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The Dark Knight Rises

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Released: 20th July 2012

Certificate: 12A

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Stars: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway

Reviewer: Ben Harris

Seen as a classic comic adaptation, ‘The Dark Knight’ put an immense amount of pressure on Christopher Nolan to deliver a quality third entry. Expectations were high, so what does one do to avoid the curse of trilogies? Up the scale but keep focus on the story and stay true to the characters.

It’s been four years since Batman has been seen on the screens, but eights years have passed in the world of the Dark Knight. Having taken the blame for the death of Harvey Dent, Bruce Wayne/Batman has locked himself away inside Wayne Manor. However, once word spreads about a terrorist leader known as Bane, Bruce must find the strength to return as the caped crusader before Gotham “turns to ashes”. Not only this, Wayne Enterprises is suffering from insufficient funds and a sexy feline, Selina Kyle, appears on the scene.

From the opening sequence you can tell the massive scope ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ plans to pursue. It’s an ambitious film, heightening the complexity in story and brimming with characters, and although it seems a tad overcrowded, each character is relevant to bringing the trilogy full circle. There’s a lot of ground to cover, meaning rapid time jumps, and the latter half seems slightly rushed after a slow paced beginning, but you become so absorbed by the mayhem that everything falls beautifully into place.

There’s action to appreciate, however the main focal point is emotion. Bruce Wayne is still battling his demons and, like Batman Begins, he has to rise up and learn to be Batman once again. Christian Bale conveys such emptiness and sadness that this is his best performance of the trilogy. Adding to the emotional pull is Michael Caine. As butler Alfred, Caine brings pure lovability; his parent-like persona digs deep and creates heart-breaking encounters.

On the other hand, additional characters bring something completely different – fear. This being Bane, beefed up Tom Hardy is one menacing villain. Unlike The Joker, Bane is a physical challenge for Batman, his speed and strength can’t be matched. Hardy’s stance and aggression will make your blood run cold, despite that, the spot light is stolen from a certain jewel thief.

Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of Selina Kyle is utterly brilliant. Sexy and devious, she embodies the character with gusto, resulting in a thrilling watch. More screen time was needed for this little minx. Lastly, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has a likable presence, leading a great supporting cast of Gary Oldman, Marion Cotillard and Morgan Freeman.

Without the comparisons to ‘The Dark Knight’, ‘Rises’ is simply an epic finale. Nolan and brother Jonathan (screenwriter) have created a world grounded in reality; home to enthralling characters and well crafted set pieces. The unpredictable last battle and closing sequence will have you squealing with delight, with an ounce of sorrow trailing behind knowing this near perfect superhero series is coming to an end.

Farewell Batman, you shall be missed, until an unnecessary reboot comes along.

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In Cinemas This Week

Ghost in the Shell

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Reviewer: Hannah Woodhead

Director: Rupert Sanders

Stars: 

Released: March 30th, 2017

Months before it came anywhere near the big screen, Rupert Sauder’s adaptation of Ghost in the Shell had a problem. The decision to cast white actors in the majority of main roles in a live-action version of a cult Japanese manga/anime did not go unnoticed by fans around the world, and many took to social media to voice their disappointment in Hollywood’s decision. “I think when people see the film they’ll understand the casting choices,” said Sanders smugly.

Well, Rupert – I saw the film. I understand the casting choices. You made the wrong ones.

It seems he meant that he decided to cast Scarlett as the character of Major to differentiate her from the world in which she exists, but the logic is flawed, and as the film drags on, it’s increasingly obvious that Johansson’s casting wasn’t anything to do with a conscious decision about storytelling. It was an attempt to make the film appeal to a wider audience, and indeed for large portions of the film Johansson cavorts around in a strange almost-nude ensemble that seems to fetishise the character. In fact, the film isn’t short on creepiness: there’s a transphobic joke, and an uncomfortable scene which implies a sexual assault is about to happen. The Major’s beauty is mentioned almost constantly, and you get the sense that the characters aren’t referring to the miracle of cybernetic enhancement. Whilst these could have been opportunities for the film to make a statement, that never happens, and it all feels gratituitous.

Scarlett Johansson is a talented actress – that’s a fact. She was spellbinding in Under the Skin and brought a character to life with nothing but the power of her voice in Her. Yet in Ghost in the Shell she doesn’t have the chance to really do much acting – so much of the film is concentrated on action sequences. The small parts of character development we do see are interesting and Johansson is more than capable of providing the delicate balance of vulnerability and grit that The Major requires, but it’s lost amidst the scramble to make the film big, bold and action-packed. It’s one fight scene after another, the only respite coming in the touching scene where The Major reunites with her mother, played by the wonderful Kaori Momoi. Michael Pitt, Takeshi Kitano, Pilou Asbæk and Juliette Binoche are a fine supporting cast too, but there’s too many characters given too little to do for any of it to really matter. If you come out of the film remembering any character’s name but The Major, pat yourself on the back for paying very close attention.

There are some positives to note beside the acting – Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe have produced an excellent score, and the visuals are stunning in IMAX, but too much of Ghost in the Shell is soured by an attempt to westernise a story that should have been treated with more respect.

There’s a serious lack of pacing at play too – at 106 minutes, this isn’t a long movie, but it definitely feels it. The first half drags and the second half glosses over much of the material that made the anime so unique and compelling. In fact the whole plot is largely changed and additions made, and the ending a definite departure from the original. Like Spike Lee’s Old Boy remake, it just feels unnecessary, like the story has been watered down for an audience who the producers assume have a limited attention span.

It’s lazy casting that ignores the fact that Asian audiences are criminally underrepresented in Hollywood, and Asian actors continually denied parts as studios have a ridiculous fear of alienating potential audiences. “You need a figurehead movie star,” said Sanders – so what about Rinko Kikuchi, the breakout star of Pacific Rim, or Kiko Mizuhara, the Asian-American actress who starred in Norwegian Wood and Attack on Titan? What about Rila Fukushima, who starred in The Wolverine, Arrow and – here’s the kicker – plays a robot Geisha in Ghost in the Shell?! Hollywood has a responsibility to audiences to introduce them to new talent and to represent the world for the brilliant, colourful diverse place it really is. Actors Daisy Ridley and John Boyega were catapulted to superstardom by their roles in Star Wars: The Force Awakens – big budget films can afford to take risks. Suggesting they are at the mercy of “what the fans want” is a complete cop-out.

Even if you try to ignore the obvious racism and creepy overtones in the film, this adaptation lacks the passion and emotion of its source material. The best films evoke some sort of emotional reaction from viewers – laughter, sadness, fear, anger. Ghost in the Shell evokes very little than a sense of wasted time. It’s definitely not the worst blockbuster ever made, but it’s far from the best, and the manga deserved better. Viewers deserve better. If you’re interested in the story, watch the fantastic original anime series first, and then if you feel the need, perhaps give this film an outing – but you might prefer to spend your time watching other films that deal with similar themes: Dredd, Under the Skin and Ex Machina are all far superior films and more worthy of your time.

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The Conjuring 2

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Released: 13th June 2016

Directed By: James Wan

Starring: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga

Certificate: 15

Reviewed By: Liam Hoofe

Having turned down an apparent life changing amount of money to direct Fast and Furious 8 James Wan makes his return to the genre where he had his name with his sequel to 2013’s hugely successful The Conjuring.  The Conjuring was a box office smash in the states – breaking all sorts of horror box office records and also providing us with a spin off in the form of 2015’s Annabelle, which also proved to be box office gold.

This time around Wan’s move focuses on the famous Enfield Poltergeist case, which took place in London in the late 1970’s.Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga reprise their role as Ed and Lorraine Warren, whilst a relatively unknown supporting cast play The Hodgsons- a working class English whose daughter, Janet has been possessed by the spirit on an old man who died in their house decades before.

In terms of narrative and scares the movie is horror 101- Wan delivers the usual array of banging doors and frightening reflections, but what elevates The Conjuring 2 is Wan’s confident and assured direction. He brings to the table his usual bag of tricks but as with the movie’s predecessor he delivers them with a quality that is largely absent from the genre.

Unfortunately the film is somewhat indulgent; at just over two hours long the film suffers from some serious pacing issues and spends a lot of time meandering around the relationship between the Warrens instead of just delivering the scares it should be aiming for. Farmiga and Wilson both deliver solid performances as The Warrens but there is too much unnecessary fluff in the movie, several scenes- including the movie’s final one feel out of place and make the movie an endurance test at times.

The film closes with footage and images from the real life Enfield case and whilst these clearly serve the purpose of scaring the audience with the old ‘ based on a true story’ line what they actually succeed in doing is showing what an effective job Wan has done in terms of period setting and casting choices. American’s all too often provide an unreal depiction of life in England but Wan gives us a pretty authentic slice of working class British life in the 1970’s.

The Conjuring 2 is not going to change the genre but it will likely do incredibly well at the box office. Wan delivers well-crafted cheap scares throughout and despite suffering from some tonal and pacing issues The Conjuring 2 is an entertaining slice of horror cinema that proves that when it comes to mainstream horror James Wan is the man to turn to.

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Video Review – X-Men: Apocalypse

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In UK cinemas from Wednesday 18th May 2016.

Here is Darryl Griffiths’ video verdict on Bryan Singer’s (X-Men: Days Of Future Past) X-Men: Apocalypse.

https://youtu.be/8ETp5vN5kpc

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