By Jack Dignan
I would just like to thank Denis Villeneuve for simply existing. With every film, he just continues to climb further and further up my list of favourite directors, first gaining my attention with the utterly brilliant Prisoners back in 2013. When a new film of his comes out, I know I'm in for a treat, and if he keeps this up, it seems like there'll be a new Villeneuve movie every year, and I honestly hope that happens. His films aren't just rushed, generic popcorn flicks. They're sophisticated pieces of cinema, Villeneuve continuing to prove himself as a masterclass director, and if he continues to head in the direction he's going, one day he will be looked upon as one of the all time greats, and I'm very excited for that day to arrive.
Arrival is the story of Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist who's fluent in a great many languages. When teaching one day, her students inform her that mysterious alien ships have started landing throughout the globe, 12 in total, and it's not too long after that she's approached by Colonel Webber (Forest Whitaker). Why? Because the government has been able to enter into these mysterious ships, communicating with the aliens, and they want Louise to help translate what the aliens are saying. She's taken to the UFO, and with the help of mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), she must learn the alien language and find out why they've come to Earth.
Sci-fi is my absolute favourite genre, right up there alongside fantasy, and it's a genre with different levels. There's a lot that falls under the heading of sci-fi, and unlike most genres, I find it to be quite versatile. You can have films like Terminator, which features a robot attempting to assassinate the protagonist, or you can have films like Star Trek, which features a starship attempting to explore new worlds, but the genre can also include something along the lines of Guardians of the Galaxy, a ballistic, action packed, visually pleasing romp of a movie. It's a genre with range, and that's one of the reasons why I love it so much.
Arrival is what grounded, modern day sci-fi is all about. It's a film that attempts to be authentic in the way it displays its subject matter. It's an alien invasion movie unlike other alien invasion movies, and while the trailers misdirect you into thinking otherwise, it's a very dialogue heavy story with little to no action throughout. It's all about communication and the power of language, amongst many other things I don't wish to discuss due to the fact that they could be considered spoilers. While it's technically a sci-fi, it's also a simple drama in a lot of ways, using aliens to represent so much more. It's relevant and important, all while being extremely entertaining, even if it does require an awful lot of exposition.
Calling Arrival a 'smart' movie doesn't do it justice. It doesn't appropriately describe what this film is, as it's so much more than just a smart movie. It's not smart, it's a work of genius. It managed to grasp my full attention from start to finish, and in order to watch this movie you're going to want to be giving it your complete concentration. Every component of the plot is all there for a reason, and while not all of it is 100% clear while you're in the moment, it does make sense in the end, and it blew my mind. There's a scene where everything just clicked inside my head, and my appreciation for this movie increased drastically.
However, it's not just about the story. What makes this a great movie goes well beyond that, expanding out to everything that was done behind the scenes. As mentioned earlier, Villeneuve can do no wrong, and like always, his direction is out of this world. The cinematography isn't quite on the same level as something along the lines of Sicario or Prisoners, but that doesn't make it any less brilliant. The effects look good, although not perfect, but this isn't an effects driven film. Sure, they're there, but it's a film with a lot more going on the trailers will lead you to believe, so the occasional moment of imperfect effects didn't really bother me all that much.
There's no other way to put this, but Amy Adams is so good this. Like, *so* good in this. This is without a doubt one of the best performances she's ever given, and she carries this entire film. But that doesn't mean Jeremy Renner is to go without recognition, as he too is quite marvellous, and like with Adams, I would even go so far as to say this is one of his best performances as well. Forrest Whitaker also does an impressive job with his role, and Michael Stuhlbarg is great as a douchey agent, but like I said, this film is resting safely on the shoulders of Amy Adams, and she just steals the show from start to finish.
To sum up, Arrival is a dialogue-based sci-fi story with a lot to say, and it most certainly says it well. It's a genius story that requires your full attention, but it's certainly worth it and will undoubtably grab it. The cast is spectacular, but it's Amy Adams who really steals the show, and if this doesn't get her that long overdue Oscar, I will definitely be disappointed.
4 1/2 Stars
By Jack Dignan
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is ever-expanding, each new film attempting to broaden out the story to new lengths. It all started with 2008's Iron Man, a simple tale of a man using his genius to survive. Over the years, we were introduced to gods, war heroes, talking trees and an abundance of different planets, and yet, with Doctor Strange, the universe expands once again. This time, it expands further than ever before, stretching the limits of our imagination and showcasing just how little we've actually explored of this oh-so-glorious universe, and it seems that Marvel undeniably have another hit on their hands.
We follow the story of the arrogant, but somewhat charming neurosurgeon, Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who thinks of himself before he thinks of others. When speeding one rainy night, Doctor Strange finds himself in a car accident, sliding off the road and getting himself seriously injured. Despite many attempts at recovery, including getting the assistance of his occasional lover and co-worker Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), nothing seems to be able to fix his injuries, and any chance of returning to his career as a neurosurgeon seems to be lost. But there is hope, and it comes in the form of The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who teaches Doctor Strange a form of mystical arts that he can use to protect the greater good, and his newly acquired skills may come in handy when an old pupil of hers, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) returns, now having turned to evil.
While it does put into use the much-expected structure Marvel seem to follow with every one of their films, Doctor Strange is a welcomed breath of fresh air to the superhero genre. It combines together trippy visuals with an engaging and action packed storyline, and makes for a rather entertaining trip into the multiverse. It's full of big ideas, and all of the ideas are certainly brought to life in this fantasy epic that brings an awful lot to the table. It's not only a solid introduction to the character of Doctor Strange, but it opens up this franchise to an infinite number of possibilities in the future.
As a comic book reader, I was already well aware of who Doctor Strange is as a character, and I was most certainly a fan, and like with all of their titular heroes (and ones who are oh so deserving of their own solo movie), Marvel do him justice, and Benedict Cumberbatch proves to be the perfect choice for the role. He's arrogant, self obsessed, and, as it's pointed out to him, lacking a spine, metaphorically speaking. But he's not unlikeable. With a photographic memory and great skill as a neurosurgeon, I was happy to see the guy work, and the early hospital scenes have a fun little rhythm to them that makes watching surgery upbeat and fun.
But the real fun hasn't yet started, for things truly start to get interesting once Strange has had his accident. Seeing his downfall is both tragic and revealing, providing us with a deeper understanding of who Strange is as a character. We see him broken, creating strong empathy with him, all before his glorious return and rise into becoming the sorcerer we all know and love. There's an early moment between The Ancient One and Strange that I won't spoil, but it's a sequence that will just play with your head, and once that scene happened, I was just sold. I was ready for absolutely everything that this film was going to throw at me, and from that point on, I was just in love.
I am a lover of all things sci-fi and fantasy, and Doctor Strange is a perfect mash of both. Many movies try to portray magic, and a lot of them work, but with Doctor Strange, it doesn't feel like fun, generic fantasy magic. It feels like legitimate, believable magic. It's grounded, intense and it feels almost impactful. When someone casts a spell or releases energy, it has a sort of vibrance to it that's brought to life beyond the screen. Every spell had an impact on me as an audience member, and I got the sense that these characters were trying very hard to bring this spell to life. It wasn't just some weird finger wave and hey, here's the spell. You can see the train of thought, every spell looking thought out, and not just random colours flying everywhere.
Scott Derrickson does an absolutely astounding job in the directors seat, and when it comes to Doctor Strange, the pacing and tone are just right. It needs time to build up this story and get us invested in whats going on, as there's a lot of extremely complex things that need to be explained, but he paces everything well. Never did I think that the film was dragging, nor that it came to a certain plot point too fast. It's all timed well, and every single second of it was just gloriously entertaining. This is not only his best film to date, but also his most impressive film in terms of directorial skill. It's simply great.
The way he handles the action sequences is just extraordinary. Each one feels so different and unpredictable, full of life and intensity. They're layered and inventive, and while I won't spoil any specific details, each action set piece brings something new to the table, and not one of them let me down. It's some of the best action Marvel has ever done, simply winning that title through its sheer inventiveness, but it goes to so many further lengths as well. The inventiveness is one thing, but the thrills, excitement and vulnerability is another. Nobody felt safe, and not everybody is safe, and that isn't always the case when it comes to these sorts of movies, so that's another thing I really loved about Doctor Strange.
These action sequences are visual effects heavy, and as is this entire movie. It's full of weird and wonderful visuals that are astounding to look at, and the effects are practically flawless, ramped up and aided by a wonderful score from Michael Giacchino. The trailers show off glimpses of what this film has in store, but it never shows the best parts. The coolest, most insane aspects of this movie have been locked away, and when you see the film, you will be astonished by how unbelievably awesome they are. There is nothing out there quite like this movie, and it perfectly captures the sense of what the comics are all about. It translates to screen without flaw, and the third act in particular is something that just goes up and beyond what I expected from this movie.
This does bring me to my major flaw with the movie, and it seems to be a flaw in a lot of Marvel movies, and that is the villain. When compared to the villains of a lot of the other Marvel movies, Kaecilius isn't too bad. He's fun to watch on screen and Mads Mikkelsen, like he always does, gives an excellent performance, but there's not a lot too him. He's your run of the mill old pupil turned to evil, wanting to do something that he believes is for the greater good, when it clearly isn't. Aesthetically, he's cool to look at, but in terms of development, there isn't an awful lot going on besides "ooh look at me, I'm really evil," and it's becoming increasingly apparent in most of Marvel's movies.
To sum up, Doctor Strange's weak villain doesn't manage to get in the way of being an extremely awesome, visually trippy hit for Marvel. It simultaneously manages to expand this universe to its furthest reaches while also creating an exciting and action packed story that serves as a wonderful introduction to Benedict Cumberbatch's fan favourite character.
4 1/2 Stars
By Jack Dignan
Originally Published on Salty Popcorn - You Can Find Several Other Reviews By Jack Dignan Here As Well
As it currently stands, there have been 21 different JACK REACHER novels published, as well as a number of short stories. It’s a decade-spanning book series, and it still maintains its popularity today, one book coming out every year. I have never read the books, but I did see the first movie when it hit theatres back in 2012. I remember not loving it, but definitely liking it, and that’s about it. That’s as much as I really remembered from that film, and as a matter of fact, I only just found out recently that the cast included Rosamund Pike, David Oyelowo and Werner Herzog. I wasn’t super exciting for this sequel, but it did have Tom Cruise punching people in the face, so of course there was about a 100% chance I was going to check it out.
Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) is a ghost. He travels from city to city, never really settling down, but staying wherever he wants for as long as he needs. During his travels, he’s become somewhat of a pen pal (are you still a pen pal if it’s phone conversations?) with Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), and it’s pretty safe to say the two have developed quite the crush on each other, despite never actually meeting. So, Reacher arrives in Washington DC, where Turner is stationed, but upon arrival, he’s given news he wasn’t expecting. Major Turner has been arrested for espionage and is being held in prison.
This news doesn’t sit well with Reacher, who’s so desperate to take her out on a date that he decides to break her out of prison. But woah, what a surprise, this makes both of them criminals. Who would’ve thought? They’re on the run, trying to uncover the truth behind all that’s going on and take down those who are really responsible, and matters become personal for Reacher when he encounters a teenager by the name of Samantha (Danika Yarosh), who’s supposedly Reacher’s daughter, or so he’s told.
As a film reviewer, I get to see most new release films before they hit theatres. Because of this, more often than not, the films usually have an embargo in place, meaning I’m not allowed to publish my review of that film until a certain date or time, so that the studio can choose an appropriate time to raise the hype for a movie. I saw JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK earlier this week, and the embargo was placed for 12:01am on Thursday October 20th, which is the film’s release date here in Australia. That means the studio didn’t want people to know if the film was good or not until the day of release.
In some instances, this is because we get it a week or two before other countries get the film, but that isn’t the case here. JACK REACHER opens just one day later in the US, and so, naturally, this embargo had me worried. Was this film going to bomb? Was it going to be unbearably bad? Or maybe they tried to get it earlier, but couldn’t. I had no idea. Having seen the film now, not knowing what to expect, I can definitely confirm that having an embargo until the day of release was a smart move on the studio’s behalf, as this is most certainly not a good movie.
No matter what your feelings are towards the guy, the fact that Tom Cruise does all of his own stunts is admirable, whether it’s climbing along the outside of the tallest building in the world or holding onto a plane as it takes off. Both are impressive, and both just so happen to be from the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE franchise, which I love to pieces, even MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2 as it’s one of the most over the top, ridiculous action films ever. The JACK REACHER series is not nearly on the same level as MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, no matter how hard it tries to be. Sure, they both star Tom Cruise as a stoic hero who kicks a lot of ass, but one of the main differences between the two franchises is the quality of the action.
None of the action set pieces in JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK are remotely thrilling, nor that memorable, yet they still manage to be the best part of the movie. Weird, huh? You have no idea. They’re fairly ordinary, bland fight sequences, but each of them have a moment or two that’s legitimately awesome. Whether it’s Tom Cruise single handedly taking down four thugs at once, or a fun prison escape sequence (that I actually got to see prior at a special footage presentation before the screening of the new Ben-Hur movie. Fun fact.), nothing is all that original, but from time to time, it can be a lot of fun. My heart was never once racing, the suspense pretty much non-existent every time, but watching Tom Cruise bash people to shit just makes for a good time at the movies.
DIE HARD is one of my favourite movies of all time, and all that happens in that is the almighty Bruce Willis trying to rescue people inside a building. RAMBO and PREDATOR, while distinctly different movies in terms of plot, both feature a man just trying to survive oncoming attacks. They’re simple plots that are used effectively to tell the story they’re trying to tell, and they make for some of the most entertaining movies of all time. Now, this doesn’t mean I want every action film to have a simple plot. I do love a good, complex action thriller, but JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK tries so very hard to make its plot complex that it just doesn’t work.
There’s so many loosely connected sub-plots that are all thrown into the mix together, and the filmmakers try to make them work, but they just don’t. They can’t. If this film were as simple as Jack and Major Turner trying to uncover the truth as to what happened with the whole espionage-traitor thing, then maybe it would’ve been more enjoyable. They could’ve actually fleshed out the story details so that they were believable and made sense, but of course that isn’t the case. That plot ends up being thin and borderline idiotic, and it just seems even worse when it’s mashed together with several other plots and character backstories that make this film painfully messy. None of the plots are complicated to understand in their own right, but when they’re edited together with the other stories, it’s easy to get lost.
Not only does the film try to be more complex than it has any right to be, it also manages to somehow be mind bogglingly stupid. Sure, I mean, if Jack Reacher wants to go out of his way to break someone out of prison that he hasn’t actually met, then get himself involved in a complicated, life threatening scenario just because he’s convinced this stranger is innocent, then go for it. I’m not going to stop him. I’m just going to not-so-secretly judge him. He makes the wildest jumps to conclusions all the time, and they all come out of nowhere. I couldn’t buy into anything he was doing or saying, and that’s because everything he does is just insanely dumb. There is a scene early on where Reacher and Major Turner go to a public internet café to try and log into a high security government website using Major Turner’s logins, knowing full well that the people after them will discover their location and come get them. Why they were surprised when the baddies actually came is beyond me.
It’s a film that’s brimming with terrible writing, two-dimensional characters and plot holes. Reacher makes countless mistakes along the way, and everyone just completely ignores what he’s done, and can we please talk about that plane sequence for a second. This sequence is, partially, shown in the trailer, so don’t worry, knowing this isn’t really going to spoil anything. But there’s a scene in the second act that sees Reacher, Turner and Samantha on a plane. How they got on there without getting caught, I don’t know. While on this plane, Reacher manages to take down two guys… in the middle of the goddamn flight. He just beats them up, leaves them be and walks back to his seat. Nobody around him, and yes, people are definitely around him, even blinks an eye. They all either ignore it or don’t care. While not shown on screen, I can’t imagine what everyone was thinking when getting off the plane, leaving behind two unconscious, bleeding bodies.
For all those who are seeking out an entertaining action flick starring Tom Cruise, there’s five perfectly good MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movies waiting for you at home. JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK once again attempts to turn the JACK REACHER books into a movie franchise, and it does so to unsuccessful, usually stupid results. The action is fine at times, I suppose, and I guess the performances aren’t too bad, but everything else just doesn’t mash well together at all.
By Jack Dignan
This film really should've been total garbage. I didn't see the first film as I don't think it even came out here in Australia (maybe it eventually came out on DVD, but it definitely didn't receive a theatrical release), but based on the things I've heard, it doesn't look like I've been missing out on much. The first Ouija was a critical flop, and yet, I suppose the film made enough money to warrant a sequel, or in this case prequel, so here we are with Ouija: Origin of Evil, a prequel to the first film that stands on its own. The trailers made it look atrocious, and it really should've been, so to my surprise, I actually liked this film.
The film takes place in 1965, and we follow the story of the Zander family, who, for the most part, are pretty much your everyday family. The mum, Alice (Elizabeth Reaser), claims she can contact spirits, scamming the locals into paying her to talk to their dead loved ones. Her daughter Lina (Annalise Basso) is about as teenager-ish as teenagers come, her daily antics including sneaking out to hang with friends and not telling her mum about her new boyfriend, Mikey (Parker Mack). Alice's youngest daughter, Dorris (Lulu Wilson), is a little bit on the peculiar side. She doesn't get along with anyone at her school, and when Alice purchases a Ouija board to help create a sense of realism in her scamming, Dorris decides to give it a go one late night, welcoming in some not so friendly spirits into the Zander household.
The premise for Ouija: Origin of Evil is nothing original, but such is the case for a great deal of horror movies. For the most part, when it comes to horror, I find that the best films are the ones that utilise these very basic premises to their advantage, creating a chilling, unforgettable experience. Of course, this isn't always the case, as every so often a good original premise does come along, such as Lights Out earlier this year, and it usually makes for a good movie. But those seem to be becoming more and more scarce within this genre, and I don't really mind, so long as the film does end up being scary, which it does in the case of Ouija.
I want to say that this movie gets off to a slow start, but it doesn't. In fact, when it comes to pacing, this film actually moves surprisingly fast. It's just not that scary to begin with. For the first thirty to forty minutes, there wasn't really any memorable scares. There's a couple of moments that get close to raising my heart beat, but for the most part, it's all about set up. It's introducing the characters, setting up the evil spirits and getting things underway. It managed to maintain my interest, despite not actually being all that scary. I was enjoying it, but only to a limited degree. If it kept going like this for the rest of the movie, I probably wouldn't have ended up liking it.
When it does get to the start of the second act, that's when I was really, really starting to enjoy this film. Everything was kicked up a notch, from the performances to the directing to the overall creepiness. Sure, it does have its fair share or clichés, such as the sheets being pulled off of the bed, but for the most part, director Mike Flanagan manages to create an authentic and seriously eerie horror movie that's full of terrifying visuals and heart pounding suspense. The terrifying nature he creates manages to last for the entirety of the second act, and well into the third.
His terror just manages to build and build and build, until eventually everything falls apart, and it becomes what I originally expected this movie to be. It's a corny, over the top, completely stupid and utterly ridiculous finale that I can only presume was done to make it tie into the original film. Like I said, I haven't seen the original film, nor do I have any intention to, but after a quick IMDb search I did find some connections and characters that cross over. If the finale was created as a tie-in, it would make sense, but it doesn't stop it from being a cheap, poorly written, purely unbelievable finale that ends the film on a sour note.
To sum up, Ouija: Origin of Evil is a well paced and authentically eerie horror movie that's full of terrifying visuals, heart pounding suspense, excellent and creepy performances and great direction. It doesn't necessarily get off to an all that scary start, but when things get going, this film is seriously creepy, all before they go and ruin it during the finale.
By Jack Dignan
Originally Published on Salty Popcorn - You Can Find Several Other Reviews By Jack Dignan Here As Well
As hard as I may try, I have no logical explanation as to why THE DA VINCI CODE franchise is so popular. The first book, written by Dan Brown, is in the top fifteen selling books of all time, and yet, when you speak to a lot of the people who read it, most of them hated it. The second book, ANGELS & DEMONS, sold half the copies the first book did, yet it still found its way into the top fifty. Both of those, naturally, got movie adaptations, because why not? Admittedly, I’ve only seen THE DA VINCI CODE, but I did not enjoy it, that’s for sure. I was reluctant to see INFERNO, which is the third movie but actually the fourth book in the franchise, but I went to the screening Tuesday night hoping for the best. I guess I should’ve known better.
INFERNO begins with Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), the protagonist of all three movies, waking up in a hospital room with a bullet wound to the head and no recollection of the past week. He is also in Italy, which comes as quite the shock to him as he last recalls being back home in America. His doctor, Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), assures him that his memory will slowly return over the next few days, but their appointment is cut short after an attack on the hospital, and through circumstances I won’t spoil, Robert and Sienna get themselves wrapped up in a scheme that could potentially kill a lot of the world’s population.
They’re on the run through Europe, chasing clues to discover just what it is that’s going on, and what it has to do with Dante’s Inferno, an ancient poem describing the nine circles on the journey to hell, or something of the sorts. Time is of the essence, and I really wish I could give a better synopsis for this movie, but I genuinely don’t know what happened. The plot, much like THE DA VINCI CODE, just didn’t make an awful lot of sense, but hey, if the characters talk fast enough then surely that won’t matter, right?
While I can’t recall what the characters were talking about for half the movie, during the first act, this isn’t a bad thing. As this is, essentially, a mystery-thriller (I don’t know why it’s being advertised as an action film), not knowing what’s going on is part of the fun. It keeps you entertained, and the first act of the movie did a solid job at doing so. I was enjoying it, which took me by great surprise as I wasn’t expecting to, even if I had no idea what was happening. But you’re not meant to yet. It’s all about the mystery and the suspense, and it had me intrigued, wanting to know more.
The first act feels like the work of a…. well, I was going to say master class filmmaker, but maybe I shouldn’t go that far. But it’s at least the work of somebody who knows exactly what it is they’re doing, and they do it well. Ron Howard returns to the director’s chair for the third time, and like everything he does, he’s great, especially in this first act. Tom Hanks’ character is struggling with temporary amnesia, all while simultaneously having visions of the end of the world, and the way Ron Howard handles it is almost mesmerising. It plays with your head, penetrating its way into your mind and showcasing somewhat horrifying imagery that you won’t be able to forget. And it works. It does what it set out to do. It’s a non-stop, fast paced opening, and sets up what should’ve been a much better movie than what we ended up getting.
What follows this rather impressive first act isn’t nearly as good, unfortunately. The second act still managed to maintain my interest, but it barely did so, and then by the time we got to the third act, I just didn’t care anymore. It’s predictable and idiotic, none of the plot twists coming as any sort of surprise, yet the more I thought about them, the less sense they made. From the moment everything is set up, I could see exactly where they were going with it. I was just hoping that, when they explain everything, they actually give it a bit of logic, but clearly I expect too much from this series. THE DA VINCI CODE tried to convince me that one of the main characters was a descendent of Jesus. I don’t really know why I thought INFERNO would be any better at explaining things.
In fact, once we do get to the third act, it feels like a completely different film in comparison to the first act. This whole movie is a downwards spiral, concluding with a sequence that tries oh so very hard to put you on the edge of your seat, but is way too stupid for its own good. It’s full of idiotic moments that completely took me out of the moment, and character twists that just don’t work. They try to spin a lot of characters around, but in doing so, they feel disconnected to who they once were.
Let’s take the movie UNBREAKABLE for example, so spoiler alert if you haven’t seen that film. In the film’s closing moments, it’s revealed that Samuel L Jackson’s character is, after all, a villain of sorts. It’s never suggested previously, but once the twist is revealed, it makes perfect sense. It’s a twist that stays true to who they are as a character, and the reveal doesn’t swap their personality around in the slightest. INFERNO tries to do this a few times, but the twists aren’t revealed seamlessly. They trade the character’s personality entirely, leaving almost no remnants of what they were.
How this franchise manages to get such a talented cast and crew is beyond me. Everyone involved in these movies are seriously fantastic, and when yet they come together it makes for a boring mess, but it’s a boring mess with great performances. Tom Hanks is one of the greatest actors of all time, and while I haven’t been the biggest fan of the two movies he’s starred in so far this year, it’s safe to say he was fantastic in both of them. Felicity Jones is also quite excellent as the second lead, although I had plenty of issues with her character, which was unfortunate. But more on that in a second. The rest of the supporting cast, including the likes of Ben Foster, Omar Sy, Irrfan Khan and Sidse Babett Knudsen, all give quality performances, however none of them get too much screen time to really show what great performers they all are.
On top of the great cast and director, Hans Zimmer also returns as the composer, and I will admit, as much as I wanted it to, the score didn’t really affect me. It’s not all that noticeable and didn’t manage to stand out. I am a big Zimmer fan, particularly his scores for Christopher Nolan films (although how can you discuss Zimmer without mentioning his iconic Pirates of the Caribbean score?), and so the fact that it isn’t a memorable score is both disappointing and surprising, so I feel as though it’s probably best I go out of my way to listen to it, or at least skim through some of his compositions just to see what they’re like outside the context of the movie. For all I know, they could be fantastic, and maybe it’s the mediocrity of the movie that’s clouding my judgement.
This is a franchise of average storytelling told through two dimensional characters, and with INFERNO, nothing has changed. Forgive me if any depth was provided in ANGELS & DEMONS, but between this and THE DA VINCI CODE, all I really know about Robert Langdon is that he teaches history (I think?), has an ex-wife and is claustrophobic. That’s all the writers have given us to latch onto this character, and it’s not nearly enough. He’s about as two dimensional as it comes, severely lacking in emotional depth or characterisation of any kind, and that’s the main character! As one would imagine, the supporting cast are even worse.
Almost everything we know about Sienna is told to us in about thirty seconds, and after that we’re just expected to like her, yet her character is so conflicting. She made the strangest decisions, and how she reacted to her actions was always questionable. On top of that, the film attempts to create somewhat of an antagonist. This character has about two minutes of screen time and doesn’t interact with any of the main characters, yet they’re given the role of primary villain. Their motive has no other explanation than ‘oh hey this guy wants to do a very bad thing.’ I couldn’t buy into what they were trying to do, and his plan didn’t need to be anywhere near as elaborate or complicated as it ended up being. It was the most overly dramatic way of accomplishing what he was trying to accomplish.
INFERNO, for all it’s worth, is a step up from THE DA VINCI CODE, but that really isn’t saying an awful lot when its predecessor isn’t.... what’s the word.... Good. It gets off to a solid start, but it’s all downhill from there. If you find enjoyment in these movies, which believe it or not some people do, then you may enjoy this third instalment in what I consider to be an extremely boring franchise, but for the rest of us, you’re better off staying at home and giving it a miss.
2 1/2 Stars
By Jack Dignan
Jesus fucking Christ almighty. I went into this movie expecting something less than ordinary, but holy shit, I was not prepared for this. I was not ready for the diabolical, vile, steaming train wreck of a film that I just witnessed. The film was originally slated for a release early last year, but was pushed back to October, but when that date was approaching, the film was pulled once again, rescheduled for an October 2016 release, and now, after having seen the film, it's safe to say I know why. This film is so bad that the company distributing it didn't even want to hold an early screening. They simply sent critics a free double pass for when the film hit theatres, hoping we'll all forget that this movie is, unfortunately, a thing, and trust me, I'm trying to.
Based on a true story (apparently), Masterminds tells the tale behind one of the biggest bank heists in US history, and the aftermath of what follows. We follow the story of David Ghantt (Zach Galifianakis), a local driver transporting money around. Despite being engaged to Jandice (Kate McKinnon), he starts to fall for a co-worker, Kelly (Kristen Wiig). Kelly's friend Steve (Owen Wilson), a small time criminal, sees this as an opportunity to take advantage of David's feelings, getting Kelly to convince David to rob his workplace of $17 million. He does so, and what comes of this is a worldwide manhunt, led by a detective (Leslie Jones), who I legitimately don't know the name of, and on IMDb she is simply listed as 'detective,' so there's that.
I recently reviewed The Accountant, and in that review I stated that everything about that movie just fell perfectly into place. Every component of it, with a few small exceptions, just worked for me. Masterminds is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, as this is the worst film I have seen in a very long time. With the exception of maybe a blooper or two towards the end of the film, there really wasn't anything redeeming about this movie. Like, literally nothing. This film is just pure garbage. Every single aspect of it just went horribly wrong, and I don't understand what anyone was thinking when they were making this film. To be honest, they probably weren't thinking.
The so-called "humour" in this film doesn't work in the slightest, and I will be honest, that's impressive. The fact that the film managed to get so much talent involved in this thing, and waste every single one of them is hard to do. With a cast consisting of Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis, Owen Wilson, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon, the odds of the film being painstakingly unfunny are extremely low, yet here we are with Masterminds, and they managed to achieve just that. They managed to create a painstakingly unfunny film using all of these actors. It just blows me away how this managed to happen.
Jim Carrey hasn't been in too many movies over the last few years, and the ones he has been in haven't really been all the good. Carrey was originally set to star in Masterminds, playing the role that Zach Galifianakis went on to fill. Carrey certainly dodged a bullet there, as this could've been the single worst film of his career. Or, perhaps, we got hit with that bullet instead. Perhaps Carrey could've made this film the slightest bit bearable, like he does with practically everything he's in. Perhaps he could've delivered the jokes well (even if they still wouldn't have been too funny), something the rest of the cast don't seem to be capable of.
While I'm not really familiar with the true story, I find it very hard to believe. The film, one would presume, is an extremely exaggerated version of this tale, or at least I would hope so, as there's simply no way people would have done the things these characters did. Every aspect of the plot is just ridiculously stupid, and not in a funny-stupid kind of way, but in a plain old stupid way. There was a point when the stupidity got to me, and despite there still being thirty minutes left, I was done. I just couldn't take it anymore. But don't let that fool you into thinking the first hour is any better. I checked my watch half an hour in, thinking the movie was coming to a close, and I wanted to cry when I found out I still had 65 more minutes to endure.
To sum up, Masterminds shouldn't even be considered a movie. That's too prestigious of a title to give such a vile, unfunny, pile of trash. Masterminds is merely a thing. A stupid, painful, 95 minute thing that really didn't need to exist, and that I really didn't need to see. If you plan on seeing a movie this weekend (or any weekend), please see literally anything else.
0 1/2 Stars
By Jack Dignan
2016 has been an awfully strange year for movies, a great deal of the big blockbusters coming in a little underwhelming, but while many disagree, I certainly wouldn't say it's been a bad year for movies, and I'm not just saying that because I seem to have thoroughly enjoyed a fair few movies that got negative reviews, even if I was perhaps a little too generous with my Suicide Squad review back in August. There has been a lot of really excellent movies in 2016, and adding to this list is The Accountant, which is yet another film this year that I do not understand the mediocre reviews for. This is one of the best films of the year, no doubt, and if you don't have plans on November 3rd, you do now, and it's to go see The Accountant.
Ben Affleck stars as Christian Wolfe, an exceptional accountant who, time and time again, seems to find himself involved with rather dangerous clients, but that certainly doesn't stop him from getting the job done. He's brought in to investigate a company that's been accused of stealing a large sum of money, and this allows Christian to meet Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), an accountant who works for the firm. While this is all occurring, however, Ray King (J.K. Simmons) and Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) are holding an undercover, somewhat off the books investigation into Christian, trying to uncover just who he really is.
The Accountant is a sophisticated, genre-blending, original story that contains almost everything I love about movies. This is smart cinema, and with the exception of a clichéd line of dialogue every so often, nearly every component of this movie just falls perfectly into place. It's a fast paced, edge of your seat thriller, a deep character study, a dark and violent crime movie, and a serious drama. It's a film with so much going on, and so much going for it, and when all the pieces of the puzzle are put in place, it ends up being one of the year's best movies.
It's a movie that defies genres, and what results is something you've never seen before. It's a combination of so many different things, but none of it feels out of place. It all flows consistently, and the tone they set up is maintained throughout. The film is written by Bill Dubuque, who wrote 2014's The Judge. Just like with The Accountant, The Judge received mixed reviews, but personally, I thought both of them were pretty great movies. With The Accountant, however, it's definitely a step up from The Judge. It's a much more to the point, tighter story, and there wasn't a single moment throughout where I was bored.
What we really get out of this movie is a layered understanding of the character Christian Wolfe. While we do get to learn his backstory throughout, there's always a sense that he's hiding something. We technically know who he is, but we don't really know who he is, and it's the discovery of his character throughout that adds an extra, quite brilliant dimension to this movie. He's autistic, but the film doesn't use that in a negative light. Instead, it makes autism an important discussion, and this film has a lot of important things to say about the topic.
The entire cast is sensational, each of them giving an absolute stellar performance. Ben Affleck shines in the lead role, but he couldn't do it alone, as the supporting cast are just as great. This is the best film Anna Kendrick has done since 50/50, and her performance here may even top it. J.K. Simmons has always been extraordinary, and despite playing a smaller role, he does exactly what he needs to and more. This man is a legend. Also in the cast is Jon Bernthal, and while I won't discuss his character too much, I really liked what Bernthal brought to this movie. He always had me intrigued, and he goes up and beyond in the third act.
Director Gavin O'Connor, the man behind Warrior, feels confident in what he's directing, and he should be. His direction is eminent, scattering the film with dark undertones, but also occasional dry humour, and the two went hand in hand. His camera work is exceptional, and what he manages to get out of his actors is even better. It's a highly ambitious movie, and the reviews have proven that this ambitiousness may be too much for certain audiences, but for me, it just hit all the right notes, and I beg you to go and see this movie. You don't have to like it, but at least see it to form an opinion on it. It's well worth it.
To sum up, The Accountant is a combination of many things, but they all fall perfectly in line together to make for one of the best films of the year. It's sophisticated, important, ambitious, exciting and an interesting character study. If you don't see this movie, you're missing out.
4 1/2 Stars
By Jack Dignan
Originally Published on Salty Popcorn - You Can Find Several Other Reviews By Jack Dignan Here As Well
Let’s be honest, you may not have read THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, or maybe you have, but if you haven’t, you definitely know someone who has. Released early last year from British author Paula Hawkins, it was the book to read. It was everywhere, and nearly everyone was reading it or talking about it. It was the #1 best selling book for weeks on end, and everyone loved it. I, regrettably, did not read it. I really wish I did, and I say that because, now having seen the film, I don’t know if I really want to. It’s not necessarily because I know what happens, I’ve read tones of books after having seen the movies, but it’s just that this movie isn’t great, and it’s sort of turned me off from the book entirely.
With a narrative that intercuts over the course of a few months, we follow three different characters. The first, Rachel (Emily Blunt), is a severe alcoholic, so much so that she’s ruined her marriage and job by it, now spending her days riding along the train to New York and back, watching the locals and making up stories about their “perfect” lives. Our second protagonist is Megan (Hayley Bennett), a young woman just trying to live out a normal life, but the life she lives is one full of secrets, sex and lies. She works as the babysitter for our third protagonist, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), who also happens to be the current wife of Rachel’s ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux).
While the narrative isn’t simply a straightforward story, it all revolves around one event. It all revolves around the disappearance of Megan. Her disappearance has no explanation, but fingers are being pointed, and some of these fingers are being pointed at Rachel, who was a key witness of the disappearance before she blacked out and completely forgot the events of that night, which she has alcohol to thank for. Also seemingly connected in Megan’s disappearance is her husband, Scott (Luke Evans), and therapist, Dr. Kamal Abdic (Edgar Ramírez), but is this just another ordinary disappearance, or is there a little more than meets the eye?
When the book was first released, many claimed it to be the next GONE GIRL, and from the look of the trailer, they seemed to be right. It was giving off similar vibes, and hey, it even had ‘girl’ in the title. Unfortunately, however, this film is not the next GONE GIRL. In fact, it’s very far from it. It’s a shallow, uninteresting and lifeless film that tries so very hard to be good, but settles for mediocrity. It’s got certain similarities to GONE GIRL, I’ll give it that, but the way these similarities are handled here are to a much lower quality.
The cast of this movie is all sorts of brilliant, taking these characters from the page to screen with excellence. Emily Blunt can star in a four hour long epic where all she does is attempt to brush her cat and I will happily be there opening day. From SICARIO to LOOPER to EDGE OF TOMORROW, she’s a versatile actress with a solid filmography, and the character she plays here is a little different to the one you would typically expect from her. She’s a broken, frail character and Blunt without a doubt nails it.
Hayley Bennett hasn’t really been on my radar until recently, despite having seen her in a number of films over the years, mostly notably MARLEY & ME and THE EQUALIZER. But after her performance in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN a few weeks back, and knowing that she was set to star in this, I’ve become quite fond of her, and once again, she’s great. The same goes for Rebecca Ferguson, who I only started to appreciate after last year’s MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION. While I didn’t actually recognise Ferguson in this at first, she is extremely good.
THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN serves as both a thriller/mystery, and an intense character study on alcoholism, marriage and emotional abuse, and it tells this story through its varying types of characters. Sex addicts, cheaters, liars, alcoholics and abusers. The film covers a lot of different types of people, all of which are problematic, and all of which have dark secrets locked away. Everyone has their role to play. Nobody is innocent. And while that works for the plot, as an audience member, I felt disconnected to the events on screen. It’s a detailed look into these character’s lives, and the issues each of them face on a day to day situation, but nothing about them made me feel sympathetic towards them.
Let’s look at Rachel, for example. She is our primary protagonist, and while we do get stories told from the perspectives of Megan and Anna, they’re not given as much screen as Rachel does. She’s a struggling alcoholic, and it takes a very long time before I felt any sort of connection to her. She felt distant and out of reach, and no matter how much I tried to relate back to her, I simply couldn’t. It isn’t until early into the third act that I started to care ever so slightly about her, but she goes and ruins it shortly after, and I was returned to my state of uncaringness (Ed’s note: Is uncaringness a word?). Nobody in this film is remotely likeable, and no matter what the outcome of their story arcs was going to be, I wasn’t always rooting for a happy ending.
As the film went on, I was intrigued to see where it was going. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested in the outcome of the movie, or what exactly it is that happened to Megan. It did enough of a job to get me invested in the plot, but at the same time, it did so much to throw me out of it. Full of plot holes, repetitious flashbacks and some really befuddling editing, the film tries to put you into the shoes of Rachel, blackouts included, but instead of having me hooked, it left me in a confused state of mind. I wasn’t thinking “oooh I wonder what’s going to happen next,” but was instead trying to process what it is exactly that’s going on, and I don’t mean that in a good way.
For the entire runtime, I wasn’t sure how I was meant to feel. They didn’t do a good job at conveying the mood, and whether director Tate Taylor (THE HELP, GET ON UP) or screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson (MEN, WOMEN & CHILRDREN, SECRETARY) is to blame is a mystery. Neither the directing nor the writing is particularly powerful, and if it weren’t for the performances and occasional mystery, this wouldn’t even be considered an okay film. It would just be a straight up bad one.
There will be no spoilers to be found here, but before I wrap this review up, I must discuss the film’s third act. Serving as another parallel to GONE GIRL, the third act of THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN is intended to shock, and at some stages even repulse, revealing all and letting these characters interact now that all the information is up in the air. There are times where I enjoyed it, and there are definitely some great moments, but there are other moments that… well… they’re not so great. They’re out of character, nonsensical and, to be frank, not that interesting. If you thought the ending of GONE GIRL was dissatisfying (I thought so when reading the book, but after a few viewings of the movie I grew quite fond of it), prepare to be even more disappointed with the way this film ends.
THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN should’ve been one of the year’s best films, just like it was supposedly one of the year’s best books just last year. It has a lot going for it, especially the performances from all the cast members, and there are certain elements about it that I love, but it’s a film that almost feels a little too distant at times, not allowing the audience to be welcomed into the story, and it ends on an extremely dissatisfying note.
2 1/2 Stars
By Jack Dignan
It was the biggest oil spill in US history. In April of 2010, an offshore drilling rig exploded, and the event was catastrophic. It was a tragic tale, and now, six years later, it's been put to film, directed by Peter Berg, the man behind Lone Survivor, Battleship and Friday Night Lights. The events that took place on the Deepwater Horizon that night are far from pleasant, and yet it's this emotional unpleasantness that makes it perfect for cinema, especially with Berg behind the camera. I absolutely loved Lone Survivor, and with Deepwater Horizon, which sees him once again teaming up with Mark Wahlberg, he manages to top it, creating what I would consider to be Berg's best film to date.
Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) is just your everyday, average guy, living happily with his wife Felicia (Kate Hudson) and his daughter Sydney (Stella Allen). He works on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, and this means he's got to travel out there for a few weeks to work, like always. Teaming up with his usual crew, Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell), Caleb Holloway (Dylan O'Brien) and Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriquez), everything should be going fine... Except everything that could go wrong does go wrong, and it isn't helping when BP employee Vadrine (John Malkovich) is insisting that they go forwards with their operations, wishing not to spend more money than they already have. So, they do. Everything goes ahead, and what follows is an intense, tear jerking tale of heroism.
Deepwater Horizon gets off to a slow start, taking the time to introduce all of the individual characters, create a sense of likability amongst the main players, and really just extend this story out into a feature length film. It's a slow burner, with pretty much every little detail thoroughly explained, but it ends up being worthwhile. It's successful in slowly drawing you in, putting all the pieces of the puzzle into place, all before picking up the puzzle and throwing it right in your face, as, once this film really gets going, it's hard to look away.
It's a character driven disaster movie, and everyone in this film felt like they had history. None of the character relationships, especially that between Wahlberg and Hudson, felt artificial, and it helped not only to make for an interesting dynamic, but also created authenticity. It felt like a grounded piece of cinema, and it gave the sense that these guys knew what they were talking about. Not going to lie, I didn't know what they were discussing half the time, but they sounded extremely confident, so I sure as hell believed them.
It's smart, powerful filmmaking, showcasing this story through clever writing, foreshadowing and suspense. Everything and everybody intertwines throughout, and all of them get involved in this story in one way or another. They all play important roles, and Berg gives them the screen time they deserve. Plus, his camera work and overall direction was excellent, allowing the suspense to slowly build up, and when the pay off comes, I was on the edge of my seat the entire time, tears constantly swelling in my eyes. Yes, this movie made me cry. If you thought Lone Survivor was emotional, nothing can prepare you for this.
I am a big Mark Wahlberg fan, and while I don't necessarily know whereabouts I would rank his Deepwater Horizon performance in his filmography just yet, it's certainly going to be pretty high. He's excellent, giving a performance that's deep, confident and emotional, and he achieved everything he was going for and more. In fact, the whole cast did, including the likes of Kurt Russell, who spends half of this film severely injured, and yet that elevated his performance to a whole other level. Gina Rodriquez and Dylan O'Brien also do admirable jobs in their roles, both giving a solid performance. And then there's John Malkovich, who plays a slime bag of a human being, and boy is he good at playing him.
Once disaster actually strikes, everything that follows is just pure cinematic bliss. It's a survival story, an action story and a disaster story, and the combination of the three results in some a-grade filmmaking. Every component of this movie just comes together perfectly to result in one of the best films of the year. The second half of this movie is absolutely insane, and it features some of the most heart wrenching sequences you will see all year, especially ones rather late into the film. In fact, the last 10 minutes of this movie is just constant emotion, and if you come out of the theatre with dry eyes, you're lying.
To sum up, Deepwater Horizon is a slow burner, but this slow pace is incredibly rewarding, as everything that follows the buildup is just pure cinematic bliss. It's a tear jerking, exciting and tension filled tale of heroism and survival, and everyone involved with this film is on the top of their game. You will cry. You should probably just accept that as fact.