Starring: Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Jeffrey Wright (Source Code), Frances McDormand (Fargo), Steve Zahn (Out of Sight), Sam Elliot (The Big Lebowski), Anna Paquin (True Blood)

Director: Peter Sohn (Partly Cloudy)

Writer: Meg LeFauve (Inside Out)

Runtime: 1 hour 40 minutes

Release Date: 25 November (US), 27 November (UK)

The Good Dinosaur has had a rough time on its way to the cinema. The film was supposed to come out in 2014 but, much like Toy Story 2 and Brave before it, the entire film was scrapped close to completion and begun over again due to it not meeting Pixar’s high standards (doesn’t exactly explain how Cars 2 got a pass, but now I’m just being mean). Watching the final film, there are definitely still signs that The Good Dinosaur was a problem child but within the somewhat messy final result are moments that truly shine.


The story of The Good Dinosaur is pretty simple even for a kids’ film. It’s your standard underdog tale of a kid going on an adventure to reunite with his family whilst overcoming his fears and making new friends; if you grew up on animated films, you’ve seen at least one with this exact plot. The film is incredibly formulaic and predictable, especially in the first act, with little to no deviation from the expected path. The film is also structurally wonky, with the second act being our heroes basically just meandering between different kooky side characters on their way to the actual plot. Where the film does show a unique identity is in its world and character dynamics. The story is set on an Earth where dinosaurs weren’t killed by the asteroid, now co-existing with the emerging human population, and it’s all handled with surprising maturity. Though the dinosaurs talk and certain species embody different human roles like farmers, cowboys, hillbillies and even cultists, they are still animals and behave as such. Apatosaurus protagonist Arlo and his human companion Spot are a fun twist on the usual ‘a boy and his dog’ dynamic, and it’s their heartfelt relationship that keeps the film moving forward and ultimately sells the story. A scene where the pair explain their back stories to each other with almost no dialogue is incredibly emotional, and the resolution to their friendship is equally as impactful. It’s a pity there aren’t as many scenes as good as those throughout the rest of the picture.

Compared to many of the great protagonists of Pixar’s past, Arlo really fails to stand out. Other than the typical underdog traits of being frail and easily scared, he lacks a distinctive personality that makes him more than just a cliché. Most characters of this ilk have at least some personal dream or special skill that raises them above mediocrity, but Arlo doesn’t have anything like that. It’s this blandness that makes the story’s first act feel especially dull, and it’s not until the relationship between him and Spot really starts to form that the film starts to feel like something more. Spot as a character is enjoyable to watch purely from an animation perspective, which is important as he has no dialogue beyond grunts, and through simple facial expression and body language he gets across far more character depth than Arlo can through actual words. The two make an enjoyable duo and their bond feels airtight by the film’s conclusion, but without Spot the narrative’s mediocrity would be even more abundant. The rest of the supporting characters are mostly just window dressing though strong vocal talent backs many of them up. Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand feel underutilised as Arlo’s parents, as well as his siblings who are basically just being there to hammer home Arlo’s weaknesses, whilst Steve Zahn’s villainous pterodactyl Thunderclap feels like an afterthought. Sam Elliot, Anna Paquin and A.J. Buckley are fun as a family of T-Rexes, though other than Elliot helping to drive home the film’s message about overcoming fear their subplot is completely superfluous. Director Peter Sohn completely steals the screen as the bizarrely hilarious Forrest Woodbush, but again his scene is mainly just there to be funny.

Though the story is lacking, on a visual level The Good Dinosaur is a feast for the eyes. The detailing in the environments is breathtaking, bordering on photorealistic at points, and though the more cartoony designs of the dinosaurs sometimes clash with these gorgeous vistas it remains a fantastically enjoyable experience to behold. The quality of the animation is also vivid, with Arlo’s gangly movements bouncing well off of Spot’s speedy reactions, and elements like rain and snow add to the tangibility of this world. The film’s score by Mychael Danna & Jeff Danna is a change of pace from Pixar’s usual use of either Michael Giacchino or Randy Newman, but it’s a welcome change as their gentle and airy sensibilities feel like a much better fit for the film compared to a more traditionally uplifting Disney score.

The Good Dinosaur ranks amongst Pixar’s lesser efforts but it’s still an enjoyable experience despite the familiarity. Much like Brave, it’s impressive that they’ve managed to make a workable film out of a troubled production, but in saving it they have relied heavily on formula. If you can get beyond the story’s triteness there are some funny and beautiful moments to behold that rank amongst the company’s most heartfelt scenes, but they do feel caked within a template that’s felt tired since the turn of the millennium. After a film like Inside Out that appealed so perfectly to both kids and adults and got across far deeper messages, it’s a little underwhelming to see The Good Dinosaur focus more on the younger demographic (then again, how many other Pixar films can claim to have a drug trip scene?), and I hope in their future efforts they continue striving to defy expectations rather than settle for simply fine.


Starring: Tom Hanks (Saving Private Ryan), Mark Rylance (The Other Boleyn Girl), Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone), Austin Stowell (Whiplash), Alan Alda (Tower Heist), Jesse Plemons (Black Mass)

Director: Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List)

Writers: Matt Charman (Suite Française) and Ethan Coen & Joel Coen (No Country For Old Men)

Runtime: 2 hours 21 minutes

Release Date: 16 October (US), 27 November (UK)

There are generally two extremes of Steven Spielberg movies: crowd-pleasing feel good blockbuster, and heart-wrenching serious drama. Many of his films fall somewhere in between these two categories, but either way they are all easily recognisable as Spielberg films. Bridge of Spies falls in the middle but definitely sways more towards the drama but not without the hope and optimism you’d find in his more uplifting pictures.


Though the film’s subject matter deals with a lot of life-and-death situations in the midst of one of the most heated periods in international politics, Bridge of Spies is certainly not a rollicking thrill ride of a movie. It tells a story driven through words rather than action, its scenes consisting mostly of legal proceedings and negotiations, and to some that may be tiresome. But if you love strong dialogue and interesting character conflict, Bridge of Spies will capture your attention just as strongly as any movie filled with gunfire. It’s a long sit at nearly two and half hours and there are some subplots and side characters that end up going nowhere, but Spielberg’s direction and the witty dialogue of the Coen Brothers keeps the pace at just the right intensity to avoid tedium. But what really makes Bridge of Spies so enjoyable to watch is its uplifting themes about securing justice for all, remaining unflinching in the face of denial, and doing what’s right rather than doing what you’re told. The film certainly has its dark and intense moments, but Spielberg always imbues the story with that magical warmth that only he can bring to movies, closing the picture on a sappy but emotionally satisfying note.

Tom Hanks is a cinematic treasure and his honest persona is a perfect fit for the role of Jim Donovan. The character is an eternal optimist fighting only for what he deems fair, a lawyer in it for justice rather than winning, and whilst Hanks’ usual affability gels with this impeccably the scenes where he has to be more firm and persuasive are where he really shines as an actor. You really get the sense that this man would rather jeopardize the entire operation than concede a human life, and Hanks accomplishes this through a fine mix of likability and resoluteness. Spielberg has also assembled a fine collection of character actors to populate his supporting cast, but none of them shine as brightly as Mark Rylance’s performance as Soviet spy Rudolf Abel. His modest and often humorous performance provides a lot of levity, and the scenes between him and Hanks are pure gold on so many levels.

Spielberg’s style is so distinctive that you can easily break it down to its core elements, but it’s an approach to filmmaking so simple yet effective that it remains powerful all the same. The way he composes the camera in every shot, combined with Janusz Kaminski’s gorgeous cinematography, makes every movement flow and evolve with the action rather than the other way around. The period detail in the sets and costumes captures the Cold War era perfectly (e.g. expect a lot of suits and fedoras), and though this is the first Spielberg picture to lack a score by John Williams in a long time, Thomas Newman is a more than worthy replacement and crafts a score that is quintessentially Spielberg but still stands on its own.

Bridge of Spies is Spielberg through and through, and if you enjoy all his varying flavours of film then you’re definitely going to enjoy this one. The story is strong and uplifting, the performances from Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance are top notch, and it once again reminds us that Steven Spielberg is still the master. Though I certainly enjoy his more serious fare, I am glad he’s making a return to more mainstream movies for his next couple of films: adaptations of the classic Roald Dahl book The BFG and pop culture-savvy sci-fi novel Ready Player One (or, as I like to call it, Please Don’t Suck Please Don’t Suck Please Don’t Suck).


Starring: Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), Josh Hutcherson (The Kids Are All Right), Liam Hemsworth (The Expendables 2), Woody Harrelson (True Detective), Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights), Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Capote), Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect), Jeffrey Wright (Source Code), Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones), Sam Claflin (Snow White & The Huntsman), Donald Sutherland (Invasion of the Body Snatchers)

Director: Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend)

Writers: Peter Craig (The Town) and Danny Strong (The Butler)

Runtime: 2 hours 17 minutes

Release Date: 19 November (UK), 20 November (US)

And so another franchise comes to an end… until the studio can figure out some way to make a prequel or spin-off within the next decade because, well, everyone else is doing it. At least I think it’s safe to say the story of Katniss Everdeen has come to an end, and I was amongst others hoping it would be an epic conclusion to the story. After Mockingjay – Part 1 proved to be boring for some with its focus more on the politics rather than the action, there was some hope Part 2 was saving all the excitement for an explosive finale in the vein of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. However, to paraphrase T.S. Eliot, this is the way The Hunger Games saga ends, not with a bang but a whimper.


Mockingjay – Part 2 picks up right where Part 1 left off and continues on with the story like you never left with little to reintroduce you to the world; it’s like coming back to a movie you stopped watching halfway through. Part 2 is easily the most accurate page-to-screen translation of all the films, with nary a detail from the novel not present in some form. To those who know what’s coming, no major events have been changed and it ends exactly as it did in the book. It’s rare to see an adaptation this accurate, but Mockingjay – Part 2 is a case study in why novels are changed when adapted to movies. Every problem with this movie stems back to the decision to split the novel into two movies as, just like with Part 1, there are serious pacing and structural problems. Despite being mostly set within a war-torn city with danger around every corner, action scenes are scant to make room for more scenes of characters talking to discuss the nature of war and their evolving relationships within it. These scenes are fine and do build some nice character moments, but for every five of these scenes there’s only one brief action sequence and, as well done as a lot of them are, almost all of them could be cut with little impact. About half the movie is just set-up, then a quarter is the actual action broken up heavily with quiet moments, and then the last quarter is all epilogue; if you thought The Lord of the Rings’ endings dragged on you’ve seen nothing. Of all the movies in the franchise, this is the one that would have benefitted the most from cutting away from Katniss’ story to show more action with the war, but all you see of that is smoke and gunfire in the distance; it ends up making what’s supposed to be this final confrontation with thousands of lives on the line feel incredibly small. Apart from a few plot twists that were a bit mishandled I actually have no problem with the story of Mockingjay – Part 2. It’s well written on a dialogue and emotional level, it wraps up all loose ends, and it concludes on a satisfying if somewhat treacly note. I just have a problem with the way the story is told, and it is all because this two-hour plus movie should have been the final 45 minutes of a one-film adaptation of Mockingjay.

The Hunger Games has enjoyed a strong cast throughout (Liam Hemsworth withstanding, but the character of Gale was never good in the books either), and they all deliver great performances as expected. Jennifer Lawrence never fails to impress and, though her series highlights are behind her, she brings a solid send-off to the character of Katniss. Josh Hutcherson ends up being the main standout performer mainly given Peeta’s altered state after the events of Mockingjay – Part 1, and he sells his portrayal of a broken and confused young man unsure of his own sanity whilst also being a constant wildcard for the rest of the group. Special mention must also go to Elden Henson for his portrayal of Pollux, able to command so much emotion and sympathy without being able to say a single word, and to the ever-delightful Donald Sutherland as the villainous President Snow; I thought his final couple of scenes could have been handled a little more subtly, but he still remains a wonderful adversary throughout. It’s somewhat sad to say this is the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s last movie because he’s not in it very much, but given he passed away before finishing his scenes it’s understandable; the accommodations to the plot they’ve made due to this are relatively minor, but his presence is still sorely missed. Oh, and for Game of Thrones fans, Gwendoline Christie is in the movie…for one scene where she does nothing but stand still and exposit. Wow, what a way to waste your Brienne of Tarth.

Action in Mockingjay – Part 2 is limited, but what’s there is as well handled as the action in Catching Fire in terms of intensity and fury. Everything’s well shot and choreographed, with a chase and fight in the Capitol’s sewers that owes a lot to Aliens being the movie’s action highlight. The production design and costumes are exactly as you’d expect from the franchise with looming fascist architecture and a mix of dull blacks and greys for the rebels and extravagant outfits for the Capitol, though with the character of Tigress they’ve certainly outdone themselves on ostentation. James Newton Howard repeats a lot of the same themes from his previous scores for the franchise, but in doing so it does help call back to important moments without the need for flashback.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 is a movie less than the sum of its parts, mainly because most of its parts were used to make the previous movie. It works perfectly fine as a conclusion to the story and fans are going to see it no matter what, but there’s too much fat and not enough lean for it to be a truly satisfying experience. I really would love to see if any fans will recut the Mockingjay movies together into one 3-hour film and if that will help alleviate all my problems, but this version of the story as it stands is far too bloated and frankly tedious to sit through at points. Cutting one book into multiple films has only worked once before with Harry Potter and it worked because it was done for creative reasons rather than just raking a stronger box office. Mockingjay didn’t need the multi-film treatment and it’s only hurt the franchise in doing so. It ends up feeling like the last hour of a really good party that’s starting to lose its lustre but the host won’t let you leave until you’ve said goodbye to everyone; it’s fine, but you wish you could have left a little sooner.


Starring: Michael Fassbender (Macbeth), Kate Winslet (Titanic), Seth Rogen (Knocked Up), Jeff Daniels (The Martian), Katherine Waterson (Inherent Vice), Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man)

Director: Danny Boyle (Trainspotting)

Writer: Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network)

Runtime: 2 hours 2 minutes

Release Date: 9 October (US), 13 November (UK)

Steve Jobs is either a messianic genius or an arrogant tyrant depending on whom you ask. I can’t exactly hate the guy considering he’s partly responsible for the device I’m currently typing this review on, but even if he wasn’t a nice guy I find it’s always best to separate a man from his work; if we judged all accomplishments based on the people who did them, we’d probably disregard half of history’s great minds. Steve Jobs the film is an interesting look into said mind of the infamous creator of Apple, and one that thankfully doesn’t coat the departed innovator in any particular shade of paint.

Contrary to popular belief, Steve Jobs is not a biopic per se. Though aspects of Apple’s founding are covered in flashback sequences, it is essentially three long scenes that each take place before one of Jobs’ famous product launches. It’s structurally more reminiscent of a three-act play, with tension rising and falling within these separate pieces as individual sections that are only interweaved by brief newsreels covering the time gap. Story beats definitely carry between the three acts and tell a greater overall story together, but each of the sections function perfectly well on their own. The structure of each of the segments are incredibly similar and does result in some déjà vu as the second and third pieces progress, but the content remains strong enough that it never becomes a deal breaker. Typical of an Aaron Sorkin film, Steve Jobs is incredibly dialogue-heavy but it’s so incredibly well-written and performed that you forget most of the movie is just Jobs bickering with his subordinates. The film is full of captivating propulsive energy as each argument leads into the next, each line ripe with that repartee and wit that only Sorkin can pull off well without looking like an overly linguistic smartarse. But beyond the talk of operating systems and corporate jargon, Steve Jobs is a very sweet and endearing film about a man trying to come to terms with fatherhood in a way only Steve Jobs would do.

Michael Fassbender looks absolutely nothing like Steve Jobs but that should never really matter; remember, Ashton Kutcher looks almost exactly like Jobs and look how his biopic turned out. The job of a good actor is they inhabit the role so well that you forget that watching you’re watching isn’t real and, whilst Fassbender never quite breaks that boundary of reality, he delivers an incredible performance regardless. His Jobs is as pernickety, obsessive and unmanageable as you’d expect, but he also adds enough humanity and sympathy to his portrayal that you can understand his plight. Like all great films of this ilk, it doesn’t try to cast its focus character in a particular light but rather simply show you the man and lets you judge him for yourself. It doesn’t matter whether you like or hate Jobs as a person or a character; all viewpoints are valid. The supporting cast is also phenomenal across the board, with even smaller players like Jon Ortiz and Sarah Snook getting their moments to shine. Seth Rogen’s Steve Wozniak is a particular standout, performing as a character that allows Rogen to stretch into more dramatic fare without losing his loveable laidback persona, and he knocks out every argument he finds himself in with Fassbender. Kate Winslet loses herself in the character of Joanna Hoffman, balancing perfectly her loyalty to Jobs and her annoyance with his attitude, and Jeff Daniels’ John Sculley steals every single one of his brief scenes.

Danny Boyle is known for his distinctive style and, whilst Steve Jobs is certainly a far more reserved film visually that some of his other work, he does incorporate a lot of inventive ideas. Most notable is the evolution of the cinematography, with each segment being shot in a different format; 1984 is shot on 8mm, 1988 on 16mm, and 1998 is filmed digitally. Even to a layman, the visual difference should be noticeable and it gives each section a visual aesthetic that makes the time jumps even clearer. The camerawork beyond that is far more reserved than Boyle’s usual work, with far less handheld and odd angles in favour of simple static shot-reverse shot; it’s ultimately for the best, as this is a film where dialogue is king. The period detail in the costuming is also helpful in distinguishing the eras, and Daniel Pemberton’s score does a good job of keeping pace and tension especially during the more heated scenes. Also, any film that uses a Simpsons clip gains bonus points in my book.

Much like Sorkin’s The Social Network, Steve Jobs takes a story that doesn’t seem interesting at first and turns it into a captivating drama that even people with no interest in the subject matter will find fascinating. Sorkin’s writing is as engrossing as ever and makes as solid a match with Boyle’s directing style as he did with David Fincher. Fassbender’s portrayal of Jobs is amongst the finest of his career, and the supporting cast matches him at every turn. Whether you love him or hate him, this is exactly the calibre of film a man like Steve Jobs deserves and I don’t think any other attempt at telling his life story will match up to this.




Starring: Daniel Craig (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds), Léa Seydoux (Blue is the Warmest Colour), Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy), Naomie Harris (28 Days Later), Ben Whishaw (Paddington), Andrew Scott (Locke), Monica Bellucci (The Matrix Reloaded), Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Director: Sam Mendes (American Beauty)

Writers: John Logan (Gladiator) and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade (Skyfall) and Jez Butterworth (Edge of Tomorrow)

Runtime: 2 hour 28 minutes

Release Date: 26 October (UK), 9 November (US)

After such a spectacular outing in Skyfall, the James Bond series had a lot to live up to. Expectations for Spectre rose through the roof, but all it really had to do was match its predecessor and all would be right. Considering it has most of the same team in front of and behind the camera, you’d think there’d be at least some guarantee of that. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with Spectre but that’s not simply just because it’s not as good as Skyfall. Explaining how is going to be hard in a spoiler-free context, but I’ll try my best.

Spectre feels like the conclusion of a trilogy in many ways (if you consider Quantum of Solace as an epilogue to Casino Royale that you can just skip), with many events from the previous Daniel Craig Bond films referenced and brought to light from new perspectives. After Skyfall reintroduced many of the classic Bond elements back into the fold, Spectre picks up on that road and is the first movie in the series in a long time to truly feel like a classic Bond film. However, it perhaps goes too far in that direction. It never becomes cheesy, managing to balance a wonderful line between serious and fun better than any of Craig’s previous films, but it does heavily rely on series formula and rehashing ideas from previous films. Again, hard to say without spoiling everything, but this should help: if you didn’t like Star Trek Into Darkness, you probably won’t like Spectre for the same reasons. The film’s first two acts are fantastic and filled to the brim with exciting action sequences, witty banter and good character moments, but it’s the third act where the movie’s problems show their head and it irreversibly taints the rest of the experience. The pacing is extremely tight for such a long film and the plot does add up on a logic level (even though several elements feel stolen right out of this summer’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation), but the film by this point so heavily relies on cliché that pretty much all tension is removed from the climax.

Daniel Craig has taken a long time to grow into the role of James Bond, but now that suit fits him like a glove. He’s still a brutal killer who takes no nonsense, but he’s grown a lot more sensitive and facetious since his early days chasing bomb makers through construction sites. I’d argue it’s Craig’s best performance in the series so far, but I don’t really see where the character can go from here; with Craig signed on for one more picture, I don’t know what more they can do with this interpretation of the character. Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw and Ralph Fiennes all return from Skyfall as Moneypenny, Q and M respectively, and all remain perfectly suited to their roles even if the story constantly has to stretch to find ways to insert them into the story. Christoph Waltz plays exactly the sort of villain you’d expect Christoph Waltz to play in a Bond movie and, whilst his performance is entertaining, it does feel a little cartoony in places; he is practically one step away from exclaiming “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die!” Léa Seydoux makes an excellent Bond Girl as Madeleine Swann, balancing brains, brawn and allure perfectly…except for any time the plot needs a damsel and then she suddenly becomes useless; seriously, I could accept getting captured once, but twice? Dave Bautista is fantastic during his scenes as the tight-lipped Hinx but his screen time is cut abruptly and unceremoniously short, Andrew Scott’s C is so blatantly evil that he practically holds a sign exclaiming it when he enters his first scene, and Monica Bellucci feels totally wasted in a role that only serves two purposes: exposition and sex.

Sam Mendes surprised us all with his excellent handle on action in Skyfall, and in this department Spectre potentially tops it. From the opening Day of the Dead sequence to the car chase through Rome, the pursuit through the Austrian alps and the final showdown in home turf London, Spectre presents fantastic set pieces that are about as ludicrous as a Bond movie can get anymore without delving into Roger Moore territory. Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography is beautifully lit and operated, which is clear from the film’s long opening shot that weaves through a parade, into a building, up an elevator, into a hotel room and back out onto the rooftops without a single clear cut. The fight choreography and stunt work is excellently done, especially a brutal train brawl between Craig and Bautista, which is further helped by crisp, well-timed editing. Thomas Newman’s score fits perfectly to the action and incorporates plenty of classic melodies, but the film’s theme “Writing’s On the Wall” by Sam Smith is extremely underwhelming; his melancholic voice is a poor fit for a Bond theme, lacking the power and personality which empowered all of the series’ best songs.

If Casino Royale is this franchise’s Batman Begins and Skyfall is The Dark Knight, then Spectre is The Dark Knight Rises: a solid film, great in certain aspects, but seriously flawed in important places. I know I’ve been negative throughout most of this review, but the movie is still a fun ride whilst it lasts. Craig’s performance and the action sequences are better than ever, but it treads on too much hallowed ground and samples previous work instead of reworking it into new material. Many Bond purists have claimed that the Daniel Craig films strayed too far from the franchise norm. Now if those same people complain that Spectre is too similar to other films in the series, they only have themselves to blame.


Starring: Vin Diesel (Fast & Furious 7), Elijah Wood (Sin City), Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones), Michael Caine (The Dark Knight)

Director: Breck Eisner (Sahara)

Writers: Cory Goodman (Priest) and Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless (Dracula Untold)

Runtime: 1 hour 46 minutes

Release Date: 21 October (UK), 23 October (US)

I’m a sucker for a ridiculous high concept action movie, especially those that delve into pre-existing mythologies and put a new twist on them. Pity most of them suck these days. Films like Resident Evil or I, Frankenstein could be good, but they get far too caught in looking cool rather than being entertaining; Underworld showed some promise in this department, but has since devolved into nonsense. I had some hope that The Last Witch Hunter could break the mould but, even though it tries just a little harder that its brethren, it’s still not enough.

I give massive points to The Last Witch Hunter for at least being somewhat self-aware. So many films of its ilk are far too earnest about their frankly ludicrous stories that they forget to have fun. This movie can at least make a joke or two about itself or sprinkle in humour to liven things up. However, it doesn’t do it quite enough to balance out the tone and the movie still mostly falls into the taking-itself-too-seriously camp. The basic Highlander-meets-Blade template they’ve gone for isn’t a bad jumping off point, but they don’t build anything interesting or new on that foundation. The first act is caked in exposition poorly disguised by stilted dialogue, but it’s all information that’s obvious without spoon-feeding because they’re relying on concepts used by practically every “secret world beyond our knowledge” story ever. The narrative is a pretty basic “stop the bad guy from taking over the world” scenario peppered with minor intrigue, but it falls apart not just due to predictable storytelling and plot holes you could drive a truck through, but also because the film completely lacks pay-off. The movie is actually pretty well paced, breezing through its reasonable runtime effortlessly, but that also means the third act feels incredibly rushed and underwhelming. The climax is essentially a series of story beats that could all be summed with the phrase “well, that was easy.” The film teases this giant epic battle but the final action sequence is just Vin Diesel fighting a corpse in a poorly lit cave. That’s it. Follow that up with some pathetic sequel baiting, and you’ve got one undercooked movie.

I like Vin Diesel as a person, but when he’s not playing a giant robot or a tree his range is pretty limited. It’s another standard Diesel performance with him injecting most of his own personality to compensate for the lack of one on the page; he might as well be playing Dominic Toretto in this movie for all the difference it makes. It’s not a bad or phoned-in performance, as Diesel’s natural charm does carry him through, but he doesn’t do anything you haven’t seen him do any of his other movies. Both Elijah Wood and Michael Caine feel wasted in their paper-thin roles, but at least Wood tries to inject some personality into his character with some funny asides before the plot throws him under the bus. Caine gives his typical disinterested paycheck performance (which makes his cloying narration in the first act even more dull), and for most of the movie he’s just a MacGuffin that has no payoff. The villains are incredibly weak with no dimension beyond the typical “we want to rule the world” routine, and potentially interesting avenues like the witch hunter council or other passive witches are completely glanced over. The main saving grace is Rose Leslie, who rises above the stodgy material to deliver a solid performance. She has surprisingly good chemistry with Diesel and displays hints of an interesting character history that’s never delved into, making me wonder why they didn’t just make the movie about her instead.

For what it’s worth, The Last Witch Hunter at least has enough of a budget to accomplish its outlandish concepts compared to similar movies. The production design for all the witch elements is twisted and beautifully so, but most of the movie is still set in dank urban locales and even some of those cool designs feel familiar (The Witch Queen, for example, looks like a cross between Regan from The Exorcist and The Borg Queen from Star Trek: First Contact). The CG work is pretty competent but nothing especially sticks out, and Steve Jablonsky’s score is effective if forgettable. However, the movie really fails to deliver on the action front. Most of the fight scenes rarely go beyond one-on-one and end far too quickly to register, which isn’t helped by impatient editing and incomprehensible camerawork. There’s no real standout action sequence, and for a movie like this you need at least one.

The Last Witch Hunter doesn’t lack effort but it lacks the energy to make it seem effortless. I appreciate its attempts to liven the mood with an occasional gag, but for a movie about an immortal bald man killing witches in modern day New York it still feels far too bland. It’s intermittently entertaining in a bored Saturday night sort of way, but there are plenty of other movies you could watch with similar premises that would be far more satisfying, and you don’t have to shell out money at the cinema to experience them.


Starring: Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland), Tom Hiddleston (Thor: The Dark World), Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Charlie Hunnam (Pacific Rim)

Director: Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth)

Writers: Guillermo Del Toro & Matthew Robbins (The Sugarland Express)

Runtime: 1 hour 59 minutes

Release Date: 16 October (US, UK)

Guillermo Del Toro has been away from his horror roots for the past few years, and Crimson Peak was advertised as a welcome return to the genre for the Mexican auteur. I love Del Toro’s more mainstream work like the Hellboy movies and Pacific Rim, but horror is his true passion and it comes through even in those films. However, Crimson Peak is not only much different to the film that was advertised but underwhelmingly so.

First things first: Crimson Peak isn’t really a horror movie. It’s a gothic romance story with some spooky elements, and not a particularly fresh one at that. After a brief chilling prologue, the whole first half of the film is basically just the burgeoning relationship between Edith (Wasikowska) and Thomas (Hiddleston) with nary a mention of the supernatural. Once we finally get to the haunted house, all the scary stuff starts to kick in but it still feels superfluous to the actual plot. Most of this part of the film is Edith engaging in Scooby-Doo antics of wandering around the house with a candle looking for clues, and then in the third act it turns into The Shining. The story unfolds in a very deliberate fashion, creating a great deal of anticipation as you wait for the movie to reveal its cards, but when it finally does there’s a compounding feeling of “is that it?” It really felt like the story was building up to something far bigger and imaginative, but in the end it’s rather mundane. It just really made me beg the question: why is there even a supernatural element? Seriously, you could write out all the ghosts in the movie and it would play out almost exactly the same. Why even waste time and money on all these ghost effects if they don’t actually have any impact on the plot? There’s nothing particularly wrong with the story; it flows well, there are some genuinely unnerving moments, and it all makes sense in the end. The problem is that this story could have been told far more simply, and all of its Del Toro embellishments feel like nothing more than that.

Mia Wasikowska has yet to impress me and Crimson Peak is no exception. She does a great job of looking scared, but for a woman whose supposedly trying to be independent in a man’s world she looks and sounds embarrassingly pathetic throughout the entire movie. I don’t wholly blame Wasikowska for her performance; I just think she’s been tremendously miscast. Tom Hiddleston, on the other hand, couldn’t be more perfectly fitted to his role. His character of Thomas Sharpe is an odd but fascinating fellow that you can never get full grips on. One minute he can be a charming romantic, the next a desperate businessman, then a wounded puppy. He’s a very hard man to read, and that makes him far more eerie a character. I wish Jessica Chastain took some notes from him, because she’s completely lacking in subtlety. From the moment she appears on screen, it’s obvious that Chastain’s Lucille is bad news and the nature of her relationship with Hiddleston is blindingly obvious. Chastain does do a good job of being believably crazy, but if she had held back in the first half it would have had much more impact. Charlie Hunnam’s role feels somewhat useless given that by the time he shows up to unload some shocking exposition Edith has already learnt most of it, and his unrequited relationship with her feels really tacked on.

What mainly saves Crimson Peak from being mediocre is that fact that it is gorgeous. Del Toro is a master when it comes to creating a visual style for his movies, and the production design here could easily be the best he’s had. Allerdale Hall itself is a gothic wonderland filled with incredible amounts of detail, and the fact that the entire set was achieved practically is a marvel in and of itself; full marks to Thomas Sanders for his work here. Dan Laustsen’s cinematography is also eerily beautiful, very reminiscent of his underappreciated work on Silent Hill (I think it’s the ever-present fog in both movies), capturing both scope and fear to create some impressive images. Fernando Velasquez’s score is chillingly sombre, and the sound design is also frighteningly excellent. However, disappointingly the creature work is lacking in the fact that there isn’t any. Del Toro has always made great use of practical effects in his movies, but here all the ghost effects are done entirely with CGI. The designs themselves are uniquely Del Toro and suitably gross, but the effects work itself looks a little undercooked and I wonder if it would have worked better if done in camera with some CG elaboration.

Crimson Peak is the cinematic equivalent of being overdressed for a party. It’s showed up with all these fancy bells and whistles that it doesn’t need and stretches to make them seem useful. Guillermo Del Toro’s direction on a technical level is impeccable as always, but I feel he could have held back on the grandiose and made this a simpler movie. The story actually feels hampered by the supernatural elements, which only end up making the actual plot seem far less impressive in comparison. It’s worth watching for Hiddleston’s performance and the pure spectacle of it, especially if you’re a Del Toro fan, but otherwise there’s not much to write home about. Now, Del Toro, do whatever you can to save Pacific Rim 2. I don’t want to see it go the way of the other six-bazillion projects you announced and then quietly abandoned.




PAN – a review by Jacob Heaton

Posted: October 11, 2015 in Film Reviews

Starring: Levi Miller, Hugh Jackman (X-Men: Days of Future Past), Garrett Hedlund (TRON: Legacy), Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Adeel Akhtar (Four Lions), Cara Delevingne (Paper Towns), Amanda Seyfried (Ted 2)

Director: Joe Wright (Hanna)

Writer: Jason Fuchs (Ice Age: Continental Drift)

Runtime: 1 hour 51 minutes

Release Date: 9 October (US), 16 October (UK)

For someone who’s only existed for a little over a century, Peter Pan is one of those timeless characters that every child knows about. Whether through the original play or the many film adaptations, The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up serves as both a childhood fantasy and a warning about immaturity. Exploring the origins of this character is not a bad idea, and that’s exactly what Pan claims to be doing. Unfortunately, imagination doesn’t seem to be on the filmmakers’ side.

Pan is yet another example of Hollywood taking a classic story and cramming a “chosen one” narrative unnecessarily into it; see also Alice in Wonderland, The Amazing Spider-Man and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The plot is incredibly generic and predictable from start to finish, following genre tropes to the letter without a trace of irony or self-awareness. In a post-LEGO Movie age, it’s hard to get away with this kind of story without an interesting twist on it, but Pan seems to think that all this tired nonsense about prophecies and mysterious pasts is the twist. The film also fails on the promise of being a Peter Pan origin story as, by film’s end, the characters are far from where they were in at the start of the original story; perhaps they’re betting on making this a franchise. But bland storytelling aside, Pan also suffers from just plain old illogical creative choices. Why is the film set during World War II when the original story was written in 1904? What exactly led to nuns selling orphans to pirates? Why do the pirates sing anachronistic songs like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Blitzkrieg Bop” for no apparent reason? And what is the point of Blackbeard wanting to use pixie dust as a source for immortality when it doesn’t at all factor into the plot beyond one quick scene; couldn’t he have just want it as a power source for his ships or something, and why is he having aging problems when he’s living in a land where nothing ages?! I know we’re using fairy tale logic here, but even with that these choices are just bizarre and don’t mesh at all.

Like the film’s style and tone, the performances in Pan are all over the place. Levi Miller is serviceable as Peter, but he’s written as far too noble and sweet. Peter Pan is supposed to be a mischievous and hedonistic kid but here there’s barely a hint of that, instead leaving us with yet another bland protagonist who’s only special because the plot keeps telling us he is. Hugh Jackman’s Blackbeard is overly theatrical and thinly drawn as a villain, his aforementioned motivations being weak and his presence far too comical to be taken as a serious threat; there are hints of a deeper character here through fleeting references and Jackman’s performance but it never reaches surface level. Rooney Mara’s casting as Tiger Lilly again led to claims of whitewashing, but I criticize the casting not so much for equality reasons (FYI, the Neverland natives are depicted as multicultural, but having a white woman as their princess is still a little off) but just Mara herself in general. Her character only serves the functions of spouting exposition and being a generic badass, and Mara’s performance is little more than saying her lines in a monotone quasi-British accent and smirking occasionally; it really reminded me of Natalie Portman in the Star Wars prequels, and that’s not a good thing. But the real killer in bad casting is Garrett Hedlund as James Hook. He fails to at all sell that this character will one day go on to be Pan’s great nemesis, with Hedlund instead portraying Hook as the aborted love child of Han Solo and Daniel Plainview; whatever dialect he’s attempting to do, it’s not working for him. The only saving grace is Adeel Akhtar as Smee, here portrayed somewhat like a pirate version of Maurice Moss, but his importance to the plot is sidelined by the film’s halfway mark.

Joe Wright has always had a great visual eye whilst not forgetting about story, but here the style not only outweighs the substance but the style itself isn’t that good either. It’s nice to see a film that embraces colour so much in a cinematic world defined by greys and browns, but the amount of saturation on screen can become a bit overpowering. The design aesthetic of the film is a bit imbalanced, with the pirates and natives being gaudily overdesigned whilst characters like Pan and Hook look far blander in comparison. John Powell’s music is suitably majestic and whimsical, but compared to his work on How to Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda it’s practically just background noise. But Pan’s real problem on the technical front is that it relies far too much on CGI. It feels like half the movie was made in the computer and, whilst the effects are passable for the most part, it still clear that almost nothing you’re seeing on screen is actually there. I know this is a fantasy film and Wright could be going for the same Brechtian approach he had to Anna Karenina where he’s actually trying to amplify the artificiality of it, but here it just ends up making the film look shoddy and fake.

When Pan isn’t bombarding you with its bizarre creative decisions, it’s just being a generic fantasy story. It moves briskly and it’s never a pain to watch, but there’s nothing that really stands out about it despite all the weirdness on display. The screenplay is generic, the cast is poorly chosen, and despite his talent Joe Wright was just the wrong choice for this material. There are far superior film versions of Peter Pan out there that better capture the innocence and the essence of that classic tale far better than this, so unless you’re a die-hard Pan fan who has to see everything I suggest you watch one of those instead.


Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Looper), Ben Kingsley (Ghandi), Charlotte Le Bon (The Hundred-Foot Journey), James Badge Dale (Iron Man 3)

Director: Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future)

Writers: Robert Zemeckis & Christopher Browne

Runtime: 2 hours 3 minutes

Release Date: 9 October (US, UK)

Amongst the great filmmakers working today, Robert Zemeckis’ name is one often forgotten. We all remember his films like Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Forrest Gump and many others, but despite this he doesn’t quite have the impact a name like Spielberg or Scorcese has. Maybe it’s because his output until recently has been dominated by iffy attempts at motion capture animation, maybe it’s because he doesn’t put his face out there or attach his name to other projects as much, but you cannot at all say it’s because he lacks a distinct voice. The Walk is unmistakably a Robert Zemeckis film in the traditional sense, and it’s a cinematic experience that really embraces the magic of the medium.

Based on the life of high wire artist Philippe Petit and his famous 1974 crossing of the World Trade Center (previously covered in the excellent Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire), The Walk isn’t what I’d describe as a traditional biopic. Whilst the key events themselves are certainly accurate, Zemeckis chooses to tell the story in a far more fanciful way. This is clear from the opening moments as Petit (Gordon-Levitt) directly talks to the audience and provides running commentary on the whole film. It’s a jarring and bizarre choice at first, but as the film goes on it becomes clear this is all part of Zemeckis’ plan. Much like how Petit treats his art with an enchanting sense of awe, Zemeckis is trying to pull that same trick on the audience and lets the film play more like a fairy tale than a true story. The first two thirds are effective set-up that lets us get to know the characters, and the film’s playfulness means everything moves at an appropriately bouncy speed. But it’s the film’s final third that are the real reason to watch it, with Petit’s walk itself depicted in awe-inspiring fashion that makes the exuberant tone really pay off, and the film’s final line and shot could easily render some to tears. The film isn’t without its problems though. Gordon-Levitt’s narration is still a bit much at points, often feeling less like a narrator and more like a children’s TV presenter, and the film constantly feels the need to explain why the characters are speaking in English rather than French, but the film’s overall effect is hard to deny once all is said and done.

Though his French accent is perhaps a little off-putting, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s actual performance as Philippe Petit is spot-on. He captures that child-like enthusiasm and determination Petit has, but also the arrogance and frustration that make him human. He has his moments that make you doubt his sanity, but his undeniable charm always pulls you through and he ultimately makes the character work accent and all. Ben Kingsley does feel like he’s just taking another opportunity to try out silly voice as Papa Rudy, but in his few scenes with Gordon-Levitt there’s a strong bond and chemistry between these two generations of high wire performers. Charlotte Le Bon’s pleasant performance as Annie is more than welcome, but how her relationship with Petit concludes feels a little bit like an afterthought; it may be true to life, but that doesn’t stop it from being unsatisfying. The rest of Petit’s group is an interesting mix, with James Badge Dale’s Franco-Yankee J.P. being an amusing distraction and Cesar Domboy’s Jeff adding some much needed tension and dramatic arc to the final act. Benedict Samuel’s David is a stoner stereotype that feels superfluous to the plot and Ben Schwartz’s Albert is essentially there just to naysay, but their presence in the film is ultimately negligible. The movie belongs to Zemeckis and Gordon-Levitt, and what they have to offer is more than satisfactory.

Zemeckis has always had a great visual eye and one of the few directors that embraces modern film technology in the right way (creepy motion capture films aside). That innocent sense of wonder the story has permeates everything on the technical side too, from Darius Wolski’s breathtaking cinematography to Alan Silvestri’s uplifting score that mixes French jazz with traditional orchestra feels. The visual effects are also staggering, recreating the World Trade Center and placing you with Petit on the wire in a completely seamless way. The Walk is also one of the few films since the resurgence of 3D that really warrants the format, especially during that final act; whether you have vertigo or not, it’s hard not to feel daunted by the sheer sense of height when all three dimensions are in play.

The Walk is the first film that’s made me feel like a child in a long time without appealing to nostalgia in any way, and that’s mainly down to the wonderfully exuberant way Robert Zemeckis decides to tell this story. It’s an approach no other sane filmmaker would make, but Zemeckis has the skill to make it work and it’s a gamble that pays off wonderfully in execution. The two thirds are well made and interesting enough on their own, but that climax easily ranks amongst the cinematic highlights of this year so far. Go see The Walk in a theatre, shell out for the full IMAX 3D experience if you can, and enjoy a movie that takes full advantage of everything cinema has to offer.


Starring: Michael Fassbender (X-Men: Days of Future Past), Marion Cotillard (Inception), Paddy Considine (The World’s End), Sean Harris (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation), Jack Reynor (Transformers: Age of Extinction), Elizabeth Debicki (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), David Thewlis (The Theory of Everything)

Director: Justin Kurzel (Snowtown)

Writers: Todd Louiso & Jacob Koskoff (The Mark Pease Experience) and Michael Lesslie

Runtime: 1 hour 53 minutes

Release Date: 2 October (UK), 4 December (US)

Adapting Shakespeare to the big screen is a task nearly as old as cinema itself, and the results vary wildly between eras, interpretations and overall quality. The problem I have with most adaptations is that they don’t take advantage of the medium of film; they’re basically just elaborate stage productions with bigger stars and more money. Justin Kurzel’s vision of Macbeth certainly makes a bold attempt of truly turning the play into a film, but growing pains from the medium transition can still be felt in key areas.

The most surprising thing about this version of Macbeth is that it’s at its best when it just throws out Shakespeare’s script. It covers all the important beats of the story and his words are very much present in the film, but there are a lot of scenes that play completely without dialogue and these parts work exceptionally well. This is most impactful in the film’s first act, where Macbeth’s (Fassbender) first meeting with the Wyrd Sisters is mostly carried through the sisters’ haunting demeanour and Macbeth’s reactions. Kurzel’s direction and visual style tell the story more than fluently on its own, so it’s actually a bit jarring when, after a long period of silence, everyone starts breaking into sonnets. I know it’s almost blasphemous to say, but the film may have worked better if they stripped the script even more and just kept the vital dialogue, letting the film’s rich atmosphere carry the film instead. Shakespeare’s writing style is often difficult to transfer from stage to screen given the different requirements of each format, but even though Macbeth is less reverent to text than some it still could have afforded to cut more.

A lot of Shakespeare adaptations also fall flat due to poor performances from actors who recite Shakespeare’s words like they’re reading a foreign language. Macbeth never has that problem, featuring a fantastic cast led by Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. Fassbender, the fourth major X-Men cast member to take up the role, plays Macbeth in a subdued but powerful manner. He effectively plays a man driven by power and supposed destiny, driven to insanity by his paranoia and ruthless against anyone suspicious of him; his rendition of the “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” soliloquy is especially well handled. Marion Cotillard finally drops the French accent for her role as Lady Macbeth and, whilst it does feel her importance has been stripped down a bit from the original text, she still delivers a rich and powerful performance especially in her final moments. Sean Harris is also excellent as Macduff, particularly towards the end as he seeks retribution against Macbeth for his crimes. However, the abundance of dialogue again somewhat works against the actors. Their physical performances deliver so much on their own that there’s often no need for words to express themselves. It doesn’t at all take away from the performances, but lessening the dialogue perhaps could have added to them.

Even with the great performances, Kurzel remains the real star of Macbeth. He truly understands this is a film, not a play, and takes full advantage of the medium with some impressive visuals. The camera work is simple but the lighting and use of colour is excellent, and having real sets and elaborate period costumes really envelops you in the setting. The action sequences are brief and scattered, but they too have a lot of beauty to them. Looking somewhat like an arthouse production of 300 (ironic, considering Fassbender is in both) with its use of slow motion and unnatural colour grading, they highlight the violence and emotion of these fights far better than any words can.

Macbeth is a beautifully made and fantastically performed film that embraces the cinema format, but the leftovers from its original form seem somewhat jarring in the transition. There’s no denying the power of Shakespeare’s words, but they are words designed to be recited on a stage, and I don’t think any disrespect would have been done to trim the dialogue down to a bare minimum; it would be experimental and controversial, but people have done far worse with The Bard’s texts. If nothing else, Macbeth is solid confirmation that Kurzel, Fassbender and Cotillard are going to at least attempt something special with their adaptation of Assassin’s Creed next winter.