Spotlight Review

Another week and one more film that’s nominated for Best Picture has been watched. Spotlight wasn’t one I had heard of much before its release, only hearing of it when it crept up on the nominations list. I had already made my mind up that The Big Short should take home the prize this year, but does Spotlight make me change my mind?

Spotlight stars Michael Keaton, Rachael McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Brian d’Arcy James and Liev Schreiber and is directed by Tom McCarthy. Based on a true story, the film follows the reporters for The Boston Globe as they investigated priests accused of molestation that had been covered up by the Catholic Church.

Spotlight is a film made on the performances. Everyone already listed are bringing their A-game, with most of the roles being skilfully understated. Their all trying to be good reporters and stick to the facts, but sometimes they break and all their pent-up emotion and anger comes pouring out. These moments are when Spotlight shines, such as a shouting match between Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton, as well as a wordless-but-emotional run through the middle of the night by Brian d’Arcy James. These are my favourite moments of the film, but I think it helps that there aren’t too many of them. If there had been more than a couple then the film would have been seen to have been trying to pull heartstrings and it would have diluted it’s end message.

Despite having several high-status actors in the main roles, Spotlight has a very impressive supporting cast. Actors like John Slattery, Stanley Tucci and Paul Guilfoyle all help out and bring their best performances in a long time.

One of the things I like about Spotlight is that it manages to take a serious topic and doesn’t water it down. Films have taken the accusations before and spun their own films and stories around them (the one that I can think of right now is Calvary, one of the films that got me into Film Studies) but Spotlight is just like it’s protagonists, it’s only interested in the facts and abut printing every single detail on the page (or in this case, screen) in an attempt into shocking us into a response, instead of giving us something which could have been more filmic. In that sense, it reminded me a lot of a documentary, it tells story through the bare essential facts. But that feeling of documentary is also it’s curse. The film looks very flat and muted. There is nothing that standouts visually, it’s rather perfunctory. I’m trying to think of one mis-en-scene that clearly standouts and I’m drawing a blank every time.

The film’s structure though, is a point I will give in its favour. The film doesn’t give the audience help like many other big-budget films. We only find out the truth behind the accusations and how widespread they are at the same time as the characters, making the screen become more like a mirror, as we almost reflect the characters gasps of astonishment. It all culminates in a final listing of all the cases not just in America but across the world and it shockingly goes on for longer than you would ever think.

I do have problems with Spotlight. The main one I had with the film is that it looks like it’s going to bring up some interesting sub-plots but they never get fully flushed out. The trailer showed the reporters getting ominous phone calls and being followed by shady individuals but I never got a sense of this being an overarching theme. I can’t even remember if it was in the film.

In the end, Spotlight looks very normal, but the story it weaves is incredible. The feeling it leaves reminds me of Sicario, it pulls at your stomach and almost makes you sick, but it reminds you enough that it’s a great film.

Score: 7/10 Exeptional story, even if everything else is flat.

Life Review

Preface

He made three successful films and died before he was even 25 years old. Yet, sixty years after his death, James Dean is still one of the most studied and admired style icons of the last century. Back in 2015, I was looking forward to Life, the biopic of Dean and his friendship with photographer Dennis Stock, but for some reason it did not get a wide release. Now it’s out on DVD, so I’m catching up on it.

Review

Life stars Robert Pattinson, Dane DeHaan, Ben Kingsley, Joel Edgerton and Alessandra Mastronardi and is directed by Anton Corbijn. The film follows Magnum photographer Dennis Stock (Pattinson) as he follows James Dean (DeHaan) in an attempt to produce a photo essay for Life magazine.

It’s interesting how director Anton Corbijn started as a rock photographer before turning to film. It’s almost a return to his previous profession as we watch Stock follow Dean almost like a lost puppy, trying to steer him towards something resembling a photo shoot. It feels like a pet project film and Corbijn’s knowledge of the working relationship photographer’s forge with their subjects is very clearly seen throughout the film. His time spent as a photographer can be seen throughout Life, he composes some lovely shots that would look great just as standalone stills, and the film has a golden sheen, reminiscent of the films that Dean made.

I’ve always liked Robert Pattinson. I defended him during his initial star making roles in Harry Potter and Twilight and I thoroughly liked his performance in Cosmopolis, here is Life he’s doing a much steelier an colder performance than I’ve seen him do before. It reminded me a lot of Ryan Gosling in Drive, you don’t get a lot on the surface but you see the performance behind his eyes. Sadly though, a lot of these moments, where Pattinson decides to act are few and far between, leaving the performance rather wooden and without passion. He looks like he isn’t enjoying the role half the time.

On the opposite hand, Dane DeHaan, well known for his roles in Chronicle and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, is perfectly cast as James Dean. It’s a completely different role to anything he’s done before and he manages to embody everything that James Dean stood for. The dishevelled-but-stylish hair, the half-asleep daze, cigarette hanging out the corner of his mouth and speaking in a quiet and almost shy voice, DeHaan looks the part but also manages to bring a lot of depth to the secretive Dean. Through the film we follow Dean back to his childhood home in Indiana and we see the small interactions with the rest of his family, working on the farm in the deep snow, or reading comic books with his younger cousin, it shows the sort of man he was. DeHaan makes the part his own and is one of the standout reasons to watch the film.

I talked about my problems with Pattinson’s acting ability earlier in the review, but it isn’t confined to him, the whole film seems to have an underlying problem in that it never feels, dare I say, alive. There are small moments where it does come to life, mainly helmed by DeHaan as Dean, such as a monologue on the train back to Indiana, or a speech he gives at a high-school dance as well as some lovely moments of silence on the homestead while Stock is taking pictures of him. But apart from these minute flourishes of brilliance the film sadly falters and feels too reverent and sombre, as if it’s a museum piece rather than a work of film.

In the end, while I enjoyed moments of Life, I just felt a little let down that it wasn’t as entertaining as I thought it would be. It’s still a good watch, but it’s not going onto the Must-Watch List.

Score: 7/10 DeHaan’s performance is the main reason to watch.

The Big Short Review

Wall Street is good theatre. Several films have been set on what is basically the capital of the United States market and economy. In that sort of high-stress environment, good cinema thrives, with films like Margin Call, The Wolf of Wall Street and…well Wall Street. Does The Big Short (nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars) stand with these great films?

The Big Short stars Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt and is directed by Adam McKay. Based on the book of the same name by Michael Lewis, the film follows several brokers on Wall Street who predicted the 2008 Housing Crisis and decide to bet against the market and get rich.

If you don’t know the first thing about stocks, don’t worry I’m right with you. Top bond salesman Jared Vennett (Gosling) turns to the camera early on and says, “I know this is boring and confusing, so here’s Margot Robbie in a bubble bath to explain it.” The film does this several times, with celebrities such as Selena Gomez and Anthony Bourdain popping up and explaining what several of the market terms mean through simple analogies. It’s incredibly funny and is kept up throughout the entire film, with characters turning to screen to explain how things happened or drawing pictures in thin air. However, don’t think it’s a pure comedy like The Wolf of Wall Street (despite it being nominated in several awards under “comedy”), it’s more of a drama that a laugh-out-loud film.

You have to pay attention throughout, the film will stop and explain a term but it will then set off again and assume you got the gist of it. I missed a couple of lines of dialogue and for the next ten minutes I was confused over what was happening. It’s a film that isn’t afraid to talk about complex and deliberately puzzling exchanges and statistics. Luckily, with the help of those previously mentioned cut-aways to celebrities or a Jenga set to symbolise the housing market, the audience can follow along the winding trail of buying and selling dodgy commodities. It’s a riveting script, and McKay and collaborator Charles Randolph have done a fantastic job of making what could be an intensely boring subject into one of the most suspenseful.

The cast is a major strong point. A lot of the main players are playing against type; Steve Carell is a surly man with emotional baggage, Christian Bale is a doctor with Aspergers who walks around his office barefoot and plays music obnoxiously loud and Brad Pitt is quiet retiree who is paranoid the government is spying on him. Most of these men never meet face-to-face, but they all figure out at some point that the market is going to collapse and the joy comes from their different methods and approaches to how they will get out of it without losing money or their jobs.

By far the best performance is Ryan Gosling. Sure, I might be a fanboy, but in The Big Short he is fantastic. He’s obviously channelling Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort and looks like he’s loving playing the part of a ruthless salesman. The moments where he verbal puts-down his underlings, or clears an entire men’s bathroom so that he can have a private phone call are funny and create an interesting character, and serve as a good distraction in-between the major money-conversations.

As soon as I finished The Big Short, I knew that it had majorly shaken up my predictions for the winner of this year’s Oscar. It’s riveting and often hilarious but it’s painfully fast. When your problem with the film is “there should be more of this”, you have something good. If you think you can keep up with its rapid pace, then The Big Short get’s my recommendation.

Score: 9/10 Thrilling, funny, thought-provoking and totally deserves it’s nomination.

The Revenant Review

The Revenant has been on my list of to-watch films since January of 2015. It was promised in December, but we’ve had to wait a couple extra weeks for it. And amid several Oscar nominations (and a possible Best Actor win for its main star), let see if the hype is lived up to.

The Revenant stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter and Forrest Goodluck and is directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu. The film follows Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) in the early 19th Century, who after a bear attack is left for dead. He comes back to get his revenge on those who left him behind.

Iñárritu as a director has a very odd camera style. Instead of the usual editing, cutting between multiple cameras, Iñárritu usually has long tracking shots of his actors. We saw a hyper version of it in his last film, Birdman and here it is exactly the same. The beautiful long shots of the Native American attack that opens the film, or the bear attack that puts the films story in motion are incredible, and change the old question of “How did they film that?” to “How did they film that and have nobody get hurt?” The attacks are blood soaked, with gunfire going off, people being brought down by a flurry of arrows or being thrown from their horse. And the camera keeps going…and going…and going, not cutting for sometimes ten to fifteen minutes at a time.

While DiCaprio has been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for The Revenant (with many saying that this will be his winning year), I can’t agree. Sure, if Best Actor was changed to the award for Mouth Breathing and Exertion Noises then Leo would win hands down, but he doesn’t really perform in the film. He just gets the crap beaten out of him over and over again. Towards the end of the film I thought Iñárritu just hates his protagonist, the amount of pain and danger he puts him through is astronomical. Tom Hardy fairs better as Fitzgerald, but the signature Hardy Mumble (seen in The Dark Knight Rises and Lawless) does appear, meaning you have to strain your ears to understand him. The best of the cast is Domhnall Gleeson as Captain Henry, the leader of Glass and Fitzgerald’s group, who in the final third get’s to show some menace and anger, showing what a broad actor Gleeson is.

The film’s story (based on true events, like nearly every single film in the cinema is that isn’t a Marvel property) is pretty simple; man gets revenge on those who wronged him. Iñárritu has a writing credit on the film, and he’s managed to stretch the story to 156 minutes and across three countries (Canada, USA and Argentina were all used for filming) which is way too long for a film like this. While it’s nice to see the snowy plains (The Revenant is definitely going for the “Travel Cinema” crowd), once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. But Iñárritu keeps coming back to them, adding nothing to the story and making the audience bored.

The soundtrack, created by Ryuichi Sakamoto, is very atmospheric and brooding, but it only gets used for mere seconds at a time. There are hardly any moments in the film where the soundtrack plays for a substantial amount, which is rather annoying given how good it is. Instead, we are usually left with the sounds of nature and it’s in some of these moments that the films sound design shines. The wind howls, the trees groan under the pressure and the leaves rustle, it all adding up to create a sense of isolation. Like I said in my Alois Nebel review, films like this create the sense of being truly alone, with nature all around you.

In conclusion, The Revenant is a mixed bag. While the cinematography and setting are great, the lack of characterisation, story arc and bloated run time hurt an otherwise fine film.

Score: 7/10 Sadly not as good as it I perceived it to be.

The Danish Girl Review

Films that deal with LGBT issues and characters hardly get a wide cinema release. Despite having entire film distribution companies devoted to the subject (Peccadillo Pictures for anyone interested), unless it’s something that has swept the pre-award/festival circuit, for example Blue Is The Warmest Colour or Carol then it hardly gets an audience. The Danish Girl has been on the festival run already, so now in cinemas, how does it fare?

The Danish Girl stars Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ben Whishaw and Amber Heard and is directed by Tom Hooper. Based on a true story, the film follows Lili Elbe, who was born as Einar Wegener, and was one of the first people to have sex reassignment surgery.

The actors and actresses throughout The Danish Girl are one of the reasons to go watch it. While there was controversy to begin with over whether the role of Lili should go to a trans actor, in the end the role went to Eddie Redmayne and he does a stellar job of laying both Einar and Lili. While watching I was reminded of the dual performance of Tom Hardy in last year’s Legend, and just like Hardy, Redmayne manages to create two very distinct characters, both with different mannerisms, goals and talents. It’s not even the physical differences of the wig and make-up that create the main difference, it’s all down to Redmayne’s ability as an actor.

The actress opposite Redmayne is Alicia Vikander, who plays Einar’s wife, Gerda. 2015 seemed to have been Vikander’s year, with several high-profile castings, all the way from blockbusters (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) down to indie auteur pieces (Ex Machina) and just like her performances then, her performance in The Danish Girl is exceptional. Her portrayal of a woman who first made a game out of her husband’s identity issue, only for it to turn on her and wreck her marriage is heartbreaking. During the film she blames herself for losing her husband and asks Lili to turn back and “find” Einar and in the process shows a wide variety of emotions, which should definitely get her nominated during the award season.

In many respects, The Danish Girl plays much like a traditional love story, the only major difference here being is that one character is transgender rather that fitting into the male/female binary choice. Lili and Gerda still have intimate scenes even when Einar has “died” (Lili’s words) showing that it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

While watching, my enjoyment fluctuated majorly over the films run time. After thinking about it, I’ve pinned it down to the three act structure, with each act seeming to drag on for too long. The first act we see Einar becoming Lili, the second we see mainly Lili and then the third act where the reassignment surgery takes place. The film is easily broken into three parts, and each one starts strong before just dropping into a much slower gear or similar scenery to the rest of the film. While the second half of part two and the final third of the film are the best sections, getting to these points flips from one end of the scale to the other, with it being sometimes engaging and at other points incredibly pedestrian.

My other complaint of the film is that it’s rather too well constructed. Everything from the inch-perfect make-up to the dresses that Redmayne wears all feels a bit too overdone and artificial somehow. This, coupled with the sometimes overracting of the actors and actresses (not a fault of theirs, more to do with a sometimes flat and awkward script), it starts to become a bit too superficial, instead of delving into Lili’s mind it sits back and looks at her and her outfits.

In summary, The Danish Girl has some great actors and actresses at the helm, along with an acclaimed director, but it falls apart when it concerns itself with surface, and is redeemed when it gets back to the characters.

Score: 6/10 After the excellent 2015, 2016 is off to a steady start.

Bridge Of Spies Review

Steven Spielberg is hands down one of the greatest working directors in the world. Known as the Master of Dreams, Spielberg’s films often work over generations of movie-goers, speaking to something in every single member of the audience. Does his new film, Bridge Of Spies, have the same viewer-spanning watch-ability as his others?

Bridge Of Spies stars Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Austin Stowell, Jesse Plemons and Mikhail Gorevoy and is directed by Steven Spielberg. The film follows the real life story of James Donovan (Hanks) who is tasked with negotiating an exchange of spies from both sides during the height of the Cold War.

It wasn’t going to be too much of an ask that the acting be great, and each actor duly deserves the praise. Tom Hanks plays the usual “super-dad” role that he is known for, as well as showing a rugged toughness in some scenes that hasn’t been seen from him since Road To Perdition. His interactions with Mark Rylance are very well written and performed, even if Rylance’s accent hops all about the British Isles, before heading over to Eastern Europe.

Good acting is one thing, but it can only go so far. Luckily the script is one of Spielberg’s best, managing to create tension just by characters talk to each other over different sides of a table. The Coen Brothers have a credit on the script, and just like a lot of their other penned works, is full of great conversation set-pieces and filled to the brim with dark humour. Several scenes in the film had the screening I was in fill with laughter at some rapid-fire jokes at the Donovan household. This isn’t a sombre Spielberg film in the mould of Schindler’s List, Bridge Of Spies knows when to have its serious discussions and when it can have a bit of a laugh with the audience, with a repeated line by Rylance being an absolute favourite.

While the first half of the film is spent in New York, with the discovery of KGB agent Rudolf Abel (Rylance) the second half and the pulse-pounding finale take place in snow-blinded Berlin. It’s a great setting for any film, let alone a spy thriller, and calls to mind many of the other great spy thrillers of the period. The finale, set on the Glienicke Bridge, is a tense standoff as both parties try and weasel what they want out of the exchange, with a subtle hinted doom for one of the characters.

The soundtrack, by Thomas Newman (of Skyfall/SPECTRE fame) is what makes the film truly great. The inclusion of Newman’s score in specific areas turn good scenes into beautifully atmospheric ones, all it needs is the inclusion of a few bars of music. The soundtrack is heavily inspired by the likes of John Williams and Hans Zimmer, and sounds very much like the latter composer’s Spielberg collaboration, The Pacific. As usual, I’m listening to it as I write the review and I’m still as blown away as I was when I first heard it in the cinema.

My only real bug bears with the film are linked together, and are to do with the story/length. Bridge Of Spies is 141 minutes, and for someone like me who likes films to have a sense of brevity, it’s punishing. There are some scenes that bring up a certain dilemma that is never brought up again, and some scenes that go on for way too long. The story could have been cut down but, as usual for a historical film, scenes were probably kept in to preserve the true events that the film is based on.

In summary, Bridge Of Spies is not only a great Spielberg film, it’s a great spy thriller and character piece. Not all spy films these days have to be about sophisticated suave men (and women) blowing up extravagant villain’s hideaway lairs, Spielberg shows us it can be just as tense and as exciting watching them work together to get their men back home.

Score: 8/10 A soaring soundtrack, amazing actors and full of clever conversations, Spielberg’s done it again.

 

Black Mass Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.)

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.

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.