Café Society

Year: 2016
Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell
Written by Noah Jackson

A large cast, larger than life setting, and a big-talent writer/director should spell success, however Woody Allen’s latest had one of the messiest trailers that I’ve seen in a long time. That could explain why the film is something of a box office flop. Additionally, it had no coherent plot that I could deduce from the trailer whatsoever, and all that I knew for certain was Woody Allen’s presence. After seeing the movie however, I can happily say those trailers aren’t reflective of the actual quality of the film.

‘Café Society’ stars a large ensemble cast, featuring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Parker Posey, Blake Lively, Corey Stoll, and the voice of Woody Allen himself. The plot is focused around the faux glamourous society during the 1930s, in two places, Hollywood and New York City. Though it’s not mentioned, it is set during the Great Depression, one of the worst economic times in American history.  The movie primarily centers on Jesse Eisenberg’s character, Bobby, a Bronx native that moves to LA in the hopes of making it big in the land of talent agents, like his uncle Phil, played by Steve Carell. Bobby meets his uncle’s secretary, Vonnie, played by Kristen Stewart. As is the nature of all Woody Allen movies, we have a love story; not just between characters, but between the director and the setting as well.

The clearest thing that spoke to me with Allen’s direction, is the tone of LA, NYC and other places, and how they change our characters. Allen’s clear love for New York City shines throughout the second half of this movie in particular. The feeling for Los Angeles comes across as a type of love/hate relationship, where the city itself is incredibly superficial, but the buzz about it is unique and impossible to replicate. The scenes in LA are bathed in yellow, from the reflection of the sunlight to the paint on the walls, while New York has a bluer color palette. The set design has multiple questionable anachronisms, or things that just feel like they don’t fit in the time-frame in general. The score and music definitely fits the movie, with that nightclub jazz vibe being utilized to its full potential.

The performances are good overall. Allen’s direction of actors is one of his best attributes; all of the characters and performances remain consistent and feel like they all come from the same movie. The standouts to me were Corey Stoll’s Ben, who is Bobby’s older brother and a gangster of sorts, and Bobby’s stereotypical Jewish mother, played by Jeannie Berlin. Eisenberg does his thing, where he talks fast and is awkwardly philosophical, and Stewart acts as a nice counter to that, slowing him down and making him more like a person than a middle-school kid trying to ask a girl out. Steve Carell is average; he doesn’t noticeably change moods without his lines, but his line delivery is always great. Stoll and Berlin are the standouts; they make every scene they are in the best in the film. They have the best comedic energy, Stoll has the best character arc, and they command the screen. Blake Lively feels wasted in the 10 minutes she’s in the movie, but she is an impossibly attractive human being so I guess I can’t criticize her for basically being in the movie for that purpose.

My biggest problem with the movie is the story. The trailer definitely had some messy delivery in trying to convey the film’s message, and whilst the actual film isn’t bad, it definitely isn’t perfect. The film has two entirely separate chapters, only connected by having the same characters. The main love story between Eisenberg and Stewart felt mostly forced, as a way to easily relate the characters and so that Woody Allen can have an easier time telling the story. The film just kind of ends, and a lot of the transitions leading to the non-ending end are strangely done. The main story arc involving Stewart’s character is disappointing, and especially at the peak of her storyline, there’s a poorly explained twist that just didn’t sit right with me. It could just be me being disappointed by having my expectations subverted in a rather abrupt manner, but whatever. It also doesn’t really point out its reason to exist. Most films eventually get their point across, when they say or show the grand message they want the audience to take away. This film has nothing related to that; it exists as filler entertainment.

In summation, Woody Allen has made another Woody Allen film. It’s got the same sexual and urban vibe that something like ‘Midnight in Paris’ did so well, while having the in-the-moment feeling that some of the earlier Richard Linklater films had (‘Dazed and Confused’, ‘Before Sunset’). It doesn’t bring anything new from the genre or retread anything classic about what makes Woody Allen films so unique. His directorial style and sense of humor are well used here, and there’s no one else that could’ve made a film like this any better. If you like Woody Allen, you should be able to enjoy this one. If you don’t like dialogue driven dramas, then maybe skip this one. It’s a pleasant afternoon movie that would be a good rental on a rainy day. 

Noah’s rating: 7.0 out of 10
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Bridget Jones’s Baby

Year: 2016
Director: Sharon Maguire
Starring: Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth, Patrick Dempsey
Written by Sarah Buddery

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 15 years since we first saw Renée Zellweger as the loveable, memoir-scribbling, singleton Bridget Jones, but she is indeed back. The original, ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ was an undeniably likeable affair; charmingly funny, and quintessentially British, with the big name home-grown stars to back it up. The sequel, ‘The Edge of Reason’, took most people to the edge of despair; unashamedly trying to invoke the spirit of the original by simply recreating the jokes and scenes. It was a pretty lazy sequel by any stretch, so I can be forgiven for not being too excited about this third installment.

However, I’m happy to report that ‘Bridget Jones’s Baby’ is neither as terrible as the second movie, or as good as the first one, but it definitely has a purpose and a reason to exist, which for sequels these days, can generally make it “good enough”. Lessons are learnt from ‘The Edge of Reason’, and this effort very much allows itself to be its own film, rather than riding the coat tails of the original; the characters are older, and maybe a little wiser, and it is genuinely really nice to see them all again.

There’s a sense of nostalgia, which does a good job of masking the inadequacies of the plot, but I doubt fans will really mind this at all. The storyline is very one note though; the “thing” happens very early on, and from there it is really just an endless series of “who’s the daddy” questions and set-pieces. For me, it was also incredibly predictable, and if you know anything about these films you’ll probably have an idea how it will pan out right from the start. With a weighty runtime of just over two hours, it does all feel a little laboured (pun very much intended), and when it wasn’t making me laugh, I wasn’t very interested.

The cast are all great, and the returning cast members settle comfortably back into their roles, so much so that it’s hard to believe they’ve been gone for so long. The new cast members are pretty good as well, with the absolute stand-out being Emma Thompson. I could honestly watch Emma Thompson in anything, and she completely steals every scene she is a part of here. I thought Patrick Dempsey was adequate as possible new love interest, Jack, but he has a difficult job trying to compete with the characters everyone is so familiar with, and he didn’t quite nail it.

Rather fittingly, this film feels like settling down with your favourite blanket and sipping on a glass of wine after a long week at work; it is warm and comforting, but it does absolutely nothing new. It’s very safe, and this will absolutely be enough for some people, but it isn’t something which is going to leave a lasting impression. A better three-quel than it could, or perhaps should, have been, ‘Bridget Jones’s Baby’ should satisfy fans, and maybe, that is all it needed to do.

Sarah’s rating: 6.4 out of 10

Irrational Man

Year: 2015
Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone
Written by Rhys Wortham

Love stories often involve fluffy stuff and some kind of “they were meant to be” theme, which means the industry usually churns out cliché-ridden projects like ‘The Notebook’. Some stray from the usual theme and fall into obscurity like ‘I Love You, New York’ or ‘Ghost Town’. Both are off-beat love stories and have their own merits, and to me, they keep the genre alive, while some Tom Hanks movie pulls in the crowds. So, where does Woody Allen’s ‘Irrational Man’ figure in to the love story equation? Simple: somewhere between the local gossip column in a magazine and a request to submit someone to a psych ward.

The story focuses on a man named Abe (Joaquin Phoenix), who is incredibly reckless, yet somehow lands himself a teaching job at a university. This leaves him open to taking advantage of lonely married women, and young, attractive co-eds. Now, unlike ‘Animal House’, this doesn’t turn out to be funny, and unlike ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’, it doesn’t involve a lot of reckless behavior that turns out positive in the end. Instead, Abe makes a series of very bad decisions that go nowhere and he isn’t punished for them; some involving married and/or taken women. Meanwhile, everyone seems to be talking about fantastic things Abe has done, which would have made the film much more interesting if we actually saw them. Since no flashbacks occur, it leaves the question open as to whether Abe’s deeds were as pure as people say they were, or whether it’s all just a bunch of lies.

Eventually Abe overhears a woman in a cafe who is really in distress over some judge not siding with her on a divorce hearing. So, Abe gets some kind of hair-brained scheme to kill the bugger. He does, and then people slowly put the pieces together as a “joke.” I guess this is where the comedy aspect is supposed to come in. I don’t know, because I didn’t laugh at any point in the entire film. The movie, as far as I could tell, basically just slowly talks us through the merits, and pitfalls, of committing murder.

It’s a very one-sided argument, since it’s obvious Abe is impulsive, and didn’t get all the facts before committing murder. Also, being a loud asshole about the “possibilities” of killing someone one day after a major news station covered the judge’s murder is total red flag territory. This would have given him away to anyone with half a brain, unlike the characters in the movie who don’t seem to have one between them. After this, the movie, to me, falls flat and I could easily predict where it would end up.

For me, this film is really forgettable, for lots of reasons. Abe is hopelessly unrealistic and quite frankly, just odd at times. The way people describe him makes him sound like he’s the next Dalhi Lama, but in the film he’s more like a grumpy, drunk Moe Szyslack from ‘The Simpsons’, with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Jill, played by Emma Stone, is too young and stupid to realise that she actually has no concept of love or loyalty. The rest of the characters we meet are pretty much nondescript or excessively bland. The story is slim, and just drones on and on about things that would have been more interesting to see than to be talked about. Some people might like this odd exploration into the questions surrounding murder, and how people can love a murderer. However, the whole discussion, which could have been interesting, just feels rushed. I won’t be watching this film again, and with good reason.

Rhys’ rating: 3.0 out of 10

Love & Friendship

Year: 2016
Director: Whit Stillman
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Emma Greenwell
Written by Noah Jackson

All one needs to know about this movie to determine whether or not it will be an enjoyable experience is to know that it’s a 1700s period piece. If that sounds good, then check it out. If not, or you don’t quite know, maybe rent it one day or catch it on TV. And with that preface out of the way, let’s get in depth about ‘Love & Friendship’.

‘Love & Friendship’ stars Kate Beckinsale, Xavier Samuel, and Chloe Sevigny, among others, in a film based on the novella ‘Lady Susan’, by Jane Austen. Kate Beckinsale plays the title character of Lady Susan Vernon, a widow with a reputation for manipulation, as she bounces around from home to home, simply living off her connections and whoever is cool with letting her crash there for a couple of weeks. As in all of these types of period pieces, there is a love and romance plot involved, however I can’t really divulge any of the juicy details without spoiling plot points. 

‘Love & Friendship’ as a piece works because of two very important aspects that had to be great in order for this film to even be good. The first is the script. The dialogue, which there is a lot of, is sharp and precise, like Aaron Sorkin with a British accent. The writer/director Whit Stillman certainly shows off his writing chops, with plenty of scenes dedicated to understanding thought processes about his characters, and making them entertaining as well as subtle. His direction is light, with minimal bravado thrown in, and it comes across as assured and practiced. This movie perfectly encapsulates what the era is, and how best to keep it pleasant and airy without being bogged down by subplot.

The second thing that has to work is the acting, and the acting in this movie is superb. Kate Beckinsale easily turns in the best performance of her career (Sorry, ‘Underworld’) and all of the other, mostly unknown, actors and actresses do excellent in their respective parts. There is a character of mine that is absolutely my favorite, played by a man named Tom Bennett, who every time he came on screen, I felt good about life. He made his scenes easily the best of the film, and I would be content watching a 90 minute movie of this character just going through his day. I would like to see Kate Beckinsale recognised for this performance, because as the script and the focus is mostly surrounding her, she had to carry this movie. And, not really knowing her for anything other than her action work – and how sub-par those movies are – ‘Love & Friendship’ really left me tantalised as to what she will do next. She absolutely deserves all the accolades she may get for this role. 

The third part that contributes to the success of a period piece is how much the era stands out in the movie, and the set design and costume design here are Oscar-worthy. There’s no shortage of detail in the ladies’ dresses and other items of clothing, as well as the male…clothing (I don’t know what the things they wore were called). The vivid assortment of lush and vibrant fabrics made the entirety of the runtime look gorgeous, and normally I don’t pay attention to stuff like that, it just slips under my radar. The fact that I noticed sets and costumes in here, and was amazed by them, speaks volumes. 

For flaws, there’s not really much that was too appalling. All of the technical necessities are fine, nothing standing out as good or bad. The editing of scenes together feels a little stilted, which was also my main issue with ‘The Jungle Book’. All of the scenes work great individually, but there are moments when the transition feels forced, and the movie doesn’t flow as naturally as it should. This was much more apparent in ‘The Jungle Book’, which came across as somewhat episodic, but in ‘Love & Friendship’ it’s more noticeable, rather than distracting. Aside from that, there’s a few anachronisms –  things that during the time period wouldn’t really happen. But that’s for the history buffs to dwell over.

Overall, I recommend ‘Love & Friendship’. It’s got re-watchability because of the sharp dialogue – albeit nonstop dialogue –  and the acting is award-worthy. It’s got a few laugh-out-loud comedic scenes, and has chuckles dotted throughout. The story is twisting and unpredictable, and it’s a quiet, pleasant, nice time at the movies.

Noah’s rating: 7.5 out of 10

Me Before You

Year: 2016
Director: Thea Sharrock
Starring: Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin
Written by Gillian Finklea

‘Me Before You’ is billed as a film about a girl who falls in love with a boy who just happens to be quadriplegic and in the end, it is she who learns a life lesson. I wanted to cry, I wanted to revel in the melodramatic soap opera, I wanted it to be ‘The Fault In Our Stars’ 2.0, but instead, I sat through two hours of uncomfortable romance between two leads with little chemistry, who tried to deal with the finer points of living with a disability — something this movie is not well equipped to talk about. 

Emilia Clark plays Lou, a small town girl with little ambition who is just trying to help out her family, including struggling sister Treena, (Jenna Coleman) who is trying to go back to school. After being fired from countless jobs, Lou gets hired as a caretaker for Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), a recently paralysed man. As you may have guessed they form a strong bond after Lou breaks through Will’s understandable depressed and cold exterior. Also, Will’s parents have an ulterior motive for hiring Lou, which puts a strange pressure on their romance. Eventually, common ground is found between the two leads, lovely dances are had, and there’s even a holiday to a tropical island. But if you think all the nice moments between the two characters are going to end with a ride off into the sunset, then you are in for the wrong movie.

While the plot may be straightforward, the movie’s handling of disability and the value of life is not. Will becomes quadriplegic after an accident that is not shown in the movie. He is constantly resentful of his new condition, which is sometimes deftly portrayed by Claflin. However, the scene where Will is first introduced really set off my uncomfortable view of the movie’s relationship to people living with disabilities. It’s meant to be a joke but comes off as a way of saying: “He’s disabled, but he’s not that disabled. So it’s funny!” It wasn’t funny and I believe everyone in the theatre and in the movie knew it, too.

The movie also tries to really say something about the value of life and putting destiny in your own hands, which is certainly an area worth discussing in another film, and could lead to a richer understanding of the characters. However, ‘Me Before You’ seems to have a surface level understanding of living with a disability, making the ending of the film rushed and possibly offensive to viewers. In fact, there has been a backlash from disabled rights groups regarding the movie’s ending. I can’t say that I totally disagree with them. 

Other than the worrisome ending, the two leads don’t have a lot of chemistry to make a believable match of star-crossed lovers. When Will mentions that if it had not been for the accident they wouldn’t have met, my only thought was: “Oh that probably would have been best for both of them”. Not the reaction you want to have during a romantic scene.

I wanted to like this movie and I was prepared for the inherent cheesiness that comes with such a tragi-comedy. But frankly, the movie is plain boring, and no amount of serious discussions about quality of life or tepid romance will change that.

Gillian’s rating: 4.7 out of 10

Aloha

Year: 2015
Director: Cameron Crowe
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Rachel McAdams, Emma Stone
Written by Rhys Wortham

The romance genre, at the best of times, adds to other people’s understandings of relationships and, whilst being entertaining. Other times, it just gives a different view point of how people experience love. The entertainment aspect is lacking in ‘Aloha’, ultimately being a rather boring and slow film, but it did have a decent crack at the romance side of things.

‘Aloha’ deals with the failed marriage of a man (Bradley Cooper) who’s struggling with PTSD. The light fallout of this leads to him picking things back up with his ex and just trying to be friends, while moving on. However, certain miscommunications arise and things go a little pear-shaped.

A good bit of the movie is basically just the characters talking about past experiences and how they affect them now. It’s a film which varies the way it impacts the characters, and sadly, with some it seems like it was pointless to mention them at all. Allison Ng (played by Emma Stone) seems like she’s got her shit together more than most, but she tries to keep a distance from everyone because of whatever horrible past experience she’s had. Then a few scenes down she’s frolicking naked with Cooper in a bedroom; so much for that restraint huh? Then there’s Tracy Woodside (Rachel McAdams) and the struggles with her new husband. They’re more realistic thankfully – it’s just a shame it takes the entire damn movie to come to a resolution – and this a better subplot all in all.

One of the interesting things the film addresses is the “strong silent” archetype that isn’t seen much, like with John ‘Woody’ Woodside (John Krasinski). Usually, writers screw up this character the most. Often it’s some brooding, boring clone of Batman that isn’t all that silent. The only good example I can give is Kevin Smith’s Silent Bob from his zany comedy movies; it’s more of a Marcel Marceau character, without the extravagant facial expressions; it’s all about physical subtleties (i.e. body language) rather than words. Anyway, John Krasinski has a total of three lines throughout the whole film, and does a decent enough job at this role. The script let’s others extrapolate on how they perceive his actions, compared to what they actually mean, which adds to some understanding of people like his character and develops drama without being over the top as we see in most films. I thought this was done really tactfully and I kinda wished it was more central to the film than it was.

Some scenes in ‘Aloha’ did feel contrived though. There was a subplot of a possible nuclear disaster that was short lived and very pointless; nothing more than a distraction from the main romance, and it wasn’t even that dramatic. I mean the film is billed as a romance, and everything else up until “disaster” time comes in at a soothing slow pace. So, it didn’t develop a sense of danger at all, and the whole subplot fell flat on its face. You can’t throw up a big red flag like that and expect people to take it seriously when the characters seem to handle everything with relative ease.

‘Aloha’ doesn’t deserve the hate it received upon release, but it isn’t totally misplaced. While it brings different issues and characters to light, it struggles to do anything different from the usual romance movie formula. It’s the standard “type A male character” is a wreck and “type B female” character comes to help him through his emotional times – with sincerity and sex. So, for some it will be boring and just “another romantic movie”. The internal struggles of Hawaii and its people weren’t that interesting and are covered better in other films. And, final complaint, the subtle drama between characters is convincing enough to not need the background music, which proved to be a little jarring at times.

I’d recommend this if you want to see Emma Stone looking cute, or if you fancy a relaxed love story. Other than that, you can skip ‘Aloha’.

Rhys’ rating: 5.5 out of 10

Hello, My Name Is Doris

Year: 2016
Director: Michael Showalter
Starring: Sally Field, Max Greenfield
Written by Noah Jackson

Meet future Academy Award nominee Sally Field. She is easily the best part of this film, which has several good parts, but none as good as Sally Field’s performance as the quirky and dated Doris Miller. She takes the charm of being an older person trying to stay in contact with the younger world, and brings to it a whole new level of hilarity. I loved her in this movie, which is no surprise because I am a fan of her work. I went to see this movie simply because of Sally Field. Having her romantic interest be Max Greenfield, my favorite actor on ‘New Girl’, is an added bonus.

The film centers on an older woman in a trendy company, becoming inspired to romantically pursue a younger co-worker. The trailer for this movie did not have me particularly jumping to see it, but I knew if someone went with me, I would enjoy it. And surely enough, I was the youngest person in the theater by at least 30 years.

To break it down, the acting of Sally Field blows away all of her other cast members. She works with all the right story elements and goes outlandish on what needs to be done that way and still has the expertise and the restraint to know when it needs toning down. She is a powerful actress, and I hope she gets recognition for this work. Max Greenfield works in the role, and though he isn’t really doing much that he hasn’t done before, playing it safe usually works. As far as other actors go, I would say all the performances were serviceable, until the story’s flaws come up.

The biggest problem with this film is that it has no real antagonist. Doris has an attachment that everyone is telling her to let go of, and the way that this was presented was abrupt and forced. There was such a polar opposite approach to who was good and who was bad, that the one time a character tried to change sides, it set up a really powerful scene for Doris, and effectively ended all the antagonist’s plot. There’s a difference in film between having the end of an antagonist, and just completely snipping off their part of the story, and while it’s not really the director’s, or even the actor’s fault, the script could have been strengthened somewhat in that department.

On another note, I really liked the song in the end credits. So much so, I sat through said credits to see the song name and artist. Check it out: ‘Sweetness’ by Pearl and the Beard.

Overall, the film was funny and sweet. The chemistry between the two leads was good. There were at least four scenes where I was laughing out loud, which is pretty good going for comedies these days. Doris Miller was a charming character that I would want to see more of. Some subplots really help bolster the main narrative, and some do the opposite. I would recommend this movie to just about anyone, because it’s a pleasant and harmless matinee type of film. The technical issues aren’t anything too glaringly awful, and the film carries a message with it, though somewhat interpretative, to not let age define oneself. And I think that’s important to hear. 

Noah’s rating: 7.0 out of 10

Demolition

Year: 2016
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts
Written by Patrick Alexander

There’s an old theory that man is built to experience one great tragedy in its lifetime. Be it the death of a loved one or friend, the loss of limbs or bodily function, or perhaps a catastrophic accident of some kind, man cannot avoid a time of considerable heartache. ‘Demolition’, in essence, is about that one great tragedy, ripe with the pain and tumult with which it comes. As much as ‘Demolition’ wants you to believe it is about physically demolishing the past by destroying the things you once held dear in order to free yourself, this movie is so much more than that. While Jake Gyllenhaal looks to have loads of fun taking a sledgehammer to innocent drywall and household appliances, this film at its core remains an introspective take on coping with tragedy – the isolation, the detachment, and the fight to keep your shit together. And ‘Demolition’ certainly succeeds in conveying this poignancy.

‘Demolition’ stars Gyllenhaal as Davis Mitchell, an investment banker who loses his wife in a horrific car accident whilst leaving the scene materially unscathed. As Davis and his father-in-law/boss, Phil (Chris Cooper), deal with the loss and their now-nebulous relationship, the two strong men continuously butt heads as they grieve in their own ways. Chris Cooper (The Bourne Identity), and Naomi Watts (who plays Davis’ newfound pal Karen) offer up superb supporting performances as they wade through the post-loss trials and Davis’ sporadic behavior, including some awesome sledgehammer-laden Extreme Home Makeover sequences.

Now, the elephant in the room – Jake Gyllenhaal as a movie star. Jake Gyllenhaal is a phenomenal actor who wants you to believe he’s just a normal, zany guy. Sure. Jake has all the talent in the world, but through everything you read and watch, it’s apparent Jake simply never wants to be “the guy.” Through consistently playing these tough, flawed characters, it’s almost as if he doesn’t want to be beloved for his acting chops. It’s understandable to not do the superhero movie or a big trilogy like a Hollywood sellout; that’s respectable. Further, Jake seemed to make some strides in 2015 by playing the main man in the inspiring boxing flick ‘Southpaw’, but even then, Billy Hope comes off as the anti-hero. You look at ‘Nightcrawler’, ‘Enemy’, ‘End of Watch’ and ‘Prisoners’ and they’re all great films from the last five years – but in none of them is he inherently likable or necessarily a “good guy”. One question to always ask when evaluating talent is how good is your good? And Jake Gyllenhaal’s good is really, really good. Maybe it’s just ‘Prince of Persia’ backlash after that Disneyfied abomination, or maybe he’s not the alpha dog we all believed he could be. Either way, it’d be prime to see Jake be the likable lead for once because you gotta believe there’s some Clooney in there somewhere.

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, who made ‘Wild’ and ‘Dallas Buyer’s Club’, ‘Demolition’ pulls no punches in delivering a stellar product. The emotion, the depth, and candor with which Vallee fearlessly explores a tragic death is top-notch. From hostile lashing out and disengagement with the world and his job, to finding silver linings in the aloof aftermath with new friends, to embracing the man who essentially killed his wife, Vallee drives Gyllenhaal to a magical place of merciful diffidence. ‘Demolition’ is a devastatingly beautiful picture and one you’d be a fool to miss out on.

Patrick’s rating: 7.8 out of 10

I Saw The Light

Year: 2016
Director: Marc Abraham
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen
Written by Fiona Underhill

There is really only one reason to see this biopic of country music star Hank Williams, and that is Tom Hiddleston. Hiddleston is having a career-high at the moment, with ‘Crimson Peak’, ‘High-Rise’ and BBC series ‘The Night Manager’ all being released in the last year. Now, ‘I Saw the Light’ does stand out, because instead of playing an upper-class Englishman, Hiddleston is playing an American country music star. Apparently with little musical background, Hiddleston has achieved something pretty incredible here – playing guitar and crooning in Williams’ distinctive style inch-perfectly.

However, you can always tell when something might be “up” with a film. It was made a long time ago, before any of the work mentioned above. It has only just been released, here and in the US, perhaps to try and ride on the “high” of ‘The Night Manager’ etc. This can always back-fire though, with audiences getting sick of a glut of films starring one actor. This happened to Ryan Gosling, when ‘The Ides of March’, ‘Crazy Stupid Love’ and ‘Drive’ were all released within a couple of months. Fortunately for Hiddleston, his array of films are varied enough, with very different target audiences, so this shouldn’t be the case.

Unfortunately, the film itself does not live up to Hiddleston’s central performance. It is desperate to replicate the success of films like ‘Walk the Line’ and ‘Ray’, but just does not have the drama of either of those stories. ‘I Saw the Light’ starts with Williams’ marriage to Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen), so we skip Williams’ childhood. There is some conflict created by the fact that Audrey is trying to be a singer herself, but she is not a particularly likeable or interesting character (unlike June Carter Cash), so any empathy is lost.

We see some of the biopic clichés of “succumbing to the pressures of life on the road” – drink, drugs and women. However, you never feel like you are more than scratching the surface of this man. Williams’ creative side as a songwriter is also not fully explored – you don’t see his inspirations (other than a garage door opener – yes, really) or get any sense of what drives him. The dichotomy between the cheery tunes that Williams yodels at hayrides, and the dark side he clearly has, is not explored fully either. Only at the very end, when a clearly shattered and broken Williams starts to sing ‘Your Cheating Heart’, the camera pans back to reveal his wife in the room – is it supposed to be aimed at her? Really, he should be aiming it at himself. This moment, like so many others, is brushed over and gone for good. Always leaving more questions than answers.

Williams was beset by health problems – spina bifida, a heart condition and alcoholism, and perhaps because of this, he never looks like he’s enjoying performing. Is it fame and money that is pushing him or the need for a creative outlet? As an audience you feel as if you are constantly searching for what drives this man and you end up coming out frustrated. Some interesting social questions are raised though. When Williams marries Audrey, she is divorced and already has a child. When that marriage breaks up, he gets one women pregnant and marries another, in quick succession. All of this is happening in the 1940s and 1950s, in the “Bible Belt” of America. I would be interested to know what Williams’ fans thought about all of this, along with the drinking and drug-taking. Was Williams himself religious? There is a brief mention of him listening to gospel music in church as a child and the title song is almost a hymn. But again: no insight is given.

Unfortunately, even the presence of Bradley Whitford (one of my favourite actors) could not salvage my interest in this film. It’s incredibly frustrating, because you feel as if there is an intriguing story there to tell, but the writing, direction and editing has badly let Williams down. Yes – Hiddleston’s singing and playing is to be admired, but you can see that in a five minute highlight reel in any old interview – you don’t need to have a dull two hour film wrapped around it. Even the inevitable tragic ending left me cold, and it doesn’t take much to get me crying at films. What a shame.

Fiona’s rating: 5.5 out of 10

Electrick Children

Year: 2012
Director: Rebecca Thomas
Starring: Julia Garner, Liam Aiken, Billy Zane, Cynthia Watros
Written by Nazeer Vawda

The only reason I watched ‘Electrick Children’ is because the director, Rebecca Thomas, is adapting one of my favourite books, ‘Looking for Alaska’. I won’t put my thoughts on that in this review, however, as I can go on for ages about why it’s not a very good idea.

This film follows a fifteen year old Mormon girl, Rachel (played by Julia Garner), who believes a cassette tape has impregnated her, and she sets off on a road trip to find the voice from the tape. I was hoping that the ridiculous plot would make for an entertaining film at least, and at times it is, but for the most part it is just a generic romantic film.

The worst thing about Thomas’ film is easily the script, as it doesn’t entirely know what it wants to be, or who it wants to appeal to. The film starts out quirky, and interesting, staying that way for the first act, but once it reaches the second, it devolves into a generic romance with a male lead who has as much depth as those characters that gets killed off at the start of a horror movie. This mainly is because of Rory Culkin’s Clyde, a very poorly written character. We never know much about him, and even though Culkin tries to give the character depth, he just isn’t developed enough for us to care; I know nothing about who he was or what he does. This makes his characters’ “transformation” more confusing and driven with far less impact than it should be. That being said, Culkin does well with what he had, and makes it at least interesting to watch, plus he retains good chemistry with Julia Garner.

Garner also gives a strong performance, though it helps that she has an interesting character; she genuinely manages to make the audience believe that she really does think she was impregnated by a cassette tape. Liam Aiken gives a very good performance as well, in support. Thomas’ script could have been improved greatly by retouching the dialogue, which serves as an extremely weak component of the piece. It also has a lot of downtime during the second act, where nothing interesting happens; frankly it just starts to bore, and I feel that it could have been neatened up a little, which would have made the film a lot more enjoyable.

The script tries to be dark at times, but it never fully goes there; it does imply some things (I can’t be more specific as it’d spoil the end), but the implications are very vague, and seldom in providing resolution. I do like the fact that some things are left open to the viewer, but we don’t have nearly enough information to make a proper, informed decision. The film does have some things going for it, and the biggest is the cinematography. This film was gorgeous; it was shot digitally, but until I actually checked, I thought it was shot on 35mm, which is a huge bonus for me, as I love the grainy look. It has a close up style, much like ‘Short Term 12’, and it works well here too, enhancing the picture by using a lot of colorful lighting which just makes the film look a great deal better. It also has a pretty good soundtrack, cycling through quite a few genres, but mostly staying put in rock – so if you like rock music. I guess you’ll like the soundtrack. It fits the film well, and makes for a good listen if you like the genre (I’m not too big on rock myself, but there are a few tracks that I quite like).

So, thats about it. ‘Electrick Children’ is flawed, but is an interesting story with strong performances and a silly, yet intriguing plot to keep the film afloat, even if it is a little bloated.

Nazeer’s rating: 5.0 out of 10

How To Be Single

Year: 2016
Director: Christian Ditter
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Leslie Mann, Alison Brie
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

For the record, I had not a shred of interest in seeing this film. Not one iota of my being had the urge to spend a couple of hours of my life watching a film which looked, quite frankly, shit. But my friend didn’t have the bottle to go and see ‘The Witch’, so he suggested we see something “funny”. Let me tell you, ‘How To Be Single’ is not the way to go if you’re looking for something funny.

The premise of the story is by no means unique, but if utilised correctly, it can be a winning formula. We follow for the most part, Alice (Dakota Johnson), a girl looking to work herself out before settling down for good with her long-term boyfriend. To eradicate her uncertainty, she suggests the couple go on a break, and anyone who’s watched ‘Friends’ knows this is a bad idea. She pairs up with her party girl co-worker, Robin (Rebel Wilson), who shows her one way of being single; go to bars, get drunk and make out with anyone. Along the way, we are also introduced to Meg (Leslie Mann), Alice’s older sister, who realises that whilst she’s been carving out a career, she’s forgotten to start a family, and Lucy (Alison Brie), a twenty-something dating site addict who wants to meet Mr. Perfect. All four of these women have a very different approach to single life, and frankly not one of them is interesting.

Dakota Johnson at least gives a better showing here than she did in ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’, offering the odd moment of mild humour and a certain endearing quality, but if she’s going to continue in this vein, her career prospects don’t look too great. My main qualm with the actors and characterisations was Rebel Wilson, who before this, I would have touted as the funniest of the pack. With her breakout performance in ‘Pitch Perfect’, we saw a crude, rather slapstick humour which was a breath of fresh air. Now, almost four years later, Wilson is still doing the exact same thing, and it’s getting very, very tired. Alison Brie and Leslie Mann are little more than bit-parts here (don’t be fooled by the posters, Alison Brie doesn’t even interact with the other ladies). Alison Brie arguably provides the most humour, but we just don’t see enough of her and she feels like a character which is shoehorned into the script. I really like Leslie Mann (not least because I find her very attractive) and she doesn’t disgrace herself here, but again, her character is criminally under-explored. I have to also give a mention to ‘Workaholics’ star Anders Holm, who pops up as the landlord of the local bar, and pretty much steals the show.

The problem here is that ‘How To Be Single’ tries to be clever by detailing these four very different women and their very different approaches to singledom, but doesn’t manage to give us enough of any; it’s a half-arsed job from the writers, which just feels rushed and lazy. On top of that, the jokes are really, really poor. Great comedy films these days are such a rarity, but it’s not particularly difficult to find a half-decent comedy with some cheap laughs and a bit of entertainment. With ‘How To Be Single’, I think I may have sniggered twice throughout the whole film. I was hoping it might have been a film even slightly similar to ‘Bridesmaids’ in style and humour, but this effort is trailing so far behind that it feels wrong to even class it as a comedy.

Truth be told, the romantic aspect of ‘How To Be Single’ far outweighs any comedic attempts, and even on a romantic level, the film is guilty of clichéd scenarios and predictable, drawn-out developments. It’s really difficult to think of anything positive to say actually, so maybe I should draw the line here and simply say – don’t waste your time and money. Regardless of who you are – age, gender, interests – I don’t think anyone would leave this film feeling remotely satisfied. Ultimately, ‘How To Be Single’ will probably stand as one of the worst films of 2016.

Jakob’s rating: 4.0 out of 10

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?

Year: 1993
Director: Lasse Hallström
Starring: Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Juliette Lewis
Written by Amber Dainty

With the 2016 Oscars ceremony out of the way and Leonardo DiCaprio finally taking home a golden statue thanks to his moving performance in ‘The Revenant’, I thought it would be fun to re-watch the picture which earned him his first Oscar nomination: ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape’. I’ve seen the film many times before, and it’s in my top 5 favourite films of all time, so you could call me biased. I don’t care – you should still stop what you’re doing and watch this film, and here’s why.

So, what is eating Gilbert Grape? A hell of a lot, actually. The quirky Grape family comprises of an obese matriarch who never leaves the house, a young boy named Arnie with a developmental disability (DiCaprio), two sisters, and older brother Gilbert (Depp), who takes on the responsibility of being both breadwinner and carer, all while attempting to patch up the remains of the family home. The narrative forms around Arnie’s 18th birthday, and the events surrounding this important landmark celebration. Set in a small town in Iowa, ‘Gilbert Grape’ paints a vivid picture of growing up in a Midwestern sleepy town where nothing ever changes; Gilbert goes to work every day; Arnie climbs the water tower every day; their mother never leaves the house. ‘Gilbert Grape’ succeeds in capturing the feeling of being trapped in a town which certainly does not inspire or enthral. You could argue that in terms of narrative, not a lot actually happens in the film, and this puts a lot of people off – but it shouldn’t.

In fact, you should watch it just for the acting performances alone. DiCaprio in particular is so good he’s almost difficult to watch, as he plays a young boy with a disability who struggles with his language, emotions, and flaws. DiCaprio was still a teen when he filmed ‘Gilbert Grape’, yet the star quality is evident even at such a young age – he’s truly believable and likeable, and he was definitely robbed of his supporting actor Oscar here. Yet, I would argue that his performance is only so moving due to his on screen chemistry with Depp; it’s honestly one of the most perfectly acted on-screen relationships I’ve come across and they convey a very authentic familial love. Moreover, Darlene Cates’ matriarch is very upsetting to watch; she is too scared to leave the house and when she does she is mocked – it’s a difficult scene to watch and one that is acted mesmerisingly. 

The cinematography of the film is also worth noting as it brings to light the feelings of being trapped in this small town, in this life. Sparse, brown landscapes lack colour and excitement, yet perfectly capture the monotony of Gilbert’s life. In fact, the film highlights some major issues for small town life, not least due to the references to infringing capitalism; Gilbert works at a local grocery store which is constantly losing its business to a larger, out of town megastore. Additionally, attitudes towards disability and mental illness are questioned as we see characters interact with Arnie in different ways, and his mother’s fear of going outside due to her size. 

Sadly, despite all the good stuff going for it, ‘Gilbert Grape’ is also desperately predictable and a movie that’s not out of the ordinary. You can see the love story between Becky and Gilbert coming a mile off, from the minute she steps on screen in her big white hat. Moreover, the ending, as cathartic as it is, is also unremarkable. Despite this, I have no doubts that the charm of ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape’ outweighs the cons. It’s a genuine, heart-warming story with believable, well-acted characters. Go on, give it a watch. 

Amber’s rating: 8.8 out of 10