“All I’ve got is some Doritos, and they might kill you. They’re kind of pointy”

A review of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Housekeeping: Martin McDonagh’s 2018 film (released in the UK on 12th January) runs for approx. 1hr 55mins

One Sentence Synopsis: Some bad people do some good things, whilst some good people do some bad things, whilst the audience tries not to sob.

Rating: An infinite amount of flaming billboards/10

If you’ve seen any other McDonagh films, you’ll know that often events break down into frantic lunacy. However this is far from the truth with Three Billboards, which presents a beautiful character study centered around balance. McDonagh gifts the audience with a set of people who defy our expectations and whose experiences provide a thoughtful and well-rounded perspective on life in Ebbing.

Our first impressions of Chief Willougby, played wonderfully by Woody Harrelson, come from two scenes. Firstly, before we meet him in person, his name is plastered on one of the billboards, prompting us to believe that he is a neglectful cop who has discarded the case in question. We then see him at the dinner table, answering the phone against his wife’s wishes, and neglecting family time, further enforcing this first impression. However, through several encounters between Willoughby and Mildred, we come to learn that he is simply stuck between a rock and a hard place – unable to catch a break in a case which he desperately wanted to solve and is thus forced to leave it behind. Through scenes between him and his family, we learn of the love he has for them, rejecting the ‘married to work’ police officer stereotype. And finally, through the beautiful letters read by Willoughby, we see an insight into his humour and his wisdom – he was never the ‘too busy eating Krispy Kremes to solve the case’ cop we may have pegged him as in the first minutes of the film.

Dixon, portrayed by Sam Rockwell, perhaps undergoes the most significant change in the film. In our initial encounters with him, he appears to simply be an idiot, there to remind us of the flaws in the small-town police department and to provide comic relief through being teased about his (s)mother. It is suggested that he has a history of racism and violence, which is further re-enforced by his actions in the film. However there is a sense of pity that comes from seeing Dixon behave in this way, as we know that these are the actions of a man who isn’t thinking, rather than one who is inherently malicious or cruel. Later in the film, we learn more of his sympathetic past and Willougby’s words to Dixon provide the catalyst for change. Although not truly redeemed (an aspect which adds an even greater emphasis to the balance of the film) Dixon becomes thoughtful and intelligent. It is the potential friendship and conceivable forgiveness, rather than outright happily-ever-after, which makes McDonagh’s film so detailed and sensitive.

It is, of course, Frances McDormand’s performance as the wonderful Mildred which steals the show. This is a character who is presented as nuanced from the very beginning, yet has both grown and devolved by the end of the film. Mildred demonstrates a beautiful balance between maternal love; justice for her dearly loved child, and harshness; seen in the lengths she goes to in order to achieve this. It is clear that Mildred is simply doing what she believes is best, but alienates her son through seeking the truth for her daughter. In her more emotional scenes, she displays a sense of vulnerability and weakness, but in other, more violent moments she seems hardened and perhaps almost mad. At first I wondered whether Mildred was a character who presented many dualities, but on reflection, perhaps a better word is balance: balance between violence and weakness, maternity and alienation, humour and despair. She is beautifully written by McDonagh, and Frances McDormand fully deserves all the praise she has received for this role.

The entire film is about nuance – we might feel entirely sympathetic towards a character whilst also questioning or condemning their actions. McDonagh captures wonderfully the complexity of human character in times both of trauma and quiet.


2 hours of tensing muscles I didn’t know I had.

A review of Christopher Nolan’s 2017 film Dunkirk.

House Keeping: Dunkirk was released in the UK on the 21st July, was written and directed by Nolan and runs for approx. 1hr 46mins.

One sentence synopsis: Soldier get on a boat, and then its destroyed. Repeat x 10.

Rating: ten oil-covered soldiers out of ten.

Honestly, this film is horrifically good. I’m often turned off by war films because of the endless military jargon, as well as the glorification of violence. Dunkirk, with its stark display of the terror experienced by ordinary men sent to fight in WWII, and its beautifully simple plot, avoids both of these pitfalls.

Let’s start with the aspect of the film which hits the audience first – the cinematography. The re-occurring wide shots of the beach dotted with stranded soldiers really communicates the scale and desperation of the effort to evacuate. The swerving shots of the fighter planes attempting to track their targets shows us the confusion and disorientation of the pilots. The close-ups on soldiers’ faces as they realize another wave of destruction is about to hit reminds the audience that these men are vulnerable. As you can probably tell, I really can’t sing the praises of Hoyt van Hoytema and Nolan’s cinematographic work enough.

The plot of the film is admittedly simple: 400,000 soldiers are stuck on the beaches of Dunkirk, waiting to be evacuated, whilst under fire from enemy forces. The film also follows a civilian boat attempting to rescue some of these soldiers, and three RAF pilots aiding in the fight. That’s all. No surprise shark attacks. No long-winded war-room strategy meetings. No M Night Shyamalan twists. And it is all the more glorious for its simplicity; we cannot be distracted by trying to remember who is who, or the complex character arcs, or what the objective is. There’s nothing but the horror of what is happening to these men, and as an audience we have no choice but to sit and gain significant muscle definition through tensing our abs in anticipation of the next bombing. We are completely helpless, just like the soldiers before us. And in this way, the film becomes less of a neat narrative to follow (seen also in Nolan’s jumpy plot, which was a great addition but could have been put to more use) but an experience.

Hans Zimmer’s musical talent compliments the panic of the film – his score, with its high pitched strings,  is akin to music from the horror genre. In a way, Dunkirk could be classed as a horror film of the scariest variety. The ticking incorporated into the score made for a tense count-down effect and the loudness of the music echoed the volume of a bombardment on the beaches.

As well as this, there was not a single performance during the film that took me out of the moment, the entire cast (even Harry Styles who delivered, though perhaps did not excel, in his role as the pessimistic Alex, in spite of my doubt vis a vis the casting choice). Kenneth Branagh, as always, is perfect as the stern yet compassionate Commander. Potentially my favourite aspect of the film is its relative lack of dialogue, especially at the beginning, when we witness approximately 20 minutes (I don’t get my stopwatch out in the middle of the cinema so you’ll have to make do with vaguery) of utter silence between Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) and Gibson (Aneurin Barnard). This serves to reinforce the sense of trauma that the film is all about.

I know it might be repetitive or overly simplistic to some, but I think Dunkirk was brilliant: visually stunning, with a haunting score and wonderful ensemble performance. In my opinion it is a great success, and a film which effectively conveyed the trauma of being trapped between the sea and the enemy. (Plus while I was in the cinema the air con broke and it was swelteringly hot and some people had to leave because it was too hot but I didn’t even notice because I was too engrossed in the film. So it’s gotta be good right?)



Michael Fassbender and Michael Fassbender steal the show

A Review of Ridley Scott’s Alien Covenant.

Housekeeping: Alien Covenant was released on 12th May 2017, was directed by Ridley Scott and runs for approx. 2hrs 3mins.

One sentence synopsis: Colonists fight off germs, monkey-aliens, things with no mouths and more-skeletal-than-ever xenomorphs.

My rating: a draw full of foetuses/10

I love the Alien franchise. I start with this because it is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to new installments of the series. I adore the  tropes of the films – chest-bursting, mass killing, many (many, many, many) corridors and the badass ladies that feature, so I don’t tend to mind that these aspects are oft-exploited by the directors. However, after such disappointments as Alien3, and such convoluted plots as in Prometheus, I forever expect the worst when a new installment arrives. So I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by Alien Covenant.

I’ll begin the review with what was, for me, the best part of the film – Michael Fassbender, and his wonderful supporting actor, Michael Fassbender. Yup. Without giving away too much, he plays two roles in the film and it is glory manifest, I would recommend going just for his performance. Katherine Waterson in the role of protagonist Daniels avoided the flatness that some may criticise Noomi Rapace for, at once sympathetic but suitably tough (but of course no one will ever come close to my main gal Sigourney and her bad-assery).

Secondly, the plot. Covenant lost the slow build-up that has become associated with the Alien films, and some may think that this made the film feel rushed. However, it was immediately exciting, and I found myself sold from the minute things began to go awry. The narrative is also much simpler to understand than that of Prometheus, which took me three watches to grasp fully, and although rushed, it was undoubtedly exciting. I feel that Scott really wanted to do something different with this one, after all, as much as the fans love it, we can’t be running down the same beige corridors forever. He fused the old flourishes which we know and love with new, less claustrophobic settings and above all, new themes. Rather than simply being a film about people running from apparently indomitable xenomorphs, Covenant explores more deeply (and in a much more effective way than Prometheus) creation, what it is to be truly alive and the flaws of the human race. It could definitely be said that the film takes on a bit too much, attempting to tie in the Blade Runner connections which Scott promised, but I found the change of topic quite welcome.

And how could we forget the beloved xenomorphs, fucker-upper of spaceship crews since 1979. The films took the classic sleek, black, mouth-inside-a-mouth (mouth-ception?) design and made it somehow more…human?  Whatever they did to it, it was scary. There was also a few new xenomorph designs which were a refreshing departure from your standard alien, following in the footsteps of the dog-xenomorph from Alien3 and the weirdly adorable biped of Resurrection. Another thing to note is that Covenant took the only a good idea from Alien3, the xenomorph POV shot, and made it even cooler.

However, I’m afraid it isn’t all praise, and the films definitely had gaping flaws. So much of the plot was wholly predictable, taking away all of the suspense at times, and the violence was sometimes guilty of a departure into cheesiness. The writing was not brilliant, with quite a bit of hand-holding, perhaps trying to combat the confusion of Prometheus but veering too much in the other direction. Although we all know that the characters in the Alien films are pretty much always all going to die, the ones in Covenant felt completely interchangeable, and I found myself often forgetting about some crew members or confusing them with other characters. And the most disappointing part of the film? The complete absence of practical effects. I may have to watch the film again, but I cannot think of one singular moment in the film where I saw a non-computer generated alien. Come on Ridley! The reason I, and many others, found the original Alien so captivating and terrifying, was because of how beautiful and real the practical effects were. That’s not to say that these xenomorphs aren’t as cool as a cucumber in a cryo-chamber, but there just wasn’t the sense of painstaking creative detail as is found in the original films.

Overall, I think making new Alien movies is hard; you have to appease the lifelong fans who want chest bursting and face huggers and glorious, glorious massacre, but if you keep to the original formula you’ll be accused of recycling material and being unoriginal. So perhaps Scott was stuck between a rock and a hard place. However, I thought, despite its flaws, Alien Covenant was exciting from the off, it combined new and old and, for the most part, was an enjoyable film.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi: Glorious Lack of Plot

A review of David Gelb’s  documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”.

One sentence synopsis: wise and adorably turtle-like sushi chef proves that raw fish is in fact an art form.

Housekeeping: The film, directed by David was released in 2011 and runs for approx. 1hr 23mins.

Rating: Several giant tuna fish/10 (seriously, who knew tuna were that big)

Usually, I am of the opinion that documentaries need to lead somewhere; there has to be some form of narrative, something exciting or disastrous or mind-blowingly wonderful has to happen to the subject otherwise it’s just footage of people doing things that no one cares about right? Well, in the case of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, no.

For those unfamiliar with the film, it follows then 85-year old (he’s still going strong at 91) master sushi chef Jiro Ono and his three Michelin-star winning restaurant. And that’s it. Of course there are subtleties and vague sub-plots which we’ll get onto later, but really that’s the bulk of it. We’re just watching a man make sushi over and over again. And it’s BRILLIANT.

First of all, the sushi itself; watching the iridescent pieces of tuna and mackerel being thinly sliced is oddly mesmerizing (even for a vegetarian). And watching them being deftly and swiftly assembled with delicate hands and placed upon a tiny plate in Jiro’s bizarre restaurant is akin to watching a master painter do his thing. If nothing else, please just watch this film for the shots of sushi making and I assure you that you will not be unhappy. Additionally, the film’s exploration of the Japanese fish markets prove insightful (if in parts a bit gross) and the chefs’ opinions on the over-fishing rife in Japan add a brief moment of ethical awareness.

Secondly, the idea of the restaurant itself, which seats less than ten people, and at which customers must make a reservation a month in advance, stay only for fifteen minutes and pay 30,000 yen (£200) each is weirdly glorious to witness. The attention paid by Jiro to each of his guests, adjusting the portion based on gender and the position of the food based on what hand the customer uses to eat, makes watching other people eat fish completely entrancing. If there was ever a God of food, Jiro is it. The behind-the-scenes moments where we hear from the apprentices’ tribulations – making egg sushi 200 times before it being even just acceptable, training for 10 years before having all the necessary skills and massaging a bloody octopus for 50 minutes every time it needs to be served is either ridiculous or wonderful or both, I can’t decide. However, it is clear that Jiro operates on a cruel-to-be-kind basis, and watching how others react to this makes up a large portion of the film.

The ordeals of the apprentices lead us on to Jiro’s sons, both of whom were coerced by their father into abstaining from university and becoming his apprentices instead. Now aged 50, his eldest son Yoshikazu is still working under his father instead of being allowed to take over the business, and the youngest has started his own, more casual, sushi restaurant, making for an interesting family dynamic which the film follows throughout.

Whilst watching Jiro himself, it is evident that he is passionate about his work, which he has been doing since the age of nine when his father left the family, and has an admirable work ethic, However, one can’t help but wonder if there are other reasons he rarely takes a break from his work, and what problems this obsession with his craft brings to him and those around him. At one point in the film, he explains that he could not be a father, as he left for work at 5am and would not return until 10pm. Therefore it is hard to see how he maintained any sort of family relationship with his sons and wife, questions which remain mysteriously ambiguous throughout the documentary. Jiro’s impoverished childhood as the son of an alcoholic father who he did not see after the age of seven provides an intriguing background exploration and serves to make the chef’s journey to master sushi maker even more beautiful.

Character study into a passionate chef and those closest to him, artistic portrayal of the Japanese sushi trade or insight into the horrors of over-fishing, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is well worth a calmly enrapturing hour and a half of your time.

Misunderstood, like a bipedal alien smushed into the void.

A review of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Alien Resurrection.

One sentence synopsis: lots of hybrids do lots of things with lots of other hybrids

My rating: a whole vat of green acid-blood/10

Housekeeping: The film, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and written by Dan O’Bannon runs for approx. 109 minutes.

It’s not even terrible guys. The fourth installment of the Aliens franchise is one that really seems to divide the fanbase, and I can totally understand why. But, let’s face it, compared to the colossal train wreck that is Alien3, resurrection is practically Citizen Kane. Ok, maybe it’s not quite that good, but it certainly deserves credit.

Admittedly, the plot is complicated. A labyrinth of random scientific-sounding jargon. On first, and even second and third watch, I’m still not exactly certain of the details. We get hurried explanations to such questions as: How did they clone Ripley after she threw herself in a vat of molten lead? (“blood” apparently) How did the alien also manage to get cloned inside her? Why is Ripley now a bit alien and why is the alien a bit human why does it have a womb why does the biped come out like that whatisgoingonwhyamiherewhatisthemeaningoflife and so on. The answers provided never seem wholly satisfying and then as soon as we begin to ponder the countless questions presented to us at the start of the film, things move quickly on and we don’t have time to think about it any longer.

That brings me on to the fact that parts of this film are truly frantic. I understand that there is a need to create a certain kind of panic when making an Alien film, especially at that moment where the characters realise the danger they are in. But hold on to your hats audience, because that scene with all of the military personnel evacuating is truly the epitome of beserk. People who all look the same are running down corridors that all look the same and things are being shouted and there’s light and smoke and alarms and aliens and we’re suddenly bombarded with far too many elements. 

However, I do commend the film for exploring an original plotline which isn’t simply running down corridors with xenomorphs following closely behind (of course there are elements of this, but they are a true staple of the franchise and would be sorely missed). The film also engages with some deeper issues of identity and motherhood, and I think these themes provide some of the most poignant moments during the film. The scene where Ripley encounters failed clones 1-7 stands out particularly. We see the horrific nature of the scientists’ botched experiments, humanoid shapes with alien features in grotesque positions and of course, the malformed but conscious No.7. Here we see a Ripley who is contemplating her very being as a clone, heartbroken at witnessing what she could have been and perhaps guilty over being the success. It’s refreshing to encounter a version of Ripley not simply hell-bent on destruction and badassery, but who is also undergoing a crisis of identity. This crisis comes also in her maternal role regarding the aliens. This element of the film does not always translate well – for instance, why is Ripley able to unflinchingly shoot one of the aliens in the head, but later cannot be torn away from visiting the nest? However, the combination of the grotesque and monstrous with soft and natural motherhood provides an interesting plot dynamic.

And so, on to character. Having been so disappointed with the Ripley portrayed in Alien3, it’s a relief that our iconic and hard-faced heroine is allowed her return in Jeunet’s film. In fact, the first thing she does is break a man’s arm, and it could not be more delightful. And she defeats a man through basketball combat, which personally, is my favourite kind.Although, especially in the first part of the film, there is some confusion as to exactly how “Ripley” this Ripley is,  this is promptly forgotten later and we accept her as simply a slightly altered, blissfully more indomitable version of our protagonist.

However, the film does encounter a problem which alsooccurs in its unfortunate predecessor: unlikable characters. The main assemblage of characters which the film follows,other than her majesty Ripley, is made up of the following: several oily and harrowingly sexist space pirates (one of which has the most disproportionately gruff voice which makes it difficult to focus on anything else), a random alien-infected man who’s imminent death we are made instantly aware of and so ignore, a crazy scientist and a droid suffering an existential crisis (but who is actually quite likable at times) – all of whom can hold their breathe for a ridiculously long amount of time. As I mentioned in my last review, allowing the main bulk of your characters to be unsavoury ones is not conducive to audience engagement. In fact, at times, I was willing them to be horrifically murdered. But perhaps this was Jeunet’s goal, perhaps it was an avant-garde inversion of character norms. But also perhaps not.

Finally the xenomorphs. There is thankfully very little questionable CGI used in the film, and all in all the aliens look pretty convincing. However, the biggest leap in regards to the xenomorphs is their presentation as intelligent. Rather than simply being mindless predators with excellent hunting abilities, we see the aliens seemingly confer with one another to make an escape, turning on their own and ripping them apart in order to burn a gooey hole in the floor. That, combined with the swimming, the queen and the biped give the audience a tremendously three-dimensional exploration of the xenomorph.

And don’t even get me started on the biped. It looks terrible, yes. It looks like someone forgot it was Halloween until an hour before the party and hastily constructed something out of marshmallows. Its face resembles neither an alien nor a human but somehow it’s both. And yet my heart breaks every time it is forced out of that window. Unbelievable. Perhaps I’m just a softy but that look it gives Ripley, like it loves her and it has been betrayed, never fails to make me sympathise. The magic of Jean-Pierre Reneut everybody. Strange, not always cohesive but oddly watchable. And who can ask for anything more?

What’s worse: a Xenomorph, 25 rapists or this film?

A review of David Fincher’s 1992 film Alien3.

One sentence synopsis: Ripley crashes in a prison full of inexplicably-cockney-rapist-monk-murderers, run by Tywin Lannister.

My rating: a whole bunch of shiny sweaty faces/10 (seriously, everyone is doing all of the sweating all of the time)

Housekeeping: The 1992 film was written by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, directed by David Fincher and the theatrical release runs at approx. 114 minutes.

Well, was I expecting anything else? The third installment in the Alien franchise is widely regarded as the worst in an otherwise beloved and iconic series. And, now having seen them all, I think I can probably confirm this as completely true. Spoilers ahead, but if you haven’t seen it by now, where have you been?

Firstly, why on earth would you kill off Bishop, Hicks and Newt, three characters that your audience is already familiar with and cares about, in the first ten minutes of the film? In fact, they’re not even given good deaths, we merely see quick images of bloody corpses and later Newt’s cold cadaver, in addition to a barely functioning Bishop who then asks to be killed anyway. Perhaps he’d rather face the eternal void than stay one minute longer in this catastrophe of a film. Because not only does the film kill off well-liked characters, but also replaces them with 25 ravenous rapist-murderers. The thing is, when you decide to make the bulk of the characters within your film blood-thirsty convicts it is supremely difficult to care about them one bit. Why would I sympathize that you got your eyes poked out and your skin and internal organs burned away by a xenomorph? You are a rapist, I could not give less of a fuck. Therefore, the film automatically loses all suspense and tension through pure lack of identification.

And that brings us on neatly to the subplot: Ripley must not only tackle the xenomorph, but also the 25 woman-starved convicts who now wish to force themselves upon her, despite their vows of chastity. This makes for highly uncomfortable watching; the notion of her imminent rape takes over the first half of the film, and then simply disappears in the second, as though the filmmakers thought maybe they could make a statement by Ripley fighting back against her assailants and asserting her dominance and self-worth, but then just decided that this would be far too much hassle, and so dropped the notion altogether.

In fact, Ripley herself seems to be lacking in her usual bad-assery. Yes, we do care about her, because after all, she is the same Ripley that we have known and loved in previous installments, however she appears to have diminished somewhat. The weird implied sex between her and Charles Dance’s character, which we do not ever see, but instead are forced to watch an awkward post-coital scene complete with euphemisms and double-entendres about “physical fraternization”, detracts from the androgynous, hard-bastard Ripley we have come to love. Not that she must remain asexual, I just feel that if Ripley were to engage in this so-called “physical fraternization”, it would not be in the girlish and coy fashion depicted in the film. And she definitely would NOT call it “physical fraternization”.

Charles Dance, while we are on the subject, does not make a suitable love interest, since his wooden and rigid speech, possibly an effort to make him appear overly British and aloof, simply comes across as unemotional, and therefore not relatable in the slightest. This, coupled with the fact that he is mercilessly killed off before their affection has a chance to blossom, curtails what could have been a potentially quite pleasant sub-plot. Again, it was as if Fincher, or the interfering powers that be the studio, could not be bothered to expand any of the characters into vaguely passable human beings.

The CGI. OH THE CGI EVERYONE. In some parts of the film, it was B-movie bad. Really. How on earth, almost 15 years after the original Alien, complete with its beautiful and superior practical effects, scaring millions with the notion of a gigantic, double-mouthed, acid-blooded, irrational monstrosity, could you have regressed so far back as to present us with THAT. I cannot even articulate to you how dreadful that was for such a big budget blockbuster. Truly sub-par. Although I thought the shots from the xenomorph’s point of view were half-creative, there was simply no suspense; each and every time I knew exactly when the alien was going to pop out of its hiding place, eliminating all thrills and scares from the film.

And now, to the ending. Once we have established that everybody in the film (characters who we already do not like or sympathize with) are about to die in an effort to kill the xenomorph, what little tension was left evaporates into thin air. This, coupled with a confusing and elaborate plan involving many a corridor which plays out for slightly too long, means the audience are left considering more interesting alternatives to this film, such as slowly and deliberately hammering a nail into one’s temple or watching dry paint not do anything. Then, we briefly see some people from Weyland Yutani, who turn up for a few seconds and do a really bad job at convincing Ripley to go with them, forcing her to jump into the flames to escape the horror of this film, piss-poor CGI accompanying her as she goes.

Self-inflicted torture this experience may have been; after all, I knew precisely that I was not in for cinematic delight upon pressing play. However, what I was not prepared for was the uncomfortably rapey sub-plot, the complete absence of any character development, the half-arsed attempt at a love interest, the regression back to the dark ages in terms of CGI and the odd choice of a lukewarm Ripley. Rant well and truly over.


Star Wars Episode VII : The Force Gets Copied and Pasted

In the vein of Roisin’s rather rant-y review (#Raliteration) on TMNT I’ll be doing one of my own and I’ll be tackling one of the big boys: Star Wars. This review will be largely from my perspective as a Star Wars fan, less so than a film fan. On one of these counts it’s overwhelmingly meh. On the other it is nothing short of an atrocity. When both are put together I see it for what it truly is: a cash cow being mercilessly drained of all of its life force (excuse the pun) without any integrity, let alone any respect. My main issue, and the focus of this review will be the myriad of ways JJ Abrams (Director) and Disney has self-plagiarised, shamelessly copied the more successful (and more loved) original trilogy and in the laziest way possible. Force Awakens is a “fresh” lick of paint, greedily applied to an old formula with the aim of encouraging us to part with our money and I for one see it as hugely disrespectful to us, the fans.

The desire for Force Awakens to rip off the original trilogy runs so deeply through its very identity that it can even be seen in casting. The thought process being this: “People liked Han, Luke, Leia and Chewy in the 70’s… Fuck it. Bring them back, people will pay to see them now.”  (yes they even bought a 70-year old Peter Mayhew back as chewy, that’s how dedicated they are to replicating the formula) It broke my heart to see a bloated Harrison Ford and his old man hands fumble his way through scenes. I was thinking that there was something wrong with Carrie Fisher’s speech for the entirety of her screen-time, I guess she must have been fighting against gravity and old age to keep her dentures inside her face.

That’s not the only thing they copied in terms of casting. “Hammil and Fisher were unknowns before A New Hope. Let’s do that again as well.” This time it’s John Boyega as Finn and Daisy Ridley as Rey. Boyega is one of the better “new but not really new” aspects of this film, he has genuine presence and good delivery. However the writers have made his job harder for him. His comic timing is ever so slightly off, this wouldn’t be a problem if the dialogue wasn’t littered with half arsed, pseudo-comic lines that go down about as well as an X-wing in a Dagobah bog. The funniest gag in the entire film comes from BB-8 (Stupid-but-marketable ball droid) and his lighter. That’s the best gag. But the best joke is the casting of Daisy Ridley. She’s clearly a graduate of the ‘Keira Knightley School of Wooden Acting’. She majored in ‘Inability to Convey Emotion’, minored in ‘Lack-Lustre Delivery’, failed her free module in ‘Attempting to look like she belongs in a Sci-Fi Film’ and was a member of the ‘Overly British Actresses Society.’ She took me out of the moment, made me inherently aware that I was sitting in a cinema, sitting thinking: “This is the person I’m being asked to get behind, to support? She’s going to be our hero? Presumably for the next two miserable films. No thanks. I would genuinely rather have JarJar.” Bitch about casting done. Now every other way the film offended me by ripping itself off.

“Guys, remember the death star? That was cool right? Let’s just do that again. But bigger, wayyy bigger. Oooh ooh and can we make it kill like five planets instead of just one?” This one really hurt me. Because it’s because of this oh-so-fucking-lazy decision that means the film is structured in an almost identical way to BOTH A New Hope and Return of the Jedi with a few minor changes. We’re quickly introduced to a plucky little droid that has to transport some highly important plans to help fight against the empire. Oh sorry. Did I say “plans” and “empire”? Because I meant “map to find a beardy Luke Skywalker” and “The First Order”. Speaking of the empire, that receives the same magic lick of paint as everything else. No matter what anybody says, The First Order who built the Starkiller Base, headed by Supreme Leader Snoke and his apprentice Kylo Ren, totally isn’t THE EXACT SAME as the Empire who built the Death Star, headed by Supreme chancellor Palpatine and his apprentice Darth Vader. No no, it’s different because, er, because er. Well because this time the apprentice is the SON of another major character (two in fact, don’t wanna copy that formula too closely now do we?) and actually this time he struggles with resisting the Light side, not the Dark side. How could that possibly appear to be the same thing?

There were several times in the movie where I knew EXACTLY what shot was coming next because of how shamelessly JJ was self-plagiarising. The worst and most blatant would be Poe Dameron’s run into the trenches of the Starkiller. That one killed the star in my heart. Oh wait no, I was wrong. The worst was when Rey was standing at a spiral staircase and the framing and a certain music cue made me feel sick because I knew what was coming. I remember thinking she’s gonna walk down there, with all her bad acting in tow and have a vision, just like Luke did in Dagobah. Sure enough she did, and sure enough I vomited all over the cinema floor. Oh wait no that still wasn’t the worst.

The worst, bar none (ok maybe I’ll find one even worse if I can bring myself to watch this again), was the lazy attempt to recreate the iconic Mos Eisley Cantina in Maz Kanata’s “watering hole.” It’s even like they named her after a poor attempt at an anagram of Mos Eisley Cantina. And naturally if you’re going to rip off the cantina you’ve got to rip-off the band, that’s what the people wanna see right? So give the people a band. But make them play slightly shitter and less memorable music. “Oh and we’ll do a load of really cool and whacky and zany and crazy and awesome aliens in the cantina, I mean watering hole. We could even do a really fat alien lazing about with an exotic lady just to his side. That’s not too like Jabba is it?”

When the Force Awakens isn’t ripping itself off shot-for-shot it’s throwing in a stream of half-baked Star Wars references in an effort to gain credibility, to say “look at me! I’m a legitimate Star Wars film! Really, I am! Honest!” Like Finn triggering the Hologame table. (Remember when chewy played on that? Yeah I do. I sure love Star Wars.) Or Rey retrieving Luke’s Lightsabre from Ice with the force (Remember when Luke did that with that very same lightsabre on Hoth? Yeah I do. I sure love Star Wars.)  Or when Han reveals his son’s real name to be Ben. (Remmeber when Ewan McGregor was Sir Alec Guinness and when we used to call “Obi Wan Kenobi” “Old Ben Kenobi”? Yeah I do. I sure love Star Wars.)

You’d be mistaken for thinking that I don’t actually like Star Wars. But it’s because of my love for the original trilogy in particular that Force Awakens offends me so much. I’ve only seen this movie once, and yet, I’ve seen it a thousand times. It’s so lazy, so gutless and ultimately so greedy to do what Disney have done to this franchise. Re-purposed, re-packaged, re-sold, re-profited. I’m choking on my own rage here. I understand how hard it must be to take on such a beloved franchise, but Force Awakens seems to just shirk the challenge in favour of making money. Rather than bravely bring any genuine original thought or innovation to the franchise it is so apparently (at least to me) a shameless way to keep pulling on the teats of the most successful and profitable franchise in terms of merchandise. I see Force Awakens as the result of Dr Victor JJ Frankenstein having gone grave robbing. Pulling off the limbs and organs of great men and women of the past, and sowing them all together (or more crudely supergluing them together) and stuffing this monstrosity into a shiny and new, but ultimately ugly, dress. I hope everyone else can see this film for the horrible, offensive and disrespectful monster that it is.

Rant. Over.

Peace out Bitches.

Post Script to the peace out – Tolkien recognised that his books would unavoidably be made into films. He famously refused Disney the right to EVER adapt them into movies. I see Force Awakens as Tolkien’s vindication. Thank the gods of elves, dwarves and men that this shit will never happen to my other favourite film trilogy.

Review By Joe Jordan

My childhood, obliterated into a thousand turtle-shaped pieces

A review of Jonathan Liebesman’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

One sentence synopsis: Four ugly yet colour coordinated anthropromorphic turtles fight a man with a shit ton of shiny knives.

My rating: Four empty turtle shells, devoid of all turtlage/10

Housekeeping: The 2014 film, written by Josh Appelbaum and directed by Jonathan Liebesman (and produced in part by Michael Bay, which will become very obvious if you actually decide to watch this), runs for 101 minutes. 101 minutes that you will never get back. Yes, it’s going to be that kind of review.

I grew up with the tmnt, I watched them on tv, I had all the merchandise, Hell, I still own teenage mutant ninja turtle pyjamas and I’m not even sorry. I’m telling you this not to paint you a picture of my nerdy childhood but to contextualize the sheer sassiness that is going to follow, because this film is simply horrific.

I’ll start with the positives (this won’t take long, I assure you). Undeniably, the CGI is cool; the turtles look ugly as sin, but really I suppose if you were to breed turtles with a mutagen inside them, they probably wouldn’t be the most aesthetically pleasing crime-fighters. Shredder, decorated with his shiny armour and knife-fists also looks pretty awesome, which distracted for a few seconds from the drivel that is this film. Also, Whoopi Goldberg makes an appearance for a few minutes and I like her, so that was fun. And “Hollaback Girl” plays for a few seconds (I’m really scraping the barrel here). And that’s about it for the good parts.

First on this tirade of home truths, I shall address April O’Neill. I’ve never been the greatest Megan Fox fan, but she is surprisingly not the problem with this film. Rather, Liebesman has made the film into “The April O’Neill Show”. Did the fans pay the over-priced ticket prices to come and see Megan fox take pictures of things in a horrific yellow jacket? No, they came to see cool superhero turtles fight bad guys. And yet the first fight doesn’t come until about 50 minutes in, and as soon as it’s done, we’re back to more April. Liebesman has significantly misjudged the fanbase and what they would want to see. At one point, a man drives a truck off a cliff because he is too busy looking at April’s butt. Really. REALLY?!

Moving on to the turtles, and it gets no better. Michaelangelo, the silly, pizza craving, party turtle has been transformed, effectively, into a sex pest. The majority of his lines encompass his apparent sexual attraction to April, which wasn’t funny the first time or the tenth. Leonardo is devoid of all personality whatsoever and, apart from a sort-of gruff voice, I’m not entirely sure where Liebesman was trying to go with him. Donatello really is not too bad, and he was probably the only character in the entire film who I actually was content to watch. Raphael, classically, my favourite of the team, was turned into some sort of fake-badass, who is only pretending to be unfeeling and sarcastic.

Splinter. Oh poor Splinter. What have they done to you? HE HAS A TOP KNOT. He’s not the loving but stern old-man rat anymore, more a middle-aged rat who can’t actually fight and has a god-awful haircut. For some reason, the most terrifying punishment he could possibly inflict on the turtles is to make them balance on things whilst tempting them with a “99 cheese pizza”. And somehow, Liebesman has also managed to make Shredder, the terrifying leader of the foot clan, boring. I didn’t care about him in the slightest, didn’t care if he won or lost and don’t actually even remember why he was even helping Sacks in the first place. It was that unmemorable.

The fighting is over the top, but that is by no means the biggest mistake of the film, and is something I would actually expect in a ninja turtle movie. The plot, however, is some of the laziest Hollywood writing I have ever seen, completely transparent, overly-simple and obvious. Good guys have a bit of trouble but then they defeat the bad guys. And that’s it. And the so-called ‘humour’ failed to make me crack even the faintest shadow of a half-smile.

Liebesman and Bay have done a great job butchering what is, for many including myself, a beloved franchise. Please, I urge you, do not waste your time with this film.

Forrest Gump, James Bond and Butch Cassidy do battle

A review of Sam Mendes’ Road to Perdition.

One Sentence synopsis: young boy given a gun, money and driving lessons by coolasfuck gangster dad.

My rating: ten rainwater filled trilby hats/10 (just watch the film, you’ll understand what I mean.)

Housekeeping: Road to Perdition (2002), a crime thriller, written by David Self (adapted from Max Allan Collins’ graphic novel) and directed by Sam Mendes runs for approx. 118 minutes.

Every Tom Hanks film I have ever seen has made me cry. And this was no exception. Road to Perdition is one of the best all-round films I have seen in quite some time. It didn’t seem to be lacking in any area of production, which is both impressive and unusual.

The direction and cinematography is divine. There is a moment where Michael snr. is proudly whacking one of his rivals (who shall remain unnamed for the sake of saving you from spoilers). We see only Hank’s face as he fires three bullets towards a bath, placed in a remarkably white en suite. As he walks away, the mirrored bathroom door closes and the victim’s identity is finally enclosed to us, as well as a hearty dose of brains splattered on the wall.

In one of the final scenes, Michael snr. is looking out of the window at the shore, watching his son play with the dog. We see Hank’s lovely, smiling face, the boy happily frolicking in the sand, the water of the lake gently ebbing and flowing (accompanied by the soothing sound of the tide). All is tranquil. And then, simultaneously, we see a dark silhouette emerging in the background. It’s dramatic. It’s tense. It’s everything an audience needs from a film both thrilling and cinematically stunning.

Next, I shall discuss the star-studded cast. In my opinion, this film is cast magnificently. Tom Hanks as Michael snr. was outwardly stern but inwardly kind-hearted and the comic driving and bank-robbing scenes offset his stoic character perfectly. Daniel Craig as the dark and villainous brother was manic and troubled, and for once (since I am in no way the biggest fan of Craig) actually really good. This, coupled with the wonderfully gentle performance of Paul Newman, the rodent-like and peverse Maguire played by Jude Law, the usual brilliance of Stanley Tucci, and Tyler Hoechlin as the innocent and forever curious Michael Jr. makes for one beautiful film.

Finally, the story. Tense, exciting,  in places heart-breaking and in more than one way, a coming of age, the plot of the film engages and excites the audience for every single minute of the 118. Although perhaps we can guess a portion of the outcome of the film fairly early, this is not to the film’s detriment. In fact, the viewer simply wishes with all their heart that things do not go the way they are inevitably going to go, and when they do, its all the more emotional.

An absolute must watch for any fans of gangster films, Tom Hanks, Ireland, emotional scenes, wonderful cinematography or kitsch diners. So, in short, a must watch for everyone.

Being Awed by John Malkovich

Having read the synopsis of ‘Being John Malkovich’ I very nearly avoided the film altogether. That word, ‘Puppets’, sent glaring warning signs to my brain and pre-emptive shivers down my spine. I’ve always found puppets terrifying, imbuing an inanimate object with life, or at least some semblance of it, gives me the heeby-ma-jeebies. And admittedly with the opening sequence being an expressionist dance, performed by a long–haired, naked John Cusack marionette, I balked and very nearly walked. However, both I and my stomach contents endured, and my genuine heroic bravery was rewarded the second I saw the incredibly low-ceilinged 7 ½ floor on which puppeteer, shudder, Craig (Cusack) works on. The 7 ½ floor was supposedly originally built for midgets that found high-ceilinged work environments oppressive and is now inhabited by a non-descript “filing company” to ‘keep overheads low’ Geddit? It is in this office that Craig finds a portal into John Malkovich’s (Malkovich. Heh) mind.

This is the central vehicle of the plot and once discovered is too domineering in the questions it provokes to stray from. These questions are provoked through the interesting ways in which people use, or more appropriately misuse, John’s mind. The film dips its toe into questions of ‘Self’ and the soul, but seems to shirk these heavy issues in favour of something wholly more cinematic: A love triangle. Or a love square. Or a love triangle with a line attached to it. I won’t say any more about plot, I shall just leave your attention piqued and your whistle whetted. I really can’t give this film enough of a glowing indictment. It’s charming both visually and in its writing, Kauffman can be described as nothing short of genius in my opinion. There aren’t too many films in which a chase scene through John Malkovich’s panty-sniffing subconscious would remind you of Buster Keaton emerging through walls and floors. The acting is perfectly judged too, especially by Malkovich himself, the notion of “malkovich himself” being somewhat alien to me right after watching this film.

Suffice to say I loved this film, I found it overflowing with charm and was smiling to myself for almost the entire film. It had everything I could want: philosophy, old people, tiny doors, a chimp, a Charlie Sheen, a notion of being “meta”. To return to an earlier thought: I don’t like puppets because they’re pieces of wood being manipulated, made to look like they’re human, like they have souls. And ‘souls’ are a bit of a cinematic no-go. They’re intangible. They’re invisible. They can’t be caught on 78mm or even RED EPIC. The best way, it seems, to deal with souls is to talk about them and JUST talking is pretty much the least cinematic thing out there. But what ‘Being John Malkovich’ does is show us about souls, not tell us about them, and it does it frankly brilliantly.

Review By Joe Jordan