Cinema City Film Quiz #183

[29 January 2017]


Winning Team:
Anaconda, Mon Amour
Genre – A tale of forbidden passion between one man and his ophidian lover

Runners Up:
The Wrong Trouser Snake
Genre – Wallace & Grommit’s most erotic case of mistaken identity yet
Ereptile Dysfunctions: This Time It’s Personal
Genre – German scheisse porn
We Don’t Like Fudge Minis
Genre – We want different chocolate
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Fuckface
Genre – Medical thriller


ROUND I: Pre-Production
1. What was the title of the sequel to Robocop?
ROBOCOP 2
2. Who directed The Birds, Psycho and Vertigo?
ALFRED HITCHCOCK
3. What type of extinct animal features in The Land Before Time series?
DINOSAURS
4. What is the name of Orlando Bloom’s character in Pirates Of The Caribbean?
WILL TURNER
5. In which film did Tom Hanks play Captain John Miller?
SAVING PRIVATE RYAN
6. What colour is the alien Oh in the film Home?
PURPLE
7. The following quote is from which film, “We have a hulk”?
THE AVENGERS
8. Kings Leonidas and Xerxes are the lead characters in which 2007 film?
300
9. Shakespeare In Love was released in which year?
1998
10. Which film studio produced classic horror films The Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein and The Wolf Man?
UNIVERSAL


ROUND II: Filming [Tom Hanks Special]
1. Who played the lead role in Snakes On A Plane? Charlton Heston? Jackie Chan? Samuel L Jackson?
SAMUEL L JACKSON
2. What is the name of the wolf pack leader in The Jungle Book? Rama? Akela? Hathi?
AKELA
3. When Robin Hood attends the archery contest, in Disney’s Robin Hood, he disguises himself as what animal? Chicken? Stork? Flamingo?
STORK
4. How many Anaconda films have been made to date (excluding the Lake Placid Vs Anaconda crossover)? 4? 5? 6?
FOUR
5. What is the name of Conan’s god in Conan The Barbarian? Dronat? Crom? Balthazar?
CROM
6. Sarah, Nancy, Bonnie and Rochelle are the lead characters in which film? Steel Magnolias? Spring Breakers? The Craft?
THE CRAFT
7. Which actress plays the role of Helena Ravenclaw in Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part II? Kelly MacDonald? Kate Winslet? Felicity Jones?
KELLY MACDONALD
8. Who directed 2000’s Road Trip? Adam McKay? Jerry Zucker? Todd Phillips?
TODD PHILLIPS
9. In Raiders Of The Lost Ark we learn that Henry Jones teaches at Marshall College. Which US state is Marshall College in? Connecticut? Maryland? Vermont?
CONNECTICUT
10. Fifteen thousand girls auditioned for the role of Mattie Ross in the 2010 remake of True Grit. True or False?
TRUE


ROUND III: Post-Production
1. How many Studio Ghibli films (to date) have not been directed by Hayao Miyazaki?
TWELVE (20 in total excluding Nausicaa as it was released before the studio was founded)
2. What was the subtitle of the sequel to The Woman In Black?
ANGEL OF DEATH
3. The Bourne Identity was released in which year?
2002
4. Free And Clear, Hope and Seize The Day are support groups in which film?
FIGHT CLUB
5. What did Ben Wheatley direct before High-Rise?
A FIELD IN ENGLAND
6. What is the name of the 1950 Henry Koster film starring James Stewart as Elwood P Dowd?
HARVEY
7. What was the title of the supernatural thriller starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer?
WHAT LIES BENEATH
8. The 1981 film Escape From New York is set in which year?
1997
9. The following characters have all been portrayed by which actor: Joel Goodson, Charlie Babbitt, Daniel Kaffee, Claus Von Stauffenberg and Les Grossman?
TOM CRUISE
10. What event is chosen for the suicide bombing in Four Lions?
THE LONDON MARATHON


ROUND IV: Promotion & Release
1. What is the name of the fabled sword in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? Jade Princess? Green Destiny? Golden Curse?
GREEN DESTINY
2. Which of the following actors did not appear in Lawless? Jessica Chastain? Gary Oldman? Sienna Miller?
SIENNA MILLER
3. Tod and Copper are the names of the lead characters in which Disney animated film? The Three Caballeros? The Fox And The Hound? The Black Cauldron?
THE FOX AND THE HOUND
4. Which of the following sketches was not present in Monty Python’s And Now For Something Completely Different? Live Organ Transplants? Marriage Guidance Counsellor? Kilimanjaro Expedition?
LIVE ORGAN TRANSPLANTS
5. Which of the following films was not directed by Kathryn Bigelow? Point Break? Hamburger Hill? Near Dark?
HAMBURGER HILL
6. Who composed the score for Mulan? Jerry Goldsmith? Hans Zimmer? Howard Shore?
JERRY GOLDSMITH
7. What colour are Sayuri’s eyes in Memoirs Of A Geisha? Green? Blue? Yellow?
BLUE
8. Flight Of The Phoenix, starring James Stewart, Ernest Borgnine and Richard Attenborough was released in which year? 1957? 1965? 1971?
1965
9. What is the name of Demi Moore’s character in G.I. Jane? Jessica Royce? Jordan O’Neil? Jane Hayes?
JORDAN O’NEIL
10. Daryl Hannah discovered she was allergic to shellfish during a lobster eating scene in Splash. The only take they could get made it into the final cut. True or False?
FALSE


BOUNS IMAGE ROUND
Screenshots: Trainspotting / Ravenous / 28 Weeks Later / The Full Monty
Poster: Plunkett & Macleane
Actor: Robert Carlyle


HACKSAW RIDGE

One Of The Greatest Heroes In American History Never Fired A Bullet

Director
Mel Gibson

Starring
Andrew Garfield
Hugo Weaving
Teresa Palmer
Luke Bracey
Sam Worthington
Vince Vaughn



At the start of Hacksaw Ridge, we are introduced to Desmond Doss [Garfield], son of a cantankerous World War I veteran [Weaving], and shown a handful of formative events that led him to closely follow the counsel of his Bible and refrain from violent acts at all times. One day having brought a young man to hospital, Doss meets a young nurse, Dorothy Schutte [Palmer] and the two start an admittedly awkward relationship; largely due to Doss’ sincerity and inexperience. As happened to everyone in the 1940’s, war interrupts any plans they have and despite his convictions, Doss enlists as a pacifist, hoping to serve his country as a medic but refuses to even touch a weapon. This immediately riles his commanding officer, Captain Glover [Worthington], who sees him as a liability to the unit and sure enough, the rest of the men start to resent Doss for not simply dropping out; stoked by the goading of natural-born soldier Smitty Riker [Bracey]. As Doss stands by his beliefs, he is brought before a tribunal to see if he is allowed to serve or whether he will spend time in a military prison. Usually I’d stop there but from the poster and trailers you can tell he gets to serve, despite never carrying a single weapon to protect himself.

Regardless of what you may think of the man, Mel Gibson is an exceptionally talented director and helming a production after an eleven year absence was going to either herald a triumphant return or kill his career for good. As it so happens, Hacksaw Ridge is a wonderfully crafted movie and cements the quality Gibson is capable of producing. More than the plot and narrative structure, the themes and performances take centre stage. As such, the key message, that war is murder on a huge scale and ethically unforgivable, had a bit of an uphill battle to not come off as exceptionally preachy or simply the actions of a religious fanatic. Frankly, I feel the question of whether his motivation was driven by stubbornness and pride or simply a stronger moral will than most could have been developed further but the actions depicted seem to make that a relatively moot point and the more impressive accomplishment is Garfield’s ability to make Doss an affable individual rather than an irritating zealot.

Having said that, as fantastic as this film is at times, it also happily nose-dives into the pitfalls of every war drama from the last sixty years. The adversary is a faceless two-dimensional opponent with zero humanising development. Other than a few scenes in underground tunnels, the Japanese servicemen are depicted as bloodthirsty savages. Which is the same thing that really hurt Saving Private Ryan and something I thought we were well past thanks to the split depictions shown in Flags Of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima. The movie also indulges pretty much every war cliché, giving a lack of realism and credibility to the feats on screen; especially as the events depicted, from Doss’ training to his actions in Okinawa seem to take place in the space of a week. And while the merit of dialogue and actions that could only exist in film and an opponent being little more than “the enemy” could be argued, a two act structure cannot. A growing trend of late is to present a film of two halves, with an introductory first hour and an action based second hour. It could be said that Doss’ early years, followed by his training and finally his deployment to Okinawa are the three acts but really the plot feels like everything is broken into developments before and after he arrives in Japan.

As stated earlier, the themes and performances are paramount and Garfield gives one of his best as the innocent, courageous and morally resolute Desmond Doss. A less capable actor would have absolutely butchered this role but Garfield manages to present a believable man not so much beyond corruption but able to rise above weakness and highlight man’s better nature. Obviously there’s going to be a lot of Christ-like metaphors and comparisons going on (especially as this is a Gibson picture) and rightfully so, after all Doss is clearly emulating what he believes to be a positive role model while doing his part for the war effort. Interestingly, despite the aforementioned use of clichés, Hacksaw Ridge’s unique selling point is that it sensationalises the heroism of saving a life rather than taking one, even when it indulges in Smitty’s superhuman abilities. Speaking of Smitty, the supporting cast are a bit of a split bunch. As with all war dramas, there’s never enough time to focus on every platoon member, so you end up with a handful of exaggerated personalities: the cocky one, the card shark, the angry Italian/Irish/Jewish one, the religious one, the hick, the cold bastard etc. This film is no different and as decent as the performances are they never really transcend their simplistic trappings. The three noteworthy portrayals, outside of the lead, come from Hugo Weaving’s tormented alcoholic father, Worthington’s decent if vanilla role as Doss’ commanding officer and Vince Vaughn’s attempt to embody the stereotypical shrieking drill sergeant while exuding enough charm for us not to hate him. I would like to elaborate on Teresa Palmer’s role but after her introduction she fades more-and-more into irrelevance, which is regrettable as she started off as an incredibly strong and captivating individual before falling into the standard role of the nerve-wracked doting partner.

Being a period piece, the production value is outstanding, taking care and effort to recreate Doss’ humble life in rural Virginia and the battered, scorched earth of Okinawa. But the real standout of feature is the creative direction and cinematography utilised throughout which depicts how graphically brutal and genuinely terrifying this conflict must have been. What boils down to a rather small scale setting (maybe a handful of key locations) is elevated by the exceptional camera work and interesting flare on display, giving everything a grander scope and status. The minimal use of CGI is also extremely welcome, making for a very real and visceral finished production. All of which is complimented by Rupert Gregson-Williams’ bold score, that relies on the somewhat expected militaristic bugles and drums but also adds a unique contemporary touch to ensure it stands out from the usual fare.

On paper there isn’t a great deal about Hacksaw Ridge that singles it out as special but the culmination of a solid script, a talented director, great production design and superb performances ensure it’s a credible movie; more than that, it channels an insane amount of (some would say old fashioned) heart, earnestness and hope that it stands out from the gritty despondence of other releases. And just when you think the film is being a bit naïve and rewriting history, it solidifies its stance with excerpts of interviews with the real-life counterparts. Well played, Hacksaw Ridge.


Release Date:
27th January 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
As the many award nominations confirm, this film is pretty much carried on the back of Andrew Garfield’s performance; subsequently there aren’t many scenes where he isn’t front and centre. But Weaving’s character, Thomas Doss, is interesting if only for the contemporary parallel to Vietnam, Korean and Gulf War veterans and how the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are still very much in the public conscious and treated with a wary fatigue rather than as a glorious victory. As such the crushing sense of loss and displacement Thomas expresses is compelling and reluctantly forcing his way into the tribunal dressed in the Great War uniform he came to despise was a pretty subtle but powerful moment.

Notable Characters:
**Spoilers within**
One support I was very surprised with was Desmond’s brother, Hal. The opening of the film focuses on the relationship between the two brothers, depicting a scrap that gets out of hand when Desmond grabs a brick and clocks his sibling. This action shakes him to the core and starts him down the path of non-violence. This relationship is brought up again when Hal enlists into the army, against the explicit instructions of his father and then he’s never heard from again. Hal Doss does his duty, serves.. wherever and whether he lives or dies is completely ignored. The only thing I could report is that the real-life counterpart was interviewed at the end of the film, so obviously he didn’t die during the war but that’s about it. Very odd. Not sure if it’s a product of a cut scene or two or just an underwritten character but it certainly sticks out.

Highlighted Quote:
“It’s not about what you joined up for, it’s about the lives of every man here. And yours, son”

In A Few Words:
“Despite ticking off every cliché going, Hacksaw Ridge rises above the sum of its parts and presents an incredibly heartfelt and inspiring drama”

Total Score:

4/5

MOONLIGHT

This Is The Story Of A Lifetime

Director
Barry Jenkins

Starring
Alex Hibbert
Ashton Sanders
Trevante Rhodes
Mahershala Ali
Naomie Harris



Based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, Moonlight tells the story of Chiron, a young introverted boy raised in Miami. The story is divided into three acts, separated by a narrative time jump. The first act is titled Little – a derogatory nickname given to Chiron [Hibbert] by classmates for his build and diminutive personality – and introduces us to Juan [Ali] a drug dealer who acts as a mentor and role model for the young boy as he struggles with his sexuality and a fraught relationship with his mother, Paula [Harris]. The second act is titled Chiron and shows us how the titular lead [Sanders] is now a teenager dealing with his mother’s further descent into drug abuse, constant bullying and still trying to get his head around his sexuality. The final act is titled Black and due to the events depicted up until this point, Chiron [Rhodes] has moved away from Miami and entered a life of crime before he is contacted by his childhood friend Kevin [Andre Holland].

One of Moonlight’s greatest achievements is how deftly it highlights the struggle of a young black homosexual man without heavy-handedly or exploitatively focusing on his ethnicity or sexuality. Obviously these elements are central to the character and his arc but one could argue they’re not integral to the story; which illustrates the life of an impoverished withdrawn individual. To clarify, Chiron’s story is a vastly complex and internalised one and it would be all too easy for a lesser filmmaker to clumsily mishandle or skew the elements that shape his life, whereas Jenkins gives equal attention to male role models, growing up in poverty, coping with a familial addict and the draw of crime. In other words, the story is written to demonstrate the events of a young man who happens to be black and gay rather than these things happened because he was black and gay. This whole paragraph shouldn’t need to be written but so few films grasp or convey this simple point that it’s worth praising.

Whenever a film features multiple points in a character’s life there’s always the growing potential for ruination owing to casting and plot progression. Starting with the latter, the content depicted in each era can vary greatly, leaving the flashback/flashforward elements feeling weak or tacked on. Moonlight avoids that altogether by drawing up each act like its own short film with an introduction to character and setting, a captivating middle and a satisfying conclusion; all while evenly furthering the overall character arc. As with the narrative, the performances can also differ wildly, leaving this central character a muddled mess. Thankfully the six actors playing the ageing roles of Chiron and Kevin respectively are equally masterful in their own right. There’s enough similarity between them without relying on an unrealistic lack of personality evolution or overt mannerisms/ticks that would identify them to the audience. More than that, there’s isn’t a single bad performance throughout this entire feature. Everyone from the leads to the supports are on fine form, offering interesting and enthralling portrayals; most notably Ali and Harris, who are astonishingly compelling.

On top of the fine writing and brilliant acting, the technical aspects are superbly executed. The cinematography is gripping and beautiful, with each act having its own subtly unique grading. Shots hold wonderfully and often forces the audience to confront actors face-on, in an almost POV perspective. What’s more, the use of focus is exceptional, often utilising an extremely shallow depth of field to blur out Chiron’s world, bringing certain subjects into focus as if stepping into clarity. The sound design plays an equally vital role, if only because Chiron’s word-count is extremely low and the audience is forced to sit in the uncomfortable ambient hum of air conditioners, street buzz or the lapping of the ocean. That is, when Nicholas Britell’s score isn’t dazzling us with its extremely subtle and eloquent melodies.

The only possible flaw is that some will find it slow. I will concede that the film unabashedly progresses at its own pace and makes no attempt to appease impatient audience expectations. As such, if the story requires a build of tension or drawn-out subdued introspective reflection, it will unapologetically take the time to explore them; as well it should. Obviously, this will not appeal to some cinemagoers. Outside of that Moonlight is frankly as close as one can get to a perfect film.


Release Date:
17th February 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
**Spoiler-filled paragraph**
Two points to note, both spoiler heavy. The first is how Moonlight does the same thing as A Monster Calls and indulges the audience with a cathartic lashing out but then illustrates the frank injustice as the victim is punished. For too long cinema has tended to reward audiences with an upbeat conclusion to vengeance when the truth of the matter is that it only complicates matters further. On top of that, we have the ending itself, which, contrary to what I’ve just said, bucks the trend and offers us a somewhat hopeful close. As the third act unspooled I was convinced something awful would happen. As such I was extremely surprised and pleased by the maturity with which the final conversation is handled and the simplicity of the two closing shots. We don’t know what happens next, we don’t know if Chiron goes back to his life of crime or if he escapes it. We don’t know if Kevin and Chiron will be together but for that moment, everything is right with the world. Much like the end of Rocky, as we witness the emotional peak, it almost doesn’t matter what comes next.

Notable Characters:
The three iterations of Chiron are astounding in their own unique way. I read that Hibbert, Sanders and Rhodes weren’t allowed to meet each other until the film was done, to ensure they did not influence one another’s performances and I commend this action wholly. It is evident these dramatically different portrayals contribute to make up the same individual based on the subtle nuances of the performances, without being the exact same performance. Each actor should be immensely proud as, despite age and experience, all three do an equally commendable job.

Highlighted Quote:
“You might be gay but don’t let no one call you no faggot”

In A Few Words:
“A wonderfully crafted release that borders on perfection”

Total Score:

5/5

Cinema City Film Quiz #182

[15 January 2017]


Winning Team:
Glorious Legitimate Children
Genre – The up-jump of the Hitler Youth

Runners Up:
Adolf-In-Tale… With Sexy Results
Genre – Hitler tries to recruit a master race of dolphins. Drew Barrymore tries to stop him
The Price Is Reich
Genre – Terrifying documentary following Katie Price’s attempt to annexe Poland
Shitler!
Genre – Musical in the style of Oliver!


ROUND I: Pre-Production
1. What is Ace’s profession in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective?
PET DETECTIVE
2. What is the title of the sequel to Monsters Inc.?
MONSTERS UNIVERSITY
3. What are the respective titles of the three most recent Star Trek films? (one point per correct answer)
STAR TREK / STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS / STAR TREK BEYOND
4. What colour is Cinderella’s gown in the Disney animated film of the same name?
BLUE
5. Who played the title role in 2012’s Lincoln?
DANIEL DAY LEWIS
6. Ben Stiller and Robin Williams play the roles of Larry Daley and President Theodore Roosevelt in which franchise?
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM
7. The following quote is from which film, “Malcolm was right, life finds a way”?
JURASSIC PARK
8. Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara are the lead characters in which classic film?
GONE WITH THE WIND
9. Which actor played the role of Bronson in the 2008 film of the same name?
TOM HARDY
10. Roy Scheider appeared as Martin Brody in how many Jaws films?
TWO


ROUND II: Filming [Tom Hanks Special]
1. While in enemy territory the eponymous Inglourious Basterds are tasked to scalp Nazis. How many scalps per solider are required? 50? 100? 500?
ONE HUNDRED
2. Which of the following did not appear in Bryan Singer’s Valkyrie? Tom Wilkinson? Bill Nye? Jim Broadbent?
JIM BROADBENT
3. What is the title of Hitler’s song in the musical Springtime For Hitler in The Producers? The Far Right Stuff? Heil Myself? Do You Reich Me?
HEIL MYSELF
4. When Steve Rogers is first sent to Europe in Captain America: The First Avenger, which country is he sent to? The Netherlands? France? Italy?
ITALY
5. Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier and James Mason starred in which film about clones of Hitler? The Plot To Kill Hitler? The Winds Of War? The Boys From Brazil?
THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL
6. According to Professor Broom in Hellboy, Hitler didn’t die until which year? 1946? 1958? 1987?
1958
7. What was the title of the direct-to-DVD sequel to Timecop about travelling back to kill Hitler? Timecop 2: The Berlin Decision? Timecop 2: Operation Hitler? Timecop 2: The Final Solution?
TIMECOP 2: THE BERLIN DECISION
8. 2002’s Max, starring John Cusack and Noah Taylor, was a production funded by which three countries? Ireland, Germany, Austria? Britain, Hungary, Canada? Australia, France, Denmark?
BRITAIN, HUNGARY, CANADA
9. What is The Downfall’s full original title? Voraus? Herunter Fallen? Der Untergang?
DER UNTERGANG
10. The train at the start of Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade has Doctor Fantasy’s Magical Caboose. This was a reference to the name producer Frank Marshall used to practice magic under. True or False?
TRUE


ROUND III: Post-Production
1. How many historical figures do Bill and Ted recruit for their history report in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure?
EIGHT (Napoleon, Billy the Kid, Socrates, Sigmund Freud, Genghis Khan, Joan of Arc, Abraham Lincoln, Ludwig Van Beethoven)
2. What was Oddjob’s nationality in Goldfinger?
KOERAN
3. Which actress played Sarah Conner in The Terminator and T2: Judgement Day?
LINDA HAMILTON
4. The following quote is from which film, “Yeah, that’s perfectly clear, Mickey. Just give me one minute to confer with my colleague. Did you understand a single word of what he just said”?
SNATCH
5. How many people made up the speaking cast of stop-motion film Anomalisa?
THREE (David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan)
6. What did Ron Howard direct in between The Paper and Ransom?
APOLLO 13
7. In 2007’s Waitress, Jenna (played by Keri Russell) works at a diner creating unusually titled desserts inspired by events in her life. What type of desserts does she make?
PIES
8. Which actor plays the role of Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows?
JARED HARRIS
9. How many slave-owners hold the lease on Solomon Northup in 12 Years A Slave?
TWO (William Ford / Edwin Epps)
10. Which actor appeared in The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus, The Social Network and The Amazing Spider-Man 2?
ANDREW GARFIELD


ROUND IV: Promotion & Release
1. Bravo 14 was the fake/working title for which film? Monuments Men? Suicide Squad? Zombieland?
SUICIDE SQUAD
2. As a retirement prank, in Falling Down, Sergeant Prendergast’s colleagues fill the desks of his draw with what? Sand? Cement? Fish?
SAND
3. Paul Newman and Kris Kristofferson have both played which role? Billy The Kid? Douglas MacArthur? Robert E Lee?
BILLY THE KID (The Left Handed Gun and Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid)
4. What was the name of Walt Disney’s first studio which was founded in 1921 and filed for bankruptcy in 1923? Laugh-O-Gram? Walt’s Dream Machine? Side Splittas?
LAUGH-O-GRAM
5. Which of the following films was not directed by the Coen brothers? Blood Simple? Welcome To Collinwood? The Hudsucker Proxy?
WELCOME TO COLLINWOOD
6. Drive was released in which year? 2009? 2011? 2012?
2011
7. The following quote is from which film, “I have reordered time. I have turned the world upside down and I have done it all for you. I am exhausted from living up to your expectations”? Alice Through The Looking Glass? Blade Runner? Labyrinth?
LABYRINTH
8. Robert Zemeckis directed how many motion capture releases? 2? 3? 4?
THREE (The Polar Express, Beowulf, A Christmas Carol)
9. Edward Norton and Naomi Watts appeared in which romantic drama, set in 1920’s China? The Painted Veil? The Lotus And The Lilly? Tears Of The Swan?
THE PAINTED VEIL
10. Jimmy Stewart’s middle name was Maitland. True or False?
TRUE


BOUNS IMAGE ROUND
Screenshots: Guardians Of The Galaxy / American Hustle / 10 Cloverfield Lane / The Hangover Part II
Poster: The Place Beyond The Pines
Actor: Bradley Cooper


LIVE BY NIGHT

Witness The Price Of The American Dream

Director
Ben Affleck

Starring
Ben Affleck
Sienna Miller
Zoe Saldana
Elle Fanning
Chris Messina



Joe Coughlin [Affleck] returned from fighting World War I in France and became a low-level hoodlum who falls in love with the Irish mob boss’ girl, Emma [Miller]. Word gets to the Italian mob of the liaison and Joe is blackmailed to take out the head of the rival Irish mob. The situation develops and Joe is then sent down to run rum production in Miami. Committed to the criminal life, Joe deepens his ties by dating Cuban gangster Graciela Corrales [Saldana] but for every step ahead, his past is catching up with him just as quickly.

Live By Night isn’t hard to critique; at its core is one glaring issue which completely ruins what could have been a decent period gangster flick. The issue in question is less what’s in the film and more what was left out. As an adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s 401 page novel, there was obviously going to be a great deal that needed to be axed but whether through scripting or editing, a potentially engaging three hour epic (or TV miniseries) has been utterly mutilated with rushed pacing and developments that are introduced and dismissed with amazing speed. The finished product is like a lengthy sizzle reel or extremely extended trailer for something greater; imagine condensing all five seasons of Boardwalk Empire into one movie. Sure, it’s possible but you’d lose far too much. Admittedly, Affleck does a great job retaining the most prominent plot points but they are all far too rushed to enjoy, meaning at least four separate films are present in this release but boiled down to half an hour segments. We’ve got the Irish/Italian mob story, tracking a World War I veteran’s criminal actions in 1920’s Boston while falling in love with the boss’ main squeeze, the Miami bootleg film which talks about the political divide of the prohibition scene in the southern states and relations between the United States and Cuba, a separate film about criminals trying to legitimise their enterprise for the eventual day when their product becomes legal while being met with resistance in the form of religious extremists and finally a story about a gangster running from his past, trying to get out and live a decent life, hoping he can outrun his sins. So, for those keeping track, that’s Gangs Of New York, Scarface, The Long Good Friday AND Carlito’s Way in one two hour film!

Amazingly, everything else is pretty wonderful. The production design is great, demonstrating some eclectic styles from the 1920’s and 30’s as well as the climate change which shifts from thick dark suits and long wool coats to white linen pieces and straw hats. The shift of location also changes the entire cinematographic colour palate from the overcast Boston skies to the sun kissed bayous of Florida, which keeps the film feeling somewhat fresh. Once again, Affleck highlights his directorial deftness, shooting the conversations with ease and handling the action scenes masterfully; knowing exactly when to keep the camera close and when to pull back is such a talent for a director and one most cannot master but one Affleck has never had a problem with. Which brings us to the casting; so many fantastic names giving marvelous bite-size performances. Each shift in location and narrative introduces us to another great character portrayed by an extremely talented actor. The only one that seems to be a little questionable is Affleck himself. Experience has bred confidence and owing to his success in leading and helming The Town and Argo, one wouldn’t be surprised that Affleck cast himself in the lead role but I think if Joe Coughlin was given to another actor, Affleck could have focused solely on directing and really brought out a fantastically interesting and thrilling performance. That isn’t to say he’s done a bad job but his tone jumps around a little erratically and as decent as it is, it would have been nice to see a different face in that part.

But all of this is moot as every single positive point is presented with the caveat: “if we had time to explore it/them.” The production value is amazing, if we had time to explore it. The cinematography is rich and capable, if we had time to explore it. The story raises a lot of interesting narrative threads, if we had time to explore them. So many amazing actors are given interesting roles, if we had time to explore them. And it’s such a fundamental and brutally cutting problem that it genuinely sullies the entire release.

I wouldn’t say this is a crippling blow to Affleck’s career as a director; on the contrary, I feel he is still an absolutely astonishing director and eagerly look forward to his next project but I think there should have been an honest assessment of the source material and if the film needed to run for three hours, to let it run. What we have here is the impression of a decent film sliced up into a moderately acceptable one. For the positive elements, Live By Night is definitely worth a watch but be prepared for a structurally bent and buckled release which will no doubt leave you feeling hollow and forlorn for what could have been.


Release Date:
13th January 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
One section of this movie’s many narratives takes place after Joe has established himself as a successful crime lord. He runs the Miami rum operation with precision and largely without incident. Foreseeing the end of prohibition, he concocts the idea to build a casino, pressing the mob’s paid-off judges and officials to legalise gambling and construct a major casino. Everything is lining up well but is immediately ruined by a two-armed flanking of religious extremists in the form of the Ku Klux Klan and a young female evangelist. The whole segment is great as Joe is constantly bombarded with problems, first of all getting the boss to sign off on the idea, then the KKK who oppose the idea of a successful club for Central Americans and black people before finally getting to an abuse victim turned religious zealot who preaches against the vice of gambling. The frustration of getting the law and the public on board with your ill-gotten gains, only to be stopped by bigotry and firm held beliefs is just superb, especially as the moral area is so grey that you don’t exactly know who to root for.

Notable Characters:
Out of such a huge, impressive cast, it’s an immense disappointment that they were only on-screen for such a brief period and when we edged closer to some really interesting development, they’re almost always killed off in the form of a climactic shootout or a completely underplayed voiceover. Personally I found the role of R.D. Pruitt by Matthew Maher particularly endearing – if that’s the appropriate phrase. He’s a despicable individual but he’s portrayed brilliantly with a decent amount of humour, absurdity and wildness. As mentioned in my highlighted scene, the KKK don’t take kindly to establishments for people of colour and find involvement from “papist gangsters” wholly unwelcome. While most grind their teeth, one of the more colourful characters of their order, R.D. Pruitt, takes it upon himself to mask up and wantonly shoot up bars and casually chuck pipe-bombs into speakeasies whilst simultaneously a sixty per cent cut of the profits. Given enough time to develop, Pruitt would have been an interesting and impressively deceptive adversary.

Highlighted Quote:
“I do play chess, my father taught me, and what you need to remember is that the pawn and the king all end up in the same box”

In A Few Words:
“When it works, this film is on fire but for the remainder of the runtime, we’re treated to a glimpse of what could have been a truly spectacular release”

Total Score:

3/5

LA LA LAND

Here’s To The Fools Who Dream

Director
Damien Chazelle

Starring
Emma Stone
Ryan Gosling



Mia [Stone] is a young aspiring actress in Los Angeles, holding down a job as a film studio barista while auditioning for various crap roles that go nowhere. At the same time, we are introduced to supercilious jazz pianist Sebastian [Gosling], who has trouble maintaining employment due to his frustration with other people’s dire, inoffensive playlists. The two bump into each throughout the city at various venues and functions before eventually starting a promising relationship.

In an age when gritty realism is pushed as paramount, there’s something refreshing about an excessively colourful, flamboyant, insanely romantic fantasy. La La Land excels solely because of everything that came before it; it is both a welcome change and part of the growing problem that is the nostalgia-mill, churning out the same old stuff over and over. Everything about this movie is a welcome treat and yet I’ve seen it all before, the drama is fantastical and somewhat cliché, the romance is based on a single perspective point of view and even the chemistry between the leads was already played out brilliantly in Crazy, Stupid, Love. But I’m getting ahead of myself. If nothing else, La La Land is a love letter to old Hollywood. Not just the setting and the clothes but the long uncut shots and choice to film in cinemascope evoke a feeling of the 1950’s. More than that, it gives you clues and even openly shows you some of its influences before proudly proclaiming, “I love this town!” It’s a passionate creation born of an idyllic and possibly naïve representation of a place that simply cannot be, grounded by a relationship which audiences can either relate to or longingly dream about.

As you may have gathered from the synopsis, the story itself is incredibly basic, not only in its execution but its scope. A talented boy meets a talented girl, both have difficulties gaining recognition in their respective pursuits, their relationship blossoms and eventually they have to choose between which brings them the greater level of happiness and satisfaction: the love or the craft. But in its simplistic narrative is the scope for projected relatability, allowing the audience to mirror their own lost opportunities or abandoned dreams, no matter how disparate. As with many passion projects about the creative industry, the script openly deals with the director’s concerns about producing something so nostalgic, self-serving and potentially hated, to which Gosling’s character gives the appropriate response: fuck ’em. Chazelle loves musicals and clearly has a certain penchant for jazz. Rather than shy away from this, the script justifies this fondness by stating that “people love what other people are passionate about” then builds on this arguable truth by talking vibrantly about the history and importance of jazz as an art form which is dying because contemporary audiences don’t appreciate it. Sebastian is so driven in his desire to revive this style that he explains he will open a club where they will play whatever they want as long as it’s pure (paralleled by the earnestness of the script Mia is writing) which is, again, Chazelle telling the audience, the professionals and the very intangible industry itself that he will make what he loves and that’s how it should be. And he’s completely fucking right and I applaud such a statement.. but I still don’t like jazz.

From a technical standpoint, the film is a wonder. The cinematography is great, the direction is delightfully evocative, the production design creates this somewhat non-existent hybrid of a 1950s that never was and a 2010s that exists for a select few. More than that, and crucially for musicals, the sound work is on point. The songs are fantastic but the crew would have had to be on their sharpest guard, thanks to Chazelle’s insistence on utilising old school, more theatre-based visuals. Case in point, early on in the film we are treated to a six minute scene wherein Sebastian walks Mia to her car after a party. The scene is a simple, coy, getting-to-know-you interaction and subtly evolves into a flirtatious tap sequence with a sprawling purple twilight as a backdrop. I don’t think it’s ever really made apparent but the whole sequence is shot continuously. Long shots aren’t unheard of but ones set outside during specific lighting is incredibly demanding and the amount of preparation and discipline involved is an incredible testament to talent.

But as much as everyone will fawn over this release, it has a few core problems that weave throughout; the biggest of which is the blinkered focus. So, like all people in love, the world outside of their own doesn’t exist. We are selfish beings and when something monumental happens to us, the world and its complexities are slung out the window. In this regard, one could justify the lack of supporting characters and subplots but without them, the film is very rigid. A handful of individuals crop up but their motivations and interactions with our leads feel incredibly forced, as if they are simply waiting in the wings to be summoned on stage for but a moment, then ushered back into meaningless obscurity just as quickly. I could also fault Gosling and Stone’s musical abilities, in comparison to a fully trained professional but that doesn’t feel at all necessary and I think both did a tremendous job. And yet, because of this Sebastian-Mia-centric story we aren’t even treated to lengthy routines by other individuals. Everything comes down to their singing, dancing and instrument playing to the degree that any supporting musical act is tuned out by the audience so we can focus on the main exchanges. The film also tries to replicate the optimism of the 1950s but update it with some 21st century pragmatism. In doing so, La La Land will be surprisingly bittersweet for a great many but not enough in my mind. The banking crisis of 2008 led to a disenfranchised generational split in terms of finances, politics and quality of life, the idea of your dream coming true (even at a cost, as the film tries to highlight) feels like distant fantasy. It makes it more frustrating when Sebastian is told “How are you going to be a revolutionary when you’re such a traditionalist?” but seems to garner immense personal success through both routes. What I’m getting at is that by setting the film in contemporary LA, you have to adopt a bit of a rose-tinted view and the audience is already bitter, so any bittersweet finale may feel more optimistic than some would want.

Ultimately, this is a very fun release with two painfully charming performances and a simple endearing story. It’s not going to convert anyone who doesn’t like musicals but as an expression of devotion for a genre and style on life-support, it’s very successful. More than that, the behind-the-scenes drama of getting this release made in the first place, followed by its whirlwind success story, proves that those in the industry with the keys to success are pretty useless and can’t predict anything; for that alone, the film shines marvellously.


Release Date:
13th January 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
**biggest spoiler there is for this film**
One of the reasons everyone is praising this movie is the feeling they leave the cinema with. Chazelle has a keen understanding of this and utislised it just as brilliantly in Whiplash. The whole film builds to one blow-out bold final scene which is frankly magnificent. The strain of the relationship and their budding careers proves too much and Sebastian, having faith that Mia will succeed in her cinematic venture, states that this is how they end. Both profess their love for one another and we jump five years ahead. Mia is a successful actress, revered with the same awe that she placed upon others before her big break. In addition to success, she is also happily married with a child. One evening, her husband notes a club and they investigate. Mia is struck when she recognises the logo as something she designed for Sebastian years prior. Sure enough, his dream club is a hit and plays the exact music that he has always wanted. Catching her eyes, Sebastian is caught off guard and plays a song. The song starts simply enough and transports the audience back to when they first met but we replay every action with an impossibly perfect veneer, it’s the life that never was and never could be, their relationship described, through music, dance and fantastic set design without conflict, all the way through to a fictional marriage, offspring and even to the extent that the happy Mia and Sebastian stumble into the same club to listen to someone else playing the emotionally-charged music. And as the song draws to a close, the sorrowful tones lament what never transpired and before Mia exits, they share one final look and a tiny smile. That scene, in all its exceptional flare, is the reason people will love this movie. Bravo, Mr. Chazelle. Bravo.

Notable Characters:
As I stated, a great flaw of this film is the complete lack of supporting characters and to my mind neither Stone or Gosling outperformed one another. So who am I supposed to highlight? JK Simmons, that’s who. He had a tiny role but he was very funny, so Simmons.

Highlighted Quote:
“Can you believe they turned it into a samba tapas place? Samba. Tapas. Pick one, do it right”

In A Few Words:
“La La Land is that seemingly perfect couple you really want to hate but can’t help but adore. It emulates to a fault but that’s probably its only flaw”

Total Score:

4/5

HIDDEN FIGURES

Meet The Women You Don’t Know, Behind The Mission You Do

Director
Theodore Melfi

Starring
Taraji P Henson
Octavia Spencer
Janelle Monae
Kevin Costner
Jim Parsons
Kirsten Dunst



The eponymous hidden figures of this movie are three individuals working for NASA in the early 1960’s: computing supervisor Dorothy Vaughan [Spencer], engineering specialist Mary Jackson [Monae] and mathematician Katherine Goble [Henson]. Despite their exceptional talent and commitment to the space program, they are held back every step of the way by segregation, racial oppression and gender bias. With the Soviet Union making leaps and bounds in their own interstellar achievements, the American government grow increasingly frustrated with NASA’s lack of progress. In an effort to catch up, Space Task Group director Al Harrison [Costner] must push his team to crack the mathematic code and seemingly do the impossible (noting that it must be possible as the Russians have already done it). Thanks to her brilliant mind, Goble is put to work in a key position but both the colour of her skin and her gender immediately cause friction with the sitting scientists and she is met with prickly condescension and derision.

Unlike similar space race or .. race race films (take Apollo 13 or Selma), there is a deceptive air of fun running throughout which removes a great deal of the tension. This is achieved by spinning the frank and degrading horrors of segregation with subtle humour and sass. Goble’s assignment to the main facility is a wonderful promotion and fantastic opportunity but it is instantly marred when it becomes apparent that the bathrooms provided are for whites only, meaning that in order to relieve herself, Goble has to run nearly half a mile to the sister site. Again, this is a horrid fact, a hideous part of American history that can never be forgotten or overlooked but to avoid browbeating a contemporary audience (many of whom wouldn’t be old enough to have experienced such nationally endorsed division) it’s played in a light-hearted fashion with quick cuts, weather changes and an upbeat yet urgent melody. Using humour to deflect the unpleasantness of the fact works on two levels, as we get to laugh at the absurdity of the situation, thanks to our supposedly evolved hindsight and when the situation is finally brought to a confrontational head, the film takes a dramatic turn and effectively shouts, “Shame on you for laughing, this was a horrible ordeal and as much as you may think society has moved on, a great deal of it hasn’t.” But once again, that lack of browbeating shines through and a positive message is reinforced, ensuring that the only emotions one exits the cinema with will be ones of joy, hope and pride.

I’m still not entirely sure if fun is the right word to be using so I’ll use positivity instead. This positivity is well utilised but raises a few problems. The whole film is one giant message for togetherness, illustrating how much humanity is capable of if divisiveness is abandoned. Unless you’re Russian. Now, I appreciate that a line of dialogue stating anything pro-Russia would have felt anachronistic but while we’re all nodding that inclusion is better than exclusion and that our brightest and best can come from any background, we still maintain the “us and them” competitive mentality of the space race. So with a combination of a hopeful endearing story and hypocritical undertones of the bitter rivalry of two nuclear powers we end up with one of Hidden Figures’ biggest flaws: predictability. Nothing about this film is narratively challenging. Everything unfolds exactly as one would expect, robbing developments of suspense or real dramatic weight. Yet I think this might have been a somewhat intentional move. As stated earlier, a lot of attention has been paid to the script to ensure that the overriding impact of this film is one of optimism. The movie doesn’t skirt around the Civil Rights movement but it treats it with a secondary priority, as if to highlight that these women used patience and intelligence to succeed in spite of everything around them in their own way; in other words, chipping at the whitewashing of history to illustrate that a lot of people were combatting oppression in a lot of different ways, rather than just the ones shown in other movies.

For the most part, Hidden Figures is commendably shot. The production value is great, down to the costumes, hair, furniture and technology replicated on screen but either there was a problem with our print of the film or a lot of shots were wildly out of focus and hazy, which is unusual for a film with this kind of budgetary price tag. Both the editing and musical score were commendable, ensuring the pacing never dragged over the two hour runtime but neither managed to achieve anything truly gripping. Which, alongside the predictability is another fundamental drawback of this release, it rarely deviates from safe execution. From the scripted outbursts, to the elevating highs, everything is contained in an almost clinical environment which is mirrored by the film’s vanilla presentation.

The real heart and soul of this film are the fantastic central performances. Henson, Monae and Spencer are thoroughly charming and endear you to them in spectacular fashion in their introductory scene alone – but I’ll expand on that later. The supporting characters, on the other hand, are a little trickier to assess; largely for their simplistic dimensionality. On the one hand we have the leads’ respective friends and family who serve as loosely motivational points at best. Then we have all the white people. Now, I’m hardly ignorant of the past, I have no problem with depicting white people for being the shits they/we were. I also fully appreciate that any on-screen representation of any bullying or racism is watered down at best. But the film has limited time to introduce these bigoted individuals and then turn them around to the point that we can at least partly get behind them, so what we end up with are pretty bland caricatures. Costner’s hard-on-the-outside soft-on-the-inside role is acceptable but far from challenging, Kirsten Dunst plays a similar overseer who thinks and acts prejudicially but is in denial about her own intolerance and Jim Parsons plays a dick. Just.. just a two dimensionally written dick. None of them have the spite or menace to warrant the label of antagonist, they’re just examples of the day-to-day obstacles these women have had to endure since birth. But the performances aren’t good. They’re boring.

To summate, Hidden Figures is a pleasant and uplifting film which advocates learning and exceptionalism while praising unity in search of a common goal. For its minor flaws, it more than makes up for it with heart-warming developments and appealing characters.


Release Date:
17th February 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
While the opening scene is technically a flashback, the first scene introducing us to the three leads sets the tone perfectly. Goble, Jackson and Vaughan have broken down on their way to work and the brief interactions between them highlight exactly what kind of personality and skillsets they all possess. The era and location are equally set with subtle brilliance when a police car approaches and treats the three women in distress as suspects. Only a few minutes into the film and we’ve already established pretty much everything we need to know to understand these women, their jobs and the daily plight they face in an intolerant society.

Notable Characters:
Rather than pour over the amazing lead trio, I thought I’d focus on a bit of a weird oddity. Glen Powell plays the role of astronaut John Glenn. But he is portrayed in the way a child would describe an astronaut. Glenn is this ridiculous all-American hero who’s kind, brave, charming, courageous, polite, smart and seemingly the only person who is not a racist. I mean, he’s how Superman tends to be portrayed in comics and again, adds to this impending sense of predictability. There’s no way such a man could fail to succeed. He trusts Goble and her figures, he’ll get the mission done. I have no idea why it bothered me. There’s nothing to say this wasn’t a reasonable depiction of Glenn but the cynical part of me felt like he was elevated to exceptional heights so we have an excuse to root for him, rather than having our heroines working on a rocket for a bigoted astronaut.


Highlighted Quote:
“Three negro ladies are chasing a white police car in Virginia 1961, that right there is a God ordained miracle”

In A Few Words:
“A thoroughly heart-warming and motivational release let down only by a certain lack of urgency”

Total Score:

4/5

SILENCE

Sometimes Silence Is The Deadliest Sound

Director
Martin Scorsese

Starring
Andrew Garfield
Adam Driver
Yosuke Kubozuka
Issei Ogata
Tadanobu Asano
Liam Neeson



In the early 1600s the nation of Japan effectively closed its borders and outlawed foreign influence. One of the most devastating effects of this decision was the execution of those who had converted to Christianity. The Jesuit priests and missionaries who took the island as their home were tortured and ordered to recant their faith. Word reaches Portugal of one such priest, Father Ferreira [Neeson], who has openly apostasised and taken up the life of a Japanese native. Two of his young students, Fathers Rodrigues [Garfield] and Garrpe [Driver] believe this to be little more than scandalous slander and request permission to travel to Japan and uncover the truth. Doing so will put their lives at risk but they believe their faith will see them through. The priests make their way to Japan with an alcohol-sodden despot named Kichijiro [Kubozuka] and find a series of townships practicing their religion in secret. The longer the men stay in Japan, the greater the risk of their discovery and as those around them are interrogated and persecuted, both men begin to question the value and validity of their cause.

Silence is an incredibly thought provoking film from a director who has been tussling with his own doubts, concerns, fears and faith for his entire cinematic career. With such a melting pot of ideas about religion, xenophobia, foreign invasion, finding ones mentor and enduring gruesome horrors, this movie feels very reminiscent of Shogun, The New World, The Mission and Apocalypse Now. To break down the plot to its barest of elements reveals it’s less a story and more an assessment of stubbornness and faith, and the merits and detriments of both. I always maintain that cinema is an experience first and entertainment second, as such I feel this is not a film to be loved or loathed, it’s one to be experienced and poured over. Naturally, that’s not exactly the most popular theory so a lot of cinemagoers will find this film to be slow, tedious and extremely long.

At the heart of this film is an array of great performances. The characters themselves are incredibly complex despite their simplicity, divided between the faithful and those who want to stamp it out. As with the majority of Scorsese’s releases, this film is dominated by a central individual with whom we experience the story and Garfield fills the role with a wealth of energy and fervour. The supporting cast give some truly wonderful performances from the charming and deceptively upbeat inquisitor, Inoue Masashige [Ogata], to the mercurial and layered guide Kichijiro and the polite but pragmatically cruel interpreter [Asano]; not to mention the various devotees who live in constant fear of their allegiances being discovered. The only improvement I could see would be to switch Driver with Garfield. Adam Driver did a marvellous job as Rodrigues’ colleague, Garrpe, giving us a portrayal of fear, anxiety, doubt, frustration, courage and despair. That’s not to say these qualities weren’t present in Garfield or that he did a poor job, I just feel the actors would have been better suited to the other’s respective character.

As with most period dramas, the production value is superb. From the costumes to the sets, to the hair and make-up, everything lives and breathes with an air of authenticity. Equally, the cinematography is stunning, offering an initially stark and cold look at this mysterious distant island before slowly giving way to intense daylight and gruelling heat as Rodrigues’ time in Japan progresses. It may not sound like much but ensuring a film maintains a uniform look and feel with such dramatic changes in weather and lighting is far from easy. One key thing to highlight is a notably interesting use of editing. Scorsese has never been one to care about continuity, to the extreme that people entering through a door will often switch places between cuts, but more-so than that the jumps between developments are sometimes jarring but in an almost justifiable way. Whereas we would immediately slate this action as incompetence or negligence, here it’s merely a reflection and extension on the nature of torture and endurance (both of which play a huge part in this movie) manifesting disorientation and lost time. Ultimately, as the inquisitor has orders to eradicate Christianity from Japan a simple execution is denied Rodrigues and suddenly the clean martyr’s death that he may have expected is replaced with the suffering of others in his name; which gives way to such a poignant conversation about pride, guilt, arrogance and the lengths people will go to in order to preserve their way of life.

I will acknowledge this film is far from perfect. Much in the same way The Revenant was a fantastic release but left a lot to be desired, Silence commits its own acts of arrogance, some of which stem from the source material. First of all, a lot of people are going to find this film excessively long. Granted, the two and a half hour runtime isn’t uncommonly protracted but the crawling, meticulous pacing will take some audience members by surprise. In truth, I think the story really does need all 161 minutes, if only to draw out Rodrigues’ suffering and illustrate how much he has to endure to justify the film’s epilogue. Regrettably, one of the most important factors in any release, the music, is wanting. There were only a handful of occasions that I became aware of the background score and even when I was, it felt largely ambient. For me, with such a laboured unfolding of plot, a strong musical presence would have really elevated everything. Finally, we have to talk about the notion of the book itself. The novel, Silence, was written by Shusaku Endo, a Japanese Catholic dealing with his own religious turmoil and discriminations, and yet there is still the potential for this story to come off as very one-sided. It’s clearly documented how Japan treated foreigners during Sakoku but with the only spokesmen being the wellborn committee of sneering, peasant-hating governors, there’s no second side of the argument about an aggressive foreign campaign to convert a sitting religion. Although one could argue that a certain character’s (trying to stay spoiler free here) bridging between the two cultures and the head-butting exchanges serve as the counterpoint.

Personally, I think Silence is a spectacular passion project (one which Scorsese has been trying to make for twenty plus years) and one that speaks bluntly about the difficulties of being a religious individual. What’s more its release is perfectly timed as waves of isolationism, mistrust and religious discord are at an all-time high. The more we step toward a truly global society, the more there will be people who want to resist it (for whatever reason) and at its most extreme resistance we have what happened to Japan in the 17th century, a complete shutting of all borders with no one arriving or leaving without extreme personal risk. As with all passion projects, the results will please a select group of people but as a thoughtful and patient piece of cinema, I think it’s a triumph.


Release Date:
3rd January 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
In between the various scenes of torture are a handful of conversations and musings on the nature of God, religion and devotion. A particularly noteworthy exchange takes place between a fatigued Rodrigues and the inquisitor. To explain his feeling about foreign influence, Inoue recounts a story about a great lord who had four warring concubines and only found peace when he banished them all. He goes on to draw a parallel between the lord and the nation of Japan and the concubines being England, Holland, Spain and Portugal. Rodrigues counters with the notion of the lord adopting a single consort in the form of a wife whom he loves, only for Inoue to retort that by that example, Christianity is an ugly wife and it would not suit the lord at all. It’s a very plainly shot sequence but wonderfully enacted, giving a clear sense of two equally stubborn points of view. The real difference, that hadn’t been fully explored up until that point is how seemingly hopeless Rodrigues’ case is. Throughout the whole thing, the Portuguese priest is treated hospitably but it is merely a veneer. In actuality, he is little more than a prisoner of war and one who can be used to great advantage if he falls in line. Throughout the whole thing, Rodrigues is passionate, restless, tired and emphatic (partly due to the way he has been psychologically damaged by the torture) whereas Inoue maintains an air of calm and control throughout, always giving the impression that he has the upper hand. A prime example of a brilliant cast and crew firing on all cylinders without relying on flashy angles, cutting or gimmicks.

Notable Characters:
**Spoiler elements within**
The most interesting character, for his many flaws, questionable motivations and split loyalty is the vagabond, Kichijiro. The film offers so many questions to the internal workings of this man but it seems almost impossible to answer any of them with conviction. It’s hard to know if he genuinely renounces his own sins or if he simply plays each side to his own advantage. Once his backstory is revealed it clouds his motivations even more and serves to illustrate the burrowing power of religion, which seemingly reappears even when all trace is supposedly lost or suppressed. All of which is down to a fantastic script and an outstanding performance from Kubozuka.


Highlighted Quote:
“The hard thing is to die for the miserable and corrupt”

In A Few Words:
“Despite a few questionable missteps, Silence is a masterful film reminiscent of a style long since absent from contemporary releases”

Total Score:

4/5

ASSASSIN’S CREED

Your Destiny Is In Your Blood

Director
Justin Kurzel

Starring
Michael Fassbender
Marion Cotillard
Jeremy Irons



The following is a bias disclaimer. I adore the Assassin’s Creed video games.. obsessively. Some would say this means I am best fit to scrutinise this release, others that my impartiality will be skewed. In truth, I cannot separate myself from my vast familiarity of the franchise so trying to experience this film without knowledge of the unspoken nuances, Easter eggs and probable future direction is frankly impossible. Bear this in mind.

At a young age Callum Lynch [Fassbender] witnessed the death of his mother, at the hands of his father, and has been in and out of correctional facilities ever since. His criminality finally catches up with him after he is sentenced to death for the murder of a pimp. Following the lethal injection he awakes in a privately owned facility in Madrid, Spain, run by the Abstergo company. Scientist Sophia Rikkin [Cotillard] explains that for all intents and purposes he is dead to the world but she needs his help. Abstergo are in possession of a machine called the animus which allows them to filter through the distinct coding in his DNA and access the memories of any individual he has descended from. Specifically they are interested in one particular ancestor who was the last known keeper of an artefact called the Apple of Eden, which is fabled to hold the key to subduing violence and aggression in humanity. With little choice in the matter, Callum is put into the machine and experiences the actions, emotions and memories of his ancestor Aguilar de Nerha who operated as an assassin for a secret brotherhood in fifteenth century Spain.

Adaptations in general have a record for being notoriously bad, either injecting a story that was never there or trying to oversimplify a much deeper experience. Over time we have seen an improvement in the treatment of certain adaptations; most recently with comics, proving you just need the right climate, execution and support. Video games have evolved from being puzzle based to story based and while there are still plenty of puzzle-centric games out there, a lot of the medium is driven on interesting characters and narratives as much as challenging objectives. As such, the transition to cinema has been simplified and over time we will no doubt see more video game adaptations that feel pretty close to the source material. Yet there is still one major flaw. As the gaming world developed, the stories employed were expanded to cover the 40+ hours of gameplay (without including things like side quests and secondary objectives). And though the video gaming world is trying new things, cinema hasn’t changed format dramatically for decades, so anything over two or three hours is considered rather long. Subsequently, condensing so much gameplay and lore into one film is always going to be a challenge and along the way, you are going to lose certain audience members. In my opinion, Assassin’s Creed is not only the best video game adaptation to date (which isn’t actually saying much), it’s a fantastic and highly entertaining feature. Having said that, its biggest weakness is that it inherits almost all of the flaws from the game, which fans will be able to overlook but newcomers may not.

To my mind, Kurzel gets so much right. If I were to draft up an Assassin’s Creed adaptation that took into account the gameplay mechanic, storytelling method and a whole host of tick-boxes that needed to be present, it wouldn’t look very different. In order to separate this critique, let’s initially divide the narrative between its contemporary and historic settings. Even in the games, the events in the present are bemoaned the most, to the degree that they appear less-and-less with every passing release. Having said that, understanding how the animus works (as well as the motivation for creating it) is so vitally important that to simply set it entirely in the past would be absurd. The film wastes no time in explaining the seriousness of the world Callum has grown up in and the centuries-long blood feud that he is unwittingly part of. The acting is extremely competent but I will admit there isn’t a great deal present to build on and none of the individuals involved ever really have to step outside of their respective comfort zones. The clear, overarching theme is children paying for the sins of their fathers and whether, given the choice, they would choose to continue their parent’s work or petulantly defy it altogether. The Abstergo institution is a wonderfully designed, cold installation littered with masses of artefacts, research and nods to the video games. The level of detail and care taken by the production design crew is impressive, with each room ranging from calming psychiatric care facility to high-tech prison; not to mention the corridors which reveal the old stone foundations on which this new structure is built upon – again, a running theme throughout. There will be certain hardcore fans who will balk at the animus rig (replacing the Matrix-style loungers) but I applaud it as a way of conveying to the audience how reliving the memories works and a pleasing visual edit between the period elements and modern setting.

Aguilar’s scenes will receive the lion’s share of the praise owing to the levels of action and general break from exposition. The locations, sets, costumes and props are all of an amazing quality and instil a rich level of realism and depth. More than that, enhancing the immersion, everything that takes place in Andalucía is presented in Spanish. I can’t tell you how much I love this. Too often audiences are subjected to pony accents or second-language deliveries for fears of certain people not wanting to read subtitles. This language divide, coupled with the strong colour palate and visual styling that contrasts with the modern setting, makes for a clear and exciting vision. I say clear.. I appreciate there’s an exceptionally large amount of smoke and I, for one, do not have a problem with that, especially as the events depicted are supposed to be hazy memories. The acting is brilliant again, bringing a combination of fanatical devotion on both sides (those of the Assassins and the Templars running the Spanish Inquisition) and terrifically choreographed stunt work to create compelling viewing. The last note I’ll make before getting on to the film’s foibles is Jed Kurzel’s score. I really enjoyed the haunting simplicity of what was done on Macbeth and the beautiful subtly here is just as engaging. Simplistic, thrilling and distinct, it complements the visuals wonderfully.

Other than voraciously absorbing all the flaws of the game there are a handful of issues with this release. First of all, it’s completely merciless when it comes to newcomers or casual viewers. If you don’t commit completely, many people will get lost, confused or irritated with certain developments. Personally, I’m always of the mindset that blockbuster movies go out of their way to slow pacing or development to cater for stragglers and I hate it. As I stated from the start of this review, I can fill in the gaps but I will admit there are certain things that could have been addressed to aid comprehension. Just as an example, in the very first game the main character is informed how the animus works by explaining that our DNA contains the genetic memories of our every ancestor. When the lead calls the idea ridiculous, the head of operations asks how birds know how to migrate and continues that animal instinct is just tapping into an instruction manual built on experience, the animus allows us to go deeper, in much greater detail. Something as simple as that exchange might have offered some expositional clarity; alternatively, it might have just confused matters further. The action deservedly merits a lot of praise but it is marred by two growing industry standards. First of all, we cover too many real achievements with computer generated imagery. I understand the necessity for such things but after a point you can erroneously chalk up a practical triumph to digital effects. Case in point, I heard that this film contains one of the highest freefall stunts in over thirty years but with the extensive use of CGI, you would be forgiven for assuming it was all constructed by computer. Secondly we have the editing. I enjoyed the action sequences but there is a popular Western motif which is to show things from multiple angles but heavily rely on close erratic images and cutting away before anything happens – to make the actors appear to move faster. It has an effect but not one of impact and downplays any importance or urgency. Then we have the unfortunate byproduct of focusing so intently on Callum’s story, drives and motivations, that Aguilar’s complexity suffers. What is sporadically presented to the audience is a single mission in Aguilar’s life, albeit one of extreme emotional significance. Despite this, we don’t really get to know the assassin as much as we could do. This is where the similarities between the film and the game separate as we spend so much time with the assassin in the games that they are clearly the main characters rather than the individual accessing the memories. Granted, Aguilar is very present throughout the film in the form of hallucinations, as Callum’s memories merge with those of his ancestor’s, warping his hold on reality, but this doesn’t really give us any insight into anything about him as a person. We also have franchise problems. Television episodes sow seeds of things to come and are rewarded for their foresight. Films don’t garner the same praise and characters or story elements that will be revisited later are deemed incomplete, unfulfilling or unnecessary. This is far from an isolated incident and as sprawling franchises are planned in advance, they are becoming more prevalent throughout big tent-pole releases. Finally, we have the Warcraft similarities. Warcraft was created by avid fans and released mid-2016 to a fairly lukewarm reception; unless you like the games. Opening text blocks and world-setting prologues can only do so much and having a degree of foreknowledge of the game’s characters, settings or mechanics helps immensely. As with Warcraft, the same can be said of Assassin’s Creed.

Before closing, I appreciate that I am very much in the minority and several other critics have absolutely eviscerated this film. Personally, I can’t understand why. It’s executed with a level of seriousness, the action is predominantly in-camera and well handled, the story is far from simple or dumbed down and the acting has an air of complexity to it. And yet it’s being labeled as dull, often by those who praised mediocre releases like Jurassic World for being fun and Interstellar for being layered; neither of which is entirely true. As a fan, I’m extremely excited by the prospect of future Assassin’s Creed titles with the potential for settings and locations being incredible and exploring the conspiracy-style involvement of the Templars in our own society (Hail Hydra) should be great. To those who are on the fence, I would highly recommend giving it a go if only for the fact that the concept is so much more unique and original than the standard fare.


Release Date:
1st January 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
**Spoilers**
As the film trundled along I was rather happy with everything. Replicating the gaming elements and tropes was nice and never felt forced. The relationships between the fathers of the cause and their offspring was nice and the Spanish events were beautifully crafted. But it wasn’t until the end that I was really filled with a sense of giddy wonder at the future prospects of the film. In truth, if this was something in any other film, I might dismiss it but it ignited the exact same flurry of joy I experience whenever an Assassin’s Creed game gives a nod to where future games may progress. With the animus pushed to its limit and Callum’s brain synching with so many different strands of memories, he is presented with a vision of several ancestors who have served the order throughout history, outfitted in various garb. These aren’t ghosts or visions, they are merely pathways to explore, even the conversation with his own mother isn’t a conversation but a projection from his own subconscious based on her biological coding. I’m sure it baffled a lot of people but as such a fan of the series all I saw was the potential for countless stories and settings that could be utilised in upcoming releases.

Notable Characters:
I love Fassbender, to me the man can do no wrong. Here he plays a resilient, passionate and aggressive man who never processed the sorrows of his life, leading him to an eventual end (in the form of his execution). Additionally, he also portrays the role of this character’s ancestor who, while possessing similar traits, has been nurtured in the fold and harnessed his abilities. The intensity is wonderful, the manipulation he experiences by all involved is decent and he is the perfect person to carry this series forward.

Highlighted Quote:
“People no longer care about civil liberties, they care about standards of life”

In A Few Words:
“An extremely competent, bold and mature video game adaptation that excels masterfully but through its loyalty, inherits all of the source material’s flaws”

Total Score:

4/5

Reviews 2017

[21 July 2017] Dunkirk (2017)

[14 July 2017] War For The Planet Of The Apes (2017)

[05 July 2017] Spider-Man Homecoming (2017)

[22 June 2017] Transformers: The Last Knight (2017)

[19 June 2017] Baby Driver (2017)

[09 June 2017] The Mummy (2017)

[01 June 2017] Wonder Woman (2017)

[26 May 2017] Baywatch (2017)

[25 May 2017] Pirates Of The Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (2017)

[17 May 2017] King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword (2017)

[12 May 2017] Alien Covenant (2017)

[28 April 2017] Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

[12 April 2017] The Handmaiden (2016)

[30 March 2017] Ghost In The Shell (2017)

[29 March 2017] The Lost City Of Z (2016)

[27 March 2017] Free Fire (2017)

[26 March 2017] Life (2017)

[24 March 2017] Power Rangers (2017)

[17 March 2017] Beauty And The Beast (2017)

[09 March 2017] Kong: Skull Island (2017)

[01 March 2017] Logan (2017)

[24 February 2017] A Cure For Wellness (2016)

[16 February 2017] The Great Wall (2016)

[10 February 2017] The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

[26 January 2017] Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

[23 January 2017] Moonlight (2016)

[13 January 2017] Live By Night (2016)

[11 January 2017] La La Land (2016)

[09 January 2017] Hidden Figures (2016)

[04 January 2017] Silence (2016)

[01 January 2017] Assassin’s Creed (2016)