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Get Out (2017)
Relevant, Intelligent, Terrifying, Hilarious, Entertaining
Jordan Peele, of Key and Peele fame, kicks off his directorial career with a genre-swapping film that depicts a young black man's ill-fated journey to his white girlfriend's parents' house. There he finds that all is not as it should be, and that his prospective in-laws may not be as normal as they appear to be.
The atmosphere of 'Get Out' is one of the very best you can create in a film. Spine-chillingly creepy at times, with foreshadowing and acting that works better than any jump scare, and at other times raucously enjoyable, witty, and entertaining, it succeeds across all fronts. Daniel Kaluuya makes for a relatable and likable protagonist that the audience can root for, whilst Lil Rel Howery as his erstwhile and foul-mouthed friend is huge fun, and one of the standout comedy characters in recent years. The parents, played note-perfectly by Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford, represent a ramped-up version of the so-called 'West Wing liberals', the type of people who purport to be progressive and welcoming, but inadvertently make black people uncomfortable with racial stereotypes and microaggressions.
The film ends up being one of the best cinematic examples of presenting race in a long time. Perfectly capturing the zeitgeisty racial divide in modern America, its depiction of the daily struggles faced by minorities is remarkable, and one of the scariest aspects of the film is how plausible and true to life it all is (up to a point). The satire is delivered flawlessly, and Peele deserves all the plaudits he is receiving for the astounding first-time effort he has made here. Combining his fresh, razor-sharp and highly witty script with the subtle yet 100% effective direction, he has made a film that is not only one of the best satires of modern times, but also an incredibly enjoyable horror-comedy.
It is not quite accurate to label 'Get Out' a true horror film. It is certainly scary, mainly stemming from the experience Kaluuya's Chris has to go through, which transports the viewer into his shoes and leaves us on edge throughout the buildup. However, if you go in expecting a Halloween-ready horror film that will rival the horror classics, you will inevitably be disappointed. It is more of a horror-style thriller, with its dynamic plot taking the audience on a twisty and unpredictable journey that lets the viewer piece it together whilst going along.
Overall, 'Get Out' is probably the best film of the first few months of 2017. Being fresh, innovative, thrilling, scary, and sharply scripted, Jordan Peele's debut is promising and it's an important film for the issue of race. 91/100.
Satisfyingly Emotional Conclusion; Fresh Approach
Logan, the swan song for Hugh Jackman's grizzled antihero, offers an utterly different variant on the over-saturated market of superhero films with an emotional and character-focused film that keeps mindless action to a minimum and offers some genuinely crafted character development. The film takes place after the apparent extinction of mutants in the future, with Logan and Charles Xavier hiding out from humanity and looking to retire on the USA-Mexico border, before being thrown a curve-ball in the shape of a girl who appears to offer hope for a future for mutant-kind.
Having played Wolverine in ten films now, the role fits Hugh Jackman like a glove. Things have changed now, with the Canadian veteran nearing the end and displaying clear weakness in both his fighting ability and healing powers. The same can be said for Patrick Stewart's Xavier, who, suffering from dementia, must receive around-the-clock care to prevent life-threatening seizures from taking hold. The emotional impact of Logan is where it excels, with the benefit of characters who have been developed over the course of several films allowing director James Mangold to explore the themes of death and the future without needing to set up the characters first. The film unfolds on the scale of a Shakespearean tragedy, and seeing Wolverine, once undisputed ruler of his kingdom, reduced to an old man struggling to keep himself going on, is an image clearly reminiscent of King Lear and Macbeth.
Logan also benefits from the relaxation of certification - rated 'R' in the US and '15' in the UK, this makes it a film which no longer needs to pander to the market, but instead is free to target itself at those who want to see something different. Mangold approaches this increased flexibility with glee, and the level of violence (not for the squeamish) and profanity (the first word spoken in the film is 'fuck') is noticeably different to the majority of similar superhero films. The more mature nature of the film allows for a more realistic feeling journey, where Wolverine's claws cause more violent and bloody damage than the toned-down violence of the previous PG-13 X-Men films.
Furthermore, as a film it is an effective and near-perfect way to phase out the X-Men and usher in a new era, without making it feel like a 'Where are they now?' round-up of all the X-Men of the last 17 years. It is a well-made film which loses its way in places and may not live up to its super-emotional billing but will certainly entertain fans of the franchise who will appreciate its handling of the characters, as well as hold up as an interesting and heart-rending fantasy drama. 78/100.
John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
Exemplary Sequel - Enjoyable Low-maintenance Action
Keanu Reeves's tragedy-stricken, stoic, ruthless ex-hit-man John Wick returns after decimating the world of organised Russian crime in 2014's 'John Wick' with a sequel that takes everything that made the first film such a surprise hit and expands upon it in gleeful fashion. The film follows the precise expert as he navigates through various reactions to his exploits in the first film, and retains the realistic-feeling, expertly-choreographed action that so benefited the first.
The film is essentially the definition of 'turn your brain off' entertainment, and is sure to be the standard for low-maintenance action films that people can turn on and enjoy without engaging themselves too much. This is of course what made the original film so good, and the proposed sequels now have a good formula to build upon, combined with an interesting world of hit men and a reliable main character.
Overall there is nothing incredibly special about John Wick 2, and nor would there ever be. It's fun to watch and good for action film fans, whilst you'd be hard-pressed not to enjoy the zippy plot and dynamic structure of the piece. A great standard for sequels everywhere. 7.3/10
Interesting; McAvoy Stupendous; Sometimes Unremarkable
Heralded by many as a return to form for polarising director M. Night Shyamalan, Split tells the fascinating story of a man, played by an astounding James McAvoy, who has 23 completely distinct personalities - each with different ages, genders, and characteristics - fighting for control of his body. Some of these personalities conspire to kidnap three teenage girls for mysterious and nefarious purposes, making a film which is as much a psychological abduction thriller as it is a creepy Shyamalan horror as it is a character study of McAvoy's Kevin and his split personalities.
Split has received a divided response, with many citing controversy around its seemingly ham-fisted portrayal of mental illness. However, upon watching the film, it soon becomes clear that this is not a scaremongering horror story of the mentally ill who could be living among us, but instead a low-key sci-fi much like Shyamalan's 2000 film Unbreakable, with McAvoy's condition being treated as more of a supernatural ability. It ultimately translates into a film which, without the hype surrounding its release, would be seen as a largely unremarkable if interestingly watchable horror-thriller piece.
The main draw of the guild is undoubtedly James McAvoy. In a performance which tops not only his already glittering career, but also many of the best performances of 2016. It is even Oscar-worthy, not that that is necessarily a good indicator of quality. It is a fantastic mark of the man's talents under the role's stress, given the frequency with which he has to switch between hugely varied parts. His versatility makes it akin to seeing several different actors on screen, but it is all him. He manages to carry the entire film on his shoulders whilst simultaneously stealing each of his scenes, providing an endless source of massively interesting characters, creating sympathy for the character, and even sprinkling some black comedy into the mix. A near flawless performance overall.
The rest of the film does not reach quite the same heights but is nevertheless decent and worth watching. The horror elements are handled very well, without too many jump scares, and although it is not designed to frighten for the most part, it certainly succeeds at several times as tensions mount, mysteries unfold, and we find out more about Kevin and Casey, the most-developed of the abductees.
There are certainly other portions of the film which are highly commendable: the two central characters are well fleshed-out (though some of Casey's backstory feels at times somewhat unnecessary and tacked-on), for example. McAvoy performs with a well-judged moral greyness that leaves you rooting for both Kevin and Casey, whilst the story makes for an interesting tale that continues to surprise and entertain.
However, ultimately too much of the film is just rote and unoriginal. Admittedly it's hard in the current cinematic climate to make anything original but certain parts of Split feel too uninspired and lazy, especially some of the plot points and dialogue - notably, discussions of Kevin's "abilities" sometimes serve to induce a small eye-roll. Finally, it sometimes feels far too self- indulgent on Shyamalan's part. Ignoring his jarring obligatory cameo, there is a certain reveal which, without spoiling anything, will be obvious to any Shyamalan fan, that just feels far too dumb and unnecessary, though it could be interesting to develop if there is a sequel.
This doesn't make it a bad film - far from it. It's definitely worth watching, though maybe doesn't warrant the level of debate it has garnered. Watch Split for the unmissable McAvoy performance, and try not to expect anything too mind-blowing, and you'll probably enjoy. A solid 72/100.
The Lego Batman Movie (2017)
Hilarious, Jubilantly Frenetic, Perfectly Voiced
A spin off from the wildly entertaining and surprisingly well-made Lego Movie, the imaginatively titled Lego Batman Movie centres on Will Arnett's brooding vigilante superhero, his burgeoning family, large list of enemies, and perpetually crime-ridden city of Gotham. The film is a riotous explosion of colour and gleeful mayhem, poking fun at every Batman film and revelling in its references to all the clichés, plots, and inadvertently funny elements of the franchise.
It's important to be prepared when going in to this film, and to expect an ADD-level of hyperactive flashiness, topping even the madcap nature of The Lego Movie. This will inevitably infuriate some but if you enjoyed the original 2014 film you will most likely enjoy this too, though it really is funny enough to warrant viewing regardless of that. Phil Lord and Chris Miller, though they are just producers on this film, showed with The Lego Movie and the Jump Street films that they are fantastic directors capable of making very funny films, and it will therefore be interesting to see how they do the Han Solo film in 2018.
It is in fact the very definition of gag-a-minute, with constant clever visual gags, hilarious and clever Lego-Movie-style jokes, and plain silly hilarity that you just can't resist. I found myself chuckling almost non-stop throughout the entire film - it's just incredibly funny, especially for anyone who knows Batman or is feeling a little worn out by the superhero genre.
The cast is magnificent, with Lego-Movie-scene-stealer Arnett excelling as the lead where his dark angst can be psychoanalysed in a manner appropriate for a U-rated film. Michael Cera is note-perfect as earnest and relentlessly peppy sidekick Robin, taken straight from a 1960s TV episode, and his character is often reminiscent of an orphan version of George Michael Bluth, his character in Arrested Development. Rounding out the cast are Zach Galifanakis as an insecure, very self-aware Joker (playing it as differently from Ledger/Leto as humanly possible), and Ralph Fiennes, voicing butler Alfred with uber-British sensibility and aloofness. Rosario Dawson is very funny, as is the unexpected appearance of Jemaine Clement.
Overall The Lego Batman Movie is unrelentingly kinetic and just great fun. The never- ending slew of humour does not ever cease to entertain, and it's actually funnier than The Lego Movie which I thought at the time was one of the best gag-a-minute films I'd ever seen. Lego Batman may not have as much heart or Toy-Story-esque depth to it, but it's fast, funny, delectably animated, and consistently entertaining. 81/100.
La La Land (2016)
A 100% Recommendation: Magical, Delightful, Sumptuous, Technically Flawless
On the surface La La Land doesn't seem too different to director Damien Chazelle's previous film Whiplash. The two share a jazz-and-Charlie-Parker-obsessed male protagonist, a love of music, and even JK Simmons. However, this film is wholly different and represents staggering new ground covered by Chazelle and the team behind it, as well as being a deliciously unique piece which seems a shoe-in for being the best film of 2016.
In fact, La La Land is not only by far the best film I've seen released in 2016, but also possibly 2015. Simply put, everything about it works. Firstly, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are perfectly cast in their roles, with effortless natural likability and chemistry that most actors can only dream of. Gosling provides charm, a believable passion in jazz, and incredible piano skills, whilst Stone is as genuine as ever, and acts as an audience surrogate that is easy to root for.
The music will not only make you tap your toes, but also cause you to leave the cinema dancing with a wide grin on your face - I was a moment away from standing up and giving a round of applause when it finished. The songs, beside being well-sung and expertly-choreographed, are easy to re-listen to and are very catchy.
On the aesthetic side, the cinematography and the colour palette are beautiful. Highly stylised and with an admirable range of techniques. Some stand-out sequences are the planetarium dance and heart-string-pulling epilogue.
Certainly the best thing about the entire film is its spirit and passion. It's so incredibly enjoyable - not a single moment is dull, and though it takes place over a long period of time with a lot of events happening (it is split into winter, spring, summer, fall, and winter again) it is constantly fun. Even in the most dramatic moments it is fantastic to watch, simply for the pure talent on display, and the realness of the drama, despite the almost fantasy-like quality of the film at times.
This review cannot go into enough detail about how delightful the film is - it's also worth mentioning the fresh, well-written script (also Chazelle's work) that is often hilarious. Honestly I can think of no negatives right now, and it will just be interesting to see how it holds up a year down the line. A must- watch, though inevitably those who are staunchly critical of musicals may be hesitant. 98/100.
A United Kingdom (2016)
Five-Word Review: Bland, Uninspired; Sometimes Sumptuous & Stirring
Telling the story of the formation of the modern nation of Botswana, and the furore caused in the 1940s when the heir to the throne brought home a white wife, A United Kingdom offers a well-formed period piece that unfortunately suffers from the pitfalls of many such biopics.
Firstly, the 1940s/50s period setting is often sumptuous and evidently well-created, and the story is rather compelling. Seeing this take on a historical story - of focusing on the human element - is rather good. David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike are stellar if unremarkable as the leads, even if Oyelowo does get the chance to show some passion in his speeches, whilst Tom Felton (Harry Potter) and Jack Davenport (Pirates of the Caribbean) get to flex their villainous muscles.
Ultimately, though, there's just not that much of note here, and it simply isn't worth watching as it will have been forgotten within a day. A rather bland and uninspired take on an interesting story, which is worthwhile at times but all in all fails to amount to much. 53/100.
Rogue One (2016)
Five-Word Review: Sufficiently Different, Enjoyable, Solid Film
Kicking off the Star Wars universe's foray into spin-offs, Rogue One serves as an almost gritty tale of war and sacrifice, as some rogue members of the Rebel Alliance fight against the threat of the Empire's Death Star, by attempting to steal the plans and exploit its weaknesses. An ensemble cast scattered with familiar faces makes up the character list, with a couple of surprise appearances thrown in.
In fact the film is full of fan service and callbacks. What the film manages to do very well is combine the familiar self-referential Star-Wars-y elements with the new style and expanded world. The references and tie-ins don't become too much, either.
This is best exemplified by the much-anticipated appearance of Darth Vader, who is kept satisfyingly hidden for the most part, the dread surrounding him being slowly built up, and this allows the new cast to take centre stage. When he does show up, he steals the show, including one scene whose terrifying Vader portrayal ranks among the best imagery in the series so far.
Some other characters show up - Peter Cushing's CGI revival, though controversial to some, boasts some impressive visual work and eventually manages to overcome being initially jarring. It's worth it to see such a wonderfully villainous character come back to life, even if the character is perhaps utilised more than is necessary.
The best thing about Rogue One, though, is the style. Despite being burdened by the mammoth series with which it is associated, the film still manages to implement its own style, which is unlike any other film in its series, being close to gritty at times, and far more realistic. In spite of all the references and returning characters, it's not often like the other Star Wars films.
The colour palette is darker, the mood more sombre, the main character plot armour almost non-existent. Nor are there any magical wunderkinds upon whom the entire fate of the galaxy rests due to an ancient prophecy - just resourceful and determined people who are dedicated and good at what they do.
This doesn't make up for the disappointing one-dimension-ality of the majority of the characters. Felicity Jones does a stellar job as the lead, especially given some of the rather uninspired dialogue, whilst Alan Tudyk and Ben Mendelsohn (whose character is well set up as having ambition but no military mind) are rather good, but too many of the characters are not even memorable enough to remember their name, even taking into account cool traits such as the wise, blind old Force user played by Donnie Yen.
It's a bit of a shame given the talent of actors such as Riz Ahmed, Forest Whitaker (overacting like there's no tomorrow), and Mads Mikkelsen, but the film simply has too many characters to devote time to each, resulting in a rather disjointed final product, at least in the first third.
Though these flaws must be acknowledged, they do not detract too much from a film which is fundamentally enjoyable, and never bores. It zips from location to location and character to character, and remains fun, with an easily accessible and genuinely involving, intriguing plot. The ending also manages a near-perfect connection to Episode IV, with just the right amount of tie-in to not be overdone and also satisfy fans. In fact, it can be spliced almost seamlessly to the next chapter of the story and be coherent.
All in all, even though it can't quite match the pure thrills and initial excitement of The Force Awakens, it's ultimately probably a better film: less corporate and safe, at least somewhat, and hopefully indicative of the path these spin-off Star Wars films will take. With Rogue One's rather unique take on the war film, I am now eagerly anticipating the comedic possibilities of the Lord/Miller Han Solo film, purportedly close in style to a western. Beyond that, the possibilities are endless, as long as Disney allows its directors more freedom and autonomy to make their creative marks.
One of the better films in a lacklustre year, and definitely worth watching. 82/100
Five-Word Review: Intriguing, Well-acted, Thought-provoking: Solid Sci-fi
When aliens come to earth, what is to be done? Take a diplomatic and intelligent approach to it, that's what. No Emmerich-style bombast or global war, just top linguist Amy Adams and genius scientist Jeremy Renner helping the government figure out why they have arrived on earth. And this is what this film does best.
In offering a fresh perspective on sci-fi, Arrival allows for a truly intriguing film which has the unusual distinction of feeling very original. The diplomacy and tentative contact between the aliens and the Adams/Renner combination of genii is the best thing in the film, and the best scenes all come when the pair are attempting to communicate, and decipher the aliens' own language.
The acting from these two, especially Adams, is superb, allowing for a real emotional connection and investment in the characters. Overall it's a solid effort from Denis Vileneuve, better than 'Prisoners' though not as good as 'Sicario'. It is perhaps not quite as good as some of the furore may suggest, and the final third loses some focus and credibility, but it is still one of the best and most intelligent sci-fis in recent years, and definitely worth watching. 82/100.
Five-Word Review: Exquisite, Enjoyable Fun; Somewhat Unoriginal
Moana continues the recovery Disney has enjoyed this decade. Hawaiian Auli'i Cravalho voices the titular not-a-princess, who sets off on a quest to find demigod Māui (Dwayne Johnson) and restore life to the islands and oceans of Polynesia.
Moana has received a lot of critical acclaim for being fun, witty, and different, and overall it is pretty good. The voice work is stellar, with Johnson excelling at Māui's cocky bravura but also bringing depth to the role, and this should be a solid start for Cravalho. Jemaine Clement, however, steals the show, his unique voice instantly recognisable as a villainous and boastful crab.
The music overall is simply wonderful. The influence of lyrical genius Lin-Manuel Miranda is clear, with some catchy and memorable songs, with stand-outs being Clement's and Johnson's songs.
The very best thing is the animation, however - the best I've ever seen in a film. The water looks simply dazzling, surpassing anything seen in Finding Nemo/Dory. The final effect is an absolutely breath-taking aesthetic, and it's simply marvellous how much animation has progressed.
It's also quite funny: at times self-referential (even too much in bits) and guaranteed to muster a chuckle. All in all it's quite a fun time and shows Disney reaching a scale close to that achieved by Pixar, even if it ultimately doesn't offer much new and maybe won't linger so long in the memory. 73/100
Five-Word Review: Delightful, Perfect Series Starter; Disjointed
'Fantastic Beasts' kicks off an all-new franchise in JK Rowling's Wizarding World, set in 1920s New York. Gellert Grindelwald has alienated old friend Albus Dumbledore with his extremist, revolutionary ideas and begun terrorising Europe. Dumbledore, meanwhile, becomes a professor at Hogwarts where his students include Newt Scamander, who is more comfortable around magical animals like Bowtruckles and Nifflers than people. Upon travelling to New York City, however, things do not go to plan.
Right out of the gate, this is a wildly entertaining and simply delightful film. Within the first minute the world and setting are perfectly established, and the Roaring Twenties NYC is gorgeously realised, with a very 20s feeling about the film. The best magic from the Harry Potter films is retained and expanded upon - one of the best things is seeing the wider use of magic outside of an education environment, and a particular highlight is a scene where a strudel is exquisitely assembled and cooked using magic, all seemingly in one shot.
And speaking of the visual effects, they are fabulous. Gone are the shonky creatures like Fluffy and the Cave Troll from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone back in 2001. The breathtaking visual flair is evident, from the intricate plumage of the Occamy to the Demiguise's silky coat (which is used to make Invisibility Cloaks). The standout, however, is the Niffler. A dragon-like obsession with treasure makes for some hilarious slapstick comedy where the adorable little creature, like a mix between a dog and a mole, rampages through a bank and collects a veritable trove of trinkets.
The plot, an original creation from Rowling, is surprisingly good, with some dynamic turns (though this occasionally gives way to poor pacing) and solid twists. The wider magical world is something I've been wanting to see since my first experience with HP, and Fantastic Beasts sets up this world wonderfully, with lots of space for future expansion. One thing this film does really well is kicking off a new franchise - there's a clear feeling that there will be lots of material for future sequels, and just enough teasing of some elements to be intriguing.
There are lots of nice touches in the film which really make it more watchable, from Newt's remarks about the Eastern Front of World War One (dragons), to the NYC-cranky-cab-driver voices of the house elves. Ron Perlman unexpectedly shows up and steals his scene with a delightful caricature of a speakeasy owner that is fabulously over-the-top, and overall the film feels separate enough from HP to work on its own but also connected enough to be accessible to fans.
The standout character is, somewhat surprisingly, Dan Fogler's Kowalski, a Muggle (No-Maj) who is equal parts comic relief and relatable schmuck. The rest of the acting is sometimes a little off, though Ezra Miller is fantastic and Eddie Redmayne seems a good choice for the role of Scamander. At first I thought his acting was sub- par, but I think the fault lies with the writers - whether deliberately or not, he is not characterised very much, though this is probably to leave room for expansion in the sequels.
In fact few of the characters have much development due to the often rushed nature of the film and its abundance of different elements, resulting in a film which is often disjointed and messy. It's also a little too tonally uneven, with some moments just being a bit too broad to hit home and clashing with its darker moments. It's at its best during its lighter moments, not taking itself seriously and having a good time.
All in all this is a must-watch for any HP fan, and should be a delightful watch for any viewer. Despite its flaws, it's a very solid start to a franchise which I hope will be just as good as its predecessor. 79/100.
The Hateful Eight (2015)
Five-Word Review: Compelling, Tense, Exquisite, Wonderfully Acted
The eight Tarantino film is another Western, this one set after Django Unchained in a snowy cabin in Wyoming. Eight people, including bounty hunters, a sheriff, a hangman, and an old general, find themselves locked up together with tensions rising and violence looming.
The Hateful Eight is premium Tarantino. It's got every trademark and subtle touch that you'd associate with the writer/director: bloody violence, extended scenes of hard-boiled, effortlessly compelling dialogue, fantastic tension, and Samuel L. Jackson, to name but a few. And talking of Jackson, this is probably his best role since Pulp Fiction, with some glorious monologues and an intriguing character background perfect for the actor's commanding screen presence. The widely-praised Jennifer Jason Leigh is superb, too, whilst Kurt Russell is fantastic as a John Wayne/Jeff Bridges hybrid. A delightful dandy performance from Tim Roth and Walton Goggins' comedic Southern persona round out a flawless cast.
Every single scene is just amazing to watch, even when all the characters are doing is sitting in a wagon idly talking, and this is clearly Tarantino's strength. The plot is finely crafted, with a genuinely intriguing mystery playing out as the enthralling story develops. The setting of a cramped space hearkens back to Reservoir Dogs, and the spellbinding suspense is on a level with that, especially as all the characters are so well-fleshed-out due to the brilliant script.
It's hard to praise The Hateful Eight enough as it's clearly a passion project for Tarantino, right down to the outstandingly scene-setting Ennio Morricone score. I really wish I'd been able to see the full Roadshow version complete with overture and intermission.
The fact that this is Tarantino's fifth-best film is more a testament to the quality of Django, Basterds, Pulp Fiction, and Reservoir Dogs than a slight towards this. There's a feeling that it may not stay so long in the memory as the others, and it has an occasional tendency to prioritise violence and gore. Still, it's a must- watch for any Tarantino fan and one of the best films of 2015. 89/100
Doctor Strange (2016)
Five-Word Review: Visually Interesting, Entertaining; Epitomises Average
The Marvel machine thunders on with Doctor Strange, which stars an always-fantastic Benedict Cumberbatch as a surgeon/sorcerer, learning from Tilda Swinton and Chiwetel Ejiofor, whilst the threat of Mads Mikkelsen looms. It's clear early on that Doctor Strange is standard Marvel fare, yet it remains a fun film nevertheless and is worth a look.
Though it's expected of a Marvel film by now, the acting is spot-on. Cumberbatch channels his Sherlock portraying the arrogant and cocky Strange, whilst Benedict Wong is a stand-out in the supporting cast. It makes for a good watch when the cast has such effortless chemistry, and the witty repartee between characters is helped by a script which often fizzes along merrily.
Beyond the acting, the visuals are a highlight - notably, Strange's first introduction to the spiritual world is an eye-popping spectacle which evokes the art of Salvador Dali, the music of David Bowie, and the Moonmen song from Rick and Morty. Furthermore, the action sequences manage to show off some interesting visual feats, with city-bending, kaleidoscopic scenery making for some fun scenes.
Though this formula is undeniably entertaining, this film just will not stick long in the memory and is not something I'll ever re-watch, nor does it have any particular fantastic scene which stood out. Mikkelsen offers glimpses of being more than a standard forgettable Marvel villain, at one point making Strange question his allegiances, but only briefly. Overall the case is that there simply isn't enough time devoted to character development (Rachel McAdams is particularly shafted in this department) due to the high amount of world-building required of this film.
It's hard to muster much excitement for such planned, corporate-approved films, and it's especially disappointing to see great directors stifled by the conglomerate's cinematic universe machine, such as Taika Waititi, fantastic at the head of What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, whose Thor: Ragnarok next year (which is teased in Doctor Strange) will surely be indistinguishable from the rest.
But you may as well watch this stuff anyways; it's still a decent and fun way to spend two hours if you're alright to unhook the brain for a bit. 64/100.
Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)
Five-Word Review: Unexpectedly Great: Chilling, Well-made; Over-baked
The sequel no one cares about to the 2014 film no one cared about is surprisingly good. Elizabeth Reaser stars as a mother who pretends to contact the spirit world and ends up opening a dangerous door to this world with her daughters Lulu Wilson and Annalise Basso. The director is Mike Flanagan, who previously gave us another surprising critical hit with Oculus, and his skill is evident in this film.
Right from the start it is clear that Ouija: OoE is no ordinary clichéd piece. Being set in the 1960s, it is made to look so, with an old-fashioned Universal logo and title card - this is small but is just a cute touch that shows the director at least has some passion for this project. There are a few more of these touches: Tyler Durden style top-right-corner white blotches to show reel changes, plus a fantastic soundtrack and note-perfect dialogue/acting (visible in the comedic displays of attitudes towards teen fraternisation) which does a really good job of setting the period and making it feel like 60s America.
The acting is solid throughout, in fact, with Reaser bringing charm and depth to her role, and the young actors are great too. Furthermore, thankfully, they all manage to imbue their characters with a certain amount of wisdom and common sense that is often noticeably lacking in horror films.
It's also refreshing to have a proper score, which really sets the viewer on edge and succeeds in having far more of an effect than the usual horror background music. The script is not silly either, and there's some genuine dialogue aside from a few instances of over- baked exposition later in the film.
The horror works in Ouija. Instead of relying on jump scares, there's some real dread, and I found myself with goosebumps and a constantly tingling spine, whilst my hands hardly let go of the armrests. However, it is the buildup which is the best - in the final third things start to falter a little, perhaps as it becomes too focused on tying into the first film (which I have not seen) and seemingly with as many endings as Return of the King. Nevertheless, this is one of the best horror films I've seen in a while, and is definitely worth seeing if you fancy a solid Halloween flick. 74/100
Five-Word Review: Dumb, Dull, Stodgy; Sometimes Fun
Continuing Ron Howard's shaky but entertaining 'Langdon Trilogy' from The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, Inferno places Tom Hanks's Robert Langdon amidst a global plot involving bio-weapons and various characters. However...
Inferno is just so dumb. All the silly clichés of thriller and action are employed and sometimes moments are so needlessly melodramatic and eye-rollingly stupid that they seem like self-aware parody, but they aren't. It's a shame, because Hanks is as reliable as ever in his weary yet relatable Everyman lead role, and there are some moments which are genuinely interesting and tease a better film - it starts with real purpose, for example, and is enjoyable for a while. As Langdon is plagued by disturbing visions of hell, it's really quite intriguing.
Where it really falls down, however, is when it tries to shove endless cardboard cut out characters with no clear motive or personality into the story, then pollute it even more with idiotic twists that don't make sense. It builds to a plain boring climax, with action that fails to muster the slightest excitement. Overall it can be described only as cinematic stodge - enjoyable at times but it's just so dumb and poorly thought out, it doesn't make for good viewing.
In fact, the best thing about it is the location - set mainly in the Italian city of Firenze, where the Cattedrala de Santa Maria dei Fiore and Ponte Vecchio make for astounding sights, the action also takes the characters to Venezia, where the character of the city with its canals and architecture making for a better character than most of the human ones. The climax, despite being as dull as they come, at least displays the beauty of Istanbul and its marvellous Hagia Sophia.
In the end, though, it's not really worth watching. The plot is half baked and contrived, the majority of the actors phone in their performances as bland characters, and it's just too clichéd to be very entertaining despite some fun bits and cool scenery. 41/100
Five-Word Review: Mind-boggling Technical Achievement; Average Film
Victoria, I am sad to say, is largely overrated despite the truly mesmerising cinematography. Since the incredible one-take film became widely known, most of the critical consensus agrees that is a fantastic film. I found it only decent. Whilst there are moments of genuine breathless tension, the crime elements are superb, and the ending is good, it seems too often like it is trying to be - and I am loath to use this word - 'artsy'. The script was apparently only 12 pages long (that's about 11 minutes of film per script page) which means almost all of the dialogue is improvised. Which is neat, but does not make for compelling viewing, as the characters apart from the titular protagonist (another positive would be Laia Costa's stupendous performance) just don't have enough depth to be interesting. Were it not for the unique cinematographic excellence this would be nothing more than an average thriller with some decent moments that tried too hard to rise above its station.
But talking of the cinematography...take a bow Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, you magnificent genius. This bests all the works of Emmanuel Lubezki and Roger Deakins, and is simply the best feat of cinematography I've ever seen. Flawlessly transitioning from building to street to car to club to the intensity of a foot race and shoot out, all with the precision and careful craftsmanship of any great film. In fact, after only 15 minutes you're barely noticing it any more. After a while, you may realise that you've literally followed these characters all the way from that club and the mind boggles. It's arguably worth watching just to witness this spectacular achievement - you'll most likely find an entrancing and ambitious effort that has a film tacked on to it with ideas a little above its station and a tendency to be too showy at times. 62/100
The Magnificent Seven (2016)
Five-Word Review: Wonderfully Over-the-top; Entertaining, Solid Fun
With a crew boasting 'Training Day' trio Antoine Fuqua, Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke, in addition to Chris Pratt and Vincent D'Onofrio, 'The Magnificent Seven' should be a real riot. Luckily, it is. Though the story - an unsavoury bunch terrorise a peaceful town, and in step the heroes - epitomises standard Western formula, this modern take on the stale recipe, in addition to the gleeful flaunting of clichés and excellent cast chemistry makes for a fun time.
Pratt, Washington, and Byung-Hun-Lee are excellent, and Peter Sarsgaard is as dastardly as they come as a Very Villainous Villain. The script whizzes by for the most part, and although in places the film feels overlong and stretched out, it's mostly a riotous ride. The standout scenes are of course the action scenes, with the modern approach to the Western style of violence really working, especially when the filmmakers give in to the ridiculousness of it all - at one point near the end a character comes roaring into battle on a galloping horse, leaping over a huge fire in slow motion wielding two guns, for example. The other Western clichés are also excellently flaunted: an outsider entering a saloon to disapproval; an ominous ride into town on a horse; the tension-riddled Mexican standoffs; the dastardly black-clothing-wearing villain; the hard-bitten woman; the roguish Mexican character.
It's clearly been made by people who appreciate Westerns, and the whole thing feels part homage, part reboot of a genre which has suffered heavily in recent years with the over-modernised 'Cowboys and Aliens' and 'The Lone Ranger'. For that reason, it's very good.
On the other hand, the plain ludicrousness can only go so far and at times the film feels generic and bland instead of irreverent and tongue-in-cheek. Then there are some choices which just feel bizarre, such as the off-putting squeak of Vincent D'Onofrio's character, some silly action clichés (variable amounts of ammo, main character invulnerability), and anticlimaxes.
Nevertheless, overall it's a perfectly fun film and if you're looking for something to do it's a great thing to see, even if it won't stay long in the memory. 64/100.
Lights Out (2016)
Five-Word Review: Impressive; Genuine Scares; Sometimes Uninspired
Expanding the 2013 short film into an 80 minute cinematic piece, Lights Out depicts a malicious entity that can only be seen in the dark haunting a dysfunctional family of a depressed mother and her children. Teresa Palmer leads a stellar cast which also features Maria Bello and Billy Burke, as the mystery of this creature slowly unravels.
Although it sometimes falls into the trap of conforming to horror genre customs and clichés, Lights Out is for the most part an original, compelling, and often genuinely scary work. This is helped in part by the talented cast and well-written characters, which aids the film in making you root for them to succeed. Instead of some generic teen horror, with characters who you'd honestly prefer to die, Lights Out has some nail-biting and genuinely tense sequences where you are keen for the character to survive. It also boasts some solid acting skills from the older actors, helped by a passable turn from the main child in the film, Gabriel Bateman. Though he is no Jacob Tremblay (Room) or Noah Wiseman (The Babadook), he is more bearable than some.
The best thing in the film is the horror, though. The central premise of a terrifying spectre waiting for you in the dark is scary enough, but the execution in the film boosts it, with sequences rendering the viewer apprehensive and afraid to go into the dark themselves. The ghostly phantom herself is a chilling enough image, with dark lank hair, eyes that are pinpricks of light in a void of black, and long nails. The lighting, and visual effects, make for a terrifying sight.
Where the film does fall is when it turns to more regressive, boring techniques of horror such as noisy jump scares and dumb character decisions, but these are rare enough to keep the film at a high enough rating. Overall, one of the strongest horror films I've ever seen and at the better end of the scale of mediocrity that has been 2016's cinema so far. 75/100
Sausage Party (2016)
Five-Word Review: Dumb, Funny, Sometimes Cleverly Subversive
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have carved their own niche of American comedy films close to the Apatow brand but more crass. The roster that includes Superbad, Pineapple Express, and This is the End now adds Sausage Party, a decidedly adult-oriented comedy designed to offend and shock, insulting just about every race and belief imaginable. Little would you expect it could also make you think at times. A starry cast supports this animated riff on Pixar stories such as Toy Story, with the likes of Rogen, Edward Norton, Michael Cera and Kristen Wiig lending their voices to the story of sentient foodstuffs discovering that their 'gods' are actually humans who kill and eat them.
Sausage Party often feels like two films in one. On the superficial level it is a dumb, crass, raunchy sex comedy with talking, orgy- loving food characters to appeal to the same stoner crowd as Pineapple Express. On another level, it is an intelligent and well- observed social commentary with witty takes on current social issues related to religion, race, sexuality, and world conflict. This is the film's strength and flaw. The worst of the film is when it is being too dumb and juvenile, with punchlines extending to nothing more than a blurted profanity, a lazy racial slur, or a sex joke that would make a 13 year old laugh. Too much of the film is like this, and a probable sequel would be much improved by focusing up and being less immature.
Nevertheless, there's a lot that's funny in Sausage Party. Some of the parodies are on the nose - including excellent riffs on Saving Private Ryan, The Terminator, and, in one grotesque scene, Ratatouille. The situations the foods find themselves in are often very clever - a bagel and a lavash personify (foodify?) the Israel- Palestine conflict, and the main hot dog bun wants a bigger role in life than to just be filled by a sausage. Meanwhile, the voice cast is superb. Nick Kroll (Parks and Recreation's Douche, in a similar role) expertly plays a rapey gymbro character. Norton is unrecognisable as the Jewish 'Sammy Bagel Jr.', while Rogen, Cera, and Wiig are all stellar.
Overall it's a funny film that is worth a watch, and is a nice counterpart to similarly plotted animated films aimed at kids, such as Toy Story. It just feels like it could have been better at times; hopefully the sequel can combine this film's strengths with some improvements. 67/100
Five-Word Review: Delightfully Excruciating, Funny, Unnecessary Diversion
Continuing his unique brand of horribly awkward humour that made The Office such a success (with remakes in the USA, France, Germany, Canada, Chile, Sweden, and Israel), Ricky Gervais resurrects the phenomenon that is David Brent, idiosyncrasies and all. Following on from the Christmas specials, the hapless eponymous character is still a sales rep for a cleaning supplies company, yet still harbours dreams of going on tour with his band, a resurrected Foregone Conclusion.
This film feels a little unnecessary, but that certainly doesn't detract from its enjoyment levels. After the perfect ending given to us by the Christmas specials back in 2003, the character was at peace and it felt like he had achieved some sort of catharsis. Nonetheless, this is premium Gervais - it probably helps that I binge watched all of The Office in the week before watching this, so was in a real Office-y mood. The humour is on point, from Brent's tics (the perfectly judged nervous laugh, the shifty grins to the camera) to his own form of inadvertently offending people. There's a good amount of pathos, too, with Brent really sinking to new lows over the course of the film. The plot is well-suited to the character, and another highlight is the songs - the standout being 'Please Don't Make Fun of the Disabled' - which are just hilarious when delivered by Gervais.
Ultimately, though, it won't stick in the memory for long and it didn't need to be made - nor are the side characters as compelling as the likes of Tim Canterbury, Gareth Keenan, Dawn Tinsley, and Keith Bishop. It also feels a little sweetened and watered down at times, especially towards the end. It feels a little too perfect and not bittersweet enough. Still, an enjoyable 90 minute diversion for any Office fan, and good fun. 66/100.
Star Trek: Beyond (2016)
Five-Word Review: Forgettable Summer Fun; Great Chemistry
Continuing (and possibly concluding) the new trilogy started by JJ Abrams in 2009 with the cast led by Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, and Karl Urban, Justin Lin of the Fast and Furious fame helms this romp which sees the crew of the Enterprise out of their depth and stranded when attacked by a mysterious villain named Idris Elba, with nefarious intent. Though I have never been a 'Trekkie', I thoroughly enjoyed the 2009 take, appreciating the excellent cast and accessibility. The 2013 sequel (Into Darkness) was more lightweight, though did feature a spectacular turn from Benedict Cumberbatch. This third instalment, however, is the weakest of the three, though still solid.
Undoubtedly the very best thing about Beyond is the cast. This team has absolutely wonderful chemistry together, the sort that could rival other ensemble pieces like Lord of the Rings and The Avengers. The best scenes are all just the characters interacting instead of the big explosive action and end of the world prevention. We've seen Quinto's Spock and Pine's Kirk build a great relationship in the previous two films, but that aspect is put on the back burner here in favour of developing other characters and interactions. For instance, Urban's delightfully gruff Bones gets more screen time than in his previous two appearances combined, Pegg is clearly having a lot of fun as engineer Scotty - having also co-written the often sharp script, and Sofia Boutella is a great addition to the cast, whilst Pine and Quinto are reliable as ever. Beyond tries to expand and develop the characters a bit by pairing them up outside of their comfort zones, which works for the film, even if some of the characters feel a little shafted in favour of Kirk, Scotty, and Bones: Chekhov, played by the talented Anton Yelchin who tragically died before the film's release, and Saldana's Uhura, are little more than one-note stereotypes. The latter has little more role to play than 'Spock's girlfriend', though there are at least other female characters to prevent the film overall becoming too one-dimensional. All told, it's a great summer romp with some zinging dialogue and likable characters, along with eye-popping visuals rendering the action scenes a cornucopia of events unfolding. A standout of these such scenes features Beastie Boy's 'Sabotage' in creative and fantastic fashion.
A lot of the rest of the film, however, is disappointingly predictable and dull. Though admittedly visually resplendent, the action scenes are simply uninspired and just boring to watch. They're akin to a Transformers film, with lots of machinery and faceless villains all clashing and clanging together amidst explosions. For example, when the Enterprise is first attacked the scene in which it happens takes 15- 20 minutes, but none of it is exciting, instead being mindless and far too generic. Another problem is the pacing: there is a moment which seems like a climax, but there is still a long stretch of film to go with some more endings. And Elba's villain is just a misfire, with the actor labouring and Vader-breathing under layers of makeup and prosthetics. His intentions are unclear, he's not memorable, and the seeming attempts to make him appear tragic do not land.
Overall this results in a film which is probably worth seeing if you've nothing to do, but don't expect much more than a mindless blockbuster. It's worth seeing for the talented cast alone. 62/100
Suicide Squad (2016)
Five-Word Review: Often Enjoyable, Largely Disappointing & Bland
Even if you're David Ayer and you wrote Training Day and directed Fury, bringing together a bunch of comic-book Batman villains that have never been in a live-action film along with a new iteration of The Joker was always going to be hard, and messy. With acclaimed actors like Will Smith, Margot Robbie, and Jared Leto, though, it should also be hard to mess up.
I was really looking forward to Suicide Squad. Batman vs Superman: DoJ kick-started DC's cinematic universe in divisive fashion, with too many subplots and rocky direction that felt like it was too influenced by the studio. Suicide Squad, after some fantastic trailers, looked set to successfully navigate these problems. However. Its main problem, unfortunately, is feeling too much like a generic comic-book film, especially in the second half (the first half, however, is great - see below). Instead of going a unique route of having a team of morally ambiguous, blackly comic villains fight and work amongst themselves, perhaps uniting against a wild card like The Joker, we get a ham- fisted team up against some otherworldly entity (BvS anyone?) aided by faceless minions (Avengers anyone?). Comic book fatigue indeed.
Another problem is the widely-advertised re-shoots that were ordered of Ayer after critical backlash in the spring targeted BvS's dull, mirthless mindlessness. Too often, the film feels choppily edited, with several portions of the film feeling like they were directed by different directors before all these sections were Frankensteined together. This seems a clear indication that there is too much 'higher up' involvement in the making of these cinematic universe films. Ayer's vision can be glimpsed through the mess, especially in the first half. His vision of The Joker as a tattooed, pimp-like, mob-boss gangster is commendable, but falls prey to reshuffling and the apparent removal of several of his scenes. Flashes of brilliance, such as viewing Batman through the eyes of Deadshot and Harley Quinn, are brilliant: the vigilante is seen as a terrifying, meddling threat who splits families apart and keeps true loves from each other. A lot, however, is lost as the film suffers from the curse of post-production reshuffles.
But I digress, as Suicide Squad really isn't THAT bad. The first half especially is a joyful romp which unfortunately does not indicate the tone of the film overall. The character introductions could not have been done better, with tongue-in-cheek visual effects and on-screen writing giving a sens of the characters, and a great mix of flashback and scenes of the characters in prison providing excellent contrast. Most of the gags and humour hits (most, but definitely not all), though it would have been nice if the creators had more independence to target an older audience, perhaps focusing on why these guys are so bad. In a film that is a very, very soft 15 certificate, it is hard to display the remorseless murders and horrific crimes that they have done, and the film could have benefited from some good black comedy. The acting is a mixed bag - Robbie is simply superb, the stand-out with what is one of the only complicated roles in the film, whilst Viola Davis excels and Smith is a solid lead. Leto is alright, though nowhere near the heights reached by the likes of Heath Ledger and Mark Hamill. It often feels like he is trying too hard to be edgy and crazy, coming across as almost Jim Carrey-like at times. His screen-time is relegated to mostly token appearances, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it means more time devoted to the bland Joel Kinnaman and the eye-rollingly boring villain Enchantress, played by an over-the-top and possibly miscast Cara Delevingne (though who could sell this properly: http://tinyurl.com/zh4w52t).
Basically, though, none of the characters are given enough time to bond like they say they are. Jai Courtney, doing his best Tom Hardy impression, is a promising side-character but is very underused, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje's Killer Croc is basically useless. There are significant swathes of the film which are really enjoyable and fun, with the soundtrack simply wonderful, but there are just too many inherent problems. Uneven direction, often laughable dialogue, choppy last-minute editing, and a plot which just went in the wrong direction. It simply can't cut it at the top of the blockbuster world, and is unfortunately for me a large disappointment, especially due to all the promising signs I saw in the film.
Maybe this is the comic-book film fatigue building up steam, but studios really need to change something in order to keep their cinematic universes being such reliable cash cows. Marvel's Doctor Strange looks intriguing - though if Suicide Squad proved anything, it was that trailers, however incredible they are, do not provide an indication of the film - and their Civil War was often refreshing, but there needs to be consistent adaptation. To quote Frank Underwood (fine, Winston Churchill), to improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often. If the Affleck- directed Batman film, the hopefully different Aquaman, and Justice League can learn from the mistakes of BvS and Suicide Squad, then DC will prosper. Until then, films such as this Suicide Squad are just not good enough. Mostly enjoyable, and probably worth a watch, but just not one to ever re-watch and unlikely to delight anyone over the age of 14. 55/100.
Finding Dory (2016)
Five-word Review: Funny, Cute, Emotional, Appropriate Sequel.
Upon its announcement, this sequel to the 2003 bonafide classic was met with apprehension. Nevertheless, with the return of Ellen Degeneres as the titular blue tang and Albert Brooks as worried father Marlin, plus the introduction of Modern Family pair Ed O'Neill and Ty Burrell, all helmed by a team featuring the likes of Wall·E/A Bug's Life director Andrew Stanton, it seems hard to mess up.
The good news is they don't. A sequel - unless the tone is drastically different, like Cameron's 1986 Aliens to Ridley Scott's 1979 Alien - is always going to feel like a retread of its predecessor, and if it suffers from the condition of sequelitis, then it will make everything bigger and less interesting. Finding Dory, however, like the Toy Story sequels, is not a shameless cash- in but rather an appropriate companion piece to Finding Nemo. Before the film begins there is a Pixar short as befits tradition, entitled Piper. This shares there oceanic themes of Dory, and is gorgeously animated, with some cute visuals, but it's certainly not one to remember. At its heart the story of Finding Dory is a deeply tragic one, with an introduction which showcases a heart-meltingly cute baby Dory losing her family in unexplained circumstances and traversing the ocean in a wretched, barely remembered state before her memory is finally jogged one year after after helping to rescue Nemo, and the team set off on an adventure to California to find her parents.
What unfolds is nothing less than classic Pixar. The humour is as good as it's ever been in a Pixar feature - the gags are perhaps better than in any other Pixar film, with the standouts Idris Elba as a delightfully lazy sea lion, O'Neill's grouchy octopus (well, septopus), Burrell's clueless beluga having trouble utilising his echolocation, and a silent bird named Becca. The extraordinary setting is a step up from dentist's office in Nemo, and the animation is the very definition of dazzling and flawless - especially during one of the best scenes, where a marine life centre touch pool is re-imagined as a terrifying slaughter ground which evokes the deadly playtime of Toy Story 3's Caterpillar Room.
So, technically jaw-dropping, check. Fantastic humour suitable for children and adults, check. Unexpected maturity and emotional intelligence, check. Impressive voice cast, check. Sounds like a classic Pixar film! On the subject of the voice cast, Degeneres truly excels. Her passion for the character is evident, and she expertly combines the naïve, innocent and cute humour of Nemo's Dory with her new tragic backstory.
As she pieces together her past from fragments of half-remembered memory, it almost begins to feel like Memento - a refreshingly different style amidst the rest of the film. Another refreshing thing is the lack of villain - like in Inside Out - which is a good recent trend in films that allows for a more character and plot based story that doesn't get bogged down in clichés. There third act is relatively a little weaker - with the notable exception of a few scenes - yet this does not stop Finding Dory from ranking amongst several of Pixar's greats. It is occasionally a little too similar to Nemo, especially during lost fish scenarios, so it's not quite amongst the very top tier of the likes of its predecessor, the Toy Story trilogy, Inside Out or The Incredibles, yet it's still a wonderful film and a must-watch for any Pixar fan (which honestly is any fan of film). 83/100.
Five-Word Review: Smart, Charming, Well-acted, Witty, Emotional
Nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture, Brooklyn tells the story of Eilis (Saoirse Ronan), a young Irish woman who emigrates to New York City to escape the prospect-less and dour Ireland. She suffers from inevitable homesickness despite the presence of friendly Brits Julie Walters and Jim Broadbent. Eventually she grows accustomed to 1950s American life with the help of dream Italian boy Emory Cohen, yet the call of the Irish remains strong...
It's easy to see why this was nominated for Oscars - it's also easy to see why it could be disparaged as dull Oscar bait. But it's actually far from this. Brooklyn is a charming film, and much more enjoyable than you may expect. This is due in part to Ronan's excellent performance, which is grounded in realism and fashions a thoroughly sympathetic protagonist - though some of her decisions and withholding of information are sure to frustrate viewers. There is great support from rising star Cohen, acting as a real draw for Eilis to remain in NYC, in addition to the erstwhile and increasingly famous Domhnall Gleeson, playing an Irish boy who turns Eilis' eye when she returns to Ireland. The regions of NYC and Ireland each act as separate characters themselves, acting as attractive or unattractive to Eilis depending on her feelings. The period design is beautiful and great attention to detail is paid.
About a Boy author Nick Hornby's script is insightful and unexpectedly witty, plus the music is well chosen and suits the setting well. Overall, Brooklyn is a great technical feat that is also enjoyable and just plain fun to watch. It suffers a little from being too idyllic, though. It seems a little cynical to count this as a disadvantage, but everyone Eilis encounters is just really, well, nice. Apart from a cantankerous old Irish shopkeeper who employed her for a while, there is no human villain. This is not necessarily bad - in fact, it is rather refreshing not to have a clichéd villain-vanquishing subplot. However, it does detract from the realism of the piece and therefore takes the viewer out of the experience a little.
Yet nonetheless Brooklyn remains a lovely little bit of filmmaking which showcases the various extended talents of several industry figures. Certainly the most lightweight of an Oscar bunch which included the harrowing drama of 'Room', the exhilarating lunacy of 'Mad Max: Fury Road' and the gritty violent survival experience of Iñarittu's 'The Revenant'. Yet it is definitely worth a watch and if you think it will be a dreary and uneventful stuffy period piece which will not hold your interest, you will probably find yourself wrong. 84/100
Five Word Review: Tense, Intelligently Relevant, Superb Everything
Another feather in Denis Villeneuve's highly feathered cap (Prisoners, Enemy), Sicario has been described as being to the War on Drugs what Zero Dark Thirty was to the War on Terror. The excellent Emily Blunt, acting as the audience surrogate and protagonist, plays an FBI agent embroiled in a mysterious plan in the Mexican town of Juarez. Leading her team are the laid-back yet enigmatic Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro, oozing cool mystery and threatening menace.
As Blunt's character finds out more about the operation being run, we also find out more, adding tension to an already tense film. And tension is one of the primary ingredients in the piece - scenes are often nail-biting and at their conclusion do not be surprised if you find yourself letting out a held-in breath. This is achieved in multiple ways. Jóhan Jóhannsson's excellent score - the standout of which is the dread-filled track 'The Beast', playing multiple times and conveying the terror and horror of the situation. Roger Deakins, nominated thirteen times for the Academy Award for Cinematography without winning, makes Sicario look exquisite, with memorable shots such as the silhouettes of a Delta squad framed against the setting sun, descending into a tunnel to root out cartel members. Numerous aerial shots make it look like characters are being watched by drones. Emmanuel Lubezki did fantastic work on The Revenant, yet it seems a crying shame that Deakins should miss out for his fine work.
Best of all is the acting. Del Toro's performance has been widely praised, but Blunt is the standout here, expertly showcasing her character's descent and the PTSD and disillusionment she develops as she gets further into the murky situation. Brolin, all sandals and faux-Southern-friendliness, is the best he's been in anything, whilst del Toro deservedly wins the plaudits with a performance that really comes into its own towards the film's end, as more about his character is revealed, and almost evokes Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men at times. It will be interesting to see his performance as a purported villain in Star Wars: Episode VIII. Every technical aspect of the film is perfect - right down to the Oscar-nominated sound editing, with gunshots sounding realistically loud and jolting. Villeneuve's direction ensures moral complexity for the characters, despite Brolin and del Toro's truly despicable actions.
Really there are only a few things preventing it from reaching the very top tier. At times, some plot elements are unnecessarily unclear - sometimes this works as Blunt's character as the audience surrogate is meant to be in the dark, yet sometimes the vagueness is irritating. Also, occasional scenes verge on dragging too long, and some of the dialogue borders on cliché-speak. Yet ultimately, this does not prevent Sicario from being one of the best films of all of 2015, and an important watch to understand the USA's War on Drugs. 87/100.