Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Nowadays very few Hollywood films get me going to the theatre anymore, chiefly because the cinema now more than ever is an outdated institution of public life, and I’m surprised that the Internet hasn’t killed it off yet. Last week, however, offered something different. From the director of The Fifth Element came the promise of an exciting new sci-fi adventure that I think was hoping to rival Star Wars in terms of scope and success. But nothing is perfect I suppose. While the film certainly has its flaws, however, I think it’s a good film with decent ideas, and if nothing else is good summer entertainment. But let’s get right down to it.

The plot of the film is set in the 28th century, largely in the Alpha space station, the film’s eponymous city of a thousand planets, where people of different species from different planets live together. The protagonists are two government agents – Valerian and Laureline – who are given the task of investigating a mysterious force lurking within part of the space station, from which people have never returned, leading the government to assume it is toxic. But all is not as it seems, and when the two agents venture further towards the area, they realise that something else is going on.

The first half of the story showed perhaps the most promise. Aside from the prologue, you had Valerian going on this wild dimension hopping mission where anything can happen and it was fun. In fact, the fast-paced action oriented parts of the film are the best part. The second half of the film, however, is rather formulaic in terms of its writing, and when you get to the big reveal (which is almost a given nowadays), it sort of dawns on me that the big twist reads like something written by Noam Chomsky. It’s not terrible, but aren’t we sick of the bad guys always being some repetitive comment on Western foreign policy? I know Hollywood is full of Marxists but give me a break.

Valerian himself was a decent protagonist. Sure, he acted a bit like a high school jock, but when it counts, he acts like a real hero. For his faults (and those of the writers) he’s a good example of what a male protagonist should look like. Laureline isn’t too bad a character, but my main problem is that the producers and writers tried too hard to make her into such a badass action heroine that she might outshine Valerian for no reason other than to appease pretentious “culture critics”. The rest of the cast gave some good performances, particularly Clive Owen’s character.

For me the worst character is Rihanna’s shapeshifting character Bubble. It seemed like a gimmicky way of getting Rihanna into the film for cheap promotion, never mind that the generation of kids who thought Rihanna was cool probably pirated her music when she was big. Even worse is that it’s another attempt to politicise the film by writing Rihanna’s character as an illegal immigrant. In times such as these it makes to come to the conclusion that it’s a naked attempt at dogwhistling open borders politics in a market that again, is oversaturated with leftist politics.

If nothing else, the film looks amazing. Valerian sports some of the finest production values I’ve seen in a contemporary film. I know it’s common for sci-fi films to have a big special effects budget, but this film just takes this to incredible heights. I think that’s what made the film so ridiculously expensive to make though. The film costed €190 million to make, and thus far it has yet to turn a profit, which unfortunately means that this ambitious sci-fi flick could end its run as a box office flop.

On the whole, however, Valerian is a good film that in the end is hindered by Luc Besson and the producers’ desperate attempts to make it hip. It obviously didn’t work, which I guess is sad because it’s a good film with good ideas, but in this day and age what tends to happen with good films is that they get crushed under the weight of the producers’ overextravagant tendency. Vanity thy name is Luc Besson.

  • Score: 72%
  • Grade: C

Metalhead (2013)

Films that revolve around subcultures (particularly musical subcultures) tend to be either moderately watchable, or intolerably bad, and the main reason for it is that they end up getting bogged down in a lot of pandering, and often they do so in a way that seems alienating or off-putting to the uninitiated, and downright insulted to the already converted. This film, meanwhile, attempts at a meaningful, thoughtful portrayal of a metalhead, but in the end resorts to stereotypes all the same, and far from being a gripping, heartwarming drama, Metalhead comes across as a banal, pathetic cringe-fest.

The story revolves around a girl named Hera who, when she was eleven years old, had the misfortune of witnessing her older rocker brother Baldur die after falling off of and getting scalped by a tractor. She responded to the tragedy by immediately picking up her brother’s guitar and taking his clothes as her own, and years later, she and her parents still haven’t gotten over the incident. She begins acting out in various ways, like playing loud music wherever she has the given opportunity and generally being rude to everyone. When the priest tries to help her, she interprets it as a romantic relationship and when she realises it isn’t, she burns down a church and goes insane until she comes back, stops being a metalhead for a while until some Norwegian men form a band with her.

That’s pretty much the gist of the plot, and I may well have saved you 97 pointless minutes in divulging it to you. It’s not as if the writers had ill intentions. Grief and alienation make for ideal themes in dramatic works, but it’s just not executed very well, and the main problem is that the film feels like a feature-length tantrum on the part of the main character. The film lurches from being a melodramatic teen angst flick to becoming a preachy “pray the metalhead away” lecture. That to me seems to be the film’s message that being a metalhead is some sort of depressive phase that only teenagers go through, and that you can only be a normal person by getting out of it. I’m not even a metalhead and I think that it’s an utterly deplorable concept.

The main character is perhaps the biggest problem. The writers honestly want me to sympathise with her but I just can’t, and the reason why is because she’s just untenable as a character. She is literally the distorted caricature of a metalhead that parents used to have in their heads back in the 1990’s, complete with all the nasty behaviours that pearl clutchers might have accused metalheads of exhibiting back than, but worse than that, she seems like a character who has completely shackled herself to grief in a manner that isn’t remotely touching because it’s not realistic. It’s not as though the acting is terrible. Her acting is actually quite good, and the rest of the cast didn’t fare too badly either, but again, the whole narrative crumbles quickly.

I should at least commend the film for its visual style. It has a sort of sombre look and feel to it, which belies the shabbiness of the film itself. Of course the film tries to butter you up with all sorts of savoury metal tunes, but it honestly seems like window dressing. Oh, and this a film that ends by somehow managing to make Megadeth sound cringy, by having Hera’s mom do a corny dance to it.

This is one of those films where I have to wonder, how do critics love the film so much? Seriously, it seems like most professional critics do nothing other than give the film a blowjob, possibly because it somehow appeals to their moral sensibilities, but most likely because it’s the kind of banal, meandering melodrama that critics naturally gravitate towards. To me, this film will probably have more appeal with people who know screw all about metal, and I don’t think the sycophantic “critics” that worshipped this film even listened to a single metal song or album before that. I don’t know what planet they were on, or even if they were watching the same movie, but the reality is the Metalhead was a hollow mockery of the subculture that it is purported to cater to.

  • Score: 59%
  • Grade: D

La La Land (2016)

Of all the films that could be considered divisive, you would think that a film like La La Land would be the last one could expect to draw any sort of backlash, but it’s inevitable for popular films to attract pushback, and believe it or not, we live in such divisive times that some people managed to find a way to put people into two basic camps over this. Some people say it’s fantastic and it should have one the Best Picture award, and some think of it as the cinematic equivalent of a Trump rally (trust me, sites like Salon and Newsweek actually wrote reviews of that kind). I meanwhile would prefer not to insert my political agenda and judge this fluffy, light-hearted musical for its merits, being that some critics have completely abdicated that role.

The film is essentially a story about a struggling jazz pianist named Sebastian, whose career was going nowhere until he meets an aspiring actress and playwright named Mia. They meet and fall in love soon after, and they have the habit of affecting each other’s careers, all of set to abundant song and dance numbers.

Musicals seem to baffle me in a bit of an irksome way. They’re always to campy and over-the-top, and let’s not forget to address the fundamental question about the genre. When in real life would you see people randomly breaking into song and dance, and then everyone joins in, and they somehow know the rest of the song? The idea seems to me like of the so-called “golden age of Hollywood”, but with La La Land, I suppose that’s the idea, and if that’s true then the film is a bit sharper than you might think. After all, the film’s title is a rather apt description of the nonsensical song and dance world the writers have constructed.

The acting was quite good, but I personally can’t connect with any of the characters, probably because they are typically unrealistic Hollywood characters, perhaps facets of Damien Chazelle’s fantasy. It would be insane for me to try and argue that the characters have no personality. They certainly do, and the people playing them are certainly capable actors (except for John Legend, who I think was hired for the sake of hiring a contemporary singer), but they don’t have much charm. I do however think there was a good attempt at creating chemistry between the two main characters.

Honestly, the film’s main strength is the way it presents itself. It opens with old style title sequence, and although that’s as close to truly retro as it gets, the rest of the film looked and sounded pretty good. The musical numbers are surprisingly well done, and this is coming from someone who doesn’t even like musicals. Even though I’ve heard time and again that the film is a call back to early 20th century musicals, there are a few nods to the 80’s, and I found myself enjoying the scene with the 80’s cover band.

All in all, I don’t think La La Land is a bad film. I don’t normally watch “normie films” as I call them, but this is what happens when some people in the media make too much of a big deal over it. The film is basically inoffensive entertainment, and that’s the point. In times where people are tired of hearing about how we’re “more divided” and how everything is supposedly going to hell, you kind of need films like this, and in that regard La La Land certainly succeeds as light entertainment, but it doesn’t get much better than that.

  • Score: 67%
  • Grade: C

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

Oh Tim Burton, I grew up with your movies when they used to be good, and now I find you languishing in typical Hollywood fantasy fare. Not that this was a particularly bad film. In truth it was quite decent, and the premise was certainly original, but in practice it ended up as a sort of paint-by-numbers affair, showing once again that Hollywood always tends to squander any squint of potential.

The film revolves around a young boy named Jake Portman, who after witnessing his grandfather’s death at the hands of a monster that only he can see, is given permission by his psychiatrist to go to the Welsh island of Cairnholm in order to find an old home for children with certain magical abilities. He finds that they live in a time loop, and winds up upending their fragile equilibrium in order to help save them from the crazy scheme of a mad scientist wanting to gave himself eternal life.

I have probably oversimplified this to a vast degree, but that’s essentially what happens. Anyway, the story itself isn’t bad, but from the beginning I find that the producers put in a bunch of often cringeworthy scenes that seem to have been written in just to pad length in a film that already straddles a somewhat convoluted plot. Honestly, it seemed to me that this could have been much better as an anime film, not that the Hollywood elite would ever entertain such an idea. Also, full disclosure, I know this is based on a book, probably another one that you won’t have read prior to watching the film, and I don’t care, the reason being that a film should be able to stand on its own (this is why I was so critical of the Harry Potter films, which tended to ride on the coattails of J.K. Rowling’s novels), and this film just barely does that.

The characters aren’t bad, but they’re hindered by the typical Hollywood practice of having them overact nearly every line, and even Samuel L. Jackson, arguably the best actor in the whole film, couldn’t escape this trend. The film presents itself decently, but I can’t be the only one who’s tired of every Hollywood film having such an overly polished look, to the point that it’s barely real anymore. However, the film’s special effects make for decent fireworks, and the film’s saving grace can be found in the climactic showdown, although the ending showed that the writers were content with some good old-fashioned schmaltzy closer.

Again, this wasn’t a bad film, but it’s fairly indistinguishable from an average 2010’s-era dark fantasy film (never mind that most if not all films made in the genre are pretty much the same now anyway), and it could have done much better if Tim Burton were at least more willing to think outside the box. With this film, he looks more like a lazy hack than the artist of his prime, having undergone a similarly ghastly transformation as several other Hollywood directors from his era.

  • Score: 60%
  • Grade: C

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)

hansel_and_gretel_witch_hunters_There are those who would defend this movie on the basis of it being “pure escapism”, or “unpretentious entertainment”. Did any of the film’s defenders actually sit down and watch it, or did they focus on that scene where one of the characters gets naked? With all seriousness, however, this film was truly awful stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen worse films, but few films could ever expect to sink lower than this dribble. In this regard, the biggest problem is the film’s unbearably hackneyed writing. I’ve seen films with blatantly terrible writing, but let it be known, this film has the absolute worst writing I’ve ever seen.

Back when it was new, the film followed the reprehensible trend of gritty, action-oriented fantasy retellings of public domain stories. In this case, it pretends to be a continuation of the story of Hansel and Gretel, but this film bastardizes the story so badly that it made its own events for before the story (which make so little sense that it’s simply baffling). The script itself is an intense atrocity, but what’s even worse is how the film exploits every possible cliché from the Hollywood playbook, including a drawn out final showdown.

Another thing I noticed is that it seemed as if they were aiming to create a strong female lead working alongside the male lead (not that either are particularly good examples), but the film’s writers, the hacks that they are, bungled the opportunity. Towards the end, the writers figuratively beat her to a bloody pulp so that the lead male could have all the glory in saving the day. It’s truly an example of terrible writing, plagued by shoehorned clichés that are long past their sell by date. It doesn’t help that the characters are played by people who don’t even know how to act.

The other big thing that bothers me is the visuals and props. This film is essentially the unholy lovechild of Van Helsing and Wild Wild West, with deliberately anachronistic weapons, costumes and accents. The action scenes should have been the best part of the film, but instead, they feel so empty and badly done that they serve no purpose other than for the sake of adding in gratuitous violence wherever the writers can. These are all the cries of a truly talentless film-maker as he drowns in his pitiful mediocrity for all eternity, just like this film in all its tawdriness.

I can safely say on behalf of the entire cinema-going public that this goes beyond B-movie territory. In fact, this is the kind of film that belongs on Syfy, or at best Channel 5, rather than the silver screen. I know that Blades of Glory is still worse on a different level, but this film is so deeply mindless and devoid of substance or artistic merit that it shouldn’t exist, nor should I have laid eyes upon it, almost as if reviewing bad movies had at one point become a depressing pastime in my life. It may in fact be the worst action film of all time.

  • Score: 5%
  • Grade: F

Rogue One (2016)

rogue_one_a_star_wars_story_posterI’m absolutely certain that Star Wars premieres at around Christmas time are going to become a yearly occasion, starting off with the previous Star Wars film. With Rogue One, which I think is very much on par with The Force Awakens, Disney proves that they can take great care of the franchise, much more so than George Lucas ever could. I think Rogue One represents an amazing amount potential for future standalone Star Wars films in the foreseeable future.

Rather than the obvious throwback plot of The Force Awakens, this film essentially carves its own niche between episodes III and IV, with a cast comprises almost entirely of new characters. The plot of this film concerns a new character named Jyn Erso, who bands together with a group of unlikely heroes with one goal – stealing the plans for the Death Star, the empire’s ultimate weapon of mass destruction.

Right off the bat I knew that Rogue One was going to be a different kind of Star Wars film, and I got that impression from the opening scenes. I expected the Star Wars title crawl, but instead we get the film’s prologue, which, if I must be honest, was a great way to start the film, and certainly quite a shake-up to say the least. I think the writing definitely improved, and I say this because the last film overtly attempted to recapture the spirit of the older films. Rogue One, meanwhile, even though it is replete with throwbacks, takes a rather surprising character-oriented approach, and I say this because I didn’t know anything about the newer characters, nor did I expect them to have any sort of chemistry.

I honestly thought that Jyn was going to be written as an overpowered Wonder Woman type character, but instead she’s kind of like a Han Solo type of character, and as that character she sort of outclasses Rey from the last film. However, I like the other characters much better, especially the film’s villain, Orson Krennic. To be honest, all the characters worked very well, with stellar performances across the board, and it was an even bigger treat to see Darth Vader once again.

As I would undoubtedly expect, the film is a special effects bonanza, and the film looks extremely well-polished. I also noticed that the film seems to have dedicated itself to recreating the look and feel of the original trilogy. Aside from the sound effects, many scenes look as if they’ve been lifted straight from the 70’s, and I think it’s amazing that Disney is apparently capable of producing this effect. Maybe we’ll see this in episode VIII and possibly in other films. I also noticed that two characters that appear here have had their likenesses from A New Hope digitally recreated and used for their appearance in Rogue One (for a moment I honestly thought that Grand Moff Tarkin was being portrayed by Charles Dance). That’s very impressive, though I kind of wonder to what extent this will be used in later films.

On the whole, Rogue One was a terrific cinematic experience, and I think it’s a great way of showing what Star Wars is capable of in the coming years. I predict that in a decade or two we’ll be looking back on Rogue One and last year’s film the same way we look back on the original trilogy today, with awe and enthusiasm.

  • Score: 94%
  • Grade: A

Inception (2010)

inception_2010_theatrical_posterGiven Christopher Nolan’s solid treatment of The Dark Knight, one might think that his artistic intent could translate into something bold and original. That certainly seems to have been the intention behind Inception, and the mainstream critics ate up the hype even as they were building it up. Of course, I’m always sceptical of films that got a lot of hype. Even when I was 16 and Inception was new, I got the feeling that they were overselling it, and watching the film again I felt I was right. Overhyped, overrated, and astoundingly pretentious, Inception is a textbook example of a film that got a lot of hype when it was new, did well in the box office, but when the hype was over nobody cared, probably because Inception wasn’t very good in the first place.

The story is perhaps the most immediate gripe I have with the film, but before I go into why, I’ll try and explain it. The premise revolves around a Dominick Cobb, a professional thief who steals people’s information by infiltrating their dreams (the film tries to explain it, but does a poor job of it). His job involves projecting himself into people’s minds, and by doing so, he can obtain information that even the most skilled computer hackers can’t. When Cobb fails an assignment, he is offered the chance to have his criminal history erased as payment for a task that seems impossible – planting a new idea into a target’s mind. Cobb and his crew have everything they need to carry out the task, but the only thing complicating matters is a projection of Cobb’s dead wife, emerging from his subconscious.

That’s about a simple as I can describe a plot as insanely muddled as Inception’s plot is. I remembering hearing that the film’s plot is so complicated that you can’t even take a bathroom break if you want to understand what’s going on. I’m sure that sounds exaggerated, but the film certainly has an extremely complicated plot. It’s the kind of film that tries to sound intelligent, but just because the premise of a film is ludicrously complicated doesn’t make a film intelligent. In fact, much of the film’s 148-minute length is spent explaining the film. I would argue that any film that has to spend much of its runtime explaining itself is hardly intelligent. To be fair, I think the film could have implemented its ideas well had Christopher Nolan stuck with his plan to make it as a horror film about dream thieves. The film’s cerebral ideas find themselves wasted in a heist film, and a very pretentious one too.

Believe it or not, the film’s ensemble cast isn’t that effective. The performances weren’t bad, but I wasn’t very impressed, mainly because I see it as typical Hollywood overacting. Leonardo diCaprio is perhaps the most obvious example. Throughout his career diCaprio has depended his looks for success, and I’m pretty sure the same applies here because diCaprio isn’t a very convincing actor. Maybe I’m just too much of a demanding viewer, or more likely, I simply don’t like him, but whatever the reason, I can’t find myself getting invested in his character, and maybe that’s because his character was never really likeable in the first place.

Of course, the film did have incredibly high production values on its side, and with its massive $160 million budget that’s understandable, but I find that the film looks and sounds inescapably hollow. Perhaps the only part of the film most people got (and the most heavily promoted scene) was the scene where part of a road folds. It is a rather impressive display of CGI, but the problem is that most of the film feels inorganic, perhaps because the film is loaded with CGI. Even some of the fight scenes were done with CGI. It almost feels like a glossier version of The Matrix, but loaded with explanations that make no sense no matter how hard Leonardo diCaprio tries to convince you of it.

Though not a completely terrible film, Inception is what happens when film directors get too full of themselves. They lose grasp of what makes sense on screen and the resulting film is very big, bloated and pompous. Of course, the more popular a director becomes, the more mainstream that director’s work becomes, and clearly Inception was Nolan’s attempt at a boldly avant-garde thriller film, but it winds up being such a painfully mainstream Hollywood film that its a mirror image of the very character of Hollywood, with its head stuck firmly up in the clouds.

  • Score: 56%
  • Grade: D

Suicide Squad (2016)

Suicide_Squad_(film)_PosterWhen I first heard of this film and saw the trailer, I honestly had very low expectations, mainly because I didn’t like the lead actors, but also because I felt that, in the end, this would very much be another repetitive superhero film. I wasn’t necessarily wrong, but the film itself was definitely better than I might have thought. I ultimately decided to go and see it after it was maligned by mainstream critics (the very same who sung praises of last month’s terrible Ghostbusters remake), and though the film wasn’t necessarily great, it was a decently good comic book film, and my experience with it essentially proved that the critics, long the self-appointed judges of cinematic taste, no longer hold any weight.

Anyway, the film could be considered a “justice league” film for the bad guys, though that would be oversimplifying things a bit too much. The plot of the film revolves around a group of convicted criminals with special abilities who are recruited by the government for one mission – to eliminate a mysterious and enigmatic threat that is wreaking havoc on Midway City, and soon the rest of the world. If they succeed, they will receive lighter prison sentences, but if they fail, they will die and possibly be used as scapegoats.

Compared to most superhero films (certainly most DC superhero films), this film seems to be aiming for a less serious and more irreverent tone, and the characters certainly reflect that. However, the story is somewhat unfocused, and the film ultimately falls into line with the conventional superhero formula. While it is rather formulaic in its approach, it’s not without its charm, and there’s often a humorous touch in places you don’t expect. Personally, it’s the plot that concerns me, but rather the fact that they squeezed in a lot of characters, but without putting much thought into most of them. Many of them come across as filler characters, and that is particularly true of the characters who are introduced well after the first act.

Even if the story isn’t that good, the characters themselves are an interesting bunch. I’ll start by talking about Jared Leto, who I didn’t like very much before I saw this film. After the film, however, I’m convinced that Jared got the character just right. He captures the Joker as the deranged psycho that he ought to be, and he does such a good job at it that I’m disappointed with how little a role he has in the entire film, taking a backseat to an altogether more conventional and less convincing villain. Still, I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like if they had cast Marilyn Manson instead? Nonetheless, if Jared Leto gets his way and we get a standalone Joker film, I’d go and see it.

Another standout character is Harley Quinn, a character who benefited greatly from the liveliness that Margot Robbie injected into the character. Most of the time, she’s a delightfully quirky character, and her performance is pretty much the highlight of the movie. I’d say she’s done a great job at reinventing the character, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Will Smith’s character. I’m quite surprised at how far removed he is from the boorish urban caricature he played in the 1990’s, because as Deadshot, he plays an earnest antihero – a multi-faceted character with hopes, dreams and weaknesses that make him more human than the rest of them. Sure, he sometimes comes across as a typical Will Smith character, but at least here, he can pull more than his own weight.

The main problem I see is that a lot of the humour is forced, and only occasionally works. I’m aware that they changed Suicide Squad to be more humorous in response to the critics who thought Batman v. Superman was too serious, but they didn’t put much thought into it, and so the jokes and up ruining the serious parts. Another problem is the lack of detail a number of the characters get. Killer Croc, for example, is a completely ancillary character who only gets a few lines in the entire film, and it seems like they put him in for the sake of it.

I can only assume that the vast majority of the film’s $175 million budget went into special effects, because this film has it in spades. From the opening to the credits, the film basically bombards you with pastel colours and special effects that, I admit make the film look quite nice, but in all honesty, I think they used way too much special effects, to the point of it being overkill, and since the action scenes are injected with as much CGI as possible, it sort of translates into yet another bombastic CGI-fest. It doesn’t help that a lot of the music consists of popular songs that don’t seem to fit well into the film, and sometimes are just there because they’re loud and because the producers thought it represented the attitude of the characters.

Suicide Squad certainly has its flaws, but it’s certainly not as bad as the critics will have you believe, though neither is it as good as its fans think it is. It doesn’t completely live up to the way it was advertised, and I’m disappointed by certain choices the writers and producers made, but in the end, it was decently enjoyable film, and the ending at least hints that there may be more yet to come. Let’s just hope that the inevitable sequel is even better than this.

  • Score: 66%
  • Grade: C

The Witch (2015)

The_Witch_posterNowadays, the vast majority of horror films are so mind-numbingly repetitive that you need only look at the trailer in order to make an educated guess on what you can expect – bad writing, worse acting, and cheap gore thrills, sometimes rationalised with the phony “found footage” premise. While there are only a few exceptions to the rule, thankfully this film sets a very good example, with its eerie reminiscence of old folklore, and its skillful utilising of familiar concepts of witchcraft. The result is a very engaging, atmospheric, and certainly a very intelligent horror film that is leagues above its immediate peers, none of which can hope to match the level of mystery conveyed here.

Subtitled “A New-England Folktale” and set in the year 1630, the film’s story follows a family of devout Puritan Christians in New England, who are banished from their plantation and live in exile in a remote plot of land near a vast and ominous forest. Whilst they are living there, a series of disturbing events begin to befall the family, including the livestock becoming aggressive and the deaths of some of the children. Throughout the film, the family’s teenage daughter Thomasin is accused of witchcraft, a charge she adamantly denies, but one thing is absolutely certain. Amidst the disturbing series of events, the family is torn about by paranoia, as they find their faith, love and loyalty tested.

What stands out right away is incredible amount of realism. The film is essentially based on real life accounts of witchcraft at the time, along with varying folktales. Indeed, it’s as if the producers actually did the research, and made wrote the film in a manner so as to suit the context of the film’s setting. Rather than depicting the family as brainless zealots, the film shows them in a more nuanced light. On the one hand, the characters as depicted as honest Christians responding to what they would have thought was witchcraft in the only way they knew how (back in the 17th century, the way people treated witches would have been considered rational), but on the other hand, the film depicts the way in which this concern inevitably manifests, and in that regard, the film paints a realistic, objective picture of its subject matter, and the tale it tells is very engaging.

The characters certainly echo this realistic direction, with the dialogue closely matching the kind of scripture-quoting puritans that would have have reacted in the way that they do in this film. The acting in general is very much worthy of a standing ovation, with Ralph Ineson’s performance as the well-meaning but easily irritated head of the household. The characters were very convincing throughout, and I feel that the actors genuinely did a good job of conveying the horror that witchcraft might have represented to the characters living in the time the film was set.

The film also conveys the mood of gloomy, hopeless paranoia through its visuals. Drab, dreary colours dominate the film, and this is as much to do with realism as it is to do with creating a visually compelling display that befitted the film’s atmosphere of silent terror. The forest itself (a location near Kiosk, Ontario) makes for a stunning backdrop for the film, perfectly embodying the unknown, and the dangers that lurk within. I’m half-tempted to call this a gothic film, but that would be jumping the gun a little. The film’s brand of horror does not rely on cheap, immediate visual scares, but rather on a subtle, slowly building atmosphere of madness that eventually reaches its chilling climax.

Overall, if you’re getting tired of the glut of virtually identical horror films swamping the market, you might want to consider this film, which has real substance and character compared to its immediate peers. Considering this is the debut for Robert Eggers, I have high hopes that he will continue making films, especially considering that he wants to write and direct a remake of Nosferatu. Given how well this film did, I would certainly look forward to that planned Nosferatu remake.

  • Score: 81%
  • Grade: B

Deadpool (2016)

Deadpool_posterIt took me long enough, but I finally got around to see Deadpool. I wasn’t able to see it in cinemas when it was new due to an enormously tight work schedule (and the fact that by the time I finished, Vue Cinemas Carmarthen stopped showing it entirely), but after finally getting the DVD, I can safely say that the wait was completely worth it. Many other superhero films try too hard to be serious films, and the result is that many of them are shallow, repetitive, excessive, and ludicrously expensive toy commercials. Not Deadpool though, perhaps one of the few films of the genre with anything remotely resembling personality, and this wonderfully subversive attitude is what defines Deadpool.

The story is simple enough, and should be familiar by now. Deadpool (a.k.a. Wade Wilson) is the self-styled “merc with the mouth”, who in a bid to treat his terminal cancer, gains vastly accelerated recovery abilities, but his body is visibly scarred, and so he goes on a quest to hunt down the man who gave him the treatment.

This is essentially an origin story for Deadpool, as if the superhero genre doesn’t have enough of those already. Of course, it’s rather formulaic, but Deadpool is uniquely self-aware, and the story itself has been written as a kind of self-parody on Marvel’s part. I guess they know by know that the Marvel formula is too familiar to the cinema-going public, so they figured that the best approach would be that of an irreverent comedy (complete with the demolition of the fourth wall), and it worked.

The main reason why it worked is perhaps because Ryan Reynolds is so good at playing Deadpool. The part was almost made for him at this point, and it might just be the thing that makes Reynolds’ career. He delivers his performance with the kind of confident, gleeful irreverence that makes the whole film a barrel of laughs. The other characters perform quite well, but in terms of substance and acting, they all take a backseat to Deadpool’s show-stealing charisma.

Given that this is Marvel’s one can expect highest-quality production values, and indeed, Deadpool looks and sounds fantastic. On thing that separates Deadpool from other superhero flicks is that there isn’t as much CGI as one could expect from the likes of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, or the latest in Marvel’s vaunted line-up, with only one character in the whole film being composed entirely out of special effects. Indeed, the main strength of the film’s style is its deliciously violent choreography. Deadpool makes for a terrific action hero, but presentation isn’t the film’s strength.

Above all else, Deadpool is essentially the comic foil to all other Marvel heroes. Whenever it seems like the story is going in a typical superhero direction, Deadpool finds a way of subverting it, right down to the end. The script, though heavily profane, is cleverly written enough that the jokes are consistently funny. Rude, irreverent, and certainly not family-friendly, Deadpool is one of the few superhero movies that dares to break the mould, taking on the often pretentious clichés of a genre that is still going stale.

  • Score: 83%
  • Grade: B