The Watchers

The Watchers

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Review: Creed (UK Cert 12A)

Michael B. Jordan reunites with director Ryan Coogler (after the powerful drama Fruitvale Station) for Creed, the next film in the Rocky franchise.

However, rather than focusing on Rocky himself, Creed focuses on Adonis 'Donny' Johnson (Jordan), the son of the legendary Apollo Creed. When we first meet Donny, he's working in an office but travelling to Tijuana on the weekends to take part in boxing matches. Realising that's where his true passion lies, Donny quits his job and moves to Philadelphia to start training as a boxer. Donny wants to be trained by the best and so seeks out Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), who is now retired and running a restaurant. Eventually Rocky agrees to mentor Donny and this unlikely pairing takes Donny to the fight of his career.

I've never been a massive fan of the Rocky films; they've been entertaining enough but they've never really stuck with me (to the point where I had to be reminded of a major plot point from a previous Rocky film as we were sat in the cinema). However, Creed is a real pulse-racing, edge-of-your-seat movie which I enjoyed a whole lot more than I was expecting to.

Essentially, it's a soft reboot of Rocky. It takes all the beats of the original film and uses them in a slightly different way (or puts a slightly different twist on them). This is no bad thing; it gives fans of the previous films a feeling of recognition, whilst making it fresh for first-time viewers. It's like Star Wars: The Force Awakens but for a sports movie.

Jordan is just brilliant in the lead role. He's an absolute firecracker on screen, quick to anger, incredibly powerful yet vulnerable as well. The conflict of being associated with the name Creed is central; does he want to trade on his old man's name or make it on his own? Is he worthy to take the name Creed? You absolutely root for him throughout. His relationship with musician Bianca (a lovely supporting turn by Tessa Thompson who isn't just window-dressing) adds another element and some of his interactions with Stallone are just dynamite. 

What can I say about Stallone's performance? Well, firstly, the awards hype he's been getting is absolutely deserved. The way Rocky is used in this film is exactly how a supporting role should be used; support the main character but have enough of a storyline of your own without overshadowing the lead. Stallone has played Rocky off and on for the best part of forty years and he knows the character inside and out. He's funny, he's wise, he's incredibly moving (yep, he made me cry). 

Coogler's direction is slick, and there are a couple of really cool technical tricks he employs. The fight sequences are particularly strong (which you'd expect in a boxing movie: one of Donny's first fights (a two-round bout) is filmed in one continuous take, bobbing and weaving around the fighters expertly without pausing for breath. The long walk from the dressing room to the ring in the final fight- which takes place at Goodison Park (home ground of Everton FC)- is another great moment. 

If you know the Rocky films, you'll get a lot out of Creed (there's a couple of nice nods to the past). However, it's not absolutely essential. Creed is accessible, high-octane, powerful and a whole load of fun. I loved it. 

Rating: 4 out of 5


Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Review: Spotlight (UK Cert 15)

In early 2002, the Spotlight investigative team of The Boston Globe published a story which had far-reaching implications for the Catholic Church: not only was there widespread and systematic sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests in the Boston area(which stretched back decades in some cases), but that senior members of the church- including the Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Law- knew about it and did nothing to stop it. The team's investigations into this groundbreaking story is the now the focus of Spotlight, a biographical drama directed and co-written by Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor). 

It's not an easy watch; some of the stories of abuse that are recounted are shocking and unpleasant, and you may well feel incredibly angry and disgusted with the degree of complicity and the cover-up at large. It's a film that will raise a lot of questions and a fair bit of debate. 

Performances are strong across the board (indeed, the film won the Best Ensemble prize at the Screen Actors' Guild Awards). Mark Ruffalo is superb as Mike Rezendes, one of the reporters and a tenacious little terrier who digs into the story. Rachel McAdams is similarly good as Sacha Pfeiffer, the lone female reporter (although, refreshingly, her gender is not her sole defining feature). Her empathy and determination shine through, as she has to reconcile the investigation with the effect it would have on her God-fearing family. 

Michael Keaton should count himself unlucky to miss out on the awards hype as his performance as Spotlight editor Walter 'Robby' Robinson is another career best. Whether facing down oleaginous lawyers or confronting an old friend who was also complicit in helping cover up the extent of the abuse, Keaton is just excellent. There's great support from the ever-dependable Stanley Tucci as lawyer Mitchell Garabedian (who is fighting for the victims of abuse and who has some great scenes together with Ruffalo) and Liev Schrieber as Marty Baron, the new editor-in-chief of the Globe who sanctions the Spotlight team to investigate the scandal. 

Comparisons to All The President's Men are inevitable; while both films cover major investigations into huge scandals, they're also paeans to old-school investigative journalism (some of the most satisfying scenes feature characters rifling around in archives or looking through microfiche). In one of those interesting true-life-is-stranger-than-fiction coincidences, the managing editor of The Boston Globe at the time of the Spotlight exposes was Ben Bradlee Jr (played by John Slattery), who was the son of the Washington Post editor who published Woodward and Bernstein's reports into the Watergate scandal. Spotlight even has its own 'Deep Throat' in psychologist Richard Sipe (an uncredited voice performance by Richard Jenkins) whose telephone calls prompt the team to uncover the full extent of the abuse.

In a sobering epilogue, the film tells us of the extent to which the abuse took place, with page after page of names of cities throughout the US and the world where investigations into historic and current sexual abuse cases were set up. It shows how endemic the situation is without attaching any judgement to it. That's for the viewer to do. 

A harrowing yet compelling film, utterly gripping and brimming with righteous anger, Spotlight is without a doubt the best film I've seen so far this year. 

Rating: 5 out of 5


Sunday, 7 February 2016

Awards Season 2016: Directors' Guild Awards Winners

Just a quick awards season update as the Directors' Guild Awards (DGAs) were handed out yesterday (Saturday 6th February). The film winners are:

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Films: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (The Revenant)

Outstanding Directorial Achievement of a First-Time Feature Film Director: Alex Garland (Ex Machina)

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television and Miniseries: Dee Rees (Bessie)

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary: Matthew Heineman (Cartel Land)

With this win, it's looking good for Inarritu to claim a second Best Director Oscar at the end of the month. If he does, he'll be only the third director in Oscars history to claim back-to-back wins (the other two being John Ford and Joseph L. Mankiewicz) and he'd be the first director to do this in over sixty years (Mankiewicz was the last consecutive winner in 1950 and 1951). Cartel Land is on the Oscars shortlist for Best Documentary Feature, so that bodes well.

The next awards season update will come next weekend as the Writers' Guild Awards are announced on 13th February and the BAFTA Film Awards are handed out on 14th February.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Awards Season 2016: Screen Actors' Guild Awards Winners

Yesterday (30th January), the Screen Actors' Guiold Awards were announced. Here are the film winners:

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture: 

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role: 
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role: 
Brie Larson (Room)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role: 
Idris Elba (Beasts Of No Nation)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role: 
Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)

A good night for Idris Elba who also won Best Actor in a Miniseries for Luther. More awards for DiCaprio and Larson which really strengthen their Oscar chances (especially as the SAG Awards are voted on by actors, who also make up the voting arm of the Academy). A second win for Alicia Vikander (after the Critics' Choice win) might increase her chance of the Oscar win as well. Spotlight winning the Best Cast award (essentially Best Picture) does its chances no harm either in what is shaping up to be a rather unpredictable year for several categories. 

Next up with awards season will be the Directors' Guild Awards on February 6th.

Friday, 29 January 2016

The Watchers Film Show Blog is 4 today!

The Watchers Film Show Blog is 4 today!

We have had over 60,000 pageviews in the 4 years we've been running which- for an idle enterprise started between two mates for a bit of fun- is pretty good going.

We've had pageviews from all around the world: the United States, Russia, Ukraine, France, Germany, China, Canada, Turkey and Australia, as well as Israel, Ireland, Malaysia and South Korea!

In honour of our birthday, we've had a bit of a freshen up, with a new layout and a new logo. Let us know what you think of our new design!

A massive, huge thank you to everyone who has supported the blog over the last four years- we're really immensely grateful to everyone who's read, watched or listened to what we do. 

Thanks again,

The Watchers
(Rhys, Matt and Tez)

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Review: The Big Short (UK Cert 15)

Based on a non-fiction book by Michael Lewis and co-written and directed by Adam McKay (Anchorman), The Big Short tells the story of some of the people who saw the impending collapse of the American housing market in 2008 (which subsequently plunged the world economy into difficulties). These include Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale), a hedge fund manager whose head for numbers first discovered the shady dealings which would eventually lead to the housing collapse; amoral trader Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), who found Burry's proposal and decided to make a killing on it; perpetually angry hedge fund manager Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and his team who get introduced to the deal by Vennett via a wrong number call, and a pair of wet-behind-the-ears investors (John Magaro and Finn Wittrock) who are mentored by a retired banker, Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt). 

Performances are generally good. Bale gives a quirky, if slightly mannered, performance as Burry, the mastermind behind the 'short' (essentially betting against the banks). Gosling is assured and strangely likeable as the self-interested, slick Vennett. Carell's performance is maybe the strongest as Baum, angry at the venal self-serving arrogance of the banks and their practices.There are two great supporting turns by Melissa Leo as a ratings agency employee who calls Baum out on his hypocrisy and Marisa Tomei as Baum's wife who helps him through a personal tragedy.

There's a lot I didn't like about the film and most of it is stylistic. I didn't like the breaking of the fourth wall constantly (which I felt detracted from the flow of the story). There are a couple of celebrity cameos to explain some of the more technical points or jargon of the finance world, although they feel shoehorned in and- in the case of Margot Robbie in a bubble bath- slightly exploitative. There's also one of the most blatant pieces of sexposition (ie. setting an important piece of dialogue in a sexual context) when Baum and his team visit a bunch of strippers to explain that things are about to go tits up (excuse the pun). A tighter script could have easily explained these points without resorting to a Family Guy style cutaway. 

There are flickers of social commentary and the impact that the banks' recklessness would have. An investigation of an unoccupied housing estate in Florida, where people fled as soon as the eviction notices came in, and a conversation with a tenant who was about to lose his home and not even know it is powerful. Brad Pitt gets a slightly heavy-handed speech about the fact that, if his traders are right and cash in on the collapse, it's at the expense of people's jobs, homes and pensions. The final voiceover by Vennett explaining what actually happened- the bailouts, the bankers avoiding jail (only one banker faced jail time)- and some end-text which explains that the banks are starting to pull the same shit under a different name leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Having watched the film over the weekend, I'm still at a bit of a loss to describe my reaction to it. It's being marketed as a comedy but I can count on the fingers of one hand the amount of times I actually laughed; it's also a biographical drama but it's a bit too slick and flashy. I'm also quite struggling to get the point of it all as well. The American economy went to hell in a handbasket in 2008 and caused ripples that are still being felt in the world today. We know this; we've lived it. The shady dealings of the banks and their monumental arrogance that they either a) wouldn't get found out or b) refused to acknowledge that the entire business was built on shoddy foundations is well documented. 

The film doesn't have the satirical bite of something like The Wolf Of Wall Street and it doesn't get sufficiently angry about the various injustices that the crisis unearthed. A bit of a disappointment.

Rating: 3 out of 5


Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Review: Room (UK Cert 15)

Five year old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) and his Ma (Brie Larson) live in Room, a windowless confined space with rudimentary equipment. Ma is periodically visited by a man who they have named Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) who provides them with needed supplies. Eventually, Ma tells Jack the truth - when she was 17, Old Nick abducted her and has kept her locked in Room ever since (and is Jack's father, who was conceived by rape). Ma concocts an escape plan... It's not really a spoiler per se that the escape plan works, as the trailer makes it abundantly clear that they do get out. The second part of the film then shifts slightly and focuses on Jack and Ma's adjustment to the real world.  

Room is adapted by Emma Donoghue from her 2010 novel of the same name, and directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Frank). I read the book a few years ago and, whilst I had a few issues with it, I was intrigued to see how a film adaptation would work.

Brie Larson's performance is superb. You really feel sorry for her at the beginning, having to deal with the utter brattishness of a child who doesn't understand and the various travails that Old Nick puts her through. But she's strong and determined and she wants her son to have a better life. Her performance in the second part of the film- when she's out of Room- is very different. She's angry, she's unable to adjust or cope with everything that's going on and eventually snaps at her mother (a strong supporting performance by the ever-dependable Joan Allen) and then has a disastrous interview with a talk-show host. Larson really sells the performance and it's no surprise that the lion's share of the awards have gone to her. I'm pretty certain that, come the end of February, you can add an Oscar to that list.

One of the big issues I had with the book was that I didn't like how Jack behaved a lot of the time; I found him to be an absolute brat (which didn't make for an enjoyable read). Sadly, the adaptation has been quite faithful and, for a large part of the film (especially the first section when they were still in Room), I found Jack to be an insufferable little sod. It feels horrible saying that- like kicking a puppy- but paradoxically it's nothing to do with Jacob Tremblay's acting (who shoulders the weight of the film alongside Larson admirably). Tremblay's performance is strong and mostly avoids falling into precocious or wise-beyond-years (even if some of the voiceovers don't always chime with how a five-year-old thinks). It's just down to how the character has been written that was the main issue for me.

Abrahamson's direction is clear and focused and the scene where Jack emerges from beneath the rug he's been hidden in into the real world (birth metaphors aside) is disconcerting, almost approaching sensory overload and it's powerfully conveyed. There are a couple of strong visual moments throughout which keep things interesting (especially as the focus shifts from thriller to family drama). 

Room is not a cheerful film (despite being about the triumph of the human spirit and the strong bond between mother and child); this is a hard look at a tricky subject. If you're looking for laughs or for a switch-your-brain-off popcorn movie, look elsewhere. Generally speaking, it's a solid piece of film-making with a strong central performance by Brie Larson. A difficult film to enjoy but one that can be admired.

Rating: 3 out of 5