Saturday, 22 April 2017

Delusion (2017) (Review)


Delusion, a micro-budgeted feature-length from writer, director and producer Christopher Di Nunzio is a deliberately slow and brooding musing on mental health, executed in a rather smart and absorbing way indeed. Clocking in at only 85 minutes and starring a relatively unknown cast, Di Nunzio's project is a real melting pot of genres, incorporating elements of supernatural horror, thriller, mystery, drama and Neo noir effectively. On the back of a successful festival run that earned the film the runner-up position for Best Guerrilla Film (Feature) alongside a plethora of other accolades, it is now available to rent, buy or stream on Amazon for those wanting to see what the fuss is about. While the film may fall short of brilliance more regularly than one would hope, you cannot fault the sheer enthusiasm, and relative success, of the film-maker bringing his vision into fruition.

Frank Parrillo's (David Graziano) mental health is slowly beginning to mend after the death of his wife. When he supposedly receives a letter from her, three years after her passing, he desperately attempts to move on again. However, when in the presence of a mysterious woman, after crossing paths with a psychic who foreshadows his death and apparently meeting a man whose existence he cannot confirm, Frank realises it is time to confront his demons head on; a choice that could ultimately lead him to a far darker reality.

'Christopher Di Nunzio The Director' is easily Delusion's MVP. Delusion is a masterclass in making the absolute most out of a limited budget, ensuring every last penny counts by continually delivering deliciously dark and alluring visuals, providing a true declaration of Di Nunzio's skill and talent behind the camera. In the post-production, Nunzio amplifies the arresting visuals with some truly efficient editing techniques too, particularly benefitting the more supernatural-inspired elements of the film; in less poised hands, this could look incredibly messy but Nunzio has no problem utilising these techniques confidently, executing them very effectively on screen. Cinematographer Nolan Lee plays a large role in securing an aesthetic that remains absorbing and somewhat hypnotising throughout, with an obvious eye for detail and talent for making the most basic frame one that helps build an eerie atmosphere. Jessica-Lee Van Winkle's make-up is precise and spectacularly detailed, pulling us into the supernatural world we get brief glimpses at, with her tremendous work matched with some lovely, mysterious costume designs. Everything about this film visually is truly impressive and enthralling, easily becoming a stylistic gem that deserves to be marvelled at.

Coming undone slightly, the script is a tad on the clunky side in certain moments, appearing somewhat stifled by unnatural and awkward dialogue - particularly when delivered by some of the less experienced cast members. Some performers appear to struggle delivering the supernatural, hexing rhetoric in a meaningful or believable way, appearing somewhat uncomfortable in doing so. Where the script excels though is, bizarrely, in the subtle and considerate approach to its thematic content; Delusion's intricate and complex portrayal of mental health is a thought-provoking one, with the metaphors mastered skilfully, accentuated superbly by the top-notch editing, filming and visuals. To Di Nunzio The Writer's credit, he crafts a genuinely substantial backstory for Frank, managing to balance building a world for the audience to be dropped into and one that appears partially blank, with revelations shading Frank's life over the course of the film. On the whole, the script is hit and miss, but thankfully swings to the former more regularly; a little tightening here and there is required, and it would make significant improvements.

One element that is likely to play a huge factor regarding how you favour this film is its pacing; to some, it will be a difficult slog, tedious and monotonous and without the fast-paced thrills you may be in search of; for others, it will be something of an absorbing exercise in subdued film-making, caring more for atmosphere than thrills and screams. I can see both sides of the argument and I genuinely understand and sympathise with the conflicting opinions, somewhat sitting on the fence myself. It is clear that the decision for a slow-burner is a deliberate one rather than accidental, with that resolve alleviating some of the issues with it. It certainly helps create an atmospheric and absorbing piece of film, playing into genre conventions satisfyingly. That doesn't mean that it always effective though, with the film unfortunately failing to maintain your interest during its middle stretch, drifting into moments of dubiety. No one can be blamed for that so to speak, as that is dialled down almost entirely to the viewer and their personal tastes; this sedated pacing was not completely to my taste but that doesn't mean you cannot recognise the advantages of the set-up and the moments where a relaxed pacing is benefitted.

Delusion aims high and while it may fall short every now and then, one cannot fault the talent and passion involved in bringing this supernatural horror-thriller-mystery hybrid onto our screens, delivering a promising distillation of themes and genres that hits more often than it misses. Di Nunzio's blurring of reality and dreams offers an obscure but developed insight into mental health, portraying this theme in an intricate and complex way, seldom considered before as inventively and accurately in a horror film. It is startling that this film, in all its beauty, was made on such a small budget, impressing in that its scope always exceeds its scale. On the whole, Delusion is a restrained, proficient piece of surrealism cinema that combines genres terrifically. Most people will either love it or hate it; sympathising with each viewpoint and looking at it on a more analytical level, I land somewhere more in the middle - but it swings upwards for the beauty contained within the feature film, allowing for a new found appreciation for the surrealism genre.

(6/10)

Summary: What Delusion lacks in scale and script work, it makes up for in scope, themes and aesthetics, crafting a generally effective feature-length that succeeds by borrowing from a number of genres and supplying terrific visuals.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Fast & Furious 8 (2017) (Review)


Fast and Furious 8 or The Fate of the Furious or Fast 8 or Furious 8 or F8: Stopping World War 3 (depending on which corner of the globe you are from) is the continuation of the action franchise that has become something of a phenomenon over the course of its sixteen year history. What once started as a small-time series focused almost entirely on street-racing has scaled the box office and exists as one of the most lucrative franchises in cinema. F5 turned the gear up considerably and F6 continued the goodwill but F7 took it to a whole other level, currently registering as the sixth highest-grossing film of all-time due to a super-charged domestic and foreign performance and the unfortunate passing of Paul Walker, becoming something of a must-see event and certifying itself as one of my favourite films of 2015. Two years later, the sequel is pulling into cinemas to unofficially kick-start the summer blockbuster season; how does the $250 million budget flick measure up and should you be racing to the nearest cinema to see it?

Attempting to settle into a more normal life, the Furious' teams lives are changed when Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is approached by a mysterious woman who convinces him to turn on his team and family to work for her. Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) discovers that Cipher (Charlize Theron), the criminal mastermind and cyber-terrorist behind Dom's corruption, is using him as the muscle to advance her plan for world control. The betrayed team - Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris Bridges) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel)  - are joined by once-enemy Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) and Eric Reisner (Scott Eastwood) to eliminate the threat and stop Dom while he can still be saved. Kurt Russell returns alongside a few familiar faces, with Helen Millen joining in on the fun in this all-new adventure that continues to push the franchise away from its modest routes into total box office domination. 

It's no small secret that Furious 7 is a favourite mine; whether it was the added emotional resonance of Walker's untimely passing or that it was genuinely one of the strongest blockbusters of the year, it became a guilty pleasure. Following on from that turbo (and emotionally) charged instalment was certainly a difficult feat, but F8 just about manages it - but only by the skin of its teeth. It's a satisfying instalment for the petrol heads at one with the series and more casual viewers (like myself) will enjoy it as the popcorn fest it is, as willingly delivering more of crazy, gravity-defying set pieces the film has become renown for in its later chapters. If you haven't been won round by the franchise yet, this will not be the picture that alters your mindset - but knowing what to expect aids this picture greatly, adjusting expectations to the chaos, mayhem and stuns that consume it. F8 features some terrific set pieces and stunts - including an elongated frozen river finale and a second act New York City street carnage - splashing the budget left, right and centre with smashing cars and explosions freely. Helming all of this is F. Gary Gray, whose direction is snappy and fast-paced, in line with the unfolding feast of special effects and stunts; one standout scene, in which Cipher emerges from the darkness and plays her next card is really effective, with an understanding of when and where to tighten and widen the frame, using his technical ability as a real source of tension. It's not always this solid and occasionally it loses a focus in the most action-packed sequences but he does a relatively fine job all things considered.

Positioning Dom as a rogue is a decent idea to work with and offers a plethora of new dynamics and reactions to explore, calling the franchise's most prevalent theme into question: family has always been at the centre of these films, with that continued in this latest chapter in admittedly more skewed methods. While the explanation and play-out to Dom's betrayal is understandable and relatively gripping, introducing a couple of shocks and twists in the tale, a few unfulfilled plot holes could have averted a whole heap of the pandemonium witnessed, an increasingly frustrating oversight that provokes screams of 'JUST TELL THEM!'. More so than perhaps any other entry into the series, F8 appears to be more a collection of insane set pieces first, story and narrative second; these two half don't marry quite as well this time round but there is enough in the buffer time between set pieces, including sharp servings of humour and some moral probing, to tide you over. It's noticeably darker thematically, with the idea of a cyber-terrorist with Cipher's abilities perhaps more daunting than a more archetypical villain in the vein of the Shaw brothers because of the times we live in, preventing the film or series from becoming a one-note flash in the pan, evident from its long-lasting reign on our screens. Keeping it refreshed is its ever-changing locations, in line with the Bond series in this respect; the opening drag race features some beautiful colour palettes with its beach-themed setting, significantly different to the ice-caped final stretch. It's rotating roundabout of setting changes and landscape qualities invigorate F8, with the film continuing the tried-and-tested structure well.

Returning players provide similar-note performances, with Vin Diesel perhaps developed the most in this instalment to explore this newly found outlaw streak. Gibson and Bridges continue to deliver the hilarity with their witty one-liners and putdowns, something Johnson and Statham are developing nicely too - with the latter receiving some of the best character beats throughout the entire runtime, even if his involvement in the mission doesn't sit quite right (he did, after all, kill a team member and prove a general menace throughout their time head-to-head with him). Rodriguez is solid but sidelined more than expected, with the possibility in exploring the personal impacts of Dom's treachery largely bypassed, while Emmanuel is still yet to gel effectively with the team. Of the new players, Theron stirs a reliably impressive performance into the mix but is afforded very few action beats beyond one scene outside of her headquarters; despite her work in Mad Max: Fury Road proving she has the capability to hold her own during the more physically demanding scene, it is a shame to see this untapped streak go to waste. Her villainy is menacing more so in regard to the modern day implications and threat than because of the writing itself but she isn't completely wasted, crafting a strikingly different but equally brooding enemy for the team to takedown. Eastwood, an obvious placeholder for a more permanent 'replacement' of Walker's Brian is weakly sketched but carries potential while Helen Mirren's brief but punchy cameo is some terrific casting by the team and promising for future appearances. While the 'team' element to the characters and their relationships is not as pronounced this time round (with the team largely fractured during the the second act and most of the first and third), the franchise has, to its complete credit, allowed audiences to feel a part of that family - would we really be as forgiving of Dom if it wasn't for the way the writers (and Diesel himself) have ensured we have connected to him over the film's sixteen year run? No, certainly not. It may be dismissed for being disposable, big, stupid and dumb fun (and most of the time, it would holds it hands up to and admit) but you forget that this film has succeeding where many films have failed and survived way longer than most, growing when most films decline over time, and this is another satisfactory instalment in extending that canon.

Don't come to Furious 8 if you prefer a nuanced character drama with intricacy; don't come to F8 in search of Oscar-worthy performances and ground-breaking direction; don't come to F8 if you've not warmed to the series with prior instalments; simply, come to F8 if you want a couple of hours of fun and enjoyment, whether a casual viewer fond of prior chapters or a petrol-head obsessed with the other seven films, as this carries the torch efficiently. While F8 does not come close to the emotional resonance as the Furious 7 and the set pieces are not quite as inventive as previous films, it does more than enough to satisfy with a 136 minute turbo-charged swirl of explosions, stunts and cars, one that is as relentless as it is sharp. The performances and characters are decent, the narrative is fine and the set pieces are impressive, delivering what you came for if little else. F8 won't change minds or hearts but powers on for those hooked with the franchise, with an increasing ability (as seen in the numbers) in picking up passengers with each passing film. There's still enough fuel in the Furious tank.

(7/10)

Summary: Fast & Furious 8 supplies more of the same if little else - but with a rotating setting, characters we have become connected to and fast-paced action set pieces, there's enough fuel in the tank to be entertained by and keep the franchise in (at least) second gear throughout

Highlight: Comedy was well utilised throughout and the two big set pieces - New York and Russa - are terrific and entertaining.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Orphan Black - Season 5 Predictions


What you want and what you receive is very often two completely different things: following my season five wishes last months, it's now time to make my predictions for the fifth and final season of Orphan Black, which premieres in two months today. The Final Trip promises a lot in store for Clone Club, with the little sci-fi action-thriller that could bound to wrap up multiple plot strands, send some characters into the sunset and deliver twists by the bucket load in the remaining ten episodes. Spoilers have been few and far between and the details are rather thin on the ground, so anything and everything below is pure speculation on my behalf.

Without further ado...


Deaths

Orphan Black have always been understandably reluctant to pull the trigger on their main characters; arguably, no major LEDA clone has been killed off (aside from Beth whose death kickstarted the events of the series). Helena, Rachel and Cosima have all come close to kicking the bucket, as has Delphine - but only Paul and Leekie have had more permanent end destinations in regards to the main set of characters. While any death would shake the series to the core so close to the end of its run, I'm expecting at least a couple of our LEDA clones to meet their maker (not sure that saying works in a show about clones but you get my drift)...

Rachel seems a dead-cert to wind up carried out the show in a coffin, with the central dual between herself and Sarah likely to end with spilt blood; to paraphrase a popular cinematic franchise, "neither can live while the other survives". That same idea can be carried into my next death sentence - Helena. Sweet, psychopathic Helena would (now) do anything for her seestras, including die for them - and that is exactly how I expect her story to play out. Poetic almost, Helena's story is beginning to come full circle and season four struggled to find anything for her to do, resulting in my death sentence for the more eclectic of the two originals. It would break my heart into a million pieces (and I'd go as far as to call her my favourite character) but there would be something rather beautiful about sacrificing her life after she spent the first season hellbent on destroying them. While I'm at least thinking Rachel and Helena will reach the series finale, I expect M.K. to be less lucky; rumour had it, an early draft of season four's finale had the latest clone added to the batch succumbing to her illness and it's a notion I expect to be translated into, perhaps, the fifth season premiere - or at least early into the ten-episode run. LEDA characters aside, Mrs S seems the most likely to die, much like Helena, protecting her family: it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest.

Cosima, Alison and Krystal seem a pretty safe bet to make it out of the show alive, all slightly ahead of Sarah, who may prove to be a surprise death if the show runners really want to pull the carpet from under our feet; it would also continue to reflect the idea that her story is aligning with Beth's, particularly after The Antisocialism of Sex last season. That said, I struggle to seem them leaving Kira mother/grandmotherless and I'll give Sarah the edge in surviving the events of the series over Mrs S.


Biggest Clone Scene Yet

It would be an absolute tragedy if audiences were not treated with the largest ever clone scene yet, topping the four clones (Sarah, Helena, Alison and Cosima) involved in the dinner party sequence at the end of season three. Orphan Black are always looking for news ways to push the boat out and top the last thing they did so I really expect the 'go big or go home' mindset with this one. These clone scenes have very often been the pinnacle of Orphan Black and although time consuming to shoot and technically difficult, I imagine they will want to do all they can to impress us and leave a searing reminder as to why the show amazed and excited us so much.

Could we also be treated with more clone interactions, after season four has arguably thin on the ground regarding those? Many of our central clones have yet to meet and the final season would be a brilliant way to explore dynamics. We have more clones than ever in play at the moment and how great it would be to see the likes of Helena and Krystal or Cosima and Alison interacting with each other.


A Wedding and A Funeral


Following and combining the previous two predictions, an idea floating around my head at the moment is a massive funeral scene featuring all of the clones. The three biggest clone scenes to date have been somewhat joyous in nature - from season's three dinner party and dream sequence to season two's ground-breaking dance party - so perhaps the team will want to consider another angle or tone to play with; imagine, the clones collating at the back of Helena's funeral, in tears and comforting each other. Of course, they'd have to give us some light to that dark and another euphoric scene of eating and celebrating to counterbalance  the darkness but either way I am feeling very emo right now.

Although supposedly spoiled by a recent BBC America promo,  a wedding between everyone's two favourite scientists - Cosima and Delphine - was all but guaranteed. It feels that, more so than any other character, the writers want to grant the pair a happy ending, particularly after everything they have been through, and what would be better than to cement their love with a wedding. Oh, and the wouldn't it be a lovely touch to have the seestras as bridesmaids.


Neolution Focus

Each season of Orphan Black has featured a very distinctive theme; season one focused on the mystery of the clones and the religious extremist threat posted by Helena and her ilk; season two largely revolved around DYAD and the figureheads spearing the mission, most notably Doctor Leekie and Ethan Duncan; season three shifted into Castor territory with DYAD (and Delphine) playing somewhat of a background role; Neolution took centre stage in season four, seemingly fronted by Evie Cho. For the most part, I am expecting Neolution to remain the clear focus from now out, as they remained to be the ringleaders at the end of season four. I expect an exploration into the history of the group and their (ancient) founder, P.T. Westmoreland and part of me expects the big baddie of the season (following in the path of the Proletheans, DYAD, Castor and Neolution) to be represented by a Neolutionist Rachel. It would stew the show down to its fundamental theme of sisterhood and, after the show has heralded for returning to basics last season, it would be unwise for the duality of the Sarah-Rachel rivalry to be ignored


Origins

While we know the main faces and figures behind the human cloning experiment and some of their aims and goals, we still don't quite know the whole story - why they did it in the first place, how many clones are running around, what their plans were beyond the LEDA and Castor sets and many, many more. Season five is bound to explore these primary idea further, perhaps rewarding us with some answers to the above questions while undoubtedly giving us more to contemplate as the season progresses.  While I could not even begin to predict the answers to these questions and its a stab in the dark for anyone else either, the whole 'origin' element is definitely a theme I expect to be at the forefront of the season, giving us the final answers to questions that have sustained the show's history. Pervading questions need wrapping up and that starts with the clones themselves.

Another question that has persisted since the show's very first season is regarding Sarah's daughter; Kira proves to be a revelation, not only for being the only child of a clone but due to her somewhat supernatural abilities and senses, able to detect when the clones face danger. It's been an interesting plot development as the intensity and drama heats up - but it is about time we had some sort of explanation. She's been out of the fold for a good chunk of the past two seasons - thawing out in Iceland during season four and playing Minecraft, somewhere away from the main action, in season four. Thrusting her into the central frame and placing her abilities under a microscope would wipe be rewarding for audiences and would no doubt allow the terrific Skylar Wexler to continue to impress us.


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Let me know your predictions for Orphan Black's fifth season; you can also check out my previous Orphan Black articles...

Monday, 3 April 2017

Ghost In The Shell (2017) (Review)


Despite proclaiming my love for film and openness to almost any style of cinema, anime-manga is a genre that has evaded my interest and its popularity is not something I can quite comprehend; the style just does not sit right for me and thus I have no interest in it whatsoever. Still, each to their own but I go into the live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell with no knowledge, low expectations and a relatively open mind. Despite being based on one of Japan's most popular manga series, beyond the 'whitewashing controversy' due to the casting of Scarlett Johansson in the lead role and trailers chocked full of spoilers, Ghost in the Shell is a completely new property to me and one I can enter into blind, so to speak.

Set in the near future where the line between humans and robots is becoming increasingly blurred and fractured, a young woman named Motoko Kusangani - the sole survivor of a cyberterrorist attack - becomes Major Mira Killian (Johansson) after her body is destroyed beyond repair with only her brain surviving, subsequently transported into a new 'shell'. Trained as a counter-terrorism operative, Major and the team learn of a link between increasing technology hacks and the murder of high-ranking Hanka consultants, requiring them to locate and quash the treat before wider-spread damage can be inflicted; at the same time, the Major becomes frustrated at her lack of understanding regarding her life before the shell, facing an identity crisis of sorts. Director Rupert Sanders is in charge of the Paramount Studios release and has positioned the film in the pre-summer blockbuster window, which in itself has become just as crowded as the main summer season. Does Ghost in the Shell manage to stand out for the right reasons, or is it just an empty shell?

Without question, this has to be one of the most visually-arresting live-action releases in quite some time, creating an eye-popping world that is never dull to look out and experience visually. From the towering holograms over cityscapes to the inventiveness of the Major invisible movements across plains of water and the high-tech set pieces, every penny of the film's reported $110 million production budget is evidently splashed onto the screen thanks to some marvellous special effects and neon-infused visual treats - a decision that, although possibly costly with the film underperforming and underwhelming so far, gives audiences something to appreciate when the narrative lets up (but more on that later...). Sanders helps anchor the film and its vision with technical precision and eye-candy imagery, with the production design team aiding with some fantastic costume designs, landscapes, settings and concepts. Full of personality, the film's soundtrack is effective in building some tension, even when nothing else can sustain it and personality is a massive issue with the rest of the film...

It seems though that with all the focus on the top-notch effects and impressive visuals, everyone forgot to pay attention to the script; sandwiched between two reasonable acts is an inexcusably spiritless second that is shockingly dull, drifting into lengths of boredom that the film never really recovers from, despite sparking a few signs of life in the third and final act. It's a complete narrative shambles. Rather than a runtime issue (although it would benefit from a 15 minute trim), Ghost's main issues arises from its misguided pacing, as by the time you have been dragged through the snooze-fest that is act two, you struggle to care for anything else that proceeds it, bogged down by a lack of energy and haunting spirit that the boredom will never end; when said boredom eventually surpasses, the damage has already been done and it ends up fighting a losing battle to redeem itself. It lacks a sense of cohesion and, although this may be more of a reflection of my own intelligence than the film itself, I was required to read a plot summary afterwards in order to garner a stronger idea on what the hell just happened. Despite an abundance of interesting thematic questions the film could contemplate, it never really considers any of them nearly profoundly enough, a notion which could have otherwise elevated this middling film to something more substantial. Ghost just doesn't stand out from this blockbuster-of-the-week template we have going on at the moment, particularly in the shadows of bigger names such as Logan, Kong: Skull Island and Beauty & The Beast. It's forgettable and derivative exercise and really rather shallow and empty.

And now we're on to the cast, namely Scarlett Johansson. Now, just what do we do with you... In terms of casting based on emotional range, skill and acting precision, Johansson is the perfect fit; she expertly balances the line between stilted robotic and an icy, aching human hybrid, both a weapon and a victim and she handles it very effectively. Yet, viewing the casting choice on a political level, the waters are incredibly murky; the explanation given is surprisingly satisfactory - after all, a brain has no race or colour and considering that was all that supposedly remained of Motoko, could be transported and assumed into an empty shell of any colour or race - but it admittedly reeks of Hollywood's commerciality triumphing over political correctness and that does leave a sour taste, emphasised by the controversy kicked up before hand and has perpetuated throughout its promotion. It's a very bittersweet situation to be left in but alas, the performance really is the last of this film's worries. Ghost's supporting cast are all solid enough in their roles and everybody pulls their weight as expected without ever standing out.

Ghost in the Shell is an empty visual spectacle, favouring its aesthetic beauty so extremely that everything else plays a distant second fiddle. No one can deny the stunning world created and effective soundtrack in play and you'll be hard pressed to find someone who thinks Johansson's performance is actively bad, even if they disagree with the casting choice itself. Those three elements can only bolster the film for long enough though, as the most pressing error - the uneven, spiritless script and dreadful pacing issues - sees the high-tech world come crashing around them. Its intriguing themes and ideas of humanity and identity are largely ignored beyond the surface details and additions, electing for a more general run-of-the-mill blockbuster with any goodwill inspired from the first act ripped to shreds by a damningly boring second act. Ghost in the Shell is certainly a misfire, a missed opportunity and largely forgettable but at least it is darn gorgeous and even when numbingly boring in the middle act's lull, you can rely on the visuals and/or Johansson to provide a temporary distraction.

(4.5/10)

Summary: Ghost in the Shell, ironically, is all shell and no ghost, an empty spectacle so inherently focused on arresting visuals with little else beyond a solid star turn from Scarlett Johansson to save it (a casting choice which in itself is haunted by a controversy the film never fully justifies or escapes). 'Style over substance' has never felt more apt.

Highlight: Just how incredible some of the visuals really are. They've not wasted a penny.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Reflecting on Q1: Hollywood's Early Year Successes and Signs


It is difficult to fathom that we are already a quarter of the way through 2017; it only feels like yesterday that I was compiling my year end lists. Three months into the year and we have already seen our fair share of box offices rags and riches. Everything from Oscar contenders to superhero pictures, blockbuster hopefuls and horror fare have graced our screens, so what better time to kick off a four-part introspective, arriving every three months, to examine the crowd of pictures in bite-sized chunks. All of this will be based on UK releases, in case you are questioning why films are cropping up in years they supposedly shouldn't be cropping up.

Without further ado, Reflecting on Q1: Hollywood's Early Year Successes and Signs...

As with every year at the UK box office, Q1 was somewhat dominated by Award Season hopefuls as they began their international rollout (most of which debuted in the later months of 2016 in the US). The 89th Academy Awards will always be remembered for that cock-up, but we shouldn't forget that it actually delivered one of the strongest Best Picture fields in recent memory. La La Land, the supposed frontrunner who had the prestigious prize handed to them before being snatched away moments later, became even more of a success in the UK than it was in the USA, with audiences singing and dancing with the film to over $37 million in box office receipts - a huge, huge total that saw it become the biggest film of the year until the very final days of Q1. Moonlight greatly benefitted from its eventual Best Picture win, approaching a noteworthy $5 million total that marks a real turning point in LGBT cinema. While these two films were the clear front-runners all season long, they were not the only films using their award season goodwill to their advantage; Lion, despite my relative indifference to the drama, has scooped up a very impressive $14 million-and-counting and has outlasted every other award contender; Hidden Figures ($7.1 million), Hacksaw Ridge ($6.1 million), Jackie ($3.7 million), Manchester By The Sea ($2.8 million) and Fences ($2.1 million) are all winners to varying degrees, mounting to a very sturdy Q1 at the box office, a very impressive award season haul and some new entries on my all-time favourites list. It's not all that rosy though, as contenders that never were stumbled out of the gate, as my least favourite flick of the year so far, Gold ($500k), learnt. Loving ($1 millionand Silence ($1.8 million) underwhelmed but found fans while Patriots Day just about saved face with north of $2 million. Oh, and A Monster Calls, which deserved ALL the awards and has planted itself as my number two film of the year so far, managed $3.5 million - decent, but deserving of so much more.

With less of a success consensus, the horror genre has had a rocky road so far; the highs have been incredible high and the lows have been very low so far. Blumhouse's Split and Get Out have ruled the fort, winning over critics and audiences spectacularly. In only two weeks, Get Out has scored a tremendous $6.1 million and continues a hold at unprecedented levels for a horror film, both here and abroad, capturing a zeitgeist that ensure it will go down as the horror film of a generation. Split has generated an insane $14 million to date, with the James McAvoy chiller potentially holding off Get Out on a commercial front thus far. Everything else has been pretty damn poor though; the promising A Cure For Wellness left cinemas before I could catch it and didn't come along with the most glowing of reviews while The Bye Bye Man left before we could even say hello. Rings was dead-on-arrival too, barely scraping $2.3 million despite the attached brand and positioning as a sequel to a cult hit, years in the making. Life, which infuses science-fiction into its premise, has only just landed in cinemas so it would be unfair to write a death sentence, but things aren't looking promising. Overall, its been rather hit-and-miss with the horror genre. And on slightly different but relevant footing, John Wick: Chapter 2, was a rare case of the sequel outperforming its predecessor, discovering a terrific $7.3 million in the criminal underworld and has been the only real action-thriller offering so far.

As the summer blockbuster window widens, the hopefuls have already started cropping up. Logan, the final instalment in The Wolverine series is an entirely new spin on the superhero genre, but has won audiences over with a tremendous $27 million to date and rising, certifying itself as the highest-grosser of the series over here. Kong: Skull Island, arriving on the back of that superhero smash, has registered $16.5 million thus far with room to grow into $20 million if it can last until Easter and against the fierce competition. Fifty Shades Darker failed to perform in line with the original but it wasn't really expected to either, with the sequel still scoring an impressive $28 million. XXX: The Return of Xander Cage and Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, although on the smaller side, haven't quite mustered headline figures, managing $4.4 and $1.1, respectively. Kids spin-off The Lego Batman Movie is a $32 million success with the holidays around the corner, meaning it may be able to break $35 million when it eventually wraps up and Sing proved to be solid entertainment across February with $34 million. Power Rangers looks promising if unspectacular after just one week in full play while Ghost in the Shell arrives today, so expect this article to be updated when the numbers roll in - although it is forecast to deliver decent if unspectacular digits.

Q1's number one performer though, snatching away the top position from La La Land just a few days (what does that remind you of, eh?) is Disney's live-action adaptation of Beauty & The Beast, with its eyes firmly set on becoming one of the UK's highest-grossing films of all time. Breaking records left, right and centre, the fairtytale-musical has a jaw-dropping $49 million, well on its way to becoming one of Disney's biggest wins of all time. In terms of year-end, this will almost certainly end up in the top three of the year, if not number one - depending on how Star Wars 8 performs and how long Beauty can leg it over the coming weeks as more competition enters the marketplace (I can't see The Boss Baby providing too much of a threat though...).

March 2017 has been the busiest March for cinema admission this century (defined pretty much by the insane performance of Beauty & The Beast), in turn causing Q1 to become the second-biggest Q1 of the century, with over 47 million admissions in the first three months of the year alone. For once, we have seen notably very few glaring failures thus far and a fair few successes that Hollywood will hope to perpetuate in the remaining nine months (although I'm sure the roads ahead will be far bumpier). This article will be updated as more numbers come flooding in over the coming weeks and it is not an exhaustive list - there are a number of releases I could simply not fit in the list that have played their part in delivering the strongest Q1s commercially in years - but I've made a point of naming the big players. Join me this time in June, where we will have seen a whole flood of family-friendly blockbusters (including Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, Pirates 5 and Wonder Woman) as well as more kid-centric releases (Cars 3, Smurfs: The Lost Village and Despicable Me 3) and adult-favouring content (Alien: Covenant, The Fate of the Furious and Baywatch).

Enjoy the films!

Thursday, 30 March 2017

The Dark Tapes (2017) (Review)


The Dark Tapes is writer, director and editor Michael McQuown's attempt a sub-genre so rarely mastered in Hollywood but is seen in increasing prominence since the Paranormal Activity franchise shook audiences to their core (although is seemingly doing so with decreasing effect). His independent, award-winning anthology horror film, in which one story plays out, intercut by a further three tales all featuring a distinct usage of technology (and thus subverting the idea of 'found footage' with more contemporary quirks included), is an effective horror, appropriately tense and surprisingly sophisticated - but its high-concept is also one of the most noticeable flaws.

Split into four stories, 'To Catch A Demon', 'The Hunters and The Hunted', 'Cam Girls' and 'Amanda's Revenge', the high-concept, low-budget The Dark Tapes features these unconnected stories united only by some smart, noteworthy technicalities from McQuown - such as repeated imagery and flashes of different stories breaking through in places they don't belong - managing to forge a genuine uncertainty and intensity that pervades the picture, firmly planting audiences on the very edge of their seats on numerous occasions. However, as with the likes of Ryan Murphy's American Horror Story anthology television series - which arguably re-invigorated the idea of the anthology - some ideas work a lot better than others, with The Dark Tapes varying greatly in this way and fraught with an inconsistency in narrative quality.

Nominated for 61 awards across 30 festivals, it becomes transparent very early on that as a found-footage horror, The Dark Tapes really succeeds, excelling in offering genuine jump scares and crafting an atmosphere that becomes almost unshakeable as we venture on into the dark tales. The Hunters and The Hunted is a honest to goodness thrill ride, beginning as your more conventional supernatural found-footage horror film before a bait-and-switch that feels entirely earned and shocking in equal measures. When their new house appears haunted by their past demons, a couple contact local ghost hunters to help contact the beings. It smartly dots its i's and crosses its t's in terms of expectations but becomes more and more destabilised as it progresses; characters are fleshed out even in such a small amount of time and their exists an authentic, horrific tone that conjures the better days of the Sinster franchise tonally. Realistic performances and careful boundary-pushing (without resorting in excess or unnecessary gore) ensures The Hunters and The Hunted works an absolute treat, with horror enthusiasts of all experiences likely to enjoy the work in this one; it would really benefit from a longer run-time to chew on or even a feature-length remake - which would work tremendously well on the big screen and with a willing audience in tow.

Cam Girls is another solid tape in the anthology, utilising the modern invention of webcams to deliver the scares this time, taking its IP and running with it for the third chapter in the story; based around two girls hosting a cam show for a lucky viewer, the sharp, effective editing is what sets this apart from the rest, continually jarring audiences with impressive visuals and the contemporary spin of the premise, offering something wholly original and unique. Once again, the performances are terrific and visceral, disconcerting in their unusualness and refusal to play it straight down the line. It would be very easy to dismiss the 'direction' with films of the sub-genre, yet McQuown understands just how long to keep the camera lingering, just when to cut away and restrict what's on display and just how and when to deliver the promised thrills and chills, positive when he's behind the camera and during the post-production process. His script is great too, conjuring a realistic dialogue that understands when to dial back the language and ramp up the atmosphere instead, letting the imagery and tone do a lot of the heavy-lifting.

To Catch A Demon - the main body of the film - is decent enough and contains more interesting and complex ideas than your average horror turn, but they aren't always delivered as clearly as hoped, disrupted with the pacing and structure of the piece. The acting is still certain and this chapter in particular is great at using the darkness and sub-genre tropes to craft a response effectively though. Amanda's Revenge is probably the poorest story of the anthology, never quite realising what it wants to say and unsure on how to deliver it; anthologies cannot help but inadvertently highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the overall collection simply by their structure and pace, so its unfortunate that The Dark Tapes ends with its weakest of the bunch, somewhat souring an otherwise successful run of stories. Still, don't let that put you off, as the excellent thing about this film is the range of stories it tells, all playing with different angles of the sub-genre efficiently. The set-up and concept keeps things moving and you are almost continually engaged with all that unfolds.

On the whole, The Dark Tapes is a solid horror and an even more assured found-footage horror, delivering one of the most sophisticated and well-crafted instalments in the infamously rocky sub-genre. Brimming with suspense, the cinematic approach to the thrills and chills make for an absorbing watch in which the highs greatly outnumber the lows. As someone who would rarely pick a horror film outright (mainly because the genre's failures seems to outnumber its successes), The Dark Tapes is a searing example of horror done right. It's not without its flaws but we shouldn't expect it to be either: its an assured effort from the first-time creator McQuown and its glaringly obvious that a lot of time and effort has been placed into the project by the entire crew. It's a promising instalment that could kick start a new horror franchise - and, with rumours of a sequel already in pre-production - I'm already prepared for the next chapter of The Dark Tapes.

(7/10)

Summary: The Dark Tapes is one of the stronger found-footage horror films in recent memory, confidently utilising its anthology-structure to deliver bite-sized scares and thrills, anchored by some stories more so than others.

Highlight: My jaw hit the ground with that twist


The Dark Tapes is released on April 18th in the US and can now be pre-ordered on iTunes. It will also be available on Google Play, Vudu, iNDemand, Dish TV, Amazon, Vubiquity, Xbox, Playstation, Sling TV & Vimeo in time for its release.

A UK and Europe pre-order date is tentatively scheduled for April - but don't worry, I'll keep you updated as soon as it is available.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Broadchurch - Season 3 (Weekly Reviews, Episodes 5-8)

Continuation of the weekly Broadchurch reviews. The remaining four episodes of the ITV's final series can be found below...



Episode 5 (28th March 2017)


After last week re-discovered a more assured footing at the mid-way point, the fifth episode of Broadchurch's final season feels more like a melting pot of plot revelations used to spur the final run of episodes on, rather than a cohesive episode in its own right. It's still a solid hour of television that recalls the glory days of season one, but isn't tied together as cohesively as last week's masterclass in crime-drama and loses a little bit of the momentum.

Revelations that the Broadchurch detectives have a serial rapist on their hands adds a whole new layer to explore and the show goes full speed ahead with the notion, re-examining possible suspects, their motives and the change in timeframe, throwing everything they think they may know into jeopardy. Handling the reveal that Trish slept with Jim, Cath's husband, on the morning of the party brings the theme of revenge, we are reminded that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and we bring out a terrific side Sarah Parish' Cath; in fact, the whole scene is rather intense and possibly the highlight of the episode, crafting an insanely powerful atmosphere; "of all the women at that party, why would some rape you?" sent shivers down my spine and opens a whole new can of worms regarding character relationships across the board. These new characters are finally beginning to feel a little more fleshed out, five episodes into the series, meaning the intensity is ramped up as another layer is peeled back on every one of our new characters. Trish is fading from the focus a little bit, taking on only a cameo role in an episode and thus remaining a human face to remind on the consequences of the case, so a renewed focus of the trauma is needed. Lenny Henry's Ed is shrouded in mystery and definitely suspicious, bound to be somewhat involved in the unfolding case. Leo Humphries remains the most intriguing suspect to me and next week hints at a few more revelations regarding his shadiness and lies, while Aaron Mayford seems like the most obvious red herring going - but maybe that's the point.

Mark Latimer's search for Joe Miller comes to a little bit of a head as we get our first glimpse of Danny's killer and the promise of fireworks over the coming weeks. Beth Latimer slips out of mind a little, save for a couple of appearances to spur elements of the case on, while its nice to see Paul Coates dealing with a personal crisis and suggesting his character may have a little more of an impact on the series than he already has. The two sides of Broadchurch aren't colliding as efficiently as hoped with Beth, Hardy and Miller the only bridge between. Tennant and Colman excel again, with the scenes between Hardy and his daughter incredibly touching and telling, appearing to set up the series' end-point not so subtly but effectively enough. Another great scene, the opening quarter of the show in which the new victim reveals her reason for not reporting the cast to police - namely her fear of judgement and assumption that she will not be taken seriously - is emotionally-charged and Kelly Gough is brilliant in it but the rest of the episode partially drops off this focus on the case, shifting to the more middling 'whodunnit' side of the show.

Episode 5 is a bit of a bumpy ride but admittedly prepares an abundance of new ground to cover over the final three episodes. In terms of drama, it's brilliant and intense and atmospheric and well-acted, but the whodunnit in wearing a little thin now, mainly because Trish isn't at the focus and the emotional side of the case is not as profound when she fades from centre. It's an episode mediating on evolving and changing relationships and character dynamics, with the cracks finally beginning to show and paths widening, rather than closing, as we head for the final stretch. Episode 5 stumbles a little bit in places but I'm still hopeful for a home run.

B+



Episode 6 (3rd April 2017)



Broadchurch have, without question, delivered their best episode of the series in the sixth instalment of season three: they've pulled off an episode that encompasses the show's strongest elements, packed to the rafters with intensity, emotion and drama, expertly energising the main storyline, fleshing out characters and propelling the show forward towards its conclusion. We drop in on almost all of the characters, cover all basis and deliver genuine developments for each and every one of them. It is well-crafted and masterful television, showing just what Broadchurch can achieve when they are firing on all cylinders.

Pretty much as soon as episode six begins, you get the feeling it will be a strong one; after an exposition-ladened introduction which makes sure all elements are aligned in the audiences mind, they infer that although the suspect list is large, they are slowly but surely narrowing down the field, crafting an intensity almost immediately. While the audience know of the forthcoming reveal regarding Katie's relationship with one of the main suspects, the way it plays out is absorbing; the reaction from Miller and Hardy in particular is feverish, with the sudden realisation of the implications her dishonesty may have in the court case echoing back to Danny's case extraordinarily, with all three actors delivering. Miller's unfolding anger later in the episode towards Katie's speedy path to success beautifully uncovers this new side to Elle we are seeing more of, with Olivia Colman passionate deconstruction of her self-entitlement both thrilling and uncomfortable to view. Colman receives another chance to shine, with a confrontation between her and Tom over his porn obsession, in a storyline that still feels important to the plot despite the supposed end-point it appears to reach. Beth's vehement towards a possible victim and her shrinking silence is captivating, once again depicting Jodie Whittaker's brilliance and control, while Trish's sharpness towards Cath reveals a new side to her character, with the writer's having us question whether this has been deep inside of her, somewhat bitchy and scathing all along, or whether it is simply the consequence of such a life-changing event in your life. Tonight's terrific script brings this notion to the forefront, but has anyone else noticed a slight diminishing likability to her character? It seems purposeful and while we unconditionally root for her perpetrator to be caught, a slightly nasty side seems to be emerging from her over the previous few weeks... Hmmm. Following the press conference, a fire seems to have been set under many of the suspects, included in a brilliant montage of the main players, and I can only hope the brilliance of this episode catapults the series forward, hoping that the remaining two episodes continue the fierce momentum it has built up over this sublime hour. For all the darkness it builds up though, the script writers remember to bring us the humour that makes the central duo so enjoyable to watch, summed up this week in Miller's 'bollocking'.

Mark Latimer's quest to avenge Joe Miller came to a head this week in the episode's most touching moments, showing the fragility of each of the men for very similar reasons (losing their loved ones), despite the very different actions that lead them to it. It's brilliant that the show, while showing the toxicity of masculinity in one storyline, can then demonstrate the frailty of them elsewhere, wonderfully utilising opposing representations so efficiently and effectively. I've continually remarked how much Andrew Buchan has impressed me (this season more so than ever) but nothing could have prepared me for tonight's masterclass - from those opening moments, so clearly a dream but so harrowing nonetheless, to the phone call that evokes memories of Danny atop of the cliff in season one and that haunting, powerful final shot of a man reduced to desperation and resolution - is utterly extraordinary. Both Buchan and the director manage to sell every single moment of his pain and subsequent collapse, with that lingering final shot so painful to witness. This season's career-defining performance from the talented actor is sensational, completely and utterly shattering your emotional wellbeing and leaving the week ahead until the aftermath and fallout almost unbearable. Heartbreaking, agonising and heart-wrenching, I'm beginning the campaign for (at least) a BAFTA nomination for Buchan after tonight's episode.

The only slight weakness of the episode though is the decision to place Ed Burnett as a prime suspect so close (but so far) from the end - in terms of representation, I'm pretty sure they won't have the only notable black man in Broadchurch as the town's serial rapist, so it seems like a damn obvious red herring to throw in so close to the end. That said, the unfolding investigation surrounding his character in no less compelling and will be just as interesting to see how he is pardoned or excused from the investigation after the mounting evidence against him.  On the whole though, Broadchurch's beauty shines once again this week, including some excellent camera work (again, that final shot will not leave me for WEEKS) and scenery, with a more notable use of Olafur Arnald's mesmerising score recapturing its power after fading slightly over the previous few weeks.

Broadchurch returns to peak potential and it feels excellent to have the show on top, back where it belongs. It pulled on the heartstrings, spurred the central mystery on and still manages to develop characters, after all this time. The cast, the script, the storyline, the production, the scenery, the direction and so, so much more is all combined in the most stunning episode of the series to date and pushes the show forward into the final two hours of the show and - if the remaining two episodes are of the same quality as this one - it may be enough to convince me that season three is the strongest Broadchurch season of them all.

A



Episode 7 (10th April 2017)



It's penultimate episode time! Broadchurch's seventh episode of the final season, rather than solving some of the show's mysteries in preparation for next week's series finale, actually gives us more to consider. It always has something to do, with new suspects thrust into the spotlight between every ad break, keeping audiences on our toes and waiting with baited breath - yet it doesn't seem to have actually revealed anything new or enlightening. It refuses to rule suspects out and adds little evidence to the fold, stumbling around until next week's expectedly explosive finale. Particularly when compared to last week's stellar effort, this penultimate instalment is somewhat unsatisfactory in Broadchurch terms; that being, it's solid but not to the high standard we have come to expect.

Rather than narrowing down the suspect list, Broadchurch's refusal to do so leaves the field so open that anyone could still emerge as the perpetrator - and that's actually rather frustrating. When you look at the early stages of the series and compare them with this latest episode, no one has been inexplicably ruled out or pardoned; new evidence has come into the frame, with each new piece altering the likelihood of the perpetrator and turning the heat up on certain individuals, ensuring the intensity is high throughout  - but the waters are just as muddied with absolutely no clarity at this (very) late stage in the game. It's so up in the air that it's actually becoming irritating. Yes, I want to still be guessing and yes I want to be enthralled with the unfolding mystery, but there are far too many suspects in the frame and everything delivered at this late stage seems to appear only as a red herring. A lot of the revelations we see here (Leo installing the spyware on Trish's laptop for Ian, the taxi driver in possession of Trish's keys and Jim's choice in condoms, to name just a few) are known to the audiences and it is simply a case of aligning the characters in play with the evidence, meaning the element of surprise is somewhat lacking due to our prior knowledge. Nothing feels illuminative and the episode plays out as a courtesy, perfunctory filling the hour before next week's finale.

It's not that episode seven is a completely empty instalment; Hardy's lambasting of his daughter's bullies is terrific television, with great script work and a reliably committed performance as a father rather than a detective from Tennant; the chemistry between Tennant and Colman is great, with Elle stealing Alec's toast a wonderful touch to demonstrate how their partnership has blossomed over the show's history, alongside Elle's excellent translation from delight into bamboozlement when Alec reveals he is 'being too nice'; and the beautiful parallelism between Beth awakening on the day of Danny's death and Mark's suicide attempt, representing the attention to detail the Broadchurch team pays to the show. All of this is solid, solid television work, with this perhaps being the most beautiful episode of the season yet (from the soft sunlight penetrating the interview scenes and some lovely sweeping shots of the coast) and impressive performances (again) - but it is not penultimate-episode quality. Mark's suicide attempt, framed so beautifully at the end of last week's episode, returns on a note as damp as Mark after spending, what, ten minutes in the sea? I do not mind he survived (in fact, I breathed a sigh of relief) but to have him return on this wimper is so underwhelming and a wasted opportunity more than anything, despite first-rate performances from Jodie Whittaker, Andrew Buchan and Charlotte Beaumont. Plus, as well-intentioned and symbolic as it tried to be, the 'solidarity march' was poorly executed and disappointing, shoehorned in and standing out for the wrong reasons, delivering an important message in a frustrating way.

Frustrating is how you sum up this entire episode actually - it's far from bad and actually enjoyable as a sum of its parts; but breaking it down, and looking at it from a critical viewpoint, the episode doesn't stand up to a) what came before it, b) what we expect from the show and c) for the fact this is the penultimate ever episode of Broadchurch. It stumbles far too often, fails to rule out any suspects and retreads ground too regularly to be deemed a success, delivering the season's weakest episode at the poorest time imaginable. So many plot points need clearing up (who owns the house next to the river? Where is the porn coming from? What was the light Trish was able to see as she was being raped?  Oh, and that mystery of who raped Trish Winterman...). I can only hope that next week's finale is closer in quality to last week's chapter than this week's instalment. I want this show to go out on a high more than anything but right now, it's pretty 50-50 as to whether it will or won't.

B-


Episode 8 (17th April 2017)


Stepping into the final ever episode of Broadchurch was tinged with an apprehension and a sadness; the show has, in all honesty, been my favourite British television series of all time - gripping from day one and consistently good. Chris Chibnall's coastal drama-thriller is of such a high quality that whenever the show dips somewhat in quality, as the penultimate episode did last week, its downfalls are only more pronounced. Last week's mediocre episode happened to follow the series' strongest chapter this year, so knowing what to expect from the finale was very uncertain.

To my absolute relief, Broadchurch's series finale delivered what has made the show a national phenomenon in a one hour slot: an episode of unwavering intensity, heartbreaking emotion, simultaneous beauty and darkness, with a stunning score and terrific tonal work closes the entire series out on an almost perfect note. As well as wrapping up season three's rape plot in a satisfying way - one that was both foreshadowed and partially unsurprising, combined with some genuine shock twists and turns - while closing out the overarching Broadchurch citizens across the three seasons nicely. It registers in the top-end of the season regarding episode quality and pay-off, landing on an optimistic note as our favourite seaside town fades into the sunset - and what a beautiful moment it was by the time we reach the credits.

(Spoilers below so look away if you are yet to see the finale episode)

Michael Lucas' (Deon Lee-Williams) involvement in the rape has been somewhat clear for two weeks now and absolute concrete within the first two minutes of the episode, with Lee-Williams bringing some tremendous nuance to his character throughout the episode after being overlooked throughout. Incorporating the theme of grooming was a surprisingly dark turn that makes perfect sense in retrospect, musing on the consideration of consent across the season and the toxicity of masculinity manifesting as the case has progressed. Leo Humphries (Chris Mason) seemed like an obvious red herring for the majority of the season so his involvement - and complete vulgarness - was more surprising but convincing when the darkness began to seep from him during the interrogation scene. Despite the script making some of these moments a little too striking and forced, with some revelations seemingly coming from nowhere, Mason's performance is sickening and a few little subtleties (including the timings of the attack) redeem this slight flaw, crafting some of the most brutal scenes of the entire show - and my god do they boil your blood and have you repulsively gasp.  Most of the elements slotted into place and while a few holes were left uncovered, they were minor enough to be forgiven in the long-run - particularly considering the extensive ground the episode was required to cover (both as a season finale and a series finale). Thematically, it was a well-balanced and capacious piece, with a lot of the darkness counterbalanced by a certain pairing...

Ellie Miller and Alec Hardy, as expected, have been terrific all-series long, mainly because of the wonderfully-developed chemistry between the once mis-matched pair and Colman and Tennant's sharp performances; quips are expertly timed, the emotion is restrained when needed and liberated when required, with the final moments between the pair an absolutely beautiful way to close out the show and the central partnership we have come to love and admire for all its differences. Another important pairing of the series, Beth and Mark's fraught relationship, comes to a bittersweet head in this final chapter, with some heart-wrenching scenes acting perfectly as an salient tonal shift, offering extended periods of silence and reticence - a notable departure from the franticness of Plot A. Of course, Andrew Buchan and Jodie Whittaker sell this for every penny it is worth and deliver an emotional and conflicting end-point for the pair who experienced such rocky waters - although heartbreaking in its final moments, it is refreshing to see the writer's avoiding the 'happy ending for all' cliche. Admittedly, this final episode had so much to cover that it physically couldn't include every main and supporting character across the series - but we were stretched so thin with our time that some characters were entirely dropped in this final stretch, confirming an opinion held across the entire season: we had too many suspects in the frame. Jim Atwood - arguably the very first suspect - was nowhere to be seen, Cath was nothing but a flashback, Tom Miller might have muttered a few words and Katie was disappointingly absent for the majority. Even Trish, after Julie Hesmondhalgh's powerhouse performance in the first half of the series, was under utilised in this conclusive instalment but you can't win them all.

Once again, it was an episode of complete beauty; despite its prominent night-setting, the camera and director manage to pick out some genuinely stunning moments, from the gloomy lighting of the flashback sequences to the majesty of the cliff sequence, always leaving you in awe. The cinematography has forever been one of the series' high points and this absolutely proves that, with the final sequence - between Miller and Hardy at the forefront of the cliff-face that has become a character in its own right throughout the show's course - is one that captures everything special about Broadchurch. Olafur Arnards' haunting and evocative score transforms into its own tonight after its insufficient use elsewhere across the season, truly emphasising key moments effectively and really rather beautifully. As mentioned, some of the writing felt a little too forced, particularly from characters who didn't appear to have the intelligence to actually believe the metaphors they were spewing, but the tonal work and thematic content is more than solid, delving in far deeper than expected - with some wonderful musing on impressionable young minds, masculinity and parental impact. All of this, presented brilliantly by Chibnall, ensures and prevents the episode from coming across as if it is preaching and painting all young people with the same brush, evident in Miller and Hardy's affirmations. It's thoughtful, subtle and tremendous work from the scriptwriters and performers who handle their material expertly.

I am so, so thankful Broadchurch ended on such a positive note. It is well-earned, emotionally-driven and satisfying conclusion to a series that has so often nailed the genre. It slips up on a couple of occasions, mainly because of how much ground the final episode was left to cover, but Episode 8 perpetuates and wraps up the show to the high-standard we have come to expect from the Dorset-set series. The acting and performances, writing and scripting, filming, directing, score and cinematography were all nailed in this final chapter, working tremendously well as a season and a series finale, culminating three seasons' worth of hard-work in this conclusive chapter that wraps up the stories they have told very effectively. Our parting shot of the Miller and Hardy, framed so beautifully by the cliffs, demonstrates everything that works about this show and what a ride it has been. Thank you Broadchurch and goodbye.

A-

No more episodes left but check back shortly for a season overview!

Power Rangers (2017) (Review)


Power Rangers is the next hopeful cinematic property dug up from the 80s to front a new film franchise. Lionsgate, with no Hunger Games entries in the foreseeable future and Divergent on life support, the studio is obviously inspired by the initial success of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and are banking on a reboot of Haim Saban's superhero series to begin their next big-budget tentpole, after the success of their smaller releases - including La La Land, Hacksaw Ridge, John Wick: Chapter 2 and Nerve - over the past year. With no connection to the series and no prior knowledge of the property beyond the obvious, what does a first timer think of this reboot?

After the Green Ranger, Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), betrays the Power Rangers she is seemingly killed along with the others after Zordon buries the Power Coins to protect the world from her wrath. Years later, five teenagers discover the Coins and realise their new-found superpowers require them to protect the world from a revived Rita who goes about collecting gold to raise her minion, Goldar. Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery), Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott), Billy Cranston (RJ Tyler), Trini Kwan (Becky G) and Zack Taylor (Ludi Lin) becomes the Red, Pink, Blue, Yellow and Black Rangers to stop the alien threat led by Repulsa. Is this new Power Rangers worth morphin' your hard earned money into a cinema ticket?

It is absolutely refreshing to see such diversity amongst the cast and characters of this superhero film, willing to change and experiment with different dynamics with an individual crop of recruits, including a queer character, one on the autism spectrum and a variety of races and ethnicities. Rather than becoming a novelty, the film really does benefit from a liberal outlook and inclusivity that earns the film some goodwill going forward. Power Rangers aims admirably high in this regard and does attempt to break the superhero mould with a more kid-friendly outlook on the genre, with just a few moments of bleakness in an otherwise relatively colourful spectacle. We see a committed cast of Rangers, with special mentions to Montgomery (who is basically the love child of Zac Efron and Chris Pine) and Tyler for their charming turns, with the two females delivering effective performances too; I'm yet to be sold on Lin's Zack and was easily the most unlikeable of the bunch and the hardest to root for. However, Elizabeth Banks steals the show (and is arguably the only reason I turned up at all), with a honourably camp and exciting performance as the film's villain, reminiscent of Charlize Theron's role in The Huntsman. She's over the top and joyful to watch and my interest in a sequel will depend entirely on her involvement.

Trouble is, Power Rangers takes too long to get going, is completely preposterous and not that easy to love, struggling to shake off the fact that it feels like a desperate, washed-up attempt at a new franchise, rather than an invigorating revival of one. The script is witty and apparently nods back to the original series with care but the screenwriters take way too long to launch us into action, essentially bifurcating the film into two halves that are both obviously flawed. Director Dean Israelite props up some of the scenes with colour and imagery, with a great underwater sequence crafted in act one, but he cannot handle the action set pieces effectively and they are poorly-executed; by the time the action set piece are delivered, its easy to understand the screenwriters reluctancy and delays, as they are so haphazard and energised with little oomph and balance outside of the performers. The character drama is solid but greatly sags in the middle, failing to use its time (a good hour and a half, that is) to develop all five of the leads fairly, placing Yellow and Black firmly on the peripheral. All of this results in a uneven and unbalanced tonal mess that means the blockbuster struggles to feel cohesive and is unable to decide what its wants to identify as, unsure on how to infuse genre effectively; the film desperately wants to keep its options open for future instalments, depending on which side of the story is more favoured by general audiences. Both are deeply flawed with a few sparks of greatness that it needs to harness for a successful franchise moving forward.

We're only three months into this year but if anything overtakes Power Rangers as the film with the most shameless, ludicrous product placing, I will be floored; my god, could they fit any more references or shots of Krispy Kreme in if they tried?! Our villain literally takes a donut break in the middle of all the chaos of the third act (and believe me, it is chaotic). It only serves to reinforce the notion that the reboot feels entirely like a cash-grab rather than a natural revival of the series, alongside the soundtrack that is designed entirely as a second revenue stream with its track-list bursting with some of the biggest pop tunes of the last few years. It makes some weak narrative choices, including the use of Goldar who is utterly unnecessary - a stronger focus on Banks' Rita would have benefitted the story, not only because she is underused but because the CGI used to craft the monster in this final third is rather woeful. These third act effects are glaringly bad, with this creature and the presence of molten gold shockingly amateur, even though the CGI is serviceable for the rest of the runtime. Oh, and like most blockbuster, it could do with a time trim in order to alleviate that enfeeble middle act that drags it down a little.

With lowered expectations, you will be able to find some enjoyment in this whirlwind of CGI but 'leaving your brain at the door' is hardly the way you want to proceed into a film, particularly with so much competition in the cinemas at the moment - most noticeably, Beauty & The Beast. It's serviceable and not nearly as bad as I was expecting for a first-timer but it's nothing to sing and dance about and doesn't leave me with a lot of promise for the franchise moving forward. The cast are all decent, we have some thrills, some genuinely great character beats and thankfully the misplaced joke about 'milking' a male cow doesn't set the tone for the entire piece - but it's not too far off either. There's a charm about Power Rangers that I didn't really expect and it feels more squarely aimed at kids than any other superhero film in the past year or so, so I'm hardly the demographic in mind. The diversity of the cast and heroes is terrific and really efficient in helping the film forge a vision of its own, with Montgomery, Tyler and Banks particularly deserving praise. Power Rangers isn't the dead on arrival flop expected but will require a lot of attention if Lionsgate continue with the further instalments, as they have made abundantly clear as their goal.

(5/10)

Summary: Power Rangers is a mixed bag; it forges its own vision with an inclusive cast, unique characters and decent performances but that only occasionally distracts from a terribly uneven story, weak CGI and awfully distracting product placement.

Highlight: Respected actresses going gaga for a superhero/fantasy film is one of my favourite things. Elizabeth Banks has so much fun here.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Life (2017) (Review)


Continuing the emerging niche market of adult sci-fi fare during the pre and post summer blockbuster window, Life joins the likes of Arrival, Passengers, The Martian, Interstellar and Gravity by attempting to offer something wholly original in the tentpole and franchise-fuelled industry. While my particular fondness of the genre is a little hit and miss, the marketing and trailers for Life set out a terrific, promising piece to continue bearing the torch, infusing this Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds outing with horror similar to that of the Alien series. Therefore, I'm genuinely disappointed to report that, despite the name suggesting otherwise, there is no signs of Life in this sci-fi horror adventure.

Six members of the International Space Station successfully capture a space probe returning from Mars with a soil sample that proves to be the first evidence of extraterrestrial life. Managing to extract a single-cell from the sample, Biologist Huge Derry grows it into a multi-celled organism that grows quickly in an adjusted atmosphere. However, realising that each cell in the organism is a myocyte, neutron and photoreceptor (meaning it can move, think and see), they quickly realise that this may be a discovery they live to regret. Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds star as the names-above-the-poster while Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Baker and Olga Dihovichnaya perform in supporting roles. 

Note above that I haven't provided any names, as the characters are completely forgettable, with the script failing to afford any depth or development to any of the six scientists aboard the ISS. You struggle to care for them or will for their survival, as the film plays out with little urge and in an entirely perfunctory way, caring more for a plot that feels completely derivative of similar films, than characters or even thematic advancement, which is where a lot of the promise actually rests. Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick's script is shallow, indicative of the entire picture, never delivering anything beyond surface detail and struggling to maintain even that basic level. Characters are picked off on by one in what strives to be inventive ways but never really achieves, providing everything by-the-numbers with little consideration beyond that sequel they try to set up. Director Daniel Espinosa attempts to jazz it up but its largely hit or miss, with some elements that feel entirely 'style over substance', including the unnecessarily elongated opening sequence and a mid-point chase scene - although, admittedly, the very final shot is truly gorgeous but completely out of place in this otherwise sub-standard flick. Special effects are decent but nothing overly remarkable, especially when held next to the likes of the groundbreaking Gravity and Interstellar, or even Alien, which the film so openly aspires to be. Even the production design is unspectacular, particularly for a film of this budget (roughly $58 million).

While various elements let the film down, the most glaring issue with Life is that it is genuinely boring. It's incontrovertible to suggest that Life isn't without its moments, crafting some spots of genuine intensity, peppered mainly throughout the first act and the transition into the middle act, as well as a couple of moments at the very end of the picture, but besides that, it never nearly compels you to stay throughout it, endlessly drifting into stretches of boredom and complete perplexity like a body floating in space. Aforementioned ending is entirely predictable but kind of thrilling, with a sprinkle of scenes predominantly based in the lab promising; but apart from these brief moments, everything else struggles to hit the mark, imitative and poorly executed with little in the way of convincing you this is anything other than a place holder until the next sci-fi picture comes rolling around. Kelvin, the alien at the heart, is decently designed and is the closest thing to memorable the film conjures up. In this premise exists a genuinely exciting film but the final product is far from that, a shadow of its potential and a truly forgettable exercise in conventionality.

Both the lead and supporting performances are decent enough but no one is truly given an opportunity to shine, restricted in doing so by the poor and uninspired script that leaves you with a couple of eye-rolls every now and then. Without meaning offence to the BBC show, Life is basically an episode of Doctor Who extended into a feature-length runtime - except, this isn't a Weeping Angel masterpiece or Dalek classic, but instead a series filler only placed to pass the time in the middle of a weaker season. Much like your average series of Doctor Who, it suffers from pacing issues and its 103 minute runtime could do with a 15 minute trim to make it a more robust piece of cinema which could possibly alleviate a few of its nagging issues; that would also result in a tighter script with less time to deviate and one that may make more sense with a stronger notion of cohesion. A shorter time would possibly cut out a lot of that boredom too, which is probably the most perplexing element of this film.

Tiresome and tedious, Life never comes to grips with the promise its premise hints at, with the interesting themes foregone for narrative work that feels conventional every step of the way, in terms of both science-fiction tropes and horror cliches. Humanity's hunger to know more than they should and the consequences of actually finding extra-terrestrial life would be a more interesting idea to play with, but is abandoned for a more perfunctory, uninspired angle, abandoning a lot of the tension its deserves. A few decent directorial flourishes are effective and the cast is passable with the material they are afforded - but on the whole and rather ironically, Life is rather lifeless experience.

(4/10)

Summary: It is with no pleasure at all that I must report that there is no sign of Life here. It is a soulless exercise of science-fiction and horror conventions, with a weak, uninspired script weighing down what could have been a promising continuation of the new-found 'sci-fi for adults canon.

Highlight: The last shot is genuinely beautiful - it is honestly one of the most beautiful things I've seen. It also signalled the end of the film, so it was a win-win.