Baby Driver

Year: 2017
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Lily James, Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez
Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

Odeon’s ‘Screen Unseen’ is a regular event in which the cinema chain hand picks a film for an early screening. In the build up to the eventual screening, Odeon release very cryptic clues for the film they’re showing. This film’s clues were “Political hangover,” “Soon shorter star, surrogate shop,” “Tiny, dark, waiting in the wings, “ and “Fingers ‘n Finest formed.” I’ll let you figure out exactly how they link to the film in question, but as you can tell, Edgar Wright’s ‘Baby Driver’ was the ‘Screen Unseen’. For a film to join the ranks of previous ‘Screen Unseen’ films like ‘Moonlight’, ‘The Revenant’, and ‘Whiplash’, Odeon certainly had high hopes for ‘Baby Driver’. Those high hopes were not unfounded. ‘Baby Driver’ is one of the films of the year so far.

‘Baby Driver’ is the story of Baby (Elgort) and his adventures as a getaway driver for mysterious criminal and bank robber Doc (Spacey). As far as the plot goes, giving much else away would ruin some of the surprises and magic you have in store. In ‘Baby Driver’, you have a film where the motto seems to be “it’s not about the destination, it’s how you get there.” Both the film and its title character get from Point A to Point B in the only way they know how; driving really fast to the sound of a really loud, really eclectic iPod. It’s a blast.

From the first scene, Wright lets us into idea of the film. Baby is the getaway driver and he is our lead character; he is the focus of our story. While some of his criminal associates are off performing heists, that is purely background noise to Baby’s enjoyment of music. The first song we hear is ‘Bellbottoms’ by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, a blues-y, headbanger of a song, and the entire heist is ignored in favour of Baby air-guitaring and air-drumming and miming along to the song. Instantly, Baby comes across as charming and likeable and once the driving begins, almost impossibly talented. The first car chase, in the red Subaru that’s all over the trailers, is spectacular. It’s an intense, white-knuckle thrill ride through the streets of Atlanta. There are close shaves, clever tactics, handbrake turns galore, and accompanied by the song in question it becomes one of the best car chases I’ve seen in years. This becomes a common theme. Every car chase or major set-piece in ‘Baby Driver’ is on its own level of awesome.

As a huge fan of Edgar Wright, his Cornetto trilogy, ‘Spaced’, and ‘Scott Pilgrim’, I found his energetic style of filmmaking to be a perfect fit for ‘Baby Driver’. Even small, conversation filled scenes are punctuated with small sound cues at just the right moment or gesture. I got the impression as the film went on that the visuals on screen were so meticulously planned from the get go, almost as if the scenes themselves were filmed with a song in order to truly nail the timings. Everything you see in Baby Driver can be matched to a musical influence of some description, gunshots were in perfect sync with the music playing overtop, and even Doc explaining an upcoming heist had the rhythm of a drum solo. Wright manages to keep the pace and flow of the film at such a high level that I have no doubt that there are moments and jokes that I didn’t catch on first viewing and will require a second or third viewing. What a shame.

Given the talent on show, it should come as no surprise that the performances are terrific across the board, particularly from Elgort, Foxx, and James. Foxx’s Bats is a loose cannon, a difficult business partner when the business is crime and several characters find themselves on the wrong side of Bats. Lily James’ Debora leaves a long-lasting impression too as she comes across so endearingly from her very first appearance. It’s possible that there’s a manic-pixie-dream-girl element to her as she is Baby’s perfect match instantly, but when James pulls off the character so well you can’t help but be swept up along with Baby and his love for her.

Baby Driver’s driving force is no doubt its music. Judging by my Spotify playlist having increased in number by no less than 15 songs, there’s something for absolutely everyone as the song choices span several decades. ‘Baby Driver’ does for 80s blues what ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ did for 70’s rock. ‘Baby Driver’ covers every base it can in a soundtrack that no doubt took almost as long to get right as it did to actually film. A late chase sequence to the sound of a Queen song had my mouth agape for its duration as it was such a perfectly intense song for the visuals on screen. That scene, as well as several others, were utterly breathless and I can’t wait to see them again.

If I had a gripe about Baby Driver, I would say it’s in its third act as some characters make some choices that are questionable, possibly going against what we’ve been shown in the previous 90 or so minutes. One character has been far-removed from the key action until the third act and when they are, they appear to brush off fairly brutal violence very casually. That said, it’s a small gripe that has no bearing on my overall opinion of the film.

‘Baby Driver’ is a blast. It’s exciting, funny, heart-warming, and very original. The performances are terrific, it’s written and directed superbly, and all being well, ‘Baby Driver’ should be one of the big hits of the summer. Edgar Wright, you’ve done it again.

Rhys’ verdict: 9.2/10

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Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Year: 2005
Director: Shane Black
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan
Written by Rhys Wortham

I try to stay away from most buddy cop movies, mainly because they are either cliché or you can see the same thing (usually done better) on a TV cop show. There are some films that do this genre well, such as the ‘Lethal Weapon’ series and ‘Rush Hour’, although both are somewhat character driven rather then story driven sometimes. On the other hand there are ones like ‘Loose Cannons’ that tries too much to be everything and accomplishes nothing, or ‘White Chicks’ that bases itself on the premise that two handsome black man can disguise themselves as two white women and somehow not still look like men. Sorry fellas, you didn’t fool anyone. It ranges from the too silly, like ‘Police Academy’, to the very depressing, like ‘The Departed’. Its a mixed bag and sometimes they just aren’t marketed well. 

‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ from director Shane Black isn’t about the usual wacky comedy crime duo. In any duo, one is usually the straight man, who is anything but straight, and the other is a comic relief, but both you can relate to on some level. Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) is a down on his luck guy who see everyone else living their lives happily, while the only love he’s ever known is getting her cervix tested by every dog in town that wants to bury his bone. Haven’t we all been there? While Gay Perry (Val Kilmer) is the street-wise guy who doesn’t like his job, people, you, nor his inability to help people when going gets rough. It’s a nihilist perspective while still trying to see the sunny side of life. 

These two work well because Harry’s moronic antics lead to better questions and help solve the mysteries faster, Gay’s tactics are a little more based on detective work. He’s not a good guy, but not a bad one either. They counter balance each other really well as they try and struggle to work with each other. This leads to some great dialogue and some really funny scenes, both with and without nudity. Other whimsical things happen along the way, in the vein of ‘The Three Stooges’, except in this case, a few people actually die. 

This movie is definitely worth watching at least once. It captures a quirky person with the comedic ideals of someone like Bill Burr or Seth MacFarlane while still being grounded in reality and working with someone who’s probably going to get someone grounded, in a meat grinder. It’s slightly different because of it’s continuous commentary on Hollywood and how the whole crime drama genre is a farce of itself sometimes. It excels as a crime drama because it emotionally brutalizes a normal fellow like Harry while giving enough to Gay to go on to solve the mystery. 

I liked this, but the continued humour might ruin it for some. Seeing someone bleed out their chest after a few punch lines might leave something to be desired, but with a little something for everyone, if anything it might be a good movie for a date. 

Rhys’ rating: 7.5 out of 10

John Wick: Chapter Two

Year: 2017
Director: Chad Stahelski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ian McShane, Ruby Rose
Written by Rhys Wortham

Action movies usually get a bad rap, often for being over-the-top with explosion and seeming unrealistic. They tend to go one of two ways; either they feature super scary stunts (think anything starring Jackie Chan), or everything just explodes for no reason. If you have a pet dog, it explodes. If the mail man delivers the mail, the mail man explodes. It’s moronic, for sure, but thankfully ‘John Wick’ is slightly more realistic, although massively exaggerated. 

Cars hit the ground, and they shatter. Some guy gets shot, it shows a realistic-looking bullet wound and not something from ‘Scanners’. Whilst not everything explodes, it does deliver a gritty look at internal deals done in a “secret” underworld full of hit-men and eager to die lackeys. Sure massive oversight of “how the hell does anyone cover up this much collateral damage” kind of happens in every action movie, but whatever, it’s all in good fun. 

John Wick, AKA Mr Stoic, is ready for retirement again, and minding his own business. Another soon to be dead mob boss thinks that Mr Wick is back in business after reclaiming his car stolen in the first movie. This of course leads to a short dialogue and before you know it, Mr Wick is back on the war path. 

The most enjoyable part of this movie is the story. It’s more intense and deep then the last one. Side characters are developed well enough that if they die within a few seconds it feels like nothing was left out; they have a purpose to the scene rather then mindless filler. It develops further in this underworld and elaborates on who has control over everything and gives deeper insight into old Hollywood misconceptions about ruthless people and honour. I’ve met a few, and I can tell you many don’t have a concept of honour. Regardless the system they have in this alternate universe seems to work. 

The only problem I had with the movie is that John is virtually indestructible. Many of the mob know this, yet people still go out of their way to either piss him off or destroy things he loves. Each time he’s shot it’s only a matter of time before his luck turns around or has some reason for him NOT to have gotten killed by gun fire. Then small armies of people still try to kill him all the while being fully aware of who he is. At this point in the series I kind of expected for someone to give up in front of him. I don’t know if he would let them go, but still. To a certain extent I think the next sequel should be called ‘John Wick: Chapter 3 – Morons with Death Wishes’. 

So after pissing off the new King of Death, John Wick, we’re left with a story slowly unraveling into a sequel. I only have high hopes for the next one, because this one was better then the first. The action was steady, the violence was a little gritty but not too much, and the fact that the dog didn’t die this time was great. ‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ is everything a sequel needs to be without tiring an old idea. Please see this in theaters, it’s fantastic! 

Rhys’ Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Trespass Against Us

Year: 2017
Director: Adam Smith
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Brendan Gleeson, Lyndsey Marshal
Written by Tom Sheffield

‘Trespass Against Us’ is director Adam Smith’s film debut, having previously worked on shows such as ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Skins’, as well as his well-received 2012 documentary ‘The Chemical Brothers: Don’t Think’. Smith has done a cracking job with this film, and as far as debuts go, it’s a pretty promising start.

Three generations of the Cutler family reside in a beautiful plot of British countryside. Chad Cutley (Michael Fassbender) is a family man, living with his wife and 2 children in their little caravan. It’s immediately clear to the audience that Chad’s father, Colby (Brendan Gleeson), is the head of this family, and the ring leader of their criminal activities. After some close brushes with the law, Chad decides it’s time for him to call it a day being his father’s little errand boy and move his family away so his children can focus on school and get the education that he never had. Chad’s wife, Kelly (Lyndsey Marshal), is close to breaking point living under Colby’s rule, which is a constant strain on her marriage. Colby’s outlook on life and his uneducated ramblings are also a cause for concern for Kelly as her two young children look up to their grandad. Colby can sense that the power he once held over his son is slowly slipping away, so he takes it upon himself to make sure the Cutler clan stay together.

Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson were a major selling point to me when I saw this trailer for the first time because both are incredible actors with some brilliant films under their belts. The trailer didn’t beat around the bush about the story, it showed Gleeson’s character as a family man and father figure to those around him, but it also showed his darker, more abusive side when his son tries to stand up to him. ‘Try’ being the operative word. Fassbender delivers another belter of a performance, he portrays Chad’s struggle to stand up to his father brilliantly and you can see how much hatred he harbours for him, coupled with the struggle to stand by his loyal and family-orientated nature. He reluctantly does as he’s told but you can tell by his subtle mannerisms and facial expressions that it’s eating him up inside that he’s actually still running around at the click of his fathers fingers.

I also have to commend Georgie Smith on his brilliant performance as Chad’s son, Tyson. Tyson is young and easily influenced by his surroundings, which is very worrying for his mother. He’s very vocal about how much he hates school and wants to go on these ‘jobs’ with his dad and family, another reason Chad is desperate to move his family away from his controlling father.

The film flowed quite nicely, despite its often drastic change in scenes, for example all will be calm and quiet for the Cutler family, giving off a really nice family vibe and then something will happen that send the family into a swearing frenzy that leads to the exchanging of fists. It’s this change in atmosphere and pace that keeps you gripped through the film.  I think there were one or two missed opportunities in the script to truly show the strained nature of the family’s relationships with one another, with the odd 1 or 2 scenes feeling like it was missing that extra bit of dialogue to really close it off. There are a handful of other Cutler family members who get some screen time, mostly during the criminal activity scenes, but we never learn that much about them or how their relationship is with Chad or Colby, which is a shame.

I can’t praise The Chemical Brothers enough for the amazing soundtrack! The music in the trailer was superb and I downloaded the song straight after hearing it for the first time. It’s something a little different but somehow very fitting to the mood and the atmosphere of the film. Whether the scene was a car chase, heartfelt family moment, or somewhere in between, the soundtrack fit nicely in each scene and never felt out of place or unnecessary.

Despite its mixed reviews elsewhere, ‘Trespass Against Us’ is a brilliant family orientated crime thriller. It’s the family aspect of the film that I really think is its strongest point, as this family of travellers aren’t your stereotypical crime thriller leads. Watching the tension in the families relationship start to boil and bubble over is gripping viewing as you don’t know what any of the characters will do next. During some scenes you expect a huge outburst when there is none, and vice versa. It is 99 minutes of gripping performances from its leads and their character’s unpredictable nature.

Tom’s Rating: 7.5 out of 10

I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore

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

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

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

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

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

Fiona’s Rating: 8 out of 10

 

 

Raees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nazeer’s Rating: 8 out of 10

Live by Night

Year: 2017
Director: Ben Affleck

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

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

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

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

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

Fiona’s rating: 7 out of 10

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

The Infiltrator

Year: 2016
Director: Brad Furman
Starring: Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Diane Kruger
Written by Tom Sheffield

When I first heard about ‘The Infiltrator’, it ticked all the right boxes. Based on a true story, with Bryan Cranston in the leading role, and 80’s law enforcement undercover investigations. The cast looked pretty solid, and after doing some research on the true story on which the film is based, I was really intrigued to see how it would be adapted for the purpose of the film.

Based on the incredible true story of Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston), a U.S Customs officer, the film follows Mazur’s story as he goes deep undercover as a money-laundering businessman under the name of Bob Musella, in order to infiltrate the infamous Pablo Escobar’s drug trafficking business. Alongside Bob is his partner, Emir Ebreu (John Leguizamo) and Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger), who is a new agent on her first undercover investigation that poses as Bob’s fiance to make his character seem as real as possible. Mazur and his team are fully aware of how deep they are in the drug cartel and extremely conscious of the fact that one wrong word or slip up will blow the operation and potentially cost them their lives. Mazur and his team risk everything in order to try and bring a stop to Escobar’s drug cartel and his friends in high and corrupt places.

Bryan Cranston delivers nothing but an outstanding performance throughout the film. His portrayal of Mazur was brilliant, and in my opinion it was perfectly clear the effort he put into differentiating his actual character, who is a caring, loving, family man struggling to separate his work life from his home life, and his cocky, slick talking, no shit taking undercover persona. Mazur’s investigation sees him go through a lot of highs, lows and intense points of uncertainty, and Cranston makes each scene as  believable as the next. His co-stars Leguizamo and Kruger also deliver strong performances, both as their characters and their undercover alter-egos. Throughout the film Mazur, Ebreu and Ertz have a lot of strain put on their relationship, often doubting one another or struggling to trust their judgements due to the nature of the case, and how one minuscule hiccup could have all 3 of them killed without any pause for thought from the criminals they are rubbing shoulders with. The 3 of them had great energy on the screen together and I think this made the storyline even more tense and attention grabbing as they each wanted to handle the case differently. This meant the story refrained from being predictable because we didn’t know who would do what or when they would do it.

Whilst the film manages to retain a strong feeling of danger and tension from the start, it does sometimes find itself drifting off from the main plot into areas that aren’t really as interesting as the main story. These few sidetracked scenes still showcase the acting talents of the cast, but you can’t help but think these scenes were just added to extend the running time. There were a few times where jumps in the story were days or week apart and it took me a minute to figure out the story had jumped forward, thanks to to dialogue between the characters explaining what we had missed off-screen.

I highly recommend giving ‘The Infiltrator’ your time and attention, even if the cast don’t seem like your cup of tea, the story has to be seen to be believed as this incredible undercover case leaves you on the edge of your seat throughout. Whilst obviously some of the scenes are a fabrication for the film’s purposes, they don’t stray too far from the real story which I think always makes films based on true stories that bit better, and more enjoyable.

Tom’s rating: 7.9 out of 10

Hell Or High Water

Year: 2016
Director: David Mackenzie
Starring: Ben Foster, Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham
Written by Tom Sheffield

‘Hell or High Water’ has been one of my most anticipated films over the last few months. After what I personally consider to be a fairly disappointing summer of films, I held hope that there was still plenty to look forward to between now and the end of the year, and this film was one I had high expectations for. My high expectations emanated from the cast, which includes Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges, as well as boasting the writing skills of Taylor Sheridan, who also wrote ‘Sicario’, (which was one of my favourite films of last year). Not to mention, the incredible trailer that gave us a glimpse into the nature of the film.

Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) are two Texan brothers who couldn’t be any more different. After Tanner’s release from prison, Toby devises a plan to rob branches of a large bank with the help of his older brother, despite being very wary of his brother’s brash personality and unpredictability. The bank branches they intend to steal from are part of a larger bank that is threatening to foreclose on Toby’s family home and land, which would leave his children with nothing. It’s not long before Texas Ranger Marcus (Jeff Bridges) and his partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham) are on the case. Marcus is more determined than ever to catch the culprits of these robberies so he can retire with a victory, but he soon learns it won’t be his easiest case.

Pine and Foster gave truly enthralling performances as the two brothers. We learn a lot about the nature of their relationship towards the beginning of the film, and see the strength of their brotherhood despite the big differences in their personalities and their attitudes and approach towards the bank robberies. This is by far my favourite performance from Pine, making sure the audience knew the motives behind his actions and even when he wasn’t saying anything, the audience could tell his brother, children and family were always at the forefront of his mind. His on-screen chemistry with Foster really shined, which is a far cry from seeing them both in ‘The Finest Hours’ earlier this year, which I was really disappointed by.

I really loved the scenes where Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham interacted with one another whilst on the case. Bridges’ character is so genuine, and I loved his friendship with his partner Alberto, who he regularly torments with racist jokes and non-stop talking. It brought a lighter tone to the film without compromising the actual seriousness and morally thought-provoking nature of the film. At times I found myself rooting for Toby and Tanner to successfully pull off their robberies and pay off their debts, and sometimes I wanted Bridges to catch them both and retire victorious, because he wants it so bad, and he is relentless when it comes to his investigation.

The film itself is moderately paced, but the performances and dialogue keep you engaged throughout the entire thing. The story flows very naturally and is a great example of how a film doesn’t need to overdose on action scenes, explosions and plot twists to keep the attention of the audience. The stunning Texas scenery gives the film that true “Western” feel, and we are treated to lots of shots of the landscape and breathtaking scenery that Texas has to offer, as the brothers and officers travel from town to town.

It’s hard to do this film justice in 600 words or so, but I highly recommend going to watching ‘Hell Or High Water’. The cast, cinematography, direction and script were all superb, and I feel (and hope) this film will do well come awards season. It’s criminal that this film isn’t getting the attention it truly deserves, with numbers at the US box office much lower than other films being released around the same time, despite glowing reviews from critics and viewers alike.

Tom’s rating: 9.8 out of 10

Nerve

Year: 2016
Director(s): Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Starring: Emma Roberts, Dave Franco
Written by Sarah Buddery

From one half of the directorial team behind  ‘Catfish’ (2010) – a film highlighting the dark side of online dating – ‘Nerve’ at least promised to be a thoroughly modern thriller, exploring the idea of a daring online game in which you can choose to be either a “watcher” or a “player”.

This question is a very interesting premise, and indeed, the film does attempt to make a point about this as it prompts the audience to question how we interact with social media and modern technology. What this film does well is its subtle way of exploring these questions, and the opening 30 minutes in particularly are quite effective in doing this. The “players” compete with one another, and are driven by the number of views they’re getting, their egos being relentlessly fed in their attempts to outdo each other with increasingly dangerous stunts.

This all sounds very interesting on paper, and whilst it is promising to begin with, the film very quickly unravels as it struggles with which points it wants to prove, simultaneously wrestling with what type of film it is trying to be. The final act really brings the whole thing down, as it tries too hard to just be a normal thriller, and the conclusion is completely ridiculous, rendering so much of the film completely pointless when it could have all been wrapped up well before it reached the supposedly “dramatic” finale.

Emma Roberts and Dave Franco try their hardest, but with a half-hearted attempt to give them a back-story, there is little to like about either of them and it’s difficult to root for anyone. They lacked believable chemistry, and neither was interesting enough to carry the whole story.

Visually this film is pretty great however. There’s a bright neon colour palette, flashy graphics, and a pulsating soundtrack which do a very good job of masking the weaknesses, and at just 96 minutes long, it is hardly a slog.

Beneath the shiny facade however is a vapid, empty, soulless film. The pithy attempts at drama might appeal to those in the right demographic, but for me, there was little to enjoy in this trashy, throwaway flick.

Sarah’s rating: 5.5 out of 10