Sunday 26 March 2017


"We're looking at the first signs of life beyond Earth."

I do think the newest science fiction horror film ‘Life’ was unfortunate to come out this year. As if there were not already enough comparisons to make between this film and Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’ it happens to be coming out mere months ahead of Scott’s next instalment of that very franchise, only further highlighting how similar they are. But regardless, when taken on its own how does ‘Life’ stand as a piece of filmmaking?

Astronauts (Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds) aboard the International Space Station are on the cutting edge of one of the most important discoveries in human history: the first evidence of extraterrestrial life on Mars. As members of the crew conduct their research, the rapidly evolving life-form proves far more intelligent and terrifying than anyone could have imagined.

I think as long as you can accept that ‘Life’ aims to accomplish exactly what it set out to do and nothing more then you can enjoy this film to a good extent. It does fall into the trappings that so many other films with a similar premise have already done so, from ‘Alien’ to ‘Event Horizon’ but in terms of quality it probably slots somewhere between the two. There is nothing inherently wrong with it and there are not many surprises to be had with the film it delivers everything efficiently and competently.

I suppose the biggest detriment to ‘Life’ is simply that other movies exist, other movies that I was reminded of and recalled how much better they were. But when taken on its own ‘Life’ is perfectly fine. If there is one thing I can really commend ‘Life’ on it is just how tightly paced it is. The film moves forward with great force to a point where I was very surprised afterwards to know that the film was 103 minutes long because it didn’t feel linger than 90. It is an excellently structured, self-contained story that is perfectly content to exist within itself.

What also elevates ‘Life’ is the strength of the cast. Though none of the characters have any real depth to them they are grounded enough to be relatable so there is some level of investment in the ensuing horror. The crew of the space station all have good chemistry with one another, with Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds all pulling their weight. As well as this, despite not headlining the posters for the movie the rest of the crew such as Hiroyuki Sanada and Ariyon Bakare more than hold their own here.

As director Daniel Espinosa does a serviceable job. Granted one could go through each individual aspect of this film and note how they’re not quite as impressive as similar sequences in other films. The zero gravity establishing shots aren’t as great as those in Alfonso Cuaron’s ‘Gravity’, the sense of plapable tension isn’t quite as effective as Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’, the urgency of the narrative isn’t quite as thrilling as Dany Boyle’s ‘Sunshine’, the list goes on. But Espinosa dos manage to integrate these various elements together very well and delivers them efficiently enough. He makes the sense of dread feel very real as the unknown life form develops and evokes an increasing sense of horror as both the crew and audience begin to realise what it is capable of.

The CGI in ‘Life’ is also worthy of praise, brilliantly compositing its actors into the environment that is the space station while incorporating a number of excellent practical effects as well. Once again this is in large part due to Espinosa’s skill behind the camera but credit should also go to cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (whose credits also include ‘Atonement’, ‘Avengers Assemble’ and ‘Nocturnal Animals). He shoots the first section of the film with a crisp and graceful look that only makes the visceral horror of what comes later all the more impactful.

The only downside to all of this once again comes with how conventional ‘Life’ feels in its plot. Not just when compared to other films in this genre but just in general the story feels highly predictable. Though the various twists in the plot are well engineered none of them could be labelled as shocking or that surprising. They help move the story forward but rarely have an impact as great as it would seem the filmmakers want them to. None of the designs, ideas or concepts feel unique to the film either. It tells a conventional and widely known story very well, but never reaches beyond that. This is only made more apparent by the characters, whom as I said before lack the depth to convey anything new out of this premise. None of this is to say that it ruins ‘Life’ but it does feel like a wasted opportunity in some regards. With talent like this I was hoping for something that would stand out a bit more in the long run but as it is, ‘Life’ falls a bit short.

‘Life’ is an effectively told if not overly conventional take on a very familiar premise.

Result: 7/10

Saturday 25 March 2017

Power Rangers

"You were born for this. This is your destiny, this is your time."

I don’t know if anyone’s noticed this before, but ‘Power Rangers’ is a little silly isn’t it? As shocking as it may be to learn that a franchise based on a group of teenagers being recruited by a giant floating head to dress up in colourful spandex and fight monsters, is the truth. I think even the biggest fans of the franchise will acknowledge that, so the key question for a movie that wants to please that fans while bringing in a new audience will always be, which direction do we go in?

Five ordinary teens must become something extraordinary when they learn that their small town of Angel Grove is on the verge of being obliterated by an alien threat. Chosen by destiny, these heroes quickly discover they are the only ones who can save the planet. But to do so, they will have to overcome their real-life issues and before it's too late, band together as the Power Rangers.

Given that studios are in the midst of raking anything that is even mildly nostalgic to anyone, it was inevitable that ‘Power Rangers’ would get the big screen treatment. But what surprised me about this 2017 blockbuster was that, despite being far from a good movie, it actually made an effort to be different. Rather than go the ‘Transformers’ or DCEU route of “They’ll see it because they’re dumb so we don’t have to bother making it good” philosophy I felt there was a clear attempt to make ‘Power Rangers’ stand out from the crowd. There are a lot of good ideas here but sadly few of them are integrated together well.

The first thing I immediately have to praise the film for is its main cast, who are excellent. Each performance feels appropriately grounded and establishes each Ranger is a unique personality with their own trials and tribulations. The first act does a very effective job of bringing these teenage social misfits together and lets them shine as individuals while giving them good chemistry together. In fact the first act is just a stone’s throw away from being about a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. It goes without saying that it’s not nearly as well developed or as empathetic as what I’m referencing there but there is a clear inspiration.

Sadly though, this grounded first act feels like it came from an entirely different movie. The film as a whole feels so tonally inconsistent as wen deal with teen angst one minute and giant Zords by the next. That is not to say one can’t make a film that features over the top action and grounded character drama, but they need to have more in common on a tonal level to they don’t feel as jarring as they do in ‘Power Rangers’.

Not only does the film suffer on a tonal level but its pacing and structure seems wildly off as well. As I said the first act does an appropriate job of building and introducing the characters, then the second half follows their training and bonding but it seems to drag on for an eternity. The movie seems to get stuck in second gear and never moves forward at a faster rate. It’s just sitting in a static position and while it’s making us familiar with the characters and environments the narrative seems to have been put on hold for a good hour. Worse still is that when the narrative does pick up again there is only twenty five minutes of movie time left. The result is that we really do have the big screen equivalent of a ‘Power Rangers’ episode, twenty minutes of colourful, over the top, incomprehensible action and a plot so rushed I was struggling to keep up.

What keeps it entertaining through those long sections of nothingness though are the likes of Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsor. Now I do fully accept that Banks scenery chewing, gloriously villainous performance belongs in a completely different movie and only further adds to the tonal inconsistencies, I found it wonderfully enjoyable. Brian Cranston is surprisingly engaging as a pixelated head in a wall otherwise known as Zordon and Bill Hader’s voice work makes Alpha 5 not entirely annoying from start to finish.

Dean Israelite’s direction is decent for the most part, with nothing spectacular but nothing horrendous save for his overuse of Dutch angles (the last thing I want to be reminded of in a modern blockbuster is ‘Battlefield Earth’). The bigger question I have about the aesthetic of the movie is how much money Krispy Kreme Doughnuts have thrown at the makers because their inclusion in the movie might just take the spot of the most bafflingly obvious product placement in movie history. More so than the IHOP in ‘Man of Steel’, more so than the Bud-Light in ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’. It really is astonishingly, glaringly, hilariously obvious.

‘Power Rangers’ is three decent movies smashed into one tonally confused but not entirely awful film.

Result: 4/10

Friday 24 March 2017

The Lost City of Z

"The jungle is hell, but one kind of likes it."

It is odd how stories that seem so inherently similar to seem so similar to many that have come before it but are somehow able to be distinct and unique in their execution. On the surface James Gray’s latest and most ambitious directorial effort yet, ‘The Lost City of Z’ would appear to be derivative of any other true story relating to exploration, losing oneself (physically and metaphorically) in a jungle and going up the river. But a closer look reveals far more.

At the dawn of the 20th century, British explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) journeys into the Amazon, where he discovers evidence of a previously unknown civilization that may have once inhabited the region. Despite being ridiculed by the scientific establishment, the determined Fawcett, supported by his devoted wife (Sienna Miller), son (Tom Holland), and aide-de-camp (Robert Pattinson), returns to his beloved jungle in an attempt to prove his case.

As I said at the start ‘The Lost City of Z’ does sound familiar to a lot of other cinematic odysseys about this kind of subject, and it even explores the same themes to a certain extent. Anyone familiar with ‘Apocalypse Now’ will know that to go “up the river” is to journey into one’s own soul and potentially become lost within oneself. Or at least that is the angle that a lot of these stories take and ‘The Lost City of Z’ is no different. It takes the true story of Percy Fawcett and turns it into a hauntingly composed meditation on obsession and intrigue. Unlike many explorers Fawcett’s first journey into the jungle was not his last, but he returned time and time again as the jungle landscape becomes more familiar to him than the society from whence he came.

Now that all sounds very dramatic and Gray mostly plays it as such. His film does not unfold in the traditional melodramatic sense as there is not really a clean cut structure to it. The film sort of morphs its way into being and gradually encroaches upon the viewer. It reminded me greatly of Werner Herzog’s tales of obsession and exploration like ‘Fitzcaraldo’ and especially ‘Aguirre, Wrath of God’. Like Herzog’s films, ‘The Lost City of Z’ is less overtly powerful and more of an absorbing experience. There is a haunted, almost dreamlike quality to the film in its structure and it plays more into our deeper existential fears than allowing you to relate on an intimate level.

This could come across as tedious were it not for the way Gray paces the film. With the first expedition being a thrilling, straightforward adventure story of dares and dos, the film gradually grows darker as you can feel Pawcett’s grasp on reality slowly unravel. This tone is matched by Hunnam’s performance, which is somewhat distance and will inevitably put some people off, but for me rang true to what Gray wanted to accomplish with this film. He’s so clearly an outsider to the rest of society that one can hardly blame his strive to discover a new one. The people that do surround him are also brilliantly realised by the supporting cast that includes Tom Holland, Sienna Miller and an almost unrecognizable Robert Pattinson.

When the story does take us back to society Gray makes these sequences just as intriguing as those in the jungle. Not just because it plays into his character study to see how Pawcett relates to the world around him, but also because the cinematography and direction are still superb. Though they lack the texture of the jungle (purely because, well, they’re not a jungle) these scenes are impeccably crafted, lavishly detailed and thrillingly tense at times due to Pawcett’s own conflict with his contemporary critics.

However it is in the jungle where the cinematography truly comes to life. Each shot has such a richness to it but also never fails to convey the danger and discomfort of the explorers’ journey. The visual splendour almost contributes to the weight of the journey as it goes on. This is a story of several expeditions that took place over twenty years, with each one being equally unfulfilling. The film jumps through that time on numerous occasions, noting how the arduous task seems to morph into a never ending trial. While one or two of these jumps are a bit too big of a logical leap, I’m willing to accept that character motivations change over the course of time but it would be helpful to have more clarity over why they change, but then again maybe it is to further convey Pawcett’s own distance from those around him as his obsession with the fabled lost city grows ever more prominent.

‘The Lost of Z’ is by no means a perfect film, meandering around and often losing focus of what drives the story (almost like its main character, or is that just fishing for a theme that doesn’t exist?). But its ambition has to be admired, and with Gray’s film taking this epic story and condensing it down to a deeply absorbing character study with brilliant cinematography and all round good performances it stands as one of the best of this year so far.

Hypnotic and haunting, the story of a man and his endless obsessions that led to nowhere with deep thematic weight and excellent execution.

Result: 8/10

Saturday 18 March 2017

Beauty and the Beast

"Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme..."

Unlike recent Disney live action remakes, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ struck me as an oddity. With ‘Cinderella’ and ‘The Jungle Book’ it felt as if they had places to go beyond their animated counterparts and could expand the stories to add more depth and intrigue. The 1991 version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ however is utterly perfect, and frankly I can’t imagine a live action version of it ever being an improvement, and I was right.

Belle (Emma Watson), a bright, beautiful and independent young woman, is taken prisoner by a beast (Dan Stevens) in its castle. Despite her fears, she befriends the castle's enchanted staff and learns to look beyond the beast's hideous exterior, allowing her to recognize the kind heart and soul of the true prince that hides on the inside.

The annoying thing about this remake is that I’m a big fan of almost everyone involved in it. Despite directing two instalments of the ‘Twilight’ franchise (though in fairness they were the best two, even if picking the best ‘Twilight’ movie is the equivalent of picking the least sufferable form of torture) he has also helmed ‘Gods and Monsters’, ‘Dreamgirls’ and ‘Mr Holmes’. Then there is the cast which is superb on every level, from their choice of leads in Emma Watson and Dan Stevens to the many great supporting roles of Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellan, Josh Gad and Emma Thompson.

But sadly none of this translates into a worthwhile movie. When looking at any remake one has to ask “How does this add to the original?” and when it comes to ‘Beauty and the Beast’ the answer is very little. If anything it actually made me appreciate the mastery of the original more. The nuances of the characters, the watertight pacing, believable motivations and heartfelt story, these are just some of the many aspects that seem to be missing from this remake.

I understand that at a certain point I do have to accept that this film should be treated as its own entity and not constantly compared with the animated version. But that is a difficult thing to do given that the movie feels the need to constantly remind you of the original. Clearly it wants to target people who remember seeing the original and wants to evoke their nostalgia for it, which is all well and good but none of these call backs feel motivated or fit within this context of the film. Aside from being a nearly shot by shot remake of the animated version the 2017 ‘Beauty and the Beast’ tries so desperately to mimic the visual cues of the original that it forgets to integrate them into the story.

I think this problem is best summarised within one specific scene. The famous ballroom scene from the 1991 version not only feels like an iconic scene in its own right, but in the context of the film it represents and change in Belle and the Beats relationship. It shows a mutual bond and growing trust they have for one another. Before I gush anymore about it now I’ll turn to the remake, which recreates this scene purely as a way to recall the original. It does not feel like they have earned that moment in the story or the emotions of the characters. While the sequence itself is impressive on a technical level I could never escape the feeling that it was just a lesser imitation of the original.

But that is a problem that plays into the larger aspects of the love story of this version. The sad fact is that Watson and Stevens don’t seem to share that much chemistry, at least not enough to make me feel invested in their story. The romance itself is decently developed and paced so it at least feels like there is an actual transition to their relationship, but neither role is expressive enough for me to pick up on their ever changing feelings for one another. From a narrative standpoint the movie loses focus on a lot of occasions. There are a few too many subplots that go nowhere, attention given to characters that doesn’t add to the story and far too much attention given to irrelevant details. Fleshing out your world is a good move when it comes to fantasy tales, but not when they don’t serve the characters or the story in any way.

Believe me I did not want to walk away feeling this unfulfilled, as I said I was a huge fan of the ensemble cast and to their credit they are all excellent. In their voice roles the likes of McGregor and McKellan are superb, and Luke Evans’ sheer charisma makes Gaston a standout as well as Kevin Kline bringing an added dimension Belle’s father. Watson and Stevens are serviceable as the leads but dare I say Watson can’t quite hold the tune as well I would have liked. What makes it worse is that actors who aren’t necessarily the best signers have made musical numbers work out of their own charisma and knowing how the song should inform the characters (just look at Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in ‘La La Land’ or Dwayne Johnson in ‘Moana’).

Despite boasting a lot of potential, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ remains little more than a pale imitation of the original masterpiece from Disney.

Result: 5/10

Thursday 16 March 2017

Top Ten Martin Scorsese Movies

Martin Scorsese is unique among directors, among artists and among people. His influence over the last fifty years of world cinema is immeasurable and his impact upon the film industry in general is too great to summarise here. His films tell tales of violence and redemption, evoking such universal themes that they hardly ever fail to draw one in. He uses his personal experience to get into the minds of his characters and convey each thematic and emotional aspect of said stories. Regardless of genre, time or place he always seems able to deliver something breathtakingly unique.

Going his career has been a unique experience. I’ve always admired Scorsese and long held him as one of my favourite artists in the history of cinema, but upon reviewing all 24 of his films I have noticed parallels, recurring elements their universal appeal in a way I never have before. His style never substitutes for a lack of substance and his directorial trademarks are not always as noticeable as others, but you can bet you will miss them when they are no longer there.

With so many masterpieces to his name, narrowing down the top ten was difficult and naturally there are a number of honourable mentions to name. ‘The Age of Innocence’ deserves a place in any conversation about Scorsese’s finest for its brilliant construction, impeccably detailed design and emotionally riveting storyline as well as more than a few terrific performances. Then there is the criminally underrated ‘Brining Out the Dead’ which is a great descent into madness and insanity through one crazy night for an isolated ambulance driver, creating an emotionally engaging and viscerally involving movie. The imperfect epic with too many perfect moments to ignore in the form of ‘Gangs of New York’. Speaking of the directors collaborations with Leonardo DiCaprio (obviously there will be a number of those to mention in the actual top ten) one cannot overlook ‘The Aviator’ for its brilliantly crafted portrayal of a genius’ fall into depression and obsession. I was tempted to out ‘Silence’ in the top ten but I feel more time is needed to make an accurate call over where it stand, though it is certainly an exceptional film.

10: Hugo

I debated between this and any of my honourable mentions for the tenth spot on this list. But I feel where ‘Hugo’ excels the most is that it displays just how versatile Scorsese is as a director. The fact that he was able to defy all expectations this late into his career and make a beautifully crafted, hugely entertaining and emotionally touching children’s film (this is the same person who brought us that bloodbath at the opening of ‘Gangs of New York’). But ‘Hugo’ is far more complex than the label of a children’s film would give it credit for.

It integrates modern innovations with classical techniques perfectly, utilising the advancements of the age but never forgetting to connect with its cinematic roots. Such an ideology is fitting for the story given that ‘Hugo’ morphs from an adventure/mystery into one of the most brilliant love letters to cinema ever committed to film. It treats its characters as genuine human beings but never loses its sense of awe and wonder, leaving you in no doubt that the movie comes from a place of passion and adoration. The director wants his audience to look back on the early pioneers of cinema with the same wonder that he does, and ‘Hugo’ evokes that perfectly.

9: The Last Temptation of Christ

The most controversial film ever made, sparking boycotts, death threats and one or two terrorist attacks. But of course the ironic thing about Scorsese’s 1988 religious epic was that it was a beautifully thoughtful and contemplative movie regarding the subject of Jesus. Scorsese made a bold move in making a figure of that nature as achingly human as he did here, but like all of his films he understood that at its heart this was a story of guilt and redemption. It allows the viewer to see their own strengths and weaknesses within Christ himself and in a world where every religious movie is a pandering, unsubtle piece of veiled propaganda ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ remains gorgeously refreshing to this day.

It may be a far cry from his traditional New York but Scorsese films the expansive desert environments with such clarity, scope and intimacy that it almost defies belief. He turns the very landscape into a character to reflect the emotions of the people that occupy it. Scorsese’s direction is always in perfect synchronicity with the screenplay, informing and furthering the characters while reflecting the deeper themes of the story when necessary. But despite all the grandeur is simply excels as a fascinating character study about one conflicted person whose role in the world is bigger than himself.

8: After Hours

It is hard to believe a movie as great as ‘After Hours’ was born out of such desperation. When funding for ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ was pulled out from under him at the last minute, Scorsese set about creating a more commercially viable film to convince a studio to finance his passion project. The energy that courses through ‘After Hours’ is astonishing, propelling every plot thread, every character motivation and every bizarre outcome. Scorsese balances such a variation of tone by bringing forth a movie that is so wonderfully whimsical but so darkly twisted. It turns its humour into horror and vice versa.

In some ways that is what helps ‘After Hours’ transcend any basic genre. Yes it is a comedy on the surface, the nightmarish tension and moments of high drama are all keenly felt. Scorsese glides through the plot at a great pace but never too fast that he loses the moment and each emotion that can be wrung out of it. The characters and scenarios are all so brilliantly memorable despite nearly all of them being relatively brief. Like the main character you can feel the director’s frustration at not being able to accomplish what he wants, but it sure is entertaining to watch him try.

7: The Departed

The movie that won Scorsese his long overdue Oscar for Best Director. Few directors can make a crime drama quite as well as Scorsese and ‘The Departed’ is a terrific example of this. He takes a plot that in anyone else’s hands could have descended into convolution but underpins it with the same themes he has practised for his entire career. Those themes of guilt, identity and redemption, they help us latch onto the characters of ‘The Departed’ and see this morally bleak story for what it is, an exploration of how we hide our true identities.

The direction of ‘The Departed’ takes a more grounded and efficient route than Scorsese’s other efforts but as the stakes continue to build, the tension steadily rises and we descend further into the twisted labyrinth that is the films plot this choice becomes one of the films strongest assets. All the while we are treated to watching one of the finest ensemble casts ever assembled with Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, a properly insane Jack Nicholson, Mark Walberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winston and Alec Baldwin. On top of that it is so unbelievably entertaining, to a point where just speaking about it now makes me want to watch it again this instant.

6: The King of Comedy

Of all the damaged characters Scorsese has crafted over his career none of them have been as pathetically entertaining as Rupert Pupkin. What distinguishes Pupkin is how Scorsese defies convention with this character study and does not even allow any cathartic release here, remaining just as painful and wounded as when it first started. But despite his horrifying acts Scorsese is still able to turn Pupkin into a relatable character because like all of us he has hopes and dreams, but his means of reaching them are a bit more extreme than that of an ordinary person. With Robert De Niro at the centre of it all, naturally we are treated to a masterful performance that breathes life into this.

‘The King of Comedy’ cuts so close to the bone of our celebrity culture and obsession that it is easy to be put off by how outright disturbing it can be. Despite containing very little violence it connects with viewers on a visceral level and unnerves them right to their very core. Make no mistake, ‘The King of Comedy’ is a funny movie to a certain degree, but do not be at all surprised if you find yourself squirming as you laugh, because in the process of making you observe this character Scorsese makes you empathise with him, and then it becomes agonizingly painful to watch his irreparable flaws.

5: The Wolf of Wall Street

Nothing is done by halves in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’. From the way it depicts the immorality its characters revel in to its cut throat commentary about capitalism and the way it reflects our own adoration for such behaviour. Rather than laying out a simplistic moral compass to remind the audience “this is bad, remember” he completely adopts the viewpoint of Jordan Belfort, a man who understands his own detachment from morality and doesn’t care at all. It is filled with Scorsese’s best stylistic trademarks, being more expressionistic than realistic. Even if the events in the film were exaggerated (which by all accounts they are not) I have no doubt that is what it felt like to experience it.

To add to the list of what ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ gave us it allowed Scorsese’s long-time collaborator Leonardo DiCaprio to deliver is best performance ever, brimming with energy and ferocity from start to finish yet somehow integrating a clear arc in the process. But despite the scenery chewing performance from DiCaprio the supporting cast never get lost amid the chaos, with each player standing out brilliantly. ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ is a film of excess that studies excess. Its scope, runtime and atmosphere are gargantuan but Scorsese handles the scale perfectly and uses it to make a broad yet intimate comment on what it means to observe it.

4: Mean Streets

It was Scorsese’s third film that set the trend for the young director, a style and approach that he would return to time and time again throughout his career. For that reason, regardless of quality it deserves a place here. But the good thing is when it comes to said quality ‘Mean Streets’ is a masterpiece. It contrasts two very different yet intrinsically linked characters and uses their own struggles to convey its deeper themes of guilt and violence. The two characters in question are brilliantly brought to life by Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro, each one evoking a great sense of depth but doing so with two completely different archetypes.

‘Mean Streets’ also stands as one of the best examples for Scorsese’s talent of blending style and grit. The streets of New York never fail to feel grounded and menacing but the slow motion, distorted colour and low angle shots help inject such a sense of vibrancy into the movie. If anything, each element complements the other as much as it contrasts it. The whole was shot on a minuscule budget, with inexperienced actors and despite New York was actually filmed on the disguised streets of L.A. But with it Scorsese established himself as an important voice in the new age of American cinema, with all the tragedy, violence and personal provocation to go.  

3: Taxi Driver

“We have all felt as lonely as Travis Bickle. Most of us are better at dealing with it”. With that statement Roger Ebert summarised everything Scorsese wanted to convey in his 1976 masterpiece. If ‘Mean Streets’ set an outline for Scorsese’s career, ‘Taxi Driver’ defined it. The damaged an isolated characters searching for redemption, the violence of society, the haunting descent into insanity and loss of control as well as a great Robert De Niro performance, they have all come to be staples of Scorsese’s work.

By adapting Paul Scharder’s masterful script, Scorsese tapped into a form of subjective filmmaking that I don’t think has ever been recreated to such a great degree. ‘Taxi driver’ plays out like an epic novel in the way it gives you an insight into Travis Bickle’s mind and observes the world from his perspective. He uses stylistics to adopt a POV mind set. He implants into Travis’s own subjective view of New York while also allowing the viewer to see the bigger picture. We can see his damaged, painfully complex psyche. We see his various obsessions as thinly veiled attempts to be part of a society he loathes and we watch his descent with an ever present sense of dread. Then there is the ending, which is either the redemption Travis has been seeking or nothing but a wishful fantasy in his final moments. We’ll never know which one and it is better that way, it means his story will always resonate.

2: GoodFellas

The greatest mob movie ever made. With ‘GoodFellas’ Scorsese did not just display a great character study, or a realistic portrayal of organised crime or an epic story of a rise and fall. With ‘GoodFellas’ he captured an entire way of life and placed us within it as if we had lived there our whole lives. Every directorial move only draws you deeper into the world and gives you a higher understanding of the men we are watching. As he traces the mob through three decades of activity he gradually shifts from showing us the allure of the business to its destructive powers. At the start Henry Hill is all powerful and Scorsese’s leisurely tone reflects that, but as his world crumbles around him and his mind is fried by drugs and fears of the Feds closing in Scorsese creates a sense of tension that is utterly palpable.

So on its most basic level the first half of ‘GoodFellas’ is about establishing the Mafia myth, and the second held proceeds to destroy it in favour of a cruel reality. But along the way we are treated to so many memorable moments and characters that it is difficult to name them all. Joe Pesci’s frighteningly temperamental mobster, that haunting montage of the bodies piling up as allies are turned enemies and that glorious one shot of the Copacabana that still stands as one of cinema’s most awe inspiring moments. It is remarkable that a film as indescribably perfect as ‘GoodFellas’ lands at the runner up spot, but that speaks a lot about the kind of director Martin Scorsese is.   

1: Raging Bull

In 1979 Scorsese may have been highly regarded as a filmmaker, but he was in the midst of a personal crisis. Caught in the throes of a cocaine addiction that nearly cost him his life, Scorsese’s friend and collaborator Robert De Niro convinced the director to adapt the story of middleweight boxer Jake LaMotta as a means of sobering up. Out of that came Scorsese’s definitive magnum opus, the greatest acting performance ever put to film and one of the greatest motion pictures of all time.

‘Raging Bull’ represents the culmination of everything Martin Scorsese is as an artist. It is yet another character study of guilt, redemption and violence. It paints a portrait of a man crushed by his own paranoia and unable to distinguish the real world from the boxing ring. It is as brutal on an emotional level as it is on a visceral one. Of course, conveying that emotion directly to the audience is De Niro himself. He famously gained 60 pounds to portray the boxer later in life but rather than let his altered physicality to the acting for him De Niro transformed himself in every way imaginable, somehow provoking empathy in a man with such a twisted sense of judgement and crippling paranoia.

Scorsese once finds that all important balance between style and grit but never has it been more perfectly executed than ‘Raging Bull’. His fight scenes in particular are more expressionistic than realistic but contain such brutality that it becomes viscerally unnerving. His scenes in the ring are artful and violent poems, conveying so much about character, atmosphere and theme. The scenes outside of the ring are even more interesting. They deconstruct a man to his most primal level and examine his flaws in such an unflinching light. La Motta’s story is rendered as complex, as painful and as heart breaking as cinema can be. 

Wednesday 15 March 2017

Talkin' Scorsese - The Wolf of Wall Street

"By the time I turned 26 I was making $49 million a year. Which really pissed me off because it was three shy of a million a week."

Sometimes you can watch a film and wait until the very last scene for it to cement itself as the piece of perfection it was building up to be. Maybe even the last piece of dialogue or action can confirm that status. But with 2013’s ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ I found myself coming to the realisation that Martin Scorsese had created a modern day masterpiece with the very last frame of the film, it was only at that moment that I truly realised what he had done with Jordan Belfort’s story and how he had made it about all of us.

Following the rise and fall of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he conquers Wall Street, founding his own firm in the early 1990s while in his 20s with his business partner Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) and going on to forge an empire of money, escalated by laundering, fraud and scandal at every turn.

‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ is a textbook example of how people can be unbelievably moronic in the way they react to a movie. When it was first released some condemned it as a glorification of immoral acts, but to do so is to completely miss the point of what Scorsese set out to achieve with this film. Belfort has gone on record to say that events depicted in the film are highly accurate, meaning that he and his associated spent decades carrying out their immoral acts and receiving nothing but heaps of money for it, but the public were not up in arms during that time because there wasn’t a movie about it.

But in all fairness ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ is unique in how it defines its moral compass. One could be forgiven for thinking the movie doesn’t even have one, as unlike any other film to cover this subject are keen to condemn this behaviour both in their narrative and tone. In the narrative of Scorsese’s film his protagonist is met with minimal consequences for his actions. It goes a step beyond anything else Scorsese has done in his career. Even in ‘GoodFellas’ where the narrative is broadly similar to ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ we witness the debauchery and immoral actions of the characters but are treated to their downfall both on a psychological and monetised level. At the end of ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ Belfort is still moderately rich, still free to do what he wants and though not wielding nearly as much power as he did before, still holds an influence over people as shown in the movie’s final shot. But more on that later.

Going as far back as ‘Taxi Driver’ Scorsese has always excelled at subjective cinema. That talent is on display again here but rather it also adopts a broader view as seen through the eyes of the characters. We are not just seeing Belfort’s reactions to events around him, we are getting an insight into his entire world view and seeing it through his eyes. Wealth is an affirmation of power, women are objects to be seen as proof of that power and the expense this personal fortune costs everyone else is irrelevant. The movie treats each subject this way because that is how the characters treat it. There’s nothing within ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ to reaffirm our own moral code because the characters do not have one wither. They know what they are doing is morally wrong, they understand perfectly and they don’t care.

It is for this reason that ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ has been labelled by film critic Izzy Black to be part of a new genre of filmmaking called Cinema of Excess. Everything about the film is inherently excessive, its run time, scope, cast, tone and entire subject. But this is all a deliberate move to emphasize the excessive lifestyles of the people it is portraying. In other words, a film of excess to portray a life of excess. It refuses to condemn those it portrays and by extension must partake in said excess (am I saying excess to many times in this paragraph). But as I said at the start it is important to undertsnad that just because Scorsese isn’t actively condemning Belfort he certainly is not endorsing him. That is up to you. So with the thematic aspect mostly covered, what of the film itself?

As ever Scorsese directs his film with a sense of pulsating energy that permeates every shot and edit pf the production. Regardless of what the movie is portraying it always feels motivated and purposeful in its drive, reinforcing the characters, atmosphere or general tone. Close ups, long takes, slow motion, distorted perspectives are all used to great degrees of success and never feel like a case of style substituting for substance. As he has always done Scorsese is using these stylistic touches to reinforce the substance of the movie and further convey his story. It may be three hours long but ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ flies by in a second every time I watch it.

It is the first Scorsese film in quite some time where I cannot single him out as the standout. That honour would go to the man in front of the camera, DiCaprio. In what is without question his best performance to date Leo injects this manic energy into proceedings that to achieve for one or two scenes would be admirable enough, but to maintain it on a consistent level for three hours of screen time is a feat few actors have ever achieved. His ferocity and will power only escalate as the film continues and despite starting as a nervous but ambitious young stockbroker his transition into the megalomaniac Belfort becomes is so gradual that you could easily miss it. His moral values are stripped away one at a time to a point where he has morphed into something entirely different. But what is more remarkable is that DiCaprio takes that manic energy and uses it as a way to convey depth. After a certain point Belfort is financially comfortable enough to retire from Wall Street but he marches on regardless and at risk of jail time. It is not about the money anymore, it is about a way of life and though that is never explicitly said DiCaprio’s performance conveys it perfectly.

After so many collaborations together, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ feels like the culmination of everything Scorsese and DiCaprio had been working towards for this phase of their careers. It is actually unclear whether they will work together again given that none of the 74 year old directors upcoming projects are set to feature the actor, but if that was the case I would content knowing that they gave us this.

With DiCaprio chewing the scenery to pieces it would be so easy for the supporting cast to get lost in the background. But with an ensemble as excellent as this that naturally does not happen. Jonah Hill is utterly magnetic in his role as Belfort’s right hand man, to a point where you actually start to question who is the more immoral of the two. Margot Robbie is also impossibly brilliant, adding so much more depth to a role that could have so easily been flat and one note. Even those who only appear for a scene or two like Matthew McConaughey, Jon Bernthal and Jean Dujardin revel in their infectious energy and charisma. Then you have the countless cameos by fellow directors like Spike Jonze and Jon Favreau as well as Rob Reiner whose ferocity never makes us question his role as Belfort’s father.

The list of incredible secondary performers goes on and on, but of all of them the one that best reinforces the themes of the film is that of Kyle Chandler as the FBI agent pursuing Belfort. By the end when he has dismantled the stockbroker’s empire and put him behind bars we get a shot of Chandler still riding the same old subway home. The look on his face at this moment is open for a lot of interpretation, is he content with his simple but morally safe lifestyle? Is he filled with regret, wondering what could have been if he had taken Belfort up on his offer? Or is he torn between the two? It serves to undermine our own reaction to what we have just seen and makes us wonder what we would do under such circumstances.

Which brings me onto the fateful final shot. The last scene displays Belfort years later, working as a motivational speaker in New Zealand. One would think that Scorsese would end his film with a shot of his protagonist whom we have spent so many hours with. But instead he turns his camera towards Belfort’s audience, observing their admiration for him and how he captivates them. This is where ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ truly transcends itself to become a statement on our very nature. We can tell ourselves all we want that Belfort was an immoral narcissist but we, like the on screen audience, have been entertained and engaged by his actions. In that last shot he turns the screen into a mirror, reflecting our own image back at us. Do we like what we see?

A modern masterpiece that comments upon a twisted character, an entire lifestyle and our own human nature.

Result: 10/10

Tuesday 14 March 2017

Kong: Skull Island

"An uncharted island. Let me list all the ways you're gonna die; rain, heat, disease carrying flies. Plus we haven't even started on all the things that want to eat you alive." 

I don’t know what studio head watched the micro-budget indie coming of age movie ‘The Kings of Summer’ and thought that it was the perfect jumping point for a movie about a giant monkey smashing things. At least when Gareth Edwards went from ‘Monsters’ to 2014’s ‘Godzilla’ it made an ounce of sense (it was just more monsters, on a bigger scale) but a movie like ‘Kong: Skull Island’ seems like too big a logical leap here.

In the closing days of the Vietnam War, the U.S Government sends an elite military task force to a newly discovered Pacific Island. What they discover there are hordes of giant creatures and threats beyond their wildest imaginations, so when the group becomes stranded they must fight to survive against the monsters.

A movie like ‘Kong: Skull Island’ can lead to an interesting discussion over what you should expect from a movie. Should one accept that certain movies will never fulfil certain aspects of what you want? Well in my not so humble opinion, no. But more on that later. As a mindless piece of entertainment ‘Kong: Skull Island’ is enjoyable enough and as the obvious franchise builder that it is, simple establishing a new King Kong that can go head to head with Godzilla in the inevitable crossover, it is fairly decent at that as well.

To go back to my initial thoughts regarding its director, ‘Kong: Skull Island’ is well assembled on a technical level and as far as its direction goes it is surprisingly decent. Despite some green screen shots that are woefully composited the action scenes as a whole have a good look to them. Jordan Vogt-Roberts makes you feel the scale of each creature in the movie and he stages his action sequences well enough so that the situation always possesses clarity and a good amount of excitement. Not only are the action scenes nicely directed but there is also a great variety to them, it doesn’t just resort to one style of action and instead places its characters within several kinds of environments to wean differing styles of action out of them.

 The downside to this is that after a while the action sequences feel more contrived within the actual story. More than a few feels as if they were inserted into the movie in order to look cool during the trailer, because not all of them feel naturally integrated with the movie itself. That being said they are all still entertaining and stunningly shot by cinematographer Larry Fong, whose ‘Apocalypse Now’ inspired visual cues could be the best part of the entire film save for the gigantic monkey.

Kong’s role in this universe is altered slightly in order to portray him as more of an anti-hero than the threat turned victim portrayal he has commonly been associated with. It is a move that makes sense given that the filmmakers intend to use him in future instalments as well as the fact that they want the audience to empathise with the monster more so than they have in previous versions. But it does open the movie up to the inevitable joke that the most well rounded and relatable character in the movie is the giant ape, and the sad thing is that it’s true.

It a shame that the human characters in ‘Kong: Skull Island’ are so bland, flat and uninteresting. A truly magnificent cast was assembled for the film but a majority of them go to waste with characters that are little more than archetypes and often feel like caricatures. Tom Hiddlestone, Brie Larson and John Goodman all fill their most basic and broad role in the movie nicely but their characters never allow them to do any more, and Samuel L Jackson’s character does have an arc of some description it still feels underutilised. John C Riley would be the only standout in terms of a character who actually elevates the film but that has more to do with Riley’s own charisma and comic timing than the character being anything other than comic relief. In fact while the humour in question is good at times not all of it feels at home in this movie and often leads to a scene being very tonally muddled.

I’ve seen some people saying that it is too much to expect a movie of this kind to deliver interesting characters. After all I doubt anyone will see a movie called ‘Kong: Skull Island’ for the characters. But to me that sounds like another way of saying “Why ask for a movie to be great when you can settle for it being good?” As well as that, to anyone propelling the idea that a simple monster movie cannot have complex, empathetic and developed characters I ask if you have ever seen a little movie called ‘Jaws’. Through taking the time to craft characters that the audience can become invested in Steven Spielberg created a film that transcended its genre to become a defining masterpiece. Action scenes work better when you relate to the people involved in them. Speaking of Spielberg, situations like this always remind me of a statement he made concerning ‘Jurassic Park’ (another film that understands characters excellently), he said ‘Jurassic Park is not a film about dinosaurs, it is a film about people and it just happens to involve dinosaurs”.

As your basic blockbuster entertainment ‘Kong: Skull Island’ is perfectly fine, but never on any occasion does it try to be anything more.

Result: 6/10

Wednesday 8 March 2017

Get Out

"If there's too many white people I get nervous."

It is no secret that the best horror movies have contained an ounce of social commentary that lets them truly transcend their genres to become the masterworks they are. Whether it be turning a zombie apocalypse into a statement on race relations and consumerism with George Romero’s original movies, or commenting on the dismantled family unit amid all of the demonic horror in ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and ‘The Exorcist’. Unsurprisingly ‘Get Out’ follows a similar pattern.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is invited by his girlfriend Rose (Alison Williams) to spend the weekend with her parents at their private estate. At first, Chris reads the family's overly accommodating behavior as nervous attempts to deal with their daughter's interracial relationship, but as the weekend progresses, a series of increasingly disturbing discoveries lead him to a truth that he never could have imagined.

To go back to what I said at the start though, the danger of incorporating some kind of commentary into your film is that it becomes more important than the story on hand. In such a case the movie can feel more like a lecture than a self-contained entity, especially if it is a message we have heard countless times before. But the directorial debut of Jordan Peele is not that at all. What is it is a brilliantly effective horror film with cutting edge social commentary that distinguishes it as one of the finest and most daring horror films of recent memory.

Though race relations are a key element of the movie’s effectiveness it is not the main crux of the filmmaking at hand, nor does it generalise these societal issues or simply echo the standard “all white people in the movie are evil so you as a white audience member can feel better about not being evil” message. It is not overtly aggressive but nor is it incessantly preachy. It is an engaging, complex and thought provoking examination of how overcompensating when handling race relations can still be a form of racism in that you are still seeing a person purely as a race, and not as an actual human being.

But politics aside this is still an expertly made horror film, especially from a directorial standpoint. It pays homage to numerous horror icons (Peele’s passion for the genre is obvious almost immediately) but also carves out its own distinctive visage to maintain a great sense of originality. On a technical level it is almost pitch perfect in how it builds its atmosphere, executed classic horror tropes to create an unnerving air of suspense and slowly builds its tension to simmering levels of anticipation. Then when the picture does explode it does so with such force that it is as entertaining as it is horrifying. The result of taking the time to expertly build up that tension means that the final onslaught of violence feels completely earned rather than gratuitous or over the top.

The only reason I have to state that it is almost pitch perfect however is due to how awkwardly ‘Get Out’ handles some of its jump scares. I have always maintained there is nothing wrong with the occasional jump scare but recent horror movies seem to think they are a crux to rely on, and execute them with loud, blaring music that feels contrived and unmotivated. For some reason ‘Get Out’ employs this once too often to a level where it did become distracting and somewhat baffling given that the rest of the film was so masterfully executed.

What surprised me even more about ‘Get Out’ was just how funny it was at times. That is not to say the movie is devalued by the comedy in any way, the scares still feel real but the comedy is so brilliantly integrated that neither one of them ever detracts from the other. Even when the film has a character who exists specifically as a source of comic relief in the form of Lil Rel Howery never takes away from the main framework of the story or feels forced into the plot. Every tonal element is balanced exceptionally well.

As for the rest of the cast, they all play their respective roles perfectly. With the exception of the protagonist nearly every character should instil an unspoken sense of tension as the environment around Chris becomes increasingly eerie in a way both he and the audience can’t quite put their finger on until the final revelation, and each cast member does this excellently. When it comes to the protagonist himself, I have seen David Kaluuya in a number of small roles from ‘Doctor Who’ to ‘Black Mirror’ and he has always shown promise to take on a bigger leading role. In ‘Get Out’ he lives up to that promise with a fantastic performance that like the movie around him reacts perfectly to the various shifts in tone, conveys a great sense of urgency when it needs to and allows the audience to gain empathy for Chris as a character thereby making them more invested in the suspense.

An expertly crafted horror film that is accompanied by some intricately smart social commentary, ‘Get Out’ is a superb place for Peele’s directing career to start.

Result: 8/10

Tuesday 7 March 2017


"I need you to stand out."

Have you ever watched a movie purely for one person? A movie in which the rest of the cast and crew are people you would never normally look twice at, but whose film contains one component that peaks your curiosity to the point where you had to watch it. Today that film is ‘Wolves’ and the component is Michael Shannon, a supremely talented actor whose inclusion in this film made me assure myself that even if the movie itself was lacklustre I would surely be treated to a good performance, right?

Anthony (Taylor John Smith) is a standout player on his Manhattan high school's basketball team with seemingly everything going for him: a killer three-point shot, a loving girlfriend, and a chance at a scholarship to Cornell. But Anthony's dreams of playing college ball are jeopardized by his volatile father (Michael Shannon), a hard-drinking writer whose compulsive gambling threatens to derail the lives of both his wife and son.

I was surprised by how strong ‘Wolves’ was in some aspects of its execution, and how bland it was in others. It feels like almost every good aspect is let down by an uninspired and mind numbingly predictable piece of storytelling that is unsubtle, far too easy to foresee and infuriatingly slow paced. That is not to say movies with a predictable plot cannot be excellent, but when the film itself seems to draw such tension over what will happen next when everyone in the audience correctly guessed five minutes ago leads to a movie that has an agonizingly slow pace.

Writer and director Bart Freundlich clearly has a love of deep rooted details. He revels in the nuances of his environment and these aspects help draw the audience in and further immerse within this world as a fully realised location. The space he crafts for his characters has a richness to it and feels truly lived in. Freundlich’s direction takes time to absorb these details and allows the audience to observe them as well.

But where the direction picks up on the small details it loses sight of the overarching themes of the movie. Each plot point plays out in a predictable manner and moves forward without any sense of urgency which didn’t keep me engaged at all. The slow pace would be fine if the story kept me guessing over where exactly it was heading but as I said already it absolutely did not. I found myself willing the movie to pick up the pace and fast forward past the next predictable moment in order to get to something I was not expecting, but sadly it never did.

As I said at the start though I was mostly here for Shannon’s performance and he does not disappoint. While it is far from his best work in the likes of ‘Take Shelter’ and ‘Nocturnal Animals’ he is supremely confident in his handling of the character. He clearly conveys the damaged nature of the character while keeping him appropriately grounded in the real world to add to the sense of realism. On a surface level there is no massive dramatic heft but that approach seems to suit the nature of the movie around him.

As you would expect Shannon is the stand out but I was surprised by how well the other actors managed to stand beside him. Taylor John Smith is convincing and actually conveys a sense of depth in his role. The only problem in question is that his role in question seems to be inconsistent in his motivations and general attitude towards each unfolding problem. From a writing standpoint it feels confused over what role the character should serve in the story and how he relates to the unfolding film around him.

In many ways the character sums up a lot of the movie as a whole. Though it is commendable for the way it tries to integrate various elements of drama from your standard grounded domestic disputes to a classic coming of age tone. But none of these elements seem to merge properly, despite each one being richly detailed they don’t meld together as a compelling drama. It feels easy to believe the world these characters inhabit but I could never become invested in the actual character drama which ultimately made the movie fall flat as a result. Nor does it help that the story incorporates every dramatic cliché one can imagine to an almost distracting point so even if the film doe build up any dramatic heft I can’t help but think it feels contrived and uninspired more than anything. Of course there is nothing wrong with a standard story if it is executed very well, but ‘Wolves’ is so predictably slow that there is little else you can do but sit back and observe from a distance.

Despite boasting some good performances, ‘Wolves’ feels too standard and too formulaic to stand out as a compelling drama.  

Result: 5/10

Wednesday 1 March 2017


"Logan, you still have time."

It was an offbeat choice when, near enough to two decades ago, 20th Century Fox cast the lead for their highly anticipated movie adaptation of “X-Men” because as opposed to the short and stocky tough guy fans were expecting they cast a six foot tall Broadway leading man. It was an off kilter choice but since then Hugh Jackman has so definitively made the role of Wolverine his own that it will be hard to imagine him no longer being connected to it. Nonetheless, that is where we now find ourselves and ‘Logan’ is his swansong to the character.

In 2029, Logan (Hugh Jackman), who has aged greatly when his healing factor began to falter over the years, spends his days working as a chauffeur and hustling for prescription drugs in Texas to care for a mentally unstable Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). However the aged mutant is called upon when a mysterious child is placed in his care, pursued by a shadowy group of mercenaries with dangerous motives.

I’m just going to say it right from the start, ‘Logan’ is unlike any other superhero film I have ever seen. It transcends the genre in a way very few movies of its nature have, and delivers something more profound and personal than I ever could have imagined. Is it so powerful because of what we perceive a superhero movie to be? That is hard to say because when one looks at it in the context of the modern blockbuster it is a marvel, but even when taken as a singular piece of filmmaking it stands as a hauntingly brutal tale of redemption and legends.

To many degrees it does not even feel like a superhero movie. That is not to say mutant powers and science fiction elements do not play a large part in the story, as they in fact do. But I suppose I am so unfamiliar with superhero films having this kind of depth, stakes as real as this or characters that I can identify and empathise with as much as this. Stylistically it has echoes of a neo-noir or a modern western and in many ways it carries similar themes. Epic stories of spent out men coping with the violence that surrounds them, living up to their own legends and the inevitable fact that all things end in time. If it was not for the fact that it is integrated into the movie later in quote form, I would say it was too on the nose for the characters to be watching a scene from ‘Shane’ halfway through the movie.

But despite these call backs to other genres ‘Logan’ is able to feel highly fresh and original, in large part due to director James Mangold’s understanding of his films thematic weight. His story paints Wolverine as the archetype of any classic western, but still presents him in a way that we are familiar with. Logan himself is at the end of his tether when we still meet him, a shell of whom he once was but those glimmers of his past self still remain and are what make his situation so poignant to observe. Mangold is never afraid to let the quiet moments speak for themselves and allow the weight of the moment to speak for itself. He trusts his audience to understand the character’s internal conflicts without saying a word and employs visual storytelling to a great degree as well, whether it is by framing his characters in the vast expanse of the landscape or taking time to emphasise their limited movement with age.

But Mangold’s direction is not just more thoughtful in its thematic aspects of ‘Logan’. Even the action carries a greater weight to it. There are no fast edits or sweeping shots that would otherwise be used to hide CGI or stunt work. All of the action is shot in close quarters, being graceful and fluid but also brutally violent as it takes a ground level, no nonsense approach to portraying it. Despite copious amounts of blood the gore factor is not what struck me about the fight sequences. The way they were framed and shot spoke volumes about what the movie wanted to convey, showing the cost of such violence and the toll it takes on the character. Wolverine has started to slow down and the movie makes us acutely aware of that, to the point where b the time he is nursing his wounds after a battle we don’t need to be told twice why he is suffering so badly. Not only does he take longer to heal but the punches feel harder than ever.

However, where ‘Logan’ exceeds on a technical level, it is even more accomplished when it comes to the performances. Supporting players like Stephen Merchant do an excellent job, while the main villains of the feature each carry their own unique assets. As a ruthless mercenary leader Donal Pierce, Boyd Holbrook brings a sense of menace with him wherever he goes, while Richard E Grant, who despite being relatively quiet for the movie’s first half, is let loose to chew some scenery in the latter section. While I could criticise the villain’s in question for being a bit lacking in depth or motive their role in ‘Logan’ is not to be the main antagonist. That role goes to the theme of time itself, while Holbrook and Grant are there to provide the conflict, narrative thrust and reason for Logan himself to perform one last act of heroism as he battles against his greatest foe.

Before I address the titular character himself I also have to talk about his current companions. Despite being such a young actress Dafne Keen is able to bring a lot to her role as Laura/X-23. She has very few lines of dialogue but uses her physicality and small gestures to forge a powerful impression, and when she does speak it is made all the more powerful as a result. When it comes to her fight scenes she may be the most terrifyingly brilliant part of the film. Meanwhile Patrick Stewart carries an air of world weariness from the very start, and expertly conveys the notion that Xavier, despite possessing the most brilliant mind in the world is rapidly losing control of it. For certain scenes he is confused and angry whereas in other he feels grief stricken as repressed memories come flooding back. But amid all of this he retains those distinct qualities that made the character so unique.

But of course, we have to talk about Jackman. Like Stewart he possesses an aged quality to him but carries it on both a mental and physical level, using every fibre of his acting strength to do the character justice in this final outing. Regardless of the scenario, whether it be the tenderly poignant or the brutally violent Jackman exudes all the necessary emotions that give the film its resonant heart. He portrays Logan as a conflicted man at the end of his tether, but one whose conscience still resides within him and still has the beating heart of the Wolverine. It is hard to imagine a more appropriate way of bowing out than this eloquent swansong.  

‘Logan’ is quite simply one of the greatest superhero movies ever made.

Result: 9/10