Allied Review

Yeah, I don’t have a Fantastic Beasts review yet. A mixture of being swamped with university work and large dose of apathy to watching the latest offering from JK Rowling means that it will be possibly a few weeks after it has come out when I finally get round to it. So instead, this week I have a film that I actually did have a passing interest in, from the director Forrest Gump and Back To The Future.

Allied stars Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard and Jared Harris and is directed by Robert Zemeckis. The film follows Canadian spy Max Vatan (Pitt) and French Resistance fighter Marieanne Beausejour (Cotillard) in Nazi-occupied Morocco. After falling in love and successfully completing their mission, they marry and move to London, but their life is shattered when rumours about Marieanne’s allegiance to the Allied Forces is questioned.

I was looking forward to Allied. There haven’t been many films set in the North African Theater of World War Two (the only ones I can think of are the fabulous Casablanca and Ice Cold In Alex), making Allied stand apart. While the opening half hour is set in Africa, the second part is relegated to London and French countryside. It’s such a let-down to move to an overused setting of WW2, and the film never really recovers. It’s also annoying that incredibly shoddy back projection has been used. It’s so easy to see that Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard are sitting in front of a green-screen rather than an actual sand dune, and makes the film worse for it.

Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard are fine in their roles. They have an old-school glamour about them, easily fitting into the time period and setting, but they aren’t helped by the script. It’s extraordinarily hammy, while also managing to be boring at the same time. There are moments of tension, but the script can’t keep the mystery of Marieanne’s allegiance going. One mystery, however good it maybe, cannot sustain a film’s runtime. You need other story arcs to be invested in, but Allied doesn’t deliver the latter part.

Due to both characters being fighters in the war, I was expecting some action scenes. We only get a measly two, and even those weren’t that long or thrilling. The assassination sequence and ensuing escape are barely built up, leading to a lacklustre climax. It would have been cool to see these two highly trained killers cause havoc inside the Nazi compounds, with some nice tracking shots of them moving through the buildings to their escape vehicle. But no, instead we have an incredibly short action sequence, a shame for how good it could have been. We have another action segment in the French countryside, but isn’t even worthy of merit to even talk about.

It’s not all bad. The film has its individual moments of brilliance, reminding us how good a director Robert Zemeckis is. The good parts are mainly in the Casablanca section; the first few hectic moments of the assassination and Marieanne and Max making love in their car while a sandstorm rages around them. The film has scenes with visual flourish, but can’t sustain them throughout an entire film.

It’s shouldn’t be hard to film a tense war-time thriller. Hollywood has been doing it since the 1950s. Heck, we just had one a few months ago in Anthropoid. And due to the lack of chemistry between the two stars, I’m not even interested in the ‘romance’ side of the ‘romantic-thriller’ that Allied has been billed at.  Unless you truly love the actors, or have an affinity for war-time aesthetics, this one should be a miss.

Score: 5/10 Early good looks and scenes give way to a dragging second half.

Advertisements

Arrival Review

After Prisoners back in 2013, and last year’s hit Sicario, Denis Villeneuve became a director to follow closely. And just in time for Oscar season, he’s managed to conjure up another film. Does his new film sit with Sicario on a Best-Of list, or does only one year leave enough room for it?

Arrival stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whittaker and Tzi Ma and is directed by Denis Villeneuve. Based on the short story by Ted Chaing, the film follows linguist Louise (Adams) and scientist Ian (Renner) as they are called in by the US military to study a UFO landing in Montana, with the duo leading the charge to create formal contact between the species.

After her lacklustre acting in BvS, Amy Adams is back on form. The film starts with an almost silent five minute backstory, flashing at different moments in her life, filling us in on the important details. It reminded me a little of the opening from Up, an entirely visual way of learning who the character is without any need for exposition or dialogue. Jeremy Renner is also good as the other side of the research team. While it is a little funny to see a nerdy scientist have the body of Hawkeye, his interactions with Adams, as they decipher the alien’s language is interesting and intriguing to watch.

The cinematography is a great part of the film, easily standing up with the rest of Villeneuve’s work. The first time we see the alien spaceship, it’s a wide landscape shot. The film is set in Montana, so it’s open fields, mountains and immense clouds of fog rolling in. The helicopter comes out of the mist surrounding the UFO, the music swells and we have an excellent long take, with the helicopter moving in slow and steady. It’s easily one of the best shots of the year and will certainly nab a nomination.

The aliens are hardly seen in the film, and in my opinion that is a good thing. Most films would want to throw the aliens at the screen (Independence Day 2), but here it’s much more restrained. Again, just like the first time we see the spaceship, the first time we see the aliens is a long, tense shot. When they hove out of the mist, long spidery legs tapping on the floor, it’s breathtaking and unnerving. It’s a brilliant attempt at show-don’t-tell, with only vague silhouettes moving about in the distance.

Lastly, the music is a fantastic addition to the film. Johann Johannsson, who worked with Villeneuve before on Sicario, again brings a stellar accompaniment to the film. Using a mix of traditional instruments such as piano and strings, then mixing them with drones, loops and electronic beeps, the film has a weird mash-up of a grand, sweeping scale with undercurrents of technology and the future.

The one thing I had a problem with is the story. It’s not a problem in the usual sense, more of a caution if you are thinking of going to see the film. Arrival is a narrative-heavy story and I think it’s one of the best this year. It’s a film that has many revelations, some of them making you look at the first half of the film in a completely different light. It takes a while to get there though, the film is nearly two hours long but didn’t become the epic odyssey until the final twenty minutes. To get the most enjoyment out of it, you have to pay attention, I just wanted to make sure you knew that before you decide to go on a whim.

In the end, Arrival was a near-mind blowing experience. From the superb visuals and the hidden story elements throughout, it’s one that will be remembered in years to come.

Score: 9/10 Will have you wracking your brain for days after you watch it.

The Light Between Oceans Review

I saw the trailer for The Light Between Oceans several months ago, and I wasn’t too interested. Romance films have never been my thing, but after hearing that Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander were starring, and Derek Cianfrance (director of Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond The Pines) was behind the film, my interest piqued up. Let’s see if these three can bring me into the genre.

The Light Between Oceans stars Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz and Jack Thompson and is directed by Derek Cianfrance. The story follows lighthouse keeper Tom (Fassbender) and wife Isabel (Vikander), who are constantly trying for a baby with little success. One day a baby washes up on shore and they raise it as their own. A few years later the real mother comes looking for her baby.

The Light Between Oceans came to my attention due to the leads being two of my favourite actors, and neither of them disappoint. Fassbender is a man haunted by his role in World War One, which is conveyed through incredibly expressive eyes, empty and vacated, wanting to get away from the world. Vikander is the complete opposite, young and starry-eyed, with hopeful ideas of romance and having children. Their blossoming romance and chemistry is enrapturing and believable, making the first hour a joy to watch. But that joy is shattered when the film goes through not only one, but two miscarriage scenes, and both Vikander and Fassbender give heartbreaking performances during the same opening act. That dissonance should be something no film would be able to come back from, a tonal whiplash that would kill off any audience enjoyment, but the arrival of the baby in the dinghy both gives Isabel and the film a new lease on life, with the romance film now becoming something much more mature and harrowing to go through.

The cinematography is a highlight of the film. Adam Arkapaw, (another favourite creator of mine), the cinematographer of Macbeth and the first season of True Detective, creates some excellent compositions. Due to the film being about a lighthouse keeper, the surrounding landscapes are sand dunes and open ocean, easy work for a DP as accomplished as Arkapaw. It’s a film that revels in the wilderness of the island and seas, with Fassbender or Vikander standing small in the frame, just to show the expanse of nature in comparison to them and their lives. The music adds to the sense of loneliness. Created by Alexsandre Desplat, the score is simple but memorable, with either a lone piano or a few strings moving in and out of key scenes. It elevates several moments and really brings out the emotion by the end of the film.

There were a few moments I was a bit at odds with. The start of the film is chopped together rather quickly, with Tom’s initial three months on the island and courtship of Isabel being no more than fifteen minutes. It would have been nice to extend this out, instead of just the two leads falling in love with each other at the outset of the film. Another reason was the story. While the film has long extended sections of excellent drama, sometimes it would drop into Nicholas Sparks levels of melodrama and clichés. It was rather annoying that the film would build up and have emotional resonance, but then would fall because of a scene that we’ve seen a million times before. I know that it’s based off an original book (written by M.L. Stedman), but it could have been handled better.

All throughout 2016, I’ve been complaining that this has been a terrible year for films, full of unnecessary sequels and movies not quite living up to hype. But I think with The Light Between Oceans, I think I find myself coming round to the idea that 2016 has gotten better as we’ve gone through.

Score: 8/10 Striking, haunting and wonderfully performed.

Doctor Strange Review

Damn it, I thought I had finished with these back in the summer. But no, now that Marvel and DC are releasing several movies per year, they have to stretch them out well past the usual release days. Marvel started their Phase Three earlier this year with Civil War, and now the second in the series is out in cinemas.

Doctor Strange stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton and Mads Mikkelsen and is directed by Scott Derrickson. The film follows Dr. Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch), a brilliant neurosurgeon. After a car accident leaves him without the use of his hands, he trains in the mystic arts to try and heal himself.

The acting and cast range from being passable to looking incredibly bored. I wasn’t a fan of Cumberbatch’s casting as Strange, but he was fine , nothing too terrible about him. Tilda Swinton looks uninterested most of the time, not displaying any emotion throughout the film. Mads Mikkelsen is woefully underused, and is reduced to spouting nonsense in his scenes. Like most Marvel villains, he isn’t as interesting as he could have been. The best character is probably Rachel McAdams as Strange’s half-love interest. While it’s generic to see the only lady Strange interacts with reduced to the love interest, she manages to rise above the typecasting.

The special effects featured heavily in the promotion, and if you’re just wanting to go to the cinema for some pretty visuals, then Doctor Strange is a good choice. Due to the mystic arts, the world starts to fold in on itself and creates kaleidoscopic patterns across the screen. It’s very much like the city sequences in Inception or Paprika, but on a much larger scale. There is even a homage to Inception later on during a fight in a hallway, where the world keeps rotating, making the characters continually fall over and slide around.

The action scenes though leave a lot to be desired. Throughout the film we see students at the monastery that Strange visits practising kung fu, and even Strange starts fight training later on, but when it actually gets to the fisticuffs, it’s less Crouching Tiger and more Taken 3. The camera shakes around and cuts to odd angles, before showing us a pile of bodies on the floor. It gets even worse when the characters start using their powers. While they look good (the film does use CGI well), most of them are just a maelstrom of particle effects. They clog up the screen with so much visual pizzazz that we miss all the interesting parts. The final action scene though, when Strange and his teammates start using a more complex series of spells (and some ones that I won’t say here for the sake of spoilers), they do make the finale a visual delight.

Apart from the visuals though, there is not much going on underneath. The story is the same bog-standard origin that they’ve been recycling since the original Iron Man all the way back in 2008.You can pretty much guess how most of the film is going to play out, until the final third when things start to get a little meta. The third act seems to get going before the second act is even over, which signals a problem with how the film has been edited. The film doesn’t telegraph how much time has passed, it almost looks like Strange has become a master magician within the space of a week. The jokes as well are rather poor. Cumberbatch is the main deliverer of them, but they really don’t fit with his character. It would have been better to keep Strange as the stoic, mystery man that the trailers made him appear to be rather than popping out jokes now and again.

In the end, apart from some of the trippy visuals and the new character, Doctor Strange really has nothing new to show for itself. I guess if you’re heavily invested in the series you’ll have already seen it or be making plans, but for others, just leave it be.

Score: 6/10 Some cool visuals now and again don’t carry an entire film.

Inferno Review

The Dan Brown Robert Langdon series is one of the best-selling collections of novels in the world. And with most bestseller books, it got turned into a film. The Da Vinci Code came out ten years ago (yes, really that long ago!) and Angels And Demons came out in 2009. Now, ten/seven years later, a new chapter in the film series, Inferno.

Inferno stars Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Omar Sy, Irrfan Khan and Ben Foster and is directed by Ron Howard. The film follows once again Robert Langdon (Hanks) who is in race against time to stop a deadly virus from being released into the world, with the only clues being hidden in famous works of art all over Europe.

I was actually looking forward to Inferno. I’m not a Dan Brown fan, but the trailers got me interested. And for a time I was relatively enjoying myself. The film is set in Florence, but swiftly moves to Venice and Istanbul. We get several sweeping shots of the cities and Langdon and his accomplice Sienna (played by Felicity Jones) run around the tourist hotspots and talk about the architecture and paintings. While sometimes it sounds like Hanks and Jones are reading from “The Encyclopaedia Of Modern Art”, it was like a mini-holiday in the cinema. Apart from those little bits of the art, history and lovely settings, it really is bad.

While the screenplay is not written by Dan Brown, you can feel his influence all over the film. It’s not really a plot, but just lots and lots of melodramatic nonsense. Each scene adds more and more nonsense on top of the previous nonsense, then adds twenty billion twists and several flashbacks, and in the end it becomes a lot less interesting or compelling. Brown really has a contempt for his audience, the characters explain to each other in lengthy detail how certain plot contrivances happen, but then the films show the scene, again and again, even if it wasn’t integral to the plot. Inferno has no time for people wanting to infer anything other than what it wanted.

Tom Hanks does his usual “super-dad” role, although this time he’s read up on his European history and art. Every important place he visits, he gives a little Wikipedia summary of when it was built, who built it, what the paintings on the roof mean, what hand the painter used, where The Ark Of The Covenant is buried, and how many secret passages the palace/cathedral/museum has. Felicity Jones follows him from place to place, giving off a blank, wide-eyed stare, seemingly have lost all of her emotions before the film began. Ben Foster is the main villain of the piece but despite being one of the most charismatic actors around he has less than ten minutes of screen time.

Inferno started out really good. I really enjoyed myself for the first half, full of art and history and interesting puzzles and clues. But the rest of the writing, from the Shyamalan-worthy twists to the vaguely defined characters and motives, it made me shake my head in disbelief and laugh out loud on several occasions. If you are a fan of the other Dan Brown films then it could be fun, but for others, it’s probably a bit too silly for anything other than ironic hilarity.

Score: 4/10 The beautiful settings can’t save an already botched script.

War On Everyone Review

One of my all-time favourite films is Calvary, a dark black comedy about a priest in Ireland who is sent death threats by a particularly broken parishioner. The film was written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, so when I heard about his new film, War On Everyone, I was pretty excited. Does it hold up with his other works?

War On Everyone stars Michael Pena, Alexander Skarsgård, Theo James and Tessa Thompson and is written and directed by John Michael McDonagh. The film follows Bob (Pena) and Terry (Skarsgård), a pair of corrupt cops who blackmail every criminal they come across. But one day they threaten the wrong criminal (James) and things turn sinister.

The opening scene of the film is Bob and Terry chasing a drug dealer dressed as a mime artist. Bob turns to Terry and asks “If you hit a mime does it make a sound?” before running him over with their car. That’s the sort of humour that War On Everyone has. It’s vulgar, callous and abrasive, but that’s its charm and had me nearly in stitches at places. All the characters are despicable, even the two leads who we are rooting for. Within the first couple of minutes you’ll know whether you’ll either enjoy the film or walk out due to disgust. The jokes ease up as we go through, replaced with dance numbers (set to an excellent endless playlist of Glen Campbell) and outrageous gun and fist fights bordering on slapstick, but they are always there in the film’s hip pocket if time comes for a punchy quip.

While the film is set in the modern day, it has an affinity with the look and sounds of the 1970s. Bob and Terry’s car is a classic, wheel-spinning, drifting muscle car, the collars are wide and the hair is bad, the aforementioned ever-present musical accompaniment of Campbell and the colour palette is garish, it all adds up to a film that has a great feel about it. It’s reminiscent of things like The French Connection and Dirty Harry, which is magnified by our heroes acting more like violent thugs than actual cops.

Michael Pena and Alexander Skarsgård are great as the duo of slightly bad cops. Pena is a great screen presence and ever charismatic, whether it be having deep, introspective talks with his wife or throwing out one-liners completely deadpan. Skarsgård is doing his usual boring, brooding role, but it’s just so funny watching this tower of a man strut around in a sharp suit, dishing out his own odd brand of justice.

The problems though are two-fold. First off, while the script is bitingly funny, the story is non-existent. I managed to figure out it was something to do with bank robberies and the porn industry, but not much else. It’s hardly a plot, more just a succession of scenes. We have many parts dedicated to the main bad guy and his minions, but they are not as interesting our main duo and ultimately, a lot less funny. Every time the film would cut to them, I got a little bored, just waiting for the film to head back to Pena and Skarsgård. Secondly, even though the film is only 97 minutes, it feels incredibly long. Again, there are a few too many moments that aren’t as funny or compelling as others. I am really hoping for a sequel though. To see these characters again would be a blast, hopefully they can sort out a good story for next time.

In the end, War On Everyone is a great romping ride. While it’s comedy will turn off many potential viewers for being so on-the-nose and cutting, this one is definitely going to be a cult classic. I just wish that it held together a bit more.

Score: 7/10 Deplorable, irresponsible and offensive, but damn if it isn’t funny.

The Girl On The Train Review

When I first saw the trailer for The Girl On The Train, my friend said it looked like Gone Girl-lite. I have yet to see the smash hit thriller (it seems everyone I know is amazed I haven’t seen it), but I got the idea he was making. One film is successful so everyone copies it. But I always try to go in with an open mind (even you Angry Birds), so let’s see if The Girl On The Train can stand apart.

The Girl On The Train stars Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux and Luke Evans and is directed by Tate Taylor. The film follows Rachel (Blunt), who watches the same woman (Bennett) out the train window everyday to work. One day, the girl disappears, so Rachel starts a search to find out what happened.

I’ll start by saying that The Girl On The Train is a film built on its revelations. I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum but some might slip by. If you prefer not to have any spoilers then I strongly urge you to just skip to the final paragraph for an overview.

You can tell this film is aiming for the Oscars. Emily Blunt as main character Rachel is definitely a shoe-in for the Best Actress nomination this year. Rachel is alone, a severe alcoholic, and mentally unstable. She’s just as confused as we are as she is trying to piece together the disappearance of the woman she is following, but also her movements that night, a four hour window where she cannot remember anything. The rest of the cast are alright, Haley Bennett is better here than her small role in Hardcore Henry, even if she is still reduced to an emotionless sex robot. Justin Theroux and Luke Evans play their usual roles, with only a few scenes later on that allow them to show their range.

The film’s structure also plays around with time and places, to tie into with Rachel’s downward spiral in psychosis. It’s not the first film to add narrative harmony to its characters, but here it’s done good enough. It falls down when the film starts jumping about in time, showing several flashbacks to fill out the characters. The film will jump back for five minutes before coming back to the present day, but without telling the audience that we are back to the main story. You eventually get back into the swing of it, but it’s still confusing and brings to film to a halt.

The film is slow build, it’s nearly three quarters of an hour before the woman disappears, but once the thriller part of the film starts going, it becomes insanely good. Sadly the Girl On The Train, like many thrillers, can’t pull off the ending. The ending and certain character reveals are signposted throughout, but it still felt rather lazy and cheap. It gets to the point that we know more about the disappearance than Rachel does, which leaves us tapping our foot waiting for her to catch up to us.

This ties in with the last problem, the film is way too long. It’s stretching at two hours, and is filled with needless padding. Sure, some of it is vaguely entertaining padding, but the film beats us over the head with Rachel’s drinking problem and destroyed relationships until it’s just in a repetitive bore.

In the end, The Girl On The Train is an alright thriller. It’s doesn’t reach the heights of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (which is the staple for the dark, sexually-charged psycho-thrillers) but it just good enough.

Score: 6/10 A great middle but a poor ending.

The Girl With All The Gifts Review

During the early 2010s, the zombie craze was huge. While zombies had been a part of entertainment all the way back from the 1950s (mainly through George Romero), as soon as The Walking Dead came out, along with things such as Call Of Duty‘s Zombie mode and others, the zombie craze blew up. Now, a few years after the buzz has died, a new zombie film.

The Girl With All The Gifts stars Sennia Nanua, Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine and Glenn Close and is directed by Colm McCarthy. Set in the near future after a zombie outbreak, a young girl called Melanie (Nanua) finds out she is immune to their infections.

Most zombie films deal with the immediate aftermath of the outbreak. Even films such as 28 Days Later, a corner stone of the new zombie films, are set during the initial breakout of whatever creates the monsters. Here, it is a few years after the disease first struck, meaning there has been some developments. Bases are set up that house the half-breed human/zombies, anti-zombie drugs are rationed and the mutation is ever evolving in the towns and cities, now overgrown with fauna and flora. It’s a set-up that apart from Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, I can’t think of many films that have explored it, but is brought to life wonderfully through the film. It’s got hints of John Wnydham’s Day Of The Triffids, with the abandoned cities and oppresive atmosphere, just this time with zombies instead of plants.

The cast are good in their respective roles. Paddy Considine and Glenn Close, who are both part of the military detail that is working towards a cure, have clear arcs and motives. None of them are reduced to silly stereotypes or have odd reveals, they react like real characters, with emotion and thoughts, rather than what the script needs them to do. Gemma Arterton is alright as teacher Helen, but nothing really standout. The best though is young Sennia Nanua as Melanie, the titular character, who has the bloodlust of a zombie but can regulate it and appear like a human girl. Through the film she moves from eager youngster, reading books and writing stories, before having to grow up and become a vital member of the survivors. Her full range of emotions and states, including when she goes into full-on zombie mode are incredibly good for an actress as young and untested as her (this is her second production, and first feature film).

The film has a relatively low budget (£4 million), but it works to the films favour. The stripped-back effect of the films creates a better world. This isn’t a big-budget Hollywood zombie film like World War Z or even a American-style satire like Dawn of The Dead. It feels more like a real-world event rather than a staged film, without zombies running left and right. The zombies are to be feared rather than fought. The biggest set-pieces hardly involve fighting the monsters but rather tip-toeing past them and hoping that they don’t sniff you out.

There is only one real action scene, just after the first half an hour. At the beginning, I wasn’t really sure where the film was going, it’s slow paced and focussing more on characters than giving us a creature feature. But once we are lead out of the underground facility where the first act is confined to, out into the open, we get a glorious raging battle between soldiers and zombies. The entire scene is done in one long take, spanning a few minutes and involving well over a hundred extras. The work and effort to create it must have been astounding, and is worthy of praise.

In the end, The Girl With All The Gifts is an interesting addition to the zombie canon. For those waiting on a The Last of Us film to come out, go watch The Girl With All The Gifts while you can. It’s the closest you’ll come to getting it.

Score: 7/10 A refreshing blend of horror and science-fiction.

The Magnificent Seven Review

I guess Westerns are back. With the surprise hits of Slow West and Salvation back in 2015, and the utterly amazing Bone Tomahawk earlier this year, Westerns are getting both commercial and critical acclaim (let’s just all forget The Lone Ranger, yeah?) And now for one of the most high-profile Westerns ever created, now remade.

The Magnificent Seven stars Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Martin Sensmeier and is directed by Antoine Fuqua, The story follows a bounty hunter (Washington) who wrangles up a posse to protect a town from a dastardly industrialist (Peter Sarsgaard).

The director, Antoine Fuqua, is the man behind films such as Training Day, Tear of The Sun and The Equalizer. Gritty “guy movies” about competent bad-asses who give and receive gruelling punishments while also being actually good films rather than silly pabulum like the Taken sequels or anything by the director Luc Besson. And with The Magnificent Seven, he’s continuing his trend of macho-action blockbusters without much fail.

The actors are well cast. Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt are doing roles they could do in their sleep, smaller roles for veteran actors such as Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio and a breakout action female role for Haley Bennet. The best though are Byung-hun Lee as assassin Billy and Martin Sensmeier as Red Harvest, a Comanche warrior. Both are relative newcomers (Lee is a star in Asia but not Hollywood) but they are perfect in their roles as ultra-capable killers and are seemingly born to be action stars. Look out for these two later on in Hollywood.

The action is explosive and bloody, but Fuqua is a master at capturing the gunfights, which play out more like opera or music, with a great rhythm to the hits and bullets. The sound design is good, you can feel the weight behind the bullets, instead of just sound effects. The first skirmish is split evenly, with each character showing off their abilities. This where the previously mentioned Lee and Sensmeier shine, with their respective weapons of knives and bows. The second and final fight takes up the last half an hour and while it make become a little repetitive after a while, the final five minutes, when our heroes are beaten down and battered, is a high point of emotion-driven action.

There are also tense standoffs, in saloons and deserted streets near the beginning, and again, they are shot very well. You can feel the rhythm of the shots building up, as the film draw close to a shootout. It’s not a slow-burn tension of say, Anthropoid. It’s much more geared towards a popcorn entertainment, but it’s still created well.

The story is a little clichéd, with nothing really standing out or subverting trends in scriptwriting. The scriptwriter is Nic Pizzolatto, the creator behind True Detective. Despite that excellently written former work, M7 comes nowhere close to it. There aren’t many stand-out lines and the plot points feel like 101 scriptwriting. There are obligatory break-up/make-up sections and back-stories to characters that feel tacked on/aren’t explored. One of the main characters has a personal connection to the villain, and if we had learnt about it earlier it could have injected the third act with some human drama about sacrificing innocents for revenge. But no, it’s done away with in a few lines, sloppily added in just because it was on a generic story checklist.

In the end, The Magnificent Seven is a well-done popcorn earner. The little generic traits and standard story conventions are easy to point out, but the action and the actors are what make it a highlight. It doesn’t stand with Seven Samurai (the story M7 was based on) but it probably stand there with the original.

Score: 7/10 Not magnificent, but solid entertainment.

Blair Witch Review

People seem to forget it nowadays but when The Blair Witch Project came out, it was a cultural landmark. Nothing else like it had been created before, and it then ushered in the “found-footage” trope that has been prevalent in the early part of the 2000s. Some people loved it, some hated it. Myself, probably in the middle (although it has been a while since seeing it). Twenty years on, does the new Blair Witch carry on the legacy?

Blair Witch stars James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott and Corbin Reid and is directed by Adam Wingard. the film follows the brother of Heather from the first film (McCune) who collects a set of friends and a documentary filmmaker to venture into the woods to see if they can find his sister.

In the original, it’s widely known that the cast were just coming into their careers and were genuinely scared of their surroundings. The new cast feel like they are more acting rather that reacting to the things around them, making it feel a little more staged. It follows a more conventional style of filmmaking with stock characters (promiscuous girl, wacky black guy, weird locals), giving us tropes we recognise so we can focus more on the woods and action rather than them.

The film is set up like a found footage movie, but updated to modern times. Drones, little headpiece cameras and an all-matter of gizmos such as GPS and walkie-talkies are brought in, which is an interesting addition. These people are actually going into the forest to look for something, not messing about with a camera. Little bits of the equipment get used here and there, but to no great effect other than some new visuals. The first half of the film is all shaking cameras and no real coherency, which eventually started to give me a migraine. It does calm down in the second half, so it’s half redeemed. When the original was made, the marketing convinced so many people that the film was real, that we were watching the last known recording of the three filmmakers. Now that we know that it was all basically fabricated, the sequel was a bit of a non-starter. We know it’s fake, we know it’s made-up, and no amount of people holding cameras or devices is going to convince me otherwise. It is basically a beat-for-beat remake of the original, but without the clever marketing.

Sadly, the spectre of most horror films nowadays, the jump scare, it used to full effect. Most of the time it’s not even anything remotely frightening, just loud camera glitches or microphone pops, which really get irritating after a while. After getting jump-scared by two of her friends, the main female lead says “Can people please stop doing that!”, almost reading the audience members minds. Again, the second act brings it together, with an excellent mix of some Cronenberg-style body horror, a genuinely tense “hearing-monster-walk-around-you” set-piece, a little glimpse of what could be a witch and an ending with a reveal which is novel and interesting. Good horror should leave it open-ended, and the second half does deliver. We even see what those stickmen are eventually used for, and it’s clever and fun.

Looking back at the whole of the Blair Witch, you can almost see the twenty years of horror that it’s tried to keep up with. You obviously get the nods to the original, but also little flashes of things like the VHS series and The Descent. The new stuff it brings to the table is superb and lends a lot of richness to the lore of the Blair Witch, but the basic retread will put of people who didn’t like the first one. If you hated the original, you will hate this, but if like me you were impartial or liked the original, you might get a kick out of it.

Score: 5/10 An abysmal first act leads into a slightly stronger ending.