The Watchers

The Watchers

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Review: '71 (UK Cert: 15)


It’s 1971. Fresh out of army training, Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) is given Belfast as his first tour. During what is supposed to be a routine search of a largely Republican neighbourhood, Hook is left stranded by his naïve Lieutenant. Alone and wounded, Hook has to somehow survive and find his way back to the safety of the barracks.

Right from the off, you know where ’71 is going: shots of the squad going through tough-as-hell training; being briefed on their operation, where The Powers That Be describe Belfast as “Just another part of the UK;” the troops nervously walking along terraced streets. What sets director Yaan Demange’s first feature film apart from most heart-pounding thrillers is just how unflinchingly violent and visceral it is. This is a dirt-under-its-chipped-fingernails depiction of The Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Shot largely using handheld cameras (with sometimes uncomfortably close close-ups), Anthony Radcliffe’s cinematography makes you feel like you’re watching a documentary, creating an agonising amount of tension. The sound design is also impressively handled; you will jump whilst watching ’71. Explosions, gunshots, knives sinking into flesh, they all follow moments of calm silence, all sounding like they’re happening right in front of you.

Darling of British film and TV right now, Jack O’Connell (Eden Lake, Skins, Starred Up) has virtually no dialogue in ’71, instead we watch him hesitate as he is given orders, cower in dark alleyways, or psych himself up, knowing the only way out is to kill a Provisional who’s got him cornered. O’Connell has the task of carrying the film, and he does an outstanding job. You forget you’re watching an actor and instead end up completely immersed, convinced you’re seeing a terrified, ordinary young man doing all he can to stay alive.

Sean Harris has made a career out of playing murky, complex roles, explaining his character with a glance or an expression, rather than reams of dialogue (Channel 4’s Red Riding and Southcliffe), doing the same here as the captain of a group of undercover soldiers, trying to flare up the hostility between the old-guard IRA and the radical Provisionals. As the quietly simmering Sandy Browning, Harris’s scowls are possibly more frightening than the Provisionals who stalk Hook. Browning has his own corrupt agenda; he works for the British army, but he’s not on anyone’s side.

Sam Reid (The Railway Man, The Riot Club) is given the Hopeless Man in Charge role as Lieutenant Armitage, but Reid manages to make Armitage more than just a war film cliché. Armitage is a kind man, who makes all the wrong choices. He doesn’t want his men in riot gear, as he wants the officers to look approachable; a decision he soon ends up regretting when he walks Belfast’s streets. Armitage is distraught when he realises he left one of his men behind, doing everything in his power to get Hook back, only to be obstructed by his superior, Browning.

A special mention has to go to Corey McKinley as a Loyalist child who comes to Hook’s aid. McKinley is a cynical old man trapped in a young boy’s body, lightening the mood with his constant swearing. Both O’Connell and McKinnley are terrific, but McKinley runs away with it whenever the two actors are onscreen together.

The only criticism you could have with ’71 is that it doesn’t delve too deeply into The Troubles. With the exception of O’Connell and Reid, the English are made out to be callous and violent, making more enemies instead of keeping the peace, but that’s as much insight as you get into the height of the Northern Ireland conflict. Demange uses Belfast as the location for a homage to John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 and that’s it.

’71 is one of this year’s best British films. Very few thrillers manage to turn audiences into emotional wrecks, yet Demange handles the onslaught of action like he’s already one of cinema’s greats, throwing you head first into the frightening world that was early seventies Belfast. You’re right there with O’Connell as he’s chased, shot at, or hiding. You absolutely want him to make it back alive.

4 out of 5

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Review: Gone Girl (UK Cert: 18)


Gone Girl is a dissection of marriage from the man who gave us Gwyneth Paltrow’s head in a box; that’s probably the best way to sum up David Fincher’s new film. From the outset you know this is no straightforward mystery, as Fincher opens the film with a close up of Rosamund Pike’s head, Ben Affleck, in voiceover, asking the questions that go through every husband’s mind; “What are you thinking?” “What have we done to each other?” We’re shown the streets and homes of wealthy America - huge homes, small minds – before Affleck’s Nick Dunne arrives at the bar he owns, the small talk with his sister (Carrie Coon) revealing cracks in his marriage. We cut to the crime scene, which sums up the film as a whole; what appears clear cut and straightforward is, in truth, far from it. A coffee table is smashed, but there is no sign of blood, a struggle, or Nick’s wife.

Adapted from the bestselling book by Gillian Flynn (Flynn also wrote the screenplay), Gone Girl is a smart, exceptionally complex two-and-a-half hours, putting other big name thrillers to shame with just how much subtext Fincher wants you to think about: how the media tries to package speculation as fact; a person’s desire to be loved, and the despair and desperation someone could resort to so that they feel loved; the mask we wear when we walk out our front door, compared to our real face when we’re in the privacy of our home. These are just a small number of the many subjects that Gone Girl explores. This is a film that demands more than one viewing.

Fincher has always managed to coax career best performances out of his cast, and his latest is no exception. Anyone who looks at Ben Affleck and still thinks of Armageddon or Pearl Harbor will be stunned by his portrayal of Nick Dunne. There are two sides to Nick, the innocent man searching for his wife, naively stumbling through the minefield that is the media, and the weary husband who, once or twice, has considered killing his wife. Played by the wrong actor, you could end up hating every minute Nick is onscreen, but Affleck makes him constantly intriguing. At times, Nick is a morally loathsome man, but Affleck holds the film together, makes you stick with him as you try working out what the consequences of his actions will be.

Rosamund Pike also skilfully portrays the two sides of her character, Amy Dunne. When we’re first introduced to Amy, she’s this beautiful tomboy who enjoys being rebellious at formal, black tie affairs. Yet you know there’s something not quite right about Amy from her dialogue, giving a flawless smile, then saying something that destroys that perfect woman image, hinting at a sinister, hidden side to her personality.

Neil Patrick Harris makes a brave move, drawing a line through how fans see him, having played Barney in How I Met Your Mother for nearly a decade. As Desi Collings, Harris gives a credible portrayal of a man who still clings to the idea that his first true love will come back to him. Despite the wealth and the heated bathroom flooring, Desi is a pathetic, peculiar man in his longing for Amy. Harris is not on screen as much as other actors in Gone Girl, but he is one of the many things you will remember about the film.

Carrie Coon is excellent as Nick’s quick-tempered sister, Margo, who is both incensed by her brother’s behaviour during the police investigation, but always stands by him, looking after him. Tyler Perry brings some light relief as defence lawyer to the rich and guilty, Tanner Bolt; smiling and laughing when it’s least appropriate. Perry’s scenes could have jarred with the rest of the film, yet the performance he gives is understated rather than scene stealing over-the-top.

The obsessive Fincher fans will watch Gone Girl and probably criticise it as being his weakest film, visually. This is far from true. While there’s none of the tearing up the rulebook that you saw in Se7en or Fight Club, Fincher does something far more subtle. With every frame, Fincher recreates the glossy homes and lifestyles you read about in the weekly magazines – perfect hair, not a spec or mark on anyone’s clothes – but films in largely muted colours (even sunny days look pale), giving this cold, detached feel to the visuals. Occasionally Fincher pulls something out of the bag to make you stop for a second and marvel at what you are watching. Nick and Amy’s first kiss beside a backstreet bakery, sugar floating in the air like snow, is a beautiful moment. In contrast, Gone Girl also features this year’s most violent and nauseous murder scene (you sit through the film wondering why it’s an 18 certificate… Then you find out!), though, thanks to the lighting and some fast-paced fade ins/outs, it’s spectacular to watch.

The only complaint you could throw at Gone Girl is the ending. For a two-and-a-half-hour film, Fincher keeps up the pace for a good two hours before things suddenly start to flag. The last half-hour feels like it’s winding down, so much so, you end up wondering why the credits haven’t started rolling? I was waiting for one last twist, a sting in the tail, but this doesn’t happen. How Nick Dunne ends up in the film’s finale is bleak and unsettling, but would have had more impact if the film came to a head, stopping at the right moment instead of trailing off.

Gone Girl is, for most of its running time, a tense thriller with one twist after another, after another. Not your usual, straightforward twists, but the sort of mess-with-your-head moments where you have to respect Fincher for putting that up on the screen. Fincher’s latest isn’t quite up there with The Game, Se7en, or Fight Club, but there’s not much in it; Gone Girl is his best work for a long while, and one of the best films of 2014.

4 out of 5

Matt

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Review: The Equalizer (UK Cert: 15)


In Denzel Washington’s words, “Loosely based on the TV series [starring Edward Woodward, which ran from 1985 – ‘89],” The Equalizer sees retired military man Robert McCall coming to the aid of those in trouble. Day-to-day, McCall is calm, restrained, working at a DIY store and spending his evenings reading classic literature. When a prostitute is beaten up and hospitalised, McCall exacts bloody revenge on her pimp and his goons, unaware that he has started a war with the Russian mafia.

There’s nothing remotely new about The Equalizer, directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Olympus Has Fallen), but it is two hours of stylishly shot violence that asks its audience not to think too much about its hero’s morals.

Robert McCall is an easy role for Washington to play. If you’ve seen Man on Fire or The Book of Eli, you’ll know Washington does an impressive job when he needs to be moody and intense. Washington does the same again here, flicking in a split second between every day, charismatic blue-collar worker to a cold, hard staring killing machine. Chloë Grace Moretz is the prostitute who wants to turn her life around, Moretz impressively managing to take a clichéd role and put some personality up there on the screen. Richard Wenk has written a number of thoughtful, sincere conversations between Washington and Moretz, where we are given hints about their pasts, both of them trying to create new identities for themselves. Marton Csokas is the film’s villain, the Russian mafia’s “fixer”, Teddy. Virtually every scene featuring Csokas is uncomfortably tense; even when he’s calm, you’re waiting for him to do something savagely violent. While Wenk’s script never takes the time to explain how Teddy became this sadistic sociopath, Csokas easily stands out amongst the hundreds of carbon copy action film bad guys.

Antoine Fuqua is a gifted director when it comes to filming action, with scenes shot at a smooth, constant pace instead of feverish editing where we cut to several angles over the space of a few seconds. For the most part, Fuqua cuts away from the violence, instead preferring sticky sound effects that feel just as wince-inducing. The only exception is a scene early on when Washington kills a group of mobsters using a paper weight, their own guns, and a corkscrew. It’s as if Fuqua is trying to push the 15 certificate rating as far as it will go. It’s an impressively choreographed scene, the first time you see Washington in action and is a statement of intent from both director and star: this is not a dumbed down 12A action film.

For me, it wasn’t the violence that was hard to stomach, but the occasional slow motion shots where we get to see what’s going on inside McCall’s head. The camera zooms in on his eyeball, before showing us the room he’s in (now in soft focus and garishly lit) and the people he needs to kill in slow motion. These shots felt flamboyant and unnecessary, a poor man’s version of the stop motion shots in Steven Moffat’s Sherlock when we’re shown how Holmes’ mind works.

The Equalizer is only going to appeal to Chuck Norris and Jason Statham fans, audiences who want to see henchmen beaten up and killed in imaginative ways. Fuqua doesn’t try and reinvent the revenge thriller sub-genre, but you have to give him praise for giving us a film that harks back to the ridiculously violent actioners of the eighties, rather than the toned down, neutered thrillers that arrive at cinemas every summer (White House Down, A Good Day To Die Hard, et al).

3 out of 5

Matt

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Programme 40: The Boxtrolls, Let's Be Cops!, Sex Tape, A Most Wanted Man, and 1980s Movies


The Watchers Film Show: Ep 40 from The Watchers Film Show on Vimeo.

Programme 40 (40!) is here!

It's another packed show as Rhys gives his opinions of comedies Sex Tape and Let's Be Cops!, Tez and Matt discuss thriller A Most Wanted Man, whilst Matt holds forth on animated adventure The Boxtrolls

Our decades discussion rolls around to the 1980s and Lethal Weapon, An American Werewolf In London and The Princess Bride all get a mention, but who mentions what?

Hope you enjoy it! 

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Review: Pride (UK Cert: 15)


The Miner’s Strike of 1984. Members of London’s gay community realise that they have much in common with the miners: they’re both vilified by Thatcher’s government, the police and the front pages of the tabloids. The miner’s unions refuse to accept the money that the LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) have collected, so instead they travel to the mining village of Onllwyn to help the families first-hand. Reluctant to accept money from the colourfully dressed gays, the people of Onllwyn are eventually won over by LGSM’s members. At a time when Britain had never been so turbulent or divisive, two poles apart communities end up forming firm friendships and fighting each other’s battles.

Films “based on a true story” have been drowning in money over the last few years. They’re a safe bet, audiences happily paying to see real-life David and Goliath exploits. Pride is another film based on real events, but what makes it an arguably modern-day classic is how assured it is, the mix of comedy, drama and heart-breaking moments all perfectly handled.

There are some big names amongst the cast of Pride, actors immediately recognised both here and over in the US; Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton and Paddy Considine, all putting on spookily convincing Welsh accents. Nighy is a one-note actor, the quirky English gent, but he has always played that note amazingly well. Here, Nighy gets a bit more to do as quiet, weary committee member Cliff, who is feeling the struggle of the long fight against Thatcher. It’s not until he befriends the gays that Cliff gets his gusto back, fighting not just for his village, but his new-found comrades. Staunton is given the routine role of feisty Welsh pensioner, but she gets more than her fair share of culture clash one-liners. Considine, famous for playing morose, psychologically complex characters (Dead Man’s Shoes, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher) plays Dai, a friendly, gentle soul and one of the key players on Onllwyn’s committee. Dai is an uncomplicated man when it comes to right and wrong, Considine relishing the stirring speeches he is given, dialogue that is down-to-earth and genuine; you don’t feel like you’re being cynically forced to cheer for the underdogs.

The younger cast is equally as good as the established British actors, even if not all of them get the screen time they deserve. Ben Schnetzer, as Pride’s main character, gay activist Mark, firmly holds your attention. There’s a touch of arrogance to him, but he’s unwavering about fighting the good fight, refusing to give up. Mark’s passion and enthusiasm keeps up the pace virtually throughout Pride; it can’t fail to rub off on everyone who watches it. George MacKay is the hard-not-to-feel-for Joe, a twenty-year-old struggling with the realisation he is gay. Joining the LGSM (Joe’s parents think he’s on a college cookery course), they help him to be proud of who he is rather than keep his sexuality hidden (any remotely suspect reading material is hidden in Joe’s room), and his transformation is gradual and convincingly fleshed out. Stars of British television Dominic West (The Hour, Appropriate Adult) and Andrew Scott (Sherlock, Blackout) play a couple who run the book shop that acts as LGSM’s headquarters. West and Scott are polar opposites, yet that’s what makes the strong bond they have so believable. West is flamboyant, speaking his mind, and has no issues in letting everyone know he’s gay. Scott plays Gethin, a Welshman from North Wales who left for London after his family turned their backs on him when he came out. Gethin is introverted, he doesn’t dress like the rest of LGSM, and he has a temper that gets him into trouble. West and Scott couldn’t be more different, yet it’s the glances and smiles they give each other, holding hands, chatting in bed, the things that all couples do, that make them charming to watch.

Sadly, some of the young characters are thinly written. The only reason Freddie Fox’s Jeff is in the film is so the Welsh children can braid his hair. Also, the lesbians – with the exception of Faye Marsay’s Steph – feel like they’re light relief rather than fully developed characters; they’re the butt of several jokes when they decide to form their own separatist group to help the miners.

These are tiny faults in an otherwise superb script from Stephen Beresford. There are one-liners a-plenty here and not just the obvious working class miners meet the gays jokes you would expect (“The only problem we’ve got that they haven’t is Mary Whitehouse”, Mark argues, “and that’s only a matter of time.”). The trailer for Pride was misleading in that it made the film look like it was portraying the Miner’s Strike as a jolly old knees-up. Instead, Beresford refuses to shy away from just how much the strikes and pit closures crippled mining communities like Onllwyn: two or three families living under one roof because they couldn’t afford to pay bills; police seeing the miners as “little people”; the miners being literally starved back into work. Beresford also writes several scenes that highlight the spread of AIDS and the misconceptions surrounding the virus in the early eighties. In one of Pride’s most heart-breaking scenes one of the characters meets up with an ex at a nightclub. Instead of a heavy-handed monologue accompanied by an emotional score, the ex tearfully says, “I’m doing the farewell tour.” You instantly know what this means and you cannot fail to start welling up. Beresford has written dozens of scripts for theatre, which explains why the melting pot of comedy, drama and punch-to-the-gut tragedy all neatly links in, scene after scene, and why most of the characters, despite such a large cast, feel like individuals, instead of being by-the-numbers.

You could pick apart Pride if you wanted to. While the hardships of the miners is far from toned down, I thought more could have been shown, such as the police’s behaviour towards the miners (which Arthur Skargill once likened to a “Latin American state”), and the number of ghost towns and villages that were dotted around Wales after the pit closures. It’s a tough balance as Pride’s agenda is to give audiences an uplifting and feel-good film. If the script was crammed full of political idealism and activism, only a small number of cinema-goers could stomach it. Pride finds a just-about happy medium.

Very few films can manage the feat of discussing heavy subjects such as politics, activism, sexuality, HIV/AIDS, bigotry, trade unionists, and so, so much more and have you cry cheerful, emotional tears by the time the credits come up.  This is one of the many reasons why Pride is the equal of British heavyweights such as Brassed Off, The Full Monty and Billy Elliott.

4 out of 5

Matt

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Rhys from The Watchers is running the Cardiff Half Marathon!!

HI all Rhys here, if you like reading our Blog or watching/listening to our webcasts - then please take a min and please consider sponsoring me?



Rhys' Shandy Ice Bucket Challenge in aid of Cancer Research Wales from The Watchers Film Show on Vimeo.

At the Watchers were big supporters of Cancer Research Wales and about two years ago we raised over £600 for them with our Bondathon. So this year I'm trying to raise money by running the Cardiff Half Marathon - YES a GEEK RUNNING!!! Fat Boy Run is my inspiration, thank you Simon Pegg!!

So please sponsor me?
Thanks Rhys :)

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Review: Before I Go To Sleep (UK Cert: 15)


Having sustained a head injury after a brutal attack, Christine (Nicole Kidman) is now an amnesiac. The minute she goes to sleep, she forgets everything, waking up and thinking she’s still in her twenties. Christine has two men in her life, her husband Ben (Colin Firth), who tries to care for her, and Dr Mike Nash (Mark Strong), who is helping her remember what happened on the night she was attacked. Soon Christine begins to suspect that both men have been lying.

Director Rowan Joffe’s adaptation of S.J. Watson’s bestselling novel, Before I Go To Sleep, is a tough film to review for anyone wanting to go and watch it. While not wanting to spoil anything, the film has one hell of a whole of Africa-sized flaw. Having watched the trailer, I had an inkling who the villain was here, the Who in the Whodunnit. Ten minutes into Before I Go To Sleep, and the only way it could be more obvious who the bad guy is if they had a neon sign flashing above their head, which reads, “I did it!”

As I’ve not read the book, I can’t comment on whether this is an issue with the source material, but because of a certain actor’s dubious behaviour, and the fact that – as far as mysteries go – they’re playing a by-the-numbers staple of the genre, it’s not long before you’ve already worked out most of what’s happening.

This is a real shame, as otherwise Before I Go To Sleep is a reasonably well made, occasionally even tense thriller. While none of the performances are career best, everybody does a solid enough job, especially Kidman who specialises in playing fractured women. Here she’s wide-eyed, her voice barely above a whisper, childlike in her curiosity and reaction to discovering the type of person she is. Even the cinematography makes you wonder whether Christine is going mad, if there’s any mystery here at all, Ben Davis shooting every scene with muted colours, external shots being bizarrely empty, with scarcely anyone around.

The trouble with Before I Go To Sleep is that unless you think Scooby Doo is the crowning glory of crime thrillers, you’re unlikely to be surprised at the film’s many twists and pull-the-rug-out-from-under-you moments, which just about kills most of the tension that Joffe has tried hard to craft here. Throughout the film I was hoping I was wrong, that there would be this bulldozer of a twist that turned things on its head and put a line through what I thought I knew; tragically, this never happens. Joffe tries to come up with a thriller worthy of Hitchcock, but too often the script for Before I Go To Sleep (penned by Joffe) feels like a TV movie on a never-heard-of digital channel.

2 out of 5

Matt