The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Michael Chaves
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ruari O’Connor, Sarah Catherine Hook, Julian Hilliard, John Noble, Eugenie Bondurant
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 112 mins

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is the third entry in the mainline series but the eighth entry in its respective cinematic universe. The films have all varied in quality, with highlights such as the two Conjuring films and Annabelle: Creation to complete misfires such as Annabelle and The Nun. The mainline films though are yet to faulter and are generally considered the benchmark in quality for the franchise and follow paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren’s cases. This entry is set in 1981 in Connecticut, following the murder trial of Arne Cheyenne Johnson who murdered his landlord and defended his innocence on the grounds of demonic possession.

This sequel is the first Conjuring film to not have James Wan in the director’s chair. Wan has cemented himself as one of the leading voices of the genre with his success in establishing this series with his two entries and he is also responsible for other franchises in the horror genre such as Saw and Insidious, as well as recently directing Aquaman. The Conjuring is Wan’s best feature, near perfect in its construction and is one of the best horror films of the century. Naturally, there is trepidation when he is not in the director’s chair (although he does remain in a producer and story capacity) and he has cherry-picked Michael Chaves to direct this entry. Chaves is not new to this franchise, having previously directed The Curse of La Llorona, which is a middle-of-the-road entry. Can Chaves deliver another stellar instalment in the franchise?

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It represents a welcome change of direction compared to the first two films in that it delves from the haunted house formula and is more of a police procedural crime thriller. The story the film is based on is riveting, even if some creative liberties have been taken with it for it to fit the horror genre. The performances are all excellent, Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as the Warren’s again are the centrepiece of the franchise and the film expands and revolves around their strong relationship. The rest of the cast are also strong, although they are underused and this is very much Farmiga and Wilson’s film. Ruairi O’Connor is excellent as the murder convict and it was surprising to see John Noble, of Lord of the Rings fame, appear here in a small but pivotal role, who performs sparingly.

Chaves’ direction attempts to ape Wan’s from the use of title cards and a prologue sequence at the beginning to the general tone of the film. However, when it comes to the horror aspect of the film, Chaves just does not craft the scares in as sophisticated a fashion as Wan. Wan’s scares are very creative and he is terrific at the build up. One of the best scares in The Conjuring is when a child can see a figure standing behind a door whilst her sister cannot see the figure but the door is shrouded in darkness so as an audience, we cannot quite make out what is accurate. Every scare Wan crafts is earned and he doesn’t resort to cheap tricks with false moments, which is unfortunately Chaves’ style. Although this is a horror franchise, in some ways, it would have been better if the film were completely bereft of scares as the film doesn’t need it, as its statement of intent is to be a crime thriller. The scares feel tacked on and unearned and there is nothing remotely terrifying about what we witness on screen. Of all the films in the franchise, this is probably the least scary instalment. What the film does do well is wear its graceful homages to other horror films on its sleeve and there is more than a cheeky nod to The Exorcist in the opening prologue and there is a waterbed sequence reminiscent of A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master.

The film also feels rather short, for its sprawling narrative. The film could easily have been another half an hour longer to really develop its characters so that we could better connect with them and it would have been really interesting to see Chaves tap more into the legal aspect of the case, which he hints at early on in the film but then chooses to abandon it. The story is that riveting to warrant the extra time.

Ultimately, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is another strong entry in the franchise, but its success lies on its performances and shake-up of the haunted house formula into a crime thriller. I was riveted from start to finish but there is always the question of what if this film had been directed by James Wan and I think if had, the result here would have been extraordinary. If the film doubled down on its scares or chose to eliminate them completely and spent longer developing its characters and establishing the stakes, this could have been a masterpiece. As it stands, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is very strong in some areas but flawed in others.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Army Of The Dead (Review)

ARMY OF THE DEAD

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, Theo Rossi, Matthias Schweighöfer, Nora Anezeder, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tig Notaro, Raúl Castillo, Huma Qureshi, Garret Dillahunt 
Certificate: 18
Run Time: 148 mins

Army of the Dead, visionary director Zack Snyder’s first film post-DC, is a total blast from start to finish. Snyder is no stranger to the zombie thriller genre as his first film was Dawn of the Dead, a very solid remake of George A. Romero’s original. This is not connected to Dawn but does take some inspiration from other Romero works. Army of the Dead follows a group of ragtag soldiers, led by Dave Bautista’s Scott Ward, into the quarantine zone of Las Vegas to retrieve $200 million dollars from a casino vault. The catch is that Las Vegas is swarming with zombies and the government are planning on blowing the city up to eradicate the zombie population. There are two different types of zombies – ‘Alphas’ and ‘Shamblers’. ‘Alphas’ are a more intelligent breed of zombie whereas ‘Shamblers’ are your run-of-the-mill classic zombies.

Snyder crafts a fascinating world here and there is some interesting political sub-text. Ethical questions are posed that draw parallels to the current American political climate and treatment of migrants. We are introduced to a diverse set of characters that are going to carry out the heist operation. Whilst the character tropes are fairly conventional and some characters aren’t really fleshed out, this is a zombie film after all and it’s inevitable that some of the cast are only introduced to die.

Dave Bautista makes for an excellent lead as an ex-mercenary who is now a chef, who is pulled back into action when Hiroyuki Sanada’s rather shady billionaire show up at his work to entice him into the job. Of the sizeable team, Ana de la Regruera, Nora Arnezeder and Matthias Schweighöfer make the best impression. Regruera plays a friend of Scott who is a mechanic, who helps to put a team together and Arnezeder plays Lily, a Frenchwoman who acts as the group’s guide into Las Vegas and who has learnt to understand the mentality of the zombies. Schweighöfer plays Ludwig Dieter, a German safecracker, who gets some of the film’s best lines but also has a lot of heart. A prequel, Army of Thieves, is in production that is to be a follow-up to the film which will follow his character and will be directed by the actor.

The film is a visual treat and Snyder, who acts his own cinematographer for the first time, does a commendable job in building a convincing post-apolocalyptic world that doesn’t feel too far removed from how it is currently. The film is bursting with colour and Snyder leans into the creative kills and gore that earn the film its 18-rating with joyful glee, the opening credits to the film being particularly memorable. He balances this with some suitably dour darker lit sequences that highlight the origins of the Alphas and their leader Zeus, who is particularly well developed as a villain, and fits in perfectly with Snyder’s horror roots.

Army of the Dead is further proof that Snyder works best when he is not restrained by a film studio. We saw proof of that earlier in the year with his director’s cut of Justice League and this unrestrained and giddy experience further cements that he is a talented director. Snyder has received rightly deserved some flack in the past where his stories and characters aren’t always suitably developed and it would be fair to say that as a filmmaker, he struggles to stick to convention. But Army of the Dead isn’t overlong or self-indulgent – this is the perfect length for the story that Snyder has crafted and the film takes its time to create a strong verisimilitude. I cannot wait to see where this material is taken next in a prequel and the film certainly leaves an enticing door open for a sequel. Army of the Dead is one of the best films of the year.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

The Woman In The Window (Review)

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⭐ (Terrible)

Director: Joe Wright
Starring: Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Anthony Mackie, Fred Hechinger, Wyatt Russell, Brian Tyree Henry, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Julianne Moore 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 100 mins

It’s staggering just how horrifically bad The Woman In The Window is. Adapted by Tracy Letts (who also features in the film) from A.J. Finn’s hit novel, this murder mystery follows agaraphobic child psychologist Anna Fox (Amy Adams) who is separated from her husband (Anthony Mackie) and daughter. Her housebound state leads her to observe her neighbours from her window, one of which is the Russell family who have recently moved in. When Anna witnesses the mother of the family, Jane (Julianne Moore) stabbed to her death, she tries to investigate the murder with the help of the police. However, Anna is also on a cocktail of medication and drinks alcohol daily, so is what he saw accurate and she’s telling the truth or does she not have a firm grip on reality?

Tracy Letts is a gifted playwright and screenwriter, behind works such as Killer Joe and August: Osage County. Joe Wright is in the director’s chair for this, who had an initially very promising career, for example with Atonement and Hanna. More recently though, he has been on rocky ground with Pan, which is one of the worst films of recent years that once seen can’t be unseen. He also directed and received acclaim for Darkest Hour, with Gary Oldman earning an Oscar for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in the film. I had some strong reservations with the film and felt that it didn’t have much to offer other than Oldman’s performance and some beautiful cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel, who is also behind the camera here. Wright assembles a terrific cast and crew here, which should have been full of promise.

The film has faced delays in making it to the big screen, with the pandemic and has finally been brought by Netflix. If anything, this was promising because the notion of an agaraphobic main character confined to her home for a long period of time should resonate with viewers who have experienced recent lockdowns, essentially a Rear Window for the coronavirus age. But alas, Rear Window, this isn’t. How on earth did it go so wrong?

I lost my patience with the film pretty early in and was hoping that it would pick up once the inciting incident of the murder happened but the film only got worse. I haven’t read the book and it looks like the film makes some minor changes but the story is more or less the same. Joe Wright’s direction is incoherently frenetic, allowing audiences to watch events unfold from the perspective of Anna. As a character, Anna is insufferable and Amy Adams tones up the camp in her peformance. How can audiences sympathise with a character that is genuinely unlikeable and consistently disrespectful of her neighbours?

The rest of the performances in the film are also terrible, with actors talking dramatically and then deciding it’s a good idea to shout, Gary Oldman a prime example. Oldman plays the patriarch of the Russell family, whose wonky American accent constantly slips into English. Wyatt Russell plays Anna’s household tenant, who lives in the basement, who Anna thinks it’s a good idea to go and snoop around his possessions and does so repeatedly after he instructs her not to. Russell’s performance is equally schizophrenic and cannot convey the darker side of his character whatsoever. Brian Tyree Henry, who is normally excellent, is also terrible as a totally unprofessional police detective. A scene at the film’s close is particularly laughable in what actions his character instructs Anna to carry out. Perhaps Jennifer Jason Leigh and Anthony Mackie come out of this experience the best as they are underutilised in the film and fail to make an impression. In fact, it’s generally surprising how little screen time most of the actors have other than Amy Adams and when the mystery is in full swing, there are just no stakes and no care to have for these characters.

After getting through 80 minutes or so, the film reaches its climax where there is a twist ending. The twist is shockingly bad and there are some unintentional laugh-out loud moments in the depiction of a fight sequence at the end of the film. Although I haven’t read the novel, whilst it’s still a poor twist, it probably works better there as the characters are better established.

Tracy Lett’s screenplay is surprisingly terrible and is chiefly to blame for this disaster. Letts may have had a strong career to date but the dialogue here is ear-scrapingly bad in places and lacks character development. His screenplay isn’t particularly cinematic which isn’t in itself a problem, as there are many effective films set in one location. Joe Wright makes a pigs ear of directing the film as he offsets the stage-play quality of the script with flashbacks and cuts from other characters perspectives, as well as riding an uneasy line between a camp and serious tone.

Even visually, the film is lacking. Bruno Delbonnel has crafted some mesmerising images in his career, behind a lot of Coen Brothers films and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Delbonnel fails to establish Anna’s house setting. As it plays such a crucial part to the film’s story, audiences should know the intracacies of it and the layout as the mystery unfolds. It is also lit in an ugly manner. The film has a camp visual aesthetic and its brief moments of gore and violence are laughable and toothless rather than alarming.

The Woman In The Window is an unmitigated failure for all involved and will surely act as a stain in the cast and crew’s career. If you choose to stick with this irritating and annoyingly disorienting film rather than end your suffering early, your curiosity will not be rewarded in the film’s climax. The only saving grace is perhaps it is a good thing this film won’t be shown in cinemas for a paying audience and will stay hidden away in the vaults of Netflix for eternity. The Woman In The Window staggered me in its unrelenting ability to punish its audience throughout and is one of the worst experiences I have had in quite some time.

⭐ (Terrible)

Oxygen (Review)

oxygen

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Alexandre Aja 
Starring: Mélanie Laurent, Mathieu Amalric, Malik Zidi 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 101 mins

Oxygen is a survival horror film where a woman wakes up in a cryogenic chamber with no recollection of how she got there, who she is and she cannot escape whilst she is running out of air. This is a strong concept that has been done before to near-perfection with Ryan Reynolds’ Buried. Buried was excellent in how it developed Reynolds’ character, the ordeal he had to go through and it didn’t outstay its welcome. The ever-versatile Mélanie Laurent is in the lead role here, most famous for her role in Inglourious Basterds. The film is directed by Alexandre Aja, who is a seasoned hand with horror, with works such as The Hills Have Eyes, the underrated Horns and the alligator invasion disaster film Crawl.

Oxygen makes the most out of its single location and there is a committed performance from Mélanie Laurent. It is handsomely shot by Maxime Alexandre, who conveys the panic-inducing claustrophobia of the suffocating space and the film is well-directed with Aja making the most of the film’s budget. Some of the film’s technical, more showy moments are impressive for a film of this stature.

Unfortunately, Oxygen runs into trouble in the second half. It is a good 20-30 mins overlong for its story and the antics Laurent has to go through begin to wear thin and are repetitive. Its final act is also very disappointing and the narrative choices felt like a cop-out. Buried wildly succeeded in its simplicity but Aja overcomplicates matters here and delves down a rabbit hole. It is understandable that Aja wanted to lean more heavily into sci-fi but it costs the film its promising build up.

Oxygen is ultimately one of the better efforts of a survival horror in one location but the good work of its first act fails to pay off with its poor narrative choices later in the film and it outstays its welcome. It’s a valiant effort and a back-to-basics approach for Aja but the second half disappoints in its failure to pay off the promising first half.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Nomadland (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Chloé Zhao
Starring: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Charlene Swankie
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 109 mins

Nomadland is an original and unassuming exploration into the nomadic lifestyle that a proportion of Americans take where they cannot afford to live by conventional means in a bricks and mortar dwelling. In what is director Chloe Zhao’s third feature, Nomadland paints a desperate situation where hard-working Americans cannot afford to live in a normal society. We follow Frances McDormand’s widowed and unemployed Fern. She describes herself as ‘houseless’ and chooses to travel the US, partaking in various job opportunities, living from her van. These jobs range from a stint in Amazon to working in hot and sweaty kitchens to running a spa. We meet some real-life nomads that her character crosses paths with along the way, as well as a blossoming relationship with another nomad played by David Strathairn.

The performances are first-rate in the film, with Frances McDormand winning her third Best Actress Oscar for this role. McDormand is brilliant here but she could play this type of role in her sleep – it doesn’t rate with the quality of her other two wins in Fargo and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Of the other characters, it is Charlene Swankie (as Swankie!) who makes the biggest impression in the film’s best sequence where she recounts her life choices and philosophies. Technically, Nomadland is excellent as well with Joshua James Richard’s Terence Malick-esque cinematography beautifully capturing the vast open landscapes and offering a magical quality. Ludovico Einaudi’s piano-based score is sparsely used but packs a punch when it is featured.

With the Awards success Nomadland has received, not least a Best Picture Oscar win, it’s easy to go into the film with lofty expectations. Nomadland is not perfect, by any means. Save for Swankie’s affecting monologue, the film never really packs enough of an emotional wallop and there are sequences in the film that are languorously paced. Nomadland is a strong and original film that blends fact and fiction seamlessly with some amiable performances, even if it is somewhat overrated.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Without Remorse (Review)

 

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Stefano Sollima
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Luke Mitchell, Jack Kesy, Brett Gelman, Lauren London, Colman Domingo, Guy Pearce 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 109 mins

Without Remorse is the long-awaited adaptation of the Tom Clancy novel and refreshingly follows the character of John Clark, a US Navy SEAL rather than Jack Ryan in previous films, but Clark is also very much a shadow recruit. This adaptation has been through a raft of various cast and crew throughout the years such as Keanu Reeves and Tom Hardy. Ultimately, what has arrived on screens settles on the ever-versatile Michael B. Jordan as John Clark. In the director’s chair is Stefano Sollima who created a near-masterpiece with Sicario 2: Soldado in its grim and unrelenting atmosphere. Sollima reunites with screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, who co-writes the film with Will Staples. Sheridan has gone from strength to strength, responsible for both Sicario films, the heavily Oscar-nominated Hell Or High Water and Wind River and is yet to stumble. Can this promising talent deliver?

Without Remorse excels in its action sequences and dour first half but it suffers with its obvious story and narrative choices in the second half. Sollima and Sheridan do a commendable job of establishing Clark and his blossoming relationship with his pregnant wife but circumstances unfortunately do not allow Clark to spend time with his family. The film does a really good job in getting into the psyche of Clark’s character and Jordan convinces with his dispassionate and vengeful attitude. By the mid-point of the film, there isn’t much hope to hold for the future of Clark. Sollima also succeeded with the tone of the narrative in Sicario 2: Soldado which felt like going into a dark abyss. The action sequences are intelligently crafted and are majestic in spectacle for the budget this film has.

Michael B. Jordan is excellent in the lead role, his character fuelled by rage and grief. There are strong performances across the board, Jamie Bell successful as a shady CIA operative and Jodie Turner-Smith has good chemistry with Jordan. Lauren London also makes a strong impression in her brief role. It’s always good to see Guy Pearce in a film and he chews the scenery here.

The film runs into problems in its second half where it takes some questionable yet obvious narrative choices, which are typical for the genre. The intelligent development of the first half isn’t sustained. What we get is still entertaining but one has to suspend disbelief in the events being portrayed on-screen. Sheridan and Staples’ script isn’t quite as fresh as previous work, as it lacks some of the nuanced character development, opting instead for a faster action pace.

Without Remorse is ultimately above average for this type of action thriller and Sollima succeeds in creating a dark atmosphere for the first half and achieves some assured performances from the cast. I’d be more than on board for any future instalments (the film hints at a Rainbow Six adaptation) as some good groundwork is built here. It doesn’t live up to the lofty standards both Sollima and Sheridan have established in their careers thus far but this is still a solid piece of work and certainly worth a watch.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, JWillem Dafoe, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J. K. Simmons, Ciarán Hinds, Ryan Zheng, Amber Heard, Joe Morton, Lisa Loven Kongsli, David Thewlis, Jared Leto, Kiersey Clemons, Ray Porter 

Certificate: 15
Run Time: 242 mins

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the director’s cut of the film Snyder tried to originally make before butting heads with Warner Brothers executives and then departing the project after a family tragedy. Joss Whedon of the first two Avengers films was drafted in to finish the project and effectively rewrote and reshot a significant portion of the film. The studio further mandated a two hour run time after the disappointing reception to Batman v Superman: Dawn of JusticeWhedon further didn’t want to use Junkie XL’s score that he had written for the film and drafted in Danny Elfman to write a new score.

The end result was a crushing disappointment that was a schizophrenic mess that represented a clash of two opposing styles of direction with a feeling that it felt unfinished. The film neglected to develop its new characters of Aquaman, Cyborg and The Flash that it introduces and Steppenwolf was a very forgettable, one-dimensional CGI villain with typical end-of-the-world antics. It failed in establishing the stakes faced against these characters and the film has a poor sense of flow. The action sequences were cartoonish and for a $300 million dollar budget, the visual effects were laughable.

Fans have petitioned for Snyder’s original vision and the movement began on social media with the hashtag #RestoreTheSnyderCut. After many months of speculation, Snyder then revealed that he had most of a finished cut completed and it was up to Warner Bros to release it. Fans continued to push for its release in their numbers and the ‘Snyder Cut’ was announced in May 2020. Warner Bros granted Snyder an additional $70 million to finish the film and it now sees the light of day in its full 242 minute glory.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is an astonishing achievement and represents a mature and risky effort in establishing the DC team. The four hours fly by and it is a visual treat throughout. This is a Zack Snyder film through and through but it interestingly represents a more mature effort in that the storytelling here is improved from some of his previous filmography, where some of his films have bordered on the incoherent. By the film having its length, the film can breathe and Snyder works wonders in establishing and developing each and every character of the team. There is no conceivable way this story can be told in a two hour run time.

This director’s cut is completely different in story and structure from the theatrical cut. There isn’t many of Snyder’s scenes in the theatrical cut and it’s interesting that Whedon cut many of his scenes to the point where they dramatically alter the meaning they are attempting to effect. This director’s cut has real stakes and sets up a greater arc for future films to explore, although it is improbable that will come to fruition. Snyder presents his superheroes as god-like figures that have made sacrifices and the narrative interweaves with various forms of ancient mythology.

Ray Fisher’s Cyborg makes the biggest impression in this cut, a character that barely registered in the theatrical rendition. We witness the origins of how Victor Stone becomes Cyborg and there are real emotional stakes in his character, particularly in his relationship with his father played by Joe Morton, again in an expanded capacity in this cut. Wonder Woman and The Flash also have expanded roles compared to the original cut that further develop both characters, Snyder portraying a darker and more gritty take on Wonder Woman. The focus Snyder takes with Ben Affleck’s Batman is more of a mentor role, which is also interesting and we see the more vulnerable aspect to the character in some of the action sequences where he clearly isn’t as physically strong as other members on the team. Aquaman features more in the film but isn’t as much the focus, but this is a nice introduction to the character in preparation for what was his solo film. It’s fascinating that Superman’s resurrection sequence occurs around two and a half hours into the film, which is quite a long way in and the first two and a half hours effectively portray the dour reality of a world without Superman.

The villains are much better in this film compared to the theatrical cut. Ciarán Hinds’ Steppenwolf was really poorly established and developed in the theatrical cut. Interestingly, Steppenwolf’s first scene in the Snyder Cut is when he acquires the first Mother Stone from Themiscyra. It is a much better scene compared to in the Whedon cut (which this scene was surprisingly one of the highlights) as his motivations are made much clearer. Steppenwolf is actually a pawn to a greater power, Darkseid, and the interplay between them is excellent and Steppenwolf’s servant role is greatly explored. Ray Porter’s Darkseid also makes a strong impression here in a limited role that introduces audiences to him, almost the equivalent in stature in DC than Thanos is to Marvel.

Jared Leto features in a scene towards the end of the film as the Joker that was shot towards Snyder’s completion of the film. Leto’s portrayal was derided in Suicide Squad (although I found enough to like in his portrayal) and in the scene he shares with Batman here, he is unhinged and unpredictable, diverting from other portrayals in that he focusses more on the ‘Wild Card’ aspect of the character.

This director’s cut also wildly succeeds on a visual level, playing to Snyder’s strengths. At no point in the 4 hour run time did I feel that the effects looked unfinished or rushed and the apocalyptic aesthetic of the film has far more weight than the brighter aesthetic of the theatrical cut. Fabian Wagner’s cinematography is outstanding – it didn’t make much of an impression in the theatrical cut but clearly, the majority of that cut consisted of reshoots. Wagner crafts some mesmerising images, complimenting Snyder-regular Larry Fong’s work on Batman v Superman.

Junkie XL’s metal-heavy and god-like score further elevates the film and is far more bombastic and ambitious than Danny Elfman’s stale score for the theatrical cut. That said, not all of Elfman’s score made it to the original cut and there is some material on the soundtrack that is excellent. Junkie XL successfully crafts new and memorable themes for the new superheroes introduced and it’s impressive that throughout the extended run time, it manages to sustain its quality.

Ultimately, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a frequently astonishing and bold take on this DC lineup and it earns its four hour run time. Snyder has matured as a director and he has markedly improved on some of his lesser qualities in previous films in regards to storytelling and representations. The wider context of this director’s cut is fascinating in how different it is from what Warner Bros chose to release. The stark differences between both cuts is something that can and likely will be studied for years to come and having watched this director’s cut, one has to question the psychology of the decision to approve the theatrical cut for cinema release. It would be really interesting to see where the narrative of this cuts leads with further installments but that is unlikely to happen. Still, it’s miraculous that this director’s cut has seen the light of day and if there is the audience demand for the continuation of Snyder’s storyline, it would be barmy for Warner Bros to ignore its market.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

The Little Things (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: John Lee Hancock
Starring: Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Jared Leto, Natalie Morales
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 128 mins

The Little Things is a neo-noir crime thriller that heavily wears its inspiration of David Fincher’s Se7en and Zodiac on its sleeve. Denzel Washington stars as a grizzled detective, Joe ‘Deke’ Deacon who crosses paths with recently appointed lead Detective Jimmy Baxter (Rami Malek). The two of the them team to investigate a string of serial murders and their search leads them to a strange loner (Jared Leto), who may or may not be the culprit. Director John Lee Hancock lends an assured hand to the material, allowing the film a familiar feel that revels in its atmosphere. His filmography is quite diverse from Saving Mr Banks and The Founder proving success but his most recent project for Netflix, The Highwaymen, was a howler.

Although familiar, for the majority of The Little Things, I was enamoured by the atmosphere, the development of the characters and the performances. Denzel Washington and Rami Malek make a great pair, Washington particularly convincing as the experienced but unorthodox sheriff. Jared Leto is suitably creepy as the suspect, although he has played this type of role before. The characters are all really well developed and Washington conveys his age and experience in his interactions with former acquaintances brilliantly. The interplay between Malek and his young family is also convincing. The central mystery is enticing as well. Thomas Newman’s score is excellent in being his signature but uncomfortable.

Unfortunately, the film runs into murky water in its final 15 minutes with its controversial ending. Granted, it is original but I found it very anti-climatic, abrupt and like a big nothing and more than a little underwhelming. Hancock justifies the decision to end the film in this way. The film could easily for me have gone on for longer to solve its central mystery, but the film isn’t really interested in this and is more focussed on character.

It is easy to understand the mixed reception to The Little Things but until its ending, I found it to be a riveting drama that is very cine-literate.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Capone (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Josh Trank
Starring: Tom Hardy, Linda Cardellini, Jack Lowden, Noel Fisher, Kyle MacLachlan, Matt Dillon 
Certificate: 18
Run Time: 104 mins

Capone (initially titled as Fonzo) is an unconventional biopic that centers on the infamous mobster’s last year of his life where he is suffering with the effects of syphilis and dementia. This is the first film by director Josh Trank after his time in director’s jail after seemingly being wiped off the face of Hollywood with Fantastic Four. I defended the film as I found that problems aside, there was still a good film in there which unfortunately had been tangled with by Fox’s executives. Sadly, most people didn’t see it this way and after Trank publicly disowned the film on the day of its release, it isn’t hard to imagine that most production companies wouldn’t want to take a chance with him. I would love to see what Trank had planned for that film one day in a director’s cut but there’s next to no chance of that ever happening.

Trank has written, directed and edited this biopic that was shot in early 2018 and was released in most territories last year but has only now found its way to a UK release, quietly and unceremeniously dumped on Netflix. Tom Hardy plays the ageing gangster under a lot of prosthetics having spent a long stint in prison. He now lives under the care of his family on house arrest and is still being closely monitored by the FBI, who are unsure if his illness is as authentic as it seems. We witness his decline in his last year, bookended by two Thanksgiving family dinners, where he loses awareness of reality, suffers hallucinations and battles incontinence. He is regularly seen to by a Doctor (Kyle MacLachlan) who faces a moral dilemma of assisting him with his health but is also under the pressure by the FBI to ‘coax’ him out of his illness and reveal where a vast amount of money that he had hidden before he was convicted is lurking.

Capone is a mixed bag. Thankfully, there is more good than bad though and it is always refreshing to see a filmmaker craft something original and defy convention rather than just churn out a generic biopic. The film hinges on the electric performance from Tom Hardy, who is terrific as the unhinged mobster and portrays his descent into insanity very convincingly. Hardy’s vocal mannerisms of Capone are brilliant, as is his feral, wide-eyed demeanour. There are some fine performances from the rest of the cast, such as Linda Cardellini as his wife and Kyle MacLachlan as Capone’s Doctor but this is very much Tom Hardy’s vehicle.

Trank intersperses the film with flashbacks to Capone’s prime and hallucinations, particularly one extended sequence where Capone regrets his past actions as he relives a torturing and murder of a character and then sings along at a dinner to Cowardly Lion’s If I Were King Of The Forest from The Wizard of Oz. This extended sequence is the first major hallucination we experience of Capone’s but it is overlong and doesn’t really have much of a point, other than to witness that despite Capone’s mental state, he still expresses regret. There are some outlandish scenes in the film but this first extended sequence undoes the desired effect as we wait to discover if what we have just witnessed is in Capone’s head or reality. There is also a character that features in the film, seemingly in reality, where it transpires that he has been dead for many years and it’s rather frustrating that Trank doesn’t make more of a statement with the character in some of the earlier scenes he features – it ends up being rather anti-climatic.

That said, there is a terrific sequence where Capone wields a gold Tommy gun and wreaks havoc on his estate before an encounter with a crocodile. It’s clearly obvious from the onset of this scene with the absurdity of the situation that this isn’t real and it is easier to relax into the film.

The film is scored by El-P and is atmospheric in places but surprisingly lacks substance. Capone would have been better served by a more pulsating score that was in keeping with the madness portrayed on-screen. Peter Deming’s cinematography is suitably arresting, the moments of strong bloody violence that earn Capone its 18-rating are well realised, as is the sequence with a crocodile, a rare moment of vivid, kaleidoscopic colour that juxtaposes from the rest of the film’s suitably murky colour palette.

Capone ultimately represents an interesting follow-up for director Josh Trank that is neither as great as it could have been to redeem his image nor the terrible and repugnant disaster that some reviews have made it out to be. Trank has crafted this film on his own terms and it’s not a film for everyone. This is a film that warrants rewatching to further unpack its meaning. I’m grateful that this film exists and that Trank has stuck to his vision without compromise, even if the end result is flawed.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

I Care A Lot (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: J. Blakeson
Starring: Rosmaund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Eiza González, Dianne Wiest 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 118 mins

I Care A Lot is a gripping and wild black comedy-thriller that keeps its audience on its toes throughout. Rosamund Pike plays Marla Grayson, a morally bankrupt but cool-as-a-cucumber con artist who preys and scams on the older generation by becoming their ‘legal guardian’ and sending them to a care home, whilst she profits from selling their property and assets. Marla is assisted by her lover and business partner, Fran (Eiza Gonzalez) who has an equal disregard for the ethics of her actions. After targeting what is defined early on in the film as a ‘cherry’ – a single lady called Jennifer Paterson (Dianne Wiest) who has no family but vast amounts of wealth, on paper this should be the perfect opportunity for them to profit. Jennifer is quickly whisked away into a care home, which is not too dissimilar to a prison in its construction. Marla faces a visit from a stash-carrying lawyer who warns her that Jennifer is ‘the worst mistake you will ever make’, a gripping game of cat-and-mouse ensues with elements of revenge, a no-nonsense, smoothie-drinking villain who is very much Marla’s match and ties to the Russian mafia.

Directed by J. Blakeson, I Care A Lot is directed with an improved and impressive assurance for only the directors third feature. Blakeson crafts some intense sequences which are really well developed in their Hitchockian construction. The performances are fantastic across the board. This is familiar territory for Rosamund Pike, Marla a character cut from the same cloth as her Oscar-nominated performance in Gone Girl. Eiza González is just as strong as her partner in crime. Peter Dinklage is clearly having fun as the villain and Dianne Wiest deftly manages to balance the hopelessness but hidden intelligence of Jennifer. Isaiah Whitlock Jr. has a small but humorous role as a Judge who is very much under the spell of Marla.

The film from start to finish is really excellent. Perhaps some of the twists the film takes in its third act aren’t quite as fresh as the beginning and it begins to move away from its smart commentary in the first two acts on the elderly generation. The notion that this could happen to you when you are older is genuinely frightening and really doesn’t feel that far removed from reality. I’m also not sure on the film’s ending and I felt that there was a clear end point which would have been more enigmatic for the audience, rather than there being an actual conclusion. The film features an interesting synth score which contrasts with the events unfolding on-screen but sometimes aggressively doesn’t fit.

Ultimately, I Care A Lot is a wild ride throughout and is thoroughly entertaining. This is not only J. Blakeson’s best work in his career, this is also one of the best films of the year so far.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)