Cyberbully Review

Preface

For my retro reviews I like to broaden out what types of films I choose to review. Some are old classics that I want to write down my take on and some are complete unknowns. And since I did the short film Qalupalik, I’ve been wanting to branch out into different sorts of films. So for this one, I chose a television film. I introduce to you, Cyberbully.

Review

Cyberbully star’s Maisie Williams, Elle Purnell and Wilson Haagens and is written and directed by Ben Channen. The film follows teenager Casey (Williams) who is tormented by an anonymous culprit online.

Television films always get a bad rap. There is an idea that the word “television” means that it’s cheaply made and isn’t worth your time. It’s not always true, there have been several great “made for TV” films. Studio Ghibli, the guys behind Spirited Away and My Neighbour Totoro made Ocean Waves for television and that’s my favourite Ghibli creation. But anyway, back to Cyberbully.

I did mainly choose to watch this film because of Maisie Williams. She’s been on a roll since her breakout roll in Game Of Thrones and her performance in last year’s The Falling, a British horror film was nominated for a Clemwood Award. Here in Cyberbully she shows her tremendous range as an actress. At the start she’s carefree and happy, talking to her friend’s like a typical teenager, but soon descends into worry and fearfulness over the messages that the anonymous hacker is sending her. The last ten to fifteen minutes, where Williams breaks down into tears is a extremely effective stab at high traumatising drama and is reason enough to give Cyberbully a watch.

The film is done in real time, which is not a very well explored creative choice. The most well known films to use real time are Hitchcock’s Rope and the Uruguayan horror film La Casa Muda (remade as Silent House in America). The real time adds to the sense of immediacy and there are several long takes that Williams takes in her stride. The whole film is set in Casey’s bedroom and for the majority of the film it is just her and her laptop.

While the film’s title evokes ideas of teenage trolls and online bullying, the film instead goes for a more ghostly approach. It reminded me of last year’s Unfriended (although Cyberbully did come out before it) but it works a lot better here. Unfriended had small moments of downtime but mainly relied on jump scares. Cyberbully has a jump scare, which doesn’t really fit, but the rest of the tension/terror is built up through the actions of the anonymous hacker and Casey stooping to his level. It feels like something that Hitchcock would have made if he knew what laptops and the internet were.

The script was written by the director Ben Channen and David Lobatto and to give it sense of authenticity Channen asked both his own daughter and Williams to read through it and take out anything that felt fake. This does mean that the early part of the film where Casey is talking to her friend Meg sounds believable, similar to The Spectacular Now. The rest of the story has many twists and turns over who the anonymous hacker is, and while some moments feel predictable (a moment about someone else who Casey was in contact with is signposted early on), when it looks like the film will fall flat with a reveal it pulls the rug out from the audience and turn’s the story on its head.

Cyberbully is an incredibly taut and on edge thriller. Cyber-based suicides are an all too common story nowadays, and Cyberbully cuts right to the problem with online hate. It’s very easy to find, so if it sounds like something that you would enjoy, then Cyberbully get’s my recommendation.

Score: 9/10 Tense and topical, a very good film.

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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.

Top 10 Worst Films of 2015

Another year gone and sadly, it was really easy to pick the Top 10 worst films for 2015. I guess when you know you’ve seen a really good film; you also know when you’ve seen an absolute stinker. And these are my worst of the worst.

Just like my Best-Of list, only films I’ve reviewed will be eligible for the list, so no Taken 3 on this list (even though I actually enjoyed it enough that it would not even appear on the list even if I had done a review of it). But let’s get on with it. This is going to be therapeutic for me. First though, some honorable, or in this case dishonorable mentions;

A Royal Night Out

Ruth And Alex

Spooks: The Greater Good.

Okay then. Let’s get started!

10.

The first review that I really gave a negative mark to, it’s The Gunman. I went back and watched The Gunman again just to see if it was as bad as I remembered and sadly it was. With a cast list of Sean Penn, Rat Winstone, Mark Rylance and Idris Elba, it’s sad that The Gunman was such a poor film.

9.

I didn’t want to watch this film. Every other reviewer and their mother had already said their piece on Pixels and with all the negative press around it, I wasn’t feeling too thrilled to actually spend money on it. But in the name of journalistic integrity I went, and I was thoroughly bored. I didn’t have the same reaction as everyone else (that of wanting to spit venom at the screen) but it wasn’t a good movie by any stretch of the mind.

8.

Keanu Reeves is one of those actors who has a tendency for choosing really odd roles. I mean, look at his filmography, The Matrix, Point Break, Man Of Tai Chi, it’s an eclectic mix. So when he teamed up with Eli Roth for B-Movie horror film Knock Knock, it was an interesting proposition. Sadly, all the good will in the world wouldn’t have been able save this utter flop, with some of the worst acting in the world and script that seems to have been written by a 12-year old who’s just learnt what sex is.

7.

Novel-to-film adaptations have been a staple of Hollywood since the dawn of the medium. I had managed to read a small amount of Child 44 before I had seen the film and I was disappointed that director Daniel Espinosa had managed to turn a thoroughly riveting book into a snooze-fest. Tom Hardy is totally off his game as wooden officer Leo Demidov, with only Gary Oldman being the shining light in a cast of duds. You might find enjoyment if you’re a fan of the book, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.

6.

Vin Diesel is one of those actors that manages to get pet-projects pushed through the machine of Hollywood. He did so with Riddick back in 2013, and did so with The Last Witch Hunter, which is my number six. A Dungeons And Dragons style fantasy film set in modern day New York, it doesn’t do anything interesting or new with what is a pretty good set-up. A note to screen-writers, immortal characters aren’t exciting, the fact that they can’t be beaten is boring.

5.

If a comedy film isn’t up to scratch, then it quickly becomes a tragedy. Spy is one of those types of films. Many of the best jokes were given away in the trailer, and the ones that weren’t were stolen from director Paul Feig’s earlier films with Melissa McCarthy, with most revolving around “Ha-ha she’s fat and that’s funny”. Add Peter Serafinowicz as a borderline-rapist character (which again, we are meant to find funny) and Spy becomes a toe-curlingly, cringe worthy film.

4.

I wanted to love this film so much. One of my favourite game series that had already being messed around with back in 2007, Hitman: Agent 47 is the film I’m most disappointed in this year. Awful characterisation, horrible action and the bare minimum of relation to the source material, all of it can be traced back to screen-writer/hack Skip Woods. The only good thing about Hitman: Agent 47 is the endless sweeping shots of Singapore.

3.

This one is a surprise. A film that has been garnering top marks from all of the prominent critics and has been hailed by some as the best film of the year. For me though, Carol is one of the most boring and over-hyped films of recent memory. A film about an adulterous lesbian relationship in the 1950s, Carol tries to be this year’s Blue Is The Warmest Colour but just doesn’t have anything of merit to make it worthy of a place on a Top 10 list. Stay away, this film doesn’t deserve your attention.

2.

M. Night Shyamalan. I could literally stop my review of The Visit there and it would be a sound enough argument for it to be number two on the worst of the year list. But I’ll keep going. Found Footage. Jump Scare Horror (that doesn’t even work half the time). Continuity Errors. Ageism. A stupid little teenager rapping throughout the film and over the end credits. That’s it, I don’t want to think about The Visit anymore.

1.

This isn’t a film you’ve probably heard of. As I said in my Best-Of list, I’ve had to watch a lot of films that I would have normally seen since doing this. Some have been absolute gems, but this is one of the most appalling films I have ever seen, not just 2015. Phantom is not just a bad film, it’s a film that hates its audience and doesn’t give a crap who knows it. Billed as a Zero Dark Thirty set in India, Phantom tries to be an action film and ends up coming off as Team America but lacking all self-awareness and humour that Team America had. Please, do not seek this film out, just read the review and leave it at that. I don’t want to give this film traffic.

That’s it for 2015! I’m Tom, The Student Film Critic and I’ll see you in 2016!

Read the contrasting post on the Top 10 Best Films of 2015!

Top 10 Best Films of 2015

Well, we’re already at the end of 2015. So like every other film reviewer it is customary for a Top 10 list of the best and worst films this year. This list is the best of 2015.

A few rules before I start; only films I’ve reviewed will be appearing on this list so if you’re looking for a certain film and it isn’t on here, that’s why. Also this list doesn’t take into account my scores. A film that scored an 8 or 9 maybe in a higher position on the list than one that has a 10. It happens I might have just liked a film more after I had written the review. But anyway, let’s get on with it. Some honorable mentions that didn’t make the list;

Amy
Blackhat
Paper Towns
Wild

And now for the rest…

10.

It was a toss up between this and Amy, but after thinking about it I found more enjoyment in Steve Jobs. Standout performances from Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet and Seth Rogen, a fun and witty script by Aaron Sorkin that manages to be easy and entertaining for the most tech-phobic person to understand.

9.

2015 was a great year for animation and there are at least two films on this list that show the diversity that was the animation choices this year. Number nine, Song Of The Sea, is beautifully crafted film and tells a sweet and simple story filled with giants, owls and fairies set in Ireland. It’s going to be one that will be remembered as a standout in future years.

8.

This film threw me when I first saw it. My thoughts when coming out of the cinema were around a 5/10, but after pondering on it, it became one of my favorites of the year, it’s Sicario. Dark, disturbing, and sometimes sickening, it’s also a great action thriller, with a standout role for Benicio Del Toro. Director Denis Villenueve seems to be on a roll for creating suspenseful films and Sicario cements his already great resumé.

7.

A recent one, it’s nevertheless a great film. Spielberg comes back to us with Bridge of Spies, and shows he’s still one of the greatest directors living today. In a year filled with spies (Man From U.N.C.L.E., Kingsman and SPECTRE) Bridge Of Spies takes away the bombastic set pieces and brings it down to tense tradeoffs of enemy spies in snowy Berlin. It is still in the cinema at the time of writing, so if you haven’t had the chance, it’s a great choice to go see.

6.

This was a little closer to the top four when I first made this list and I still think it being on this list will produce a few arguments in my house over whether it was actually that good. But damn it, I love James Bond, and SPECTRE was just what I was asking for. Every other Craig era Bond film has been a character redefining piece so it’s nice for SPECTRE to get back to the series traditions. Add the gunbarrel, the impressive four-minute shot of the Day of the Dead, and Lea Seydoux in one of the best Bond Girl roles since Diana Rigg, for me it’s one of the years best.

5.

John Wick was one of the earliest films I reviewed in 2015, but I had been waiting for it for so long and it still delivered under the intense amount of hype. It was full of everything I love; martial arts, practical stunts, and Keanu Reeves. It has a simple set-up for a story, which is just fine since we are here for the gunfights and punch-ups, with the nightclub scene being on a par with the excellent nightclub shootout from Collateral. Like I said in my review, if you’re a fan of The Raid or its sequel, John Wick is more of the same.

4.

Four is Brooklyn, the second film to come from the Irish Film Board this year that appears on this list. A trans-Atlantic love story written by Nick Hornby and starring up and comers Saorise Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, and Emory Cohen, it’s heartfelt and sweet without descending into mawkish Nicolas Sparks-style storytelling. Brooklyn stands up there with Calvary, widely considered to be the greatest Irish film ever made.

3.

Inside Out has been appearing on many other peoples Best-Of 2015 lists and it deserves all of the praise it gets. Inside Out has inventive premise that manages to tackle some incredibly dark topics for what is meant to be a kids film and shows why Pixar is Pixar, and everyone else is everyone else.

2.

After starting The Student Film Review I’ve been going to as many films as I can. Films that I wouldn’t have even looked twice at I’ve gone to and in doing so I’ve found some absolute crackers. Precinct Seven Five is one of those films. 2015 has had some good documentaries but for me Precinct Seven Five takes it. Essentially a real-life Scorsese film, the film follows two cops in the 75th Precinct in New York as they decide to become both criminals as well as cops. It’s amazing and shows that documentaries can be more pulse pounding than some action films.

1.

I ummed and ahhed over whether to give number one to this or Precinct Seven Five. But I ultimately gave it to this since it gave me a much more visceral thrill after watching it than Precinct Seven Five…or really any other film did this year. My number one for 2015 is Macbeth. Michael Fassbender (for the second time on this list) and Marion Cotillard give amazing performances, while director Justin Kurzel creates some beautiful shots and brother Jed Kurzel brings a stellar soundtrack. The quartet take one of the most adapted plays of William Shakespeare and turn it into a brooding and violent war epic. It just goes to show that sometimes the best stories are the old ones.

 

I guess that’s it for 2015. I’m Tom, The Student Film Critic and welcome to 2016!

Read the contrasting post on the Top 10 Worst Films of 2015!

Snoopy And Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie Review

Peanuts is one of the most successful comic strips of all time. I had got the anthology for one Christmas, and I remember reading it from cover-to-cover in a matter of days. And while there have been many animated versions, the last one was over 35 years ago. Can Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie replicate the success of the original works?

Snoopy And Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie stars Noah Schnapp, Alex Garfin, Bill Melendez, Francesca Angelucci Capaldi and Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and is directed by Steve Martino. Based on the comic strip by Charles M. Schulz, the film follows Charlie Brown (Schnapp) and the rest of the Peanuts gang, as a new student, The Little Red-Haired Girl (Capaldi) joins their class in school.

When I heard that Peanuts was going to get a feature film, I was a little worried about how they were going to adapt it. I was concerned with how the filmmakers would be able to get child actors to portray some of the most recognisable and beloved characters in all of comic books (despite the plethora of characters under Marvel and DC). Luckily, the film uses the original Schulz designs, with the film working on a 2D plain. Credit to the animators and Art Director Nash Dunnigan, who manage to recreate the hand-drawn style of the comics into CGI, without anything being lost in the process.

It’s not just the art style that has been replicated in the film either. Several of the scenarios and settings from the comics, such as the skating pond, Snoopy’s doghouse, and Lucy’s psychiatrist booth (where some of the funniest lines of the film are) all feature in the film. It’s a treat for anyone who loved the comics, despite what age they are.

The jokes try and compete with the layered jokes of Pixar but not enough of them deliver enough for the accompanying adult audience, instead just focusing on the younger viewers. Some of the jokes, such as the previously mentioned lines in Lucy’s psychiatrist booth or an extended joke of Snoopy parodying The Great Escape are the standout moments, but most of the time the jokes are varying forms of slapstick, which does get old after a while.

My problems with the film however, rather overshadow what mostly is a good film. The BBFC rated the film as a U, with their comments being “no material likely to offend or harm.” This is the crux of the problem that I had with Snoopy And Charlie Brown. Despite the original comics having deep and complex philosophical, psychological and sociological tones, as well as kid-aimed films of recent times (see Paddington and Inside Out) featuring some heavy subjects, they are nowhere to be seen in the film. This really hurts Snoopy And Charlie Brown, as what used to be a sometimes-serious lineage is diluted into safe, lowbrow humour.

My other problems with the film come from its story content. While the film is just over 90 minutes (an average length for a child-aimed film) but most of the film is devoted to Snoopy writing his novel about The Red Baron, which descend into noisy explosion ridden dogfights (the airplane kind), instead of sticking with the much more interesting and engaging Charlie Brown story. While The Red Baron was a consistent recurring character point in the comics, it really doesn’t add anything to the overall film apart from a dash of Michael Bay’s Transformers.

In summary, Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie will probably delight the younger audience, but for anyone over the age of five or six, it won’t stand up with the best of the kid’s movies (basically everything Pixar bar Cars and Cars 2).

 

Score: 6/10  It’s sweet, but a little too shallow for a recommendation.

Sisters Review

Sisters looks like it’s going to be the comedy of the season. It’s written by funny people (Paula Pell from SNL), directed by funny people (Jason Moore from Pitch Perfect) and stars funny people (Tina Fey and Amy Poehler). So, does it stand up to its pedigree?

 Sisters stars Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, John Leguizamo, Ike Barinholtz and John Cena and is directed by Jason Moore. The film follows sisters Katie (Fey) and Maura (Poehler) as they return to their childhood home to throw one last party.

First off, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are great. The two actresses have amazing chemistry and are able to bounce well off each other throughout the entire film. The film works well when it sits back and we watch them try and catch their long lost childhood by reading their old diaries or dancing around to 80s classics. The funniest lines are the small one-liners that look they were just ad-libbed, with the rest of the script being rather witless.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some good jokes. John Cena, in his second comedy role this year, knocks it out of the park as drug-seller Pazuzu. His introductory scene, where he lists off the different drugs that he has to sell is incredibly funny. For the rest of the film he remains virtually silent, towering over the rest of the guests and throwing out death-stares to anyone who tries to talk to him, but whenever he does open his mouth, he usually has an excellent one-liner. Another good sequence in the film involves Maura’s childhood music box and a local heartthrob, James (Barinholtz) who Maura invites to the party. While the base of the joke is rather puerile, Poehler and Barinholtz manage to keep the remnant of a good joke together, although it ends rather abruptly, before leaving the film and it’s implications at the door.

The main problem is that Sisters is trying to hit so many film party staples. The BBFC lists the films as having “very strong language, strong sex references and drug use”, and while it does feature copious amounts of all three, none of them feel as good as other films that did it better or did it first. The obvious comparison is with Animal House, but there are other nods such as 21 And Over and Bad Neighbours. The film is at it’s best when it’s subverting the tropes in these films (the main difference is that all the party attendees are safely into middle age) but sadly Sisters just seems content with aping every other party film. I’m certain you could cut the montage moments from Sisters and switch them with the ones from 21 And Over and no-one would be able to see the difference.

The film builds and builds over the ridiculously long running time, but it doesn’t have the brains to keep up. Soon into the party phase, the film just goes over-board, throwing situations out and hoping one of them will get a laugh. It gets to a low point with an incongruous Scarface reference and wanton destruction that just feels really forced. Sisters tries and keeps the audience laughing by giving every character a bucketful of swear words in between the set pieces, but these soon just turn into childish attempts to seem adult. Swearing does not make a film mature. It only makes a joke funny by the set-up; randomly shouting out rude words won’t get many laughs beyond the first couple.

In summary, Sisters had a good line-up of talented people, but the script really brings down the end product. There are some good moments and jokes but not enough of them to make it a worthy watch.

Score: 5/10 Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have done much better comedy.

Black Mass Review

Black Mass has been a long time coming. First teased at the beginning of 2015, the film has had small leaks now and then of certain actors and characters until it was released this week, amid a buzz of differing views and reviews. Does it live up to early rumours that it’s an Awards contender?

Black Mass stars Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Adam Scott and Kevin Bacon and is directed by Scott Cooper. The film follows gangster James “Whitey” Bulger (Depp) as he turns informant to FBI Agent John Connolly (Edgerton) in an attempt to bring down the Italian mafia.

First off, Johnny Depp’s performance is amazing. After several weak, boring and sometimes offensive roles, it’s great to see him back in a role that shows off his acting ability. Deep is covered in makeup and has contact lenses to turn his eyes a sickly grey colour, it all adding up to make him look like dark and menacing leech on society. Throughout the film we see a man who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty when faced with “rats” and snitches, leading to some truly blood-soaked beatings and a great deviation from his Disney characters.

Unfortunately, while everyone else does a good job with their respective roles, they all have these ridiculous Boston accents, destroying any sense whenever they speak that this was meant to be a serious drama. Adam Scott and Dakota Johnson are woefully underused, and halfway through the film stops being about Bulger and instead turns to his FBI counterpart Connelly, played by Joel Edgerton, who compared to Depp is nowhere near as interesting a character or as charismatic. Whenever the film kept focussing on his life, the story fell apart for me since I really wasn’t bothered what happened to him. I know the film was trying to set up a “Fallen Man” archetype with Connelly, but none of it ever worked.

Reading several reviews, many people have been quick to compare it to Goodfellas. I can see the resemblance, both stories are long sagas about growing up to be a criminal and the friendships and enemies are made during those times. Black Mass also tries to have several of its own “How am I Funny?” scenes with Depp coming out with a smart quip or philosophical quote, with many of them being my favourite scenes of the movie. These smaller scenes are the best parts of Black Mass, with conversations around breakfast and dinner tables, over drinks in bars and in cars full of gangsters, making the film come to life for a few brief minutes before it slams back down into mediocrity with a long bout of police procedural work.

Subplots come in and out of the film all the time, sometimes smothering the main plot with several incidental meetings and characters. All of these range from dull to almost interesting, but given the astonishing real-life story at the heart of Black Mass, the film never really focuses on it. Instead, the film just watches from the sidelines and in doing so gets tangled up amongst all the excess baggage. When good stories are wasted it make the film even more annoying, knowing that there should and could be a really good crime story at the heart of it.

In summary, Black Mass feels very much like a film that tries to emulate several other gangster/crime films (Goodfellas obviously, but I can also see hints of several other Scorsese films, 2015’s Legend as well as 2013’s American Hustle) but doesn’t bring enough emotional depth or character depth to make it anything more than just a well-made film.

Score: 6/10 Only watch it for some of Depp’s career-best work.

 

Brooklyn Review

The nominations of the British Independent Film Awards came out recently, with many films I’ve already covered like Macbeth, Ex Machina and Amy being nominated in several different categories. One film that kept appearing was called Brooklyn, and as it happens, today was its opening day in cinemas. Does it deserve it’s nominations, let alone the awards?

Brooklyn stars Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters and is directed by John Crowley. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Colm Toibin, Brooklyn follows Irish immigrant Eilis (Ronan) as she must pick between two potential lives and suitors, one in New York and one in Wexford, Ireland.

One of the factors that drew me into watching Brooklyn was that the screenplay is written by Nick Hornby. Hornby is the famed writer behind film hits such as High Fidelity and About a Boy, making him one of the more well known screenwriters today. And just like the two films I mentioned, Brooklyn has a terrific script. The conversations between the several characters are a joy to listen to (and not only because of those excellent Irish brogues). As Eilis emigrates to the USA, the film is full of conversations on being homesick and the struggles of trying to fit in, all of which are conveyed excellently by Ronan. Hornby manages to find many great snapshots of a life outside of your home country in Brooklyn, as well as several charming moments of silence between our leading lady and her suitors, with Ronan showing the strings of anxiety and excitement tugging below the surface. And like many good writers, Hornby keeps the audience on their toes to the very end, giving us two favourable suitors that Eilis would be happy with, but ultimately has to break one of their hearts.

Saoirse Ronan has been is several hit films before, such as Atonement and The Grand Budapest Hotel, but here as Eilis she shows off her wide range of acting abilities. In the beginning when she first goes to America she is worried and alone, but as she starts to settle in she becomes a much more upbeat and carefree. Her two suitors, played by Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson are both very good, giving us two characters that Eliis would have a hard time deciding to choose between. Gleeson, while his character is still rather reserved, thankfully manages to step far enough out of the “socially awkward” role that he had been stuck in for a large portion of his earlier film roles. Two small roles for Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters are fun little distractions, with Broadbent being a priest who helps Eilis settle in and Walters being a nosey, old landlady.

My only real problem with the film is that is it does feel a tiny bit overlong. With Eilis going back and forth between her suitors in letters and in person, there are some scenes that feel quite redundant. This might be due to the fact that we have to watch Eilis fall in love twice within the run time of the film so scenes might start to have an odd sense of repeating themselves. But apart from this one small nitpick, there really isn’t much else wrong with the film.

Hearing the summary for Brooklyn‘s story, or watching the trailer could have easily turned off a few potential viewers. It sounds too sweet and sugary, another bloody Nicolas Sparks-style adaptation, despite no-one either wanting or asking for it. But, mostly down to Saoirse Ronan’s outstanding acting ability, managing to look calm and sensible on the outside but able to convey to the audience her insecurities and fears, Brooklyn elevates what could have been a schlocky sentimental period piece to a much higher standard. And, if you’re anything like the audience in the viewing I was in, you’ll be bawling your eyes out by the end credits.

Score: 9/10 Heartfelt, emotional and compelling, a serious contender for the Awards season.

Suffragette Review

I’ve been meaning to watch Suffragette for a while now. It came out on the 12th October, nearly an entire month at the time of writing. But finally, after ploughing through the rest of the films and reviews that I wanted to get done, I managed to watch Suffragette. Does the film stand up to the Best Picture and Actress nomination rumours that have been circulating recently?

Suffragette stars Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Meryl Streep, Brendan Gleeson and Ben Whishaw and is directed by Sarah Gavron. The story follows laundry washer Maud Watts (Mulligan) as she is slowly dragged into the Suffrage movement, led by Emmeline Pankhurst (Streep).

While the film centres around the very real struggle in the early 20th century for women’s right to vote, the film uses many fictional characters, including our main character, Maud, to focus in on. I’m in two minds about this decision, on one hand I like the idea of Maud being the “one-woman-swept-up-in-history” style character, a stand-in for all the nameless women that were part of the fight, but on the other hand, it means her interactions with real-life people and incidents feels a bit incongruous. It’s like Assassins Creed by the end of the film, with Maud stumbling across real life suffragettes like Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Davison just in time to watch them do the things they are remembered for in history.

Carey Mulligan gives an alright performance as Maud Watts. Some of the time Mulligan shows what a brilliant actress she is, with scenes such as the infamous Epsom Derby or in one of her incarcerations where she is force-fed while on hunger strike, but apart from these fleeting scenes she’s rather bland. Her voiceover throughout several stages of the film is very reminiscent of Harrison Ford’s in Blade Runner, with Mulligan sounding thoroughly disinterested in her role. Ben Whishaw on the other hand as her husband Sonny is very good, playing against type as a patriarchal figure who can be cruel to his wife, and not the loveable geek that he usually plays. Brendan Gleeson is solid as police officer Steed, who is assigned to track down the militant suffragettes. His interactions with Mulligan, along with him trying to help her despite her being a fugitive add to a more morally ambiguous character who won’t just arrest someone because he has been told to.

The main problem I had with Suffragette is the cinematography. The DOP is Edu Grau, who’s worked on several shorts, documentaries and a few big budget films such as an early 2015 film, The Gift. After coming out of the cinema, I was left with a giant headache from Grau’s camerawork, mainly due to his use of handheld cameras. Throughout Suffragette, the camera moves up and down like a bobble-head, giving me an intense feeling of nausea due to the motion blur on screen. Sometimes the camera thankfully settles down for a few minutes, but apart from a few second-long shots, the camera looks like it’s being operated by a man who has springs for limbs. Grau also has a strange tendency for intense close-ups of Mulligan, which are obstructive in terms of hampering the viewing of scenes and are infuriating.

I can’t fault Suffragette for its message or its cast/crew. The main cast, the director and the writer are all female, a rare occurrence in a major cinema release these days, as well as opening at the London BFI festival. And even though the film is set over one hundred years ago, the message is still shocking relevant, as a scrolling text at the end of the film shows at what time voting for both genders was made law in countries, as well as the countries that still don’t have equal voting rights. But even with all the excellent cast, a seasoned director and a serious subject matter, the rather un-engaging main character and incredibly annoying camerawork stop it from reaching great heights.

Score: 6/10 An important film, but it really could have been crafted better.

SPECTRE Review

I am a huge James Bond fan. I’ve been a fan ever since I can remember, even going out to Blockbuster every weekend (remember when that was a thing?) and renting out Bond films to watch. I was pumped for SPECTRE before the first teaser trailer was out, but after the triumphant 50th anniversary with Skyfall, can SPECTRE even hold a candle to the previous film’s success?

SPECTRE stars Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Christoph Waltz, Dave Bautista and Monica Belluci and is directed by Sam Mendes. The story finds the super spy James Bond once again tracking down sinister characters and organisations, who this time have a much more personal connection with our hero.

Daniel Craig returns once again as James Bond. While he still is as suave and as funny as he was in Skyfall, in SPECTRE we get to see a lot more of his past, especially his parents and his heritage. While it was touched upon during the climax of Skyfall, here we see a lot more than just a tombstone and the family home. Christoph Waltz is superb as Franz Oberhauser, who for the sake of spoilers will not be mentioned in too much detail. One thing I did like about him though was his almost emotionless performance. While Raoul Silva was comically mad, Oberhauser doesn’t have any trademark quirks, which makes him stand out even more amongst his peers, he’s just pure evil. A small role for Dave Bautista as assassin Mr. Hinx is fun to watch, as well as his unique way that he kills his targets, likening him to series favourites Jaws or Oddjob. The standout role though is Lea Seydoux as Madeleine Swann, who seems to be the best parts of strength, sexiness and charm that haven’t been in the role of the Bond girl since Diana Rigg. Her interactions with Bond, while at first start out as the usual suspicious characters thrown together by chance, soon mellow out as both start to work together to find the truth about Oberhauser.

The film starts with Craig’s long awaited gun-barrel opening sequence. While thematically I understand why it wasn’t in the first two Craig era Bond films, it’s return made me extremely happy. After the gun-barrel is finished, director Sam Mendes pulls us into a four-and-a-half minute tracking shot through the Day of The Dead parade in Mexico City. It’s an breathtaking way to start any film, and with the scene gradually building up to an excellent, explosive action sequence, it feels like one of the best Bond pre-title sequences in a long time.

The action scenes, the meat of a James Bond film, are executed well through the film. While most of the big action set pieces are directed exceptionally, the smaller build ups are sometimes brushed over too quickly (we don’t need handheld/close cut camera nonsense back in this series after Quantum Of Solace). The beginning action scene in Mexico, along with a car chase between Bond and Hinx in Rome are my two favourite scenes, as well as a shootout that takes place in Oberhauser’s main base of operations.

There were a few problems I had with SPECTRE, as always. While the film has its fair share of funny lines, some of them just don’t fall the right way. Similar to The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the actors stand still for a second to let the audience laugh, but there were a couple of lines that delivered no laughs from the audience I was in. The other problem I had was that I felt there was no chemistry between Craig and Naomi Harris. Instead of the barely concealed flirting of past years between Bond and Moneypenny, here it just feels forced. But these are just small nitpicks in an amazing Bond film.

In conclusion, SPECTRE is a fantastic follow-up to Skyfall. While I was a bit worried it might have suffered from media overhype, as soon as the film started I knew Sam Mendes had once again made one of the best Bond films in the franchise.

Score: 10/10 A brilliant continuation for Craig’s Bond.