FILM: Coco (2017, Lee Unkrich)

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Coco is the nineteenth animated feature film from Pixar. Aspiring 12-year-old musician Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) is fed up with not being allowed to pursue his musical dream by his family. On Dia de  Muertos (Day of the Dead) he strums the guitar of deceased musician Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), and Miguel ends up in the Land of the Dead. There he meets his deceased relatives, whose blessing he needs before sunrise in order to return to the Land of the Living. However, Miguel will not agree to their blessing after learning that they do not allow him to pursue music, so starts to search for a relative who will give him their blessing to return to the land of the living and play music.

PROS

  • The screenplay depicts the Day of the Dead with tremendous amounts of detail and is very respectful towards Mexican culture, while also emphasising the importance of family and doing what is right by them.
  • Brilliantly written songs that are very catchy, and have an extra level of authenticity, due to a number of them incorporating Spanish lyrics.
  • It should go without saying with Pixar films, but the animation is rich in texture and detail, with a truly gorgeous colour palette, that is a real visual feast to watch.
  • This film has a true sense of energy and passion emanating from it, and it is a wonderful feeling knowing that the film was made by people who were so passionate about the project.
  • Bar a couple of lines from John Ratzenberger, the whole cast are either Latin American, or of Latin American descent. They are a very good voice cast, with especially memorable turns from Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal and Alanna Ubach.

CONS

  • The slapstick gags (which make up most of the comedy) do get quite repetitive, as pretty much all of them revolve around either skeletons or animals.

VERDICT: 9/10

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FILM: Insidious (2010, James Wan)

Following its premiere at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival, supernatural horror Insidious was distributed in UK cinemas by Momentum Pictures. Not long after moving into a new house, Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne) are horrified when their eldest child Dalton (Ty Simpkins) slips into an unexplainable coma-like state. In the following days, however, it becomes apparent that something supernatural has caused this, and without help from demonologist Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), Dalton will never wake up.

PROS

  • Cinematographers John R. Leonetti and David M. Brewer make good use of shadows and dim lighting, giving this film a chilling visual quality.
  • Director James Wan utilises diegetic sound well, while Joseph Bishara’s score is equally chilling.
  • Decent performances by Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne, while Ty Simpkins proves a natural talent.

VERDICT:

  • The narrative has a simple but effective (if slightly cliche) formula and style for the first hour, but the final half-hour is very convoluted and a slight headache to watch.
  • While their performances are not bad, Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne ultimately are not memorable, and neither is the supporting cast, which has poor turns from Angus Sampson and screenwriter Leigh Whannell.
  • Rather than being a film in its own right, the film just exists to set up a franchise.

VERDICT: 5/10

FILM: Darkest Hour (2017, Joe Wright)

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Premiering at the 2017 Telluride Film Festival, biopic Darkest Hour is distributed theatrically by Focus Features. The film tells the true story of how, less than a year into World War II, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) resigned, which led to Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) taking over. Churchill was not the first choice, but he ultimately became Britain’s last hope, and during his first few weeks in the job he had a tremendously hard decision to make – follow his gut and risk all out war, or negotiate a peace treaty with Hitler that would likely result in Britain ultimately being under Nazi rule.

PROS

  • Joe Wright’s direction and Anthony McCarten’s screenplay have a dark tone, which conveys well the bleakness and uncertainty that Britain was going through in 1940.
  • Excellent production design gives the film an authentic feel of the early 1940s, with especial detail in the costumes and props.
  • Outstanding work by the makeup department, who transform Gary Oldman into a man much larger and noticeably older flawlessly, yet not to the point where Oldman’s face is totally unrecognisable.
  • A good cast with memorable performances from Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas and Ronald Pickup. This film, however, is Gary Oldman’s, who gives a career best performance by not just playing the role of Churchill, but inhabiting it, to the point where you cannot picture any other actor in the role.

CONS

  • While Ben Mendelsohn’s performance as King George VI is not bad, the decision to give him a lisp is somewhat distracting, and ultimately feels disrespectful.
  • There are a few moments where it is clear that screenwriter Anthony McCarten was going for some light relief, however, these moments fail to be funny, not least an example of bodily humour (if you catch my drift…).

VERDICT: 8/10

FILM: Brad’s Status (2017, Mike White)

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Premiering at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, Brad’s Status is a comedy-drama that received theatrical distribution from Amazon Studios. Brad (Ben Stiller) has a decent life, but after hearing of the financial success of his old college friends, he starts to wish that he had pushed himself further. When he learns that his son Troy (Austin Abrams) is on track for a place at Harvard, he sees an opportunity to increase his social standing.

PROS

  • Good performances from Ben Stiller and Austin Abrams, while Martin Sheen steals his scenes as Brad’s old friend Craig.
  • The screenplay highlights just how materialistic and self-important 21st Century society can make you feel pressured to be, but ultimately emphasises the importance of being true to yourself.
  • Ben Stiller’s voiceover really helps the viewer understand Brad’s mind at work, while the narrative highlights that nobody’s life is perfect, no matter how much they try to convey it as such.

CONS

  • The supporting cast are forgettable for the most part, while Jemaine Clement cannot conceal his native New Zealand accent, no matter how hard he tries.
  • A number of the supporting characters are very one-sided stereotypes, who do not get fleshed out, but none more so than homosexual filmmaker Nick (played by director/screenwriter Mike White).
  • The film is made more arduous to watch by the fact that it is impossible to like Brad, whose attitude to his life is, to be blunt, dreadful.

VERDICT: 5/10

FILM: All the Money in the World (2017, Ridley Scott)

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All the Money in the World is a hostage crisis biopic that is distributed by Sony Pictures. J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) is the richest man in the world, and in 1973 his teenage grandson Paul (Charlie Plummer) is taken hostage in Italy, and held for ransom. Getty may be a billionaire, but he is also a miser, who refuses to part with his money. It is now up to Paul’s distraught mother Gail (Michelle Williams) and Getty’s adviser Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to try to work out how to save Paul, and try to work out a way to get Getty to relent.

NOTE: I am sure that many of you are aware of this already, but for those of you who are not, this film had serious production problems. The film had already been completed, with Kevin Spacey as Getty, but after the sexual assault allegations made against Spacey, Ridley Scott reshot all off of Spacey’s scenes with Christopher Plummer taking over the role…less than two months before the film’s release!

PROS

  • Director Ridley Scott made his most daring directorial decisions of all time, and they pay off, while his directing style as a whole is dark, gritty and well executed in this film.
  • Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski frames this film well, utilising shadows and artificial light very well, giving this film a dark, gritty feel. Serious credit also has to go to editor Claire Simpson, because the only way to notice the reshoots is to look at the smallest of small details.
  • The screenplay by David Scarpa presents a gritty hostage situation, with warmer moments provided by Cinquanta (Romain Duris), a hostage taker who grows to care for Paul and regret his actions. However, the screenplay is most memorable as it emphasises the evils of money, and how it can never provide you with true happiness or security.
  • Good performances from Michelle Williams, Mark Wahlberg and Charlie Plummer. The performance that deserves the most praise is Christopher Plummer though, who takes to this last minute role casting very well, and gives a chilling, engaging performance that one will not forget in a hurry.

CONS

  • Screenwriter David Scarpa tries to include some moments of humour, none of which are actually amusing unfortunately. There are also some rather predictable moments to the narrative.
  • Getty’s backstory, and the exploration of what led to Paul being in Italy and getting kidnapped, are quite rushed and could certainly benefit from an extra ten minutes or so.

VERDICT: 8/10

FILM: Hostiles (2017, Scott Cooper)

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Distributed in the UK by Entertainment Film Distributors, Hostiles is a western film that premiered at the 2017 Telluride Film Festival. Christian Bale plays Captain Blocker, a Cavalry officer on the brink of retirement. His final job is to escort a dying Cheyenne war chief (Wes Studi) and his family back to their tribal land in Montana.

PROS

  • Gritty action sequences, which are well shot, well edited moments that are tense, and utilise vivid make-up.
  • Good costume design and production design, the Cavalry uniforms in particular feeling well made and authentic.

CONS

  • Director and screenwriter Scott Cooper emphasises the anti-racism messages to death, but it is never really explored at any more than a surface depth.
  • An altogether poorly paced narrative, which could do with being far tighter. At least fifteen minutes of the narrative could have been cut.
  • Thank goodness for engaging, stoic performances from Christian Bale and Wes Studi, as the rest of the cast is (at best) disappointing. Rosamund Pike gives a poor performance, while Ben Foster, Timothée Chalamet and Stephen Lang especially are underused.

VERDICT: 4/10

FILM: Cage Dive (2017, Gerald Rascionato)

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Cage Dive (which is also known as Open Water 3: Cage Dive) is a survival horror that was distributed direct-to-DVD in the UK by Metrodome Distribution. Brothers Jeff (Joel Hogan) and Josh (Josh Potthoff) go to Australia with Jeff’s girlfriend Megan (Megan Peta Hill) to film themselves having a shark cage experience in order to enter a new reality television series. However, when the boat that the cage is attached to is sunk by a freak wave, they are left stranded in the middle of the ocean. Surrounded by sharks, and with little in the way of supplies, will they survive the night?

CONS

  • By telling the fight to survive in flashback using their camcorder footage, there is next to no suspense in this film as we know the outcome of their trip before it begins.
  • The over-reliance on the camcorder perspective results in a lot of shaky cam, and many sequences being hard to follow as a result.
  • A very predictable screenplay, riddled with the cliches of shark survival films.
  • Poor acting by the three main stars, and their characters are poorly realised idiots, dislikeable individuals who we end up not caring one iota for.
  • Overuse of jump scares, and what little CGI there is is of poor quality.

PROS

  • Some of the sharks look quite good, specifically those given a slight chilling quality when the camcorder perspective uses night vision mode.

VERDICT: 1/10