Category Archives: Book based

Review – Jason Bourne (12a) [2016]

Jason Bourne - title banner

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

  • Paul Greengrass – Bloody Sunday, Bourne II-III, Green Zone, Captain Phillips

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • David Buckley – Blood Creek, From Paris With Love, The Town, The Boy Downstairs
  • John Powell – Bourne I-III, Paycheck, X-Men III, Green Zone, Rio I & II, How To Train Your Dragon I-III

In 2002, The Bourne Identity came out, starring Matt Damon as the titular character. Based on Robert Ludlum’s best-selling novel, audiences followed Jason Bourne, the CIA’s amnesiac, super-assassin find out who he was. The Bourne Identity was such a success, it was followed by The Bourne Supremacy (2004), The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) and The Bourne Legacy (2012), in which (strangely) Matt Damon/Jason Bourne was absent.

Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), having gone into hiding from the CIA, fights in (quasi-legal) bare-knuckle duels to make a living.

Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), having gone into hiding from the CIA, fights in (quasi-legal) bare-knuckle duels to make a living.

Now, nine years after Matt Damon last played the role, Jason Bourne is back in (the unimaginatively-titled) Jason Bourne. But after having found out (seemingly) all there was to know about his past, what new information could he learn? And, more importantly, does it make for worthwhile viewing?

Jason Bourne begins with Nicky Parsons (Julia Styles) hacking into the CIA and stealing files about Treadstone, the top secret project that Jason Bourne was part of when he first joined the CIA. Whilst hacking, Nicky finds out that Jason’s father, Richard, had a role in Treadstone. So, she goes to Athens and finds Bourne doing quasi-legal bareknuckle fighting for cash.

However, no sooner does Nicky tell Bourne that she has information about his father, the CIA are after them. Bourne now has to evade the CIA once more. Yet, at the same time, he must chase down the necessary people in the CIA who can answer questions about his father.

Jason Bourne is a typical Bourne film, just updated by the touching upon of how Wikileaks founder, Edward Snowden, and data-storing internet companies affect the workings of the CIA. Otherwise, the film has high-octane chases; some good chase sequences, the first of which is particularly well put together, occurring during an anti-austerity riot in Athens; some close-up, shaky-cam fight sequences; and several unexplained plot contrivances. All of which makes for fun viewing.

CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) keeping close watch of his bent-forward protégé, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander).

CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) keeping close watch of his bent-forward protégé, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander).

Yet, apart from that, there really is not much to Jason Bourne. If anything, this is a step-down from the standards previously set by the first three Bourne films. The directing and editing are awful. Part of the appeal of the original Bourne films was that the camera was so close, shaking and sufficiently cut that one felt like they were part of the fights. That happens again here and it is all right. But it is not all right for the camera to shake when there is no fight going on (seriously Paul Greengrass, invest in a tripod) or to cut fight/action scenes every second or so, as it makes one sick.

Also, viewers learn little we did not already know about the eponymous character… other than that Bourne is a doubly super-assassin. It is amazing (staggering in fact) that Bourne is still able to stay three steps ahead of his former masters, despite being out of the game for nine years. He has always been too good and too intelligent for his masters, but this time it is past the point of credulity since he has not been trained to understand and tackle the technology he is up against now. But, no, he understands how to use it and manipulate it just fine.

Perhaps, that is why all the cast look so unenthused. Matt Damon says little, but looks the part: tough and mean (then again, this could be Damon’s grumpy face at the prospect of facing another day of shooting). Alicia Vikander, for the first time in her stellar career, is badly miscast and unconvincing as the ambitious head of the cyber operations of the CIA. Her character’s motives are never clearly explained, which is half of the problem. The other half is that Vikander looks too young for her character’s role, and her character is too weak to be in the position Greengrass has put her in; especially, when compared to the similar role (and apt) Joan Allen played in Bourne II-IV.

The Asset (Vincent Cassel) trying to keep up with Bourne.

The Asset (Vincent Cassel) trying to keep up with Bourne.

The other characters of note in Jason Bourne are played by a grizzled, weather-worn Tommy Lee Jones (coming from nowhere to be the senior CIA man) and a scary, super-assassin played by Vincent Cassel (who is called The Asset. Yes, Greengrass and the other writers are so creatively bankrupt that they failed to give Cassel’s character a proper name or at least a fear-inducing codename.) Neither Jones’ nor Cassel’s performances are memorable, and (embarrassingly) Brian Cox and Karl Urban, respectively, played the exact same roles as they do in The Bourne Supremacy. As a result, one has a terrible sense of déjà vu watching Jason Bourne, and not in a good way.

All-in-all, Jason Bourne is an entertaining film, if an unnecessary addition to the Bourne series. The movie contains the standard tropes that audiences enjoy, plus Matt Damon is back. But the film adds nothing new to the franchise, and from the directing, to the acting, to the plot, to the general lack of imagination in the film, one cannot help but note that the movie is riddled with problems. What’s worse is that so much of Jason Bourne has been copied from other Bourne films. And there is no worse an insult to a sequel than for it to be deemed a poor imitation of its predecessors.

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Review – Room (15) [2016]

Room - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Lenny Abrahamson – Adam & Paul, Garage, What Richard Did, Frank

Cast:

  • Brie Larsson – Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, 21 Jump Street, Don Jon, The Glass Castle
  • Jacob Tremblay – The Smurfs 2, Shut In, Before I Wake, The Book Of Henry
  • Joan Allen – Face/Off, The Notebook, Bourne II-IV, A Good Marriage
  • Sean Bridgers – Sweet Home Alabama, Deadwood, Dark Places, The Magnificent Seven
  • William H Macy – Fargo, Psycho, Sahara, ER, Blood Father

Music Composer:

  • Stephen Rennicks – Garage, Eden, What Richard Did, Frank, L’accabadora

The Woman In Black, The Possession, Mama and It Follows have illustrated the general paucity of horror films in recent years and how the paranormal subgenre isn’t scary because it cannot happen in real life. In contrast, Misery, Requiem For A Dream, We Need To Talk About Kevin and The Gift have demonstrated that when films portray situations that can happen to people, it can be infinitely scarier and more unnerving to watch. Add Room to the latter category.

Joy (Brie Larsson) and Jack (Jacob Tremblay) playing with a snake they have made out of string and egg-shells.

Joy (Brie Larsson) and Jack (Jacob Tremblay) playing with a snake they have made out of string and egg-shells.

  Room is adapted from the book with the same title by Emma Donohue. The film begins with Joy (Brie Larsson) and her five year old, feral-looking son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay), in a small, squalid shed. It transpires that Joy was abducted by a man known only as ‘Old Nick’ (Sean Bridgers) seven years ago and has been locked in the shed ever since. Jack has never been outside it and believes the shed (or ‘Room’ as he calls it) to be the entire world. However, Joy wants to get out of the shed. She thinks up a plan and, for it to succeed, it will involve Jack experiencing the outside world for the first time.

Room is an engaging film that succeeds in many ways. Immediately, people can empathise with Joy’s predicament. One may not find the threat of silly Gollum-like monsters and/or evil spirits attacking (imbecilic) individuals realistic or scary. Yet, the threat of being abducted and locked up in some hell-hole is a very real and terrifying one. The cases of Natascha Kampusch, Elizabeth Smart and Gilad Shalit emphasise this and highlight how harrowing the experience can be for the abductee and their families. Room effectively shows some (and implies others) of the horrors that the abductee may suffer in a mature, non-gratuitous way. This quite rightly makes for uncomfortable viewing.

Viewers, however, would not feel the abductee’s pain if it were not for Brie Larsson’s acting. She powerfully shows us the different stages that abductees can suffer from and, for this, she fully deserves the acclaim she is receiving. The only surprise is that Larsson is the only one receiving the plaudits and awards, as her main co-star, Jacob Tremblay, is also brilliant. For one so young, his acting is remarkable and completely realistic of how a five year old would see the world and behave under such traumatic circumstances. And his/Jack’s relationship with Brie Larsson/Joy is life-assuring and overwhelming for all the right reasons.

Joy desperately trying to explain to Jack that there is more to the world than 'Room,' despite Jack's protestations.

Joy desperately trying to explain to Jack that there is more to the world than ‘Room,’ despite Jack’s protestations.

Nevertheless, despite Room’s terrifying premise and outstanding acting, the film is not flawless. Joy’s plan to escape is fanciful at best (and unrealistic at worst). Additionally, the events leading up to Joy’s abduction are never fully expounded upon, and the same can be said about Joy’s family and the effects that her abduction have had on them. These two issues are particularly frustrating as it would not have been difficult for director Lenny Abrahamson to have elucidated upon them to make the movie more complete.

Over-all, Room is a very convincing film. The acting is wonderful and enables audiences to understand the characters and their predicaments, whether it be how an innocent child would see the world if he/she had only lived in a small shed, or how the torment of being abducted effects adults.

Nevertheless, Room is not an enjoyable movie. It is harrowing. What happens to Joy can happen to anyone. Thus, Room is a real horror film: one that upsets and unsettles viewers to the core.

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Review – The Big Short (15) [2016]

The Big Short - title banner

Star Rating: 3/5

Director

  • Adam McKay – Step Brothers, The Other Guys, Anchorman I & II

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Nicholas Britell – Gimme The Loot, The Seventh Fire, A Tale of Love And Darkness, Tramps

In 2007, a financial crisis rocked the world. Akin to the Wall Street Crash of October 1929, tens of thousands of people lost their jobs and homes. Additionally, Lehman Brothers imploded, and the US Congress and the UK Parliament bailed out the rest of the big banks to (allegedly) ensure that the crisis did not worsen. How did it all happen? The Big Short highlights some of the factors.

Dr Michael Burry (Christian Bale), in his office, listening to music whilst working out that the US property market would collapse in 2007.

Dr Michael Burry (Christian Bale), in his office, listening to music whilst working out that the US property market would collapse in 2007.

The Big Short is a dark comedy based on the book with the same title by Michael Lewis. The film follows three separate but parallel stories which reveal the duplicity and the fraud of US bankers and brokers with regard to the US property market; in particular, to the business of subprime mortgages, to the buying and selling of (junk) BB ratings, and to schemes like collateral debt obligations (CDOs). However the film also shows us that were some people who predicted the collapse of the US property market several years in advance, such as Dr Michael Burry (Christian Bale) and Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling). The movie is as much about them trying to take on the big banks (and make billions in the process), as it is about the general fraud that was (is) taking place at every level of the financial sector.

The Big Short is an interesting film. It impressively explains in simplistic terms why the US property and financial markets imploded so spectacularly in 2007/08. The film captures the horror of the upcoming catastrophe by, chiefly, showing us the mind-set and attitude of the people working in Wall Street at the time (and at the present too) in a non-flashy and unglamorous way.

Nevertheless, as interesting as that is (and it is genuinely interesting), the overwhelming majority of the characters in The Big Short are just horrible, greedy and selfish individuals with few (if any) redeeming traits. Of all the people in the film, Steve Carrell’s Mark Baum is the most empathetic and likeable as he has a conscience. Carrell plays well, but his character’s hot-headedness comes across as cartoonish and silly (like it did in Bruce Almighty) when it is supposed to be funny at times and serious at others. Similarly, Christian Bale plays very well and deserves his OSCAR nomination. Yet, his character is weird and socially awkward. This makes him/Michael Burry difficult to root for. (And it does not help that Bale looks miscast in the role. With his huge biceps, one does not expect him to behave weirdly, but rather to don the Bat-gear again and beat every banker and broker to a pulp.)

Mark Baum (Steve Carrell, sitting down in the centre), contemplating the horror about to unravel, as his associates shout at Jared Vallett (Ryan Gosling, sitting down, right).

Mark Baum (Steve Carrell, sitting down in the centre), contemplating the horror about to unravel, as his associates shout at Jared Vallett (Ryan Gosling, sitting down, right).

As for the rest of the cast, their crassness guarantees that bankers and brokers are going to be hated for some time to come yet. Even if one can admire one or two of them for their foresight and intelligence, e.g. Jared Vallett and Charlie Geller (John Magaro), one is almost certainly going to be put off by their arrogance, rudeness and avarice. There is only so much one can endure of watching arseholes behaving so unscrupulously. One becomes bored by it and disinterested in the film’s subject matter; and 130 minutes of it is just too much. That one has seen deplorable bankers and brokers behaving in such an amoral manner before (Wall Street II: Money Never Sleeps, Margin Call and The Wolf of Wall Street) adds to the boredom and disinterest.

Yet, what is worse is the frustration one feels with The Big Short. The film has been billed as a satirical comedy, but to smile wryly only twice throughout the movie is not enough to justify such a billing. Plus, some of the movie’s (alleged) humour is just downright misogynistic. How is a cameo of Margot Robbie (as herself!) naked and in a bathtub explaining subprime mortgages funny? How is having a female stripper explaining the hazards of having loans on multiple houses, whilst lap-dancing, funny? Both just seem wrong in so many ways and not funny.

Charlie Geller (John Megaro, left) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock, right) speaking with Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) about making investments.

Charlie Geller (John Megaro, left) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock, right) speaking with Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) about making investments.

The sense that the film seems wrong is not just limited to its humour. The directing is extremely ill-disciplined. At certain points, the movie is linear; at other points, it is a music video; at others, the scenes change so suddenly and often, one can get a seizure; and, randomly, the film stops, so we can see a profile of a character or so that a character can face the audience and explain something. All of this makes for quirky viewing at best and ADD at worst. It also begs the question why Adam McKay has been nominated for an OSCAR in the Best Director category, considering that Ryan Coogler has not when the latter directed Creed so much better.

Over-all, The Big Short is a frustrating film. It is not particularly funny and it lacks focus in numerous ways. Yes, the movie successfully elucidates upon why the US property market and the world economy collapsed in 2007-08, which is no mean feat. But by The Big Short merely shouting at its viewers that it all happened because bankers and brokers are two-faced wankers is not only going down a well-trodden path, it also makes for repellent viewing.

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Review – The Martian (12a) [2015]

The Martian - title banner3

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Harry Gregson-Williams – Shrek I-IV, Kingdom of Heaven, Unstoppable, Blackhat, Life Briefly

On this blog, much has been made of the paucity of Ridley Scott’s films over the last fifteen years. For a director who once made Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator, it is astonishing that Scott has made terrible film after terrible film since Gladiator was released in 2000. So going into The Martian, what was one to expect? Another terrible film to add to Scott’s bloated collection? Actually, nothing of the sort: a pleasant surprise.

Mark Watney (Matt Damon) with the NASA crew, led by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain, sitting down), before they go out to explore.

Mark Watney (Matt Damon) with the NASA crew, led by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain, sitting down), before they go out to explore.

The Martian is based on Andrew Weir’s 2011 novel with the same title. Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is exploring Mars with a NASA team, led by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain). The team are out on the Red Planet when a freak storm occurs, knocking Mark away. Believing that he is dead, and fearing that the storm will destroy the team’s means of getting home, Melissa orders an evacuation.

However, Mark is not dead and wakes up to find that the team have left Mars without him. Considering that the next NASA flight mission to Mars is not for another four years, Mark knows he’s going to be stuck on his own on Mars for a while. Yet, he only has enough food for a few months. So how will he survive?

At its core, The Martian has a simple premise: how Mark, all on his own, is going to keep himself alive. One might ask oneself how interesting such a plot could be. Yet, surprisingly, The Martian is an entertaining, innovative and engaging movie. Undoubtedly, it is Ridley Scott’s finest film since Gladiator! (Then again, with Kingdom of Heaven, Prometheus, The Counsellor and Exodus among his recent films, that is not saying much at all.)

The sudden (contrived) storm that knocks Mark away.

The sudden (contrived) storm that knocks Mark away.

Part of the reason why The Martian is so good is because the desert scenery of Mars (or, rather, of Jordan, where the movie was filmed) is beautifully shot. Seeing the landscape of this foreign planet is as wondrous as any awe-inspiring place on Earth, as evidenced in The Way Back, True Grit, Sanctum and Macbeth, to name but four. Moreover, The Martian is an extremely interesting film. Our main character, Mark, is a (genius) botanist, and it is fascinating watching him carry out scientific experiments using natural elements in order to survive.

But while the scenery is wondrous and the experiments are ingenious, The Martian would not have been half as engrossing without really good acting. Matt Damon has such a magnificent screen presence that he, alone (quite literally), can hold audiences’ attentions. Sean Bean is good as the honourable (Ned Stark-like) man, as is Chiwetel Ejiofor. Jeff Daniel’s is also decent as the NASA director, with the (legitimate) counter-arguments to Bean’s and Ejiofor’s suggestions. And, lastly, the crew (headed by Jessica Chastain) play decently enough with the little time that they’re given on screen.

Assisting the cast, however, is a really good script, which ensures that The Martian surpasses recent, phenomenal space films such as Gravity and Interstellar. This is because the former was let down by a B-movie script, while the latter suffered from an incoherent storyline. The Martian, by contrast, has all the best elements of those movies, plus humour. The humour, in itself, warrants that viewers empathise with the characters and (cleverly) enables audiences to ignore the scientific technicalities if they don’t understand them.

Upon waking up and returning to the base, Mark sits alone and wonders what he is to do. Not least, what will he do about food as his supplies are low?

Upon waking up and returning to the base, Mark sits alone and wonders what he is to do. Not least, what will he do about food as his supplies are low?

Scott gets a lot right with The Martian. Nevertheless, that is not to say that the movie is not without its faults. First, the storm at the beginning of the film is massively contrived to get the plot moving. And, second, the movie is predictable and the ending is an utter cliché. Yet, if these are the main flaws of the film, they are quite trivial, thereby emphasising just how well Scott has done with this movie.

All-in-all, The Martian is a very entertaining film. It has no significant faults, it is innovative and it is funny. To think that the movie is predominantly about a man stuck on Mars on his own, trying to survive against the elements, underlines how impressive The Martian is. It also highlights that Ridley Scott still can direct excellent movies, despite his atrocious recent record. Let’s hope that The Martian can inspire Scott to cease making films of the poverty of Prometheus and Exodus, so that he can return to making films of the brilliance of Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator.

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Review – Spectre (12a) [2015]

Spectre - title banner

Star Rating: 3/5

Director:

  • Sam Mendes – American Beauty, Revolutionary Road, Skyfall

Cast:

  • Daniel Craig – The Trench, Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Defiance, Skyfall
  • Ben Whishaw – The International, Cloud Atlas, Skyfall, Suffragette, The Danish Girl
  • Naomi Harris – Trauma, Pirates of the Caribbean II-III, The First Grader, Skyfall, Our Kind of Traitor
  • Ralph Fiennes – Harry Potter IV-VII(i) & VII(ii), Coriolanus, Wrath of the Titans, Skyfall, Hail, Caesar!
  • Léa Seydoux – Inglorious Basterds, Robin Hood, Mission: Impossible IV, Blue Is The Warmest Colour, Gambit
  • Monica Bellucci – The Matrix II-III, The Passion of the Christ, The Sorceror’s Apprentice, On The Milky Road
  • Christoph Waltz – Inglorious Basterds, Carnage, Django Unchained, Big Eyes, Tarzan
  • Dave Bautista – WWE Smackdown, WWF Raw, Guardians of the Galaxy, Warrior’s Gate
  • Andrew Scott – The Scapegoat, Pride, Alice In Wonderland II, Denial
  • Rory Kinnear – Quantum of Solace, Broken, Skyfall, Penny Dreadful, Trespass Against Us
  • Jesper Christensen – Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, The Debt, The King’s Choice
  • Judi Dench – Bond 17-23, Shakespeare In Love, Notes On A Scandal, My Week With Marilyn, Philomena, Tulip Fever

Music Composer:

What is the role of secret agents, and in particular, James Bond in the current era? Sir Ian Fleming, the author of the Bond novels, wrote Casino Royale in 1952. That was at the height of the Cold War between the USA and the USSR, when espionage involving personnel was at its zenith. But in 2015, the USSR no longer exists and espionage involving personnel has been downgraded due to technology. So, again, what is the role secret agents/James Bond nowadays? Spectre, Bond’s 24th outing, deals with this question in typical Bond fashion.

James Bond (Daniel Craig), looking worn and tired after an eventful trip to Mexico, gets a dressing down from M (Ralph Fiennes) upon his return to London.

James Bond (Daniel Craig), looking worn and tired after an eventful trip to Mexico, gets a dressing down from M (Ralph Fiennes) upon his return to London.

  Spectre opens up in Mexico City, wherein James Bond (Daniel Craig) acquires a ring bearing an octopus insignia. Upon returning to London, M (Ralph) demands that Bond explain what he was doing in Mexico. Bond refuses to explain, which leads to M indefinitely taking him off duty as a secret agent. Upon returning home, Bond re-watches a recording from his former superior, reminding him about a mysterious organisation called ‘Spectre.’ Despite having been removed from duty, Bond leaves London to unearth more about this shadowy organisation.

Meanwhile, in London, M:I-6 has a new intelligence officer, C (Andrew Scott). C has his own plans to take M:I-6 forward; one of which is to dismantle the ‘00’ programme, putting him on a collision course with M.

Spectre, in many ways, is an archetypal Bond movie. Does it have a spectacular opening sequence? Yes. Is there a trademark song afterward it? Yes. Does Spectre have some witty (touché) dialogue? Yes. Does the film have a glamorous-looking cast along with breath-taking locations? Yes. Does the movie have some brilliant stunts, action sequences, and cool explosions? Yes. Does it have a weak storyline in which viewers have to suspend their disbelief to go through with it, without laughing at it? Absolutely! Therefore, Spectre delivers on its (formulaic) expectations for a Bond movie.

Dr Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), looking glamorous, joins Bond for dinner.

Dr Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), looking glamorous, joins Bond for dinner.

However, in two ways, Spectre differs from most other Bond films. One, it makes enough references to other Bond films for it to be an homage to the Bond franchise; particularly, to those of the Craig era. And, two, Spectre is conspicuously slow-burning. Bond films tend to be fast-paced and filled with action to keep viewers interested during the supposedly less interesting parts of the film i.e. when Bond travels from one dazzling place to another, to find out information for the mission. Yet, at 150-minutes, Spectre has so much (often pointless) travelling that even the action sequences cannot keep viewers interested. In short, the movie needed to be cut by 30-45 minutes, especially during the middle hour where little happens. But because it has not been edited sufficiently, Spectre borders on boring at times, which is very unlike a Bond film.

Nevertheless, during these ‘boring’ parts, one gets to explore a different (vulnerable?) side of Bond’s character; notably, whether James Bond actually enjoys being James Bond. Not only is this elucidated adeptly, but due to Daniel Craig’s aging appearance it seems entirely apt to have these questions raised. Indeed, Craig looks old and worn in Spectre, as if the strain of being Bond has taken its toll on him. Still, he is marvellous, tough and wryly humorous as Bond; probably more so than in Skyfall.

Likewise, Ben Whishaw is a joy to watch as the funny and smart Q, as is Christolph Waltz as the mysterious, villainous Oberhauser; and as is Ralph Fiennes as the serious M. Léa Seydoux plays quite well, too, as Bond’s temperamental love-interest, Dr Madeleine Swann. Surprisingly, she has been given considerable character depth for a Bond Girl. Seydoux may lack chemistry with Craig on screen, but her character often drives Bond and the plot forward in interesting ways.

Bond's cunning nemesis, Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), the shadowy figure at the head of a clandestine organisation, known as 'Spectre.'

Bond’s cunning nemesis, Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), the shadowy figure at the head of a clandestine organisation, known as ‘Spectre.’

Between her and Bond, and M and C), Spectre tries to intellectually tackle important questions that have become extremely relevant to Western politics since 9/11. Fascinatingly, the movie discusses the role of secret agents and technology, hinting at how times have changed since the Cold War; and how much power spy organisations should be given regarding the surveillance of ordinary citizens. Granted, Spectre only tackles these questions on superficial levels (and with answers that one could have guessed from a Bond film). But at least the movie brings up these questions. They also add a layer of depth to the storyline, which is always welcome.

Over-all, Spectre is an all right James Bond movie. It is quite long, but fun and entertaining in ways that are reminiscent of so many other, previous films in the franchise. Nonetheless, Spectre differentiates itself from other Bond films by winking at fans with self-reference; by giving Bond and the other characters some depth; and, most notably, by trying to address complex issues that have plagued Western governments since the turn of the 21st-century. Spectre makes some valid arguments on the role of spies, technology, and the extent to which security organisations should be permitted to use surveillance in the current era. All of which enrich the Bond experience and will leave audiences thinking about them after the film has ended.

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Review – Macbeth (15) [2015]

Macbeth - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

Cast:

Music Composer:

To look back is a double-edged sword. To look back upon one’s achievements, mistakes and losses in order to grow as a person and to build a better future is important and valuable. Nevertheless, to look back longingly fetters an individual. Justin Kurzel’s take on Macbeth illustrates how looking back longingly can manifest itself in a variety of negative ways on people and impair them.

Macbeth (Michael Fassbender), bloody and filthy, in the heart of a battle.

Macbeth (Michael Fassbender), bloody and filthy, in the heart of a (cloudy) battle in the Scottish Highlands.

Kurzel’s Macbeth is based on the play, written by William Shakespeare. Macbeth, Thane of Cawdor (Michael Fassbender), receives a prophecy from three witches. They tell him that one day he will become King of Scotland and that no man of woman born will be able to kill him… although, they do warn him to be wary of Macduff (Sean Harris). Consumed by ambition and urged on by his manipulative wife, Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard), Macbeth acts to fulfil the prophecy. But at what cost?

Macbeth is a compelling and gripping film. Central to this are the performances. David Thewlis as Duncan is decent, and Sean Harris as Macduff is very good as usual. Yet, it is the two main performers that stand out. Both Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are riveting. One may not always understand what they say since the movie is in Shakespearean English. But due to the strength and rawness of their performances, viewers can feel the emotion behind their words and, therefore, understand their actions.

It helps that audiences can empathise with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth straight from the off. Macbeth begins with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth suffering a tragic loss, and this loss never leaves them. No matter what they achieve, they are always looking back upon this loss and it devours them.

That this scene is not in the original script that Shakespeare wrote should not be of concern, even to play purists. In the play, this tragedy for Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is mentioned, so it is part of the story. But by showing the event and making it the opening scene of the film, Kurzel gives the event a gravitas that is lacking in the original play.

Macbeth greeting Duncan (David Thewlis) upon the latter's arrival at Cordor.

Macbeth greeting Duncan (David Thewlis) upon the latter’s arrival at Cawdor.

This alteration from the source material is not the only instance in which Kurzel plays fast and loose with Shakespeare’s version of the story. Nonetheless, for play purists to put too much stress on the alterations would be to miss what Kurzel keeps and enhances from the original play. What’s more, unlike other adaptations which have given Macbeth a more modern slant (for example, the 2013 London theatre production starring James McAvoy as the titular character), Kurzel has made his 2015 film adaptation more medieval. Consequently, the movie is bloody, grisly and muddy; all of which is fitting for the story.

In addition, with the Scottish Highlands for the main setting, Kurzel has increased the authenticity of the play. The landscapes are apt and wondrous (perhaps even worth fighting for). Yet, the weather is grim, windy and rainy. These conditions breed miserable, nasty people who are devoid of humour. Indeed, the entire movie is devoid of humour and somehow that feels right.

Indeed, Kurzel gets much right. However, his version of Macbeth is not without its flaws: the movie should have been longer than 113-minutes, and some key scenes are missing; the first twenty minutes are heavily edited, to point that one could easily believe that Kurzel has ADD; the battles are underwhelming, difficult to see, and rely too much on (300-style) slow-motion followed by super-fast, killer moves; and the final scene is jarringly out of sync with medieval times.

Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard) trying to soothe her now kingly husband at Bamburgh Castle.

Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard) trying to soothe her now kingly husband at Bamburgh Castle.

Nevertheless, even in the scenes where Kurzel does not get everything right, one can still be overcome by the music. The score has been written by Justin’s brother, Jed, and it resonates deeply with audiences. The music enables one to feel Macbeth’s and Lady Macbeth’s triumphs. Yet, in the same beat, it also enables one to feel as if the couple are looking back longingly at the loss that they cannot get over.

Over-all, Macbeth is a really impressive film. The movie is not without its problems as it should have been longer, while the first twenty minutes and the last scenes should have been handled better. All the same, there is much to admire about Kurzel’s Macbeth from its gritty realism of Scotland in the late-medieval period, to the alterations that Kurzel has made from the original source material, to the astonishing performances of Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard.

Undoubtedly, Fassbender and Cotillard make up the best elements of the film. They depict the strength and ambition of the two characters, as well as their tragic natures. They do this by presenting what can happen to us if we look back longingly for something we’ve lost. Fassbender and Cotillard show us that this loss will eat away at us and undermine everything we achieve, even if we achieve all that we desire and more.

PG’s Tips

Review – Seventh Son (12a) [2015]

Seventh Son - Title Banner

Star Rating: 1.5/5

Director:

  • Sergey Bodrov – Prisoner of the Mountains, Nomad: The Warrior, Mongol: Rise of Genghis Khan, Fool’s Game

Cast:

  • Julianne Moore – The Big Lebowski, The Hours, Maps To The Stars, Still Alice, Freeheld
  • Jeff Bridges – The Big Lebowski, Iron Man, True Grit, RIPD, The Emperor’s Children
  • Kit Harrington – Game of Thrones, Testament of Youth, Pompeii, Spooks: The Greater Good
  • Olivia Williams – The Sixth Sense, Maps To The Stars, Anna Karenina, Man Up
  • Ben Barnes – The Chronicles of Narnia II & III, Dorian Gray, By The Gun, Sons of Liberty
  • Alicia Vikander – A Royale Affair, Anna Karenina, Testament of Youth, Ex Machina, The Danish Girl
  • Djimon Hounsou – Gladiator, Eragon, Blood Diamond, Guardians of the Galaxy, Furious 7
  • Antje Traue – Pandorum, 5 Days of War, Man of Steel, Woman In Gold

Music Composer:

There are some films that can be boxed into the category of ‘laughably terrible.’ Batman & Robin, Birdemic, Season of the Witch, Conan The Barbarian, Sharknado, and Pompeii are all awful films, yet they all have the saving grace of being amusing in their awfulness. Sergey Bodrov’s Seventh Son is another such movie.

Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), having returned, she is now back at home, planning her evil ambitions for the world.

Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), having returned, she is now back at home, planning her evil ambitions for the world.

Seventh Son is based on the first book in The Wardstone Chronicles (although it is called The Last Apprentice series in America) by Joseph Delaney. Delaney’s website, Spooksbooks, defines the plot for Seventh Son as: ‘In a time long past, an evil is about to be unleashed that will reignite the war between the forces of the supernatural and humankind once more. John Gregory (Jeff Bridges) is a Spook, a person who fights against the Dark, who had imprisoned the malevolently powerful witch, Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), centuries ago. But now she has escaped and is seeking vengeance. Summoning her followers of every incarnation, Mother Malkin is preparing to unleash her terrible wrath on an unsuspecting world. Only one thing stands in her way: John Gregory.

‘In a deadly reunion, Gregory comes face to face with the evil he always feared would someday return. Now he has only until the next full moon to do what usually takes years: train his new apprentice, Tom Ward (Ben Barnes), to fight a dark magic unlike any other. Man’s only hope lies in the seventh son of a seventh son.’

Yes, the plot is that laughable. It is plodding and silly, with predictable twists and a waterfall of fantasy clichés thrown into the mire. Indeed, there are so many fantasy clichés in Seventh Son that it is hard to believe that the film is anything other than an inferior derivative of other (better) fantasy stories. But unlike with other (irredeemably bad) fantasy films, like Reign of Fire and Rise of the Shadow Warrior, at least with Seventh Son one can enjoy pointing out where James Delaney/Sergey Bodrov have gained their inspiration from. In some scenes, the inspiration is so blatant one might as well re-watch or reread the works JRR Tolkien, Susan Cooper and David Eddings, and Dungeons & Dragons and Season of the Witch for good measure (to name but five). Some of the ideas in those stories might be bad or badly executed by today’s standards. But they were originals, if not classics, in their time.

Tom (Ben Barnes) and John Gregory (Jeff Bridges), pupil and mentor, going from place to place in classic fantasy style.

Tom (Ben Barnes) and John Gregory (Jeff Bridges), pupil and mentor, going from place to place in classic fantasy style.

Yet, if one thought the storyline for Seventh Son was the most ludicrous element of the movie, it pales in comparison to the dialogue. Unsurprisingly, the dialogue is lazily-written, clunky and hackneyed. But, at times, it is delivered with a campiness that one cannot help but laugh at, with Jeff Bridges being the Offender-in-Chief. Playing a cross between Gandalf and Rooster Cogburn, Bridges is barely comprehensible. Yet, he has a smile on his face for the entire film and looks like he is enjoying himself enormously in spite of (or maybe because of) the paucity of the script.

The same, however, cannot be said for the rest of the cast. Julianne Moore, habitually brilliant (and particularly so in the recent Still Alice), is shockingly dreadful as the one-dimensional, wicked witch. Appearing as a cut-rate cross between Queen Ravenna from Snow White and a latex rip-off of Melisandre from Game of Thrones, Moore looks bored at best and embarrassed at worst whenever she is on screen. Olivia Williams, Kit Harrington, Alicia Vikander, Djimon Hounsou and Ben Barnes all wear similar expressions during Seventh Son. It is as if this predominantly talented cast all know that they’re in a movie that stinks to the stratosphere and are just pleading for their scenes to be over so they can pick up their pay-checks and move on.

Alice (Alicia Vikander) rising seductively in the lake to entrance someone (I wonder who?) with her beauty.

Alice (Alicia Vikander) rising seductively in the moonlight to entrance someone (I wonder who?) with her beauty.

Likely, the cast had moved on and forgotten about this car-crash of a movie… until it returned to haunt them with its release in cinemas recently. Seventh Son was filmed in 2012 and was in post-production for more than two and a half years. The movie was supposed to have come out in 2013 and then in 2014, but was delayed on three occasions due to post-production troubles. Oddly, though, Seventh Son does not feel like a troubled production (unlike Transformers II, The Wolverine and The Hobbit III). It just feels wretched, pitifully comical and cheap, especially when it comes to the CGI. For a film which cost Legendary studios near $100million to make, one expects to watch a better movie, and consequently it is no surprise that the film has flopped. (Legendary studios expect to make an $85million loss on the movie.)

All-in-all, Seventh Son is an all-round awful film. From the script, to the acting, to the CGI, the movie is abysmal and filled with enough fantasy clichés to stuff a duvet. Nevertheless, the film has one saving grace: it is unintentionally hilarious. Thus, Seventh Son can be boxed into the category of ‘laughably terrible’ and can be enjoyed for the atrocity that it is alongside Batman & Robin, Birdemic, Season of the Witch, Conan The Barbarian, Sharknado, and Pompeii.

PG’s Tips