The Girl with All the Gifts

Year: 2016
Director: Colm McCarthy
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Glenn Close, Paddy Considine, Sennia Nanua
Written by Abbie Eales

Based on a novel of the same name, ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ is a horror/drama set in a dystopian Britain, where an aggressive fungal infection has turned most of the population into mindless, flesh-eating ‘hungries’ (zombies essentially). ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ follows the fortunes of a young girl, Melanie (Sennia Nanua) on her journey of self-discovery. Starting in a bleak underground bunker on an army base, we see Melanie and her classmates being strapped into wheelchairs and transported from their tiny cells to an austere classroom by heavily armed soldiers. Leading the class is affable teacher Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton), who treats the children with a warmth and respect the military personnel lack. As the story unfolds Melanie finds herself on the run with Miss Justineau, Dr Caldwell (Glenn Close), Sgt Parks (Paddy Considine) and Kieran Gallagher (Fisayo Akinade), fleeing to escape a horde of hungries, slowly learning more about who she is, where she came from and her part in the unfolding horror around her.

Created by a British team on a relatively tiny £4.4 million budget, ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ is an ambitious genre piece with a surprisingly glossy production feel. Mike Carey has taken his own novel and penned the script, making some interesting choices with its adaptation from book to big screen. Taking out some of the more horrific elements of the novel, Carey instead brings us a more intimate tale, with some of the characters sharp edges filed away; which at times leads to their motivations feeling muddled and two-dimensional.

Melanie however, played by shining star Sennia Nanua, feels fully formed, ferocious and frightening, veering from wide-eyed innocence to feral abandon with ease. Her idolisation of Miss Justineau is both claustrophobic and beautiful, with Arterton and Nanua managing to convey their peculiar bond with a single glance. Glenn Close was an apt choice for the role of the Cruella De Vil-esque Dr Caldwell, who is desperate to dissect our heroine. She seems to disappear into the background for most of the middle act, only to make an impactful return for the heart-crushing finale. Some light relief comes in the form of Paddy Considine as Sgt Parks, whose ‘call a spade a spade’ attitude and practicality reflects the fact that despite the horror it portrays the film does not take itself too seriously.

One of the most successful aspects of the film is the wonderful score, by Cristobal Tapia de Veer, which takes a repetitive refrain of looped voices to add a real sense of foreboding and dread to the bleak landscapes.  

While some of the practical make-up and effects look a little clunky (understandable given the budgetary restraints), and not all of the hungries elicit the same level of fear (indeed one or two raised a quiet snigger), the sheer imagination and emotion of ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ manages to steer it past B-movie territory and could well see it considered one of the best films in the zombie genre.

Now you all need to go and see it so we can talk about that ending…

Abbie’s rating: 7.5 out of 10
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The Wicker Man

Year: 2006
Director: Neil LaBute
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Ellen Burstyn
Written by Noah Jackson

Let us go back in time to a simpler time. A time when Adam Sandler wasn’t peddling shit to the masses and looking suicidal whilst doing it, and a time where the world had yet to experience Michael Bay’s ‘Transformers’, and Nicolas Cage was going bankrupt as the result of some bad realty investments. In fact, this entire movie’s existence, and many more starring Cage, can be attributed to that one simple fact; he was broke and desperate. He still found enough money to executive produce ‘The Wicker Man’ though, and this was something of a passion project for him. And, love him or hate him, the guy does have talent. His performance in ‘Adaptation’ is not only one of the strongest written characters in all of cinematic history, but Cage makes it his own. He is an Oscar-worthy actor, and though his career choices may not be the best, he does offer up great entertainment. He’s also a relative of Francis Ford Coppola, arguably one of the best filmmakers of all time. Which begs the question – where did it all go wrong?

The Wicker Man’ follows the story of a cop, Edward Malus, played by Nic Cage in a performance that I can only describe as “ill-suited”, who receives a letter requesting his help in finding a small girl. This girl went missing on an island in the Pacific, near Washington State, and we learn that the island is run by what is basically a pagan cult of women. The original ‘The Wicker Man’ back in 1973 had a similar plot, though that was set in the UK, and paid more attention to religious conflict. This effort plays as more of a “battle of the sexes” narrative. It had a budget of $40 million, which was entrusted to Neil LaBute – a man whose filmography aside from this is obscure, to say the least. The film returned a little more than half that at the box office, making it a flop, and it was widely regarded as one of the worst movies of the year, as it should be.

Why is the movie so bad? Well, it’s hilarious. It’s a mystery-thriller with horror archetypes thrown in, except none of it is done well. The script is nonsensical, the performances range from truly awful to just weird, and it just feels like wasted talent. Then why am I talking about it? Well, because it’s hilarious. Remember how I said Cage’s performance was “ill-suited”. After the first 15 minutes, I realised he wasn’t even in the same story. He’s this jolly guy who just wants to wander in and do his job, and he has this big smile on his face for a good portion of the runtime. Watching him perform this nonsensical and inconsistent character was a special kind of magic on screen. He single-handedly makes this movie watchable. There are so many good quotes that he has, that I still laugh thinking about some of the stupidity I was subjected to. Favorites include “NOT THE BEES!”, “What’s in there, a shark or something?”, “HOW’D IT GET BURNED?! HOW’D IT GET BURNED?!” and his “oh my god” line near the end. Seriously, Nicolas Cage is amazing(ly awful).

All of the other acting is atrocious. Cage’s ex-fiance Willow (played by Kate Beahan) is excruciatingly bad. Ellen Burstyn is just there, she doesn’t really do anything other than dish out some creepy smiles and speak utter nonsense. Diane Delano – the woman who plays Sister Beech – is basically just doing her best Kathy Bates impression the whole time. Nevertheless, all of their scenes with Nicolas Cage are so fun to watch.

Getting away from acting (but sticking with the negatives), the script is terrible. To start the film, Cage’s character experiences a trauma that has nothing to do with the plot of the film. But the trauma gets brought up at least six times throughout. I mean, there’s just so many flaws and an absurd amount of dream sequences. The very premise of the film, having Cage go this island, is implausible. He’s a cop in California and he starts conducting his investigation in Washington State. He does all of this without warrants, assaults suspects and uses deadly force completely unnecessarily. More importantly, he never actually does any investigating in a correct manner. The pieces are laid out so easy that a five-year-old could deduce the solution, but the movie has to happen first. And finally when we reach the “twist ending”, we get a giant exposition scene that just leads to brutal and disgusting torture. God, I love Nicolas Cage.

‘The Wicker Man’ is one of those “so-bad-it’s-good” movies; a cult classic for all the wrong reasons. I wouldn’t say I want to repeat my experience of sitting through this terrible-VFX-laden, aesthetically bland, audibly dull, uninteresting and implausible, badly acted, and overall, insultingly dumb movie. But damn, I sure did laugh my ass off watching it. Get some friends together and just enjoy poking all of the holes in this movie. Make a drinking game out of it (sip for every bee, or awkward Nicolas Cage smile, or dream sequence, or sexual innuendo, or every time you see someone in an animal mask). If the booze hasn’t killed your brain within the first 20 minutes, enduring the rest of the film certainly will. This is a real car crash of a movie, but for pure entertainment value, I kinda recommend it.

Noah’s rating: 2.0 out of 10

Don’t Breathe

Year: 2016
Director: Fede Alvarez
Starring: Stephen Lang, Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto
Written by Noah Jackson

The summer season of 2016 has been a fairly disappointing experience for film enthusiasts like myself. It arguably reached its peak in May with ‘Captain America: Civil War’, and ended with the disappointing experience that was ‘Suicide Squad’. Along the way, we’ve seen many mediocre or terrible movies. Some of the best movies have been independent or low-budget productions, which is great, but it’s a bittersweet triumph for the smaller films, as not everyone will have managed to enjoy what the summer season had to offer. Enter ‘Don’t Breathe’, a fairly low-budget horror-thriller with an exciting premise and a really well presented trailer; a film which has exploded at the box office and also has critics’ approval. The summer ends on a good note then. But is ‘Don’t Breathe’ really the great movie of the summer, or is it just a breath of fresh air in a stagnant movie industry?

Don’t Breathe’ stars Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette and Stephen Lang, and revolves around a group of robbers who target a blind veteran with a large cash settlement. Problem is, once they get in the house, they realise this blind guy is much more dangerous than they anticipated. He can, of course, hear their movements, and he also has some hardcore army skills that he puts to use. So it is now a game of cat-and-mouse between some young people looking to get rich quick versus this blind man with nothing really left to lose…or so we think.

The movie works best when it utilises its horror elements. The writer and director, Fede Alvarez (2013’s Evil Dead), makes the jump scare technique as effective as possible. It had me on the edge of my seat for a good portion of the film. The performances are all good too, especially Stephen Lang as the blind man. His presence on screen – along with those biceps – really adds some depth and energy to the movie.

I mentioned earlier that the film’s premise and trailer were really good. I wasn’t lying. The concept alone had me interested to see it, and the trailer got me into the theatre. I don’t really enjoy horror movies that much, because I find that a lot of them are really insipid and dull. But when the rave reviews started rolling in, I couldn’t avoid it any longer. I am pleased to say that the whole movie is not in the trailer, but I am also unhappy to say that I kinda wish that it was.

‘Don’t Breathe’ has two egregious flaws. The first, is its beginning and ending. The first 15 second shot of the film basically spoils the rest of the film. And then, in the next three minutes of exposition, which was pretty well done, it dropped a little hint which would later lead to the big “twist” of the movie. And I guessed that twist almost immediately after that notion was brought up. As for the ending, it doesn’t have any real meaning. It’s supposed to act as a cliffhanger type of ending, but it had such little significance at that point, it truly felt unnecessary.

The second flaw is the “twist”. It’s really stupid. The ingenious concept of this overall film and how it plays out would’ve been enough to make the film a success. However, about halfway through, an extra story arc gets thrown in that takes the movie to a new level of ridiculousness. To put it another way, the story goes from realistic to absurd faster than you can say “M. Night Shymalan’s The Village had a clever ending”. To put it ANOTHER way, I will let my theatre experience speak for itself. There’s a scene that has really got everyone talking, and while this scene was playing out, the audience around me burst out laughing. Not in an immature way though, more in sheer disbelief and bewilderment at the course the film had taken. It was awkward and ridiculous, and for the rest of the movie, I was no longer scared because of how utterly insane it had gotten. When (slash if) you watch the film, you’ll know exactly which scene I’m talking about. It’s a shame really that what could have been a decent horror flick will now be forever remembered for this one bizarre moment.

The cinematography was also a subject of inner debate for myself, because I couldn’t decide whether or not it was any good. A lot of it was out of focus and blurry, but it made sense with the character’s being in an environment that wasn’t always visible. A lot of scenes featured long takes, and in those long takes there’s sometimes a jump scare to keep you alert. All of the additional technical parts to the movie were well done, especially the score and most notably the sound production; much of the effects for the guns and other loud noises had my nerves constantly on edge. A lot of the directorial and audio-based parts of the movie were really well done. However, I cannot forgive the story for what it tried to do.

Overall, I would recommend seeing ‘Don’t Breathe’. It’s got a good thriller narrative, and the first half is actually pretty good. If you are a fan of horror and being scared, this is a great movie. If you found the summer disappointing and hope that this is the remedy, look elsewhere. It is by no means bad, but it seems to me that this will be one of the more overrated movies of 2016 when all is said and done.

Noah’s Rating: 6.5/10

Our Kind Of Traitor

Year: 2016
Director: Susanna White
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgård, Damian Lewis, Naomie Harris
Written by Tom Sheffield

Straight from the get-go, the trailer for ‘Our Kind Of Traitor’ caught my attention. For starters, the cast alone – which includes Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgård, Naomie Harris, Damian Lewis and Mark Gatiss – were enough to convince me to watch the film, no matter what the storyline happened to be. The trailer itself gave off a really strong impression, outlining the plot without actually giving much else away and already giving a strong sense of tension between the characters.

Perry (Ewan McGregor) and Gail (Naomie Harris) get more than they bargained for on their much-needed holiday to Marrakech. Perry befriends an ever-so-charming and friendly Russian, Dima (Stellan Skarsgård), and after a few drinks, receives an invitation to Dima’s daughters “small” birthday party. The couple arrive at Dima’s mansion, welcomed by what probably could be classified as a small carnival, and this is where Perry discovers the real reason for his invitation. Dima confesses to Perry that he is a money launderer in the Russian mafia and is seeking asylum in Britain as he fears for the well-being of his wife and children. Dima hands over a USB stick to Perry to take back to MI6, in the hope that the classified information it contains could be used in exchange for protection for his family. After arriving back in England, it immediately becomes apparent to Perry and Gail that their involvement in this exchange would not end there, and the couple find themselves tangled in webs of lies and deceit as they try to figure out who they can really trust.

Following Dima’s request to Perry, the story becomes fast-paced, edge of your seat viewing which is made even more tense with a fitting musical score playing in the background throughout. Before this significant scene, the story does feel sluggish and slow as it works up towards this plot-changing meeting, but it does give us an insight into Perry and Gail’s relationship, which is significant knowledge to have later in the film. Perry’s decisions take him to various locations across the globe, from the streets of Morocco to the snowy forests on the French Alps and we are shown the true beauty of these locations during the film, which really gives you a feel of each location the characters find themselves in. The script itself is pretty solid, unfortunately I haven’t read John le Carré’s novel on which this film is based, so I can’t comment on how well it has been adapted, but the dialogue between the characters is superb, especially during the second half of the film.

I can’t fault the cast on their performances throughout the film. Skarsgård in particular nailed being a big-shot Russian mobster, whether he was being a charismatic and cocky asshole, or a discomposed, terrified family man. The whole ensemble were a credit to the film, just as I had hoped from the minute I saw the line-up. They were magnificently directed by Susanna White, and they made every scene as good as the last, no matter which characters were interacting on screen.

I’d definitely recommend this film to anyone who enjoys a good old spy thriller film, with ‘Our Kind Of Traitor’ being more of a pause-for-thought, human interaction type spy film, and less of a guns-blazing, big explosions type spy film. I feel it’s definitely one of 2016’s most underrated films and definitely deserves 108 minutes of your time.

Tom’s rating: 8.2 out of 10

Nerve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah’s rating: 5.5 out of 10

Eye In The Sky

Year: 2016
Director: Gavin Hood
Starring: Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi
Written by Tom Sheffield

When I first saw the trailer for ‘Eye In The Sky’ I was really intrigued by the storyline, and I was even more interested to see how a film based on the use of drones in modern warfare would pan out. It’s fair to say that the film completely excelled my initial expectations and has easily become one of my favourite films of the year.

Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren), of the UK military, is leading a multi-national, top-secret, drone mission to capture or kill members of the Al-Shabaab terrorist group in Kenya. The mission becomes a lot more complicated however, when a remote surveillance team shows evidence that the terrorist group are preparing for a suicide bombing. With time of the essence, Colonel Powell demands the operation objective is escalated to  kill, rather than capture the terrorists. Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) is gathered with Government officials, who are conflicted about the notion of sending a hellfire missile into such a public place. USAF pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul), who is controlling the drone from an American Air Force base, is given the go-ahead to fire the missile, but he refuses to pull the trigger when an innocent nine year old girl stops inside the blast zone. This triggers a moral and political debate amongst the military leaders and politicians about what they should do now the mission could be life or death for this young Kenyan girl.

From the moment Steve Watts is given the go-ahead to fire the missile, I was on the edge of my seat. From here, the film begins to make the viewer feel like they are part of the ongoing situation and makes you question the actions of the characters on screen. You find that you yourself are analysing the situation, as if you were part of the mission. The scenes are incredibly tense; I felt anger when the politicians were passing the buck and refusing to make decisions, and I felt nervous as Watts’ shaking fingers hovered over the missile’s trigger.

During the beginning of the film, we get to see some of the main characters in a more personal light – for example the first time we see Frank Benson, he is struggling to choose which doll to buy his granddaughter, as he doesn’t understand the difference between the array of toys he is starting at. This allows us somewhat to see his character outside of the Lieutenant General  (despite being in uniform); Just a grandfather faced with a wall of children’s dolls that he had no clue about. Seeing a more personal side to the characters made the film even more nail-biting when the conflict erupts amongst them, but it also justifies the perspectives and motives of the individuals during the mission. I think this film was shot incredibly well considering its main characters are all sat in different rooms across the globe. There are a lot of scenes toing-and-froing between the characters, as they interact via webcams, phones and instant messaging, but the transitions from character to character are smooth and not quite as headache-inducing as I first thought it might be.

‘Eye In The Sky’ was released a few months after the tragic passing of Alan Rickman, and ultimately would be his final on-screen performance. He plays the middle-man throughout the debating, as he argues on behalf of the military whilst stuck in a room full of politicians, who would rather pass the responsibility onto someone else than make a decision for themselves. Rickman’s undeniably memorable voice was perfect for this role and the tone of this film, and I’m sure you will agree if,or when,you watch it. My favourite line of his in the film is:“Never tell a soldier he does not know the cost of war”. He delivers it with such truth and sternness, that it really does make you sit back and think about what’s happened in the film. The whole cast deliver strong and emotional performances throughout the film, and the film’s encapsulating nature evokes a feeling as if you’re sat in the same room as them.

This modern warfare drama/thriller is one of my favourite films of 2016 because it fully immerses you into the on-screen situation, and has you questioning everything the characters say throughout this mission. It literally had me on the edge of my seat when I was sat in the cinema, and I genuinely can’t remember the last time a film made me do that. Captivating performances, incredibly tense throughout and a thought provoking plot make ‘Eye In The Sky’ a film you simply must track down.

Tom’s rating: 9.0 out of 10

Jason Bourne

Year: 2016
Director: Paul Greengrass
Starring: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel, Riz Ahmed
Written by Daniel Chadwick-Shubat

Jason Bourne AKA David Webb is, in my opinion, cinema’s greatest spy. His skills in badassery have graced our screen for 14 years, and his tortured soul has proven the ultimate specimen to dissect on the screen. There’s such a thing as the “Bourne formula”, which all the movies have followed since ‘The Bourne Identity’ in 2002. With ‘Jason Bourne’, the franchise has returned to the formula that was lost in ‘The Bourne Legacy’, and created undoubtedly one of the best action movies of 2016.

Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass return for the fifth installment of the franchise, and bring back the chemistry that made ‘Supremacy’ and ‘Ultimatum’ such great movies. Damon brings a different physicality to the role here, that he didn’t have in previous installments, and barely talks throughout the movie (only uttering 30 lines in total). This works, in an unexpected way, and makes Damon’s emotions and choreography stand out much more.

Almost a decade after exposing Blackbriar, Jason Bourne is back with most of his memories intact. Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) is back too, and enlists Bourne’s help in leaking classified files that the CIA predicts could be a leak “worse than Snowden”. This is where the movie turns into a highly cerebral game of cat and mouse, taking us from Athens to London to Las Vegas. Greengrass and his cinematographer Barry Ackroyd do a fantastic job of making the audience feel as though they are there, and his signature “shaky cam” really brings a level of authenticity to the action that leaves you digging your nails into your seats.

Over the years I’ve learned that I like movies that take their time and develop the story in a natural, organic way. Sadly, many audiences don’t have that sort of attention span, and these sort of movies are not given a proper chance. However, ‘Jason Bourne’ does this beautifully as screenwriter Christopher Rouse builds tension minute-by-minute until the full-throttled third act that features some jaw-dropping practical effects.

The new cast does a fantastic job of incorporating themselves into the world of Bourne; Vincent Cassell is fantastic as the “Asset”, never being named but leaving a big mark on the film. His motivations are understandable and he’s without a doubt one of the toughest enemies Bourne has had to face. Alicia Vikander is surprising as Heather Lee, an analyst who has high ambitions and crosses over the line of ally and enemy many times throughout the movie. It takes a special actor to steal scenes from Matt Damon, and Vikander is certainly one of those actors. Finally, it’s worth mentioning Riz Ahmed and Tommy Lee Jones in the same breath, as they play small but integral parts, playing off each other very well, sharing animosity for each other and executing their plans in different and unique ways. Ahmed is a huge talent, breaking through two years ago with the stunning ‘Nightcrawler’, and he does a great job here with a smaller role.

Jason Bourne’ is sure to be loved by all Bourne fans. It’s intelligent, bursting with social commentary and features some thrilling action sequences. Greengrass once again comments on the times, with the movie focusing on the importance of privacy and how intelligence officers sometimes abuse their power beyond comprehension. Damon is fantastic, returning to a character nine years after his last outing and jumps right back in the role, giving arguably his most physical performance to date.

After all the visually-oriented movies of the summer – namely the superhero movies – this level of realism is a breath of fresh air. ‘Jason Bourne’ is as close as it gets to portraying real-life espionage; the action isn’t done in a second; people don’t die and come back. In the world of Bourne, it’s a no prisoner sort of film, which is really refreshing in a world with happy endings. The ending is one that the franchise could easily end with and leave the fans happy, but if they decide to make another movie, there’s so much that they can dive into. As we’ve learned from Damon and Greengrass – never say never. And if the series keeps putting out great movies like this, why the hell should they stop.

Daniel’s rating: 8.2 out of 10

The Shallows

Year: 2016
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring: Blake Lively
Written by Patrick Alexander

When I first heard about a potential true spirit-sequel to Steven Spielberg’s 1975 mystery masterpiece ‘Jaws’, it was hard not be intrigued. Shark-fair has been so incredulously overdone in the past decade from ‘Jurassic Shark’ to ‘Snow Shark’ to ‘Ghost Shark’ to ‘Sharknado’ and everything in between (honestly, all those are real films). There hasn’t been a whole lot of effort put into respectfully pimping out arguably the greatest stock movie character of all time hailing from superorder Selachimorpha. However, ‘The Shallows’ might just have changed that. Upon leaving director Jaume Collet-Serra’s latest disaster-piece – starring the lovely Blake Lively – an inner debate permeated my mind. While a legitimately entertaining way to spend an hour and a half, was it actually any good?

On the one hand, there are three good things we know to be true. First, Blake Lively is a total babia majora. Lively steals the one-woman show with an edgy look of panic and sophistication; she genuinely makes being terrorised by a vicious great white look cool. In an effort for strong, independent women-who-don’t-need-no-man everywhere, Lively fights as fiercely as her character Nancy lives – with no fear, only grit. Second, sharks make for fantastic villains. Sharks have no regard for human rules, disregard all common decencies, and never, ever make the cliché master plan speech that eventually runs a second too long, allowing our heralded protagonist to escape and foil them. Sharks get to the point; there’s no easy way out when it’s mano-y-sharko. Third, a bottle-technique (one location throughout) thriller set on the water with no reasonable way to escape is high drama. There’s nowhere for Nancy to go while she’s stuck on the rock in the middle of the sea waiting for high tide to force her hand. She’s literally stuck between a rock and a hard (toothy) place. Good luck breast stroking it 200 yards to shore, with Jaws 2.0 on your tail. ‘The Shallows’ has all three going for it.

On the other hand, ‘The Shallows’ is historically tacky with its limited dialogue. Outside of the tubular “surf’s up” nod to her fellow surfers, Lively’s inner/outer monologue whiffs harder than Lionel Messi in a penalty shootout (apologies to non-football fans with that one). In accordance, Collet-Serra’s insistence on importing formula backstory into an otherwise hip get-up, is a real bummer. Why does Nancy’s backstory matter? Her mom didn’t have to die of cancer and her dad’s displeasure at Nancy ditching medical school didn’t have to push her further away, to where she ended up on a remote Mexican beach looking for gnarly waves. That could’ve happened much more organically with the line, “Hey I’m Nancy. I’m in Mexico because I like to affordably vacation and I love riding gnarly surf”. Nancy didn’t need such a stressful past to be an adventure seeker. It’s often better to leave the bygone narrative buildup out of it and let the viewer interpret a character’s motivations, as recently seen in 2016 hit ‘Green Room’.

‘The Shallows’ is not without its revolutionary film techniques though. Where Collet-Serra lets us down  with average storytelling, he makes up for with high quality tech-integration in transposing Nancy’s mobile phone into a character. This could be the future of film, people. Yes, we’ve all seen the text bubble conversations in various movies, but in 2016 our phones are more than just quick texts and calls – mobile phones are our lives. They hold our memories, our responsibilities, and almost all the data any decent law enforcement would need to incriminate us at a moment’s notice. Just look at the recent concerns over the US government monitoring Snapchat’s filters as facial recognition software. Mobile phones are an extension of ourselves in many facets. Which leads to my point that the way Collet-Serra juxtaposes Nancy’s Instagram, FaceTime, texts, etc. with Nancy herself, creates a new character on the screen. Further, her only ally while stuck on that rock all alone is the buoyant surfing helmet with a GoPro attached to it. We’re living in a world where a GoPro helmet is a bonafide character, with the real power to save the day, if it makes it ashore in time. That’s perhaps a world where ‘The Shallows’ isn’t half bad.

Patrick’s rating: 6.4 out of 10

Desierto

Year: 2015
Director: Jonás Cuarón
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Written by Daniel Chadwick-Shubat

Warning, warning – this film is not entirely English! Oh the humanity! Just kidding, we know by now that you folks are into your culturally diverse cinema, so we know you’re going to love this latest addition to our World Cinema Club. ‘Desierto’ is the ultimate game of cat and mouse. Except the stakes are very real, and the situation relates in a big way to what’s going on in today’s society.

The story follows a group of immigrants who have to make their way across to America, via the Mexican border, to find freedom from gang-infested towns in Mexico. We see two sides to the story, one of Moises (Gael Garcia Bernal) a Mexican immigrant trying desperately to get back to his wife and children in the U.S.A, and the story of Sam (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a patriotic American who hunts for “illegal” immigrants with his dog, wanting to protect his country from said “illegals”. Both sides of the story you can comprehend, but it’s Moises’ that you sympathize with most, understanding his reasoning for crossing the border illegally and seeing his humbleness and soft heart.

In this thriller, you get to decide who is the protagonist and antagonist; fun right? Obviously it’s very clear whom the director chooses as his protagonist and antagonist, but Cuaron leaves it very open, showing the good and bad sides of humanity. There’s no clear cut villain in ‘Desierto’; rather, two men battling against each other, both making decisions that they’ll regret in the long term. The major difference is that Sam is trying to kill Moises, while Moises is trying to stay alive. It’s an intense look at the thought process of two human beings, and how one sees these “illegals” as animals that he can hunt and kill without a moment’s hesitation. The other, only sees the next 1000km between him and his family, and how he’ll do anything to get to them. So you could definitely say one has better intentions.

The visuals on offer only serve to back up Cuaron’s decision to call this movie ‘Desierto’. Set in the backdrop of the Mexico-US border, visually this movie is a wasteland. A beautiful wasteland, captured impeccably by cinematographer Damian Garcia, the vastness of the desert a very striking image. It certainly allows the audience to understand just how much of a personal risk it is to undertake such a journey across the border.

The main reason I can wholeheartedly recommend ‘Desierto’ though, for me at least, is the performances of Bernal and Morgan. Both actors put in deeply emotional performances. Morgan stretches his range from anger to inconsolable grief, and arguably puts in one of his best ever performances, taking us on a journey from instantaneous hatred to a strange kind of sympathy, as we realise he’s just a man looking to escape his own hell. Bernal demands the audience’s attention with his emotionally charged performance. His expressions when he sees his fellow immigrants dying in the most gruesome way is so authentic, and when he kills for the first time, his expression is of pure shock and disbelief, and you bet it’s convincing. 

‘Desierto’ is a deeply provocative thriller that hits all the right notes, no mean feat for a feature debut from director Jonas Cuaron. Cuaron develops his own style, and one that seemingly pleases both audience and critics alike, as he won the Fipresci Prize for Special Presentations at TIFF, putting him on the prestigious list of past winners including Woody Allen, Terrence Malick and Paul Thomas Anderson.

Set in English and Spanish, ‘Desierto’ might be hard for some people to follow, we get that. But for those who love movies and have the patience to dig deep and dissect a movie, this is truly a must watch. It’s the perfect movie for people who are willing to look at the other side of the illegal immigrant argument, and I’d implore someone like Donald Trump to watch this, cause goodness knows he’s in need of straightening out.

Daniel’s rating: 8.4 out of 10

The Neon Demon

Year: 2016
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Elle Fanning, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves
Written by Noah Jackson

Well, this is it; the movie so infuriatingly dull and shallow, but at the same time rich with metaphor and symbolism. The movie that will come off slow and plodding, but entertaining enough to keep the audience seated, because it just might get better. The movie where the ending actually could ruin or save the movie, depending on who is watching.

The movie in question is ‘The Neon Demon’, about an aspiring model who quickly rises to great fame in the cut-throat fashion world of Los Angeles. It comes from acclaimed Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, who has been booed at Cannes (now twice), and had one of his films sued for a misleading trailer (Drive). And let me tell you, his latest effort is really strange in every sense of the word.

Now, I haven’t seen the big turn-off film he made, ‘Only God Forgives’, but I have seen ‘Drive’ and ‘Bronson’. On those two movies alone, I would say I’m a fan. He clearly knows his stuff when it comes to the craft. His vibrant colour palette, mostly neon, illuminates the subtle and visual stories he puts on screen. I loved ‘Drive’ so much, I own the Blu-ray and have one of the posters, and though ‘Bronson’ isn’t what I would call an excellent film, it is still very good and uniquely presented. And that is what makes this director special – that not only is he extremely competent, but he is UNIQUE. There’s no one who makes movie today that does it quite like him, and anytime a unique filmmaker has a new release, I will want to check it out, because even if it isn’t the best, it’s at least a breath of fresh air in what is now a stale and repetitive film industry that is oversaturated by blockbusters.

‘The Neon Demon’ however exemplifies everything wrong with shock value scriptwriting. Plain and simple, the first two acts are dull, from a story standpoint, and the third act is pretty over-the-top. It is so overdone that it becomes hard to take seriously. But let’s break down what exactly goes through this movie.

The best part of this movie is director Nicolas Winding Refn, not writer Nicolas Winding Refn. The cinematography is lush, vibrant, and is a really good reminder that this director knows how to make things look great. The score is also great, enhancing the visuals and adding more depth to the already unnerving story. However, I would argue that this is where the positives stop, and the rest descends to average, and even to outright dumb.

The acting performances are “alright”; the biggest issue being mainly found in the script, especially with the leading actress. The main character, Jessie, is played by Elle Fanning, who is a very attractive actress, and also a very good actress. She is talented no doubt, and she pulls a very effective transition over the runtime (a whopping six hours…I mean, two hours, it felt more). But the big story element that she is given, which is being the “it girl”, having everyone stop and look when she enters a room, does not suit the performance. The script keeps pointing at her and shouting “SHE IS IT. SHE IS THE IT GIRL. SHE IS SO IT”, but it never does anything to really prove that, other than force the message down my throat. And while that may work sometimes, it is mostly because the movie convinces me that this is what I, the audience, am supposed to believe. It doesn’t work here. All the other performances are suitable – not great but not bad. Jena Malone is probably the only other actress that goes above her peers, but not by much. She seemed very passive and felt more like a plot device, which I would blame on the script.

Now that I haven’t overused my scapegoating the script, let’s talk about it. The visuals drawn from it are incredible. There’s a lot of metaphors used and a lot of subtle symbolism, mostly involving vanity, beauty, and mirrors. The dialogue is out-of-place at times, but it’s not appalling. The ending was reported by the cast as “improvised” on set (and it really shows), but it does makes sense with the story. The big problem is a lack of support for what it has to offer; it gives these great elements that would work if they weren’t so shallow. There’s one too many subplots, and the main story feels undercooked and undervalued in the context of the overall film. And the script doesn’t help the film’s pacing, which starts slow and silent and never really picks up. That is until the ending, but the ending doesn’t really pick up the pace, it just pours on the shock value in the hopes that it will replace actual storytelling. In all honesty, the ending didn’t ruin the movie for me, but it didn’t help out the film either. However, if you consider yourself squeamish or not interested in gross things, don’t go see this movie. Also, if you have epilepsy, definitely do not see it, it will induce seizures (trust me on this, someone in my theater did).

Overall, the movie is an exercise in how far one is willing to go with a director they trust. For me, it stops here. Nicolas Winding Refn is a good filmmaker, but it proves to me I need to do more research before I see another of his films. Likely, Refn’s fanboys will see this and love it, and forgive how absurd the ending is, because they will enjoy the metaphor. I, however, had been pushed to a point where I simply did not believe anything else that was put on screen. The best comparison I have is David Lynch. For the first two acts, you think it’s one story, and then the rug gets pulled out from underneath with no warning and the whole piece falters as a result. To summarise, ‘The’ Neon Demon, is visually and audibly stunning, but the story is uneven and too strange.

Noah’s rating: 5.0 out of 10

Now You See Me 2

Year: 2016
Director: John M. Chu
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Lizzy Caplan
Written by Daniel Chadwick-Shubat

Movies are magical in more ways than one; they create fantastical worlds that only exist in the mind, and have brought to life some of the most beloved fictional characters in the world. ‘Now You See Me 2’ is a movie about magic, but sadly it creates very little of that movie magic. Like a lot of sequels, it’s bogged down by the fact the audience have to know what happened in the previous movie, and is at times a little too smart for its own good.

The Four Horsemen (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco and now Lizzy Caplan, replacing Isla Fisher from the previous movie) return for a second mind-bending adventure, elevating the limits of stage illusion to new heights and taking them around the globe. One year after outwitting the FBI and winning the public’s adulation with their Robin Hood-style magical spectacles, the illusionists resurface for a comeback performance in hopes of exposing the unethical practices of a tech magnate. The man behind their vanishing act is none other than Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe), a tech prodigy who threatens the Horsemen into pulling off their most impossible heist yet. Their only hope is to perform one last unprecedented stunt to clear their names and reveal the mastermind behind it all.

The addition of Daniel Radcliffe to the sequel was a huge positive in my eyes, as it’s been a while since Radcliffe has gotten to do anything comedic. I’ve really enjoyed his works as of late, including the likes of ‘Horns’ and ‘The Woman in Black’ but here he really got to run with his “villainous” role and ended up being one of the most enjoyable characters of the movie. You can’t quite hate him, and maybe that was the point.

But the return of many of the original cast members meant that this was a very recognisable cast, whoch actually worked against the sequel. With the likes of Eisenberg, Ruffalo, Harrelson, Freeman, Radcliffe and Caine all having to be crammed in and serve the plot, it ended up making the movie way too convoluted to really dig into. It also meant the likes of Caplan and Franco (who are two fantastic young actors) were left on the wayside a bit, not allowing the two to gel at all and throwing in some dumb, out-of-nowhere romantic side-plot that just felt forced.

Don’t get me wrong, this film was still enjoyable, with the magic looking as cool as ever and the comedic banter between the Horsemen still going strong. And as someone who can’t help but love Mark Ruffalo, it was great to see him have a bigger role in the sequel and see some of his character’s backstory. Unfortunately though, everything that went wrong with the original, once again failed here, and thanks to the overcrowded cast, this sequel became even more of a mess than its predecessor.

If the producers do decide to make a third installment (as the ending here suggests) then they have got to make it a more concentrated story and give more screen time to the Horsemen rather than all the secondary characters around them. The movie was still a fun time in the theatre, and the comedic thriller aspect really worked for the movie, especially in the most memorable scene involving a security guard and a banana (when you see it, you’ll know). All it needs is a little more movie magic and a little less pretension, and it’ll be on the right track.

 Daniel’s rating: 7.0 out of 10

Green Room

Year: 2016
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Starring: Patrick Stewart, Imogen Poots, Anton Yelchin
Written by Patrick Alexander and Noah Jackson

Somewhere between psychotic and iconic; somewhere between “I want it” and “I’ve got it”; somewhere between being sober and being lifted; somewhere between indie-punk-rock tour and withdrawn neo-Nazi grunge cults; that’s where you’ll find ‘Green Room’, red laces and all. The film dubbed by Quentin Tarantino as, “the most sensational and out of the blue film I’ve ever seen”, is a must see for anybody who’s into high-class chaos, vicious violence, terribly angry punk rock, not sleeping at night, or even the alluring Imogen Poots. ‘Green Room’ isn’t so much a horror film as it is a world-class, ecstasy-induced, thrill-fest set in the grungiest of territories, one in which we all can hope to never find ourselves…unless you’re into that kind of thing?

Starring Charlie Bartlett, Maeby Fünke, and Professor X…er I mean, Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, and Patrick Stewart, alongside Poots, Callum Turner, and not-the-footballer Joe Cole, ‘Green Room’ lives up to its billing with quality acting amidst the rampant bedlam. As Yelchin, Turner, Shawkat and Cole – whilst snagging the only gig their ambitious screamo band can find – come into a tiff with the local club owner and his angsty clientele, they find themselves clawing to make amends in any way possible. To be clear, by local club I mean, local to the supremely segregated, wooded neo-Nazi den of psychopaths far out from society, but close enough for the local State Rangers to pop in every once in awhile for a timely bribe.

So just how good is ‘Green Room’? Well it turns out Noah Jackson and Patrick Alexander are both huge fanatics after one viewing, so here’s their shared opinions. Let’s get started with the basics – the immediate reaction as the credits began to roll on ‘Green Room’. This is a film which starts off rather slow but by the end, had Noah rushing home to clean himself. According to Patrick, ‘Green Room’ is definitely one of those films which will have you texting everybody you know and postimg all over social media instantly after it ends trying to vent and hash out what the eff you just watched. Because you feel dirty, like you just watched German hentai porn in front of your grandmother for 95 minutes, but also you kind of feel mentally abused as it catches you so off-guard and hits so hard. After the opening 15 minute crawl, with no warning, no concern for pace or the viewer’s heart rates, it takes off at a dead sprint for 80 minutes full of lunacy, terror, really aggressive punk rock, hardcore neo-Nazi hate, and lots of violence.

The last movie that was as fast as this was probably ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’, but it wasn’t necessarily as unexpected. But there’s another difference, which is our protagonist’s motives. In other action movies, the protagonist has at least a smidgen of an idea of what the hell he is trying to accomplish, for example ‘Die Hard’. But in Saulnier’s films, he has stated that he writes his leads as “inept protagonists” – and while this concept worked for something like ‘Blue Ruin’, a film in which the lead is on a bloody revenge path with no real plan – something about ‘Green Room’ suggested that the characters were written to be oblivious of their imminent danger, rather than painting it like the characters made a natural decision to insert themselves into that position.

For Noah, this was a bit of a misstep, but Patrick wonders whether this may be more of an indictment as to the dichotomy of ‘Green Room’ between being a thriller and a horror picture.  Saulnier seemed to get caught up using elements of both, but with a complete view of the film you realise it leans more towards a thriller. However, going into it, many will be expecting a horror film, where the characters are usually less aware of what they’re getting into. So with that lens, it made sense.

In terms of tones and themes, the director’s commentary argues how color schemes aren’t really a large portion of his filmmaking, yet the color green runs through a lot of the scenery in this film. It’s everywhere except the place that the characters spend the most time. And Noah’s interpretation would be that as green is naturally the main colour, the hatred and predisposition for horror is also natural in humanity, as seen in the fact that groups like neo-Nazis exist. On a more basic level, there is a really gross tone of suspense. The green room is of course where bands or acts chill out pre-show to get ready, but in this instance it’s not your typical green room. There’s no relaxation going on in there, no hanging out and having a good time. For Patrick, this contrast is huge – in that the setting betrays its own name.

Flaws are few and far between in this film. As Patrick always says in his reviews, the best films are the ones you don’t expect. ‘Green Room’ was really unexpected all around. Patrick, however, found that the film has no shame with gore and racial hate, which can both be really dicey topics to cover. Yet, ‘Green Room’ does both with – class isn’t the right word – but perhaps respect. The one big plot flaw I saw revolves around the police scene. Look, I’ve been arrested and cops NEVER go about things the way they did in the film, especially in this case. What kind of cops don’t sense the suspicion in the air at a secluded Aryan Brotherhood punk rock club? Not to mention the amount of incredibly stupid decisions made by the main characters. Some of the decisions come out of nowhere.

Patrick Stewart plays the coolest character in the story because while he isn’t necessarily dominative on screen, one can never tell what he is really thinking, despite the instructions and reasons he gives his cronies. It’s a brilliant performance that had me on edge for a solid 70 minutes straight. He plays it so close to the vest that you can never get his objective. Does he really only want to kill the Ain’t Rights (the band)? Or is he willing to negotiate? Is he trying to hide his lair under the club? What are his motives? You never know for sure.

For Noah, the decision in choosing to watch a film is heavily based on a director’s repertoire and experience, meaning that new directors who create legitimate movies really are something special. Yet, sometimes if a newer director casts incredible actors, it seems that an aspect of the job is done for them. From a guy like indie director Jeremy Saulnier, whose credits include the cult films ‘Murder Party’ and ‘Blue Ruin’, it’s rather surprising to behold his capabilities with top tier actors like Stewart, Poots, and Yelchin. Saulnier is becoming a very exciting director; he’s an edgy director, who hasn’t gone mainstream yet, so we must enjoy that whilst we still can. The likes of Yelchin, Poots, Shawkat, and Stewart are talented actors, who perhaps make up for some of Saulnier’s eccentricities, but truth be told you could’ve casted this film with a bunch of nobodies and it would have been just as awesome. Those brand-name actors helped thrust ‘Green Room’ into a more marketable tier, but Saulnier’s writing absolutely blows you away.

Something Saulnier noted, in an interview with Vox about his “little punk rock war movie,” is that he didn’t want to go heavy on character backstory and recalling past traumas. Saulnier chose to trust his actors to perform physically and have a natural charisma that made the characters feel like the viewer is with them. And that would help the audience “get” who those characters were at their core while filling in the gaps with the viewer’s own imagination. In having no backstory, that makes the characters feel more like stock characters and not like people, which inevitably makes them less relatable. Nonetheless, it worked in terms of pacing because the movie would’ve been a drag with any backstory scenes before the carnage begins. That’s why it worked; if they had gone back in time, the foot comes off the gas pedal and ‘Green Room’ possibly loses its insane momentum. It truly was an adrenaline rush.

Overall, the film was a solid surprise that really has you on the edge of your seat. ‘Green Room’ is an experience of its own. It’s a must-see for any horror, suspense, or thriller fan. The acting was good, the story premise was an original twist, and the overall technical aspects didn’t have any glaring flaws. ‘Green Room’ will definitely fit somewhere into many people’s top movies of 2016 lists.

Patrick and Noah’s rating: 9.0 out of 10