The Last Witch Hunter Review

Actor pet project films are always interesting to watch. Vin Diesel, being a large Dungeons and Dragons player, talked with screen-writers to try and get a big-budget adaptation of his favourite past-time into theatres, and finally, after three years, they made it. Does Diesel’s passion for table-top role playing games come through in the film?

The Last Witch Hunter stars Vin Diesel, Rose Leslie, Elijah Wood and Michael Caine and is directed by Breck Eisner. the story follows Kaulder (Diesel) an immortal witch hunter who works for the secret society The Axe and Cross, to defend the human world against those in the Witching World who would attempt to destroy it.

The film starts with a very Dungeons and Dragons style battle set in the Dark Ages, as Kaulder and other hunters attempt to rid the world of the Witch Queen. It’s a fun opening, full of swords, bows and arrows and magic spells and it also shows us what Vin Diesel looks like with a full head of hair. This Dark Ages setting though is soon dropped, with the Witch Queen’s apparent death and Kaulder being cursed with immortality, so the film transports us to modern day New York, where Kaulder is still fighting to keep the worlds of witches and humans separate. It’s similar to Men In Black or R.I.P.D. in terms of a two-world story but it never comes anywhere close to being as good as those two.

The acting is really quite poor. Vin Diesel is playing the same character as always, but the main problem is that he seems to be trying to blend all his words together. It sounds like he’s gargling gravel, without hardly any sounds being recognisable as words. Michael Caine and Elijah Wood seem to be retreading their roles of Alfred and Frodo from Batman and LOTR respectively, but both look bored to be in The Last Witch Hunter. Caine especially, who speaks in a monotone voice and doesn’t change his facial expression once in the film.

The story, despite a few good moments of lore-building, is very undercooked. Even with all the lore that the story tries to cram into the film, none of its engaging. I fell asleep for a good five minutes in the middle of the film and when I woke up I didn’t care if I had missed anything important. The problem I can trace it all back to is Vin Diesel’s character Kaulder being an immortal warrior. The film tries to play Kaulder off as the best fighter in the world (much like another Vin Diesel character, Riddick), but that doesn’t make him empathetic.

The best heroes are ones where we can see they are in peril. Characters like John McClane (except in Die Hard 5) or any one of Jackie Chan’s characters, we empathise with them because we can sense the danger they are in. Even Wolverine in the X-Men series, despite being immortal there is always at least one character who can best him in each film. Kaulder on the other hand, is always on top of the situation and never seems to have any trouble taking down wave after wave of enemies. Even though the film tries to de-power him in the final act, the stakes never feel high enough that we think Kaulder will lose.

All in all, The Last Witch Hunter had the crux of a good, if overused idea at its heart. But a weak script, abysmal acting and an un-sympathetic main character make it one of the most boring to watch. I would give the film a lower score, but it doesn’t actively offend me. It’s just tedious.

Score: 2/10 Vin Diesel can do better than this.

Crimson Peak Review

Guillermo Del Toro is one of the most famed directors to come out of South America. With hits such as Hellboy (1 and 2), Cronos, Pacific Rim and Pan’s Labyrinth, the man from Mexico has a series of excellent, auteur-driven hits under his belt. Does Crimson Peak follow in his older work and stand out amongst the others in theatres?

Crimson Peak stars Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston and Charlie Hunnman and is directed by Guillermo Del Toro. When Edith Cushing (Wasikowska) marries Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston), he takes her to live at his family home in Crimson Peak, where strange happenings from the past haunt the family house.

The story of Crimson Peak is set during the turn of the 20th century, and it feels very much like a pulp novel from the same time. Books like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (which gets name dropped within the first two minutes), The Picture Of Dorian Gray and Wuthering Heights, Crimson Peak owes a debt to each of them, melding several ideas from different sources to create a new film. It’s very old-style horror, so no loud-bang jump scares are in the film. The horror is suggested and rarely glimpsed, which may put off a few viewers who want their horror to be viewed and visceral. It’s a slow start, with the horror only really coming in around the halfway mark, but after the slow beginning, Crimson Peak really brings some of the best horror of the Halloween season.

Mia Wasikowska does an alright job as Edith, a woman getting increasingly scared and sick at staying in the old house, even though her dialogue hardly changes from whispers and whimpers. Tom Hiddleston plays his usual British self, and seems to be a lot more relaxed and confident in his role now he’s not shackled to the 12A rating of a Marvel property. But the stand out is an almost unrecognisable Jessica Chastain as Thomas’ sister, Lady Lucille. Chastain, like her on-screen brother, is having fun as the quiet but menacing Lady Lucille, and once act three starts and the house lets loose the horrors of the past, Chastain kicks her performance into high gear, with a brilliant final set piece set against the white snow daubed with blood red soil.

The red on white finale is one of the spectacular sets of the film, but Crimson Peak is full of standout moments. Tom Hiddleston remarks early on (and in the trailer) that the house atop Crimson Peak is alive, and through sweeping and tracking shots in the house we see something akin to Shadow Of The Colossus or Del Toro’s earlier work, Pan’s Labyrinth, as the house starts to breathe, move and even bleed. The missing roof allows the snow and leaves to continually flutter through and collect in the main hall, adding to the effect that the house is more one with nature than something that has been built. All these extraordinary sets add up together to make Crimson Peak one of the most visually striking films of the year.

My only complaint of the film would be one I touched on earlier, namely that the film takes a while to get going and the film is almost halfway through until it actually gets to Crimson Peak. I know this is in the style of the novels that inspired the story, but the film really does faff about with story points that don’t really add anything to character or narrative. Don’t mistake that for the film being overlong, it fits it’s running time well, but these scenes really could have added some back-story to the characters or lore to the world.

All in all, Crimson Peak is another cracker of a film for Guillermo Del Toro. While it’s slow start and lack of modern horror tropes might turn a few off, if you go with it you’ll get one of the most fantastical film this year. If you choose to watch any film in the cinema this Halloween, let it be Crimson Peak.

Score: 8/10 A good, old-fashioned ghost story from one of the genre greats.

The Program Review

Sports biopics are a godsend to Hollywood. The story is already written for them, and it usually fits the Classic Hollywood Narrative, where the plucky underdog overcomes the obstacles to become the best in the world at his or her chosen sport. However, with the case of Lance Armstrong, since there is a large addendum to the story, how would the filmmakers make a plucky underdog story out of a cheat? Read on, and you will see.

The Program stars Ben Foster, Chris O’Dowd, Jesse Plemons and Denis Menochet and is directed by Stephen Frears. The Program, based on the journalistic investigation by David Walsh (O’Dowd) follows Lance Armstrong (Foster) through his trials surrounding his illegitimate win of the Tour De France.

Stephen Frears has a background in biopic films. His biggest two films (which were always credited in the trailer for The Program) were The Queen and Philomena, so the man obviously knows how to craft a film around the true facts of a story. However, while his former two films were of merit and sometimes incredibly engaging, The Program just feels drab in comparison.

Talking with people about the film, some thought that because we all know how The Program would end that it spoils the film. I would disagree, for example, we all knew how Zero Dark Thirty would finish, but director Kathryn Bigelow managed to create a film so engaging we almost forgot that the film would end how it would. Unfortunately, Frears doesn’t ever seem to find that balance, where we forget how the events play out, leaving the film to just plod along until it ends rather flatly. I even fell asleep for a few minutes around the midway mark, just because I was so un-engaged by the story.

The standout of the film is Ben Foster as Lance Armstrong. As the film tracks Armstrong’s initial win, then his battle with testicular cancer and then his triumphant return, Foster’s body get’s transformed until he is almost unrecognisable, first showing the brutal challenge of chemotherapy and then the harsh training that Armstrong put himself through to go back and win the Tour. Foster also exudes the charm and charisma that Armstrong projected, which somehow manages you to almost be on his side, despite him cheating to win the races.

Foster however is the only engaging actor, with everyone else seeming incredibly bland. I was looking forward to seeing Chris O’Dowd shake off the “Nice Comedy Guy” role that he seemed to have been typecast in and into a journalist who was disgusted at Armstrong’s cheating (like the trailer showed), but instead he just came across as very disinterested in the role.

There are some great shots in the film. Foster rides his bike through the French countryside, and the camera just follows him from behind as he rides for a good two to three minutes at a time, winding round the hairpin mountain passes and climbing the immense hills that litter the Tour. Coupled with the panoramic countryside surroundings, it’s sometimes a very good-looking film.

The Program uses a lot of stock footage, seamlessly merging it with the endless shots of Foster on his bike, knitting together a film that seems to be half documentary and half biopic. However, there are a few scenes, such as Armstrong confession on the Oprah Winfrey Show or certain press conferences, where Foster just repeats Armstrong’s words and reactions verbatim, which seems odd since Frears is okay with using footage of Armstrong earlier during the races.

In conclusion, The Program just feels like a bog standard, paint-by-numbers biopic. Maybe check it out if you’re an enthusiastic biker or you’re interested in Lance Armstrong, but to everyone else, spend your money elsewhere.

Score: 5/10 Time to be “on yer bike” The Program, you’re not good enough to stick around.

(I’m immensely sorry for including that pun, but it really does fit the film.)

Regression Review

October is here (unless you are reading this at a different time of the year, it is the internet after all), and with it come a slew of films that want to be the one that you sit down to watch to get into the Halloween spirit. Several films are running for the top spot this year, including Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (no seriously, that’s its name) or Mexican horror master Guillermo Del Toro’s new film Crimson Peak, as well as Regression, the newest film from horror director Alejandro Amenabar, famous for the critically acclaimed The Others back in 2001. Despite a fourteen year gap, does Amenabar still have the horror touch?

Regression stars Ethan Hawke, Emma Watson and David Thewlis and is directed by Alejandro Amenabar. Detective Bruce Kenner (Hawke) is dragged into sinister occurrences involving satanic cults and human sacrifices, when a father confesses to abusing his teenage daughter (Watson) but has no recollection of committing the act.

The acting is a mixed bag. Ethan Hawke plays Bruce Kenner as a simple police officer, trying to do the best for the community he works in. As the film progresses we see him sink deeper and deeper in the conspiracy that could be around any corner, scratching away at his veil of calmness until he is almost a nervous wreck. David Thewlis seems to be having a fun time being psychologist Professor Raines, even though most of his dialogue seems to revolve around sighing and stroking his beard. Everyone else though feels rather caricatured, with Emma Watson seeming to do nothing but cry and whimper (in an unconvincing American accent). The rest of the small town’s inhabitants fare a little better, as their stilted acting has a semblance of the uncanny about it, giving Regression an off-kilter charm.

While the story is an original script from Amenabar, Regression feels like a collection of lots of other films and TV shows. There are elements of Twin Peaks, Silent Hill and a healthy dose of the first season of True Detective, down to the grim tone, rural surroundings and evil cults that prey on the younger citizens. Despite this, Amenabar manages to rework these overused tropes into a very taut tale of paranoia and debauchery, peeling back the mask of civilised country towns to reveal the dark corners of society.

The film starts of fairly slow and rather formulaic, as the film just potters around with police procedures and other fairly un-engaging activities on screen. Thankfully the film does pick up as the actual investigation gets underway. This is the main meat of the film, and the scares and great moments of tension seems to just start pouring out, as if Regression was trying to hold them all in during the introduction before finally letting them go. There are some excellent scary scenes here, with a standout being Kenner listening to a description of a black mass, while he pictures it on screen for us to watch. It’s intense and builds to a terrifying and gruesome finale including scenes of a human sacrifice and cannibalism.

One great thing that I love about the scares in Regression is that almost none of them are of the loud-bang variety. Each one has a build up, the tension mounting as the main character of the scene makes their way closer to the danger, with Amenabar milking the suspense for all it’s worth before finally revealing the “monster” to his character. We rarely get to see the thing that terrifies the characters, rather we watch their reaction and their futile attempts to escape. This is a great feature of Regression, where we terrify ourselves because we don’t know what is chasing the characters, scaring ourselves with what our imagination creates as a stand in.

However, the major problem that Regression has is it’s ending. With the films use of creepy subject matter, I was hoping to see a giant finale involving something akin to the ending of The Wicker Man, with Kenner finally stumbling upon a ritual or cult meeting, rather than just having nightmares about being forced into one of their ceremonies. But no, Regression ends in the most unsatisfying way, which left me thinking “REALLY? That’s how you are going to end it?” For all the great tension the film had built up over the past hour and a half, the ending demolishes any way that the film could have ended with an impact. Sadly all we get is a small amount of text at the end to try and defend the reasons why Regression ended like it did.

In conclusion, Regression has some really good scares and creepy imagery, but all that promise just gets thrown out the window when the ending pops out of nowhere with a completely different mindset from the rest of the film.

Score: 5/10 Had the potential, but not the power to see it through.

Sicario Review

I did some research before writing this review and was surprised at how little films focussed on the Mexican Drug War. It’s a conflict rarely heard about through the news, with only sporadic accounts of what is happening through documentaries such as 2015’s Cartel Land. So when reading into Sicario‘s premise, I was excited to see it due to the tough subject matter it was taking on. Let’s have a look, shall we?

Sicario (Spanish for ‘hitman’) stars Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro and is directed by Denis Villeneuve. The film follows FBI agent Kate Macer (Blunt) as she is drafted into a covert anti-drug squad, led by the mysterious duo of Matt Graver (Brolin) and Alejandro Gillick (Del Toro).

The famed cinematographer Roger Deakins returns to a Denis Villeneuve film after his work on 2013’s Prisoners, and works his magic yet again in Sicario. His cinematography in some of the more on edge scenes almost comes down to a maths equation, with a rhythmic montage of shots just to build up tension. The gunfights that unfold on highways, in a drug mule tunnel and then finally in a drug kingpins manor (three of my favourite scenes in the film) are marvellous and shows that he is one of the best cinematographers today.

The cast are spectacular. Emily Blunt play FBI agent Kate Macer as an empowered woman during the first half of the film, but soon she gets worn down by the constant threats and violence that is erupting around her and nearly breaks down in a couple of scenes. Josh Brolin, hot off his role in Everest plays the leader of the anti-drug squad that Macer is drafted to, his character somehow charming but cunning and dastardly at the same time. He always looks like he has something to hide but his constant interaction with Blunt is brilliant to watch. The standout of the film however has to be Benicio Del Toro as the mysterious Alejandro. Del Toro is an actor that can say so much through one small facial expression, and here it works perfectly as we can gauge Alejandro’s mood from the smallest twitch of Del Toro’s mouth.

Famed composer Johann Johannsson provides the score for the film and it is atmospheric to say the least. Johannsson uses constant reverberation and increasing volume in the score, which when twinned with Deakins’ cinematography is a moody, dark and exceptional combination.

When I came out of the cinema after watching Sicario I didn’t think it deserved all the praise that other reviewers were giving it. But after sitting on it, I think I’ve figured out why I wasn’t ecstatic when I came out of the theatre. The story is incredibly dark and violent, and even as someone who enjoys ultra violent films like The Raid 2, I had some trouble with Sicario. While most of the violence on screen is bloody, it’s the violence that happens off-screen or that is mentioned that is the most stomach churning. The very first scene in the film is Macer and her team finding over forty dead bodies stacked neatly next to each other hidden in the walls of a drug house. Macer and her team run outside to throw up and you almost want to do the same.

Sicario twist and turns, bringing up more and more depraved imagery on screen, and Villeneuve just let’s it stay there for a while, almost to a point where you have to look away. Once act three rolls around and you start to learn the meaning behind certain phrases and words that keep cropping up, or why Macer is so important to the anti-drug squad and what Del Toro’s Alejandro is really doing with them, the film evokes it’s tagline, “The deeper you go, the darker it gets.”

Sicario is a film that pulls you by your stomach through a vicious and sickening world, but once you’re on the other side it’s one of the most exhilarating experiences you’ll ever have in a movie theatre. If you can stay with it, definitely check this one out.

Score: 8/10 Almost sickening, but in the end incredible.

The Martian Review

Ridley Scott has been on an impressive string of duds. Despite directing two of the best sci-fi films ever made (Alien and Blade Runner) his recent filmography has included critical failures such as Exodus: Gods And Kings, The Counsellor and 2010’s Robin Hood. With his (second) return to science fiction, can Ridley Scott recover from these gigantic failures?

The Martian stars Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean and Chiwetel Ejiofor and is directed by Ridley Scott. Based on the novel of the same name by Andy Weir, the film follows astronaut Mark Watney (Damon) as he is accidently left behind by his crewmates on Mars after being believed dead.

The Martian looks spectacular. While many of the space station and base camp scenes were shot on sound stages, the outdoor Mars scenes were shot in Wadi Rum in Jordan. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski has captured several stunning aerial landscapes of the Red Planet, and they are a joy to look at. The blood red sand and epic rock formations are unlike anything I’ve seen committed to film before and knowing that it wasn’t just endless CGI creations makes it even better.

The rest of the cinematography is also brilliant from a technical and practical standpoint. Several Ridley Scott cinematic tropes appear in the film, including a gorgeous 360 degree spin of the camera near the finale which unfortunately doesn’t stick around long enough to fully enjoy it.

For a sci-fi adventure, the script is remarkably witty and funny. Matt Damon’s portrayal of astronaut Mark Watney shows a man who realises the crushing loneliness and possible futility of his location and decides to make a joke out of it. Through Watney’s constant video logging we get to listen to his stream of conscience, usually laced with profanity or a smart quip about his surroundings. These jokes are a brilliant way of characterising Watney as a man who likes to make a joke out of his desperate and almost hopeless situation.

That’s not to say the film is all laughs though. There are some great moments where Matt Damon shows off his vast acting ability and starts to break under the weight of being stranded on Mars, only to slowly pull himself back together so that he can finally make his way back home. There are even some incredibly tense, stomach-turning moments, such as when Watney has to perform amateur surgery involving pliers and a stapler, or another where his space-helmet gets cracked during a malfunction at his base camp. The final ten minutes made my heart fly into my mouth as Watney is finally at the peril of gravity, using all of his might to try and escape the atmospheric pull of Mars. It’s a master-class in tension, something that even suspense and horror films don’t get right from time to time.

While Ridley Scott films have been known for their excellent soundtrack (Hans Zimmer’s OST of Gladiator is phenomenal, as well as Vangelis’ work on Blade Runner) the score for The Martian feels a little flat. The only track that I liked was “Crossing Mars”, and that was mainly due to it accompanying one of Wolski’s landscape shots. The rest of the score is rather generic, with no noticeable or memorable motifs. The film however does have a large array of licensed 70s disco music, with songs such as Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff” and ABBA’s “Waterloo”. These songs usually come with a running commentary by Watney about how he hates the disco music that he is stuck with, but soon enough he starts dancing along, making the audience laugh enough more.

The other problem (like many other films I’ve reviewed) is the run time. The film is just short of two and half hours, which is longer than many feature films recently. While the film cuts back and forth between Watney surviving on Mars and NASA running through ideas to save him, the film does stay with the NASA side for a good half an hour during the middle of the film. While I wasn’t bored during these scenes I was more interested in seeing what was happening back on Mars, it felt like they dragged on for quite a while. And although I praised the landscape shots at the beginning of this review, there were several that could have been taken out of the film as they served no real narrative purpose.

Overall, The Martian is an triumphant return to form for Ridley Scott. Funnier than most comedies, tenser than most suspense movies and enough techno-talk for the scientists without losing the mainstream audience, The Martian could well be one of the best of the year.

Score: 8/10 Brilliant escapist fun from a legendary director.

Pixels Review

I wasn’t really looking forward to going to see Pixels. I had read and heard lots of reviews that were slating the film and I wasn’t feeling particularly motivated to go and watch it. But, as it was on its final few days in the cinema, I thought I may as well go for the sake of film journalism.

Pixels stars Adam Sandler, John Gad, Kevin James, Peter Dinklage and Michelle Monaghan and is directed by Chris Columbus. After aliens misinterpret a collection of 80s video games in a NASA probe as a declaration of war, it’s up to veteran gamer Sam (Sandler) and his friends to save the world.

The acting (if I can even call it that) is all over the shop. Adam Sandler as usual is just playing himself, an overgrown man-child who never knows when to shut his mouth. According to several people in the film he’s meant to be a super-smart guy who invented gadgets at university but the way Sandler saunters around the screen, it conveys the exact opposite. Josh Gad is alright as the more socially awkward gamer Ludlow, always clutching at Sandler’s sleeve for support, but it quickly turns into him screaming at an insanely high pitch. Peter Dinklage is wasted in the film, I feel a little bit sorry that he had to perform some of the worst lines ever committed to paper (and then don’t feel sorry because he probably only did it for the money).

The script is the main problem with the film. The story has thousands of plot holes and doesn’t have any coherence in its tone or logic. For instance, Kevin James, who plays the President of the United States (because that’s totally not self-aggrandising) in the beginning says that his wife hates him, but throughout the film they are seen to be smiling and having fun together. It’s as if the two screenwriters, Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling wrote the script over a lazy weekend and then never revised it, just giving it straight to the actors on the first day.

The jokes are the same childish attempt of humour that were in Grown-Ups (1 and 2) and can be seen coming from a mile off. Many jokes are made at the expense of the three gamers, most of which are based around the tired, outdated stereotype that all gamers are basement-dwellers that still live with their parents. For a film that is trying to fly the flag for video games, Pixels instead just demeans the audience that it’s trying to pander to. the film also is laden with homophobic and racist jokes, with an entire sequence where Josh Gad is screaming at a platoon of Navy SEALs, using homophobic slurs to try and pump them up so they can take on the alien video game characters.

Although, these jokes are nothing compared to how the film depicts women. The film obviously doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test (although that’s not a mark of quality), since all the women are either crying in the closet while drinking wine, demonised by their husbands or are a literal trophy, given to the gamers after beating the aliens at Donkey Kong. It’s cringe-worthy to see a film in 2015 that still treats women as the tropes of the damsel in distress or as objects that are given in exchange for good work.

While there were a few lines that I smiled at, such as when Professor Toru Iwatani, creator of Pac-Man appears and tries to appeal to the alien version of Pac-Man. It’s a really nice scene, but it’s swiftly ruined by a crass bout of profanity when Pac-Man bites his creator’s hand off. This was my favourite scene of the film, until I started reading up on the film for this review, when it was revealed that it wasn’t the real Professor Iwatani, and instead just an actor. Knowing that it isn’t the actual creator having a sweet moment with his creation, the scene is robbed of all the impact that it managed to have.

To be honest, Pixels isn’t Adam Sandler’s worst film. But with its uninvolving action sequences, lame jokes and it somehow seeming to drag on forever (despite being only 106 minutes), Pixels is one of the dullest of the year.

Score: 2/10 It will bring you to tears by how boring it is.

Everest Review

We’ve had some biopic films this year. We’ve had some disaster films this year. Now, Baltasar Kormakur, director of Cotraband and 2 Guns (the latter being a guilty pleasure of mine) has brought together both genres, for a disaster biopic, Everest.

Everest stars Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes and Jake Gyllenhaal and is directed by Baltasar Kormakur. Based on the real life 1996 Mount Everest climbing disaster, the film follows professional climbers Rob Hall (Clarke) and Scott Fischer (Gyllenhaal) as they team up with other climbers to reach the summit of Everest.

The cast list for the film is spectacular. Along with the four great actors that were mentioned above, the film also stars brilliant actors and actresses such as Emily Watson, Kiera Knightley, Sam Worthington and Robin Wright. It’s a very good cast list, and each actor and actress plays their part well. Clarke and Gyllenhaal have a great chemistry as competitors Hall and Fischer, with their conversations at base camp over who is the better climber or their ability to read each other’s mind to help each other out when trouble strikes on the mountain.

The cinematography is extraordinary. Credit to director of photography Salvatore Totino, who captures fantastic panoramic and aerial shots of the trek through the Nepalese countryside to the base camp at the foot of Everest. It’s a film much like Wild, it makes you want to go on a trek to see the beautiful sights that are captured in the film. However, it becomes quite apparent in the film when the climbers have started their ascent, that a lot for the shots are of soundstages or are CGI. While the cast and crew did go to the Himalayas, The Alps and the wilds of Iceland to shoot some scenes, in the second half of the film you can see the difference between the real landscapes and fabricated ones.

The deaths are handled very matter-of-factly. In a more conventional tick-the-boxes disaster film such as San Andreas, where deaths are signposted, Everest just let’s people slip off into the ether, one second they are there, the next they’re gone. It’s very tactfully done and hammers point the home of that it is a true story and not a fictional, Hollywood-style drama.

The music, by Dario Marianelli fits the films perfectly. Instead of using a usual symphony-style orchestra, the music is just one or two instruments at a time, switching from brass to strings and then to woodwind seamlessly. This effect of using less instruments is more effective and a lot more charming than if there was a bombastic soundtrack like usual disaster films. Rhythmic chanting and woodwind notes are used, symbolising the wind and monasteries that are littered throughout the film, and then the single violin or cello being the isolated climber. I’m listening to it right now while I’m writing this review and it’s still as moving as it was in the film.

The film does have some problems. At two hours the film does feel a little overlong, with the build-up and training for the ascent at base camp being the majority of the film, instead of the actual climb. Even while feeling overlong, the film also cuts together scenes that are meant to be hours apart (seen by the time counter in the bottom corner of the screen) meaning that certain scenes feel rushed and losing some of the momentum and sense of danger since it’s only been a few seconds of on-screen time since the stranded climbers last radio message. This might have been to deliver all the facts of the event, but it was still an odd choice to edit the film like this.

The film also does jump around several of the members of the climbing crew, and with most of their faces covered by oxygen masks or balaclavas, it sometimes hard to remember who everyone is. This, as well as the fact of the many loose ends in the film make the latter portion of the film sometimes very confusing to follow.

In summary, while Everest is sometimes a feast of the eyes and ears, it’s desire to stay factual means that the story doesn’t feel up to par. It’s one to watch if you’re a fan of the two novels that tell the story, or if you’re a fan of “Travel Cinema” (films that revel in the great outdoors).

Score: 6/10 A very competently made film, but not much more to it than that.

The Visit Review

Note to the reader: I always try and leave out spoilers in my review, but you may guess M. Night Shyamalan’s signature dumb twist from my review (I guessed it ten minutes into the film and it’s a staple of his films so I’m not spoiling the fact that it’s in there). Therefore, reader discretion is advised.

M. Night Shyamalan was once one of the most promising new directors in Hollywood. His debut film, The Sixth Sense is still regarded as one of the best suspense thrillers of modern times. His later works however include such awful films such as Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Happening and After Earth. With a reputation so tarnished by big budgets, when I heard that Shyamalan was going back to a low-budget thriller I was actually thinking, “This could be a return to form”. Does The Visit mark the often maligned director’s transition back into the forefront of Hollywood?

The Visit stars Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie and is directed by M. Night Shyamalan. The film follows siblings Becca (DeJonge) and Tyler (Oxenbould) as they go visit their elderly grandparents for a week for the first time.

The short answer to the question I asked at the end of the introduction is no. No, The Visit does not show us that Shyamalan is a good horror director. It doesn’t even show us that he is a competent director. The Visit shows a writer/director that has moved from an outside auteur with a new approach to storytelling to a man so high on his own hubris he cannot tell when his own creations are cinematic abominations. Nobody wants to hear that their work is bad, but someone needs to tell Shyamalan straight to his face that he is not destined to become a filmmaker, slowly take the camera off him and move him away from whatever film set he is on.

The film, like many horror films recently uses found footage to tell its story. The eldest sibling, Becca, is an aspiring film director, so at least the film has a coherent reason for looking the way it does, rather than the usual reason of “we have no money, so this is the best we can do.” This sadly falls apart pretty soon, as there are some scenes when all characters are in frame, but the camera is still following them, showing that Shyamalan couldn’t even stick to a single style of filmmaking, instead just deciding to make the camera a floating deity in the middle of the scene.

As well as directing, M. Night Shyamalan also has a writing credit on the film. And just like his ability to direct a film, the writing falls flat at every turn. The Visit is filled with several “jokes” that would make even the most easily amused man in the world groan at the sheer idiocy on display. Along with the tired jokes are several pop culture references which even now are starting to feel a bit dated, such as a protracted dig by the younger brother Tyler at One Direction. Tyler is also a wannabe-rapper, who at several moments in the film turns to camera and starts to rap. It’s incredibly cringe-worthy to watch, and feels like Shyamalan thought “Rap music is what the children love these days, let’s put it in!” The young actor even raps over the end credits, in a bid to beat Mickey Rourke’s rap at the end of Rogue Warrior as the most out-of-place rap in the history of the world.

The worst writing in the film though is how the two elderly characters are written. Remember the film Ruth and Alex that came out a few months ago? (It’s alright if you didn’t, it wasn’t that good). That film’s central idea was “Screw young people”. The Visit has the opposite idea, and views elderly people as horrible. Small common quirks of senior citizens, as well as how they try and keep their dignity while trying to live without assistance is exploited in the film to no end, including a supposed big dramatic scene involving a used adult diaper. The beginning of the film, both the elderly characters are lovely and friendly, but the film changes tone so quickly that the final reveal of the secret about the house and its inhabitants has no build up.

The majority of the apparent scares in the film come from the odd behaviour of the grandparents, which makes the film seem a little bit ageist for the sake of scares. The rest of the scares are of the loud bang variety, which become tiresome and annoying after the first one since you can see them coming from a mile off. During these moments I would put a hand in front of my eyes and look at the floor, not through a sense of the film being scary, but because I didn’t want to be agitated by the film drawing out a sense of danger.

I hate being startled, it don’t seek it out for entertainment. Some readers might be thinking, “But that’s what you get from a horror film,” but that’s not true. Films like When A Stranger Calls, Psycho or The House At The End Of Time, they know how to create a sense of fear equal or greater to The Visit but they don’t signpost it, making the scares better. Even when these three films do jumps scares, they are complemented by another type of horror, be it a sense of isolation (When A Stranger Calls) or an upending of movie tropes (Psycho). These films know how to scare right, The Visit just tries to startle you when it can.

In summary, you should not watch The Visit. I would maybe only recommend it if you’re an aspiring film director and you wanted a great example of an absolute mess of a film, but that is a very big MAYBE.

Score: 1/10 A very good contender for worst of the year.

Legend Review

The Kray twins have always been a source of media attention. Several books, television shows and even musicals have documented the infamous duos lives when they single-handedly ruled the backstreets of London. The first film about the Krays was all the way back in 1990 and starred Spandau Ballet brothers Gary and Martin Kemp. 25 years later, a new biopic about the twins arrives, this time called Legend.

Legend stars Tom Hardy (twice!), Emily Browning, David Thewlis and Christopher Eccleston and is directed by Brian Helgeland. The film follows both Ronnie and Reggie Kray (both played by Hardy), their rise through the criminal underworld and their eventual demise.

The standout of the film is the dual performance by Tom Hardy. The man is an acting powerhouse, and he manages to give both twins character. Their looks seem to be the only thing that is remotely similar as each twin has a different speech pattern, mannerisms and ways of holding themselves when speaking or being spoke to. It’s amazing to watch and it really does feel like it’s just two different actors rather than one man. Praise must also be given to Emily Browning as Reggie’s wife Frances. Browning’s whole performance is of a fragile and nervous woman who is constantly at her breaking point, trying to cope with her lying and violent husband. While this might have got stale very quickly, I thought it added more weight to her constant empty threats of leaving Reggie, as you could tell she would never go through with it for fear of being alone or what he would do. Browning also narrates the film, but I wasn’t convinced by it. Browning doesn’t sound interested or invested in the story (although she’s not as bad as Harrison Ford in Blade Runner) and it feels more like narration for the sake of it.

The film focuses on Frances and Reggie’s romance and marriage, which seems an odd choice for a film about brutal and notorious gangsters. While we do get the odd scene of violence (including my favourite, a fight in a pub that stars knuckle dusters and hammers) the film just keeps switching back to Reggie and Frances’ relationship troubles. It starts to feel less about the Krays and more to do with what a dysfunctional and abusive relationship looks like between a violent gangster and a quiet and shy drug addict.

Being set in the 1960s, the soundtrack is excellent. Recognisible and catchy songs such as Green Onions by Booker T and the Mg’s or I’m Into Something Good by Herman’s Hermits make Legend a pleasure to listen to. I can’t think of a gangster film that has reveled so much in it’s iconic music, but Legend has a string of songs that slip in and out of the film perfectly. The points in the film when the Krays are driving a flashy car, wearing suits fit for a king and listening to a crooner on the radio, those are the parts that stick with me from the film.

Legend has its flaws. As a biopic the film has to hit certain historical points, but the film doesn’t feel coherent at all. Several of the scenes could have been jumbled up and put at opposite ends of the film and it probably would have looked the same plot-wise. It’s less of a story and more a collection of events, each one disconnected from the last. This fluctuation in narrative ties in with another problem I had with the film, which was the ending. I won’t spoil the ending of the film (even though the true story is readily available to anyone with access to a library or the internet) but the film feels like it drags on for the last ten minutes so that it can tell us the final part of the Krays story instead of stopping at a more natural conclusion for the love-focused narrative of the film.

The film also tries to make jokes about Ronnie Kray’s sexuality, which felt a bit off-kilter to me. Early on in the film Ronnie bluntly states that he is gay (which is historically inaccurate but that’s besides the point I’m making). The film continues with these outbursts of his sexuality, and the jokes it tries to make about it feel a bit forced and more of a mockery of Ronnie’s sexuality rather than Ronnie himself.

In summary, Legend looks and sounds great, but the lack of cohesion in it’s narrative and story telling leaves it being nothing but superficial. If you like music from the 1960s or you’re a fan of Tom Hardy then it’s a definite watch.

Score: 7/10 A lot of style making up for very little substance.