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.

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.

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.

Nerve Review

Third week running, with the last of the summer blockbusters coming out as the lucrative summer market comes to a close. And surprisingly, we have another film that looked terrible but managed to follow last week’s The Shallows and turned into a little gem.

Nerve stars Emma Roberts, James Franco, Emily Meade and Miles Heizer and is directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. Based on the book of the same name by Jeanne Ryan, the film follows teenager Vee (Roberts) who joins the online game Nerve, where she can win money for completing dares.

I must confess, I was actually wanting to see Nerve from the trailer. While I didn’t have high hopes, the set-up looked interesting. As explained in the intro, Nerve is an online game. You are either a “watcher” or a “player”. Watchers, as the name implies watch and set dares for the Players. When Players video themselves completing dares they attract followers which in turn wins them money, simple. It’s Pokémon GO, mixed with Vine and Online Poker. Do you leave with the money you’ve made or do you hold your nerve (aha, I see what you did there) and do “one last dare” to get some more money. It’s an interesting concept for a thriller, one that Nerve tries to explore but never really fleshes out.

The film is full of almost great moments. The dares have that same sort of debauchery of High-Rise and The Wolf of Wall Street had as well as having the colour scheme of The Neon Demon (seriously, it’s like the film is being blackmailed by the neon light industry). You can almost hear Nerve straining at its 12a rating, wanting to push the envelope and put some more crazy and risqué stuff on-screen but needing that young teenage market with disposable income who are annoyed they couldn’t get into Suicide Squad.

These great moments though are let down by a weak story and script that has more holes than a sieve. How come our main characters Vee and Ian (Emma Roberts and James Franco, who are both terrific) have to do three dares one after the other for fear of losing it all, but can go for pizza and a carousel ride without losing all their winnings? Who sets the dares? Who pays the players? Questions that the film really doesn’t care about so it can do the same old “kooky/nerdy girl comes out of her shell and get’s a boyfriend and shows all the cool kids at school that they were wrong about her” storyline that was tired back in the 1980s.

The film tries to include the cool “hacker” vibe that has been in media recently (see Mr. Robot and Watch_Dogs), but oddly shows the hackers as pouty Abercrombie and Fitch models with hearts of gold rather than the socially-maladjusted kids who help North Korea push around movie studios. Nerve brings up many ideas about online accounts and privacy as well as cyberbullying and crime, but none of it is sub-text like the aforementioned Rise or Demon, it’s just text. The final act, where Vee makes a speech to her millions of watchers is as about on-the-nose as you could get without it becoming an infomercial that is played in schools to warn kids about the dangers of the internet.

Nerve is both dumb but also kind of great. It never really drops into a lull, with the two hour run time neither feeling overlong or too short. The story is weak, but the set-up is one of the most interesting of the faux-sincere 12a summer crowd. If may be based off a young adult book, but at least it’s not set in the post-apocalypse like every other teenage-based film of the past five years. It gets a recommendation from me.

Score: 7/10 Young, dumb but thoroughly entertaining.

Money Monster Review

Jodie Foster is well known for her work as an actress, but has many directorial roles under her belt. After three films and a couple of television episodes (notably Orange Is The New Black and House Of Cards), she’s back with her new film, Money Monster.

Money Monster star George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Jack O’Connell and is directed by Jodie Foster. Lee Gates (Clooney) hosts the Wall Street consumer advice show Money Monster. After his advice means delivery man Kyle (O’Connell) loses all his money, he is taken hostage by Kyle on live television.

George Clooney plays totally against type as Wall Street expert Lee Gates. Clooney is known for playing the suave, charismatic type, but Gates is more of a slimy character than usual. He got to where he is by his quick wits and ability to not let his emotions get in his way. His bravado soon come crashing down when Kyle bursts in, placing a pistol to the back of his head. It’s similar to his role from Up In The Air, but he’s much more in the thick of the action rather than flying from place to place.

Since the film is about economics and stocks and data, it would be easy to compare Money Monster to The Big Short due to the similar subject matter. But instead of focussing on the money and traders, it keeps it all mostly on the television and the media, which is more tying in with Network. The film cuts away to several groups watching the drama unfold on their televisions, tweeting and vining ( is that how you write the verb “to vine”?) and other news outlets jumping in to say their piece on what and why it’s happening. The film is putting it’s politics into the media rather than onto the bankers, which is a different take on films that focus on the economic collapse. Sadly, the characters on the outside aren’t very likable; playing out certain events to make O’Connell’s Kyle step up his demands or general apathy, turning away from gunfire on the television back to a table football game. It went for it, but I think it might have worked better if they just stuck to a hostage rescue scenario. Sometimes the wider story, about corrupt businesses and strikes and external forces went a bit too paranoid for me, with some of it being totally confusing as to how it profited the bankers.

Most of the film takes place in the Money Monster set. This containment keeps all the tension in one place and our attention solely on Clooney, O’Donnell and Julia Roberts as Gates’ producer Patty. However, the story keeps moving on so that when we do finally leave the set for the streets of New York and then to Federal Hall it doesn’t lose that small-room tension. Monsey Monster keeps building it’s tension by adding more and more layers to the conspiracy at the centre and then suddenly pulling a stabilising part of the puzzle away, making Kyle become much more erratic after he had been calm for an extended period of time. The film is at its best when we are with the three leads, losing the tension and turning into more of a comedy when it moves to other characters. There is some dark humour displayed by Clooney and O’Connell but the film works better as a thriller.

In summary, Money Monster is a good tense film, dissecting how the media works and generates stories. It often seems a bit too upfront about it subject manner, it’s morals as well as sometimes being confusing and expositional but overall it’s enjoyable.

Score: 7/10 Good for 90 minutes but not essential viewing.

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.

Triple 9 Review

We’re in the dead zone of cinema at the time of writing. All the Oscar/BAFTA/Golden Globes nominations have come and gone through the theatres and now we’ve got a hard slog until the middle of March (March is when the releases start getting good again). But, as I always try and get a film reviewed once a week, here is the film that interested me the most. I give you Triple 9.

Triple 9 stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Kate Winslet and Woody Harrelson and is directed by John Hillcoat. The films follows a group of dirty cops who to pull off an impossible heist, decide to commit a Triple 9, the radio call for an “officer down” to distract the police force.

While the script is pretty poor, the cast list is pretty good. As well as the four big names mentioned above, the supporting roles are also filled with great actors and actresses. Norman Reedus, Aaron Paul, Cilfton Collins Jr. and Gal Gadot all do their best with what is a weak script. There is no lines that stick in my mind, but all the actors manage to perform well.

The film starts with a heist and it has some great tracking shots through the bank. While it might never reach the heights of Heat or Public Enemies (both directed superbly by Michael Mann) it still manages to be tense and adrenalin-fuelled. The climax of the scene is an escape on the freeway, while red clouds of smoke (from tainted bills swiped during the robbery) billow out of the escape vehicle. It’s a great opening to the film and captures the feel of the film in a few minutes.

While the film is generally a thriller, the rest of the action is of merit. A raid on a drug-dealers house that eventually spills out into a running gun battle through the streets is exciting, with gunshots coming from all around. The police officers are confused from where they are being shot from and so are we. Another more downbeat action scene, which involves Casey Affleck’s straight cop Chris trying to track Anthony Mackie’s dirty cop Gabe through a dilapidated housing project, despite there not being much action on screen is still very enjoyable to watch. It feels almost like a horror film, as we jump at shadows that could be a violent end for our protagonist.

One thing I did like about Triple 9 was that the film was set in Atlanta. Originally it was to be set in Los Angeles but I’m glad it wasn’t. We’ve seen L.A. in so many films before (it’s also the setting for Heat, just to keep the comparisons coming), it gets kind of repetitive. We see several different locations throughout the film and all of them are varied. The abandoned housing complex is really well visualised and is unlike anything I’ve seen in a similar film. It’s just a light touch to change the setting but it pays dividends.

The film has its faults. I already talked about the weak script, but in general the story is your average heist affair, with nothing really standout. The crooked cops might have been a fresh take, but the film never explains how or why they started robbing banks, which would have added some character to the rather bland protagonists. And as a final point, the film runs for a lot longer than it needs to. The film is brushing at two hours, when really it could have been fine at closer to ninety minutes. I checked my watch a few times in the final half hour and could see a good deal that could have been cut.

In summary, Triple 9 is your average thriller. It doesn’t get to heights of films such as End Of Watch or Sicario, but in a month of slow releases, it’s a fine choice.

Score: 7/10 Nothing new, but still enjoyable.

Point Break Review

One of my favourite quotes on filmmaking is from director Jim Jarmusch; “Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels with your imagination.” While people might be quick to dismiss it, those who know their film history can argue the difference. We see this idea in thousands of celebrated films; Star Wars, Daniel Craig’s James Bond films and nearly all of Tarantino’s filmography. Sadly, it’s the same reason why shoddy remakes are made as well. What a coincidence then, that a remake of Point Break is out this week. How does it stack up against the original?

Point Break stars Edgar Ramirez, Luke Bracey, Ray Winstone and Teresa Palmer and is directed by Ericson Core. Based on the 1991 film of the same name, the film follows FBI Agent Johnny Utah (Bracey) as he goes undercover to stop a gang of extreme sports athletes from disrupting the world economy.

The script is atrocious. While the original had some moments of “surfer dude” talk about fighting against “the man” and “the system”, the remake just goes overboard, with every two seconds being filled with conversations about being “one with the earth” and “fear is the master, you are the slave”. It’s less of a script and more a collection of inspirational bumper stickers. The times when it isn’t the surfer dude mantra, is expository, leading to some hilariously bad lines. It feels like so much of an afterthought, I wouldn’t be surprised if the action scenes weren’t even shot for the film, instead a script and additional scenes were created after to get it into cinemas.

The action scenes were promising at first, but most are rather boring. The remake tries to one-up the original by staging several extreme sports; snowboarding, wing-suit gliding, base-jumping, free climbing, motocross and of course, surfing. They are linked together by something called the Osaki 8, a mythical set of eight ordeals to honour the forces of nature. This is obviously the films major selling point, and sure, it’s nice to see some breathtaking scenery, but even in what are supposed to be the high-octane scenes of the film, it falls flat. I’ve linked it back to the characters, we don’t care about them. We haven’t warmed to them so we aren’t bothered that they are coming so close to death. In fact they don’t care either. One of them dies half way through and literally after a ten second scene of mourning him, they are back to partying, drinking and having sex. It’s feels so absurd that I was shaking my head in disbelief.

It gets worse when the film tries to be Point Break though. There is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to the Ex-Presidents scene in the original, this time with Barack Obama, Vladamir Putin and George W. Bush instead of Reagan, Nixon, Johnson and Carter, and obviously the film ends with the 50-Year Storm wave. But the worst moment in the film is the re-enactment of, in the words of Nick Frost, “firing your gun up into the air while screaming argh” scene. Once I saw Utah pick up a gun, all I could think was, “Don’t do it, please don’t do it.” It’s ridiculous and out-of-place and really doesn’t make sense in the film. There is none of the bromance of Reeves and Swayze from the original, so it makes no sense for Utah to not just shoot Bodhi where he stands. I would actually be more lenient on the film if it wasn’t a Point Break remake. If it had changed a few of its characters and it’s story aspects then it could have been passably enjoyable. That’s how The Fast And The Furious started out and look how well that’s done.

The French director Jean-Luc Goddard once said: ‘It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.” Director Ericson Core has taken Point Break to the depths of cinema hell. Don’t waste your money, I’ve haven’t even seen Deadpool yet and I bet it’s more enjoyable.

Score: 2/10 Take the film out of the cinema and shove it down the toilet.

(I did go and see Deadpool and it was more entertaining. Read the review here).

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.

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.