Review: Coco

 

 

DIR: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina • WRI: Adrian Molina, Matthew Aldrich PRO: Darla K. Anderson  DOP: Matt Aspbury, Danielle Feinberg • ED: Steve Bloom, Lee Unkrich • MUS: Michael Giacchino • DES: Harley Jessup • CAST: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt

 

Pixar proves yet again that it works best when it concentrates on original stories instead of pandering to tired franchises (Cars 3 anyone?). Though in many ways it treads similar ground, Coco is a film rich in heart, so much so that the film’s few flaws fail to take away from the overall experience. Bright colours, big emotions, and fantastic world-building means that Pixar’s newest offering earns its place in the studio’s pantheon of classics, tear-inducing moments included, as is tradition.

Coco centres on Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), a young Mexican boy from a family of shoemakers who longs to be a musician à la his deceased idol, actor and singer Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) – there’s just one catch… Music of all forms has been banned from the Rivera household ever since Miguel’s guitarist great-great-grandfather walked out on his family many years before. The discovery of a hidden photograph convinces Miguel that his infamous ancestor is none other than de la Cruz himself, but even this revelation cannot convince his family to allow him to pursue his musical passion.

During Día de los Muertos, the only day of the year in which deceased loved-ones can enter the living world to visit family, Miguel magically finds himself transported to the Land of the Dead. There, he teams up with a loveable ragamuffin, Hector (Gael García Bernal). The two must race against time before Miguel becomes trapped in the realm of the dead forever. Antics ensue, shocking twists are revealed and lessons about family and love are learned.

The film is certainly greater than the sum of its parts. It’s when you begin to look at individual elements that cracks start to appear, namely in the story department. The only reason there is a plot at all is because of Miguel’s family’s almost pathological adherence to a rule set down by a dead woman based on events that happened decades before practically all of the living characters were born. Talk about cutting off your own nose to spite your face. There’s also a few small plot contrivances that ring rather unoriginal, but overall the film has enough going for it that suspending the audience’s disbelief on these matters is not too much of a chore.

Despite the oversimplification of the plot’s basic structure, the film is not afraid to examine more complex themes about the nature of family, death and remembrance, which ultimately saves it from being a typical kid adventure movie with a cultural twist. Though it hardly needs saying, the animation is superb and the level of detail given to each character and background elevates the film to a much grander scale. The design of the Land of the Dead is superb and kudos must be given to the animators for making the skeleton characters look so welcoming and, well, alive.

Where the visuals really shine, however, is in the use of colour and light. Most of the story takes place at night and the film creates the illusion of artificial light that has warmth and depth to it that in hands of a less skilled studio could have looked garish. Most of the films soundtrack was penned by married duo Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez of Frozen fame, but despite a one or two pleasant songs the music is surprisingly unmemorable. Luckily this is not a huge deal, for even though this is a film about a musical family, it is not a musical in and of itself.

Overall, Coco is a celebration about family, those still with us and those who came before. It is a beautiful and moving tale immersed in Mexican culture yet with a universality that is sure to resonate with anyone of any background. A wonderful film for families and a wonderful film just in general.

Ellen Murray

PG (See IFCO for details)

104 minutes
Coco is released 12th January 2018

 Coco – Official Website

 

 

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Review: The Greatest Showman

DIR: Michael Gracey  WRI: Jenny Bicks, Bill Condon  PRO: Peter Chernin, Laurence Mark, Jenno Topping  DOP: Seamus McGarvey • ED: Tom Cross
Robert Duffy, Joe Hutshing, Michael McCusker, Jon Poll, Spencer Susser • MUS: John Debney, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul, Joseph Trapanese • DES: Nathan Crowley • CAST: Hugh Jackman, Zendaya, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson

 

It’s bad enough when a film gets too heavy-handed with its message but even worse when it then proceeds to not uphold the very message it preached. Such is The Greatest Showman. The film talks a talk, but it doesn’t walk the walk. Well, if the song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has taught generations of children anything, it’s that physical oddities and quirks are to be celebrated – but only if they can be exploited for a profit. Evidently, director Michael Gracey is a fan of this sentiment.

Roughly (very roughly) based on the life of show business entrepreneur P. T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and the founding of the famous Barnum & Bailey Circus, the film is a kaleidoscope of colour and song that looks almost impressive enough to distract from its muddled plot and bad writing. Risking all he has to pursue the dream he and his wife Charity (Michelle Williams) have harboured since childhood, Barnum seeks to create the greatest show on Earth. Reaching out to those who have been shunned by society for their colour, their disabilities and just their general unconventional-ness, Barnum brings together a rag-tag group of performers to entertain and delight the very public that had always disregarded them – and all for the low, low cost of an admission ticket!

Jackman is, of course, as charming as ever as the titular showman and, with his musical theatre credentials, clearly revels in a role that allows him to showcase all of his talents. Other cast members fare equally well, in particular Zendaya who brings an intensity to the role of trapeze artist Anne Wheeler that rings sincere even if it is sometimes out of place alongside her co-stars fluffier performances. This is not a film that lacks talent, but rather coherence in both narrative structure and theme. One of the films biggest problems is its paradoxical treatment of its ‘freak’ characters. Despite every set piece and musical number regurgitating the films theme of self-empowerment, the circus performers are only ever used as background props for the films traditionally beautiful and able-bodied characters. We never learn anything about their personalities or back stories in significant detail and so can only identify them by their physical characteristics; the giant man, the conjoined twins, the dog-boy, the bearded lady etc. By reducing these characters to the titles slapped on them by a world that ostracizes rather than embraces those who are different, the film is reaffirming the very ideology it claims to reject. The lack of self-awareness is apparent as to almost be humorous.

The film also suffers from issues with pacing – racing forward in the beginning then slowing to an almost tedious drip by the end. Years pass in the blink of an eye, the circus performs one successful show then suddenly Barnum is debt-free and can purchase an opulent mansion. It’s a bit jarring to say the least. In his eagerness to provide the audience with a good time, director Gracey forgoes all build-up for constant pay-off, which ultimately feels undeserved and means the films quieter moments lack an emotional punch. To give the film some credit, it does feature some visually fantastic sequences and Gracey does provide some flair with the camera work. But by far the oddest choice made for the film, giving that it is trying to emulate the Hollywood studio musicals of old, is the musical direction. The soundtrack consists entirely of pop anthems, the B-side kind and are unsurprisingly unmemorable.

Overall, The Greatest Showman is a film that aims no higher than pure unadulterated entertainment and doesn’t even really succeed at that. It may provide just enough spectacle to prove a pleasant distraction during the holiday period, but a warning in advance – leave the brain behind for this one.

Ellen Murray

PG (See IFCO for details)

104 minutes
The Greatest Showman is released 26th December 2017

The Greatest Showman – Official Website

 

 

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Review: Suburbicon

DIR: George Clooney  WRI: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, George Clooney, Grant Heslov  PRO: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Teddy Schwarzman  DOP: Robert Elswit  DES: James D. Bissell  Ed: Stephen Mirrione  MUS: Alexandre Desplat  CAST: Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Oscar Isaac, Noah Jupe, Gary Basaraba

The greatest comedy can come from the darkest of situations; reflecting on the violence and tragedy that humankind inflicts on ourselves it is difficult to come to any other conclusion than pure bewilderment at its absurdness. At that point, what can you do but laugh? The Coen Brothers’ best work are generally rooted in this strange juxtaposition. Unfortunately, even the best quality clay can be moulded into something clunky and unappealing by unskilled hands. George Clooney is not a man devoid of skills, but Suburbicon proves that acting in good films does not qualify one to direct them. Despite being chock-full of interesting ideas, the film fails to bring them together to make something comprehensible or enjoyable.

Set in the titular Suburbicon, a 1950s all-white neighbourhood with perfect houses, perfect gardens and perfectly horrible racists, a newly arrived black family, the Meyers, find themselves subject to intimidation and protests. White residents clutch their pearls and speak plainly to news reporters that the lack of racial segregation will surely result in the destruction of their idyllic community. But on the other side of the picket fence, Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) finds his family’s veneer of white, Christian wholesomeness beginning to slip. When his wife (Julianne Moore) is murdered during a botched home invasion, seemingly an act of retaliation for the Lodge’s young son (Noah Jupe) having the gall to play with a black child, Gardner becomes entangled with the local mob in order to protect his remaining family. But not everything is at it seems, and not everyone is as guilty or as innocent as they may look. As tensions descend into violence the ugly underbelly of the American suburb is laid bare.

The core concept of the film reads well on paper. Contrasting the experience of the black American family trying to find their way and maintain their dignity in a country that actively works to destroy them to the inherent hypocrisy of the white, nuclear family ideals could make for an engaging and thought-provoking narrative. The problem is, for all of Clooney’s desire to highlight his ‘racism is bad’ message, the Meyers are never given enough characterisation or screen time to be anything more than props for the film, thus diluting the power of their struggle for the audience. Their experience is only the backdrop for the actual story of the film to take place against. But even the main plot of the film feels at times unfocused.

Matt Damon’s performance is suitably intimidating when necessary, but suffers from a lack of consistent characterisation. Julianne Moore, who plays both Gardner’s wife Rose and her twin sister Maggie, drifts through the film, fine but unmemorable. The film works best when it gives itself over wholly to being a screwed-up comedy of errors. It is the supporting cast, such as Gary Basaraba as Uncle Mitch, Glenn Fleshler as the hitman and Oscar Isaac as a brilliantly devious insurance claims investigator, that turn in the best performances and the screen lights up whenever they are on it. Sadly, just as it feels things are properly getting going, the film gets bogged down once more.

Overall, Suburbicon as a whole is not as great as the sum of its parts. Though visually pleasant, if lacking flair, director George Clooney just can’t make the film come together in a way that will elicit an audience reaction other than ‘meh’.

Ellen Murray

15A (See IFCO for details)

104 minutes
Suburbicon is released 17th November 2017

Suburbicon – Official Website

 

 

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Review: Justice League

DIR: Zack Snyder  WRI: Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon  PRO: Jon Berg, Geoff Johns, Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder • DOP: Fabian Wagner • ED: David Brenner, Richard Pearson, Martin Walsh  DES: Patrick Tatopoulos  MUS: Danny Elfman • CAST: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher

Things being grim as they are (you know, just, in general) the concept of a team of superheroes sworn to protect mankind at all costs, from threats both human and otherwise, is an appealing one – if not particularly original. The DCEU got off to a lukewarm start with Man of Steel in 2013 and its reception only cooled with the disappointing Batman V Superman and quite frankly incomprehensible Suicide Squad in 2016. Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman offered a refreshing reprieve this summer, but one out of four doesn’t make good odds for an expansive, cohesive cinematic universe a la Marvel. What with rumours of planned stand-alone films for these characters now being cast in doubt and Batfleck hoping to jump the DC ship sooner rather than later, the future of this motley crew’s silver screen adventures is uncertain. Which is a shame because, despite being messy, clunky and riddled with dodgy CGI, Justice League offers just a glimpse of what the DC universe could be if taken in hand by a more capable creative force.

In a world still reeling from the loss of Superman, a malevolent being from another world by the name of Steppenwolf sees an opportunity to feed on humanity’s despair and wreak devastation. Realising the impending doom hurtling towards them, and filled with remorse for his part in Superman’s death, Batman (aka Bruce Wayne aka Ben Affleck aka Batfleck) seeks to create an opposing force to this evil. Joined by Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), they enlist the scrappy, if somewhat excitable, speedster Barry Allen ‘The Flash’ (Ezra Miller), underwater cowboy Arthur Curry ‘Aquaman’ (Jason Momoa) and the cybernetically enhanced Victor Stone ‘Cyborg’ (Ray Fisher). Mismatching jigsaw pieces though they may be, the team comes together in order to protect the one common interest that they all share; the Earth.

The film is deeply, deeply flawed. The story is only just serviceable, the villain boring and unthreatening, the CGI looks unfinished in some places and straight up ugly in others, action sequences take place too quickly for the audience to properly comprehend what’s happening on screen, and Wonder Woman and her fellow Amazonians are ridiculously over sexualised. And that’s the short list.

And yet… there is something compelling about these characters. They bounce off each other in a way that’s strangely endearing and each actor does their best to bring something extra to their character. True, character interactions are not free from hammy dialogue and the film’s pacing means things often feel too rushed. But there is something undeniably thrilling in seeing these iconic characters work together on the big screen. It’s just a shame that their current incarnation, moulded in Zack Snyder’s vision, lacks a strong framework to allow them to better shine. The characters save the film from being a complete and utter disaster, but they alone can’t save it from being a mild disaster.

While undoubtedly Snyder is genuinely passionate about these characters, he seems to suffer from a fundamental misunderstanding of what they represent and, most importantly, what cinema-goers expect from a story involving them. Justice League understands that a character like Superman means something to people; it just can’t show us convincingly why.

Ellen Murray

12A (See IFCO for details)

119 minutes
Justice League is released 17th October 2017

Justice League – Official Website 

 

 

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Review: Breathe

DIR: Andy Serkis  WRI: William Nicholson  PRO: Jonathan Cavendish • DOP: Robert Richardson • ED: Masahiro Hirakubo DES: James Merifield  MUS: Nitin Sawhney • CAST: Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Tom Hollander, Hugh Bonneville

 

Robin Cavendish seemed to have an ideal life; a successful career as a tea broker that allowed him to travel to the furthest points of the globe, a beautiful and devoted wife, a baby on the way and his health. When the latter was tragically snatched from him in the form of the poliovirus, leaving Cavendish completely paralysed from the neck down, the restrictions of disabled care in 1960s England meant his life was to be confined to a hospital bed and a ventilation machine constantly whirring on the nightstand. But, thanks to a few dedicated friends, the constant care of his wife Diana, and his own steely determination, Cavendish would become the longest living responaut in British history and a tireless campaigner for the rights of disabled people worldwide. Breathe is a deeply empathetic take on a condition that devastates the lives of so many, but director Andy Serkis too often errs on the side of deifying his two main characters to the point that emotions begin to ring false. Inspirational? Yes, absolutely. Genuine? Not so much.

Thankfully, Andrew Garfield’s and Claire Foy’s performances keep the film from descending into ‘Hallmark-made-for-TV’ territory, each bringing a restraint that perfectly conveys the tangle of complex emotions neatly masked by the stereotypically stiff upper lip that marked the British constitution of the twentieth century. However, though the challenges the couple faced are made clear, Serkis never truly dives into the nitty-gritty realities of Cavendish’s condition, leaving the audience feeling that we have not been shown the full picture. The swiftness in which the narrative moves means that the many obstacles the couple faced are so quickly overcome as to have never been a real threat to begin with. Cavendish wants to leave the hospital? He leaves the hospital. He wants to go outside? Hey presto, their inventor friend whips up a wheelchair that can support his ventilator. It’s not that the film belittles these problems, it just doesn’t give itself enough time to reflect on the impact their resolution. Victories come so swift and with such ease, one can’t help but feel that a little more time was concentrated on the fight for these rights rather than the outcomes.

Overall, Breathe is a film with the best of intentions, but too twee an execution to connect with audiences on anything more than a surface level.

Ellen Murray

12A (See IFCO for details)

117 minutes
Breathe is released 27th October 2017

Breathe – Official Website 

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Review: IT

 

DIR: Andy Muschietti  WRI: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman  PRO: Seth Grahame-Smith, David Katzenberg, Roy Lee, Dan Lin, Barbara Muschietti • DOP: Chung-hoon Chung • ED: Jason Ballantine  DES: Claude Paré   MUS: Benjamin Wallfisch  • CAST: Bill Skarsgård, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis, Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Wyatt Oleff, Jack Dylan Grazer

 

Growing up is a difficult business at the best of times, but when you add a monstrous immortal entity that kills children exclusively to the equation things get a whole lot messier.

Pennywise is back and more terrifying than ever in the newest adaptation of Stephen King’s infamous novel. Director Andy Muschietti crafts the film with a real self-awareness as to its inherently goofy imagery, masterfully weaving terror and tension into the obscene and absurd. For all the scares, however, the film is anchored by a genuinely moving core, full of heart, emotion and even a few good laughs. Tying everything together are the fantastic performances by the lead child cast, all of whom bring a depth to their characters many of their adult counterparts would envy, and of course, the killer clown himself, Bill Skarsgård.

Set in the sleepy Maine town of Derry in the summer 1989 (the ’80s are so hot right now but, to give the film credit, pushing the events a few decades after they take place in the novel does not in any way impose on the plot), a group of bullied kids discover the horrifying truth behind the disappearance of multiple local children. Under the pavements, in the sewers, a shape-shifting entity better known as Pennywise the Clown has come back to life after thirty years of hibernation and is resuming once more the hunt. As the town’s adults remain belligerently blind to the events unfolding under their very noses, the ‘Losers’ gang must learn to face their inner metaphorical demons before they can confront the very literal monster feeding on their deepest and darkest fears.

This is a film that lives or dies on two mutually important elements; Pennywise and the kids. Without one working to full capacity the other is also dragged down with it. Luckily, Muschietti knows how to bring out the best in both. Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise is truly unsettling and while it is inevitable perhaps that his performance will draw comparison to Tim Curry’s famous turn as the character in the 1990 TV adaptation, Skarsgård succeeds and surpasses on every level. His voice constantly alternates between eerily childlike to rough and gravelly, as though the monster is barely able to conceal his true nature under his deceptively child-friendly appearance. Though of course he is helped along by excellent costume design and make-up, where Skarsgård really passes the text is in films stranger moments where Pennywise has the potential to look ridiculous, but yet he always manages to maintain an exceptionally menacing undercurrent.

This performance is nicely complimented by the film’s child stars. While all the Losers gang are well cast and convey their roles perfectly, the standouts are Sophia Lillis as Beverley, Jaeden Lieberher as Bill and Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben. Each bring a maturity and vulnerability to their respective roles that makes them constantly engaging to watch and ensures the audience feels something real towards them, making the scenes where their characters are in danger all the more tense.

There are few things in the film that distract from its overall enjoyability, however, namely the strange objectification of Beverley, a girl no older than thirteen. It is not a consistent theme throughout the film but there are moments that feel somewhat uncomfortable. Perhaps the argument here is that, as the only girl in the group and the object of her fellow gang members’ affection, we are supposed to see her through the eyes of a boy the same age. But it’s difficult to forget that the person behind the camera is a grown man and so too are many of the audience members. Asking us to gaze at this fifteen-year-old actress the way a thirteen-year-old boy would seemed a little weird, and not in a good way.

Putting this rather awkward nugget aside, IT nonetheless manages in a lot of ways to improve on its source material, combining horror and adventure in a way that will leave audiences both scared and exhilarated.

Ellen Murray

16 (See IFCO for details)

134 minutes

IT is released 8th September 2017

IT – Official Website

 

 

 

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Review: Annabelle: Creation

 

DIR: David F. Sandberg • WRI: Gary Dauberman, Gary Dauberman • PRO: Peter Safran, James Wan • DOP: Maxime Alexandre • ED: Michel Aller • DES: Jennifer Spence • MUS: Benjamin Wallfisch • CAST: Talitha Bateman, Lulu Wilson, Stephanie Sigman, Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto

In my 2014 review of Annabelle, the original spin-off from James Wan’s immensely successful Conjuring series, I wrote that ‘Let’s face it, when you create a doll as inherently creepy looking as Annabelle you’re sort of asking for a demon to possess it. An evil spirit would be the only thing on earth (or beyond) to find this caricature of fugly appealing’. While the demonic dolly remains as frightful looking as ever, Annabelle: Creation manages to pull off a rare feat; it surpasses its predecessor while still contextualising it so that a comprehensive cinematic universe is expanded upon. Director David F. Sandberg stays true to the style of the series previous instalments but ramps up the scares to create a genuinely terrifying horror film with substance.

After the death of their young daughter, doll maker Samuel Mullins (LaPaglia) and his wife Esther (Otto) decide to open their now sadly empty home to a group of dislocated orphaned girls and their carer, Sister Charlotte (Sigman). Among the new arrivals are devoted best friends Linda (Wilson) and Janice (Bateman), the latter of whom has been made lame by polio. No sooner have the girls settled into their new rooms, however, then things begin to go bump in the night. After being drawn by an unseen force inside the usually locked bedroom of the Mullin’s deceased daughter, Janice discovers a rather creepy looking doll sequestered in a cupboard lined with pages from the Bible – and then the real fun starts.

On paper, the film seems like a typical paint-by-numbers haunted house affair, but, thanks to Sandberg’s slick direction, great production design and an effective soundtrack, it is elevated to something more. It’s the little touches that culminate to create an atmosphere of horror, and a prime example in this film is the subtle, yet almost constant, rumbling noise in the distance, under the character’s dialogue. With a less skilled director this could have been hugely distracting, but Sandberg utilises this sound effect so well that instead it succeeds in conveying a feeling of unrelenting, approaching dread that the characters are powerless to escape from.

All of this is aided by the surprisingly engaging performances from the two child leads, Lulu Wilson and Talitha Bateman, who are given the benefit of actual character development from the script rather than being reduced to the moving props that scream on cue role that other horror films assign to their child-aged characters. In comparison, the performances of their adult counterparts, though passable, fall somewhat flat and clunky dialogue is sprinkled throughout the film, though not enough to be distracting. Another weakness of the film lies more in its role as a continuation of the Conjuring universe rather than as a standalone piece, but for those hard-core horror fans that love to immerse themselves in the lore of these narratives the film does not add much to the Annabelle ‘mythology’ and instead merely builds on information already revealed to audiences in The Conjuring and Annabelle. This is, however, a small dent on an otherwise well-crafted flick.

Annabelle: Creation manages to undo a lot of the damage done from its 2014 predecessor and uses the best elements of the horror genre to create something that feels familiar but not fatigued. A solid film for those searching for a shot of adrenalin and no desire to go to sleep anytime soon.

Ellen Murray

108 minutes
16 (See IFCO for details)

Annabelle: Creation is released 11th August 2017

Annabelle: Creation – Official Website

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Review: The Beguiled

 

DIR/WRI: Sofia Coppola • PRO: Youree Henley • DOP: Philippe Le Sourd • ED: Sarah Flack • DES: Anne Ross • MUS: Laura Karpman Phoenix • CAST: Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Colin Farrell, Oona Laurence

Set in Virginia during the peak of the Civil War, Sofia Coppola’s reimagining of Thomas P. Cullinan’s novel The Beguiled and Don Siegel’s 1971 film adaptation of the same name internalises the conflict of war to create a tense yet hugely engaging thriller. Under the deceptive guise of antebellum elegance and Victorian social graces, emotions shimmer close to the surface as Coppola explores the delicate balancing act between humanity’s capacity for goodness and immense violence.

When a badly wounded Union soldier, Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell), finds refuge in an all-girls boarding school occupied solely by its headmistress Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman), instructor Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), and five students who have been stranded there by the war, fear and suspicion begin to give way to unspoken desire. Initially determined to hand the Yankee over to Confederate forces as soon as possible, the excitement of having a male presence in their home, and one dependent on them for everything, due to his wounds, delays John’s fate as the women proclaim ‘Christian charity’ so that they may keep their pet a little while longer. With the ominous sounds of musket-fire ever present in the distance, another war within the walls of the school begins as desire becomes jealousy, jealousy becomes despair. Having tried so hard to keep themselves isolated from the horrific violence taking place in the real world just outside their front gates, the women must now confront the ugliness of human nature in their own front parlour.

The soft, almost ethereal lighting and muted colours create a dreamy world in which Coppola utilises each shot to its best advantage. The juxtaposition between the clean white muslin of the women’s dresses compared to John’s rugged and bloodied uniform and the external world it represents, leaving their embroidered pillows mucky and unclean, both draws attention to the reality of the historical time period in which the film is set yet seeks to alienate the audience from it to better convey the timeless psychological elements of the narrative. There is a restraint to the camerawork that elevates the character’s internal struggles all the while keeping the surface level stunning to look at. All of this is complimented by the Grade A performances from the film’s stellar cast. Nicole Kidman in particular is compulsively watchable and brings a finesse to her role that only an actor of her skill could. Colin Farrell is also quite strong here, manoeuvring the cracks between charming and intimidating with ease.

It is unusual that this film suffers from the very thing that mires other works of cinema; at barely an hour and a half, the film could have been allowed an extra twenty minutes. The climax of the film, while not exactly rushed, is not as impactful as it should be due to the clipped manner in which the events immediately prior unfold. Other aspects of the narrative also could have done with some more elaboration.

Overall The Beguiled feels like a classic with an alternative twist. Beautiful, tense and engaging, the film will lure you in with every frame.

Ellen Murray 

93 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

The Beguiled  is released 7th July 2017

The Beguiled  – Official Website

 

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Review: Kedi

DIR: Ceyda Torun • CAST; Bülent Üstün

 

The arrogance of humankind is such that, by placing ourselves at the pinnacle of food chain, we presume the lives of the other creatures who inhabit this planet to be unimportant or, at best, merely as an accompaniment to our own existence. In Istanbul, however, the hundreds of thousands of cats who roam its ancient streets freely and without owners are an integral part of the city’s soul. It is as much their home as it is for the human residents and there exists between these two species a sort of mutual agreement. The cats keep the streets clean from rodents and in return the locals look after them, leaving small piles of cat food and water dishes on every other corner and providing the occasional belly rub.

The documentary follows the lives of seven cats in particular – the Hustler, the Hunter, the Psycho, the Gentleman, the Social Butterfly, the Lover, and the Player as they are aptly named – and the people who care for them, though of course they do not own them in the classical sense. These cats are free spirits, each with their own distinct personalities and quirks, from guarding their litters from outsiders to knowing which restaurant door to paw at for food. Though aloof, cats are not the unfeeling animals they are often portrayed as in popular culture. The connection between the felines and their human counterparts is genuine, but as one of the best quotes from the film states, ‘While dogs think people are God, cats don’t. They just know better. They know people are just the middlemen.’ Cats can care for us, they’re just not dependent on us.

Kedi is a beautiful and thoughtful documentary that reflects on the nature of the relationship between cats and humans, cats and urban spaces, and cats and life in general. The question of how urban development will affect the city’s cat population is raised both as a very literal concern, but also as a more abstract one. If the cats begin to leave or die out, so too will something intangible yet important that lies at the core of the heart of Istanbul. Director Ceyda Torun manages to capture unique glimpses into the interwoven lives of the cat and the human. It is evident from the shots of cats on the highest of rooftops down to the most claustrophobic of nooks that a lot of hard work and love went into creating this film, making it all the more charming and engaging. While cat lovers will naturally be drawn to this documentary due to the subject matter alone, those with more ambiguous feelings towards our feline friends will also find oodles of things to enjoy in this well-crafted and lovable piece of film. A dog may be a man’s best friend but, with their inherent desire for independence, cats may just be the best reflection in fur of mans’ true nature.

Ellen Murray

79 minutes
G  (See IFCO for details)

Kedi  is released 30th June 2017

Kedi  – Official Website

 

 

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Review: Gifted

DIR: Mark Webb • WRI: Tom Flynn • PRO: Andy Cohen, Karen Lunder • DOP: Stuart Dryburgh • ED: Bill Pankow • DES: Alice Laura Fox • MUS: Rob Simonsen • CAST: Chris Evans, Octavia Spencer, Lindsay Duncan, Jenny Slate, McKenna Grace

Gifted may be a schlocky feast with a side order of ‘feel-goodness’, but the film manages to maintain an earnestness thanks to the genuine performances from its talented cast. The question of how best to provide for intellectually gifted children is one that has never been truly answered satisfactorily; give the child access to more challenging content and they risk being alienated from their peers and potential arrested social development, yet confining them to their age appropriate level of study may stifle the spark of brilliance they carry within them. Director Mark Webb tries to tackle this juxtaposition head on but ultimately belies the complexity of the issue raised in the first two acts of the film by confusing cheesy melodrama for profoundness or insight, choosing to quickly wrap things up in a next little package while ignoring the loose threads still obviously dangling by the film’s conclusion.

After the tragic death of his mathematically gifted sister, Frank Alder (Chris Evans) is single–handedly raising his seven-year-old niece Mary (McKenna Grace), herself a child prodigy. After insisting that Mary attends a local elementary school in order to interact with kids of her own age, Frank finds himself caught up in a legal battle with his formidable mother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), who mistakes Frank’s insistence that Mary be granted as normal a childhood as possible as a deliberate obstruction of her granddaughter’s flourishing genius. Aided by a loyal neighbour, Roberta (Octavia Spencer), and Mary’s first grade teacher, Bonnie (Jenny Slate), Frank is torn between wanting to give his beloved niece all the opportunities that her brilliant mind will open for her, and wanting to save her from the sad and isolated pillar on which his mother had placed his sister. If not for the fact that the film goes out of the way to overly malign Evelyn’s character, who has good if short-sighted intentions, this would have made for an intriguing dilemma and added tension to the core of the narrative. However, Webb ensures that the lines are drawn from the get-go and robs the story of any nuance it could have benefitted from. Despite moments of real emotion scattered throughout, by the time the film reaches its climax it all feels so inevitable.

The film may be a frothy fluff piece but is anchored from floating into the abyss by the charming performances from its lead actors. Chris Evans brings heart to his turn as the imperfect but dedicated Frank, elevating the ‘damaged but sensitive hunk’ (as one character not so subtly describes him) archetype to something that feels human. Lindsay Duncan is also very watchable, despite her character being regulated to the ‘bad guy’ role. Though the script only allows very few glimpses into Evelyn’s true emotions, when it does Duncan ensures that those moments really hit home. Octavia Spencer and Jenny Slate are perfectly passable in their respective roles, though neither of their characters is ever expanded much upon beyond the basic function they serve to the plot. As for the titular gifted one, McKenna Grace as Mary is very endearing though there are moments in the film where it becomes apparent she is merely reciting lines that contain words or concepts outside her comprehension rather than making it believable as the character’s real thoughts.

Overall, Gifted is too paint-by-numbers to be brilliant but it makes for an enjoyable watch even though it often goes for the low ground to make an emotional impact.

Ellen Murray

101 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

Gifted is released 16th June 2017

Gifted – Official Website

 

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Review: The Mummy

 

DIR: Alex Kurtzman • WRI: Allan Heinberg • PRO: Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Zack Snyder, Richard Suckle • DOP: Matthew Jensen • ED: Martin Walsh • DES: Aline Bonetto • MUS: Rupert Gregson-Williams • CAST: Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis.

Shared universe cross-film franchises are so hot right now.

Universal kicks off their ‘Dark Universe’ series (lawsuit pending from Warner Bros., if rumours are true) with The Mummy, a film chockfull of Tom Cruise pursuing his favourite pastime, running away from danger and explosions, and little else. While the first entry into this new cinematic universe is lukewarm at best, it yet remains to be seen whether the public will view Universal’s new venture – which will also see the Bride of Frankenstein, the Invisible Man, and the Wolfman being dusted off and pranced across screen once more – as a refreshing take on the current web of connected comic book films à la Marvel and DC, or whether the studio will fall to the same fate as Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur adaptation by greenlighting several projects before the first instalment has proven itself in the box office. Falling heavily on the ‘action’ side of the action-horror genre, The Mummy takes itself too seriously to be a fun-time summer blockbuster, but lacks the grit to provide genuine scares or tension.

The ever-limbering Tom Cruise is Nick Morton, an army reconnaissance solider stationed in northern Iraq with a shady side business dealing in the trade of ancient antiquities from war-torn areas on the black market. When an attempt to infiltrate a village occupied by oppositional forces results in the uncovering of a hidden Ancient Egyptian tomb, Morton and archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) quickly discover that their momentous find contains something far more sinister than some dusty old relics and a mummified corpse. Having unwittingly released Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), the titular ‘Mummy’, from what was supposed to be her eternal prison, Morton and Jenny find themselves on the run from a particularly archaic force of evil. Enter right Prodigium, a mysterious organisation led by the brilliant Dr Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) of Jekyll and Hyde fame that specialises in the study and destruction of evil in all its shapes and forms. But Ahmanet is a Mummy with a mission and poses a threat to the world that not even Tom Cruise may be able to outrun.

From a technical standpoint the film is pretty competent. The visuals are strong and sleek, but action sequences throughout suffer from choppy editing and rushed pacing blurring what exactly is happening on screen. The big set pieces are handled well however, if somewhat paint-by-numbers. One of the weaker elements by far is the film’s grasp, or lack thereof, on the horror portion of the narrative. Other than a few cheap jump-scares, director Alex Kurtzman fails to utilise practically any of the possibilities that an ancient mummy brought back to life provides. Aiming at somewhat older audiences than usual Hollywood blockbuster fair (it has received a 15A rating in Ireland), the film hesitates to take the plunge into true horror, relying on the tired old clichés that are arguably the worst part of the genre.

The film suffers from other, more nuanced problems too in its… shall we say, implications? It’s safe to say no one walks into a film called The Mummy and expects a completely accurate depiction of archaeological politics and the ethics involved in excavating sites in foreign conflict-ridden countries, yet the film asks us to suspend our sense of disbelief a bit too much in regard to these topics. There is definitely an unsavoury flavour of the ‘white-saviour’ complex running along the narrative; we never meet any Iraqi or Egyptian people who are not terrorists or a supernatural incarnation of evil. The question of removing artefacts from their native homeland is only touched upon once in a tone-deaf throwaway line of dialogue from Morton near the beginning of the film where he defends his theft of these ancient items as a sort of liberation – from the ignorant local people who couldn’t truly appreciate their market value, one can assume. Considering we now live in a time where historians and archaeologists from the Middle East are literally being killed for trying to preserve their countries history, it seems a massive oversight on the films part.

Overall, The Mummy is a forgettable, if ever-so-slightly-sometimes-kinda enjoyable, flick that straddles on the edge of, well, edginess, preferring to be bland rather than bold.

Ellen Murray

110 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

The Mummy is released 9th June 2017

The Mummy – Official Website

 

 

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Review: Gifted

DIR: Mark Webb • WRI: Tom Flynn • PRO: Andy Cohen, Karen Lunder • DOP: Stuart Dryburgh • ED: Bill Pankow • DES: Laura Fox • MUS: Rob Simonsen • CAST: Chris Evans, Octavia Spencer, Lindsay Duncan, Jenny Slate, McKenna Grace

Gifted may be a schlocky feast with a side order of ‘feel-goodness’, but the film manages to maintain an earnestness thanks to the genuine performances from its talented cast. The question of how best to provide for intellectually gifted children is one that has never been truly answered satisfactorily; give the child access to more challenging content and they risk being alienated from their peers and potential arrested social development, yet confining them to their age appropriate level of study may stifle the spark of brilliance they carry within them. Director Mark Webb tries to tackle this juxtaposition head on but, ultimately, belies the complexity of the issue raised in the first two acts of the film by confusing cheesy melodrama for profoundness or insight, choosing to quickly wrap things up in a neat little package while ignoring the loose threads still obviously dangling by the film’s conclusion.

After the tragic death of his mathematically gifted sister, Frank Alder (Chris Evans) is single-handily raising his seven-year-old niece Mary (McKenna Grace), herself a child prodigy. After insisting that Mary attends a local elementary school in order to interact with kids her own age, Frank finds himself caught up in a legal battle with his formidable mother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), who mistakes Frank’s insistence that Mary be granted as normal a childhood as possible as a deliberate obstruction of her granddaughter’s flourishing genius. Aided by a loyal neighbour, Roberta (Octavia Spencer), and Mary’s first grade teacher, Bonnie (Jenny Slate), Frank is torn between wanting to give his beloved niece all the opportunities that her brilliant mind will open for her, and wanting to save her from the sad and isolated pillar on which his mother had placed his sister. If not for the fact that the film goes out of the way to overly malign Evelyn’s character, who has good, if short-sighted, intentions, this would have made for an intriguing dilemma and added tension to the core of the narrative. However, Webb ensures that the lines are drawn from the get-go and robs the story of any nuance it could have benefitted from. Despite moments of real emotion scattered throughout, by the time the film reaches its climax it all feels so inevitable.

The film may be a frothy fluff piece but is anchored from floating into the abyss by the charming performances from its lead actors. Chris Evans brings heart to his turn as the imperfect but dedicated Frank, elevating the ‘damaged but sensitive hunk’ (as one character not so subtly describes him) archetype to something that feels human. Lindsay Duncan is also very watchable, despite her character being regulated to the ‘bad guy’ role. Though the script only allows very few glimpses into Evelyn’s true emotions, when it does, Duncan ensures that those moments really hit home. Octavia Spencer and Jenny Slate are perfectly passable in their respective roles, though neither of their characters is ever expanded much upon beyond the basic function they serve to the plot. As for the titular gifted one, McKenna Grace, as Mary, is very endearing, though there are moments in the film where it becomes apparent she is merely reciting lines that contain words or concepts outside her comprehension rather than making it believable as the character’s real thoughts.

Overall, Gifted is too paint-by-numbers to be brilliant but it makes for an enjoyable watch even though it often goes for the low ground to make an emotional impact.

Ellen Murray

101 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

Gifted is released 9th June 2017

Gifted – Official Website

 

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Review: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

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DIR: Guy Ritchie • WRI: Joby Harold, Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram • PRO: Steve Clark-Hall, Akiva Goldsman, Joby Harold, Guy Ritchie, Tory Tunnell, Lionel Wigram • DOP: John Mathieson • ED: James Herbert • DES: Gemma Jackson • MUS: Keefus Ciancia, David Holmes • CAST: Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou, Eric Bana, Aidan Gillen, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey

It’s rarely a good sign when a studio pushes back the release date for one of its upcoming films more than once. To do it once is understandable to a degree, the studio may be trying to hit a holiday or avoid competition with another big release. Twice suggests that the studio has realised a last-minute problem with the film that needs fixing before marketing or release. Three times suggests that the studio is questioning its own product, unsure of where exactly it fits or what exactly it is.

Guy Ritchie’s newest adaptation of the King Arthur legend, supposedly the first film in a series of six, fits into the latter category. Though at times visually compelling, and not without some well-crafted sequences, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, much like the titular character, seems to be suffering from an identity crisis. Half sweeping fantasy epic, half nitty-gritty gang comedy (with just a dash of Kung Fu), the film is overstuffed with ideas that could have proven intriguing if given enough room to breathe.

After his father King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) is killed in a bloody coup led by his power-hungry uncle, Vortigern (Jude Law), our young prince finds himself adrift, stripped of his home and his throne. Found by some kindly sex workers on the banks of Londinium, who take him in and raise the boy as their own, his royal lineage is quickly forgotten. Years pass and the now brawny and brainy Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) maintains a tidy business running the brothel he grew up in and dabbling in some illegal goods trading on the side, all the while keeping the local law enforcement off his back with some generous pay-offs.

Haunted by memories of a past that now is little more than a dream to him, our scrappy protagonist is nonetheless content with his life. But Arthur’s destiny catches up with him when he, along with all the other young men in the kingdom, is brought to Camelot to see who can release King Uther’s sword from the stone it has been lodged in since his death. Of course, no sooner than Arthur’s hand touches the hilt our story really begins to kick off. Aided by his late father’s loyal followers, Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) and ‘Goosefat’ Bill Wilson (Aidan Gillen), as well as a mage (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) who was the apprentice of Merlin himself, a reluctant Arthur must confront his fate and learn to be a force for good against his uncle’s evil.

The juxtaposition between the traditional ideas of the chivalrously noble King Arthur and Guy Ritchie’s rough and tumble interpretation makes for a nice new direction, but the concept fails to yield much of what it initially promises. Indeed, there are moments in the film when it seems the entire purpose of positioning Arthur as some sort of benign underworld Don was merely to provide some witty banter, word play and the quick cut dialogue exchanges between multiple characters that often marks Ritchie’s work. It ultimately raises some questions that are never answered. A lot of the problem lies with Hunnam’s performance; he’s simply a bit too geezer-esque, more aggressive than charming. The rest of the cast do well enough in their perspective roles, though Law’s turn as Vortigern often errs on the side of hammy rather than deliciously foppy.

The film’s strength lies in its engaging visuals, namely the impressive opening sequence and the clever editing during certain fight scenes which lends them a greater feel of urgency and excitement. However, the quality of the visuals does not remain consistent throughout the film. While in certain scenes the CGI is used to its best advantage, in others it looks badly rendered and cheap, almost akin to a videogame cutaway scene. Certain combat sequences are also edited too quickly with the camera too close up on the characters, making it difficult to discern what exactly is happening on screen, particularly in the latter half of the film.

Overall, this latest addition to the King Arthur filmography is at best mildly enjoyable schlock with some cool moments scattered about here and there, and at worst an inconsistent take on a classic character with an unpromisingly shaky foundation on which to build a film franchise. King Arthur may have drawn the sword from the stone, but it’s doubtful whether he’ll be able to draw audiences to the cinema with this film.

Ellen Murray

126 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is released 12th May 2017

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – Official Website

 

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Review: The Eyes of My Mother

kika-magalhaes-the-eyes-of-my-mother-01-600x350-375x195

 

DIR: Nicolas Pesce • WRI: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick • PRO: Max Born, Jacob Wasserman, Schuyler Weiss • DOP: Zach Kuperstein • ED: Nicolas Pesce, Connor Sullivan • DES: Nigel Phelps • DES: Sam Hensen • MUS: Ariel Loh • CAST: Kika Magalhaes, Dianna Agostini, Will Brill, Flora Diaz

Subverting and switching the expectations of a genre can make for thrilling cinema, but merely shooting in black and white and slowing down the pace does not alone a good film make. Nicolas Pesce’s directorial debut dresses a torture-porn horror in a stylish arthouse cover which, intriguing as this mash-up sounds, results in something that leaves both these aspects fully unrealised. There’s a lot of ideas in the film – just don’t ask me what any of them were supposed to be. Deeply disturbing, and with just enough visual tantalisations to boast the director’s skill, The Eyes of My Mother is a film that only few could enjoy, or at very least stomach.

Divided into three chapters, we first meet a young Francisca living on an isolated farm with her mother (Dianna Agostini), a former surgeon from Portugal, with a particular penchant for removing cows’ eyeballs. Their quiet lives are interrupted one day by a travelling salesman (Will Brill) with more than commission on his mind, sharply turning the film in a violent and upsetting direction. From there on in, torture, mutilation and death become the norm for the now grown Francisca (Kika Magalhaes), whose yearning for companionship is constantly overridden by her deep fear of the unknown world outside the farmyard and her lingering murderous urges.

For his first feature film, Pesce handles his content with the confidence of a much more seasoned director. Shots are well composed, the movement is smooth, except in places where it is not supposed to be, and he uses the limited colour palette of the monochrome cinematography to its full advantage. Where the film really stands strong, however, is its atmosphere. A consistent level of dread maintained from the first shot. The structure of the film ensures that we are only granted small glances at any one point into the character’s life. And yet, even before the real horror begins, there is a sense that something is not quite right with this family, that there is something strange in their attitude to violence which ultimately informs the person Francisca grows up to be.

The problem is a lot of the issues raised in the film are only ever half-explored. The time-jumps mean that we never really get see the inner-workings of Francisca’s mind or any hint as to her true motivations. Pesce proves that that the inter-mingling of arthouse compositions and classic horror tropes can work on a visual level, but he still has some work to do proving that in can work on a narrative level as well. While it is clear that the alienation of the audience from the events on screen was purposeful to a degree, it can also make at times for a tedious watch. At only 77 minutes long the film does not overstay its welcome, but the abrupt ending give rise to the question whether time wasted on duller moments could have been better utilised for a more substantial climax.

Overall, this is a film that will appeal to fans of horror and the non-squeamish. At the very least this chilling piece of cinema should be acknowledged for deviating from the norm and showing that horror on film should not be confined to cheap jump-scares. However, while diversity in classic genres should be encouraged, it is important to remember that ‘different’ does not always equate to ‘better’.

Ellen Murray

76 minutes

16 See IFCO for details

The Eyes of My Mother is released 24th March 2017

The Eyes of My Mother – Official Website

 

 

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Review: The Salesman

forushande-2

 

DIR/WRI: Asghar Farhadi • PRO: Asghar Farhadi, Alexandre Mallet-Guy • DOP: Hossein Jafarian • ED: Hayedeh Safiyari • MUS: Sattar Oraki • CAST: Taraneh Alidoosti, Shahab Hosseini, Babak Karimi, Farid Sajjadi Hosseini.

Critically acclaimed director Asghar Farhadi, whose credits include 2011’s Oscar-winning A Separation, once again holds no punches in stripping back the thin veneer that shields humanity from our most basic instincts in his latest film, The Salesman. A drama simmering with tension, the film at times teeters on the edge of oppressiveness but Farhadi always manages to bring it home to its deeply reflective core. Revenge and justice, violence and forgiveness, men and women, art and reality, tradition and modernism; there’s a lot going on.

Emad (Hosseini) and Rana (Alidoosti) Etesami are a married couple acting opposite one another in a production of Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman. When forced to evacuate their home due to structural instability in the foundations, the two gladly accept the offer of an apartment from their fellow actor Babak (Karimi), whose previous tenant has just left. Gone in body, but very much still present in the items she left behind in the apartment’s spare bedroom, the couple learn that the mysterious woman who once occupied their home engaged in rather unsavoury nightly activities. Their new neighbours express delight in her leaving, hoping it means no more strange ‘clients’ will be lurking around the building. However, as Rana learns when she’s home alone one night, that is not necessarily the case…

Alidoosti is masterful in her portrayal of living in the aftermath of trauma. Rana can’t bear to be left alone and yet can’t bear to be surrounded by people, subject to their quizzical gazes and obvious pity. As a woman living in Iran, the search for justice through official means proves not only unattractive but potentially treacherous, leaving her suspended in limbo. Rana’s grief is all-encompassing but throughout, Alidoosti’s nuanced performance ensures that her character maintains a quiet inner strength that makes her compulsively watchable. Hosseini also shines as Emad, his pride of his proficiency in the cultured arts starkly contrasted by the intense rage bubbling just beneath the surface. His desire for retribution is born in two parts, both to avenge his wife but also to defend his own masculinity. The attack on her is an attack on himself by extension and, in the face of his crumbling marriage, Emad’s quest to find his wife’s attacker descends into a hunt for revenge. Much like Willy Loman, his theatrical counterpart, Emad is driven by a need to validate himself by obtaining what is in reality a hollow victory.

Instead of closure, the couple, and the audience, are left only with a sense of emptiness by the film’s final scene, but in depicting this failure lies Farhadi’s success. Ultimately, The Salesman is an intelligent and well-balanced film that, much like its characters, has a lot more going on than is apparent on the surface.

Ellen Murray

124 minutes

12A See IFCO for details

The Salesman is released 17th March 2017
The Salesman – Official Website

 

 

 

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Review: Prevenge

Screen-Shot-2016-12-20-at-9.19.43-AM

 

DIR/ WRI: Alice Lowe • PRO: Jennifer Handorf • DOP: Ryan Eddleston • ED: Matteo Bini • DES: Blair Barnette • MUS: Pablo Clements, James Griffith, Toydrum • CAST: Alice Lowe, Jo Hartley, Gemma Whelan, Kate Dickie, Kayvan Novak, Tom Davis, Tom Meeten, Marc Bessant

 

Heavily pregnant Ruth (Alice Lowe) is a woman on a mission, and a very unpleasant one at that. Urged on by the taunting of her unborn daughter, Ruth meticulously hunts and violently murders seemingly random victims. At first there is no obvious common ground between these men and women, but as the source of our protagonist’s anguish is gradually revealed to us it becomes evident that revenge is a dish best served bloody and raw, preferably planned in collusion with a fetus maniacally laughing all the while. Savage, twisted and hilarious Prevenge plays with audience expectations in the best way possible by refusing to play it straight.

The question of bodily autonomy and the treatment of pregnant women lie at the core of this film. Ruth’s feelings of paranoia and hallucinations of her child talking to her from within in the womb are compounded by the fact that those around now refuse to see her as an individual being – even her health provider continuously forgoes calling the character by her actual name in favour of a simpering ‘Mummy’, constantly inferring the baby is now all that matters and should dictate her every action, which is the very thing it is doing. Pregnancy in film is often utilised merely as a tool to raise the emotional stakes for the (usually male) protagonist, a symbol of hope and rebirth for characters seeking some form of redemption. Lowe, who wrote, directed and starred in the film while heavily pregnant herself in real life, happily rips down this romantic illusion of childbearing and heavily criticises the oft condescending manner in which expectant mothers are commoditised by both their own doctors and society at large. All the prenatal yoga classes in the world won’t negate Ruth’s ever-growing sense of despair and anger. The nitty-gritty, rough, unpleasant sides of pregnancy, in particular pre-natal depression, are thrust into the centre of this story with a perception so sharp it could only have come from a person who has experienced it. That is not to say the film is dedicated to hard-hitting realism; indeed, the story exists in a unique realm of absurdity that provides genuine laughs alongside genuine shock and horror.  In any resembling reality, Ruth’s murder spree would be cut short very quickly, but then we wouldn’t have our story.

All cast members deliver strong performances though, of course, this is very much Lowe’s film. Her turn as the psychotic Ruth is finely measured and contains a delicious mix of deadpan line deliveries and over-the-top physical acting. There is a great deal of gore sprinkled throughout the film, but never in a manner that feels gratuitous. Ruth’s external violence is simply a very literal expression of her deep, internal anguish. All the same, some viewers may find it difficult to watch.

Overall, Prevenge is a breath of fresh air, breaking with tradition by providing a distinctly feminine revenge tale that doesn’t skimp on the violence or laughs.

Ellen Murray

88 minutes

16 See IFCO for details

Prevenge is released 10th February 2017

Prevenge – Official Website

 

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Review: Manchester by the Sea

Manchester-by-the-Sea

DIR: Kenneth Lonergan • WRI: Martin Scorsese, Jay Cocks • PRO: Lauren Beck, Matt Damon, Chris Moore, Kevin J. Walsh • DOP: Jody Lee Lipes • ED: Jennifer Lame • DES: Ruth De Jong • MUS: Lesley Barber • CAST: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler

 

 

Manchester by the Sea does not pretend to offer any easy answers; indeed, one of the film’s strongest aspects is its refusal to sentimentalise the aftermath of trauma. Redemption can’t be found in the warm embrace of family or seeking self-betterment – not here, anyway. A quiet, thoughtful film meditating on the question of loss and those death leaves behind, director Kenneth Lonergan delivers a deeply humane portrayal of grief and those who choose to let it define them.

Janitor Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) leads an isolated life, unplugging drains, shovelling snow, fixing faucets, disposing of old furniture, swearing at tenants, and getting into fights at bars. After the death of his older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), from congenital heart disease, Lee is shocked to find himself named the guardian of his sixteen-year-old nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Forced to confront the family and hometown he had fled following an unspeakable tragedy, Lee struggles to find his place in a world he is not yet ready to fully re-enter. Locals whisper rumours behind his back and his ex-wife, Randi (Michelle Williams), has moved on with her life, while he remains stubbornly static in his grief. Patrick poses as his uncle’s antithesis, handling the loss of his father by hanging out with friends, practicing with his basement band, playing on his school’s sports team and dating girls. Whereas Patrick embraces life in response to death, Lee merely seeks out a different kind of death. They each are all the other has left but, despite both their desire to reach a place of mutual understanding, catharsis lays just beyond their reach.

The film is beautifully shot, utilising its seaside town setting to combine the thematic and visual in a manner that is complimentary rather than contrived. The harsh winter is not just pathetic fallacy, it has real, tangible effects on the characters’ lives, from their lack of suitable clothing to the small matter of frozen ground preventing the burial of the dearly departed. The town of Manchester-by-the-sea may look quaint, but its inhabitants have grit. The film’s score, on the other hand, suffers from Lonergan’s overreliance on it to convey emotion, oversaturating scenes with orchestration when silence would have been more effective. At best it’s mildly annoying, at worst it’s hugely distracting. The film also has some pacing problems. The final thirty minutes or so simply feel like a rehash of the prior hour and a half, failing to stick the landing in a way that would do justice to the earlier parts of the film.

All the cast deliver strong performances, in particular Affleck and Hedges. Lee’s withdrawn manner and terse dialogue tell of an unspoken horror. His demons not only haunt him, he invites them in, languishing with them in his perpetual self-hatred. When the source of this pain is eventually revealed to the audience, the character’s actions and attitude are suddenly understandable, if not acceptable. Affleck plays this role well, perhaps too well. At times Lee’s unwillingness to engage with those around him creates a stilted experience for the audience, in the character’s own words he just ‘can’t break it’ and he holds back the audience along with him. Michelle Williams has been garnering praise for her performance, which is perhaps why it came across as rather a let-down. Not only is her screen time quite limited, her performance, though solid, is hardly a stretch for an actress with such a strong cinematic resume. In a year that was thin on the ground for good female roles, however, can anyone blame reviewers for grasping at straws?

Overall, Manchester by the Sea is a moving film that refuses to compromise its unflinching examination of unrelenting grief to pander to its ‘feel-good’ counterparts. You won’t leave the cinema feeling happy, but you will leave having felt something profound.

Ellen Murray

137 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Manchester by the Sea is released 13th January 2017

Manchester by the Sea  – Official Website

 

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Review: Moana

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DIR: Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker, Chris Williams • WRI: Jared Bush • PRO: Osnat Shurer • ED: Jeff Draheim • DES: Ian Gooding • MUS: Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina, Lin-Manuel Miranda • CAST: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Jemaine Clement, Rachel House

Well, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Evidently such was the attitude of the writers behind Disney’s newest princess film (and yes, despite the main character’s protestations, she is a princess – it’s even a joke in the film), as visually stunning as it is narratively clichéd.  That said, accusations of cultural appropriation aside, it is refreshing to see Disney stray beyond the realm of white European folklore and the film revels in exploring the rich mythology that lies at the core of Polynesian culture.

Unfortunately, one can’t help but feel that Disney utilises this fresh, new setting merely as a pretty cloak to cover its already established narrative framework. It may have a new skin, but the bones of the story are still the same – the smart and spunky princess who wants to defy social expectations and be true to herself, the animal sidekick, the wise-cracking friend/love interest, the wise elder, the perilous journey to retrieve a magical object, learning lesson about life on the way, etc. None of these are bad tropes per se, and Moana handles all of them very well, but there comes a point where it is no longer possible to praise Disney for producing the same story, yet again.

Moana, voiced by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho, is the sole daughter of the chief of Motunui Island, a position she herself is destined one day to overtake. Problem is, Moana feels a deep, instinctual urge to set out into the unknown waters beyond the reefs that surround her island, much to the consternation of her father. As fate would have it, the ocean chooses Moana to embark on a mission to find the once-adored, now-disgraced demigod, Maui (Dwayne Johnson), in order to restore the stolen Heart of Te Fiti, a gemstone with the power to create new life, to its original resting place and thus save her home from destruction. Before Maui can help our feisty hero, however, he must first find his lost magical fish hook, an object bestowed onto him by the gods which grants the ability to shapeshift into any animal. Together the two face demonic coconut pirates, narcissistic monster crabs and each other as they set out across the ocean to meet their destinies.

Dwayne Johnson’s performance as Maui is energetic and well-balanced, making what could have been a highly annoying character extremely likeable, even endearing. Cravalho also does considerably well considering this is her first film, though Moana as a character is rather bland, if perfectly pleasant. Moana’s battle with self-identity versus her responsibilities as future chief, as mentioned before, have already been explored in prior Disney films with arguably more effective results. At least with their first Polynesian princess, Disney has continued the trend of moving away from plots centred on love interests, focusing instead on the equally important platonic and familial relationships that inform the character’s life.

The film’s soundtrack, partly penned by Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame, is solid and the songs help in moving the plot along nicely, though they lack the inherent catchiness of other Disney flicks – however, this might be a blessing in disguise for those poor parents who are entering their sixth year of Let it Go on loop.

Animation wise, Disney knocks it out of the park as usual. Large chunks of the film is spent on water, but it never once suffers from visual fatigue. Indeed, the ocean itself is a character and it is afforded all the personality and spark that could have benefited some of its human counterparts.  A sequence with scene-stealing Jemaine Clement voicing a 50-foot bedazzled crab mixes things up nicely, contrasting the warm, earthy colours that dominate the film with cool neon and stark black. The attention to detail remains the thing that maintains Disney’s position as the animation studio that always delivers.

It’s impossible to leave Moana with anything other than a smile on your face. It looks great and it sounds great, it’s just a shame Disney’s over-reliance on traditional story-telling tropes prevents the whole from being as great as the sum of its parts.

Ellen Murray

113 minutes

PG (See IFCO for details)

Moana is released 2nd December 2016

Moana – Official Website

 

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Another Look at ‘Train to Busan’

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Ellen Murray books a return ticket on Sang-ho Yeon’s Train to Busan.

Combining the horror of flesh-eating monsters with the horrors of public transport, Train to Busan shows us that even the most tired tropes of the zombie genre can be raised from the dead and given new life. A flick with real heart and real tension, writer and director Sang-ho Yeon’s story works on two levels as a horror-action narrative framing a melodrama reflecting on the nature of humankind during times of crisis.

High-flying hedge-fund manager Seok-woo (Gong) agrees to take his young daughter, Soo-an (Kim), to visit his ex-wife in Busan for her birthday. They catch an early-morning train from Seoul along with the burly, but good-natured, Sang Hwa (Ma), his pregnant wife Sung Gyeong (Jeong), a high-school baseball team, a homeless man, two devoted elderly sisters, and a bully CEO. Unfortunately for everyone on board, a girl with a mysterious bite mark on her leg manages to sneak into a compartment at the last minute. No sooner than the train departs when the newly-zombified girl attacks a train attendant, and the chaos only escalates from there. Yeon utilises the limited space of the train well, enhancing the panic by creating a sense of claustrophobia. After all, how can the characters run away when there’s nowhere to run to? Soon half the train is occupied by zombies and the remaining passengers, unable to simply get off the train after word comes in that the infection has spread beyond the city, must band together to survive. This is met with resistance by some, in particular Seok-woo, who adopt an ‘every man for himself’ attitude, willing to sacrifice others, infected or not, to ensure their own safety.

Therein lies the crux of the film. While the zombies pose a very tangible threat (what with flesh-eating, and all), the more abstract threat lies in their ability to undermine the foundations of society. All pretence of politeness and civility are abandoned so that only the most aggressive and the most selfish will survive. Thus, the zombies, though threatening, are not necessarily the villains of the film, as such a title suggests intent in their actions. For all their bloodlust, the film depicts them as mindless beings being driven by forces beyond their control. The true ‘villains’ of the film are the humans who consciously won’t help their fellow man. If the passengers on the train refuse to fight together then they are destined to fall individually. But how many of them will survive long enough to learn this painful lesson?

It is this compelling juxtaposition, plus the carefully crafted tension, that sets this film apart from its counterparts. Action sequences are executed to create maximum adrenaline rush and will have the audience gripping their armrests in anticipation throughout the film. Of course, it’s not a perfect film. Too often it seems characters’ actions are undertaken for plot convenience rather than as logical responses to the situation at hand. The rules set up for zombie transformations also get bent and broadened depending on the importance of the character that is bitten; a random background character will be turned in a matter of seconds, yet a main character will get a few minutes to exchange tearful goodbyes. These points don’t take away from the momentum of the film and can for the most part be overlooked, but more than a few people are bound to be bothered by these inconsistencies.

Overall, Train to Busan is a massively entertaining zombie apocalypse film that offers a more layered take on a genre that has become increasingly exploited in the name of cheap thrills. It’s zombies on a train and they’re choo-choo-chewing for you!… I’ll stop now.

 

In cinemas now

 

 

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Review: Kate Plays Christine

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DIR/WRI: Richard Wenk • PRO: Susan Bedusa, Douglas Tirola • DOP: Sean Price Williams • ED: Robert Greene • DES: John Dickson • MUS: Keegan DeWitt • CAST: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh

On the morning of July 15th 1974 in Sarasota, Florida, a news reporter named Christine Chubbuck went to work at a local television station to host her morning chat show, Suncoast Digest. Approximately eight minutes into the broadcast, after the film reel for a news story jammed and would not play, Chubbuck looked straight down the camera and proclaimed, “In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in ‘blood and guts’, and in living colour, you are going to see another first-attempted suicide.” It was then the 29-year-old reporter produced a revolver and shot herself behind her right ear. The lights quickly faded to black and she died fourteen hours later in hospital.

Despite the sensational manner of Chubbuck’s death, today her name remains relatively unknown in mainstream circles and is often dismissed as an urban legend. But Christine Chubbuck was very much a real person. So what exactly drove this successful and attractive woman to kill herself live on air? That’s the question director Robert Greene and actress Kate Lyn Sheil try to answer.

Though marketed as a documentary, the film toes the line between fact and fiction with a balance that make the two interchangeable. We follow Sheil as she prepares to play the role of Chubbuck in an upcoming film. Trying to immerse herself in the character, Sheil finds herself frustrated at every turn. Very few people who knew Chubbuck seem willing to talk about her and those who do don’t necessarily have anything helpful to say. On top of this, practically no video footage remains of the ill-fated reporter – except, of course, the one and only video copy of that faithful day’s broadcast, currently in the possession of the television station owner’s widow. For the most part the film succeeds in treating its subject with a respectful sincerity, namely in Sheil’s dismantling of the sexist rhetoric which surrounded Chubbuck’s death at the time. The lack of discourse about mental illness and depression in 1970s America is also explored hand in hand with the nature of media content and audiences’ desire to see- as Chubbuck herself so bluntly put it- ‘blood and guts’.

This is a story about stories and how narratives are built around real-life events in an attempt to comprehend that which is unexplainable. We are inexplicably drawn to the strange and tragic in the hopes we can put a name on it and perhaps, in doing so, face our own fears. But as reality and performance begin to blur as the film progresses, things take a surprisingly hackneyed tone. Sheil states early on that she is concerned with her work potentially being perceived as exploiting a sad and lonely woman’s shocking death. And yet, it is to this level of cheapness that the film descends to in the final act. The climactic scene where Sheil re-enacts Chubbuck’s suicide, staged to the umpth degree, is clunky and uncomfortable, though undoubtedly not for the reasons director Greene intended. We are hit with a curt message about how exploitation of tragedy in attempt to sate the public’s desire for gore is wrong, but the film undermines this nugget of insight with its mere existence.

Ultimately raising more questions than it answers, Kate Plays Christine’s lack of self-awareness will leave viewers cold.

Ellen Murray

118 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

Kate Plays Christine is released 14th October 2016

Kate Plays Christine – Official Website

 

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Review: Inferno

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DIR: Ron Howard • WRI: David Koepp • PRO: Brian Grazer, Ron Howard • DOP: Salvatore Totino • ED: Tom Elkins, Daniel P. Hanley • DES: Peter Wenham • MUS: Hans Zimmer • CAST: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Ben Foster, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Irrfan Khan

 

Remember when The Da Vinci Code was a thing? Dan Brown’s 2003 novel caused public outrage with its insinuation that not only were Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene married, but that they also had a child together. Speculative sensationalism aside, it did at least provide gripping material for students to distract their religion teachers with for half an hour during the year it was relevant. The Robert Langdon series’ prequel, Angel and Demons (2000), and sequels, The Lost Symbol (2009) and Inferno (2013), though successful, were met with decisively cooler receptions. It seems copying and pasting the first novel’s plot structure and just changing the location and female sidekick gets old after the second, third, and fourth time. Alas, despite director Ron Howard’s efforts, the novel’s dull and uninspired plots remain stubbornly so on the big screen. Enter right: Inferno.

Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) awakes in a hospital in Florence, Italy with a bullet injury to his temple and no memory of how he got there or why. After an assassin shows up to ward to finish Langdon off for good, the Harvard professor flees with the help of once-childhood-prodigy, Dr Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones). Unable to comprehend the attempts on his life, Langdon discovers a mysterious, high-tech bio-tube stashed in his coat pocket which may contain answers. Queue the next hour and a half of characters running around various Italian landmarks, priceless works of art being destroyed or stolen, awkward dialogue jammed with random and often irrelevant historical facts, main characters being stalked by several government agencies, Langdon having strangely intimate knowledge regarding secret escape routes in all historical buildings, all the while trying to uncover a mystery that threatens humanity, etc. – you know, the typical Dan Brown set-up. What makes this film so disappointing is that its antagonist, the radical, Dante-obsessed billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), is possibly the most engaging of the series. Zobrist’s core argument, the question of over-population, is an intriguing one and more morally grey than the conflicts faced in the previous two film. Unfortunately, events unfurl in such a predictable manner that any tension this predicament offered is quickly drained and discarded in favour of narrative convention.

The best that can be said about the film is that it’s not terrible, it’s just not particularly good either. It’s meh. Ron Howard is a solid director but, while there are some well-crafted shots scattered throughout, the entire film reeks of a nonchalance that is too happy to rely on plot conveniences and cheap twists rather than testing the boundaries. Similarly, the actors’ performances also run along the same vein – perfectly adequate, but not functioning at full capacity. There’s just enough action taking place to save audiences from complete boredom, but not enough to create a real sense of danger. Everything is aimed in the right direction, it just never quite hits the mark.

Ultimately, Inferno will pacify those who want to see lots of scenes dedicated to people running around, but for most it won’t spark the flame.

Ellen Murray

121 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

Inferno is released 14th October 2016 016

Inferno – Official Website

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Review: Purge: Election Year

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DIR/WRI: James DeMonaco • PRO: Michael Bay, Jason Blum, Andrew Formm, Bradley Fuller, Sebastien Lemercier • DOP: Jacques Jouffret • ED: Todd E. Miller • DES: Sharon Lomofsky • MUS: Nathan Whitehead • CAST: Elizabeth Mitchell, Frank Grillo, Mykelti Williamson, Joseph Julian Soria, Betty Gabriel

 

A film’s plot structure is a bit like a Jenga tower; if it only takes a few blocks to send the whole thing tumbling down, then it probably wasn’t well constructed in the first place. Such is the flaw with James De Monaco’s Purge series. However hard these films try to convey hard-hitting social commentary under the guise of a slasher-horror flick, they are doomed to fall under the weight of their own premise – which doesn’t make a damn lick of sense.

In this dystopian future, all crime- murder, robbery, torture, you name it – is made legal during one night of the year, resulting in record-low crime rates and unprecedented economic growth during the other 364 days of the year. Unrest is being to ripple underneath the surface however, as it turns out that the Purge was conceived by the ruling New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) as a means of wiping out the poor and the destitute for the benefit of the richer echelons of society. Because, well, obviously. When the NFFA find themselves faced with a powerful opponent in the form of anti-Purge Presidential candidate, Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), they decide that a bit of government ‘cleansing’ might be called for. And what more convenient time for it to take place than during Purge night? There’s also a subplot involving humble deli owner Joe (Mykelti Williamson), his loyal employee Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria), and their friend, the once-legendary-Purger, Laney (Betty Gabriel), who rally together to survive the Purge. The plots converge when Joe allows the Senator and her security guard, Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo), to seek refuge is his store after Roan’s safe-house was infiltrated by a group of assassins sent by the NFFA to dispose of her. Thus the rag-tag bunch find themselves not only fighting for their own lives, but also the future of the entire country.

Though there is as much blood and gore as one would expect from such a concept, the film’s main concern lies entirely in spouting its jingoistic rhetoric with lazy political metaphors and clunky dialogue. But then it’s easy to be morally righteous when the antagonists of your story are little more than moustache-twirling vaudeville villains. To be fair, while it is not executed as effectively as it could have been, at least this newest instalment of the series sees director and writer DeMonaco attempt to push the concept of purging to a higher level, trying to examine the economic and cultural impact it would have on a society far more so than the previous two films. One of the more interesting concepts introduced within the film was that of ‘murder tourism’, wherein people from all around the world travel to America specifically to take part in the Purge and get a free pass to kill as they please. Alas, DeMonaco simply does not push the bar high enough to redeem the many gaps of logic that exist within this world. Several times throughout the film, characters will do something or a series of events will unfold in a certain way that, instead of shock or horror, will just elicit of strong sense of ‘Huh?’ from the audience.

But the film’s worst crime by far? It’s boring. Boring, boring, boring. Other than a few precious scenes, the cinematography is dark and unpleasant which, rather than adding to the tone of the film, repels the eye from the screen. Just ten minutes shy of two hours, the film also overstays its welcome by a good fifteen minutes. As a result, everything feels tired by the films third act. The shocks are dulled, the fighting sequences are a drudge to get through, and the inconsistent camera work becomes a headache to comprehend.

Overall, The Purge: Election Year definitely aims higher than its predecessors but ultimately becomes too weighed down by its nonsensical premise and over-enthusiastic political commentary to be anything close to insightful or scary.

 

 

Ellen Murray

108 minutes
16 (See IFCO for details)

The Purge: Election Year is released 26th August 2016

The Purge: Election Year – Official Website

 

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Review: Finding Dory

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DIR: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane • WRI: Andrew Stanton, Victoria Strouse • PRO:Lindsey Collins • DOP: Jeremy Lasky • ED: Axel Geddes • MUS: Thomas Newman • DES: Steve Pilcher • CAST: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill

 

In cinema, the word ‘sequel’ rarely equates with the word ‘quality’. Desperate to cash-in on the success of the previous film, studios churn out follow-up flicks that too often contain a mere percentage of the thought and effort invested in the original. Pixar was once the forerunner of animation in both artistry and storytelling, alas recent years have proven them fallible to the recent ‘sequel-reboot-remake’ trend sweeping Hollywood.

Cars 3, anyone?

Thankfully Finding Dory, though it follows the Pixar formula to the letter, has enough charm and humour to make it a memorable film in its own right.

It’s been a year since the loveable, but forgetful, Dory (DeGeneres) and clownfish Marlin (Brooks) found Nemo (Rolence) and life seems sweet for the fishy trio on the Great Barrier Reef. But Dory remains dogged by unanswered (or rather, unremembered) questions about her past, namely: what happened to her parents? After a childhood memory manages to crawl its way out of the tangled web that is Dory’s mind, our favourite blue tang finds herself yet again on a quest to retrieve lost family members. The first fifteen minutes of the film, though pleasant to look at and not entirely devoid of laughs, threatens the audience with a straightforward retelling of the first film verbatim. It’s the same set-up to be sure, only the characters roles have been reversed- the child is now searching for the parents. But the plot takes a sharp turn once the characters reach the Marine Life Institute, California. Here, new characters are introduced that inject a sense vibrancy missing from the film’s earlier sections. The most notable of these colourful additions is the grouchy-but-really-good-natured Hank (O’Neill), a seven-legged octopus (a septopus if you will) who aids Dory in her search by cleverly navigating the facility with his camouflage abilities.

Hank is the Dory of this film. Not because he’s cute or cuddly, in fact he’s gruff and grumpy for the most part, but because he steals practically every scene he is in. Much of this is due to Ed O’Neill’s fantastic voice work, but needless to say this does not bode well for our protagonist. Herein lies one of the films main problems – Dory just isn’t an endearing enough character to carry a film by herself. This may seem strange since what most people took away from the original film was DeGeneres’ snappy ad-libs and penchant for communicating with whales. The character was funny and memorable, with just a hint of tragedy, which always makes for a great story, or so it would seem.

To give the film credit, it handles the question of living with short-term memory loss in a sensitive and thoughtful manner. The audience feels Dory’s frustration with not being able to remember anything and adds tension to the film when the character is left to her own inadequate devices. The thing is, this was already dealt with in the first film and arguably in a more deft way. The message of family, being true to yourself, and struggling against the odds keeps being reiterated throughout the film to the point that it almost loses its meaning. To add to this, Dory is at her funniest when she has a folly to work off of, be it Marlin or Hank. On her own, and having to prop up everyone else, Dory just isn’t as funny a character. It becomes painfully clear as the film progresses that the extra characters were needed to plump up Dory’s otherwise flat scenes. Being a Pixar film, however, there is still plenty of heart to this story and more dazzling visuals than you can take in from one viewing. Only they can make vast expanses of water look as textured and as interesting as they do in the film. The transitions from open water to buckets to tanks are superb and makes the film flow (no pun intended) seamlessly from one scene to another.

Overall, Finding Dory is already guaranteed to be beloved by fans of the first film but has a lot to offer newcomers of all ages. Bright, fun and moving, this film is a solid, though not exactly ground-breaking, addition to the Pixar line-up. If only all sequels could be like this, then they probably would be met with far less protest.

Ellen Murray

10211 minutes
G (See IFCO for details)

Finding Dory is released 29th July 2016

Finding Dory – Official Website

 

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Review: Now You See Me 2

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DIR: Jon M. Chu • WRI: Ed Solomon • PRO: Bobby Cohen, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci • DOP: Peter Deming • ED: Stan Salfas • MUS: Brian Tyler• DES: Sharon Seymour • CAST: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Woody Harrelson, Daniel Radcliffe, Dave Franco, Lizzy Caplan

Much like a six-year-old trying to tell a joke, Now You See Me 2 starts off pleasantly enough, even amusing at times, before slowly descending into a rambling mess that ultimately fails to stick the landing. Collapsing under its own premise, there are more gaps of logic in this film than Donald Trump’s policies on, well, everything. That said, as long as you suspend your form of thinking, tilt your head to the side, and squint your eyes juuusst right, then you’re in for a pretty … ok time.

The Four Horsemen are back, sans Isla Fisher, having been lying in wait for a year since putting their nemesis Thaddeus (Morgan Freeman) in prison during the events of the first film. Turns out Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) is not too hot at just waiting around and expresses his dissatisfaction with the group’s leader, FBI agent Dylan (Mark Ruffalo), to the Eye, a mysterious organisation of magicians that orchestrates the group’s missions. Atlas’ grievances are pushed aside, however, in light of a new threat. Along with newest member Lula May (Lizzy Caplan), Atlas, Dylan, Merritt (Woody Harrelson), and Jack (Dave Franco) must reveal to the public that a new software about to hit the market steals its user’s data for the company to sell to the highest bidder.

Of course, this being a story about magicians and illusionists, nothing is actually as it seems and thus the film’s problems begin. Convoluted subplot after convoluted subplot begin to emerge, draining the film of its energy and sense of fun. Like a badly paced magic trick, the film’s pay-offs never equate to the promise of their build-up. From a technical point of view, there are some impressive feats of illusion and deception performed throughout but the purpose of these tricks becomes increasingly unclear as the film progresses. Some tricks are essential for pushing the plot forward, but others just come across as unnecessary flourishes for a group of people working against the clock. Nonetheless, the visuals are one of the more impressive aspects of the film, though the quieter, in-between scenes offer little to for the audience to chew on.

Among the films many problems is the writing, in particular the character writing. In fact, let’s talk about this for a moment: Hollywood does not know how to write women. This is a fact that is sadly proven more than disproven with every mainstream film release. Lula May, the only female member of the Horsemen, exists solely to provide some eye-candy for her male counterpoints and to crack obnoxious, annoying jokes. But, hey, at least she’s ‘not like other girls’. How do we know? She literally says that exact goddamn line at one point in the film. If ever there was a piece of dialogue more written by a middle-aged man, it was that very one. True, this isn’t a film dedicated to providing in-depth, complex character studies but, under-realised though they are, at least the male characters play an active role within the story and have no expectations weighing on them because of their gender. Lula May is introduced as being as equally talented as the other Horsemen, yet her talents are the least utilised throughout the film. And why is it when a female character enters a male dominated group, she’s immediately presented as a romantic interest? It’s 2016, we’re all tired of this nonsense.

Overall, Jon M. Chu’s film has enough flash and razzmatazz to keep the audience passingly entertained but little to offer in terms of an engaging story – or indeed, one that just makes sense.

Ellen Murray

129 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

Now You See Me 2 is released 8th July 2016

Now You See Me 2– Official Website

 

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Review: The Conjuring 2

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DIR: James Wan • WRI: Carey Hayes, Chad Hayes, James Wan, David Leslie Johnson • PRO: Rob Cowan, Peter Safran, James Wan • DOP: Don Burgess • ED: Kirk M. Morri • MUS: Joseph Bishara • DES: Julie Berghoff • CAST:Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe, Simon Delaney

Let’s be honest; a good horror film will make you cling to your seat in grim anticipation, but a great horror film doesn’t begin to affect you until after you’ve left the cinema. You know, that moment after you’ve turned the lights out and are lying in bed when suddenly the images that have been lying in wait leap forward from your short-term memory and leave you afraid to close your eyes, lest the monster has broken free from the silver screen and stalked you home. Unlike other cinematic genres, horror is so much more about the build-up then the actual climax which is why many films falter in the third act. When the monster is finally revealed, frightening as their design may be, all sense of the unknown is lost and with it the films hold over the audience. So, does James Wan’s follow-up 2013’s The Conjuring fall into any of these pit-traps? Is it a great horror film? Yes and no.

After a facing off with a particular nasty demon at the Amityville Horror home, Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) convinces her reluctant husband Ed (Patrick Wilson) that they need to take a break from paranormal cases for a while, fearing for both their safety and peace of mind. This hiatus doesn’t last long however as the couple soon find themselves being sent by the church to Enfield, London to investigate claims of unexplained occurrences. There they find frazzled single mother of four Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) doing her best to protect her children from the malicious entity that has taken over their home, which seems to have taken a particular interest in 11-year-old Janet (Madison Wolfe). But is everything as it seems? Is the Hodgson family truly being plagued by a nefarious spirit, or is it all an elaborate hoax to gain attention?

Wan has previously proven himself capable of utilising the best elements of the ‘haunted house’ narrative- the disembodied footsteps, the strange knocking sounds, door hinges squeaking- to their best advantage, injecting some genuine thrills into what would have been an otherwise trite experience in the hands of a less skilled director. There is a consistent atmosphere of dread perpetuated throughout the film, like a weight being placed on the audience member’s chest, as things quickly escalate from bad to worse. It is due to this carefully constructed ambience that the occasional cheap tricks that Wan does employ, namely jump-scares, hold more of a punch. The problem is that, at over two hours long, events begin to err on the side of predictable which, chilling atmosphere or not, usually spells death in terms of audience engagement. By the time we reach the rather lacklustre climax the story seems already burnt-out.

The non-horror elements of the film also suffer from smatterings of clunky writing and misplaced humour. The Warren’s devotion to one another was satisfactorily set-up in the first film and in the beginning of this one, but subsequent dialogue between the two rings unnecessarily soppy. They’re not just in love, you guys, they’re super in love. But the biggest drawback facing the film is the monster itself. This is a common complaint of many horror films and it’s easy to see why- after all that build-up, what could possibly meet the audience’s expectations? The problem this film faces is an unusual one, in that the monster in question has several incarnations where one would have been sufficient. Only one of the monster’s designs is truly terrifying (I know I’ll be seeing that face in my nightmares for the next while), while the other two will more likely leave you giggling at their absurdness rather than cowering in fear. The saying is true, less can be more!

It’s true that The Conjuring 2 is not a great horror film, but it’s still a pretty decent one. Wan masterfully takes the tried and true tropes of the genre and manages to make them exciting again, which in itself is pretty impressive. Will you continue to be haunted by the images on screen for years to come? Eh, probably not, but maybe sleep with the lights for a little while – just to be safe.

 

Ellen Murray

133 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

The Conjuring 2 is released 13th June 2016

The Conjuring 2 – Official Website

 

 

 

 

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Review: Warcraft: The Beginning

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DIR: Duncan Jones • WRI: Duncan Jones, Charles Leavitt • PRO: Stuart Fenegan, Alex Gartner, Jon Jashni, Charles Roven, Thomas Tull • DOP: Simon Duggan • ED: Paul Hirsch • MUS: Ramin Djawadi • DES: Gavin Bocquet • CAST: Dominic Cooper, Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Robert Kazinsky, Ruth Negga, Ben Schnetzer, Tony Kebbell, Daniel Wu

 

Surprising no one, the World of Warcraft film is a pile of crap. Even diehard fans of the popular role-playing game, of which admittedly I am not one, will be left cold by this exceptionally clunky and boring adaptation. Frankly, the film has a distinct ‘straight-to-DVD’ flavour to it, with its terrible acting and special effects that are more akin to a video game cutaway scene rather than a feature length picture. While there is no doubt that director Duncan Jones took on this project with nothing but love and good intentions for the original source material, the product is an unsatisfying watch that mistakenly equates fan-service with good storytelling.

As convoluted as it is tedious, our story takes place in the magical realm of Azeroth, ruled by the beloved King Llane (Cooper). Peace and prosperity have been the status quo for many years but the sudden and violent arrival of the Orcs, a race from another dimension, threatens to destroy everything unless their diabolical leader, Gul’dan (Wu), is stopped. Durotan (Kebbell), chief of the Frostwolf clan and an orc with a conscience thereby making him the only somewhat interesting character in this entire mess of a film, is troubled by these developments and seeks to work with humans to ensure a better future for both their races. There’s also a whole host of human characters, a mage, and a half-Orc, half-human hybrid, but, seeing as the scriptwriters put no effort into developing these two-dimensional cardboard cut-outs, I’m not going to waste your or my time explaining them either.

Like a poor man’s Lord of the Rings, the film jumps around to a number of various, cheap looking locations as our heroes try to discover the source behind Gul’dan’s magical powers. But, it turns out the evil they are seeking to destroy may be closer to them than they think and blah, blah, blah, you get the gist.

The acting in this film ranges from decent (Kebbell and Patton) to downright terrible (Fimmel, Schnetzer and everyone else, basically). But, to be fair to the actors, they were not given much to work with. The dialogue reaches levels of cheese that even a four-cheese pizza with a cheese-filled crust could only aspire to; rather than drawing the audience into the world of the film, it merely provokes mass eye-rolling. There are also moments throughout the film where the dialogue sounds muffled, sometime barely comprehensible, suggesting that some more audio work was needed in post-production. A strange oversight, really, considering the film’s sizeable enough budget. Another major problem that the film faces is its erratic pacing. Practically no time is devoted to building the mythology of the WOW universe, leaving those unfamiliar with the franchise struggling to grasp who is who, and what is what.

Moments that should be of emotional or narrative significance are glossed over so quickly that the audience is left feeling somewhat detached from everything happening on screen. If there is one element of the film that works well, however, it is the design and rendering of the orc characters. They have a tangibility missing from the rest of the film’s special effects and, with their skeleton armour and huge tusks, look genuinely menacing when stomping towards their opponents. Alas, this small successful element is not enough to redeem the film’s gargantuan problems.

Overall, Warcraft has more in common with a high-budget fan film than a professional work of cinema; it will satisfy those who merely wanted to see their beloved characters brought to life on screen, but even they will not be able to argue that the film resembles anything close to good.

Duncan Jones is a talented director but sadly he has dropped the ball with this monstrous flick, perhaps too fond of the source material to realise that it would not translate well onto the big screen.

Give this film a miss, there are better ways and better films to invest your time in.

Ellen Murray

122 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

Warcraft: The Beginning is released 30th May 2016

Warcraft: The Beginning – Official Website

 

 

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Review: Alice Through the Looking Glass

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DIR: James Bobin • WRI: Linda Woolverton • PRO: Tim Burton, Joe Roth, Jennifer Todd, Suzanne Todd • ED: Andrew Weisblum • DES: Dan Hennah • MUS: Danny Elfman • CAST: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Stephen Fry, Leo Bill, Lindsey Duncan

In line with the current trend in Hollywood of producing unnecessary sequels to bad films – here’s looking at you The Huntsman: Winter’s War – James Bobin’s follow-up to Tim Burton’s 2010’s Alice in Wonderland does little to improve on its predecessor. Visually stunning, but narratively inept, this newest interpretation of Lewis Carroll’s works fails to utilise the elements that made its source material so enduringly charming.

We find Alice (Wasikowska) in the opening of the film as a successful sea captain, returning to London after a three-year adventure. However, our heroine is distraught to discover that, despite her proven ability at commanding a crew, her sleazy once-admirer and now-owner of the shipping company, Hamish (Bill), wants to peg her in a clerical role. As unsure of her future as the film is about this subplot, Alice finds herself being led back to the whimsical world of Underland through (you guessed it) a magical mirror. Here she discovers that her old friend the Mad Hatter (Depp) has stooped into a melancholy state over the mysterious disappearance of his family years before.

In order to save his life (being sad drains the Hatter of his life force, or something – it’s never actually explained), Alice must convince Time himself (Baron Cohen) to lend her a powerful object known as the Chronosphere so that she may travel back in time to discover what truly happened to the Hightopp family. Problem is, the ever-vengeful Red Queen (Bonham-Carter) also desires to do a little time-meddling herself, only for not-so-noble a reason.

The time-travelling narrative functions as a lazy tool to provide more backstory for Underland’s various characters in place of an actual plot. And yet, what is revealed to us about these characters is so surprisingly bland and cliché that the entire film feels like a gargantuan waste of effort. The Mad Hatter’s story arc is ripped entirely from 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and reduces the character to little more than a man-child yearning for his disapproving father’s attention. While answers are given to other lingering questions left over from the previous film, such as the reason behind the Red Queen’s oversized head, they too are unsatisfactorily over-simplistic.

In terms of performances, there is a distinct stiltedness in the actors’ delivery of lines, most noticeably Anne Hathaway’s unbearably ‘froo-lala’ White Queen, though Wasikowska fairs little better. Helena Bonham-Carter remains as ever a scene-stealer as the Red Queen and Sacha Baron Cohen is delightfully foppish, though at time inconsistent, as the German-accented Time.

One aspect of the film that works, other than its impressively fluid special effects, is the underlying theme of the inevitability of time. This is a rather mature concept and one that would be interesting to convey to an audience consisting mostly of children. Unfortunately, it is never played out to the extent that it could have been, leaving the film lacking an emotionally meaningful core.

No doubt the film will serve nicely as a passing amusement for the kids on a wet weekend, but overall it is a disappointing step-down for Disney’s live action output and will leave fans of the original books still yearning for a decent contemporary adaptation.

Ellen Murray

112 minutes
PG (See IFCO for details)

Alice Through the Looking Glass is released 28th May 2016

Alice Through the Looking Glass – Official Website

 

 

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Review: Knight of Cups

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DIR/WRI: Terrence Malick  • PRO: Nicolas Gonda, Sarah Green, Ken Kao • DOP: Emmanuel Lubezki • ED: A.J. Edwards, Keith Fraase, Geoffrey Richman, Mark Yoshikawa• DES: Jack Fisk • MUS: Hanan Townshend • CAST: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Freida Pinto, Natalie Portman, Brian Dennehy, Wes Bentley

Ah, the rich white male. Truly, no one has it tougher than this enigmatic creature. What’s a guy to do with his youth, good looks, inflated income, swanky apartment and a string of beautiful women wanting to sleep with him? Mope about it of course! Let’s cut to the chase: this film is the love child of a pile of rubbish and a puddle of vomit. Vapidness masquerading as depth, narcissism peddled as existentialism, director Terrence Malick proves with this film that he cannot differentiate between art and pretentiousness.

The ‘plot’, and I’m being generous here, follows burnt-out screenwriter Rick (Christian Bale) as he navigates his way through his relationships, both romantic and familial, and searches for meaning in a life he finds increasingly artificial and alienating. The best way to describe the film’s narrative is meandering – also, pointless. The threads of Rick’s life run parallel to one another and, as such, the audience jumps from to the other without ever feeling a connection to anything happening on screen. The characters are all too vague, their situations too unspecific, to succeed in engaging with the audience on any sort of meaningful level. What little is revealed to us about our protagonists angst, where it came from and why it persists, is never confronted to the extent that it could have been, leaving the audience waiting for a climax that never occurs. In typical Malick style, the film is held together by the loosest of structures, divided into chapters named after tarot cards which act as indicators to films overarching theme, which is… I’ll get back to you on that one.

There are some interesting visuals scattered throughout the film, namely the scenes contrasting the insanely extravagant lifestyles of the elite and the barren desert that surrounds them. From a technical standpoint, however, the film has little to offer. The handheld camera swings around with too much abandon, looking straight-up amateurish at certain points, and there are several scenes badly in need of some proper editing. For a director usually so focused on the visual, the film is a surprisingly monotonous experience. After watching waves break over the shore for the one hundredth time while Bale’s voice-over mumbles some abstract musing, it’s difficult to separate the film from an overlong perfume commercial. The performances turned in by the cast are, for the most part, uneven. Some actor’s struggles to remain afloat while others do their best with the lemons they were given, making like Beyoncé and creating lemonade.

Knight of Cups is a film that feels it has something important to say – much like a twenty-year-old college student who has tried weed for the first time – but in reality, just like said college student, it is speaking nothing but gibberish. Undoubtedly, this film will attract a certain ‘type’, someone who passed Philosophy 101 and will remain smug in the knowledge that they ‘got’ this film, but we’ll all no otherwise – there’s nothing to get.

Ellen Murray

118 minutes

Knight of Cups is released 6th may 2016

Knight of Cups – Official Website

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Review: The Jungle Book

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DIR: Jon Favreau • WRI: Justin Marks •  PRO: Jon Favreau • DOP: Bill Pope • ED: Mark Livolsi • DES: Christopher Glass, Abhijeet Mazumder • MUS: John Debney • CAST: Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Christopher Walken, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Neel Sethi, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito

 

 

Was a live-action remake of Disney’s 1967 animated hit really necessary? No. That said, does Jon Favreau’s re-interpretation make for good watching? Oh yes! Visually stunning and narratively engaging, Favreau brings The Jungle Book into a new era with a slightly more mature – though never dour – tone.

After being found in the jungle as an infant by the benign panther Bagheera (Kingsley), Mowgli (Sethi) has spent his life being raised by wolves, in particular the loving Raksha (Nyong’o). The problem, of course, is that Mowgli is no wolf but a ‘man-cub’, and as he grows older his place in the pack grows ever uncertain. When the pack’s peaceful existence is threatened by the killer tiger Shere Khan (Elba), Mowgli must decide whether he will become part of man’s world or continue in the only life he’s ever known. This film is an example of CGI done right; the jungle’s luscious environment feels tangible and immersive. But what really pushes the film from the ‘good’ into ‘great’ category is the rendering of its animal characters. There is none of the usual disconnect between the characters and actors portraying them. Every movement and every emotion is conveyed with subtly, a slight flick of the tail, ears flattening downwards, pupils dilating, whiskers quivering.

Praise must also be given to the voice cast, all of whom succeed in creating for their characters a definitive space in the story. Bill Murray is on-point as the terminally lazy, but roguishly charming, Baloo, playing perfectly off Ben Kingsley’s fatherly but tightly upright Bagheera as they navigate their way through the jungle in their attempt to return Mowgli to the world of man. A film is only as good as its villain, however, and Idris Elba is convincingly chilling as Shere Khan, who bears more stripes than the ones in his fur. Christopher Walken is also surprisingly delightful as King Louie, giving the giant primate an almost gangster-ish twang that shouldn’t work, but does. While not a musical like the 1967 version, two of the more famous songs do make it into film and are delivered well by their respective performers. Overall the film works and, at 1 hour 45 minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

There are a few problems, however. Most of them are nit-picks and will not deter from the viewers enjoyment. Unfortunately, there is one problem that cannot be ignored – Mowgli himself. At only twelve years old it may seem unfair to criticised Neel Sethi’s performance too harshly. But, when the entire film centres on the child actor’s performance, they cannot be left off the hook entirely. Sethi’s acting is the film’s weak link. Though certainly likeable, Mowgli is a one-dimensional character who is difficult to really empathise with. The concept of nature versus nature is a truly interesting one, but Mowgli’s journey is never examined to the extent that it could have been. We cheer for him because we know he’s the films protagonist, but do we really care about him? Eh… Show us more of Baloo devising plans for honey hunting.

This is a film that will satisfy both kids and those who grew up with the original animated film. Smart, wonderful to look at, and well-paced, The Jungle Book has all the bare necessities and more.

 

Ellen Murray

105 minutes

PG (See IFCO for details)

The Jungle Book is released 15th April 2016

The Jungle Book – Offical Website

 

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Review: Disorder

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DIR: Kirk Jones • WRI: Alice Winocour, Jean-Stéphane Bron • PRO: Emilie Tisné • DOP: Georges Lechaptois • ED: Julien Lacheray • DES: Samuel Deshors • MUS: Mike Lévy • CAST: Matthias Schoenaerts, Diane Kruger, Paul Hamy

Writer-director Alice Winocour returns with a sleek, though slow-burning thriller. As tense as a finely tuned piano wire, Disorder is an exploration of paranoia that builds slowly but surely, before eventually escalating into a full-blown house invasion survival story. Vincent (Schoenaerts) is an ex-soldier freelancing as a private bodyguard for a wealthy (if morally unsound) Lebanese businessman and his wife, Jessie (Kruger). Still suffering from both the physical and mental scars gained during his deployment, Vincent struggles to maintain control of himself and the reality he may or may not actually be experiencing.

This is a film that requires patience. The first half moves glacially and the audience is only offered brief glimpses into what is potentially to come. As with most films of this genre, it is never quite clear as to what exactly is really happening or what Vincent merely perceives to happening in his unbalanced mind. As such, it’s difficult to gauge what the audience should take at face value and how one can engage with the film. Almost like a sculpture, depending on what angle the viewer chooses to see the film from, they will have an entirely different experience to their fellow audience members. The tension, however, is real, namely due to Winocour’s deft directing and Schoenaerts’ captivating performance. Though narratively the film errs on the side of patchy (and relies far too much on the soundtrack to convey what the visual should), Schoenaerts skilfully manages to balance Vincent’s vulnerability with his animal-like ferociousness, making for an interesting character study. Diane Kruger is sadly underused, reduced to not much more than a damsel in distress by the film’s third act, but still has a presence on screen that elevates her character from being completely one-dimensional.

Overall, Wincocour’s newest offering is a film that on paper has a lot to offer, but on screen- not so much. The film’s biggest assets are its consistently tense atmosphere and strong performances from its lead actors. The film’s biggest drawback is that it asks its audience to give a lot, but does little to reward them. But, if you’re a Schoenaerts fan, his performance is worth the price of admission alone.

Ellen Murray

98 minutes

15A (See IFCO for details)

Disorder is released 25th March 2016

Disorder – Official Website

 

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