Eye In The Sky Review

With drone strikes becoming a more and more hot-button issue in the modern world, it would only be a small amount of time before the film industry would jump on the situation. While we’ve had films about drones before (2013’s Drones and 2014’s Good Kill), But Eye In The Sky looks to be the first mainstream film on the subject.

Eye In The Sky stars Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman and Barkhad Abdi and is directed by Gavin Hood. The film follows several military personnel and politicians who are attempting to follows all of the moral, legal and ethical guidelines while still trying to eliminate high ranking terrorists using drones.

Eye In The Sky has a great collective cast. Alan Rickman, in his last on screen is doing what he does best, looking and talking with withering disdain. It’s not a bad role to end a great career on and could be a posthumous Supporting Actor nomination. Helen Mirren and Aaron Paul do well enough, it must be hard to act to a computer screen but they manage to make it work. Paul is still mostly known for Breaking Bad and it’s nice to see him break away from that role. The other standout besides Rickman is Barkhad Abdi. Abdi is known for his breakout role as the lead kidnapper in Captain Phillips and just like in that film, here he plays a very complex character for a relative newcomer. His role, which again is more looking at screens is layered and leads him into confrontation with terrorist militia, leading to an incredibly tense chase sequence.

The films characters are dotted all across the world and each of them plays a major role in the film’s story. While we start in Nairobi, Kenya where the terrorists are stationed, we are soon switching to Surrey, Whitehall, the Nevada Desert, Pearl Harbour, Singapore, Beijing and back again on the turn of a dime. You have to be ready for the quick jumps between each setting because there were even times when I had to take a couple of seconds to try and keep track of each one, especially since there are long breaks in between the lesser used locations of Pearl Harbour and Singapore. Most of the film is confined to rooms and people arguing over computer screens and phone calls, but it’s somehow really tense. Many for the characters who have the authority to call the drone strike, from the politicians to the less gung-ho commander’s want to “refer up” to a higher ranking official to take the heat off themselves, to the point where it becomes a bit comical. But each referral adds another layer for information and passcodes to be filtered through, all under the ticking clock plot device of the terrorists being able to leave their compound at a moment’s notice armed with suicide vests and bombs.

To talk about my problems with Eye In The Sky, I may slide into minor spoiler details since my main gripe is at the end of the film. The film tries to pull at the audience’s heartstrings, but it goes overboard in the last scene. It didn’t need to go so far, the two women who were sitting next to me were already in tears before the last couple of scenes, and these added moments just felt like the film was bashing the audience over the head with its message. The build-up to those moments were good and grapples with the audience’s morality as well as the characters, but for me it ended up looking like pandering.

In conclusion Eye In The Sky is a gripping, politically charged thriller. If you liked the Bourne franchise or something recent like 13 Hours, then think of Eye In The Sky as their older, smarter brother. It comes highly recommended.

Score: 8/10 Tense, topical and full of great performances.

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Trumbo Review

I missed Trumbo in its first cinema run, but it luckily was on a late run back home. It was nominated in the 2016 Academy Awards, sadly not winning any though. Now that I’ve seen it, did it deserve the nominations, and should it have won instead?

Trumbo stars Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, John Goodman and Elle Fanning and is directed by Jay Roach. Set during the 1940s, the film follows the real life story of Dalton Trumbo (Cranston), who was blacklisted from writing scripts for Hollywood films. He starts to write under pseudonyms to continue working.

The films performances are alright. Bryan Cranston obviously owns every scene he is in as Dalton Trumbo. I’m not sure if it is worthy of an Academy Award nomination (Cranston was nominated in the Best Actor category) but nevertheless it’s a solid performance. Elle Fanning as Trumbo’s eldest daughter Nikola is also good, and the interactions between her and her on-screen father are great. Helen Mirren and John Goodman are chewing the scenery every time they are on screen, while Diane Lane is the complete opposite, as the quieter side of the Trumbo household.

The film mixes characters made up for the film and the people who were there at the time. Last year’s Suffragette also did this, but here it works a lot better. Suffragette‘s real life encounters sometimes felt quite forced, while here a lot of it blends together well. The casting department did a good job, as a lot of the people they chose look almost identical to the actors they are portraying, such as Dean O’Gorman as Kirk Douglas or Michael Stuhlberg as Edward G. Robinson.

The script has some funny moments but I wish it had a bit more bite. I did laugh through several moments and Dalton Trumbo as a character has a way with words, confusing the authorities and making them look like fools when questioning him, but it leaves the rest of the film quite flat. Things are happening but not a lot of it is engaging. There is lots in the background, the civil rights movement, the Rosenberg’s, McCarthyism, but none of it explored at a much deeper level. I know that the film is focussing on Trumbo and the rest of the writers, but after a while it becomes repetitive just watching the same types of scenes play out over and over again. Trumbo just needed some variety.

The film also is incredibly long for the story it tells. Trumbo is over two hours, but it could easily be cut down to a ninety minute film. As I said before, too many scenes are repeated and some scenes just feel like padding for the sake of it. The film is set over several years as to hit all of Trumbo’s successes and failures, as well as his acceptance speech in 1970 at the WGA’s Laurel Award ceremony, but in between these moments, it falls below par.

Even though I do have problems with the story, it feels like something I should be interested in. As a Film Studies/Creative Writing student the film speaks to two things that I’m passionate about. Sadly, it’s not much more than an average film. If you watched Hail, Caesar! and were put off by the genre silliness of the Coen brothers, or you have a passionate interest in the story of the Hollywood Ten and America during that time, then Trumbo might be a film for you. To everyone else though, especially people who don’t know much about the Blacklist, this is one to miss.

Score: 6/10 Has some good moments and characters, but it’s length smothers it.

High-Rise Review

Another film that was meant to come out back in 2015, High-Rise has been in different stages of production for around 30 years, with several tries falling by the wayside. Finally, it’s with us, so it’s about time that I reviewed it.

High-Rise stars Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller and Luke Evans and is directed by Ben Wheatley. Based on the book of the same name by JG Ballard and set in an alternate 1970s, the film follows Dr. Robert Laing (Hiddleston) who has just moved to the High-Rise. He is caught in the middle when all-out war breaks out between the poor tenants at the bottom and the rich at the top.

High-Rise boasts an impressive cast and all of them are doing top work. Luke Evans as Wilder, the instigator of the class war, Jeremy Irons as the wizened old architect Royal or Siena Miller as the temptress Charlotte, they are a great selection of actors. There are smaller roles of Elizabeth Moss (with a rather silly upper class accent) and an unrecognisable Keeley Hawes who are filling in the sides. And since it’s set in the 70s, the men are in flared trousers and moustaches and the women are in mini-skirts, and all of them have bad hair. It’s good costume design and might cause a buzz at next year’s award season.

The standout performance though is Tom Hiddleston as Laing. Laing is an outsider, we don’t know much about him at the film’s start and we know just as little by the end. He’s slimy but also charming at the same time, it’s a bit like Hiddleston’s performance as Loki in the Avengers. There have been rumours that he could be the new James Bond, and High-Rise is a promising audition. Hiddleston can show he’s suave and stylish but also ruthless and shady when it comes to it.

The story is set in motion by power failures on the lower floors while consistent power is running at the higher and penthouse suites at the top. The lower flats are styled in the 70s fashion, gaudy apartments filled with faux-wood and plastic chairs and tables, and are always shown in semi darkness. The top floors are brightly lit, painted all in white and furnished with rugs and extravagant pets. The tenants in the top floors are dressed like it’s the 1800s. They wear powdered wigs and ball gowns and tailcoats, they gorge on canapés and expensive alcohol and they behave like spoilt children. Laing fits right in the middle and is both played and plays for both sides of the conflict.

When the first cracks begin to appear between the floors, it soon turns to violence pretty quickly. Just imagine something like The Hunger Games if it was set in the tower block from The Raid and you’ll be around the right mark. It reminds me of something like Bioshock or 2013’s Snowpiercer, which was another film that dealt with the lower classes rising up against the upper class, but here we don’t see a lot of the large clashes of violence. We see the small fights but mainly the aftermath; the blood spilled on the floor, the rubbish piling up in the corridors and the household object that had been repurposed as weapons during the skirmishes. Anything and everything is used, scissors, golf clubs and sometimes just bare fists.

They fight over things like fresh food and candles as well as the alcohol, drugs and women that fuel their parties. Even while going toe-to-toe, both lower and higher floors find time to party all night, with the corridors turning into weird, drug-fuelled raves. Cinematographer Laurie Rose captures all of the decadence superbly through a mix of steady shots in the beginning before moving into the handheld camera to get right in the face of the depravity that unfolds.

I didn’t know what to expect when going into High Rise but in the end I was blown away by the sheer craziness of it all. While it does feel a tad overlong, it’s worth every moment just to see the beautiful mess that High Rise becomes.

Score: 9/10 Sexy, smart and sophisticated…while being completely mad at the same time.

Spotlight Review

Another week and one more film that’s nominated for Best Picture has been watched. Spotlight wasn’t one I had heard of much before its release, only hearing of it when it crept up on the nominations list. I had already made my mind up that The Big Short should take home the prize this year, but does Spotlight make me change my mind?

Spotlight stars Michael Keaton, Rachael McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Brian d’Arcy James and Liev Schreiber and is directed by Tom McCarthy. Based on a true story, the film follows the reporters for The Boston Globe as they investigated priests accused of molestation that had been covered up by the Catholic Church.

Spotlight is a film made on the performances. Everyone already listed are bringing their A-game, with most of the roles being skilfully understated. Their all trying to be good reporters and stick to the facts, but sometimes they break and all their pent-up emotion and anger comes pouring out. These moments are when Spotlight shines, such as a shouting match between Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton, as well as a wordless-but-emotional run through the middle of the night by Brian d’Arcy James. These are my favourite moments of the film, but I think it helps that there aren’t too many of them. If there had been more than a couple then the film would have been seen to have been trying to pull heartstrings and it would have diluted it’s end message.

Despite having several high-status actors in the main roles, Spotlight has a very impressive supporting cast. Actors like John Slattery, Stanley Tucci and Paul Guilfoyle all help out and bring their best performances in a long time.

One of the things I like about Spotlight is that it manages to take a serious topic and doesn’t water it down. Films have taken the accusations before and spun their own films and stories around them (the one that I can think of right now is Calvary, one of the films that got me into Film Studies) but Spotlight is just like it’s protagonists, it’s only interested in the facts and abut printing every single detail on the page (or in this case, screen) in an attempt into shocking us into a response, instead of giving us something which could have been more filmic. In that sense, it reminded me a lot of a documentary, it tells story through the bare essential facts. But that feeling of documentary is also it’s curse. The film looks very flat and muted. There is nothing that standouts visually, it’s rather perfunctory. I’m trying to think of one mis-en-scene that clearly standouts and I’m drawing a blank every time.

The film’s structure though, is a point I will give in its favour. The film doesn’t give the audience help like many other big-budget films. We only find out the truth behind the accusations and how widespread they are at the same time as the characters, making the screen become more like a mirror, as we almost reflect the characters gasps of astonishment. It all culminates in a final listing of all the cases not just in America but across the world and it shockingly goes on for longer than you would ever think.

I do have problems with Spotlight. The main one I had with the film is that it looks like it’s going to bring up some interesting sub-plots but they never get fully flushed out. The trailer showed the reporters getting ominous phone calls and being followed by shady individuals but I never got a sense of this being an overarching theme. I can’t even remember if it was in the film.

In the end, Spotlight looks very normal, but the story it weaves is incredible. The feeling it leaves reminds me of Sicario, it pulls at your stomach and almost makes you sick, but it reminds you enough that it’s a great film.

Score: 7/10 Exeptional story, even if everything else is flat.

Life Review

Preface

He made three successful films and died before he was even 25 years old. Yet, sixty years after his death, James Dean is still one of the most studied and admired style icons of the last century. Back in 2015, I was looking forward to Life, the biopic of Dean and his friendship with photographer Dennis Stock, but for some reason it did not get a wide release. Now it’s out on DVD, so I’m catching up on it.

Review

Life stars Robert Pattinson, Dane DeHaan, Ben Kingsley, Joel Edgerton and Alessandra Mastronardi and is directed by Anton Corbijn. The film follows Magnum photographer Dennis Stock (Pattinson) as he follows James Dean (DeHaan) in an attempt to produce a photo essay for Life magazine.

It’s interesting how director Anton Corbijn started as a rock photographer before turning to film. It’s almost a return to his previous profession as we watch Stock follow Dean almost like a lost puppy, trying to steer him towards something resembling a photo shoot. It feels like a pet project film and Corbijn’s knowledge of the working relationship photographer’s forge with their subjects is very clearly seen throughout the film. His time spent as a photographer can be seen throughout Life, he composes some lovely shots that would look great just as standalone stills, and the film has a golden sheen, reminiscent of the films that Dean made.

I’ve always liked Robert Pattinson. I defended him during his initial star making roles in Harry Potter and Twilight and I thoroughly liked his performance in Cosmopolis, here is Life he’s doing a much steelier an colder performance than I’ve seen him do before. It reminded me a lot of Ryan Gosling in Drive, you don’t get a lot on the surface but you see the performance behind his eyes. Sadly though, a lot of these moments, where Pattinson decides to act are few and far between, leaving the performance rather wooden and without passion. He looks like he isn’t enjoying the role half the time.

On the opposite hand, Dane DeHaan, well known for his roles in Chronicle and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, is perfectly cast as James Dean. It’s a completely different role to anything he’s done before and he manages to embody everything that James Dean stood for. The dishevelled-but-stylish hair, the half-asleep daze, cigarette hanging out the corner of his mouth and speaking in a quiet and almost shy voice, DeHaan looks the part but also manages to bring a lot of depth to the secretive Dean. Through the film we follow Dean back to his childhood home in Indiana and we see the small interactions with the rest of his family, working on the farm in the deep snow, or reading comic books with his younger cousin, it shows the sort of man he was. DeHaan makes the part his own and is one of the standout reasons to watch the film.

I talked about my problems with Pattinson’s acting ability earlier in the review, but it isn’t confined to him, the whole film seems to have an underlying problem in that it never feels, dare I say, alive. There are small moments where it does come to life, mainly helmed by DeHaan as Dean, such as a monologue on the train back to Indiana, or a speech he gives at a high-school dance as well as some lovely moments of silence on the homestead while Stock is taking pictures of him. But apart from these minute flourishes of brilliance the film sadly falters and feels too reverent and sombre, as if it’s a museum piece rather than a work of film.

In the end, while I enjoyed moments of Life, I just felt a little let down that it wasn’t as entertaining as I thought it would be. It’s still a good watch, but it’s not going onto the Must-Watch List.

Score: 7/10 DeHaan’s performance is the main reason to watch.

The Big Short Review

Wall Street is good theatre. Several films have been set on what is basically the capital of the United States market and economy. In that sort of high-stress environment, good cinema thrives, with films like Margin Call, The Wolf of Wall Street and…well Wall Street. Does The Big Short (nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars) stand with these great films?

The Big Short stars Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt and is directed by Adam McKay. Based on the book of the same name by Michael Lewis, the film follows several brokers on Wall Street who predicted the 2008 Housing Crisis and decide to bet against the market and get rich.

If you don’t know the first thing about stocks, don’t worry I’m right with you. Top bond salesman Jared Vennett (Gosling) turns to the camera early on and says, “I know this is boring and confusing, so here’s Margot Robbie in a bubble bath to explain it.” The film does this several times, with celebrities such as Selena Gomez and Anthony Bourdain popping up and explaining what several of the market terms mean through simple analogies. It’s incredibly funny and is kept up throughout the entire film, with characters turning to screen to explain how things happened or drawing pictures in thin air. However, don’t think it’s a pure comedy like The Wolf of Wall Street (despite it being nominated in several awards under “comedy”), it’s more of a drama that a laugh-out-loud film.

You have to pay attention throughout, the film will stop and explain a term but it will then set off again and assume you got the gist of it. I missed a couple of lines of dialogue and for the next ten minutes I was confused over what was happening. It’s a film that isn’t afraid to talk about complex and deliberately puzzling exchanges and statistics. Luckily, with the help of those previously mentioned cut-aways to celebrities or a Jenga set to symbolise the housing market, the audience can follow along the winding trail of buying and selling dodgy commodities. It’s a riveting script, and McKay and collaborator Charles Randolph have done a fantastic job of making what could be an intensely boring subject into one of the most suspenseful.

The cast is a major strong point. A lot of the main players are playing against type; Steve Carell is a surly man with emotional baggage, Christian Bale is a doctor with Aspergers who walks around his office barefoot and plays music obnoxiously loud and Brad Pitt is quiet retiree who is paranoid the government is spying on him. Most of these men never meet face-to-face, but they all figure out at some point that the market is going to collapse and the joy comes from their different methods and approaches to how they will get out of it without losing money or their jobs.

By far the best performance is Ryan Gosling. Sure, I might be a fanboy, but in The Big Short he is fantastic. He’s obviously channelling Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort and looks like he’s loving playing the part of a ruthless salesman. The moments where he verbal puts-down his underlings, or clears an entire men’s bathroom so that he can have a private phone call are funny and create an interesting character, and serve as a good distraction in-between the major money-conversations.

As soon as I finished The Big Short, I knew that it had majorly shaken up my predictions for the winner of this year’s Oscar. It’s riveting and often hilarious but it’s painfully fast. When your problem with the film is “there should be more of this”, you have something good. If you think you can keep up with its rapid pace, then The Big Short get’s my recommendation.

Score: 9/10 Thrilling, funny, thought-provoking and totally deserves it’s nomination.

Room Review

In a bid to make a reasonable decision on the Academy Awards this year, I’m trying to watch all the nominations before the show. I’ve seen most through 2015, but there are a few trying to slip in the last weeks. One such film is Room.

Room stars Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers, Joan Allen and Tom McCamus and is directed by Lenny Abrahamson. Based on the novel of the same name by Emma Donoghue, the film follows Joy (Larson) and her five-year-old son Jack (Tremblay), who have been locked in a room by “Old Nick” (Bridgers). They plot to trick “Old Nick” and escape.

I went into Room pretty blind. I’d seen the trailer, which had given away a few details, but originally I thought this was going to be a horror film. My co-host on Pure FM, Zach Lockwood, said to me that he thought it was going to be a sci-fi film. So I was surprised and in the end, overjoyed that Room turned into a humane drama about the relationship between mother and son.

Most of the film’s time is spent in the company of Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, who both sell the idea that they are parent and child. Brie Larson has taken a gigantic leap from her two most known roles (21 Jump Street and Trainwreck, both comedies) to her role as Joy in Room. It shows her ability as an actress, and highlights that she can do serious Oscar-bait dramas as well as comedies. Jacob Tremblay though is the standout of the film. This kid is nine at the time of writing and he’s already worthy of praise, which for child actors is rare. He pulls off every change that the script calls for with conviction and totally deserves the acclaim, I would give Best Actor to him over Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant.

The cinematography seems to be deliberately tied in with Jack’s vision throughout the film. It stays at a very low height, and emphasises the small things throughout the room. Jack has never experienced the outside before, all he knows is the room and amazingly, the cinematography is able to capture how he believes that the room is large and is his entire universe.

Once Jack finally manages to escape, the cinematography changes, it takes in wide-shots of the sky and tries to focus in on everything, just like Jack is doing. We almost feel the same as Jack does when he first get’s out, we’ve been cooped up in the room for so long that when the characters do get outside, it’s like nothing we’ve seen before. Even things like “Old Nick” are viewed through a child-like lens, he’s the equivalent of the Bogey-Man, never truly visualised and always steeped in shadow, similar to how Toy Story visualised demon-child Sid’s father. It’s a novel way to capture a story and makes it all the more interesting to watch.

Room is a story that drags you through what could be one of the most hellish experiences to ever happen to someone but it’s all through the always-optimistic eyes of a five year-old. While it could have been easy for the film to become melancholic and depressing, it somehow manages to keep you happy to a degree. You smile and laugh even in the most dark points of the story because you see a young child who has joy and happiness in his life.

To summarise, Room deserves it’s place in the Best Picture nominations. I know that it’s only January, but when we get to the end of 2016, I’ll be surprised if Room doesn’t make it onto my Top Ten of the year. This definitely one to not miss. You might want to bring your tissues though, nearly the entire theatre I was in were in tears by the end.

Score: 8/10 Over-whelming and somehow joyous.

Creed Review

Rocky is one of the most recognisable film franchises in the world. It’s the film that was one of Sylvester Stallone’s first major roles and arguably his best-known role (with Rambo being his second). But now a new film steps away from the Rocky title, ready to make its own legacy using new characters from the Rocky world. That film is Creed.

Creed stars Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson and Phylicia Rashad and is written and directed by Ryan Coogler. The film follows Adonis Johnson (Jordan), the son of Apollo Creed, who decides he wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and enlists Rocky (Stallone) to train him.

Ryan Coogler was the director of one of my Top 10 favourite films, Fruitvale Station and for a first film it’s a solid entry. Now with Creed, he’s showing that he will be soon be one of the most sought-after director’s working today. Coogler is already an expert at crafting a story and has a very good eye for composition and camera work.

Michael B. Jordan (who worked with Coogler before on Fruitvale Station) shines as Adonis Creed. The actor obviously bulked up and trained hard for the role and it pays off, he looks every part the fighter Creed would be. Sylvester Stallone is just Rocky again (you get what you pay for) but manages to add a lot more complexity to the role, with small scenes like him visiting the graves of loved ones or the little mementos of his family around his house adding to the character. Tessa Thompson (who was here last year in Dear White People) as Adonis’ love interest Bianca is a good addition, even if sometimes I didn’t quite think there was a lot of chemistry between her and Jordan.

The boxing fights, while not the main focus of the film, are punishing and bloodied. While there are only two full matches, Coogler and his cinematographer Maryse Alberti capture the gladiatorial bouts perfectly. The first fight, which looks like it was shot in one take, is breathtaking. The camera dances around the ring with our fighters, and it still manages to be engaging despite not having any noticeable edits in it. Edits help keep the pace up in a fight sequence, but all we have here is a very well choreographed scene with two actors who can sell the hell out of beating each other up. The final fight scene, while more traditionally edited than its earlier counterpart, is still very enjoyable, even if it has a weird edit where rounds are cut down to ten second montages.

The sound design in the fights is what sells it though. We hear every punch and every block, with some of the more heavy blows making me wince at the sound of it. It’s a film where you feel as if you are in the middle of the fight, almost to the point where you are about to start shouting along with the crowd. It’s hard not to get a contact high from it. It got to the point where I thought that the guys on screen facing Jordan weren’t actors but full-blown boxers they just got for the film (and then I went and looked it up for the review and found that is opponents were actually boxers).

I’d already addressed the main problem I had, that of the chemistry between Thompson and Jordan, but I’ll broaden it out a bit more. While they have some good scenes together, including a “first date which isn’t an actual date”, their blossoming relationship isn’t really expanded upon to any great length, which is a shame. It would have been nice to see these two together in more scenes and break away from the usual classical Hollywood tropes of romance subplots.

In summary, Creed is a breath of fresh air in a series that should have been dead a long time ago. To paraphrase what the old man said, “It’s not about how many films you make, it’s about how many you can make and still make them fun.”

Score: 8/10 Good, solid entertainment.

The Revenant Review

The Revenant has been on my list of to-watch films since January of 2015. It was promised in December, but we’ve had to wait a couple extra weeks for it. And amid several Oscar nominations (and a possible Best Actor win for its main star), let see if the hype is lived up to.

The Revenant stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter and Forrest Goodluck and is directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu. The film follows Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) in the early 19th Century, who after a bear attack is left for dead. He comes back to get his revenge on those who left him behind.

Iñárritu as a director has a very odd camera style. Instead of the usual editing, cutting between multiple cameras, Iñárritu usually has long tracking shots of his actors. We saw a hyper version of it in his last film, Birdman and here it is exactly the same. The beautiful long shots of the Native American attack that opens the film, or the bear attack that puts the films story in motion are incredible, and change the old question of “How did they film that?” to “How did they film that and have nobody get hurt?” The attacks are blood soaked, with gunfire going off, people being brought down by a flurry of arrows or being thrown from their horse. And the camera keeps going…and going…and going, not cutting for sometimes ten to fifteen minutes at a time.

While DiCaprio has been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for The Revenant (with many saying that this will be his winning year), I can’t agree. Sure, if Best Actor was changed to the award for Mouth Breathing and Exertion Noises then Leo would win hands down, but he doesn’t really perform in the film. He just gets the crap beaten out of him over and over again. Towards the end of the film I thought Iñárritu just hates his protagonist, the amount of pain and danger he puts him through is astronomical. Tom Hardy fairs better as Fitzgerald, but the signature Hardy Mumble (seen in The Dark Knight Rises and Lawless) does appear, meaning you have to strain your ears to understand him. The best of the cast is Domhnall Gleeson as Captain Henry, the leader of Glass and Fitzgerald’s group, who in the final third get’s to show some menace and anger, showing what a broad actor Gleeson is.

The film’s story (based on true events, like nearly every single film in the cinema is that isn’t a Marvel property) is pretty simple; man gets revenge on those who wronged him. Iñárritu has a writing credit on the film, and he’s managed to stretch the story to 156 minutes and across three countries (Canada, USA and Argentina were all used for filming) which is way too long for a film like this. While it’s nice to see the snowy plains (The Revenant is definitely going for the “Travel Cinema” crowd), once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. But Iñárritu keeps coming back to them, adding nothing to the story and making the audience bored.

The soundtrack, created by Ryuichi Sakamoto, is very atmospheric and brooding, but it only gets used for mere seconds at a time. There are hardly any moments in the film where the soundtrack plays for a substantial amount, which is rather annoying given how good it is. Instead, we are usually left with the sounds of nature and it’s in some of these moments that the films sound design shines. The wind howls, the trees groan under the pressure and the leaves rustle, it all adding up to create a sense of isolation. Like I said in my Alois Nebel review, films like this create the sense of being truly alone, with nature all around you.

In conclusion, The Revenant is a mixed bag. While the cinematography and setting are great, the lack of characterisation, story arc and bloated run time hurt an otherwise fine film.

Score: 7/10 Sadly not as good as it I perceived it to be.

The Danish Girl Review

Films that deal with LGBT issues and characters hardly get a wide cinema release. Despite having entire film distribution companies devoted to the subject (Peccadillo Pictures for anyone interested), unless it’s something that has swept the pre-award/festival circuit, for example Blue Is The Warmest Colour or Carol then it hardly gets an audience. The Danish Girl has been on the festival run already, so now in cinemas, how does it fare?

The Danish Girl stars Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ben Whishaw and Amber Heard and is directed by Tom Hooper. Based on a true story, the film follows Lili Elbe, who was born as Einar Wegener, and was one of the first people to have sex reassignment surgery.

The actors and actresses throughout The Danish Girl are one of the reasons to go watch it. While there was controversy to begin with over whether the role of Lili should go to a trans actor, in the end the role went to Eddie Redmayne and he does a stellar job of laying both Einar and Lili. While watching I was reminded of the dual performance of Tom Hardy in last year’s Legend, and just like Hardy, Redmayne manages to create two very distinct characters, both with different mannerisms, goals and talents. It’s not even the physical differences of the wig and make-up that create the main difference, it’s all down to Redmayne’s ability as an actor.

The actress opposite Redmayne is Alicia Vikander, who plays Einar’s wife, Gerda. 2015 seemed to have been Vikander’s year, with several high-profile castings, all the way from blockbusters (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) down to indie auteur pieces (Ex Machina) and just like her performances then, her performance in The Danish Girl is exceptional. Her portrayal of a woman who first made a game out of her husband’s identity issue, only for it to turn on her and wreck her marriage is heartbreaking. During the film she blames herself for losing her husband and asks Lili to turn back and “find” Einar and in the process shows a wide variety of emotions, which should definitely get her nominated during the award season.

In many respects, The Danish Girl plays much like a traditional love story, the only major difference here being is that one character is transgender rather that fitting into the male/female binary choice. Lili and Gerda still have intimate scenes even when Einar has “died” (Lili’s words) showing that it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

While watching, my enjoyment fluctuated majorly over the films run time. After thinking about it, I’ve pinned it down to the three act structure, with each act seeming to drag on for too long. The first act we see Einar becoming Lili, the second we see mainly Lili and then the third act where the reassignment surgery takes place. The film is easily broken into three parts, and each one starts strong before just dropping into a much slower gear or similar scenery to the rest of the film. While the second half of part two and the final third of the film are the best sections, getting to these points flips from one end of the scale to the other, with it being sometimes engaging and at other points incredibly pedestrian.

My other complaint of the film is that it’s rather too well constructed. Everything from the inch-perfect make-up to the dresses that Redmayne wears all feels a bit too overdone and artificial somehow. This, coupled with the sometimes overracting of the actors and actresses (not a fault of theirs, more to do with a sometimes flat and awkward script), it starts to become a bit too superficial, instead of delving into Lili’s mind it sits back and looks at her and her outfits.

In summary, The Danish Girl has some great actors and actresses at the helm, along with an acclaimed director, but it falls apart when it concerns itself with surface, and is redeemed when it gets back to the characters.

Score: 6/10 After the excellent 2015, 2016 is off to a steady start.