Thank You And Goodbye

Hello any and all,

Tom here.

Today is the 31st of January, a date I’ll always remember when I think back on my university life. On this day, two years ago, when I was still a fresh-faced first year, I started The Student Film Review, to further my passion for films, and to hopefully inform and entertain with my writing.

I’m now in my final semester of my final year, 164 reviews in, and at just over 7000 views, I have decided it’s time to bid farewell. Alas, I’m not going to be a student for much longer and we all must move on to bigger and better things. I thought to ceremonially “close” the site on its anniversary was a nice, poetic end to one of the most inspiring and fun things I’ve ever done.

I’m eternally grateful for each and every one of you, whether you liked the review you read or not. The reaction was a positive drive to watch and write more, especially in those times when I would burn out after watching so many films in class and then in my spare time.

I’ve met and talked with so many people through my work, some of them half way around the world. Some highlights being swapping film recommendations with Ken Levine (creator of Bioshock), having my work reposted on other sites (like sci-fi-central) and being nominated as one of the Top Student Blogs Of 2016. I’ve also watched some truly excellent films (just look at the 53 choices on the Must-Watch List!), ones that I would never have seen unless I hadn’t been driven to review more and more. These are the memories that I’ll be taking with me.

The site will stay up, so you can re-read back through your favourite reviews or browse through some that you haven’t seen yet without the threat of it being wiped from the internet. My second site, Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One will become my new primary writing space (whenever I get around to writing something I feel could be posted), so I’ll still be somewhere on the internet.

One last time, thank you.

I’ll see you at the movies.

Tom Clement, The Student Film Review.

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Hacksaw Ridge Review

When Mel Gibson releases a film, people sit up and pay attention. Ever since Braveheart back in 1995, which he directed, starred and produced, Gibson has been one whose films are shocking and controversial, while also receiving high critical acclaim. Does his new film Hacksaw Ridge follow the great string of films before it?

Hacksaw Ridge stars Andrew Garfield, Hugo Weaving, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington and Teresa Palmer and is directed by Mel Gibson. The film follows the true story of Desmond Doss (Garfield) a contentious objector during the Second World War. He volunteers as an army medic instead and is sent out during the battle of Okinawa, in which he saved the lives of seventy-five men.

If Mel Gibson’s films are known for anything is their almost pornographic depictions of gore and violence and the sometimes heavy-handed religious metaphors and aggrandising of the main character. In terms of the former, Hacksaw Ridge has the blood and bodies turned up to eleven. This isn’t the bloodless fights of Marvel, or the rather scaled-back violence in Saving Private Ryan, Hacksaw Ridge paints the screen red with blood. It’s an odd balance of sickening and gratuitous; a solider picks up the corpse of a comrade and uses him as a shield, we get several body pans focusing in on missing legs and the Japanese soldiers use samurai swords when finishing off the barely surviving soldiers. The start of the film is an almost Nicholas Sparks-style romance film, with Garfield’s Doss falling in love with a nurse. When it comes time for the battle to start, the switch to dismemberment is a tonal whiplash, leaving you completely open to the vile amount of gore on stage.

Garfield is near perfect in his role as Desmond Doss. Most people only really know Garfield as the second Spiderman, a character known for being quiet and unassuming. He brings that, along with a childhood innocence and naiveté to the role, leading to a main character that you root for and understand his motivations. His religion is not over-played, it’s just another layer to the character. My only flaw would be his “aw-shucks” accent, which makes him sound like he’s talking with a mouth full of food. The rest of the cast are good, even if most of his fellow soldiers are one-word stereotypes. And who knew that Vince Vaughn, the guy from Wedding Crashers and Dodgeball would do a good job in an action role? And Sam Worthington could actually emote?

The accompanying score by Rupert Gregson-Williams is an excellent addition to the film. It has the hallmarks of a war movie; the marching drums and the bold brass for the action heavy second half, but evens it out with some beautiful string and woodwind solos during the beginning and the downtime in between the fights on the battlefield. It’s easily one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in a long time, not since Bridge of Spies have I been blown away by the score of a film.

The film does have some minor faults. While it was important to establish Garfield’s character’s optimism and innocence, the first half feels both overlong and cut short at the same time. It’s pretty much the first hour, but most of the scenes that are a good few weeks apart are shunted together like they are happening in the same day. As I said before, the romance sometimes comes off a little corny, with cheesy one-liners being most of Garfield and Teresa Palmer’s dialogue together. The film also ends with actual interview footage with Doss and his fellow soldiers, which feels a bit at odds since we’ve just got done watching a dramatisation of the events. Maybe it was to show that some things depicted in the film actually did happen, but I got that from the “this is a true story” at the beginning.

In the end, Hacksaw Ridge completely blew me away. While it may not reach the cultural heights of Braveheart (everyone knows the “they may take out lives” quote), it’s still a bombastic, violent depiction of the Second World War. It’s definitely not one for the squeamish.

Score: 8/10 A cinematic tour-de-force on the brutality of war and the power of the human spirit.

xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage Review

The first xXx came out back in 2002. I vaguely remember it; explosions, stunts and Vin Diesel in a fantastic fur coat. I know even less about the sequel xXx: State of The Union, save for that Xander Cage (Vin Diesel’s character) had apparently been killed off so instead Ice Cube was brought in to fill the gap. Now, fifteen years after he first starred in the role, Vin Diesel comes back for more extreme stunts.

xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage stars Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Tony Jaa, Deepika Padukone, Ruby Rose and Samuel L. Jackson and is directed by D.J. Caruso. The film follows extreme sports star Xander Cage (Diesel) as he is brought out of the retirement by the CIA to stop a rogue faction from destroying the world.

I’ve given the most blandest of synopsis I can, because this a film without a story. Oh sure, there is a lot of nonsense about crashing satellites and covert-government types, all interchangeable and doesn’t do much apart from set up to some crazy stunts. And really, I’m okay with that. So many films nowadays take themselves too seriously, it’s good now and again for a film that just leans right into the madness and has some fun to it.

Vin Diesel does his usual grumble-mumble and cute one-liners, no different from the fifty other Vin Diesel roles he has. It’s the newcomers that are the most interesting characters. Ruby Rose gets to show off her action chops while flipping the table of what an “action heroine” should be, Donnie Yen get’s to kick ass in his style but has an actual backstory and motivations, Deepika Padukone is a freedom fighter who is conflicted over how to achieve liberty, this is all cool stuff in an industry that just labels characters as “the Asian One”, “The Girl” and “The Other Girl.” Granted, the other actors; Tony Jaa, Rory McCann, Kris Wu and Michael Bisping don’t have much to them apart from a name and a one-line backstory, but it’s still an improvement over Hollywood.

The other major point I want to show off is how diverse the cast is. It’s cool to see these big actors from Chinese, Thai and Indian cinema get some major roles and screen time in an American blockbuster.

I was drawn to xXx 3 because I was promised action, and damn if it isn’t filled to brim with stunts. While there is noticeable instances of green screen, most of the action seems to be done for real. Even with the use of handheld cam, the action is bone-crunching and visceral. This is why you get Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa in; these guys know how to fight, how to pull off stunts and make it look good. The plot enables these top notch performers to just let loose, with Jaa having an excellent parkour-infused chase on a freeway, while Yen get’s to show off his martial arts in a six-on-one fight in the finale. The finale ratchets up the ridiculous to eleven, with zero-gravity plane rides and robot boxing gloves, but is it still filmed relatively well, not obscuring any of the over-the-top action.

The film has downsides. I’ve talked about the plot, it’s got so many holes and loops that there is no point trying to figure out how and why things happen. This is one of those “plot armour” situations, just go with it. The film does start pretty slow, with at least an hour before it becomes a full-on action fest, with only minor action sequences to tide us over. Also, near the beginning of the film there are so many navel shots and full-body pans, it’s just tasteless. Refreshingly the main female characters aren’t sexualised in any way, but there is still a romance sub-plot that comes out of nowhere.

In the end, I left xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage with a huge grin on my face. For those looking for some good action and fun characters, but zero plot, this is one for you. I wouldn’t mind seeing this one again.

Score: 7/10 Over-the-top fun for the action fans.

La La Land Review

Damien Chazelle blew onto the mainstream circuit with Whiplash two years ago, an excellent film about the passion of musicians, with great performances from Miles Teller and JK Simmons. After writing the script for the lauded 10 Cloverfield Lane in 2016, all eyes were on him for what he would produce this year.

La La Land stars Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, John Legend and Rosemarie DeWitt and is directed by Damien Chazelle. The film follows an aspiring actress (Stone) and a jazz musician (Gosling) in Los Angeles who meet one day and fall in love.

You don’t see many musicals these days. After a certain Golden Period in Hollywood, musicals were quickly picked up by Disney. But seeing as the House Of Mouse are now aiming for more standard animation (along with remaking their classics), it falls to new talent to bring back the musical. And Damien Chazelle has made La La Land a smash hit.

The film starts with a song and dance number along the LA freeway, setting the stage for the old-school romance that is going to unfold. It’s an excellent opening, with hundreds of extras dancing on the roofs of cars. And due to some excellent cinematography by Linus Sandgren and editing by Tom Cross, it all looks like it’s done in one sweeping shot. All the dance numbers are done in a similar way, all being performed in a couple or sometimes one long take, with the performers dancing around the entire set. It’s the sort of performance that makes you want to give the film a standing ovation.

The songs and music were all done by Justin Hurwitz (who worked previously with Chazelle on Whiplash) and certainly deserve the high praise it has been given. Jumping from the melancholic piano solos to upbeat trumpets and saxophones to a full orchestra in the final act, it’s a film that needs not only to be seen, but to be heard in the cinema.

The two leads, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are perfectly cast in the film. We see Stone get shunted from audition to audition, showing the brutality of casting directors. Her soliloquy that we see her practising early on the film is performed in one take, and is masterful show-off of her acting ability. Gosling is his usual quiet but passionate self, and their chemistry is electric. When they perform together, you get this sense that they are channelling the great Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, they are perfectly in sync and react well to each other.

La La Land is set in the present, but it’s whole shtick is an affinity for the yesteryear of Los Angeles. The film name-checks and references a lot of the films from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Stone and Gosling talk about Casablanca and go watch Rebel Without a Cause, their dance numbers have inflections of Singin’ In The Rain and they obviously pay homage to the previously mentioned Astaire and Rogers, with their tap-dancing duet. It never feels like they overshadow the actual film though. The references are there for those who know them, and don’t distract or make the film seem like it’s showing off (much like how I thought Hail, Caesar or Café Society did).

If there were any misgivings I had they would be the age rating. The film has a 12A, for infrequent strong language. It’s so sporadic that it seems a bit jarring when it’s used, and it’s annoying that it’s been bumped up to a 12A when it could easily be a U, and fun for all the family, with its great song and dance numbers. Another small nit-pick, the second half takes a little time going, but that maybe due to the fantastic dance number that precedes it, knocking a bit of the wind out of the film’s sails for the second act.

In the end, La La Land deserves all the praise you’ve been hearing about it. Everything from the cast, to the songs, to the choreography to the cinematography and the overall vibe is astounding. This is definitely not one to miss.

Score: 10/10 A superb, swinging, sexy dream of a film.

Assassin’s Creed Review

I’ve been waiting for this film for well over a year. After last year’s Macbeth (which had all the same technical crew and actors), I was super excited for Assassin’s Creed. Could it shake the video game-curse, or is it another one to throw on the pile?

Assassin’s Creed stars Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Ariane Labed and Charlotte Rampling and is directed by Justin Kurzel. The film follows Callum Lynch (Fassbender) who after being saved from death row by a mysterious company, has to relive the memories of his ancestor Aguilar (also Fassbender) from the Spanish Inquisition.

When I first heard about the Assassin’s Creed movie, I was excited when I heard they were moving away from the story of the games. This is what the film does right, it moves away from the story gamers would know and creates it’s own Assassin and setting, but leaves little hints for the eagle-eyed fans. Kenway’s flintlocks, Connor’s bow, Baptiste’s descendants, they make the world feel rich with history and lore that could be explored in sequels.

Sadly, the film also takes the modern day approach to the story. Instead of it just being about the Spanish Assassin’s, the film splits itself between that and the modern day wider narrative. We spend more time in modern day than in the Animus (the machine that allows Callum to relieve his memories), which for me was a problem. I came to see 1500s Spain, not Michael Fassbender walk around minimalistic settings. The film only goes back to Spain three times, each only lasting around twenty minutes at the most. There is a reason Desmond Miles (the modern day character from the game) is never on the front cover, because we shouldn’t be focussing on him, so why are we focussing on Callum rather than Aguilar?

The actors aren’t doing their best work either. Michael Fassbender flits from cracking jokes and madness to being stoic and brooding with no reasoning behind it. Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons look vacant for most of the film, with Cotillard only getting some character development near the end. The most interesting character is Maria (played by Ariane Labed), an Assassin that works with Aguilar. Through subtle looks and gestures, it feels like there was a relationship building up between her and Aguilar, but it never builds to anything. Credit to Fassbender and Labed though, for learning Spanish for the sections in the past.

The part that annoyed the most was the camerawork. I do not for a second believe that Adam Arkapaw, the man that was responsible for the beauty of Macbeth, True Detective and The Light Between Oceans signed off on these shots. The trailer showed off long extended shots and excellent cinematography, but there is none of that in the actual film. Fight scenes are incomprehensible, parkour chases lack cohesion, and everything is shrouded in fog. Every time the Animus is booted up, we have a long sweep of the area from above, but it’s hardly visible due to the fog and clouds. The best shot is the one of Maria killing two guards, but it was in the trailer. The fight scenes also cut between the action unfolding in the past and then Callum doing the action in the Animus. Cutting between two plains of action is just confusing and takes away from what we actually want to see.

It really is a shame. With Fassbender, Cotillard, The Kurzel brothers and Arkapaw all working together again on a film, it shouldn’t be bad. But there is none of that spark from their earlier films here. I will say, it’s a film that gets better as it goes on. It’s only in the final third where true character development happens and we get some of those action scenes we were promised, but it’s too little too late. I do wish for a sequel though. Hopefully they will take heed of the criticism and develop the film based on the feedback of both fans and critics (of which I am both).

Score: 4/10 Not truly terrible, but not great by any stretch.

Top Ten Worst Films Of 2016

So, 2016 eh? Apart from a few good months at the beginning and a couple of good weeks near the end, 2016 has been a terrible year for cinema. So many reboots, (unnecessary) sequels, superhero films and outright scum and villainy, it was hard to make a list of just ten films. But anyway, let’s get on with some dishonourable mentions;

Warcraft: The Beginning

Blair Witch

Inferno (although that was at least educational while being gloriously dumb)

and now onto the actual worst (no, Gods Of Egypt won’t be on here).

10.

I don’t really want to remember Independence Day: Resurgence. It was just depressing to remember how good the first one was, and THIS was the film they returned with twenty years later. Let’s just move on, it doesn’t really worth thinking about anymore.

9.

Video games, when will you and Hollywood get along? And since Assassins Creed has been dashed against the rocks, I’m going to have to wait until the new Tomb Raider for a good adaptation. But for now we have to sit through boring slog like Ratchet And Clank. With only a passing resemblance to the games and terrible animation (in a year of exquisite animated films) this one isn’t even for fans.

8.

While Jason Bourne wasn’t a terrible film, it was a thoroughly weak entry in a series that I actually enjoyed. None of the cool spy stuff from the other films was present in JB, with only a hammy Tommy Lee-Jones and a show-stealing performance from Alicia Vikander to liven up the boring story. Add in some silly ret-cons and action that is barely visible (in a series known for doing action right), Jason Bourne needs to slip back into the shadows.

7.

More terrible sequels nobody asked for with Zoolander 2. A well-worn re-tread of the first film, just with more obnoxious cameos. Yes, it was nice to see Zoolander and Hansel walk down the runway again, but everything else was not worth watching. And Sting is nowhere near a good enough replacement for David Bowie.

6.

Pixar are a pretty reliable company when it comes to animation. But instead of continuing their successful run of one-off films such as Inside Out, they are returning to their glory days in the early 2000s to give us half-arsed rehashes of their best work. Finding Dory was one of the most boring films I’ve seen this year, with a story so mind-numbingly dull I was really considering getting my phone out when I was in the cinema to entertain myself. Stop making sequels to your properties Pixar, we don’t know what we actually want. We’re the people who made Cars successful and for that reason alone we need to be utterly ignored.

5.

2013’s White House Down was a genuinely good film, a movie about terrorists attacking the White House. Olympus Has Fallen also came out that year, with the exact same plot and was worse in every single way. But since that one somehow made more money, that’s the one that got a sequel. London Has Fallen was a sloppily made garbage fire of a film, with terrible shot composition, editing and acting. And because LHF somehow actually made money, a third one has just been green-lit. Welcome to a never-ending conveyor belt of Gerard Butler beating up some vaguely foreign-types.

4.

Number four is Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates, a vile little film that takes anyone who isn’t straight, white or male and makes them out to be sexual deviants, wimps and fools. Special scorn should be aimed towards Aubrey Plaza and Adam DeVine for some of the most disgusting things I’ve witnessed on a film screen this year. And a word of advice to Zac Efron, get out of Hollywood for a while and make some darling indie project. Your future career depends on it.

3.

Two films tie for third place this year, each one being a perfect example of how terrible superhero films can be in what is apparent the Golden Age of Comic Book Movies. Batman Vs. Superman is a joke of a film, a 151 minute long fan-service exercise that things being broody and dark is cool but comes off looking immature and stupid. Throw in a non-existent story and the hilarity of “MARTHA!”, it deserves it’s place on here. But what’s worse is that Suicide Squad tries to pander to the criticisms of BvS. Bouts of “comedic” moments, a lighting setup that switches from complete darkness to blindingly white and a finished product seems to have been edited using a chainsaw, Suicide Squad get’s to sit right alongside its sister film. Please keep making terrible films DC, they’re quite fun to rip into.

2.

Point Break made me want to stop reviewing films. An unnecessary sequel of a fairly beloved classic, the new Point Break has none of the wit or charm of the original, with classic characters like Body and Utah reduced to pouty Abercrombie and Fitch models and a script that is more inspirational Facebook quotes than a proper story. But if a film that made me want to stop reviewing films is in second place, what horror awaits us at number one?

1.

I stand by the idea that you can make a good movie out of anything. No idea is too silly or stupid to watch. Heck, some of my favourite movies are films that on paper sound liked terrible jokes of ideas. But my number one is the culmination of a bad idea and a terrible film, Angry Birds. Never have I left a theatre shaking with pure white-hot rage at a film before. With a toothless and generic script, terrible voice acting (why was Peter Dinklage in this film?) and shady and exploitative product placement shoved in during the climax, Angry Birds is not just the worst of this year, it is one of the worst of the 21st Century.

Don’t even buy it on DVD to see how bad it is for yourself. If you buy it, you are supporting the Fruit Ninja film, the Tetris film, Space Invaders, Furby’s, Emoji’s and all the other terrible ideas that are going to be squirted out into cinema in the coming years. The cinema will be filled with nothing but vapid films based on some questionable source material in the next few years if these films make money, and it will be on our heads. Please, don’t go.

 

And that’s it for 2016, please return in the next year, for hopefully some better cinematic fare. Have a good new year and a great 2017!

Come have a read the other side, with The Best Of 2016!

Top Ten Best Films Of 2016

It’s that time of year again. The nights are drawing in, the festive period is over, and every film critic is creating their best and worst list of the year. And here is mine.

Quick note, scores aren’t a factor on this list. These were just my personal favourites. Before we get going a few honourable mentions:

Love And Friendship

War On Everyone

Everybody Wants Some!!

And now…

10.

Ten is a tie because I couldn’t pick between them, Room and The Hateful Eight. I had no clue what I was expecting with Room, but I never though I would get a emotive family drama, focussing on the interactions of a mother and young son, with an Oscar-worthy performance by newcomer Jacob Tremblay. The shot when he first see’s the sky is still one that I think about regularly even after all this time. The Hateful Eight is a return to the old-fashioned QT, focussing on colourful dialogue with an array of interesting characters in a secluded location rather than the weird genre stylings of his last few films. Fantastic performances from Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason-Leigh, with a perfect accompanying score by Ennio Morricone.

9.

I’m not a romance film person, but The Light Between Oceans lands itself on my Top-Ten List. Stunning performances by Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander (two of my favourite actors) and exquisite cinematography by Adam Arkapaw save the sometimes clichéd story and dragging second half.

8.

A Wild Western reset in the modern day, Hell or High Water was a pleasant surprise at the tail end of the summer. An actor defining performance by Chris Pine, backed up by powerful supports such as Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges. The story may seem like one you’ve seen before, but the modern trappings add a refreshing touch that separates it from similar films with much bigger budgets (I’m looking at you, Magnificent Seven).

7.

Nobody thought Eye In The Sky was going to be good. Even I saw the trailer and thought it looked pretty hackneyed. But the tense arguments, the shocking ideas of collateral damage in war and powerful performances by Helen Mirren, Barkhad Abdi and the late Alan Rickman really make this one stand tall. Here’s hoping for a posthumous Supporting Actor nomination for the latter actor.

6.

At number six, the Master Of Ultra-Violence, Nicolas Winding-Refn, is back with The Neon Demon. An odd mash-up of fairytale and the modelling business in Los Angeles, this is one you don’t want spoiled for you. Just go watch it, but be prepared for some jaw-dropping moments that you’ll be replaying long after the film is done.

5.

Modern horror usually doesn’t do anything for me. I don’t like being jump scared, I don’t seek it out for entertainment. But then The Witch came along, a film of no jump scares or silly noises, and it freaked the heck out of me. The endless tension building, the moody and ominous score by Mark Karven and the debut of lead Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch may not be for everybody, but for horror fans it’s a must-see. A great directorial debut by Robert Eggers.

4.

It took over forty years to make, but High-Rise is worth the wait. A wide selection of great actors including Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Elizabeth Moss and Luke Evans converge in an entertaining and slightly frightening orgy of sex, drugs and violence. High-Rise is the height of decadence and it’s a blast.

3.

Hell Or High Water was a Western through the lens of modern day. Our number three is a Western through the lens of horror. Bone Tomahawk was a sprawling 132 minute exercise in bloody torture and gruesome death and it was one of the my top picks for this year. Another one you don’t want spoiled for you, it’s a remarkable debut by writer, musician, cinematographer and director S. Craig Zahler.

2.

2016 has been a very good year for animation. With soon-to-be classics from Disney with Moana and Zootropolis, and Japanese efforts of When Marnie Was There and Your Name, animation buffs have been spoiled his year. But two films beat them all. Our number two is Laika’s Kubo And The Two Strings is an impressive stop-motion film with inflections of Eastern mythology and settings and a heart of gold underneath. Excellent performances by Rooney Mara, Matthew McConaughey and Charlize Theron, along with some near-perfect shot compositions, Kubo will be winning awards left, right and centre at this year’s Oscars.

1.

I saw this all the way back in March, and since then it’ been at the top of my list of 2016. And still, nine months later, Anomalisa has stayed on top. An awe-inspiring dream of a film, written by Eternal Sunshine writer Charlie Kaufman and directed by Duke Johnson, I consider Anomalisa to be a perfect film. Mesmerising stop-motion, beautiful portrayals by David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason-Leigh and a story that is heartfelt and crushing, this will be one for the ages.

That’s been 2016, happy new year and may 2017 be a great one!

Why not read my look back at the bad stuff, The Worst Of 2016?

The Light Between Oceans Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Girl On The Train Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Magnificent Seven Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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