Dunkirk

Year: 2017
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Harry Styles, Barry Keoghan
Written by Sarah Buddery

Films directed by renowned British director Christopher Nolan are always something of an event; few and far between but whenever does come along there is always incredible amounts of expectation. Nolan is one of those rare “classic” directors, one who has a love and appreciation for the craft and skill in making a film, and one who can easily stand amongst the all-time greats, despite his relatively small filmography.

The notion of Nolan directing a war film perhaps surprised a few people, and indeed I was one of those people questioning whether it would be Nolan directing a straight-up war film, or whether it would be a “Nolan-ified” war film. The short answer is it is neither of those things and it is wise not to go in expecting a “war” movie as you might imagine one. It isn’t short on action by any stretch, but it is much more of a thriller that just happens to be set during the events of Dunkirk.

It is fairest to describe ‘Dunkirk’ as a “ticking-clock thrilller” – quite literally in fact, as not only do the events seem to occur in real-time, but there is an ever present ticking sound incorporated into the score, serving as an ever present reminder of impending doom and tension.

This film was almost nothing like I was expecting, but was absolutely everything I wanted and so much more! ‘Dunkirk’ has the Nolan stamp all over it, with all the class and finesse that you would expect, but it is boldly and brilliantly different from anything he has done before. ‘Dunkirk’ is a breath-taking, heart-stopping masterclass in nail-biting tension that perfectly balances the action with genuine human emotion. It is a survival story at its core, and just as meticulous, precise and measured as you would expect from Nolan.

Shot on IMAX film, ‘Dunkirk’ is visually stunning to look at, and it is so refreshing to see an action thriller that is genuinely worthy of receiving awards. The cinematography is stunning and the mind-blowing attention to detail ensures that everything looks and feels as accurate as it possibly can. The incredible aerial acrobatics and dogfights were largely done for real, using real planes and with the actors genuinely placed within the cockpit of an aircraft; the result is something which is immersive and heart-stopping in places. So often you can be taken out of the moment because you know it was created on a computer or using a green-screen, and whilst you can be assured Tom Hardy and co were safe throughout, there’s some genuine heart-in-your-mouth moments that are heightened by knowing that they were done for real.

Frequent Nolan collaborator, Hans Zimmer is back with an incredibly emotive and brilliant score. It is so wonderfully woven into the soundscapes of war, incorporating the roars of planes and the tense ticking clock to absolute perfection. The  use of sound in ‘Dunkirk’ is undoubtedly awards worthy, and whilst it might be too early to call, I would be very surprised not to see it up there in the technical categories.

As is so often the case with Nolan films, the score and sound are sometimes a little overwhelming in places which made it a hard to hear the dialogue in places. Whilst it did an excellent job of conveying the chaos and noise of war, it did also make it a little difficult to connect with the characters at times. Whilst the tight run-time (by Nolan standards anyway!) did a great deal to keep it concise and measured, it did also leave a few untied loose ends which some may find frustrating. However, it is still dramatic at every turn, with unbelievable amounts of tension and an unrelenting energy that will leave you breathless.

It is perhaps the nature of the story that it wasn’t about connecting with the characters, more just the various situations occurring simultaneously which does make it difficult to pick a stand-out acting performance. Mark Rylance’s heroic every-man was the easiest to connect with however as he made a daring trip across the sea to save those stranded and surrounded by the enemy. Cillian Murphy’s deliberately un-named and shell-shocked soldier also does an excellent job of conveying the horrors of war and the effect it had on many. Despite it only being one man, the fact is he represents the mental anguish and damaged psyche of millions of people who have been through similar horrors, and it was a surprisingly powerful performance.

‘Dunkirk’ is an utterly stunning film which isn’t quite perfect but boy does it come very, very close. A fair warning if you’re hoping to see this in IMAX; the noise of the bombers and gunfire is absolutely deafening, so whilst it might lead to a loss of hearing, it’ll be more than worth it. Absolutely unmissable.

Sarah’s rating: 10 out of 10
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The Circle

Year: 2017
Director: James Ponsoldt
Starring: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega, Bill Paxton, Karen Gillan, Ellar Coltrane
Written by Fiona Underhill

I started seeing the trailers for this film what feels like months ago. It was heavily marketed here in the US – I saw the trailer at the cinema many, many times. I was intrigued by the premise, the strong cast and the writer Dave Eggers. The fact that Eggers and Tom Hanks had already collaborated on last year’s disappointing ‘Hologram for the King’ didn’t manage to put me off too much. Unfortunately, ‘The Circle’ is much, much worse than Hanks’ last offering.

The premise is very similar to an episode of ‘Black Mirror’ (most especially ‘Nosedive’). The setting is a near-future world, in which ‘The Circle’ (kind of a combination of Google and Facebook) is hell-bent on taking over every aspect of our lives. It’s goal is to co-ordinate every aspect of people’s online life (banking, shopping, GPS, social media) into one account (so you don’t have to remember so many pesky passwords). Mae (Emma Watson) manages to get a job there, thanks to her friend Annie (Karen Gillan), who is one of the ‘Group of 40’ – the inner circle of the company, surrounding CEOs Bailey (Tom Hanks) and Stenton (Patton Oswalt). Mae can’t believe her luck at first – the company’s campus has everything an employee could desire – including dog yoga and pentanque. It also provides excellent healthcare, not just for herself, but also her parents. This is particularly significant because her Dad (Bill Paxton, sadly in his final role) has MS. Mae’s role in customer service is governed by her ‘score’ (her rating from the customers) and smiley or frowny faces are almost treated like a currency. She is also heavily encouraged to get involved in all of the social aspects of The Circle, which again, will give her a ‘rating’. 

A strong cast has been gathered by the young director (James Ponsoldt). There is a trio of young British acting talent: Watson, Gillan and John Boyega – for some inexplicable reason, Gillan gets to keep her own accent, but Watson and Boyega play Americans. Hanks will always be a draw for me – even though all three of his films from last year (‘Hologram for the King’, ‘Inferno’ and ‘Sully’) ranged from terrible to mediocre. Eggers IS a strong writer (I am a fan of his novel ‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius’ and McSweeney’s), but for some reason, his work is not translating well to film. The dialogue is awful, especially for poor Boyega, who is under-used and given the most cringe-worthy lines. The character development is laughable. Gillan goes from high-powered business woman to a pale, greasy-haired hollow shell seemingly over-night. She appears in the audience of one of the ‘Dream Fridays’ pep-rallies looking like something from a Japanese horror movie and I guffawed out loud. It is the protagonist, Mae, who has the most unbelievable transformation though. She is skeptical and even horrified at first, when she realises how much The Circle already knows about her when she starts. However, she very quickly (after a mostly off-screen conversation with Bailey and Stenton) agrees to start wearing a camera and to being filmed at all times. It is a ridiculous leap that comes from nowhere. 

What ‘Black Mirror’ does so effectively is plunge the viewer immediately into a fully-realised world. The plots are so tightly-controlled and efficient that no line of dialogue or detail of production design is wasted. It doesn’t overwhelm you with information and try to tell you things in a preachy way, it shows you exactly what you need to know with astonishing economy. ‘The Circle’ bombards the audience with every conceivable nightmare of ‘out-of-control technology’; lack of privacy being the main one. It raises some interesting debates – is having your health constantly monitored a good thing? Wouldn’t it be good if we were all automatically registered to vote or if voting was mandatory? How can we use facial recognition to catch criminals? However, each issue that is raised is done so in such a ham-fisted and melodramatic way, with such extreme reactions (the masses naively going along with it, a few crazy loners trying to resist) that there is no room for nuance. 

It is a shame that this had to be Paxton’s final role, as his performance is one of the few highlights of this film. Unfortunately, the rest of this film will prove largely forgettable. It has botched what could have been interesting concept with convoluted plotting, ridiculous character development and melodramatic dialogue. A feature-length episode of ‘Black Mirror’ does appeal to me, but it clear that Eggers is no Charlie Brooker. This film has just left me even more impressed than I was before with ‘Black Mirror’ because I have realised what Brooker does is not easy. So, do yourself a favour and stay home from the cinema and watch ‘Nosedive’ or ‘San Junipero’ instead.

Fiona’s rating: 4.5 out of 10

The Fate of the Furious

Year: 2017
Director: F. Gary Gray
Starring: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Charlize Theron, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Kurt Russell, Nathalie Emmanuel, Luke Evans
Written by Tom Sheffield

I’m fairly new to the ‘Fast and Furious’ universe, having only watch the original film, which was released in 2001, in January this year in preparation for this 8th installment. The trailer, if i’m being honest, looked bat-shit insane and so much fun, so I thought it was about time I watched the films to see what all the fuss was about. I grew up with friends who all loved the films but I just never saw the appeal.

‘The Fate of the Furious’ begins with Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) on their honeymoon when a mysterious woman, who we later learn is called Cipher (Charlize Theron),  coerces Dom into turning on his team and working for her. After betraying his family as they finish a job, the team are brought together by Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) to stop Dom and bring an end to the chaos Cipher is causing and find out the reason for Dom’s sudden and uncharacteristic betrayal.

The thing I love most about this film is the fact that it knows it’s a little silly in places, and it just goes with it without actually taking things too far and putting you off the film. I found myself just laughing at some of the plot points and scenes because of how ridiculous they were, but you know that was their intention. Each film, from the 4th one onwards has just tried to one-up itself in terms of the absurd stunts and situations the gang find themselves in, but it’s clear to say this one blew the others out of the water.

Standout performance for me has to be Jason Statham, for reasons I cannot justify in this spoiler-free review, but trust me, if or when you see the film you’ll know exactly why he’s my choice. Another notable mention goes to Helen Mirren, who does the best Barbara Windsor/Peggy Mitchell impression going.  I was looking forward to her appearance in the film since she was announced as a member of the cast, and however short her screen time may be, she absolutely leaves a lasting impression! I hope she makes an appearance in future films.

The rest of the gang are just as brilliant as ever, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Nathalie Emmanuel and of course Dwayne Johnson all bring their A-game and you can really tell that they’re all pretty close to one another, both on and off screen. There are some hilarious exchanges of dialogue between Roman and Tej, as fans of the franchise have come to expect, but I think the scenes with Deckard and Hobbs will be the most memorable this time round.

I have to hand it to director F. Gary Gray and his team, the outrageous yet brilliant action scenes were superbly shot. I went to an IMAX screening and the shots of each location the gang visited over the course of the film were shot beautifully. The car races, chases and downright outrageous ‘what the fuck’ moments were fantastic to watch, and in some scenes you find your eyes constantly scanning the screen to see what’s going on over on that side, and what’s going on on the other, and I’m sure I’ll need another viewing to see what I might have missed.

To wrap this up, I highly recommend a viewing of ‘Fate of the Furious’ or ‘Fast and Furious 8’, whatever they’re calling it. If you’re a fan of the most recent films in the franchise, then this will be right up your street. It’s fun, it’s action packed, a ton of bass drops out of nowhere and as always, a brilliantly fitting and upbeat soundtrack to go with it. This might just be my favourite entry in the franchise, bu the question is where does the franchise go from here!? Either way, I’m excited to see how they try and one-up themselves next time.

Tom’s rating: 8.0 out of 10

Get Out

Year: 2017
Director: Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, LilRel Howery
Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

‘Get Out’ arrives in the UK soon, following incredible rave reviews from the States. It’s a horror-thriller directed by one-half of a world-famous comedy duo set in modern day that addresses social prejudices, that it feels most of us, whether we know it or not, are guilty of. It’s terror, comedy, and social commentary all thrown together in one easily digestible trip to the cinema. The end result is a triumph on several levels, but it’s one that I fear won’t find its audience as successfully over here as it has in America.

‘Get Out’ follows Chris (Kaluuya) and Rose (Williams), an interracial couple embarking on a weekend trip to meet Rose’s parents for the first time. The catch is a simple one; Rose’s parents don’t know Chris is black. To most, this wouldn’t seem like a problem unless Rose’s family are massively racist. It’s 2017, not 1917. Chris has some hesitation about this from his own personal experiences (there’s no doubt that this is a situation Peele himself has found himself in), but they go and endure a very, very strange weekend where things are not all that they seem.

To say much else about the plot would ruin the delights that await you. Peele, who also wrote this film, has managed to craft a fabulously entertaining story and portrays it so successfully that it manages to elicit a clear understanding and response from its audience, no matter their race. In arguably the film’s defining sequence, Chris and Rose meet various couples at a party their parents are holding and all of whom aim to make small talk with Chris that all revolve around Chris being black. Whether it’s talking about golf and swaying the conversation towards Tiger Woods or talking about how black is very much in fashion in this day and age; it’s an uncomfortable, hilarious sequence that showcases Peele’s comedic sensibilities while subtly showcasing the film’s message.

The performances in ‘Get Out’ are fantastic across the board. Kaluuya is evidently on the road to stardom after he stole the show in ‘Sicario’ a few years ago, and he leads this effortlessly, managing to portray his feelings of anxiety or awkwardness in the smallest facial expressions. Williams comes across as the world’s coolest girlfriend, while Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener play the awkward first encounter with a daughter’s boyfriend so perfectly that everyone can empathise with every party in it. The star of the show, however, is LilRel Howery’s Rod, Chris’ best friend. When things are starting to get even more tense and worrying, Rod is on hand to lighten the mood with laugh-out-loud lines to deflate the tension. He rambles on about now looking at serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in the wrong light (“you’re only NOW looking at Dahmer in the wrong light?!”) or his long-winded suspicions of what is going on at Rose’s parents’ house this weekend to the police. He’s a hilarious character in a film that is equal parts funny and intense and is justifiably being recognised as the star.

Where the film stumbles slightly is, for me, in its genre. I never found ‘Get Out’ to be overtly scary, aside from a couple of nicely played jump scares. The entire film is uncomfortable and awkward and tense, but it’s never horrifying. I would absolutely say ‘Get Out’ is much closer to being a psychological thriller than it is a horror as the film manages to cleverly to play with our expectations of how these kinds of weekends go and manages to critique our behaviour when meeting someone who is slightly different than what we’re accustomed to.

Further, while ‘Get Out’ has been so successful with American audiences, it’s success here is up in the air. ‘Get Out’ criticises a very American society and expresses commentary on race, police and politics, all of which are very relevant in the America of today. I hope it’s successful here because it deserves to find a global audience, but there are definitely some references that will be lost on your typical British viewer.

All that said, ‘Get Out’ is ultimately incredibly successful at what it set out to do. It criticises its viewing audience, it criticises class culture, and it criticises our expectations of the film itself. My one piece of advice going into this is you will benefit from really paying attention. The subtleties Peele has managed to embed into this film are so impressive. It’s a film that will no doubt benefit from second, third, and fourth viewings. Jordan Peele has an incredibly bright future, and this is as strong a directorial debut as I can remember seeing.

Rhys’ Rating: 8.6 out of 10

John Wick: Chapter Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rhys’ Rating: 8.5 out of 10

I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore

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

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

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

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

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

Fiona’s Rating: 8 out of 10

 

 

Monsters

Year: 2010
Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able, Mario Zuniga Benavides
Written by Rhys Wortham

Aliens in a lot of movies usually come to Earth to kill us. For the past few decades this has been the main synopses of many sci-fi movies. A few times they decided to dole out hugs (‘E.T.’, ‘Starman’) or just goof around (‘Stitch’, ‘Galaxy Quest’). With Gareth Edwards’ 2010 film ‘Monsters’ however, our film in question, NASA decides to send a probe to try and monitor a near by planet that supposedly has life. It breaks up upon return and Mexico is overrun by malevolent aliens a few years later. A photographer is tasked with finding his bosses daughter amidst the chaos and escorting her back to the USA.

Apparently with the giant tentacle monsters that land on Earth in ‘Monsters’ their job was to bore us to death, and the movie is essentially watching two people walk around beautiful parts of Mexico for 1 hour and 30 minutes, before it abruptly ends. The story is completely absent of any kind of context, except whats said in the first paragraph. The aliens aren’t explained, their home world isn’t explored, and nothing is learned about them as they barely have any interactions with the humans.

The characters are one dimensional and under-developed. Andrew Kaulder (McNairy), the main guy, is made out to be emotionless in the beginning 30 minutes of the film, but this doesn’t really lead his character anywhere. Sam Wynden (Able), the main female protagonist, is made out to be a flake, and similarly, this goes nowhere as well. All of this lack of character development whilst the characters just meander around Mexico taking in the sights and sounds, doesn’t particularly make for an interesting watch. This affects the tone of the movie completely and strips the audience of any kind of drama or importance they are trying to place. There’s even one part where Whitney says she can’t walk anymore and Andrew finds a Mayan temple. No, really. So the first thing they do is hike the 3,000 stairs up to the top of the temple and talk about inane things till nightfall. This doesn’t seem to make any sense when more then half of Mexico is infested with killer aliens! 

Throughout the movie there are beautiful daytime shots of the vast landscapes of Mexico, however this was countered by the nearly unseeable night time scenes that were so poorly lit it made it near impossible to see what was happening, rendering a lot of the action scenes utterly worthless. Some scenes were so dark that it was like listening to a radio rather then watching a movie. There are a few times that the characters wait it out and seem to catch up to the action during the day. This is worthless. They expect us to care about people who wander out into the dark when in the beginning the movie emphasises that the aliens strike at night time. Death is altogether less dramatic when the characters are intentionally putting themselves in danger.

This film is boring. It is lacking in just about everything that makes a film a film, or at least a watchable film. It has an okay soundtrack and beautiful scenery, but that’s about it. The two main characters are totally devoid of any kind of normal thought or actions, and their chemistry is nonexistent and woefully contrived. There’s no memorable lines or memorable side characters and then there’s the fact that nothing happens after the first 30 minutes – there really isn’t anything here! Skip it.

Rhys’ rating: 3 out of 10

Split

Year: 2017
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula
Written by Noah Jackson

Breaking news, M. Night Shyamalan has made another movie. From the acclaimed director of ‘The Sixth Sense’ and ‘Unbreakable’ to the truly incredible (note the sarcasm here) films like ‘The Last Airbender’, ‘The Happening’, and ‘After Earth’, M. Night’s storied career has been in the public eye for close to two decades now. As someone who likes watching movies, M. Night has always been a source of entertainment. Despite his string of films post ‘The Village’ to now, every awful film he made that should’ve ended his career has provided some great entertainment in recent memory. ‘The Happening’ is one of the better comedies from the 2000s and ‘The Last Airbender’ is a great movie to watch for aspiring filmmakers because it shows what NOT to do. So when the trailer dropped for ‘Split’ and M. Night’s name was plastered all over it, and James McAvoy was doing his thing onscreen, I knew he was making his return to form.

‘Split’ stars James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Betty Buckley in a story about a man named Kevin, played by McAvoy, who has Dissociative Identity Disorder and has manifested 23 separate personalities. One of these personas kidnaps three young girls, and then holds them in captivity in some undisclosed location. All of this is going on while Kevin’s psychiatrist, played by Buckley, is trying to figure out what exactly is going on in Kevin’s brain.

‘Split’ works as a movie, despite its somewhat ridiculous premise, due to McAvoy’s truly Oscar-worthy performance. Even though 23 personalities are advertised, he only shows 7 or 8, and each one has a distinct character. McAvoy changes his face, voice, characterisations, and general attitude to fit each new character, and he does it with the perfect amount of seriousness that keeps the film lighthearted enough to be entertaining and creepy enough to keep the audience on their toes. I love as an actor James McAvoy generally, but this performance is fantastic. The other leads also hold their own with McAvoy’s screen domination. Anya Taylor-Joy plays Casey, who is one of the young girls kidnapped. In the beginning, I found her to be somewhat underwhelming, but through the course of the run-time, I began to develop an appreciation for what she was doing, and by the end when her entire backstory comes into frame, her character and performance blew me away. She is the most in-depth character in the movie. Betty Buckley serves as our exposition character, where she gives the audience the information they need to know. She’s not particularly well-written, but she does well in what she is given.

The other notable thing that lets the movie work is its direction. M. Night Shyamalan has moments of smart, subtle detail being added in his films, and this movie is no exception. He gives depth to Kevin and Casey, not by blatantly showing the audience what they need to know, but by allowing the film to take its time and setting up the story. Sometimes his former, worse director self emerges, and this can be seen whenever Casey’s fellow hostages are on screen. They never find a good mix of over-the-top or underacting, and their characters are incredibly bland as well. He also shows his former self in the scenes where they just dump exposition on the audience. But other than basic stuff like this, he has made a return to form.

There’s one heavy element that weighs on my rating of this film, and of course, it’s the “big Shyamalan twist.” To avoid spoilers, I will not discuss specifics, but the more time has passed, the more it has grown on me, because what I originally saw as a giant ego stroke, it really has more nuance than that.

Overall, Shyamalan is back. Get hyped. ‘Split’ isn’t his best feature, but it certainly is top three and serves its purpose as an original suspense-thriller movie released in January of all times, when crappy movies get their time in the sun. ‘Split’ is more than a January movie, it’s a good movie for the whole year.

Noah’s Rating: 7 out of 10

xXx: Return of Xander Cage

Year: 2017
Director: D.J. Caruso
Starring: Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Kris Wu, Ruby Rose, Tony Jaa, Toni Collette, Samuel L. Jackson, Ice Cube
Written by Nazeer Vawda

When I younger, maybe between the ages of 9 and 12, I loved ‘xXx’ (2002). It was my favourite film at one point, and I used to watch it all the time, almost on repeat. I’m not ashamed to admit that it’s probably one of the films I’ve seen the the most. I haven’t seen it since my early obsession with it, but it still has a special place for me. So I went into the sequel hoping for something really good, but expecting (due to awful trailers) something not so great. Thankfully, the film leans more towards the former.

xXx: Return of Xander Cage’ could have been a terrible, cheesy, poorly made and dull action film (like the other ‘xXx’ film), but somehow it manages to pull through. Xander Cage is indeed back. After being picked up by the CIA again, he goes back to work to catch a group of criminals lead by Donnie Yen, who have stolen devices that can control satellites. This time however, Vin Diesel took a page out of the Fast franchise and Xander is now working with a crew. The first is Ruby Rose’s Adele, a brutal sniper with a lot of kills to her name, next up is Tennyson (Rory McCann), he crashes into things, then there’s Serena (Deepika Padukone) another extreme sportsperson, and lastly is Nicks (Kris Wu), a D.J. I don’t know why he’s there, but he is. 

The films action is both its strong and weak point. Most of the time, the action is great, well shot, well edited, and so much fun to watch. The downside is sometimes it goes a bit too “out there” with the stunts. It opens with Vin Diesel snowboarding down a mountain. That sounds fine right? Nope. There is no snow on this mountain  He snowboards down a dirt mountain with trees everywhere. It was so bizarre to see as it didn’t even look convincing. Outside of two scenes however, this isn’t that much of a problem. Honestly I was quite surprised by how well D.J. Caruso handled the action here. It’s almost entirely well shot, with some great choreography, although that’s to be expected with the inclusion of Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa. Yen is continuing a great streak in Hollywood with some great scenes, both in and out of action. Sadly, the film totally wasted Tony Jaa and I have no idea why. There are few actors who do action as well as him, and I was really looking forward to seeing him kick some ass. Disappointingly he doesn’t have a memorable scene at all. 

The films fun all comes from it’s script, the chemistry between all the cast is great, making every scene a joy to watch. Really all the very loose story does is string each set-piece together, but the characters and the cast manage to make you not care about this, and its always a fun film to watch whatever is happening. It does occasionally get a bit too self-aware, and that’s where its weakest points are. There’s one scene in particular that has no relevance to anything, but just goes on for like five minutes as its a throwback to the first film.

So overall I really enjoyed the film. If you go in expecting anything smart, or anything with a purpose, this isn’t the movie, but If you want to see absurd stunts, fun action, and an Indian that isn’t Dev Patel or Irfaan Khan in the main cast of a Hollywood film (I love the film so much because of that. I could write pages on how and why its such a great thing), this is totally the film for you. 

Nazeer’s rating: 7.0 out of 10

Nocturnal Animals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abbie’s rating: 8.8 out of 10

The Girl on the Train

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abbie’s rating: 5.0 out of 10

Blair Witch

Year: 2016
Director: Adam Wingard
Starring: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott, Corbin Reid, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry
Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

‘The Blair Witch Project’ has, like it or not, lived far beyond perhaps its initial quality deserved. When it was first released in 1999, there was a genuine belief that what we were watching was real, that this footage of people disappearing in the woods was actually found in the woods in Burkittsville, Maryland. 17 years later, safe in the knowledge that ‘The Blair Witch Project’ wasn’t, in fact, true at all, Adam Wingard jumps on the hot topic of the Blair Witch and delivers yet another horror film to cinemas in 2016. Originally called ‘The Woods’ before the big reveal at San Diego Comic Con, ‘Blair Witch’ has been on the receiving end of a lot of negative reviews. Contrary to popular belief, I found ‘Blair Witch’ to be remarkably entertaining.

Following the same found footage trope of the original, but with a modern twist, ‘Blair Witch’ follows a group of friends as they investigate the same Blair Witch of the first movie. Their investigation comes two fold; firstly, to find out whether the legend is true, and secondly, to trace what happened to Heather, the sister of our lead James (McCune), who went missing back in 1999. And so begins the creepy trek through the forest.

‘Blair Witch’, thankfully, doesn’t mess around. It has a brisk 90-minute run time, and the characters are on the road to Burkittsville within the first 10 minutes. Despite the immediacy of the action on screen having a detrimental effect on character development (namely, that there isn’t any), I got the idea that Wingard knew exactly what he wanted ‘Blair Witch’ to be, and what the prospective audience would want from the film. It spends more time on the forest, the creepy atmosphere, and branches snapping mysteriously than anything else in the film, and this focus gets a huge pay off as the film reaches its finale.

The fairly relentless quiet, quiet, quiet, LOUD approach to the film could very easily become annoying to some; there is a long stretch around the midpoint of the film where there was loud noise after loud noise. At the time, it became tiresome and predictable, but once the film was finished, I actually came to appreciate this in hindsight. We came to expect these cheap jump scares, so when the film hits the final 20-30 minutes, those expectations became entirely subverted, and moments where jump scares were expected just didn’t happen. Wingard purposely upset the rhythm of his film to throw his audience off guard. It certainly had this effect on me, and I can confidently say this 20 to 30 minute segment is one of the most stressful times I’ve had at the cinema in a long while. My hands didn’t leave my face from the moment the film truly snaps into focus.

‘Blair Witch’ does have an updated take on the genre. Found footage has gone under quite the transformation over the last 10 years with the on-screen filmmakers finding new ways to film things. Where the stellar ‘Chronicle’ had its protagonist fly his camera around the room with his telekinetic powers, ‘Blair Witch’ steps into the 21st century with the inclusion of first person cameras strapped to our characters’ ears, night-vision cameras, and even drones. Side note, the opening title card says the footage on screen was from May 2014, which threw the inclusion of drones into question, but that’s getting into semantics. The drone provides nice overhead shots of the forest while remaining faithful to the format, but it’s worth saying that the film works best when it cuts out the new tech and sticks to old fashioned hand-held camera shots. The final segments of the film are largely first person by using the ear-strapped cameras to provide a genuine first person POV, not quite in the way ‘Hardcore Henry’ had it, but you saw every head turn of the characters. It added to the stress because these shots were uninterrupted; they provided a view of the forest that felt really immersive. 

In short, ‘Blair Witch’ shouldn’t be as good as it is, but I liked it! A sequel to a film 17 years old that has become something of a running joke among literally anyone in the world who starts filming something in the dark, shouldn’t be this well made. It’s certainly flawed, because despite how quickly the characters get to the forest, the first 45 minutes of the forest is very typical horror film stuff; strange noises, erratic camera movement, character development trying and failing to be established. However as I’ve said, there is a definite turning point in the film, you will know it when you see it, that really turns it into a genuinely scary, intense, creepy thriller. What you don’t see, or rather what you think you just saw, is scarier than what you actually do.

I can’t help but feel ‘Blair Witch’ has been on the receiving end of some very harsh criticism. It’s entertaining, it’s creative, and it is genuinely scary once it finally gets going and doesn’t let up until its final frame.

Rhys’ rating: 7.3 out of 10