Ghost Stories

mv5bmji3mtewnzi0n15bml5banbnxkftztgwmzc5odywndi-_v1_sy1000_cr006631000_al_

Release date: 6th April 2018/Watch the trailer here

Co-directed by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson and adapted from the writer duo’s own stage play, Ghost Stories is a chilling British horror film centred around Phillip Goodman (Nyman), a sceptic who has built his career around debunking fraudulent psychics on television. One day, he receives an invitation to visit a famed 1970s paranormal investigator who inspired Phillip as a child, and he is asked to investigate three incidents of supposedly real and inexplicable hauntings: a night watchman (Paul Whitehouse) terrorised by the spirit of a young girl, a teenager (Alex Lawther) whose car breaks down in the middle of a woods haunted by a sinister horned creature, and a financier (Martin Freeman) whose home was plagued by an apparent poltergeist.

Ghost Stories automatically achieves the two most important factors that so many horror films frequently fail to achieve: it’s both a good film, and it’s genuinely frightening at the same time. It’s comprised of three fantastically entertaining supernatural stories, but it’s set apart from the rest by just how uniquely and beautifully well-crafted it is. The film cleverly plays with familiar genre tropes and the audience’s expectations and, as a result, the jump scares never feel cheap or overused, but well-earned instead.

Good performances also serve to elevate Ghost Stories: Nyman makes for a sympathetic figure in the lead role, but the standout is Freeman, playing against type by being utterly unlikeable, and evidently having a lot of fun with it in the process. As a horror anthology, it’s immensely satisfying – particularly when the pieces of the puzzle finally start to fit together, building towards a plot-twist ending that’s just surprising enough to be rewarding, making the entire experience feel worthwhile: there’s enough attention to detail to be found here for Ghost Stories to be picked apart for hours afterwards.

It may not attempt anything particularly new with the genre – but then again, it isn’t really trying to. There’s a lot here that might feel familiar to horror movie aficionados but, seeing as Ghost Stories is something of a love letter to old-school horror films at heart, that’s probably Nyman and Dyson’s intentions. Witty enough to provide a few laughs among the frights and just disturbing enough to be bone-chillingly creepy, Ghost Stories makes for an intelligent and hugely enjoyable addition to the horror catalogue, breathing a touch of fresh air into an oversaturated genre.

Advertisements

Thoroughbreds

mv5bmtk4mzq1ndy2of5bml5banbnxkftztgwnja4nzc4mzi-_v1_sy1000_cr006751000_al_

Release date: 6th April 2018/Watch the trailer here

With a script that was originally intended to become a play, Thoroughbreds also marks the directorial debut for its writer Cory Finley. Set in suburban Connecticut, the film sees two upper-class teenage girls, Amanda (Olivia Cooke) and Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy), rekindle their unlikely friendship after years of growing apart. What begins as tutoring sessions for Amanda – whose mother is concerned about her following a troubling incident and an unspecified mental disorder that leaves her emotionless – soon evolves into something more when Lily enlists Amanda’s help in dealing with the problem of her wealthy, cruel stepfather, Mark (Paul Sparks).

Thoroughbred - Still 1

The fact that Thoroughbreds was originally meant for the stage is evident in how sharply-written it is but, while the script is the high point that the rest of the film must live up to, Finley has still crafted an impressive film around it. It helps that the dialogue is so well-delivered: Thoroughbreds makes for a notable addition to the ever-growing résumés of Cooke and Taylor-Joy, who each deliver the best performance of their career so far in Finley’s film – which also features the final performance of Anton Yelchin following his tragically untimely death in 2016. Yelchin, as ambitious but somewhat pathetic drug dealer Tim, is another of the film’s many highlights.

With a runtime of just ninety minutes, Thoroughbreds is already short and sweet, but it’s still surprising how fast-paced it manages to feel despite being predominantly dialogue-driven. The writing is unpredictable enough to keep the audience on their toes, and the film’s bleak, violent climax feels like the perfect pay-off to a film that constantly keeps you guessing as to what could possibly happen next.

mv5bzjbjzmi4otitytm4nc00n2rhltgynwytzja3ztm4m2fhm2nixkeyxkfqcgdeqxvynti4odg2mjc-_v1_sy1000_sx1500_al_

Thoroughbreds makes for a surreal viewing experience, and its dreamlike qualities are only made more striking by its unusual score and cinematography choices which, while initially jarring, only serve to elevate the film more and more as it goes on. The sound design, in particular, is noteworthy – and it’s these various little details, combined with a captivating central relationship and its strange portrait of female friendship, that work to make Thoroughbreds so much more than just a perfectly entertaining black comedy – although it happens to work wonderfully in that respect, too.

Love, Simon

mv5bntmyzddimzutzjcxns00mjc3ltljy2utyji4ymy5nzjlyjc1xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymta5otkwntc-_v1_sy1000_cr006771000_al_

Release date: 6th April 2018/Watch the trailer here

Based on Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, a 2015 young adult novel written by Becky Albertalli, Love, Simon is the story of Simon Spier (Nick Robinson), a seventeen-year-old high school student with a loving family, great friends and a huge secret: he’s gay. When another closeted gay kid at his school – going by the pseudonym ‘Blue’ – makes an online confession, Simon begins communicating with him via email and the two soon begin to form a close connection, despite being unaware of each other’s identities. The film sees Simon attempting to resolve the two main issues in his life: coming out to his friends and family, and solving the mystery of who Blue really is – but both matters are complicated when his emails are accidentally discovered by another student.

It’s exactly the kind of cheesy teen romance that straight kids have always had a plethora of to choose from, but what sets Love, Simon apart from the rest – aside from a gay main character, of course – is the little details. From Simon discussing the confusing dreams he had about Daniel Radcliffe as a child to Googling ‘how to dress gay’ once he finally begins to accept himself, there are a multitude of small moments here that will be relatable to so many people in a way that most other films have never been able to achieve, and this is just one of the reasons that Love, Simon is such a hugely important film.

mv5bntiwymq4njytztzmmy00nmjllwjhzjatztc4m2y4mjvjmjkzxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyndg2mjuxnjm-_v1_sy1000_sx1500_al_

It helps that the movie found the perfect Simon in Nick Robinson, who encapsulates each and every emotion that Simon experiences – happiness, sadness, anger, frustration and, ultimately, love – perfectly. The audience smiles when he smiles, laughs when he laughs and, more than once, cries when he cries. Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel are ideally cast as Simon’s parents, Emily and Jack, and are at the heart of some of the film’s biggest tear-jerker moments, aided by their earnest, heartfelt performances.

It’s not all sadness and tears, however: after all, Love, Simon is, first and foremost, a feel-good movie – and an incredibly successful one, too. It’s packed full of sharp, witty humour, with a pop-infused soundtrack and enough heartwarming moments to keep you smiling long after the credits have rolled. ‘Everyone deserves a great love story’, Simon writes to Blue, and he’s not wrong: the LGBTQ community are long overdue a rom-com with a big, Hollywood happy ending – and Love, Simon, as the first major studio movie to focus on a teen gay romance, is a gigantic step in the right direction for mainstream representation.

mv5bowewztkxyjmtzdzkos00ota2ltg5mtqtmddimwqxyza5nzaxxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvynjaznzg5mji-_v1_sy1000_sx1500_al_

Yes, it’s a genuinely great movie, but never let it be said that Love, Simon is nothing more than that: this is a film that’s going to change lives, and the importance of gay teenagers being able to grow up in a world where films like Love, Simon now exist simply can’t be understated.

A Quiet Place

mv5bmji0mdmzntq0m15bml5banbnxkftztgwmtm5nzm3ndm-_v1_sy1000_cr006741000_al_

Release date: 5th April 2018/Watch the trailer here

Directed by, written by and starring John Krasinski, A Quiet Place is set in a near-future, post-apocalyptic world where blind creatures hunt for their victims using sound, forcing survivors to live their lives in complete silence. The film follows the Abbotts, a family of four: Lee (Krasinski), his wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt, who is also married to Krasinski off-screen), their deaf daughter, Regan (Millicent Simmonds), and their son Marcus (Noah Jupe). A Quiet Place is careful to take the time to introduce and develop this family – who are more or less the only human characters we see for the duration of the film – and the way in which they’ve built a life for themselves in an unliveable world: paths are covered with sand to mask footsteps; the floorboards that don’t creak have been carefully marked with paint; Monopoly pieces are replaced with felt counters.

This level of attention that is paid to the characters is somewhat unexpected for a horror film, but while there’s a surprisingly warm heart at the centre of A Quiet Place, the scares are no less effective as a result. Krasinski’s film is a masterclass in building tension and crafting an atmosphere of dread and unease, as the Abbotts continuously find themselves in numerous inventive scenarios that have been successfully designed to be unbearably tense for the audience (the worst of which sees a pregnant Evelyn having to give birth in silence while monsters invade her home).

mv5bmtu5mzk0odg4nl5bml5banbnxkftztgwmje1mzqxntm-_v1_sx1500_cr001500999_al_

Most innovative of all about A Quiet Place, however, is its use of sound – or rather, its lack of it. Prolonged stretches of silence make the louder moments – when they finally arrive – incredibly jarring, and therefore all the more effective. Although Krasinski’s film treads a lot of familiar paths within the oversaturated horror and dystopian genres, A Quiet Place still manages to feel like something that’s fresh and different enough to make for an immensely satisfying experience.

But while A Quiet Place can hardly be criticised as a nail-biting thriller with more than enough jump-out-of-your-seat moments to keep horror fans happy, it perhaps works best of all as an intimate portrait of a family dealing with the loss of a child, each feeling the weight of responsibility in a world that doesn’t allow them the chance to grieve. The film is terrifically well-acted by all involved; a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that so much emotion must be conveyed without the help of words.

mv5bmta1ntixnzgzmzveqtjeqwpwz15bbwu4mdeyntm0mtuz-_v1_sx1500_cr001500999_al_

It’s just an impeccably well-made and well-crafted film, utilising the physical presence of its small cast as well as the power of silence and noise to great effect. The result is ninety minutes so intense that you will have barely dared to breathe, left terrified by the knowledge that any movement by the film’s characters, no matter how small, carries with it the chance of sudden death.

But what’s perhaps most impressive of all is that A Quiet Place makes us actually care whether its characters live or die – and that’s something that can be said about only the very best horror films.

Isle of Dogs

mv5bnznlmty2ymitn2m1my00ymu4ltg4ywitntfmotiyztk3mjk1xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyndg2mjuxnjm-_v1_sy1000_cr006311000_al_

Release date: 30th March 2018/Watch the trailer here

Set in a dystopian, near-future Japan, Isle of Dogs sees a dog flu virus spread throughout the canine population, leading all the dogs of Megasaki City to be exiled to Trash Island following an executive decree signed by Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura). A 12-year-old boy named Atari (Koyu Rankin) sets off to the island alone in search of his pet dog Spots (Liev Schreiber), who was the first dog to be banished. After crash-landing the plane he flew to the island, Atari is rescued by a pack of five dogs: Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray), Duke (Jeff Goldblum) and Chief (Bryan Cranston), who, as a former stray, is reluctant to associate with humans, but agrees to help Atari to locate Spots.

Isle of Dogs marks writer and director Wes Anderson’s second venture into stop-motion animation, following 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. As it happens, animation works as the ideal medium for Anderson to be able to convey all of his trademark eccentricities and distinctive visual style. The precise attention to detail in Isle of Dogs is nothing short of impeccable, and succeeds in crafting a world that is both familiar to our own and, at the same time, utterly original.

mv5bntm0mzeyywutotbhnc00nmyxlwe2ywmtndhmnwziogrizgrlxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyndg2mjuxnjm-_v1_sx1777_cr001777744_al_

The decision to have Isle of Dogs take place in Japan is an interesting one: while the dogs all speak in English, most of the human characters speak in un-subtitled Japanese, with only occasional translation from Interpreter Nelson (Frances McDormand). As a result, an English-speaking audience will view the film from the perspective of the dogs: relying on emotional cues and the occasional recognisable word or phrase (‘fetch’; ‘good boy’) to understand the gist of Atari’s dialogue.

However, while, for the most part, Isle of Dogs feels respectful of the Japanese culture that Anderson has chosen to embrace, it’s regrettable that he chose not to develop some of the Japanese characters and their individual storylines as well as those of the dogs. Aside from Atari, the main human character is American exchange student Tracy (Greta Gerwig), who comes across a little bit too much like a ‘white saviour’ character – it might have been better to give the role Tracy plays in the story to a Japanese character instead.

mv5botk1nzc5nmytnmyxmy00nde3ltlizmytnwe3mjm1mje3n2jkxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyndg2mjuxnjm-_v1_sx1777_cr001777744_al_

Aside from these minor complaints, though, there’s really very little to criticise about Isle of Dogs. It’s a sweet, warm-hearted and occasionally melancholy exploration into the concept of ‘man’s best friend’ and companionship that should resonate with dog-lovers and cat people alike. Anderson’s screenplay is quick-witted and very, very funny, with almost every joke landing successfully and a star-studded cast of voice actors to bring it to life – best demonstrated by the dynamic between Chief, Rex, King, Boss and Duke, which is at the heart and soul of the film.

The result is one of Anderson’s most enjoyable films to date, with all of the hallmarks of a future classic. Isle of Dogs is a winning combination of beautiful to look at and delightful to watch, telling an appealing story with charming, loveable characters. At the very least, it’s guaranteed to put a big, goofy grin on your face for ninety minutes – and that a film can be so unabashedly feel-good and joy-inducing is perhaps the biggest compliment it can be given.

Ready Player One

mv5by2jiytnmztctytq1oc00yju4lwewmjytzjkwy2y5mdi0otu3xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvynti4mze4mdu-_v1_sy1000_cr006741000_al_

Release date: 29th March 2018/Watch the trailer here

Based on the 2011 novel of the same name by Ernest Cline, Steven Spielberg’s latest film is a return to the science fiction and action adventure genres with which he first made his name. Ready Player One is set in Columbus, Ohio in the year 2045. With the world on the brink of collapse, people have found solace in the OASIS, an expansive virtual reality universe created by the eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance). Following his death, he leaves full ownership of the OASIS – as well as his vast fortune – to the first person to find a digital Easter egg that he has hidden somewhere in the OASIS, sparking a contest that captivates the whole world. One of the many people who have decided to join Halliday’s treasure hunt is 18-year-old Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan): going by the name of his avatar, Parzival, Wade and his friends Aech (Lena Waithe) and Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) quickly attract the attention of the sinister corporation Innovative Online Industries (known as IOI), who also seek ownership of Halliday’s virtual world.

As with the source material, Spielberg’s Ready Player One pays homage to the popular culture that plays a key role in the plot via numerous cultural references, from Wade driving a DeLorean from Back to the Future when inside the OASIS to obstacles in the form of King Kong and the T. rex from Spielberg’s own Jurassic Park. Rather than giving these references room to breathe, allowing the audience to experience the excitement of recognition, Ready Player One is filled to the brim with so many constant references that one person couldn’t possibly hope to spot them all in one viewing alone.

mv5bnjg0mtkwnzaymf5bml5banbnxkftztgwnzkzotewntm-_v1_sx1500_cr001500999_al_

But while this multitude of pop culture references will no doubt be the highlight of the entire film for a large proportion of the audience – and this is evidently the demographic that Spielberg was aiming to please when making the movie – it’s also the main downfall of Ready Player One. Far too much of the film’s runtime is spent inside the OASIS – which is entirely CGI, right down to the characters’ avatars – and, as a result, the human elements of the story suffer, with the majority of the characters and their relationships with each other feeling underdeveloped.

While there’s no denying that what Spielberg has achieved with the OASIS is impressive – and proof that he still knows exactly how to direct an action scene – the visual effects are often garish and the constant references leave many of the set pieces feeling hectic. For every beautiful moment in Ready Player One, there’s at least two more that are ugly and cluttered. One of the quests for Halliday’s Easter egg takes place within a recreation of The Shining, and this would be the best and most accomplished set piece in the film if it wasn’t so tonally jarring; like something from an entirely different (and, honestly, better) film that somehow ended up in Ready Player One.

mv5bmtu3otmxodyzn15bml5banbnxkftztgwodc0mjqxntm-_v1_sy1000_cr0014981000_al_

But even if you consider the ceaseless Easter eggs and references to be more cringe-inducing than awe-inspiring, Ready Player One still makes for an entertaining enough sci-fi adventure – but, for a film with Steven Spielberg’s name attached to it, audiences have come to expect something better. The wonder of Jurassic Park, the excitement of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the warmth and heart of E.T. – all are absent here, replaced by spectacle and not much else. Remove this spectacle, and you’re left with little more than a basic plot, average performances (exceptions are Rylance, Cooke and Ben Mendelsohn as scenery-chewing villain Nolan Sorrento), and a screenplay that’s riddled with clichés and plot holes: characters fall in love within minutes of meeting each other, while the plot is explained largely through an overabundance of expositional narration. For a film that’s at least half an hour too long, Ready Player One feels rushed and in a perpetual hurry to get to the next plot point or cultural reference.

But, sure, seeing Mechagodzilla and the Iron Giant punching each other is cool, too.

A Wrinkle in Time

mv5bmjmxnjq5mti3mv5bml5banbnxkftztgwmjq2mtayndm-_v1_sy1000_cr006741000_al_

Release date: 23rd March 2018/Watch the trailer here

Based on the much loved 1962 novel of the same name by Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time is the latest live-action film from Disney, directed by Ava DuVernay (best known for Selma and 13th). The story’s protagonist is Meg Murry (Storm Reid), who – along with her younger brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) – has been struggling without her scientist father (Chris Pine) after he went missing four years earlier. Mr Murry had been working on a type of space travel known as the tesseract, and in doing so found himself transported across the universe. One day, Charles Wallace introduces Meg and her friend Calvin (Levi Miller) to three mysterious women – Mrs Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs Which (Oprah Winfrey) – and together, they travel through the tesseract and to a distant planet in search of Mr Murry.

If the plot makes little sense when written down in synopsis form, it somehow manages to make even less sense in the film. This is in part due to an incredibly poor screenplay, but it’s also evident that an awful lot of the film must have been cut and edited beyond recognition in post-production – including a scene from the trailer where the concept of ‘wrinkling time’ is actually explained. The original book is a science-fantasy novel, but there’s very little science to be found in this adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time – which is frustrating, because a young female protagonist with a love of science is exactly the sort of thing that we should be seeing more of in films – instead falling back on the ‘a special child can save the universe through the power of love’ trope.

mv5bnzazotq2mti2n15bml5banbnxkftztgwmty4nzeyndm-_v1_sx1500_cr001500999_al_

But A Wrinkle in Time is every bit as disappointing as it is frustrating: an accomplished director, diverse cast and a message of empowerment at the film’s heart are difficult to celebrate when faced with an abundance of problems, from plot holes to visual effects that would have looked dated ten years ago. There are some beautiful ideas buried in here somewhere, but they’re rarely beautifully realised – and while there’s some stunning costume design on display in the numerous outfits worn by Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who and Mrs Which, the garish CGI, distractingly bad cinematography and overwrought score leave much to be desired.

A Wrinkle in Time has also assembled a star-studded cast, but – while Winfrey, Kaling and Witherspoon seem to be having a lot of fun with their eccentric characters – it’s only Pine and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, in her brief appearances as Mrs Murry, whose performances could be described as ‘good’. As for the child actors, Reid gives an earnest, heartfelt performance and makes for a likeable protagonist, but the same cannot be said for the character of Charles Wallace – who is so annoying he borders on insufferable and detracts from any intensity the film’s finale has to offer as a result – while Calvin is largely pointless, except as an unnecessary and slightly cringeworthy romantic interest for Meg.

mv5bmtc2odaxodgzmf5bml5banbnxkftztgwotu4nzeyndm-_v1_sx1500_cr001500999_al_

It may take a little while to find its feet, but once it does, A Wrinkle in Time does improve enough to become a moderately entertaining family fantasy-adventure – while it may not be a good film, it’s still a long way from being an offensively terrible one. It’s just exasperating that, while A Wrinkle in Time is a huge step in the right direction for representation both behind and in front of the camera, it couldn’t have also been a film that’s as consistently ambitious and imaginative as its very best moments – rare as they are – manage to be.