The Great Wall

Year: 2017
Director: Yimou Zhang
Starring: Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Tian Jang, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau
Written by Nazeer Vawda

I really didn’t want to watch this film. I didn’t care about Matt Damon, because why should I? He’s not playing a Chinese character. If you want to use the white saviour argument you can, but why? Damon isn’t the sole saviour, he just helps.  I didn’t want to see this film because it looked bad. It looked like a generic, dull sci-fi action film, but I was pleasantly surprised.

The film definitely wasn’t great, but it was an absolute blast. It sometimes is the standard generic actioner, especially at the end, but the rest of the action was a lot of fun. While the rest are all fun, the first set piece on the wall is the one that I want talk about, because, oh my god, it is incredible. I haven’t had that much fun in a cinema in a long time. Along with the rest of the cinema I was exclaiming when things happened and moving around my seat like you sometimes do when playing a racing game. I think the fact the film did that makes it worth it alone. The whole film manages to engage you due to its incredible colour scheme, which really shows in some of the action scenes. You have each type of fighter in different colours, with lots of colourful weapons, and it just makes the film so much fun, which is all the film wants to be.

From his last films, I’ve learnt that Yimou Zhang is a great action director. He merges great cinematography and fantastic choreography, and turns each action sequence into a beautiful sequence of pushes and pulls, almost like a dance. As much as I wished this would be as well done as ‘Hero’, it wasn’t, but he still managed to create something really good, with some incredible action sequences, which is often not the case with action films like this.  

The performances too, while not always consistent, are still fun. Damon is just doing what he’s told, and for some unknown reason changing his accent any chance he gets. Pedro Pascal, was good in his role, however Willem Dafoe is totally wasted and useless here, he doesn’t really do much at all. The real standout here is Tain Jing who teals the film as Lin Mae. She plays her role perfectly, and manages to outdo everyone else in the film. I’m incredibly grateful that the film let her be the true lead.

And now to confront the controversy. This film isn’t racist, nor is it whitewashing. Matt Damon isn’t playing a Chinese character. He isn’t taking a role away from a Chinese actor, what he does is act as the wests window into the film. Sure this wasn’t necessary, but I understand why they did it here. Matt Damon doesn’t play the white saviour, he is mostly a bystander and helper. As I just mentioned, Tian Jing plays the real hero of the story, the film is about her character, what she does, and how she can save the day. All Damon does is observe. This film is about how we can work together, how everything doesn’t need to be entirely one race.

I honestly had an absolute blast with this film, at its highest points its some of the most fun I’ve had in a cinema, and at its lowest its just good, I think that’s pretty good. I really hope that this film gains a good following once it gets a home release like ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ did, it really deserves it, and while it wasn’t perfect, more films should begin to follow in the footsteps of this films style.

Nazeer’s rating: 7 out of 10

Beauty And The Beast

Year: 2017
Director: Bill Condon
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Sir Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Nathan Mack, Audra McDonald, Stanley Tucci
Written by Sarah Buddery

We’re now fully in the age of live-action remakes, reboots, reimaginings or whatever you would like to call them, and the unstoppable juggernaut of Disney is rolling full steam ahead with its current slate, including the likes of ‘Aladdin’ and ‘The Lion King’. Many will ask the question of why, and you can argue until you’re blue in the face about this one, but the answer is simple; money. We might hate to admit it, but these movies make money. People will turn out in their droves for Disney, and quite rightly so. They haven’t got to where they are today without producing some of the finest films ever made, and in their new phase of live-action adaptations comes their latest offering, ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Going into this film, the general feeling was cautious optimism; on the one hand there was the promise of a gorgeous musical score from the master, Alan Menken, but there was also a Beast who looked like it had been digitally rendered by a five year old. The result is almost exactly what those who were cautiously optimistic expected – the good bits are really good, and the bad bits…well they’re a little worse than I had feared.

Starting with the good, the aforementioned Alan Menken score, which won him an Oscar for the original animated movie in 1991, is present, correct and as wonderful as you’d hope. Those first few familiar bars of the prologue will allow you to sink into your seat and relax, knowing that at least one of the magical elements of the animated classic is in tact. Try not to be lulled into too much of a false sense of security though, but we will come to that later. There are a handful of really strong, stand-out scenes scattered throughout, mostly in the biggest song and dance numbers, with “Be Our Guest” once again being the pièce de résistance, and the rousing “Gaston” perhaps having more pep in its step than before. The famous ballroom sequence, too, is still gorgeous, although the grandiose sweeping camera movements of the animated version are somewhat absent.

Character wise it is very much a mixed bag, but staying on a positive note for now, the highlights were Luke Evans’ comically grotesque Gaston and Josh Gad’s infatuated LaFou. They’re complete scene-stealers, and Evans in particular has an absolute ball hamming it up to the max, playing Gaston in the pantomime villain style that is necessary for this character. For all the unnecessary controversy over the more overt love LaFou has for Gaston (let’s face it, we all knew the animated one had the hots for him anyway), this new take on the characters does wonders for both of them and transforms LeFou from being a simpering sycophant to a character who has genuine depth.

Desperately wanting her to be good as Belle, Emma Watson’s performance was ultimately very disappointing, and whilst there is no denying she looks the part, and somewhat epitomises the feistier side of Belle, her delivery is flat and uninspiring. Much has been said about her singing, and whilst not completely awful, watching her lipsync isn’t even remotely convincing. Sure, it is pre-recorded and run through an auto-tune, but it never looks as if she ever sung those words. They feel detached and isolated, and considering the music is such a big part of the original, this is hugely disappointing.

The biggest fear based on the trailers was the use of CGI, particularly with the rendering of the Beast, and I’m afraid to report that this CGI work is indeed everything we feared. It really does look awful, and whilst Dan Stevens actually delivers a solid voice performance, the character is entirely lost in a poorly-executed character. Once again it feels detached, so obviously put together digitally, that it’s hard to ever  truly believe the chemistry between him and Emma Watson’s Belle. It could so easily have been done with practical effects, which makes this whole thing even more frustrating to watch.

On the whole then, whilst there are undoubtedly good elements, this latest version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is thoroughly disappointing. There’s drastic pacing problems throughout, with the original 84 minute runtime being fleshed out to a flabby 129 minutes. These extra 45 minutes are littered with some original songs and extended sequences, but it is difficult to see what exactly it is they add to the story overall. It retains so much of the animated version that it weighs the film down, resulting in the flow of the story feeling unnatural, laboured, and dare it be said, dull. Throughout the film you might be wondering what exactly is the point? The animated movie is perfect, it is a classic, and watching this version adds absolutely nothing to your life. You could gain 45 minutes of doing something else and watch a film which is completely wonderful from beginning to end by sticking with the original. There will never come a time, for me at least, when there is the urge to watch this 2017 version again.

‘Beauty and the Beast’ is a reimagining completely devoid of imagination or originality. Remaking Disney films is a catch 22 situation; on the one hand, a complete deviation from the story would upset fans, but on the other hand, sticking so rigidly to the original will lead many to question why the remake is needed in the first place? Of course, no one can stop the Disney remake train now it has charted its course, but this doesn’t bode too well for their future offerings.

Sarah’s rating: 5.2 out of 10  

Assassin’s Creed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noah’s Rating: 4 out of 10 

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah’s rating: 7.8 out of 10

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 

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Year: 2016
Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Eva Green, Samuel L. Jackson, Asa Butterfield, Ella Purnell, Terence Stamp
Written by Abbie Eales

‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ is so Tim Burton, it feels like it could have been specifically written for him! Jake (Asa Butterfield) is an outsider, his parents tolerate him, everyone at school ignores him and he feels in some way different. The only person he is truly close to is his grandfather, Abe, (Terence Stamp), a man who believes in the magical and tall tales. Following Abe’s untimely demise, Jake finds himself taking a trip to Wales, accompanied by his wonderfully passively-neglectful father (Chris O’Dowd), trying to track down the children’s home where Abe grew up, to help him piece together the mystery of the man he misses so dearly. Upon arrival at the children’s home Jake is plunged into a world of peculiar children; one of whom is lighter than air, one stronger than 10 men and one who has a whole hive of bees living inside them, all overseen by Scary Poppins, Miss Peregrine (Eva Green). Oh, and they’re now in 1943, live the same day over and over again, ‘Groundhog Day’ style, and are being chased by monsters. Still with me? If anyone other than Tim Burton directed this, it would have been a nonsense.

The first act of the film sees Burton and cast on top form, with the pastel-coloured Hopper-esque Florida homes reminiscent of those in ‘Edward Scissorhands’, paving way to the dark dreary Welsh island where the children’s home stands. The characters seem profoundly real, and Jake’s need to connect with his grandfather proves to be a powerful drive, providing a good emotional scaffold to the tale. Indeed, during this first act it appeared this was a film that could rival Harry Potter in it’s imagination, scope and sense of whimsy.

However, the film seems to lose it’s way once it disconnects with reality entirely. The early scenes of Jake travelling through the ‘loop’ (the plot device explaining how the children remain shielded from the real world) from the dark and rain of Wales to the seemingly idyllic sunshine bathed children’s home in 1943 work well, as Burton explores the disconnect between fantasy and reality, unpicking Jake’s grieving process.

Rather than becoming the next Harry Potter, the narrative seems to drag the film down into becoming the next generic YA outing. You know, the one where Percy Jackson fights immortal trolls in a maze, and heals the rifts in a divided society, all the time finding out who he is as a person.

A whole raft of faux-mythic words are unleashed upon the audience as ‘ymbrines’ (Miss Peregrine herself is one, capable of creating a time-loop, turning into a bird, and entrusted with the care of the titular peculiar children), and ‘hollowgasts’ (‘peculiars’ who were transformed into terrifying eyeball eating, invisible creatures) take centre-stage, over-shadowing the very charming tale of Jake and his grandfather.

Then Samuel L. Jackson’s Barron (head hollowgast) bursts into the plot, in full comic-book bad guy mode, (providing the Johnny Depp element, perhaps?) and drags the film even further into the realms of the silly.

Those criticisms aside, ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ still feels like a return to form for Burton, as he captures both the gothic and magical elements of the story and the dreary mundane heartbreak of reality with some style. The connect between the Hollowgasts and the horrors Abe’s grandfather endured during his time in Poland during WWII is made subtly, and with care. Visually it is pure Burton, playing with colour-palettes and surreal and uncanny imagery. He even indulges in paying homage to other films, with nods to Ray Harryhausen and Stanley Kubrick (“Heeeerrrre’s Samuel!”) peppered throughout.

The fact the original novel was written around some intriguing photographs speaks volumes. The images here are clear and precise, but the narrative feels somewhat secondary.

Largely enjoyable, if overly long and peppered with over-cooked YA tropes (when an intriguing story about family bonds lay underneath it all), ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ will probably prove to be a popular addition to future Christmas TV schedules, but is ultimately quite forgettable.

Abbie’s rating: 6.4 out of 10

Tale Of Tales

Year: 2016
Director: Matteo Garrone
Starring: Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, Toby Jones, John C. Reilly, Bebe Cave
Written by Abbie Eales

In ‘Tale of Tales’ Matteo Garrone takes the basis of three Italian folk tales – originally collected in the 15th century by Giambattista Basile (who also made the first known records of the tales of Rapunzel and Cinderella) – and weaves them into a sumptuous and magical portmanteau film.

In the first tale we see Salma Hayek as Queen of Longtrellis, with John C. Reilly as her heroic King, being told they will be able to have their long-yearned-for child if he can only defeat a sea monster, and she can then devour it’s heart having had it cooked by a virgin. Bizarre, I know. The second tale sees Vincent Cassell as the lothario King of Strongcliff, who is banging his way around the kingdom, exhausting himself and the ladies he leaves strewn in his wake. One day he hears the beautiful voice of a woman he has never heard before, and finds himself accidentally wooing two elderly sisters. Toby Jones leads the third tale, as he finds his Kingly affections swayed not by women, but an altogether very different kind of creature, leading him to make a decision which leaves his daughter Violet (Bebe Cave) in mortal peril.

‘Tale of Tales’ is a very grown-up fairy tale of sorts, with sex and violence galore, and some pretty adult themes to boot. Part ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’, part ‘The Princess Bride’, it comes as no surprise to learn that the cinematographer is Peter Suschitzky, who has a long history working with David Lynch on films such as ‘Naked Lunch’ and ‘eXistenZ’, and consequently is well-versed in capturing gruesome beasties and body horror to maximum effect.

The performances are all excellent, but they are often eclipsed by the incredible costumes, sets and make-up, which really make the film stand out from its more saccharine counterparts. The practical effects in particular are stunning, with several impressive and terrifying creatures being bought to life not through CGI but through good old silicon and ingenuity. The aged make-up on Hayley Carmichael and Shirley Henderson is truly something to behold.

It’s great to see that the women of these fairy tales are not all damsels in distress needing saving by a handsome Prince. Indeed, their lives are far more complex, their desires more nuanced, and they certainly don’t all live happily ever after. While one of the tales peters out and another meets a brutal, gory end, it is Toby Jones and Bebe Cave’s tale which provides the substantial backbone to the film, and gives us the most satisfying resolution.

‘Tale of Tales’ is a resolutely gorgeous, brutal carnival of the grotesque and magical, although it is a little too patchy for it to be ranked as a classic, it may still make it to cult status.

Abbie’s rating: 8.0 out of 10

The Huntsman: Winter’s War

Year: 2016
Director: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastain, Charlize Theron, Emily Blunt
Written by Fiona Underhill

I was quite excited when early images and posters were released for this film – despite being called ‘The Huntsman’, the focus of the film certainly seemed to be on the three strong female leads – Charlize Theron returning as “main baddy” Ravenna, Emily Blunt as her sister Freya, the Ice Queen, and Jessica Chastain as Sara, the huntswoman. It is refreshing to see a major blockbuster film with this sort of male-to-female ratio, and to see Chris Hemsworth once again joining a mainly female ensemble cast. However, the film did gather a lot of negative reviews, which meant seeing it at the cinema was no longer a priority.

For a film like this, especially if you’ve seen the first one, you know what you’re getting – a large scale fantasy, with some impressive CGI and some nicely-drawn characters. Nick Frost is the only returning dwarf from what was an impressive cast in the first film – he is joined in this sequel by Rob Brydon, Sheridan Smith and Alexandra Roach (from one of my favourite TV programmes – Utopia). They provide the comic relief and are counter-pointed well by the goblins. These are horned, black creatures, dripping in bling, who are obsessed with mining and gold. They have an exciting battle with Eric (Hemsworth), Sara and the dwarves over the magic mirror – an object of great power that they are trying to prevent from falling into Queen Freya’s hands.

What the film does perhaps less well, is the slightly odd timeline that it covers. It is both prequel AND sequel to the first film, and this makes Kristen Stewart’s absence (as Snow White, who is now Queen of her own kingdom) even more noticeable. The main premise of the film is that Ravenna and now, Freya see love as a weakness, so they try to stamp it out in their kingdoms. Freya raises Eric and Sara as huntsmen, but when she notices them falling in love, she tears them apart. Both Hemsworth and Chastain look a little old to be playing the ‘young lovers’, but the casting of Chastain is quite a coup for a film such as this.

Yes, my attention wandered at times, but it tends to do so much more when watching a film at home, as opposed to the cinema. The world conjured up in this film is richly textured; from Freya’s northern kingdom of ice and snow, to the “sanctuary” – an idyllic green land of fairies and pixies. Blunt portrays Freya’s desperation well – her character is clearly torn between being bitterly angry at her own heartbreak and her desire to nurture her “children”. Theron is a stonking villain – her evil beauty quite something to behold. Hemsworth is as charming as ever and Chastain does show some impressive action skills in her scenes. Both Hemsworth and Chastain do possess terrible Scottish accents, however.

This film was never going to set the world alight, and many have expressed surprise that a sequel was even made to ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’. However, it is perfectly entertaining enough to while away an evening, if you like this sort of thing, which I do. This film also stands for something much more important than the sum of its parts – that three fantastic actresses can dominate a fantasy blockbuster – this shouldn’t be unusual or noteworthy, but sadly it still is. So, while the film is fair to middling, hopefully it is a sign of bigger and brighter things to come in terms of casting women. And, for that alone, it deserves a thumbs up.

Fiona’s rating: 6.5 out of 10


Year: 2016
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Rebecca Hall
Written by Chris Winterbottom

I have wanted to see Roald Dahl’s dark and sinister children’s story adapted to the big screen for many a year now. I grew up reading The BFG and it has left an imprint on me ever since. It was a story that really got under my skin; I found the novel both frightening and fascinating. So imagine my giddiness when Steven Spielberg announced he would be bringing this much loved book to the silver screen. Knowing Spielberg’s affinity with creating wonderful children’s films and the groundbreaking source material as a foundation, I had high hopes for this film.

The story sees Sophie, a young orphan, captured from her bedroom window by a Giant who – rather than acting like his bothersome kin – is a Big Friendly Giant, hence the name. Together, they form the most unlikely friendship and formulate a plot to rid the human world and Giant Country of the other evil giants.

Let’s start with the good stuff. Mark Rylance is superb as the titular character, bringing depth and sophistication to a role that could easily have become rather two dimensional. Rylance manages to bring so much humanity to a role almost entirely created with CGI; a feat many other filmmakers and actors fail to achieve. Make no mistake, this is every bit as complete a performance from Rylance as his recent Oscar-winning outing in ‘Bridge of Spies’.

Kudos should go to the visual effects team who have created a living, breathing giant, who appears every bit as real as Ruby Barnhill’s Sophie. Not only that, the visual effects team, along with Spielberg, have created a sumptuous feast for the eyes, particularly when the story sees the two main characters in Dream Country. The filmmakers have managed to capture the wonder and excitement of this fantastical realm, staying true to the imagination of Dahl himself.

Ruby Barnhill is also solid as Sophie, although her performance probably lacks the nuance of other more experienced child stars. Nonetheless, she delivers a watchable and sometimes commanding turn in her role, and she manages to build the connection between her character and the BFG, which is so integral to making this movie work. The film hangs on the two leads’ relationship – the connection between giant and girl. One false move, one misstep and the film would come crashing down. I’m pleased to say there are no missteps; certainly in terms of performance.

There are plenty of laughs to be had throughout the movie, but the hilarity really ensues in the final act. Without giving anything away, it involves plenty of “whizzpopping” and slapstick humour, and the movie is all the better for it. There are nods aplenty too, as Spielberg regularly references his own movies, including a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it visual reference to ‘The Lost World: Jurassic Park’. The film is also somewhat of a spiritual sister to Spielberg’s family classic ‘E.T’ – where Elliot and E.T. are two sides of the same coin, so are our big friendly giant and Sophie. Both pairings are lonely, both are looking for a better life, both are oppressed by their surroundings. It is an interesting concept that adds depth to the film.

For many, this will be a hugely enjoyable cinematic experience, particularly those with small children. Despite the many positives in this film, for me there is one massive problem which I have been unable to overlook. Whilst the novel was aimed at young readers, there was always a powerful, sinister edge to the story which, as mentioned previously, really got under my skin (in a good way). This nastiness has been ripped clean out of the film’s heart, where Spielberg has chosen to favour light-hearted whimsy. This is what really let the film down, for me. 

It may be that my muted excitement for the film is due to it not being the film I wanted it to be. The child-eating giants are poorly designed in terms of aesthetic and the voice work really undermines their threat; certainly in comparison to the novel and even the TV movie from 1989. The story of The BFG is wonderful, but it is nothing without that claustrophobic, oppressive threat from the unfriendly giants. For all the film’s beauty and expert craftsmanship, it would be remiss of me to point out that the film does lack a genuine threat; a conflict to the characters that they must overcome. There are times where the film is really exhilarating, even moving. Largely, this film is a great, big smile on a summer’s day. What I wanted was the same, but with the looming threat of thunderstorms in the distance; a bitterness in the air.

I can understand why the filmmakers chose to omit this tonal choice. Perhaps the regular news headlines involving the abuse of children may have forced the filmmakers hand, but for me, there is meant to be some ambiguity in the titular character’s initial actions. That’s why the story lends itself to darkness. We know, by the end, the character is inherently good, but there is a distinct wariness at the start where the reader is not entirely sure what The BFG’s motives are. Without the darkness of the novel, the film will never be more than a disappointing, albeit brilliantly made, interpretation of Dahl’s novel.

All in all this is a wonderfully crafted movie, with plenty of laughs, and maybe even a few tears. But there is a fundamental problem with the film that, for me, really held back this movie from being a classic; the lack of threat and the lack of a sinister edge. Taking the film as it is, it’s immensely enjoyable, but having wanted a different interpretation of the novel, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. 

Chris’ rating: 7.0 out of 10

When Marnie Was There

Year: 2016
Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Starring: Sara Takatsuki, Kasumi Arimura, Nanako Matsushima (all voice)
Written by Fiona Underhill

I cannot claim to be a Studio Ghibli aficionado, but I do L ove the film ‘Spirited Away’, and certainly intend to watch many more works from this giant of animation. It is very sad that this could well be the last film from the studio and the last overseen by Hayao Miyazaki, who has retired, resulting in the studio being put on an indefinite hiatus. However, if this does turn out to be their final film, it will be a fitting swansong

Based on an English novel from the 1960s, set in the fens, the story has been transposed to a similarly marshy area of Japan and updated to the modern day. A troubled and lonely thirteen year old girl named Anna is suffering from asthma attacks, although they are really more like anxiety or panic attacks. She is a foster child and feels isolated from her peers – she looks different to them and has a love of sketching, instead of mobile phones and gossiping about boys. Anna’s foster mother (who Anna pointedly calls “Auntie”) decides to send her to some relatives in the country, surrounded by water, in the hope it may improve her asthma. Anna is quickly drawn to a mysterious Marsh House that appears empty and can be cut off at high tide (a classic horror trope, like Eel Marsh House in ‘The Woman in Black’). The film now enters a dream-like state, where it is often unclear what is reality and what is fantasy. Anna frequently falls asleep outdoors and can become surrounded by mist, so events are given an ethereal quality. Of course, the stunning animation only enhances this feeling – the setting is beautiful, and with painting being one of the themes of the film, every frame could pass as a work of art.

Even though the Marsh House appears dilapidated, as though it has been empty for years, Anna befriends a girl who seems to live there. This is Marnie – a blonde haired, blue eyed girl who could be a Victorian china doll – a complete physical contrast to the insecure Anna, with her short dark hair and tomboyish clothes. They quickly become incredibly close, and Anna starts to build her day around high tide, when she can row out and meet her new best friend. Although Anna is envious of Marnie and her seemingly perfect, glamorous life in this big house, Marnie confesses that she is being neglected by her parents and abused by her nanny and the maids. Things come to a head on a dark and stormy night (of course), in a mysterious, empty silo on top of a hill. This scene genuinely had me guessing as to the motivations of various characters, including a young male suitor to Marnie.

Although this film, and I believe nearly all Studio Ghibli films, had a U certificate, I am unsure as to how much they are really for children. Anna is a character – very much akin to Lyra in Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy – who is pubescent and on the cusp of becoming a teenager, one step closer to adulthood. I can remember feeling similarly angry and confused about everything and everyone at this age, but I feel an audience under the age of 12 would struggle with some of the themes in this film. There were some children in the showing I attended, including two girls whispering eagerly to each other throughout. They were intrigued by the ghostly elements of the story and were certainly engaged, but this film definitely has emotional depths I think younger children would not comprehend.

There is a pervading sense of melancholy in this film, but you cannot help but be swept up in its stunning beauty. It was a totally immersive experience, like dipping your head into a watercolour painting and swimming about in it for two hours. The story was heart breaking, but uplifting, and the animation was incredible. I am definitely glad that I (finally) managed to catch this film on a big screen and I’m very sad it may be the last Ghibli. We are lucky to have had Miyazaki and his talented team of artists, making such high quality animation for so long. Sayonara and Arigatou to Studio Ghibli.

Fiona’s rating: 8.5 out of 10

Alice Through The Looking Glass

Year: 2016
Director: James Bobin
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter
Written by Nazeer Vawda

Full disclosure: I saw this film dubbed in Italian, without English subtitles. Now, I don’t know any Italian, but I’m pretty sure that won’t affect my opinion on the film and I’ll explain why in this review.

Above everything, film is a visual medium. I believe every film should, at the very least, allow its audiences to follow the story and be engaged by the visuals alone. I have now seen a fair few films both fail and succeed at that. ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ however is a special case, in that it manages to fail so spectacularly, not only in the visual field, but everything else too.

‘Through the Looking Glass’ is a family movie, meaning little children are going to watch it. I have absolutely no idea how any child is going to follow this. What I managed to understand is that Alice is now a sailor, and she goes back to Wonderland, murders Humpty Dumpty, then visits the Mad Hatter, who is depressed and dying for some reason. He dies, and Alice goes into a clock and meets Time (Sacha Baron Coen), from whom she steals a time travel device and meets the Hatter at random points during history. During those points you’d assume she does something right? Nope. She just passively witnesses stuff happening. It’s fantastically boring.

I can’t judge dialogue as I didn’t understand any of it, but the performances were absolutely dreadful. Let me compare this for a moment to ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’, another film I saw dubbed in Italian. Despite me not being able to understand the dialogue, through the actors expression, I was able to tell what was going on in the plot as a whole, and in the individual scenes, all through the visual performances. This was something that was seldom seen in ‘Alice Through The Looking Glass’. The actors all seem to be sleeping through their lines and generally not giving a shit about anything 

One more thing before I wrap up – I want to address the tone of the film, which is just so inconsistent. It can’t decide if it wants to be a dark, edgy, serious film or a children’s comedy, and this indecisiveness really shows, especially in its character and set design.

So, overall ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ is a poorly acted and disastrously paced film, that feels like it was written by an “edgy, gothic teen” and directed by a six year old child.

Nazeer’s rating: 2.0 out of 10

Warcraft: The Beginning

Year: 2016
Director: Duncan Jones
Starring: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper
Written by Luke Riley

The transition from video game to movie is rarely a smooth one. I even wrote an article about the many failed attempts, and I was legitimately nervous about the chances of success awaiting ‘Warcraft’. Not just as a movie fan but also as a fan of video games. Over the years, I have given World of Warcraft two weeks of my time, played Warcraft 3 and seen the various cinematic intros for the World of Warcraft expansions. I am a fan of fantasy too, which fuelled my desire to see this movie. Even before release, when the trailers were revealed, criticism was rife. People have been burned in the past and when a franchise is as beloved as this, it would be impossible to meet the expectations of everyone who sees it. Thankfully, I believe the majority of fans will be pleased.

The Orcs’ world is dying, and to survive they need to find a new home. Following the guidance of their leader Gul’dan (Daniel Wu), they hope for a better life. In the human world, Lothar (Travis Fimmel) is the King’s most trusted commander and always has his peoples’ best interest at heart. The influx of Orcs into the human world is seen as a threat by mankind, with heroes on both sides having to take a leap of faith in order to peacefully co-exist.

The concept is one we’ve seen many times, but within this world, it’s a story that works very well. While an advantage lies in knowing the lore of this world, it is possible to enjoy it as a newcomer – you just have to be quick learner. As the title suggests, ‘Warcraft: The Beginning’ is something of an origin story, but the movie certainly doesn’t painstakingly explain every detail of the history of this world. This is like a Superman movie without seeing Krypton explode, and you are thrust into Azeroth, the world in which this is based, head first. Personally I prefer this method – you can have the history hinted at, subtly within the narrative, instead of making it a focus or being beaten over the head with it.

With this type of movie, the most important aspect is arguably how it looks, to be able make the world convincing. This is done throughout; the locations of the game have been recreated with care and look impressive on the big screen. The effects of the magical spells are not held back either, giving the action sequences an epic look. This is not a negative point but the best way to compare it would be to put ‘Warcraft’ alongside the ‘Lord of the Rings’ series. Whereas ‘Lord of the Rings’ makes magic feel almost grounded, and I suppose realistic even, the magic in ‘Warcraft’ is the opposite – this is total fantasy and is presented as such. The Orcs also look pretty convincing, with the motion capture technology being so impressive that you forget about it. I found myself completely immersed and really caring about the plight of the characters.

When adapting a movie from a video game, it’s important to focus on why said video game is popular. You have to consider that many people have spent hours on end playing these games, so it makes sense to create a film which is enjoyable for fans first and foremost. But, I believe fans of the fantasy genre will enjoy this offering also, and possibly become fans of the video game in turn.

Luke’s rating: 8.0 out of 10