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? Or that 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 is 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 is 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.

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Blair Witch Review

People seem to forget it nowadays but when The Blair Witch Project came out, it was a cultural landmark. Nothing else like it had been created before, and it then ushered in the “found-footage” trope that has been prevalent in the early part of the 2000s. Some people loved it, some hated it. Myself, probably in the middle (although it has been a while since seeing it). Twenty years on, does the new Blair Witch carry on the legacy?

Blair Witch stars James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott and Corbin Reid and is directed by Adam Wingard. the film follows the brother of Heather from the first film (McCune) who collects a set of friends and a documentary filmmaker to venture into the woods to see if they can find his sister.

In the original, it’s widely known that the cast were just coming into their careers and were genuinely scared of their surroundings. The new cast feel like they are more acting rather that reacting to the things around them, making it feel a little more staged. It follows a more conventional style of filmmaking with stock characters (promiscuous girl, wacky black guy, weird locals), giving us tropes we recognise so we can focus more on the woods and action rather than them.

The film is set up like a found footage movie, but updated to modern times. Drones, little headpiece cameras and an all-matter of gizmos such as GPS and walkie-talkies are brought in, which is an interesting addition. These people are actually going into the forest to look for something, not messing about with a camera. Little bits of the equipment get used here and there, but to no great effect other than some new visuals. The first half of the film is all shaking cameras and no real coherency, which eventually started to give me a migraine. It does calm down in the second half, so it’s half redeemed. When the original was made, the marketing convinced so many people that the film was real, that we were watching the last known recording of the three filmmakers. Now that we know that it was all basically fabricated, the sequel was a bit of a non-starter. We know it’s fake, we know it’s made-up, and no amount of people holding cameras or devices is going to convince me otherwise. It is basically a beat-for-beat remake of the original, but without the clever marketing.

Sadly, the spectre of most horror films nowadays, the jump scare, it used to full effect. Most of the time it’s not even anything remotely frightening, just loud camera glitches or microphone pops, which really get irritating after a while. After getting jump-scared by two of her friends, the main female lead says “Can people please stop doing that!”, almost reading the audience members minds. Again, the second act brings it together, with an excellent mix of some Cronenberg-style body horror, a genuinely tense “hearing-monster-walk-around-you” set-piece, a little glimpse of what could be a witch and an ending with a reveal which is novel and interesting. Good horror should leave it open-ended, and the second half does deliver. We even see what those stickmen are eventually used for, and it’s clever and fun.

Looking back at the whole of the Blair Witch, you can almost see the twenty years of horror that it’s tried to keep up with. You obviously get the nods to the original, but also little flashes of things like the VHS series and The Descent. The new stuff it brings to the table is superb and lends a lot of richness to the lore of the Blair Witch, but the basic retread will put of people who didn’t like the first one. If you hated the original, you will hate this, but if like me you were impartial or liked the original, you might get a kick out of it.

Score: 5/10 An abysmal first act leads into a slightly stronger ending.

Anthropoid Review

Thank the film reels that summer is over. I must be sounding like a stuck record, but I’m genuinely happy that I don’t have to sit through any rubbish blockbusters or jokeless comedies for a while. Now the films will be Oscarbait, so even if some will be asinine art installations, we will get some absolute gems as compensation. And now, the opening act.

Anthropoid stars Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan, Toby Jones and Charlotte Le Bon and is directed by Sean Ellis. The story follows the true story of two Czech Resistance members (Murphy and Dornan) during the Second World War, as they attempt to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, the “Butcher Of Prague”.

The set-up of the film really intrigued me. So many war films seem to only focus on the European Theatre of WW2, and then restricting that down to D-Day and onwards. There are so many other battles, such as the attacks in Asia or Eastern Europe that many films don’t focus on (That’s why I intensely liked The Railway Man for focussing on the former). The Czech Resistance is an unexplored time period, so it would bring something fresh to the film.

The actors are excellent in their roles. Jamie Dornan, who is probably most known for his leading role in Fifty Shades Of Grey shows that he isn’t just a set of abs, with a character that is in the position of never being in a combat zone, and having to come to terms with the knowledge he may have to kill to survive. Cillian Murphy does his usual vacated role, a man who is a little too into being able to murder anyone who gets in his way. Both actors, as well as the rest of the cast sport Czech accents, which while sometimes are a little hard to understand, fit into the world and give it a nice sense of believability. This is heightened by the occupying Nazi’s all speaking German, so we, just like the main characters, are lost when talking to the occupiers.

The film is mainly the planning of the assassination attempt and the aftermath, with the assassination mainly being, at most, five minutes of the film. For those wanting an action-heavy WW2 film, this is not it. The film relies more on the tense atmosphere, the sneaking around, passing slips of paper under the cover of darkness knowing any moment the army might crash through the door. It’s excellent at creating that environment, knowing when to release or heighten the tension. The assassination scene is a highlight of the film, with an almost montage effect, splitting between the various members of the hit squad, waiting for their time to strike.

The film is lent more to the slow-build crowd, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t action segments. The assassination sequence, as well as the finale, are great recent example of how to do shaky camera well. Grenades are going off, gunfire is peppering the scenery, and the camera conveys it without being obnoxious. The final fight hits a watermark of emotion-driven drama, as we realise the limited ammunition the characters have and the unending waves of Nazi troops camped outside their safe house. It’s similar to films like Calvary or 300 (without the weird goatmen), where you realise that our protagonists might not make it out of the story in one piece.

The one part I wasn’t invested in however, was a small romance plot near the beginning. To solidify their cover stories, Murphy and Dornan start to date two Czech girls, allowing them to walk around Prague without the Nazi’s questioning them. The romance plot is not fleshed out, with Dornan and Murphy seemingly falling in love in mere minutes. The romance is meant to grow over a few months, but the time scale in the film makes it seem much sooner. It’s probably to fit the film under two hours, but it bugged me a little.

With Anthropoid, Oscar Season is off to a flying start. This is one to see, just so you can be smug to all your friends when it gets nominated.

Score: 9/10 A tense and stark reminder of the sacrifices of war.

War Dogs Review

I’ve been looking forward to War Dogs. As a fan of true-crime films such as The Wolf of Wall StreetPrecinct Seven Five and Pain And Gain, I’ve been really looking forward to a new film in the same vein. And as a big fan of Miles Teller (who has been on a bit of a poor run recently, Fan4stic anyone?) I was hoping this could be a return to form.

War Dogs stars Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Ana De Armas and Bradley Cooper and is directed by Todd Phillips. The film follows the true story of David Packouz (Teller) and Efraim Diveroli (Hill) who in their early 20s started running guns for the American Military in Iraq.

The director Todd Phillips’ highest profile work is The Hangover trilogy. From the promotion and the trailers, War Dogs looked to be continuing in that vein of often juvenile comedy. Thankfully, the comedy is toned down and the film as a whole is a lot more darker than it was advertised as. The Hangover crowd will find some fairly humorous moments; one scene where Jonah Hill struts around firing a machine gun in the air is one of the funniest parts of the film, but I liked how the humour is pushed back for space for a more mature story. While much of it is fictionalised, including one of the main scenes involving the duo running a truck of guns from Jordan to Iraq, it’s still an incredibly enjoyable film.

The actors do a fine job. Miles Teller is our main “everyman” type of guy, he provides a running voice over and the film is all from his point of view. Ana De Armas plays his wife Izzy, but neither have much personality beyond their roles in the story, they are pretty bland. Bradley Cooper, while a fun part of the film is not in most of it. He’s probably in it for ten minutes at the most, but his terrorist/evil gangster is an interesting role for an actor most known for being a comedy performer.

Jonah Hill though is the main comedy highlight. In a role similar to The Wolf Of Wall Street, he’s the scumbag to Teller’s nice guy. He likes to think he is a gangster; he has a massive picture of Scarface on his office wall, buys golden paper-weights in the shape of grenades and laughs manically like Jared Leto’s Joker. He’s bought totally into making money from the war, using the buzzwords of patriotism and the Free Market to clear his mind of any wrongdoing. A repeated line of his is “It’s not illegal,” which shows his entire character in three words.

The film is nearly two hours, and there is a little bit of a drop in the middle. The film starts great and ends great, but in the middle, once the duo have run their guns to Baghdad and have expanded their empire, it does drop with their second big contract. The film is split into around five “chapters”, with lines from the next part of the film being chapter titles e.g. “Welcome to Dick Cheney’s America!,” or “This is the whole effing pie!”. It’s like a less pretentious version of what Quentin Tarantino does with his films.

The whole films feels like The Wolf of Wall Street for teenagers, a TWOW-lite version. The shoddy stocks and bonds are replaced by AK-47s and over 100-million rounds of ammunition, and for good measure they went and borrowed Jonah Hill to play the same wacky/scummy sidekick of the main character. The glorification of money and despicable characters will obviously draw the anger of some critics, but that’s kind of missing the point. You not meant to cheer for the characters, but laugh at the ridiculous and risky things they do to make money and the mad opportunities that have been offered to them (such as supplying the entire Afghan Army).

The bad guys (or let’s just say “morally questionable” guys) is nothing new to cinema, and I bet that due to its subject matter, War Dogs will get lumped in with films like Pain And Gain or the previously mentioned Wolf. Don’t let that put you off, it’s one of the better things this summer and gets a hearty recommendation from me.

Score: 8/10 A lot smarter, funnier and better than it has any right to be.

Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates Review

I try to see at least one film every week, even if the movie in question looks like something I would end up hating. It’s great when something you or indeed anyone in the world thought was going to be terrible ends up being really good. I point mainly to Triple 9 for proof. But with the good, always comes the bad, and today was one of the bad times.

Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates stars Zac Efron, Adam DeVine, Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza and is directed by Jake Szymanski. Loosely based on the real life story of the Stangle Brothers (Efron and DeVine) who appeared on national television to find dates for their sister’s wedding.

For a surprisingly good cast, the acting is terrible. Adam DeVine does nothing but shriek and make silly faces, as if he’s trying to make a baby laugh. Aubrey Plaza is doing her usual sarcastic role, but looks bored half the time. Anna Kendrick sounds like she’s trying to impersonate Minnie Mouse, squeaking away any time she can. Now onto the biggest disappointment.

What happened to you Zac Efron? You were once the next big thing, managing to shake off the teeny-bopper look of High School Musical and starting to branch out into other more adult roles like The Paperboy and Parkland. Then one (Bad Neighbours), two (Dirty Grandpa) three (Mike and Dave) you managed to piss away all the good-will in the world with a string of mis-steps and poor choices. Who are taking career advice for, M. Night Shyamalan? Just go away for a few years Zac, make some little indie darling project and make us love you again. Come on, do you really want to be remembered for a film where you pour eye drops into a woman’s drink to make her need to go to the toilet? That’s a joke ripped straight from Wedding Crashers. When you’re referencing other films, you know your film has nothing to recommend it.

You can tell that this films wants to be a mash up of Wedding Crashers and Step Brothers. Fine, but why did you make this film now rather than back in the mid-2000s when both of those things were the biggest comedies around? Have you gone back to Step Brothers? That film does not hold up as good as you think, and Mike And Dave follows its suit by having “edgy” jokes that would only seem funny if you were about 13 years old. It’s a mixture of screaming loudly, extended drug sequences and being grossed out by eeww…lesbians. It’s weird when the best comedy of the year so far was a Jane Austen adaptation..

The only thing that I actually liked was the scenes between Zac Efron and Anna Kendrick. The pairing of these two, as well as the chemistry between them makes me want to see them in other film together. One scene where they are sat in a tree talking about their pasts is honestly the best moment and feels like it’s been ripped from a much better film. Sadly Adam DeVine turns up halfway through to scream at Zac Efron before miming graphic sex acts.

When will the bad films end? Sure, we’ve had some films that have entered my Top Ten of all time this year, but to suffer through the rest of it is painful. I can’t wait till we get to Oscar season again, at least most of that will be bearable.

Score: 3/10 Drab, dull and annoying. Avoid it.

I Saw The Light Review

Another year, another musical biopic. Last year we had Love and Mercy (The Beach Boys) and the rather well made Straight Outta Compton (N.W.A.). Now for something more classic, folk and country singer Hank Williams in I Saw The Light. 

I Saw The Light stars Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen and Cherry Jones and is written and directed by Marc Abraham. The film follows the real-life story of Hank Williams, a folk and country singer from Alabama, his sudden rise to fame and his death at the age of 29.

Tom Hiddleston was the reason I was interested in seeing I Saw The Light. After his phenomenal performance in High-Rise and rumours that he may be the next James Bond, I’m intent on watching any film knowing he’s in it. Sadly though, I Saw The Light is one of the films I should have probably skipped. Hiddleston mostly shines (even with a ridiculous Southern accent) but everyone around him is either boring or forgettable. Elizabeth Olsen comes on screen now and again to be passive-aggressive towards Hiddleston, skipping between showering her love over him and then arguing with him.

I can attribute most of the problems to the story. It’s too unfocused. We start with Williams first touring around small clubs, playing on radio before finding his big break. It jumps all over the place and despite getting time stamps counting the years I was mostly lost as to where it was in William’s life. It feels more like a highlight reel of his defining moments rather than a full story, only for people who know his life and want to see Hiddleston try and find his way through it.

The film tries to hit all of William’s major points in his life, but even at two hours it feels rushed. Hiddelston downs one beer at breakfast and suddenly he’s a alcoholic. He takes a couple of pills on the road and snorts a couple of lines in a single scene and now he’s a drug addict. We see one woman leaving his hotel room in the entire films and he’s a compulsive cheater. If like me, you didn’t know Hank Williams’ story before you watched I Saw The Light, then you’d probably be completely lost as to what was going on.

I Saw The Light tries to fit in Amy style “talking head” interviews, filled with actors as the real life people who knew Williams. It’s an interesting mechanic for telling the story, but once again it’s under-used. We get a couple in the beginning, before a long dry spell and then another two near the end. If it had dispersed them throughout, it would have been an interesting feature, and if it had used more people, Williams’ wife, his children, his mother rather than just a couple of music record executives, we would have been able to get a nice side-view into his life. The newsreel footage of his tours and his funeral back in Alabama is used well and ends the film fittingly.

The saving grace is the music. Hiddleston sings and plays guitar in all of the concert sections and even though these are the best moments of the film, looking back they just feel wasted. You could have the exact same experience as watching I Saw The Light as listening to a Hank Williams best-of CD at home. You would get the best part of the film minus all of the things that don’t make the film work or bring it down to a much lower level.

In summary, I Saw The Light was just plain boring. You might get some enjoyment if you’re a Hank Williams fan or you know a lot about his personal life as you can fill in the blanks, but for everyone else, you can miss this one.

Score: 3/10 Hiddleston and the songs keep it from getting any lower.

Eddie The Eagle Review

Everyone seems to be raving about Eddie The Eagle. it’s been getting incredibly high ratings and people are calling it the best British film and best British comedy in a long time. After putting it off for a couple of days, I finally went and watched it. Is it one of the best British films?

Eddie The Eagle stars Taron Edgerton. Hugh Jackman, Keith Allen, Jo Hartley and Tim McInnerny and is directed by Dexter Fletcher. The film follows the true story of Eddie Edwards, A British ski jumper, who entered the Winter Olympics despite coming last at every stage.

The story of Eddie Edwards is a proper underdog story. A man who proved everyone wrong and defied all the odds and went to the Olympics, not to win, but just to take part. The film dutifully recreates his story, spanning several years of his life and makes the film an all-round feel-good movie. If that’s all you really want from your film, a good old underdog story, then Eddie The Eagle is a fine choice. I’m not sure how much of the story is fabricated, but it does have some underdog sport film clichés, but you can easily overlook these. It fits perfectly into director Dexter Fletcher’s other films, such as Sunshine On Leith, he aims to make a film that will leave the audience feeling happy by the end.

The film has been billed as a comedy and the trailer was incredibly funny. Sadly most of the best jokes are given away in the trailer. There are some good moments that weren’t shown, including an extended sequence by Hugh Jackman as Eddie’s trainer Bronson describing ski jumping in comparison to spending a passionate night with film actress Bo Derek mainly from how absurd it gets. The training montage is also another good moment as the duo have some unorthodox methods as to how to prepare Eddie for the bigger jumps. Jackman and Edgerton have a good chemistry and helps to keep the film together when the jokes don’t appear. There is even a sly joke at Cool Runnings, the story of the Jamaican bobsled team who competed at the same Winter Olympics, despite Cool Runnings being the better film.

The ski jumps are created very well and are a highlight of the film. For every jump we get a point-of-view shot going down the slope, a reaction shot of the people on the ground and then a shot of the skier flying through the air, usually in slow motion so we can see it in all its glory. It’s very good and entertaining to watch, as well as been shot and edited to make them as exciting as possible. The jumpers should be getting billing next to Edgerton and Jackman, mainly due to them having to throw themselves down the hill and crash to show Eddie’s change from failure to triumph. Over and over again we see them crash and fall from the forty metre slope, it deserves praise that they are willing to be grievously injured for the film.

In the end, Eddie the Eagle is just alright. The good jokes are a bit few and far between and even at 1 hour 45 it feels a bit too overlong. Billy Elliot does the British underdog film better and Cool Runnings does the Olympic underdog story better as well. If you’re wanting to go to the cinema, pick Zootropolis instead.

Score: 5/10 Doesn’t soar as far as it could.

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.

Trumbo Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13 Hours Review

I’ve always been a defendant of Michael Bay. I seem to be the only person in the medium of film reviews who can say that, but he does take some interesting film topics under his wing and adapts them onto the big screen for our enjoyment. I was a fan of his last non-Transformers film, Pain And Gain, so does his new film, 13 Hours, stand up with that?

13 Hours stars John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Pablo Schreiber, Max Martini, Dominic Furmusa and David Denman and is directed by Michael Bay. Based on the true story of the 2012 Benghazi attacks, the film follows at team of US security personnel, as they try to keep both themselves and the diplomats they work for alive from advancing militia forces.

First off, I want to establish that Michael Bay is a formalist. For those unsure of what that means, Formalism is creating something (cinema, music, arts) by sticking to the set rules of the genre. For example, we all can think of how a rom-com will pan out, they all follow the same plot points. 13 Hours is no different, it fits the mould of an action film to the beat, but in a world of Marvel and reboots, sometimes you need to get back to basics, and 13 Hours is a good enough place to start.

The chemistry between the men is a really good point of the film. While they don’t have to act much, the downtime between the sprawling gunfights is actually quite entertaining. The jokes they make to each other, even in the darkest moments of the film, are fun and it’s almost endearing watching them trying to make each other laugh and smile while faced with overwhelming odds.

The gunfights are the meat of the film and they don’t disappoint. The film obviously has it’s Michael Bay moments (explosions and slow-motion are littered throughout) but it fits the setting and the story. The gunfights happen for several minutes at a time and for the entirety you are on the edge of your seat. It feels similar to films such as Black Hawk Down or something like the opening to Saving Private Ryan. Gunfire is going off, bombs are dropping all around and the camerawork conveys it very well. It’s not obnoxious shaky-cam for the sake of shaky-cam, it feels more like a documentary with several moments of steady shot in between the explosions going off.

The comparison to other films is abundant throughout. There is even a moment when the film uses the same point-of-view shot of the bomb from Pearl Harbor, but the film does carve out some of its own unique shots. There are some lovely moments of camerawork, ranging from helicopter sweeps of the city to intense close-ups of the men, or of white bedsheets stained red from the night’s fighting, each one reminding the audience that Michael Bay isn’t just here to create mindless action.

Some people have been quick to politicise the film, but even Bay himself said it’s not a political film. The story sticks very close to the members of the security detail, staying with them instead of exploring the outside context. I think this actually helps the film, we see the situation from their eyes, they don’t know why things are happening and neither do we. We just have to sit tight and let the film play out. It’s almost like a horror film, there is a great sense of claustrophobia within the compound that the men hole up in, with militia closing in on all sides and no-one in the outside world is coming to help.

In the end, I think 13 Hours might be Michael Bay’s best film. While some might think that’s not a long list, that shouldn’t dismiss 13 Hours action credentials. If you like war films, or even things like the Call of Duty or Medal of Honor series, 13 Hours will suit you fine.

Score: 7/10 Good for a couple of hours of fun.