily Blunt’s version of dowdy alcoholism is most people’s stunningly gorgeous, so some belief has to be suspended here. Despite the fact we have to believe that Luke Evans would be repulsed at the thought of sleeping with her, Blunt’s mounting anger, confusion and desperation is convincing, and we do begin to wonder what happened on the night Megan Hipwell disappeared.

The final product was engaging for the most part, but felt more like a daytime soap opera than a big budget thriller, and the final act proved to be confusing. The plot is changed from a tightly woven “whodunnit” to a somewhat straggly why-did-these-people-marry-each-other story. The characters’ motivations somehow get completely lost in translation from the source material, with an ending which seemingly comes out of nowhere as a result of this. The dialogue seems to be an endless series of clumsy expositions, which feel stilted and unnatural. What should have been a taut thriller feels oddly exploitative instead, with none of the male characters coming out of the narrative well. The sex scenes, both real and of Rachel’s imagination, are both glossy and grubby, seeming to pander to the post-50 Shades audience.

Even the cinematography falls into the realms of the “blah”, with the muted greys of autumnal New York feeling like someone has put on a permanent Instagram filter, rather than a statement of artistic intent. The scenes which do work well are again linked to Emily Blunt, with woozy camera focus and tight framing adding to the sense that this is a woman who is out of control and has no interest in recovering that control.

‘The Girl on the Train’ is mildly entertaining, but too long, and ultimately as confused about its own motivations as the characters seem to be. Emily Blunt becomes the film’s saving grace, but leaves you struggling to remember if there were in fact any other actors on screen, or if there was much else to enjoy about this film. 

Abbie’s rating: 5.0 out of 10

Trolls

Year: 2016
Director(s): Mike Mitchell, Walt Dohrn
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Zoeey Deschanel, Justin Timberlake, Christine Baranski, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, James Corden
Written by Sarah Buddery

We’re living in an age now where a film can pretty much be made out of anything. There was the ‘Angry Birds Movie’ based on the popular app, and in the next few years we have an Emoji movie to look forward to, and of course the film adaptation of the game which has been crying out for a movie – Fruit Ninja. However before that, we’re going back a little further, with ‘Trolls’, which reinvents the popular hair-raising plastic toys that were all the rage in the 1990s.

It might not have been the film we were all calling for, but ‘Trolls’ is a movie which wears its cuteness and its zaniness proudly on its multi-coloured sleeves, and this is something which has to at least be commended. The opening voice-over isn’t lying when it says all the trolls do is hug, dance, and sing, as that is pretty much the entire plot. It is also worth noting that this is the type of film where there are characters which poop cupcakes and fart glitter. It is so zany, and so out there, that it is near impossible to not be at least a little bit charmed by it, and it is also worth remembering that we “adults” are absolutely not the target demographic for this movie, so expecting anything more than a fairly enjoyable hour and a half would be foolish.

‘Trolls’ isn’t a very good movie if you’re not a child, but it definitely isn’t the worst kids film I’ve seen, and it was a lot better than it really had any right to be. The story is very simplistic, but it is obnoxiously bright, colourful, toe-tapping, and so damn infectiously perky that it’s really difficult not to at least enjoy some of it. I’m not a fan of kids films which have an overuse of pop music as it always comes across like a distraction technique, as if to say “don’t worry about how terrible the film is folks, here’s a pop song”, but I was pleasantly surprised by the music used in this film. There’s the expected throwaway current pop tunes, but also some catchy and quirky original songs, and some uses of older songs from such varied artists as Lionel Richie, Simon & Garkunkel and Gorillaz that are truly inspired. There is a surprisingly lovely version of True Colours as well, which has a pretty neat visual sequence to go along with it.

Whilst I think the voice cast do an okay job (apart from James Corden, who is living proof that his voice is just as annoying as his face), they have a truly terrible script to work with in places. It’s incredibly cringey and the jokes seem really forced, but it’s also an odd combination of being a little bit too smart for kids, but far too dumb for the adults to appreciate. It’s pitched so solidly in the middle of these two groups that it is really difficult to see exactly who this is intended for. A kid’s film need to be aimed at kids, but it is always the case that the ones which have a decent storyline or clever nods to an older audience, which adults can appreciate and which end up having the widespread appeal. ‘Trolls’ just seems to exist somewhere in between, and I don’t doubt that people will enjoy this for all its surface level cute and cuddly hairiness, but beneath that, it ends up being rather redundant, which is a real shame.

‘Trolls’ was better than I thought it was going to be, but then again I was expecting an utter car crash. It’s very cute, the song and dance numbers are hit and miss but some work really well, and I guess somewhere underneath the glitter and pops of colour there is a nice message about happiness and loving each other. You won’t have a completely terrible time watching it, but you certainly won’t be in a rush to go out and revisit it. If you’re the parent of small children, I wish you luck as you have to listen to the soundtrack to this on repeat! But still, at least it might stop them listening to Frozen.

Sarah’s rating: 6.2 out of 10

Captain Fantastic

Year: 2016
Director: Matt Ross
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, Frank Langella, Ann Dowd
Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

‘Captain Fantastic’ had a storming festival season earlier this year, winning awards left, right and centre, but as with most indie films, it had a fairly limited release here in the UK. This is a huge shame for two reasons. Firstly, it didn’t get the commercial attention it so rightly deserved, and secondly, a high majority of the film-going public never managed to see it. ‘Captain Fantastic’ is not only a great film, it is absolutely one of the best films 2016 has to offer.

The film follows Ben (Mortensen) and his six children – Bodevan, Kielyr, Vespyr, Rellian, Zaja, and Nai – who live their life away from society in a North American forest. When disaster strikes the family as their mother passes away, Ben is reluctantly forced to re-assimilate his family back into society. They lived a sheltered life up until this point, away from all forms of contact with the outside world. Everything the children know (and they know a lot!) comes from reading huge amounts of literature. They have their routines, they have their roles in their day to day lives, and they adhere to them. In a cinema market populated by films about massively dysfunctional families, it’s a relief to say that The Fantastics (they are never given a surname, so I’m sticking with The Fantastics) are completely and entirely functional. They’re as functional as a cinema family can be. Relatively speaking, of course.

Where this film shines is with The Fantastics themselves. They are all characters that are as unique and confident in themselves as their names suggest. As you adapt yourself to the tone of the film (it is a little strange to begin with), you grow to learn who they all are individually. They all, to some extent, fill in your stereotypical family roles (the brainy one (Bodevan), the rebellious one (Rellian), the curious one (Nai)) but the six young actors they found for these roles are so effortlessly endearing, and able to give their characters their own personal touches. In an interview, I remember Matt Ross saying he often let The Fantastics improvise their own conversations as their characters; Ross instilled a great level of trust with his young, inexperienced actors and managed to draw some genuinely great performances from them.

As they travel down to New Mexico for their mother’s funeral, in their beautifully named bus, Steve, you have the film’s best scenes, ranging from funny to exciting to downright heart-breaking. The Fantastics are so unique in their ways that Ben has no qualms about swearing in front of his children and about speaking bluntly and honestly to them. This is wonderfully portrayed in a scene were the youngest, Nai, asks what sexual intercourse is and doesn’t receive your typical “birds and the bees” answer from Ben. Later, this scene gets one of my favourite joke pay offs I can remember seeing in a film, as Nai receives a gift for Noam Chomsky Day. You read that correctly, Noam Chomsky Day. This is the kind of film we’re working with. It’s weird, it’s odd, it’s off the wall, but it is frequently moving, and occasionally hilarious.

Of course, given a major plot device is the death of their mother, things soon take a turn away from the funny and heart-warming to the moving and sad. As they stay with their relatives having not seen them for around 10 years, there are culture clashes galore and it throws into question what Ben has been doing to his children while keeping them locked away from the outside world for so long. The culture clashes are often painful to watch; we know full well what to do in such situations, but these children do not. You form such a connection with these characters and embrace their quirks to such a degree that when placed in the real world, you as a viewer get the same culture shock that they do. Matt Ross has created an elegant combination of a family drama and a coming-of-age film for quite literally every character in the film. It’s a brilliantly written, clever script that knows when to be funny, when to be sad, when to be clever, and when to be painfully honest with its characters and indeed with us. It all boils down to the painful process of letting go.

I honestly cannot recommend this film enough. If you have seen ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ and are as big a fan of it as I am, you must see ‘Captain Fantastic’. The performances are brilliant from everyone, Mortensen once again convinces me that he is one of the finest actors around today, and several stars are born in the young cast playing the Fantastic children (Charlie Shotwell’s Nai is a particular stand-out). ‘Captain Fantastic’ is truly fantastic, and I mean fantastic in every sense of the word.

Rhys’ rating: 9.1 out of 10

La La Land

Year: 2017
Director: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone
Written by Sarah Buddery

Okay, this is the last you’ll hear of me being at London Film Festival (no promises), but I’ve certainly saved the best ’til last. Whilst I try not to make assumptions about a film prior to seeing it, it was very difficult not to be completely blown away by the artwork and first couple of trailers which surfaced for Damien Chazelle’s latest film ‘La La Land’. Chazelle’s directorial debut ‘Whiplash’ made waves with the festival crowd when it was shown at London Film Festival in 2014; a pulsating, raw, visceral, and incredibly well-executed thriller which made jazz drumming seem like the most terrifying thing on the planet. With the success of ‘Whiplash’, and the early signs hinting that Chazelle was going to strike gold twice, ‘La La Land’ pretty much already had its place penciled in on my top 10 movies of 2016 list.

After watching, not only has ‘La La Land’ found its place in my favourite films of 2016, it went straight in at number one, and is already knocking on the door of my all time favourite films list. If the previews got you excited for this film, then I can promise you, seeing the film in all its glory will knock your socks off. ‘La La Land’ is one of those rare, and exceptional movies, which hooks you right from the start; its sweeping opening song and dance number leaping and high-kicking its way through a congested Los Angeles highway, and straight into your heart.

What this film manages to pull off so well is achieving a modern look, with a classic feel. Everything about it feels timeless, the sort of film that you could take the plot from, put it in any era and it would still be a dazzling masterpiece. It feels like a film out of time, and whilst it is very much Chazelle’s love letter to old Hollywood, it still manages to be fresh, modern, endlessly innovative and effortlessly charming. It’s a film which will woo you, take you out to dinner, and then sweep you off your feet, as you fall increasingly more in love with it as every minute passes.

Whilst it is undoubtedly visually compelling and aurally intoxicating, it is anything but style over substance here. A lot of the substance comes from how exquisitely Chazelle is able to tell the story through the stand-out lead performances. It’s telling perhaps that there aren’t many characters which have notable speaking parts aside from the two leads, so really it all falls on Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Fortunately, they have a natural chemistry which is positively magnetic, and they’re one of the most perfect on-screen couples I’ve seen in a very long time. Individually they thrive as well; Stone delivers one of the most heartbreaking scenes of the entire year in her big solo number, and Gosling naturally exudes the charming, timeless, leading-man quality which makes him perfect for this role.

Chazelle has all the flair of a seasoned director, and it is incredible to think that this is only his second film. He makes his actors work hard, focusing closely on their faces and emotions, and brings vibrancy and life to the bigger, sweeping song and dance numbers. There’s a musicality to his direction, reminiscent of an orchestral conductor; effortlessly bringing together different elements and turning them into something truly beautiful with incredible ease.

I can really do nothing but gush about this film completely; ‘La La Land’ encompasses all the things I love about movies. It is a tribute to Hollywood, to romance, to stories which have the power to change you, to those emotions which stick around for days, weeks even (I’m still feeling incredibly moved by this film and it shows no signs of letting up). The closest feeling I can compare to the feeling I have towards this film is the feeling of being in love. It might sound strange, but I completely fell head over heels for this film, I want to do nothing but talk about it, and I get butterflies every time I think about it. ‘La La Land’ truly is a film for you to fall in love with, and I think it’ll be a very long and happy relationship. Oh, and yes, this is another 10 out of 10 – the festival which shall not be named really was a goldmine for perfect films, and none more so than ‘La La Land’.

Sarah’s rating: 10 out of 10

War on Everyone

Year: 2016
Director: John Michael McDonagh

Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Michael Peña, Theo James, Tessa Thompson
Written by Tom Sheffield

Since its release, ‘War on Everyone’ has been a very divisive film amongst its audience. Some claim that it’s offensive for the sake of being offensive, others are praising it for its dark buddy cop perspective and slapstick action. Whilst I did really enjoy my viewing of the film at the cinema, as I sat and reflected on it writing this, I found myself disliking it more and more.

‘War on Everyone’ follows two corrupt cops who abuse their authority to bribe and blackmail the criminals they should be locking up. Terry Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård) is a “punch first ask questions later” kind of guy who doesn’t really care about the consequences of his actions; probably due to the fact he spends a large portion of his days drinking.  Bob Bolaño (Michael Peña) is the more intellectual of the two, often spouting random facts and making situations humorous with his quick wit and philosophical views. The pair find themselves meeting their match when they try to steal money that Lord James Mangan (Theo James), a typical charming British businessman/villain, had stolen from his rivals.

John Michael McDonagh wrote and directed this film, but one of my main gripes with the plot is that it attempts to lure you into to caring about Skarsgård and Peña’s characters later on in the film, when in all honesty we couldn’t really care less. McDonagh tries to justify Monroe and Bolaño’s corrupt actions with good intentions, when in actual fact they’re really just scumbags like the mobsters they shake down and the petty criminals they bribe. James Mangan is a contender for one of the worst villains in a film this year. The play on stereotypical British businessman/villain/psychopath was a bore and he brought nothing new to the table. He also was the sole focus in a scene that seemed to last an eternity; basically it was just him walking down some stairs in excruciatingly slow motion. I was expecting something to come of this slow scene but alas, there was no pay off.

There’s a hell of a lot of ‘chasing the perp’ scenes, a couple of which feel like they last longer than they really need to, but nevertheless they are highly entertaining and one of the highlights of the entire film for me. The film really struggles to keep focus around about the halfway mark, with the pair finding themselves in Iceland to find an informant. Whilst the snowy mountain scenery and attractive village shots in Iceland offer a nice break from the bleak, bland and often desolate streets of New Mexico, it’s a big leap in the story, and if the film has already lost your attention at this point then there’s a high chance you won’t have a clue what the hell is going on.

The scene transitions and background music gave the film a 90’s buddy cop vibe, and it adopted a lot of the tropes seen in TV shows or films of this genre. In particular, there were a lot of scenes which involved the duo sitting in a cramped car. These scenes rely on Peña’s humour and wit to keep your eyes on the screen, and Skarsgård doesn’t really have much dialogue, in fact he doesn’t really bring much to the table at all in these scenes, he just drives the car. When you compare the film to the likes of ‘The Nice Guys’, which was released this year and has a similar vibe, ‘War on Everyone’ just doesn’t meet the same level of humour, action or character likeability. Whilst this film isn’t Skarsgård or Peña’s finest hour, I think a bad script and the wrong choice of director could be to blame for what could have otherwise been a genuinely great twist to the buddy cop genre.

Overall I think this is a watch once film and there’s nothing about it that would make me want to watch it again. Whilst it got a few laughs out of me in the cinema, I think if I watched it again it wouldn’t keep my attention and I would probably find myself turning it off before the second act.

Tom’s rating: 6.5 out of 10

Free Fire

Year: 2017
Director: Ben Wheatley
Starring: Brie Larson, Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, Jack Raynor, Sam Riley, Michael Smiley
Written by Sarah Buddery

As proven with his already impressive slate of films, British director Ben Wheatley has a unique, creative and wonderful vision. With a cast as impressive as this one, a proven knack for retro flair as demonstrated in 2016’s insanely brilliant ‘High-Rise’, and a singular location (which on paper seems more than a little Tarantino-esque), expectations were very high for this one. If you’re familiar with Wheatley’s previous films, this might prepare you a little for what is in store, but really, nothing can prepare you for the delightful absurdity that is ‘Free Fire’.

The plot revolves around an arms deal which takes place in a Boston warehouse in the late 1970s, and yes that is pretty much it. That’s not even me trying to be careful with the plot details for fear of revealing spoilers. Of course, there is far more to the film than just that, but the nuances of the plot and the story are not the key to this film, the key is just the incredible way it all unfolds, and let me tell you, it gets crazy.

This film is nothing short of genius, and it is absolutely a film which needs to be experienced on the biggest screen possible. It’s a rollercoaster ride of non-stop action, quips, blood, bullets, violence, laughs and it is all quite brilliant. ‘Free Fire’ packs an awful lot into its incredibly short 90 minute run-time, and it’s such a joy to watch that it feels like it passes by in a heartbeat. It’s a balls to the wall, fast and frenzied, pure bonafide masterpiece.

The way Wheatley weaves the various parts of the narrative together is incredible, and resembles something like an intricately choreographed dance routine. Everything feels deliberate, crucial and necessary, with each piece having a purpose, a place and a meaning. The way the pieces all fit together is incredibly tight and it rarely lets you stop for breath. Whilst the action is pretty relentless, it still somehow manages to make room for incredible character interactions woven throughout, and it’s one of those films you need to watch again in order to appreciate every single element. The film feels like a living, breathing organism, which is hard to convey in words, but there is constantly something happening. When there’s focus on a character in the foreground, there’ll still be a character in the background or a quiet line heard in the distance which will suddenly grab your attention. It’s a complete assault on the senses and is utterly exhilarating from start to finish.

‘Free Fire’ is incredibly grandiose, almost operatic in its execution, which when paired with the singular setting makes for an intensely dramatic, yet wildly entertaining piece of pure magic. The singular setting works so well, with every corner of the warehouse utilised, making it seem vast, sprawling, and epic. Whilst obvious comparisons could be made with Tarantino’s ‘Reservoir Dogs’, they are completely different beasts. Cues might be taken from Tarantino’s love of violence and over the top blood splatters, but Wheatley’s unique vision makes sure it stands as a film on its own merit. It’s like a Tarantino movie if someone actually sat him down and said “Look Quentin, let’s take this 3 hour movie and pack it all into 90 minutes, ok?”

Whilst I don’t doubt that ‘Free Fire’ will be in the conversation come awards season, it’s unlikely to be for the acting performances. Rather than being a reflection on the cast however, it’s really because through and through, ‘Free Fire’ is an ensemble piece. It really might be time to bring in that Best Ensemble Award, Academy. There’s no weak links whatsoever in this cast, and despite there being many characters, each has their part to play, each is important and has a reason to be there, and each has their moment to shine. Sharlto Copley shines ever so slightly brighter than the others; his wildly exaggerated South African accent provides endless laughs, and to spoil anything else that happens with this character would be a crime, but it is very satisfying.

With so many characters and different pieces at work, the emphasis is very much on the visual and the spectacle, but this is never to the film’s detriment. Detailed character development and an overly complex plot is not the name of the game here, but when a film is this ridiculously entertaining, this won’t even cross your mind. The sound design in this film was really exceptional as well, with a symphony of bullets and gunfire providing much of the soundtrack in the absence of a more conventional score. It’s loud, brazen, and in your face, and it bloody loves it!

I can just about accept that this film won’t be for everyone, and some might feel it is lacking something, but for me, ‘Free Fire’ is a masterpiece, and I don’t say that lightly. It’s full scale, all-out insanity, sheer unadulterated madness, with a steady build up of tension and character rapport before the bullets start raining, the bodies pile up, and the blood flows freely. And boy is it fun to watch it all unfold.

Sarah’s rating: 10 out of 10

The Accountant

Year: 2016
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Starring: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Cynthia Addai-Robinson
Written by Noah Jackson

Dear people who think Ben Affleck is still “Ben Afflicted”, think again. After proving himself as an interesting and accomplished director with movies like ‘The Town’, ‘Argo’, and ‘Gone Baby Gone’, further proving his acting chops in the first two of those mentioned, and giving an admirable Batman portrayal in the not particularly admirable ‘Batman v Superman’ movie, I can affirm the guy has talent. Seriously, ‘Gigli’ came out over a decade ago, he’s past that now! ‘The Accountant’ capitalizes on his proven success, transforming Ben Affleck into a charismatic and fascinating action hero.

Affleck plays the titular Accountant, and is joined by Anna Kendrick as the lead female, JK Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson as the Treasury agents trying to catch him, and Jon Bernthal as the crazy, violent, but lovable character every action movie seems to have! All of the standard characters and pieces are here, and almost every action movie trope is carried out, including a big shootout scene, which is really intense. The worst part about this movie is how cliché it can be at times, and the heavy exposition scenes. Not to mention that the big “twists” are predictable if you’ve seen any decent action film from the past two decades. However, the best part about this film is how it can be riddled with clichés, yet still manage to feel fresh and innovative at the same time.

The acting is good for the most part, and Ben Affleck stands out from the pack by a mile, giving a lot of depth and characterization to the autistic and introverted character he portrays. It’s impressive to watch how engaging he can be with the camera. Jon Bernthal is born to play these sort of crazy, loveable action roles; he proved it as The Punisher in the ‘Daredevil’ TV series, and now he’s going to hopefully get his own show where he can build on that. It’s nothing new, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As for the others actors, they were fairly. J.K. Simmons delivers lines, but not much more. He has one powerful scene, but it’s so full of exposition that his performance drowns in the abundance of dialogue. Anna Kendrick as the lead female, enters, gets in danger, then leaves. There were some characterizations given to her in the form of her dialogue, and her performance is noticeably heavily directed, as per whatever the script writes her to do. She doesn’t add subtlety to make the character seem relatable, she just feels like a movie character. There’s no doubt for me that some of that fault goes to the script, but good performances can make weak writing into great writing. This wasn’t a great performance from her.

This brings me to the script. It’s filled with subplots. Everything that’s a subplot could be a main plot in its own movie, this script is that dense. It was great getting to watch a studio film that felt like it actually respected the audience and their attention span, because the story was filled with lots of little scenes that just connected every dot. Some may see this as a flaw, which I understand, but I found it refreshing and enthralling. It’s nice knowing that there’s some audience respect out there in Hollywood studios. The script is also slow, and fair warning, the entire movie is slow. I enjoyed that the movie took about fifty minutes setting up everything that was going to be explained later. The director, Gavin O’Connor (“Warrior”), clearly shows that he wants to engage every aspect of his film to sync with one another, giving every important detail ample time to make its purpose known, and in the final act when the majority of the story arcs finish, it’s stimulating for the mind. The movie impressed me with how smart it was at times, even if there were tropes aplenty that were a little bit distracting.

Everything technical was done well. There were some scenes that seemed very poorly lit to me, and it was hard to tell what was going on. All of the action is visible however, and those scenes are intense. The score sounded good, the cinematography at times looked great, and the product placement wasn’t abhorrent like it is for most Hollywood blockbusters. Overall, I was entertained consistently, despite the slow pacing. I went in impartial, not reading any reviews beforehand, and I came out enjoying the experience of watching the movie. I think anyone who has some patience and likes action movies will enjoy this. The lead performance is great, and some of the story’s themes and the way that things play out really surprised me. Some parts were predictable and came off as trying to be original when they were just repackaged. But in the end, the pros of ‘The Accountant’ outweigh the cons.

Noah’s Rating: 7.5 out of 10

13th

Year: 2016
Director: Ava DuVernay
Written by Jakob Barnes

I had no idea this documentary existed until just the other day, when the guys at InSession Film dedicated an episode of their podcast to this latest offering from Ava DuVernay (Director of ‘Selma’). I’d like to think that I’m pretty conscious of the issue of black oppression in America, and it’s an issue which I feel very strongly about. But after watching this documentary, my eyes have been opened further still to the horrifying truth – that racism, slavery and political agendas hellbent on criminalising African Americans are just as prevalent in today’s America as they always have been.

With Ava DuVernay behind the project, this film should hopefully reach a wider audience than most documentaries ordinarily would. After the resounding success of ‘Selma’, DuVernay has proven she can portray difficult and delicate subject matter in a powerful and provocative way. With ’13th’, she has reinforced her position as one of the most accomplished and exciting female directors breaking into the film industry today. But I’m sure that’s not her primary objective here. DuVernay is a prominent figure in the Black Lives Matter movement, and in this instance, film is simply a platform for which to transmit a message which is tragically essential in today’s world. It’s just a shame that the human race needs a film like this to act as a wake up call in the pursuit of liberty and justice.

We are given a cross-section of the history of black oppression in America, from its roots in slavery as we know it, through the highly-destructive presidential reigns of Nixon, Reagan and George Bush snr, all the way to the vitriolic and disgusting campaign of Donald Trump, right here, right now. That’s the thing that really hits home about this documentary – we’re not just witnessing the horrors of human history, we’re confronted with a problem which still exists, and has potential to get even worse. With the recent exposure given to repeated incidents of police brutality against black people, this documentary is sadly very relevant, but the truth is, these acts of violence and racial oppression aren’t new. Through manipulating legal loopholes and positions of power, imprisonment and murder of black people has been systematically carried out even after the abolition of slavery.

DuVernay utilises a combination of hard-hitting and emotional interviews, with impacting raw footage from protests and acts of police brutality, to create a documentary which really stirs the emotions. You will be shocked, and you will be angry and distressed, but I think that evoking such feelings is a really necessary and important step in sparking a change in the way black people are treated. But this isn’t simply a documentary which plays on emotions to influence its viewers. The facts speak for themselves – the number of black Americans under police surveillance today, now exceeds the number of black people who were enslaved. Add to this the tragic stories of victims of oppression, and you get a documentary which simply cannot be ignored, and one that I genuinely believe could act as a real catalyst for revolution. 

This really is a must-see, and it couldn’t be easier to access (you’ll find it on Netflix). It won’t be a nice experience, but it is incredibly necessary. I implore you to take 100 minutes out of your day to watch this documentary, and then tell your friends and family to do the same. The issue of someone being subjected to oppression and violence and having their human rights stripped away from them, all because of the colour of their skin, is not just America’s problem; the world has a responsibility to recognise and put an end to such archaic and vile injustices. The path to justice and liberty might just start with this brilliant documentary, and I challenge you to find a better reason to watch a film than that. 

Jakob’s rating: 8.9 out of 10

A Monster Calls

Year: 2017
Director: J. A. Bayona
Starring: Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver, Lewis MacDougall, Liam Neeson (voice)
Written by Sarah Buddery
If you’re reading this, you may be thinking “hang about…this film isn’t even released until early 2017”. And, you’d be correct. But we have a not-so-secret weapon – London Film Festival. Following on from my exclusive, advance review of Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi flick ‘Arrival’, I present to you my opinion on another standout film from this year’s festival.
Based on the book by Patrick Ness, and adapted for the big screen by the author himself, ‘A Monster Calls’ tells the story of a boy named Connor (MacDougall) who seeks the help of a tree monster (Neeson) to cope with his mother’s terminal illness. Whilst you might have seen fantasy films about monsters, and stories or dramas about families ripped apart by cancer, or even a fairly similar looking tree monster in a certain Marvel film, I can guarantee you will not see a film which so beautifully and expertly ties these three things together. It seems like an unlikely match, but the way J.A. Bayona constructs this narrative, and weaves each element together, will have you wondering why all films of this nature can’t be made in such a way.
If you’ve read the book, like I have, then you’ll know what to expect, but even then, this film will still completely devastate you in ways you didn’t even think were possible. Think of the last film which ripped your heart out and tore it into a million pieces. Okay, now times that feeling tenfold, and you have some idea as to what ‘A Monster Calls’ will do to you. Whilst the subject matter is undeniably devastating, it is the performances which really reinforce this emotion-shattering story. Lewis MacDougall has an awful lot to carry on his young shoulders, but he pulls it off like a seasoned pro, destroying your emotions and leaving you a blubbering wreck with a single look. Felicity Jones is also amazing as Connor’s ailing mother, but it is sadly the nature of the story which means she isn’t in a huge number of scenes, and I honestly think if she had have had more screen time she’d be guaranteed an Oscar nomination. 
What sets this film apart from others which have covered similar themes is not just the way it expertly ties in the more fantastical elements, but the way in which it presents these visually. There are some animated segments which are absolutely glorious, slightly reminiscent of the sequence from ‘The Deathly Hallows’, and deliberately crafted to give the appearance of intricate watercolour paintings, leaping straight from the paper and coming to life. Thematically, too, this film is unbelievably rich, covering issues like grief, loss, and coping mechanisms, in a way which is both easy to digest, yet wonderfully, and endlessly innovative. It has some imagery which will imprint itself on you so vividly that you’ll be unable to shake it. Where a film like ‘Inside Out’ could be used to help kids make sense of their emotions and feelings, ‘A Monster Calls’ could easily be used as a means of conveying exactly how grief feels in all of its stages, providing a level of understanding which is both simple and gloriously complex. Add to this, Fernando Velázquez’s score, which hits all the right notes. This musical accompaniment is poignant and touching where it needs to be, but with a playful edge as well. It’s a score I could easily see myself listening to outside of the film, although it does run the risk of making me weep openly.
It’s hard to find a fault in this film, and really, the only thing for me was that there was a slight lull in the middle portion of the story, when it was starting to feel ever so slightly repetitive. However, it then delivers the absolute heart-break that is the final act, and all can be forgiven. 
‘A Monster Calls’ is a stunning little film; one that looks beautiful and has a beautifully touching storyline to match. It conveys complex and layered emotional themes in a completely unique and utterly unforgettable manner, which makes it really stand out from other films which have tackled similar themes. Take plenty of tissues with you for this one – you have been warned! 
Sarah’s rating: 9.2 out of 10 

Arrival

Year: 2016
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Written by Sarah Buddery
The marketing campaign behind this highly anticipated sci-fi movie from visionary director Denis Villeneuve – the man behind last years stand-out movie, ‘Sicario’ – was undeniably an effective one. The striking vision of the large black silhouettes, and the prompting questions about the purpose of the unidentified hovering objects – “why are they here?” – did a great job of creating an air of mystery, tension and unease. The premise of visitors from planets and places unknown is something we’ve seen countless times before, but ‘Arrival’ delivers it in a way which is fresh, exciting, endlessly innovative and supremely intelligent. 
‘Arrival’ may not exactly be the film you are expecting, but this is possibly the highest praise that can be heaped on it. You might have an idea in your mind about how this film will pan out, but I would bin that idea, because you’re probably wrong. Villeneuve brings a masterstroke of creativity to this genre, delivering a film which both thrills, intrigues, mystifies and entertains. It is one of the most striking and clever sci-fi movies I have seen in years, delivering something between the visual panache of Stanley Kubrick, and the expertly-crafted storylines of Steven Spielberg. 
The journey this movie takes you on is breath-taking, exploring complex themes of memory, existence, intelligence, communication, and the case for pacifism versus activism, all set within a futuristic, science-fiction context. It is a film which completely justifies repeated watches, to view it through a different angle when you know the things that you know now. The film resonates on an emotional level too, which is completely unexpected, and I definitely did not expect to cry, but the closing moments deliver an absolute gut-punch which is difficult to react to in any other way. 
As well as Villeneuve and cinematographer Bradford Young’s visual flair, Jóhann Jóhannsson once again does amazing work with the film’s unusual musical score (he worked with Villeneuve on Sicario and Prisoners previous to this). The sound design and score segue together perfectly, creating a deliberately alien-like soundscape that is undeniably effective, melancholic and grindingly tense in equal measure. 
Amy Adams is wonderful in this film, and does a tremendous job of carrying this emotionally-layered and complex character; the journey undertaken by this character is incredible, and it’s thanks to Adams’ portrayal that it is utterly convincing from start to finish. Jeremy Renner is also excellent, and he and Adams share a rapport which is believable, charming and keeps the film feeling wonderfully grounded in reality, despite its futuristic facade. 
To give away too many plot details of ‘Arrival’ would be a crime, and it’s one of those films that is good to go into as blind as possible. It’s a film to dwell on, to unpack in great detail, to ponder on, and absolutely one to watch again and again (and again), as it has the air of a film which has something new to offer you every time you see it. ‘Arrival’ is a slick, stylish sci-fi movie, expertly crafted and beautifully displayed. Don’t be surprised if you see this one crop up around awards season, ‘Arrival’ is easily one of the best films of 2016 so far. 
 
Sarah’s rating: 10 out of 10