Tag Archives: Review

Alien: Covenant

Movie Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Cast: Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, Billy Crudup, Michael Fassbender

Director: Ridley Scott

Synopsis: The Covenant and its crew are carrying 2,000 colonists towards a new life deep into unknown space. Just like the original Alien, the crew stumble across a distress signal from an unexplored planet. The covenant follows the signal and horror ensues.

Halfway through Alien: Covenant one of the characters declares that ‘if one note is off, the whole symphony fails’. His words are prophetic for the film itself.

Alien: Covenant is an enjoyable film with scares equalling the terrifying Alien.  Unfortunately, Alien: Covenant shares the same problems as Prometheus. It self-proclaims its own profoundness and complexity but buckles under this ambition, resulting in occasionally poor dialogue and plot omissions. Only Scott’s renewed focus upon the monsters distracts you from Covenant’s flaws until the film ends.

The film evades any of the questions raised by Prometheus, concluding without any finality to the Alien arc. The cliff hanger ending was well-delivered, but exposes the whole film to be mere kindling for another sequel. Nor does Alien: Covenant provide an explanation of past events for new viewers.  I found the film engrossing, but Alien: Covenant will confuse the uninitiated, and disappoint fans expecting answers to Prometheus.

Alien: Covenant does have many merits. Scott has repeated the pragmatically futuristic design from Alien, coupled with CGI, to create a grounded and believable world. Alien: Covenant is genuinely terrifying, with Scott returning to the slasher-esque feel of the original as the crew scramble to fight or flee from the monsters. The monsters themselves do fall flat  in earlier scenes where they are clearly computer generated, but their menace grows, especially when they appear in glimmers before snatching their prey.

Scott, when interviewed in a Q and A about Alien, said that if you cast properly for a film you have done half of the work. For Alien: Covenant, Scott stuck to his maxim. The cast is a solid roster who convincingly portray the Covenant’s crew. Danny McBride (Tennessee) and Katherine Waterston (Daniels) stand out from the cast. In the past Waterston has stuck to roles portraying damsels in distress. At Alien: Covenant’s beginning, it seemed that Waterston would repeat that role, but she transforms into the pragmatic leader of the survivors. Danny McBride, known for comedic roles, suits the slightly more serious character in Alien: Covenant. It would be great to see him in similar roles soon.

One of the best aspects of the film is the power play within the Covenant’s crew. Certain characters, as tragedies unfold, either break or harden, letting us witness a power shift between the crew from Alien: Covenant’s beginning to end.

Michael Fassbender, as identical androids David and Walter, delivers a great performance once more. Both characters are mirror opposites of each other, developing a twisted father-son relationship, repeating David’s own relationship with Peter Weyland, the androids’ creator.

Other characters may seem underdeveloped, but Alien: Covenant is a monster film, with a vast cast to boot. Given the circumstances, it would be difficult for many of the characters to be well-developed before they die off. However, the lack of expostion for David causes his surrounding air of mystery to dwindle, transforming him into a vaudeville villain.

David’s character underlines what might be the central flaw of Alien: Covenant and Prometheus. Both films require a near complete focus and prior viewing of Scott’s earlier sci-fi films, to understand and appreciate their stories and themes. Personally, Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, through their focus on artificial intelligence and conflicts between the creator and the created, are spiritual successors to Blade Runner.

For the every-man, Alien: Covenant will likely disappoint and confuse as much as it may entertain.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

 

It Comes At Night -Teaser

Outlook: Spine chillingly good

Director: Trey Edward Shults

Cast: Joel Edgerton, Riley Keough, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr.

In the wake of The VVitch and The Blackcoat’s Daughter, A24 has been developing a fine pedigree in the horror genre. It Comes At Night looks to be the darkest horror film produced by A24 so far.

The film’s premise is that two families, escaping an unknown menace ravaging America, find refuge together in an isolated hut. Yet the threat outside their shelter is quickly overshadowed by the enmity and paranoia which develops between them all.

It Comes At Night is directed and written by Trey Edward Shults, a rising director who gained critical acclaim for his debut film Krisha, about an estranged woman trying to reconnect with her family. Brandishing a larger budget for his second film, Shults has crafted a post-apocalyptic horror which borrows heavily from The Road, which is one of my favourite films. From the teaser trailer alone, both films explore the themes of family, love, and survival in a brooding and eerie post-apocalyptic setting where danger is everywhere. One scene in the teaser trailer, where the camera silently pans down a dimly corridor adorned by family photos, is reminiscent of the cannibal’s house in The Road.

Unlike The Road, where the apocalypse is caused by an unknown cataclysm, It Comes At Night suggests an unknown, but palpable force is sweeping across the world. Horror films have been using the trope of an unseen menace since The Blair Witch Project,  to create the monster in the audience’s own imagination.

Horror based on suggestion is effective but also destructive. The trope creates a subjective expectation of what the menace is, which often surpasses the final reveal and renders a film anti-climatic. The better horror films which rely on suggestion conclude without any revelation. Paranormal Activity did an excellent job in crafting the house’s dark presence without divulging anything at the film’s end.

It Comes At Night bears the challenge of delivering upon the threat outside, without the revelation being disappointing or jarring with plot’s slow-paced tension. Regardless, I am excited to see this film on release, and from the trailer alone, Trey Edward Shults has the potential to be a great director.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

La La Land

La La Land is a joyous movie, brimming with energy, music, and life. The movie follows, both separately and jointly, the lives of ambitious jazz-man Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), and hopeful starlet Mia (Emma Stone). After a meet-cute worthy of a good chuckle and several “chance” encounters, Sebastian and Mia start dating, but as their respective careers take off, their relationship deteriorates. This is writer/director Damien Chazelle’s third feature film and his first after 2014’s tremendous Whiplash.

Hagood’s review

Film Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

I’m a fan of Damien Chazelle. When I heard that he was making a movie with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, I was overjoyed. After seeing Whiplash, I knew he was going to be one of the best directors of my lifetime with his very grounded and certain vision. Watching  La La Land has cemented my admiration for Mr. Chazelle. He has taken his passion for jazz and flawlessly weaved it into two extremely different genre movies, Whiplash and La La Land. The former, a serious drama, and the latter, a lighthearted, musical love story. Despite differences in tone, both films revolve around the world of jazz. While I maintain that Whiplash was the better of the two, mainly for J .K. Simmon’s insane performance as Miles Teller’s band conductor and its triumphant drum-solo-fuck-you climax, La La Land is only slightly less impressive.

La La‘s music is its foundation, which makes sense since it is a musical. However, I hold that it is the music that is this movie’s most impressive attribute. Whether it was the uplifting opening number, “Another Day of Sun” or  the song “Someone in the Crowd” and it’s accompanying pool-party scene, both had me crying with happiness.  My hat is off to composer Justin Hurwitz. In “Someone in the Crowd,” “Another Day of Sun,” and John Legend’s “Start a Fire,” Hurwitz’s music soars, driving the plot along with glee, then with “Mia and Sebastian’s Theme,” “Planetarium,” and “City of Stars,” he slows the music’s momentum but impressively manages to keep all the emotion of the high energy songs.

The most remarkable element of the music is that it’s all original, yet somehow by the end of the movie, I felt that I had known these songs for years. I am no musician so please forgive me if I butcher anything in the coming sentences. Each song is very different in pace and emotion. Some are instrumentals and some are lyrical. Hurwitz mixes the score with a free-form jazz number then goes straight to Legend’s pop-ballad. Yet they all form a cohesive whole and a great album that I’ve listened to several times through over the past two weeks.

I think meshing different styles, whether musical or cinematic, is Chazelle’s strength. With two excellent films under his belt, I am now looking forward to his upcoming movies with the same verve I do of a Christopher Nolan, a David Fincher, or a Ridley Scott film.

Target Audience: Older teenagers, adults

By Hagood Grantham

 

Saul’s review

Film Score: 4 out of 5

Every Sunday growing up, the drive home would be filled with musical numbers from Elaine Paige’s radio show. Each time Elaine’s voice materialised through the speaker, I fought the urge to open the car door, and roll onto the M62.

I have never, nor will I ever, like musicals.

La La Land immediately bursts onto the screen with a dance number of bright colours and happy people spanning the length of a gridlocked highway bridge, to the shimmering mirage of downtown Los Angeles. Watching La La Land begin its ode to the Golden Age of Hollywood and musicals, I felt the same childhood urge of nostalgia to flee.

Though the compulsion to escape quickly passed because La La Land is about two creative people grappling with self doubt, and is an excellent story regardless of the musical pieces. Although, I do admit “City of Stars” has been playing on a loop the last few days. Mia is an actress who feels overlooked by an industry indifferent to her efforts. Sebastian is a jazz musician fixated on saving jazz music, but lives in a world where his art form is outdated and under-appreciated. Through their union, Mia and Seb relent to their fears. Seb accepts a steady income and popularity over his ideal that jazz should remain pure. Mia loses faith in her ability to act, deciding she should return to a more normal life. Both characters blame each other for the collapse of their dreams, splitting the pair.

La La Land shares the same themes as Paterson but reaches a different conclusion. A quaint New Jersey town in summertime is replaced by the nostalgia, glitter and facade of Los Angeles. Paterson and Laura overcome their internal obstacles to succeed together.  Mia and Seb splinter apart, as their relationship is not a nurturing pairing, but a test as to whether they are committed to their respective goals. Personally, I think that both couples in Paterson and La La Land are personas of their directors, in one long dialogue about their own trials.

The visual direction of La La Land melds the styles of  Edward Hopper and Norman Rockwell. A glowing ember of nostalgia, for both Hollywood and America in the 1950’s pervades the film; from the primary colours of cocktail dresses, to the pastel blue sky trimmed by palm trees, to the broad shots of Art Deco architecture. La La Land’s cinematography exudes the warmth of west coast sunshine, leaving me happier for the experience.

 La La Land is at its most compelling when Seb or Mia are pitted against an indifferent crowd. In Seb’s performance at the diner and Mia’s exit from her first audition, no words are uttered but we share in their struggle to be recognised. The camera focuses upon Seb and Mia pouring out their hearts, only to reveal that the crowds around them, both diner and studio corridor, do not care. I have to praise cinematographer Linus Sandgren and director Damien Chazelle, for using crowds to great effect, especially in the final scene where Mia and Seb are the only ones aware that the song playing is their theme. There was a quiet intimacy in their secret understanding of the song’s meaning, which was especially moving.

However, La La Land drags at the end. The ten minutes where we witness how Mia’s and Seb’s lives would have been together, felt unwarranted. Watching the pair react in turn to Seb playing their song, City of Stars, amidst the silent audience of Seb’s jazzclub, would have been enough. Stone is not a good singer and when she did sing, it was somewhere between talking and humming. It detracted from many of the songs, although her acting and charm made up for it.

Target Audience: People who do not like musicals, but want to watch a film as relaxing as yoga.

By Saul Shimmin

 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Remember those secret Death Star plans R2 carried throughout the original Star WarsRogue One: A Star Wars Story is about the Rebels who stole them from the Empire during the darkest of times when the Empire was at its mightiest. The plot sets off with the Rebel Alliance rescuing  Jyn Erso, portrayed by the beautiful and talented Felicity Jones, from an Empire work prison to help contact her father, Galen Erso, played by veteran actor Mads Mikkelsen. Galen is one of the architects who designed the Death Star. The plot rockets away from this moment merrily easing to lightspeed as the movie progresses. Rogue One is directed by Gareth Edwards and was written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy.

Film Score: 4.5 out of 5 (nigh perfect)

Hagood’s Review (Spoilers ahead)

Thanks to Rogue One I now (happily) have a new order to my favorite Star Wars movies: The Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars, Rogue OneThe Force AwakensReturn of the JediRevenge of the SithClones, Phantom. I found few things wrong with it and a galaxy and a half that I like about it.

I’ll start with my criticisms: not enough character development, especially with Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus. I loved them and hurt when they died, but a few minutes more about their backstory would’ve been welcome so the audience could learn why they were kyber crystal guardians and how they came to know one another. Same goes for Cassian and his wonderful sidekick, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). Also, more screen time for the Imperial defector, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed). Why did he defect? How close was he with Galen? How did he escape his post? I realize Mr. Edwards, Mr. Weitz, and Mr. Gilroy had to efficiently tell this story and they did a fantastic job of pacing Rogue‘s plot. I’m just being greedy here and wanting another layer to this rich movie.

To discuss my the parts I enjoyed, I’d like to begin by responding to Joe Morgenstern’s review of the movie in The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Morgenstern harshly criticized Rogue One stating that the movie’s connections to A New Hope and Revenge of the Sith and its “epic echoes are just about all this production has going for it.” He also called the movie’s action “chaotic” and believed the plot and its characters are all too dour. His critiques are all unfounded. The references to the other movies and Rogue‘s cameos were fun Easter eggs, not its basis. The movie’s character’s, plot, and action all stood on their own. If the Rebels were stealing plans to the design of Darth Vader’s Bacta tank in his Mustafar lair instead of the plans to the Death Star, I would’ve been just as intrigued and entertained. The build up to the movie’s climax and its climax were all well written and executed. Also, Mr. Edwards purposefully harried its action. The Rebels designed their attack to distract the Empire’s security and buy Cassian & Jyn time, not to make a sensical, thought-out attack, and their stern expressions and attitudes were a reflection of their lives under the cruel rule of the galactic Empire. As Cassian told Jyn, he’d been fighting for the Alliance since he was six and he’d done terrible things for the Cause. Jyn had been fending for herself with the crazed Saw since roughly the same age. What does Mr. Morgernstern expect of Jyn and Cassian? A god awful scene of frolicking shenanigans like Anakin and Padme on that field on Naboo? Mr. Edward’s tone for the film was right. It’s a war movie with intense sacrifices. Rogue‘s grimness was a welcome change, especially after Finn’s stupid, way-too-modern humor in The Force Awakens. In fact, the no-man-left-alive was one of my favorite facets about the movie. It revealed Disney is still open to taking risks and not making the family-friendly movie people have come to expect of the company with their live-action remakes and comedic and upbeat Marvel characters. I hope Rian Johnson takes Episode VIII in the same direction.

Please, go see this movie. It’s well worth your time if you are above the age of 10.

Recommended Audience: anyone above the age of ten (if you didn’t read the review, its a darker movie than most Star Wars movies).

Saul’s Review (Spoilers too)

I am glad to add Rogue One to Green Room and Paterson as the few exceptions to a disappointing year for Cinema.

Rogue One is the ideal movie for Star Wars fans who loathed the prequels, but found The Force Awakens to be a little underwhelming.

My expectations for Rogue One were fairly low when I bought my ticket. Following the rushed job that Disney had done slotting Doctor Strange into the Marvel Universe. I was worried that Rogue One would simply be a cash-in to tide audiences over until Episode VIII. Felicity Jones, who portrays Rogue One protagonist Jyn Erso, also starred last year in Inferno where Jones’s character and acting stood out as poor. Despite all this, Rogue One is the only major blockbuster I have seen this year that did not disappoint.

Whether by design or coincidence, Rogue One is reminiscent of La Bataille D’Alger, the 1966 film about the Algerian War of Independence from France. The rebels, just like the Algerian freedom fighters, are fighting a superior enemy and take extreme measures to survive. Edwards depicts the Rebellion as a clandestine organisation, willing to kill civilians and its own members if they stray too far. The Empire equalled the rebels with its own infighting, operating like an old European royal court with high ranking officers clambering over one another to seek the Emperor’s ear. During the immediate viewing of the film, I was swept away by Rogue One’s plot. Since then, what has impressed me the most was how the Empire and the Rebellion both internally mirrored and differed from each other.

The rebels constantly felt at a disadvantage throughout Rogue One due to the excellent battle sequences. In every skirmish, the Empire had a clear superiority, with the Rebels clutching at guerrilla tactics and improvisation to stave the Empire off.

Rogue One’s enthusiasm to present the Rebellion in a darker light through Captain Cassian quickly peters out once he is alongside Jyn, with no real explanation why. This is Rogue One‘s sole failing but with such a great plot and cast, it is quickly forgotten.

Finally I remember being terrified of Darth Vader as a child, fast forwarding my VHS tape of A New Hope whenever he appeared. The final scene where Vader storms through the Rebel ship, massacring all within the gloomy corridor, gave me the same sense of dread. I hope Disney makes a Vader spin-off too.

Recommended audience: Die-hard Star Wars fans and anyone who wants to watch a decent blockbuster.

For the trailer see below:

 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Film Score: 1.5 out of 5 (Poor)

Newt Scaramander (Eddie Redmayne) is a British wizard and expert of magical creatures, who has arrived in New York and is bound for Arizona. Through accident and misfortune, Newt plunges into a conspiracy between good and evil. Fantastic Beasts, a prequel to the Harry Potter series, attempts to emulate the original story’s grandiose narrative of good versus evil.

The result is a stunted tale full of omissions which would confuse even ardent Harry Potter fans and will bore younger children attending the film. Unlike the original Harry Potter series, which gradually became darker as the story progressed and its target audience aged, Fantastic Beasts consists of schizophrenic extremes. The film veers from lighted-hearted magic tricks to the darkness of a Lemony Snicket novel but lacks the black humour. One scene was disturbingly reminiscent of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and would have deeply unsettled me as child.

The film lacks structure, resembling a garbled first draft of a script repeatedly punctured by holes. The opening scene is not a scene at all, but a barrage of news headlines concerning the actions of a dark wizard who has left a bloody trail from Europe to America. These articles are impossible to read as they flit by so quickly before the camera cuts to Newt Scaramander arriving in New York.

The cut between the newspapers and Newt embodies a recurring flaw throughout Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Many key elements of the plot’s context and the characters involved are hinted at, only to be partially resolved through glimpses at indirect information at best. I felt that this was an attempt to add complexity to entertain parents who will be more attentive than their children during the screening. However, so much occurs during the film, that no real time is afforded to pay attention to the little details which would have been better suited in a slow-paced thriller. All the outstanding questions about the villain, America’s magic society,and more are disregarded in the film’s final act.

The film’s denial of answers to many of the questions that it raises is a clear attempt to entice viewers into the following part of this new story arc. Yet the film’s conclusion feels cheap, gutted of any exciting revelation or premonition, retreating into the romance angle which is commonplace in blockbusters. Fantastic Beasts is the producing and screen writing debut of J.K.Rowling. It is clear throughout the film that Rowling still writes like a writer. Many aspects of the plot are left to the viewer’s inference, as though they were reading a novel.

The plot’s romance element falters. Once Newt pairs up with comedic relief, and muggle, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), the film matches them with the magical Goldstein sisters, Tina and Queenie. The pairing is an arranged marriage gone wrong, Newt and Tina simply do not work together. There is no sentiment of attraction between the pair, interacting with each other for the bulk of the film like individuals who have been forced to work together. Then suddenly, near the end of the film, we are supposed to believe that they have developed feelings for one another.

Queenie and Jacob, both being more comedic characters, do work together. However, the relationship between Newt and Tina is glaringly artificial, making the overall romance element unwarranted and causing the plot to become disjointed, clashing with the film’s darker overtones and dragging out the end of the film. Fantastic Beasts would be vastly better if it had focused on Newt and Jacob. The partnership between the pair is reminiscent of Laurel and Hardy, with Newt’s introverted and awkward persona mingling with Jacob’s warmth and natural comedy.

The acting is varied. Redmayne and Fogler perfectly fit the role of Newt and Jacob. I hope both characters return as the principal protagonists in the next film of this new franchise. Colin Farrell, who has been given the thankless task of being a very one-dimensional villain, still portrays the character with a convincing ruthlessness that does not feel cheap. Ezra Miller brings a sense of brooding to Credence, the adopted and abused son of Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton), the leader of the anti-wizard organisation, the New Salem Philanthropic Society.

However Tina Goldstein is an unlikable character. Portrayed by Katherine Waterson, Tina is completely unsympathetic and acts in an illogical manner. She alternates between breaking the rules to following them, then balks at the consequences of enforcing the very rules which she had just broken beforehand. Due to the amount of screen time given to Tina, the character drags down the rest of the film.

Initially, I thought that Tina’s flaws solely rested upon how the character had been written. However, Katherine Waterston delivers the same portrayal for Tina as when she played the love-interest, Fay, in Inherent Vice. Both Tina and Fay are immature and melodramatic, seeking other people’s help for their problems. Tina, with a different portrayal and better writing, could have been a strong woman facing moral quandaries. Instead, she acts like a childish damsel who changes her persona between government agent to victim when it suits.  I hope that Waterston moves beyond this weak character type in the upcoming Alien Covenant, and delivers a stronger performance.

The rest of the cast do perform well especially as many of the characters outside of the two ‘couples’ are essentially side-notes. This is where the plot truly breaks down. We are introduced into this new magical world across the Atlantic, but the world is half formed. Many characters lack basic exposition, devoid of any history where their motivations unknown and their actions are feigned, particularly in regards to the President of the American magical community in the final act.

I hope that the next film within the ‘Fantastic Beasts’ series learns from the errors I have highlighted above. I am doubtful this will occur due to the commercial and critical success of the first film. I probably hold a contrarian view, but the Harry Potter franchise has such a cultural hold in modern society that few are willing to properly critique it.

By Saul Shimmin

Target audience: Younger children, teens, and fans of the Harry Potter films.

For the trailer see below:

 

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) – Teaser

Spider-Man : Homecoming is the reboot of Spider-Man following the replacement of Andrew Garfield by Tom Holland as the titular character. The film is directed by Jon Watts, whose previous work includes the thriller Cop Car starring Kevin Bacon.

Saul’s Thoughts:

I have yet to see Cop Car, but the film’s trailer showed a brooding figure that recycled many parts of the classic 1995 film Night of the Hunter, where two children are plunged into the adult world, hunted by a monster posing as an authority figure.

Homecoming’s trailer does follow the more light hearted approach of Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange. Although  Holland may only be known through Cop Car, he does have experience in comedy, having directed episodes of satirical show The Onion News Network  in 2011.

I do have my concerns with Spider-Man: Homecoming following Doctor Strange, where Disney slotted a lesser known character into the Avengers-Marvel ensemble. The character of Spider-Man has far more clout in pop culture than Doctor Strange, due to the Spider-Man cartoons and the Spider-Man films by Sam Raimi in the 2000’s. The biggest issue with Doctor Strange was that the film pursued both comedy and serious drama in an origin story. The combination of the three elements shaped Doctor Strange into a rushed introduction of a character on Disney-Marvel’s course to greater and bigger films.

Spider-Man: Homecoming may suffer from the same issues as Doctor Strange in that both characters arrived late to The Avengers film group. Plus Spider-Man and Doctor Strange have not received the slower pace of a Netflix series. Therefore they have to quickly catch up with the wide audience appeal of more established Avengers characters such as Iron Man or Captain America. Doctor Strange did feel like a rushed attempt as mentioned above, and Spider Man: Homecoming may share this flaw.

The replacement of Andrew Garfield by the younger Holland for the Spider-Man reboot, alongside the injection of ‘Homecoming’ into the title, is a ploy to grab audiences in middle-school and below.

The Homecoming teaser trailer supports my theory about Disney’s current strategy towards the film market. Disney appears to be dividing  Star Wars and Marvel into two streams, with the first stream adopting a gritty tone,  counterbalanced by a second stream of action films designed for families and children.

Captain America: Civil War is far more brooding in comparison to the earlier Captain America: The First Avenger and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. On the other hand, Guardians of the Guardians of the Galaxy reels in the laughs and is being followed by a sequel and Doctor Strange, which was funny in parts. Star Wars: The Force Awakens last year was a rehash of A New Hope for a newer and younger audience.

It is not coincidental that Rogue One is arriving between The Force Awakens and Star Wars Episode 8. Trailers for Rogue One infer a darker tone than The Force Awakens. While the protagonists of the main Star Wars series so far are teenagers trapped on backwaters who dream of adventure, Jyn Erso, the lead of Rogue One is a criminal on the fringes of the galaxy. Her criminal record is gleefully announced at the beginning of the Rogue One trailer, stressing how different and mature this spin off will be.

If Disney’s strategy is to partition Marvel and Star Wars between older and younger audiences through films ranging in maturity of content, then I think that is clever. The strategy does risk a potential overlap where both strands try to entertain different audiences with distinct tastes depending on age, but the films end up not satisfying both.

Disney could succeed, but there must be consistency, particularly with the films designed for older audiences . The Dark Knight series was about a superhero that attained critical and commercial success, while containing darker themes such as the human condition, nihilism and redemption. Disney just needs to take a risk and really step outside its comfort zone of entertaining children, teenagers and families. Otherwise, the I.P conveyer belt will become lacklustre.

Moana

Film Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Moana is a story about family, destiny, and Polynesian mythology. The main character, Moana, (voiced by gifted newcomer, Auli’i Cravalho) yearns for the open sea and an adventure away from her small, home island. However, her father forbids her to leave. Yet the dark forces of Te Kā, set free some millennia earlier by Maui (Dwyane Johnson), a demi-god, when he stole the heart-stone from the island goddess, Te Fiti, are now annihilating the island’s crops and wildlife. Moana must find the lost Maui, and seek his help to return the heart-stone to Te Fiti and restore life to their island’s ecosystem.

Moana thoroughly impressed me. Despite Disney’s repetitive use of the trope of the royal child going against his/her parent’s will (Pocahontas, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Brave [yes, I know it’s a Pixar film]), Moana is a thriving movie full of ear-catching songs, loveable characters (Maui in particular), and clever fourth-wall breaks. The fourth wall breaks were particularly interesting. Directors Ron Clements and John Musker tastefully interjected them, especially with Tamatoa’s scene (voiced by the all-mighty Jemaine Clement) e.g. his “I hope you liked the song” comment.

Honestly, I don’t want to say much about this movie (also, it’s finals at UVA so time is scarce). I want you to go see it and hear the life Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i, and Mark Mancina pumped into this gorgeous movie. It’s not a ground breaking plot, but Disney still managed to jerk some tears from my eyes in the movie’s climax. If it says anything, upon returning from the movie, I purchased a copy of the movie’s album and will be listening to it on repeat as I fondly relive the adventures of Maui and Moana. But please, Disney, don’t make a sequel. Make another great, new story about another different culture and life perspective.

Target Audience: Everyone but teens who would act to above it all to enjoy this enchanting tale. Children, pre-teens, adults, parents, and grandparents.

By Hagood Grantham

For trailer, see below:

 

Edge of Seventeen

Film score: 2.5 out of 5

The Edge of Seventeen realistically, albeit boringly, depicts the struggles of an unlucky high schooler, Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld). The movie starts with vigor as Nadine poignantly reveals how her hero, her dad (a fantastic Eric Keenleyside), made her life livable. However, just minutes after this, he tragically suffers a heart attack and dies. From there, the audience watches Nadine’s life unravel as her best-friend hooks up with her brother, her mom (Kyra Sedgwick) fails to be a competent parent, and her crush turns out to be the piece of trash.

Viewers expecting a teenage Rom-Com inspired by Emma Stone’s Easy A will be surprised/disappointed by a far more dramatic plot which bears a closer resemblance to Shailene Woodley’s The Fault in Our Stars. However, unlike these movies, The Edge of Seventeen bored me. I left the theater feeling let down. I turned to my dad and asked him what he thought. “Loved it. Every parent and their daughters need to see it.”

After a day of reflection, I still can’t say it was a fun movie to watch or even entertaining. At least, not for a 24-year-old male. I mean, it did have its moments: Every scene with Woody Harrelson, Nadine’s English teacher/mentor, was magic and the car-make-out/almost sex scene was cringe-worthy, but for all the right reasons. The actors were fantastic and the direction was commendable. I saw no issues in those departments.

My trouble with the movie arose from its story elements. The first two-thirds lacked dramatic momentum. The movie’s trailer reveals the bulk of the plot’s points and more importantly, its twists. Therefore, when Nadine learns that Nadine’s best friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) is interested in her brother, Darian (Blake Jenner), the audience isn’t as shocked as Nadine because the trailer divulged this betrayal. However, this scene was one of the better scenes in the movie’s first half because when Nadine walks in on them, they aren’t having sex. Instead, Krista is giving Darian a hand-job. This might seem a crude element to highlight in a movie review, but its addition made the movie’s high school setting more realistic because teenage sexual encounters are awkward. Hardly ever, do they consist of the nude, moaning sex that most Hollywood studios demand in their movies.

Another let down in those first two-thirds is the things that rattled Nadine felt unimportant, and I found myself getting annoyed with Nadine. Her motivation was unclear, but my dad, my mom, and even my girlfriend, whoever I talked to about the movie, immediately understood Nadine and empathized with her. They all felt these were pertinent issues that need movies need to show and talk about. As my dad put it, “All teenagers and their parents need to see this movie so that they know that even when everything is going to shit and things keep going against you or your child, you’ll make it through, and the sun will eventually shine.”

Despite this one positive takeaway, The Edge of Seventeen is far too focused on a target demographic of mid-to-older teenage girls and indirectly, their parents, rather than having a broad appeal. The focus upon this demographic robs the protagonist of any empathy to viewers who outside this sizable niche. Moreover, the trailer bears a lot of blame for the underwhelming plot revelations because it divulges nearly all of its major turns.

By Hagood Grantham

Target Audience:  Older teenagers, adults, parents.

For trailer, see below:

 

 

Nocturnal Animals

Film score: 5 out of 5

Nocturnal Animals is a tale about art, reality, and regret. Susan (Amy Adams)  leads a lavish but hollow life with second husband Hutton (Armie Hammer). Susan receives a manuscript from her estranged ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). Spending the weekend alone and unable to sleep, Susan begins to reflect on her past choices as she falls ever deeper into Edward’s tale of tragedy, heartbreak and violence.

Tom Ford’s second film is a refreshing return to film noir, 1950’s Hollywood Thrillers and French New Wave Cinema, permeated by dashes of Hitchcock, Chabrol, Godard and other Cinematic masters.

Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography conjures an eerie and isolating Los Angeles, distant and cold, covered in rain or fog. The city’s ambience is mirrored in the commercial art scene in which Susan now works. Plunged into a wide depth of field, Susan seems lost in her life, constantly detached from a large and empty world. These scenes are contrasted by Susan’s memories of her first husband Edward and the imagined world of his new novel. Both of these words are intimate and colourful, boasting a broader range of colour and smaller frames, allowing characters to truly inhabit both spaces.

Ford’s direction and his writing hold together a narrative that flits between the past, the present and the sub-narrative of Edward’s novel. It would have been easy for the film to become a jarring experience, due to the repeated and sudden switches between all three worlds.  Yet Ford manages to pull it off, the differing depths of field, changing colour palettes, and particularly changes in Susan’s wardrobe, merges all three parts into a cohesive whole.

Praise is deserved for Ford’s and McGarvey’s effective use of soviet montage theory in switching between the novel and present day, the camera repeatedly cuts from Edward’s novel to Susan’s reaction to the unfolding events. This cutting between the sadness of Edward’s novel to Susan’s emotions causes the fictional world and reality to bleed over. By the end of the film, it is hard to say whether the events of the film actually happened, or that the audience has witnessed a dream within Susan’s fatigued mind as she regrets her past.

Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon all excel in their roles. It is warming to see that all three actors, who are major stars, are still willing to make films that do not fit the standard box office formula.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson portrays Ray Marcus, the predatory villain of Edward’s novel who leads a small band of thugs. Taylor-Johnson’s depiction of Ray is excellent because the character is a pantomime villain, the audience is not allowed to understand Ray’s motivations or to empathize with him. Essentially Ray does what he does. It is a credit to Taylor-Johnson’s acting that this flaw in the character only appears some time after the film’s end. Throughout his appearance on the screen, Ray acts a centre of tension, he is completely unpredictable and sociopathic.

Ultimately I do not think that the film is a tale of indirect revenge. It seems to hold a deeper meaning about the sacrifices creative people undertake to succeed in their Art, and a commentary on the commercialization of Art in all its forms.

By Saul Shimmin

Target audience: Anyone looking for a good film that they will ponder for days.

For the trailer, see below: