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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



If you didn't already know that the third season of ITV's hugely-popular crime-drama Broadchurch was the final chapter, the ending shot itself implied some finality. Lingering on the cliffs that became as much a character in their own right as the residents that populated the town, we waved goodbye to the coast that delivered three seasons worth of shocks, upsets and drama. With season one focusing on the murder of Danny Latimer, season two exploring the aftermath of the arrest as well as the Sandbrook case, season three was somewhat left to its own devices, popping back in with the characters every now and then but predominantly centering around the sexual assault of a woman in the seaside town. Thankfully, The Final Chapter proved as successful as previous seasons, keeping viewers gripped during its eight episode run. To mark the release of the DVD, Blu-Ray and Series Boxset, let's take a look back on the series as a whole. Was it worth taking a trip back to Broadchurch?

I'll hold my hands up and admit that I didn't expect the third season to be a standalone as it was. With seasons one and two intrinsically linked, with each case relying heavily on the other in season two in particular, season three felt like a different show - except with the same setting, cast and characters. It did a relatively fine job of keeping the Danny case and the Trish investigation separate, only overlapping through certain character's involvement in each and all but erasing the second season completely after its mixed reception. On a personal level, I would have liked the two 'sides' of Broadchurch to overlap slightly more seamlessly, but it was nice to drop in one some old friends and discover more of the residents populating the town.

Season three's storyline was a gripping one and although it perhaps felt a step down from 'murder' at first, remained dark and engaging continually. Exploring the sexual assault of Trish Winterman offered a plethora of new themes to consider and the writer's managed to handle that pretty well throughout; a few scenes felt a little shoehorned and on the nose, but that can be forgiven in the statements they tried to convey. Once again, the finale in particular delivered twists and turns and kept us guessing right until the very end; some elements became clearer earlier on but no one can claim to have sussed the entirety of the very last instalment. The season slightly tripped up regarding the number of suspects it introduced, including how many still remained in the frame by the time the finale rolled around; there was so much to cover in last Monday's episode that I'm surprised it did enough to satisfy the majority of viewers, myself included. Few of the characters were as compelling as the cohort from season one but they were never really intended to - unlike the first batch of characters, the new lot were only ever intended to be suspects, a one season done deal almost. The new cast were terrific on the whole, with a special mention for Julie Hesmondhalgh for her raw and honest portrayal of a sexual assault victim and the aftermath experienced.

Where the cast really shined was with the returnees though; David Tennant and Olivia Colman were on top form, as ever, with their beautiful chemistry at fever-pitch throughout. They balance the emotion of the piece with burst of genuine hilarity, excellently developing a partnership to a friendship and it has been an absolute joy to watch blossom. Really stepping up their game for season three was Jodie Whittaker and (particularly) Andrew Buchan. While their scenes were not always necessary to the plot, they were stunningly acted and offered some of the season's most powerful moments, including that cliffhanger in episode six, which is easily the stand-out moment (and episode) of the season. The performances elevate the show terrifically, alongside the sheer beauty of the direction and cinematography. It's been just as exceptional this year and the show continues to amaze me 24 hours in, demonstrating the talent of the production team in discovering the beauty of Dorset and bringing it to our screen. Olafur Arnards' haunting score continued to be an triumph, certifying the Icelandic composer as one of the best of his generation.

Episodes rolled by and were typically of a B+ grade standard, although it dipped on occasions and rose to absolute greatness a couple of times. Episodes 1, 6 and 8 proved to be standouts, while Episode 7 was the weakest of the bunch and caused a lot of worry heading for that final hour, registering the series at a solid B+/A- on the whole. While, at a push, I would say I preferred seasons one and two slightly, that is a testament to their strength rather than season three's weakness, wonderfully demonstrating the insane heights this show can reach. Broadchurch, ultimately, proved to be darkest before dawn but it has been an absolute thrill to experience and I will lovingly look back on this show as the pinnacle of British television.

Average grade: B+/A- (I'll let you know after a rewatch!)

Goodbye Broadchurch!

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.


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.


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.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Beauty & The Beast (3D) (2017) (Review)

Disney have travelled quite the rocky road with their live-action fairytale sub-genre; Pete's Dragon and The Jungle Book were really excellent; Maleficent and Cinderella were both decent enough; while Alice In Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking Glass register on the lower end of that spectrum, with a plethora of remakes in the pipeline over the coming years. Beauty & The Beast is the next in that billion-dollar grossing series, with Emma Watson and Dan Stevens starring in the titular roles. Considered a firm fan favourite by many, it has a lot resting on its shoulders - so just how does the tale as old as time stand up to the deeply loved original and should you be its guest?

Sacrificing herself for her father, Belle (Watson) is taken prisoner by a Beast in his enchanted castle, in which all his furniture comes to life. Under a spell, the Beast must show that he can love, and be loved in return, before the final rose petal falls, or remain a beast forever. With time quickly passing, Belle could be their only hope to return to their normal lives and break the spell, if only she can teach him how to love. The filmmakers have promised some new additions and tweaks to the original story to make it more suitable to contemporary audiences, with 35 minutes added on to its runtime in the process. Has the memory of the original been damaged with this retelling? Or has it somewhat improved the beloved animation?

Honestly, it does neither, falling somewhere in between. It plays out exactly as you expect it to, a carbon copy that lacks justification and is devoid of imagination. It's absolutely warming and feel-good, likely pleasing the intended audiences with this beautiful re-sell, but there's no denying that this is somewhat of a copy-and-paste job. Some sequences feel entirely shot-for-shot and any new additions and depth added to various backstories are evidently tweaked for inclusivity, becoming far too pronounced and garish, as if for the sake of it. That's not how it should be handled, as the 'issues' the film strives to normalise and sensitise audiences to (LGBT characters, interracial relationships etc.) stand out for being too imaginative in a film that otherwise lacks it. In equal parts, that is both brilliant and unfortunate; it certainly doesn't dampen my appreciation towards Disney for attempting to bring audiences into the 21st century, but I just wish it didn't feel so revolutionary by default. If the film had felt like a new imagining of the tale, instead of sticking so cautiously to the beloved source material, these moments of progression would be a breath of fresh air, but instead they feel planted in a film otherwise too connected to its roots. We develop on a few plot strands but nothing overly profound, although details on Belle's mother is a nice addition.

Beauty & The Beast brings together a tremendous ensemble cast, all helmed by Emma Watson in a role that feels custom made for her English class; it's a decent performance, as she handles the music, the action and the humour efficiently, even if she doesn't always seem comfortable in some of the more CGI-orientated moments. Watson's collaborative efforts with the filmmakers in their attempt to unburden the film from its problematic 'Stockholm syndrome' set-up is notable, with an attempt at making Belle a more feminist role-model but its not fully convincing and still a little icky - a fundamental character flaw that clouds the film more than anything else. Dan Stevens is pretty restricted and their relationship is not fully explored, despite their love being the central plot element of the piece. Luke Evans and Josh Gad's double act is particularly impressive, with Evans' Gaston infusing an unshakeable likability with sheer arrogance and irritability (thanks to the man himself) while Josh Gad's LeFou delivers a subtle and affirming performance as Gaston's sidekick with his wavering dedication to his partner in crime well-realised. The pair's village sequences and song 'Gaston' are some of the film's standout moments, bringing a real oomph to the film when the pace  begins to falter. A game voice cast succeed to varying degrees, with Emma Thompson the absolute highlight, perfectly affording her a moment to shine during her heartbreaking reprisal of the theme song, which we are treated to on two occasions. In fact, many of the musical sequences are among the strongest - Be Our Guest, my personal favourite, is the only returning classic to underwhelm.

Where Beauty & The Beast really excels in is its sumptuous, lavish beauty, with its rumoured $160 million budget splashed onto screen in all its exuberance and extravagance. Production elements are stunningly-designed and brought to life, with a impressive level of detail paid to each; the costumes are lush and exciting, props and decorations are dazzling, most of the sets are exquisite and, for the majority, the CGI is strong. Vibrant and bustling village-set sequences, including that enjoyable 'Belle' opening and the climatic 'Kill the beast!' moment, contrast with the more dull and drab castle exterior sequences, which is unsurprisingly where the film loses a lot of its spark - including a relative lull during the middle act. Alan Menken's score is pretty enchanting, with the new musical additions working effectively on the whole (except that bizarre Evermore addition which feels tonally awkward). Director Bill Condon helps accentuate some of the magic, with some really nice touches, demonstrated no more so than during the ballroom scene and, ironically, the final ballroom scene, with cinematographer Tobias Schliessler finding further beauty in his vision. We've got some terrific usage of 3D, amplifying the visual spectacle, with the ballroom scene even more impressive; it's not overly remarkable but does help in highlighting the magic.

Beauty & The Beast has a lot to like but there's little to love; while it fails to distinguish itself from the beloved original, it never really tries to break out from its shadow either. It is the definition of playing it safe, escaping to the middle ground of fantasy musical live-action and Disney's own sub-genre. You cannot help but will the film to try something new or something different. Its charm is undeniable and ignites a nostalgia within you that will greatly influence how much you enjoy this remake - and it is a remake, rather than a re-imagining, as that suggests imagination was actually involved - of the tale as old as time. While I am not naive enough to believe that Hollywood is designed for any other reason that making as much money as possible, this is the first time during one of Disney's live-action re-imaginings where I've caught myself, mid-movie, questioning their justification in reviving this particular property, with nothing new to say in the final product. It's really fine, delightful and splendid at times and it will absolutely win round audiences, but the final outcome is unshakeably perfunctory and lacks the imagination that made the original so enjoyable in my eyes.


Summary: Beauty & The Beast is decent enough, with stunning production elements, joyful musical numbers and a game cast - but there is little new offered to this tale as old as time, making the final outcome largely perfunctory and unimaginative.

Highlight: Emma Thompson's version of 'Beauty & The Beast'. I want to shake the person's hand who came up with the idea.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Get Out (2017) (Review)

Get Out looked like trash. After seeing the trailers a couple of times attached to various films in the lead up to its release, I had dismissed it as another horror misstep, your typical 'early year' flaky horror flick simply designed as counter-programming, to fill the gap in essence. But then, something huge happened: launching to critical acclaim, rave reviews, huge box office receipts and even a few whispers of future Oscar glory, the film captured a zeitgeist and is quickly becoming one of the most successful horror films of all time, never mind one that infuses comedy into the fold. The sub-genre is arguably the most difficult one to nail, emphasised by its dreadful success rate -  so how does this example, marking the directorial debut of Jordan Peele, fare and should you get out to see it?

Black photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) leaves with his white girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), for the suburbs to meet her parents, Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener). Although she tells him she has never had a black boyfriend, she assures him that her family are not racist and will accept him as they have her previous partners. With his concerns initially alleviated, he slowly begins to realise something is not quite right, when Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and Walter (Marcus Henderson), two housekeepers, continue to act peculiar. As you can probably tell from the marketing and plot summary alone, the film deals with themes such as racism and divide in this biting social satire and commentary, that has seemingly struck a chord amongst cinemagoers, particularly with audiences on the other side of the pond as it now begins its international roll-out.

Despite my initial reluctancy that a horror-comedy could ever be effective - having never seen or fully brought into an example before -  Get Out sets the standard unbelievably high. Horror and comedy are such opposing genres with such alternative aims, yet Peele uses elements of each and blends them into an almost faultless film. The uncomfortable use of humour helps craft an uneasy atmosphere that is perpetuated throughout the entire film, sustained from the first frame (which is very possibly one of the most effective horror opening scenes in recent memory) until the very last. It indulges in a few horror conventions but the infusion of comedy is enough to disconcert you, with every jump and scare feeling fresh and unique. All of this is in thanks to Peele's assured direction; it's unfathomable that this is only his directorial debut, as he projects an unwavering confidence and skill, from the balance of tone to the bold direction, the razor-sharp script to the solid execution. Of the script, Peele somehow manages to avoid pushing its themes too drastically and forcefully, understanding when and where self-control is required and refusing to play the blame game. It really is masterful and the type of film the edge of your seat is made for, tremendously running at an efficient and unpredictable pace all the while.

Anchoring the film further is the terrific central performance, as well as some enduring supporting turns. Black Mirror's Daniel Kaluuya delivers a performance of nuance, control and restraint during the first half, making for an even more impactful second half that allows him to flex his acting muscles wonderfully. There's something inherently likeable about Chris, upturning horror character tropes effectively and giving your someone to root for as everything unfolds. Allison Williams is tremendous as Rose, exuding a warmth and compassion that ensures the pair are well-matched particularly when contrasted with Chris' more sedated personality; she shows a lot of promise here and her name is well worth making a note of, in a similar vein as for what The Witch did for Anya Taylor-Joy's. Disconcerting and alarming, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener and Caleb Landry Jones deliver startling performances as the more questionable members of the Armitage family, alongside 'family members' Betty Gabriel and Marcus Henderson who perform with a great sense of control and poise. Lil Rey Howery is flat-out hilarious as Rod, a friend of Chris and Rose, with a continually amusing and sharp portrayal as his concerned friend. Each of the actors, most noticeably Whitford and Gabriel walk the fine line between dramatic and comedic performances expertly, always delivering when needed, including one scene in which the latter, a shaken Georgina, begins manically laughing with tears streaming down her face; you honestly do not know whether to laugh yourself or cry or sink into your chair or cover your eyes in fear - it is a hypnotising performance and encompasses everything great director, writer and producer Peele does with this film.

So many more individual elements add to the success of Get Out; the excellent score and phenomenal soundtrack which accentuates that comedic element further, with the opening scene contrapuntally underscored by 'Run Rabbit Run' (despite its reputation as trashy television, this is the one element absolutely mastered by Fox's Scream Queens horror-comedy anthology series) masterfully, as well as the reprisal of a famous musical's defining track; intermittent bursts of horror and/or gore that are never overly excessive and infrequent enough to prevent turning less-sensitised viewers off completely; a genuine, startling unpredictability - even if/when you clock a few of the twists, you can never lay claim as to where this film is heading in the long-run. Some people may have find issues with the fact that the film chickens out of saying anything lasting in the end, dismissing one of its major plot strands with an unexplained resolution that niggles just slightly. Perhaps the most major flaw of this film though is its spoiler-filled trailer; not only does it suggest an end-project not nearly as terrific as its outcome, but it's stuffed full with spoilers that dampens the thrill of witnessing it all unfold. Thankfully the third act is left unrevealed but you get too much of a sense of what to expect from the beginning two acts, causing it to somewhat lose the element of surprise. It's exactly the opposite of what Suicide Squad (sensational marketing, dreadful final product) and Passengers (hid one of the early major twists, completely changing the notion you approach the film with) did, implying that Hollywood still has a long way to go in balancing its trailers and marketing to expectations. Basically, the more blind you go into this film, the better for your enjoyment and surprise.

Get Out is an effective, creepy and calculated social commentary that is every bit as biting and sharp as you would hope, thanks to a confidence from first-time director, writer and producer Jordan Peele. It's infusion of horror and comedy under the same roof is notably unsettling, with a heady mix of politics, humour and fun. It's unbelievably smart and subversive, twisted and slick. One fear of mine heading into this film, almost four weeks after it landed in the US, is that it wouldn't connect with UK audiences as it did with our friends over the pond - but after sitting in a screening with the most enthused audience for a good while, all my qualms were squashed and I am convinced this will be an equally large hit here as well as abroad, even if some of the themes and characters are not as immediately recognisable. Get Out is a fine, fine film that deserves it heralding as a contemporary horror classic.


Summary: Get Out is a razor-sharp social satire that is every bit as thrilling and shocking as it is hilarious and creepy. Balancing out two contradictory genres is a difficult feat, yet first-time director Jordan Peele pretty much masters it on first attempt. The contemporary horror classic of our age is here.

Highlight: "You know I can't do that babe"

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Six Rounds (2017) (Review)

There's one moment in Marcus Flemmings' self-financed film Six Rounds in which the main character, Dan/Stally, turns to the camera and seemingly addresses the audience directly; "I can't lose that", he vows, repeatedly, preparing for a boxing match set against the backdrop of and amidst the fallout of the London 2011 Riots. That one moment, seconds before the beginning of 'Round XI' sees the culmination of a heady set of themes and a blistering atmosphere, stunningly realised in Flemming's debut feature-length, an exploration on racism, ageism, classism and dreams. Whether that line is referring to the intense atmosphere, audience concentration or the film's focus on its characters and themes, you'll be pleased to learn it doesn't lose it - it excels. Primarily drenched in monochrome and unwavering in its potency, Six Rounds is an assured debut piece that has so much on its mind but still manages to convey its musings with subtle, interpretable strokes.

As a debut feature-length, Six Rounds is a terrifically well-realised, thematically profound and focused piece of film-making, packed to the rafters with promise regarding the future of the man behind the camera. Marcus Flemmings, who writes, directs and produces the piece, is so confident in his vision that he abolishes any 'first-time' tellings early on, propelled to make a raw and natural piece of cinema that uses its backdrop without ever exploiting it; it never relies too heavily on these riots, acting more as a jumping-off point for this absorbing character study and internal monologue that follows. It is a universal and relatable piece, allowing Flemmings to attach a fuse to each of the themes presented here (and in every day society) that burns long enough to ignite further consideration from the audience, long after the credits have rolled and we return back to reality. In fact, this film is so grounded in reality, from the still, lingering shots that feel like an intrusion on these characters' every day lives and the natural, realistic performances delivered by Adam J Bernard in particular, that it really works to the film's advantage and viewer's immersion.

What is so terrific about Six Rounds is the film leaves a lot open for interpretation, subtly delivering powerful themes without ever forcing opinions and preaching to viewers; its skilful in that it provokes an emotional response without directly prescribing what exactly that response should be. Should we feel empowerment? Frustration? Anger? Despondency? That's entirely up to the individual, demonstrating the strength of the script and its on-screen execution. As an example, for me, the film is just as much about youth and age as it is about racism and class - ambitiously thought-provoking, it understands the importance of nuance, evident in one scene in which Dan, our lead, converses with an ill-advised, well-intentioned middle-class white lady that confirms stereotypes are still in place in society and handles the recupusion of them well. A compelling way Six Rounds operates is through the central idea of duelling, completing the boxing allegory tremendously; not only do two boxers fight it out in the ring, exchanging blow after blow (an image we continually return to), but our lead experiences a similar back-and-forth, torn as to whether he should return to his street, crime-inducing ways to help a friend or lead a higher-class existence with his lover he has now acclimatised to. It's an excellent idea and parallel enhanced through various character relationships and dynamics, most noticeable the two lovers at the heart of the film - an interracial couple who could not be further apart in terms of background and upbringing, skin colour, class and outlook. It's a masterful way to reflect the inner dichotomisation of our lead character and the moral dilemma at the centre of everything the piece attempts (and typically achieves with flying colours).

Effectively, the film's decision to deliver its message through monochrome visuals in as interesting one and almost immediately shatters the novelty of the set-up. Dropping us, very sparingly, into scenes of concentrated saturations and hues, this decision places a more intense magnification on the film's conversations, messages, tone and characters by fully absorbing viewers in the atmosphere of the piece, (working well from a thematic standpoint as well); these intermittent scenes of colour suggest a passion and vibrancy that enlivens these moments, helping to build on the lead and the romantic relationship that populates the piece. Episodically structured and restrictive in its runtime (clocking in at under 56 minutes), the film is benefitted due to its snappiness and pace, never dwelling on chapters excessively or over-indulging. Perhaps this leads to some of the film's minor flaws, including underdeveloped supporting characters and performances, as well as a slight monotony, although this does mean the film affords more time for our lead, superbly played by Bernard. Bernard delivers a strong performance, making the most of the film's powerful, emotional moments and nails the physicality of an athlete in the ring, including the anguish that comes with doing so, bringing the emotional baggage with him too. Bolstered further by a succession of quick cuts and precise shots - including one in which the camera slowly lingers on a meeting between friends in the corner of the room, as if the audience is trespassing on their personal space and conversation - the film contains a clear attention to detail that does not go amiss, even after just one viewing, and accentuated after a second. Six Rounds is an exhilarating watch, even for those (like myself) who wouldn't usually gravitate towards the genre or its content.

Six Rounds is a slick, absorbing social commentary, character study and internal monologue on a very personal, intimate level - yet its universal themes and timely release make it an incredibly relatable one too, whether that be because of your age, background, skin colour or inability and reluctancy to settle and decide in a society where everything seems to matter. It utilises its backdrop carefully without excess, all orchestrated by confident direction from Marcus Flemmings and anchored by a solid performance from Adam J Bernard at the centre. Its blistering atmosphere ensures intensity remains at fever-pitch throughout its 56 minute runtime, expertly handling themes and ideas profoundly and with adroitness and consideration. It defies conventions as to what it means to have a film with a person of colour at the centre, shattering expectations really efficiently. Marcus Flemmings has crafted this film as something genuinely exciting, effective and accomplished; it is worth making a note of his name as, even with a micro-budget on hand, he always impresses - this is only the beginning for Flemmings and he should be very proud with his work on Six Rounds.


Summary: Six Rounds is an incredibly accomplished piece of film-making by director, writer and producer Marcus Flemmings. Its decision to focus on its characters and themes is a smart one, striking a balance that ensures the film is open to interpretation and further consideration long after the credits have rolled.

Highlight: The intensity of the very opening moments is incredible, crafting a marvellous tone that continues throughout the rest of the film.