CAPTAIN FANTASTIC (USA/15A/118mins)
Directed by Matt Ross. Starring Viggo Mortensen, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, Missi Pyle, Frank Langhella, George McKay.
THE PLOT: Ben (Viggo Mortensen) and his seven young children live completely removed from society, somewhere in an American forest. When the children’s mother commits suicide while away from her family, Ben is warned not to come to the funeral by the children’s grandfather (Frank Langhella). Ben refuses to take this lying down however, and packs the kids into their trusty bus – that they have named Steve – and head back to civilisation on a road trip that will change the way they live forever.
THE VERDICT: Directed by Matt Ross, ‘Captain Fantastic’ is a warm, funny and moving tale about how far one family can truly be removed from the capitalist society they so truly despise.
Viggo Mortensen leads the cast with a wonderful performance as Ben. Strong in his convictions, and love of Noam Chomsky, Ben is a loving father who is not afraid to challenge his children. Mortensen is at once loud and thoughtful in his role; determined to fight “the power”. But always trying to make his children’s lives better. Magnetic, charming and funny, as well as tenacious and kind, Mortensen easily leads this cast to greatness. George McKay plays Bo, the eldest of the children, and the one who is beginning to move away from the isolated life the family leads. McKay makes Bo earnest and sweet, and honest in a way that the people in the “real world” cannot understand. The rest of the children are played by Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks, Charlie Shotwell and Trin Miller who are all sweet and warm in their sincere but smaller roles. The rest of the cast features Frank Langhella, Kathryn Hahn, Missi Pyle and Steve Zahn in lovely small turns.
The screenplay, written by director Matt Ross, is quirky and sweet, and never judges Ben for moving his family to a forest and fighting to keep them outside of the system. The dialogue carefully highlights the strengths and weaknesses of living such a secluded life, while also gently and kindly taking a look at the nature of grief and grieving; the ones being lashed out at rarely being the ones who deserve it. The film is a combination of a road movie, a coming of age tale and one about outsiders trying to find a way in, and this mix is woven together in a moving and delightful manner on screen.
As director, Matt Ross keeps the film moving at a steady but engaging pace; there is rarely a moment where the pacing dips, and when it does, it is something that works in favour of this slightly manic and weird family. The performances are sweet and engaging, and feel entirely honest and are often hilarious. The music choices are strong and the cinematography beautiful, rounding ‘Captain Fantastic’ our to a touching and engaging whole. Even though there are times when the film could easily have ended 20 or so minutes before it does, the extra scenes are worth the wait, and have a strong emotional payoff.
In all, ‘Captain Fantastic’ is weird, warm, hilarious and moving, with the entire cast working together in harmony to form a cosy and engaging film. Matt Ross proves himself a director worthy of commendation with this film about love, loss and trying to do what’s right for your family, even if it is not necessarily what is right for you.
Review by Brogen Hayes
HELL OR HIGH WATER (USA/15A/102mins)
Directed by David Mackenzie. Starring Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham, Ben Foster, Chris Pine, Katy Mixon.
THE PLOT: Brothers Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine) have a plan to hold up several branches of The Texas Midwest Bank. After they successfully hold up two branches, and bury the getaway cars on their family ranch, Texas Ranger Marcus (Jeff Bridges) is on the case, chasing them down before they can hit another branch. Although the brothers’ plan is desperate and rather foolhardy, they are determined to save the family ranch, which is due to be foreclosed on in just a few days time.
THE VERDICT: Director David Mackenzie is having a great run of films at the moment, and ‘Hell or High Water’ is such a change of style, pace and direction after ‘Starred Up’, and it is a refreshing change to see an English director successfully take on a guns blazing tale set in the American South.
Chris Pine and Ben Foster lead the cast as Toby and Tanner, the brothers who are holding up banks. Although they are not terribly violent – just enough to get their point across – at the start of the film, audience sympathy is quickly with the duo, as they are charming in their Southern ways, and it is clear that they are robbing banks for a good reason, even if it is not immediately clear what that reason is. Chris Pine makes Toby the quieter, more thoughtful of the two; hurt by a failed marriage and a strained relationship with his children. Ben Foster obviously has fun with the more boisterous and volatile Tanner, and brings enthusiasm and energy to the role.
Jeff Bridges plays the Texas Walker Marcus, who takes it upon himself to catch these two thieves in the act. Bridges makes this role his own, making Marcus tenacious and incredibly funny, as he consistently pokes fun at his partner’s Native American heritage. Marcus is being forced to retire in a matter of weeks, and this gives Bridges a tenacity to play with, and something to fight for in the film. Gil Birmingham plays said partner, Alberto, who takes Marcus’ teasing well; knowing his partner will miss him when he no longer has someone to mock. The relationship between these two partners echoes the one of the brothers they are chasing, which gives the film a rounded, small and personal feel, while giving the audience reason to root for both sides in this conflict.
Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan most recently brought us the incredibly tense ‘Sicario’, and once again takes a slice of crime and puts it on the big screen in ‘Hell or High Water’. The characters are well drawn, the dialogue strong and the world of the film feels as though it was carefully researched and drawn. The film also makes an interesting comment about the recession and the history of America, drawing parallels between the land taken from the Native Americans in the past with the current wave of foreclosure and debts that is sweeping the country.
On paper, David Mackenzie feels like the exact wrong choice for the role as director, but it is he who makes ‘Hell or High Water’ work as well as it does. A film that plays with genre, cliché and expectation, ‘Hell or High Water’ is familiar in many ways, but it is incredibly well paced, filled with heart and thieves on a noble quest, while also being a whole lot of fun with action, laughs and characters to root for. There are a couple of choices made by characters that make little sense, but on the whole ‘Hell or High Water’ is strong, fun and engaging. Having Nick Cave and Warren Ellis do the score for the film lends it a weird and wonderful feel, and feels integrated and evocative.
In all, ‘Hell or High Water’ – despite what you think of the title – is an old fashioned cops and robbers film, set in the deep South during a depression. The film is both utterly contemporary and a call back to the great Cowboy movies of the past; no mean feat. The performances are strong, and the script smart. Even though a couple of inexplicable choices jar throughout the film, ‘Hell or High Water’ is the tightly paced, character driven nostalgic Cowboy movie we didn’t know we wanted, but definitely needed.
Review by Brogen Hayes
ANTHROPOID (Czech Republic | UK | France/15A/120mins)
Directed by Sean Ellis. Starring Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan, Charlotte LeBon, Toby Jones, Bill Milner.
THE PLOT: In the midst of World War II, Josef Gabcík (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan) are parachuted into Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia with a mission – codenamed Anthropid – to kill Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich. Nicknamed “The Butcher of Prague”, both the exiled government of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Resistsance believe Heydrich’s assassination would be a coup for the Allied side, but there is no plan to get Jan and Josef to safety after their mission is complete.
THE VERDICT: ‘Anthropoid’ is the first of two films about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich – the second being ‘HHhH’, due for release in the near future, and while this is a story of bravery and tenacity, there is also a certain inevitability to films about WWII, since we already know that no act of resistance was not strong enough to stop the war.
Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan lead the cast here and, some dodgy accents aside, both do well with the roles that they are given. They are both tenacious and driven in their belief in their mission, yet both mange to have a softer side, as is demonstrated through their relationships with Marie (Charlotte LeBon) and Lenka (Anna Geislerová). That said, neither character is rounded out to be anything more than we see on screen, and we are never treated to any kind of back story or hint as to how these men got involved with Mission Anthropoid. As well as LeBon and Geislerová, the rest of the cast includes Toby Jones – who brings some gravitas to proceedings – Bill Milner, Brian Caspe and Hana Frejková.
Screenwriters Sean Ellis and Anthony Frewin attempt to get Anthropoid moving right from the off, but take little time to all the audience to get to know the two characters that we are meant to be rooting for. The first half of this wartime thriller is spent watching the characters have various secret meetings around Prague, and it is not until after the supposed climax of the movie that it truly gets thrilling. Some of the comings and goings of planning the assassination are drawn out, but the violent and bloody end to the movie really kicks up the pace and the stakes, it just comes that little bit too late.
As director Sean Ellis allows the movie to meander for the first half, but never really allows the audience to get to know the lead characters other than through their actions in the film. The tension is ramped up during this early part of the film, which allows the siege to fit into the story as a whole, but it does drag its heels to begin with. Ellis has coaxed strong performances from his cast, although some of them are underused, but the film itself is solid, although it could have done with a faster or more engaging first half.
In all, ‘Anthropoid’ is a solid thriller that only really gets thrilling toward the end. Dornan and Murphy do well with what they are given, and allow the audience to root for them even though we learn little about them and the final crescendo of the film is engaging and utterly tense.
Review by Brogen Hayes
DON’T BREATHE (USA/16/88mins)
Directed by Fede Alvarez. Starring Jane Levy, Dylan Minette,
Daniel Zovatto, Stephen Lang, Emma Bercovici.
THE PLOT: In the economic wasteland of Detroit, Money (Daniel Zovatto), Alex (Dylan Minette) and Rocky (Jane Levy) have found a way to make some cash, with the dream of getting out of the dying town; burglary. When what is to be their final job – robbing a six figure sum from a blind man in an abandoned part of town – becomes very complicated, the three soon find themselves fighting for their lives against an opponent with more than protecting himself on his mind.
THE VERDICT: The concept of stealing from a blind man is an inherently creepy one, and it is this that makes ‘Don’t Breathe’ a home invasion thriller with a twist. Although the finale of the film may go on just a little too long, ‘Don’t Breathe’ is watchable, dark and a whole lot of fun. It’s just not quite the horror flick it is billed as.
Jane Levy leads the cast as Rocky; a young woman with nothing to lose and everything to gain by getting away from her abusive mother and making a fresh start. Rocky is plucky and smart, and her tenacity in getting the job done is the backbone of the film. Dylan Minette plays Alex, a young kid whose father works for a home security company, and accidentally gives his son access to these homes by keeping the keys in their home. Minette has already proved he is good at running away from things in ‘Goosebumps’ earlier this year, and carries on his likeable fleeing skills in ‘Don’t Breathe’. Daniel Zovatto has a small role as a character named Money, whose brash behaviour starts all the trouble in the first place, and Stephen Lang dials up the creepy as the Blind Man whose house the kids invade.
Screenwriters Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues have created an intense and claustrophobic film that does not tell us a huge amount about the characters’ history, but gives us enough of a reason to root for them due to a secret the Blind Man is keeping in his cellar. Setting the film in a dying city adds a layer of creepiness, and although the secret that the Blind Man is keeping verges on the slightly ridiculous, it does up the stakes for all the characters, which is sort of the point. Alvarez and Sayagues keep their central cast guessing, and throw them from crisis to crisis as thy begin to realise how hard it is to get out of a house, and how strangely difficult it is to hide from a blind man.
As director, Fede Alvarez ramps up the tension in the film right from the beginning, as the kids get away with a seemingly difficult burglary, before moving onto one that should be easy as pie. The performances from the cast also help to up the ante, as he audience is on their side from the start – even when it is not quite clear if we should be – and their terror at how quickly things go bad is infectious. There are times when the film does feel rather laboured, and there is so much to-ing and fro-ing in the final moments of the film that it is easy to lose patience, but ‘Don’t Breathe’ is a smart and scary thriller, which creates all of its scares from a very simple, but effective premise. We could have just done with a few less instances of Chekov’s gun/hammer/harness though.
In all, ‘Don’t Breathe’ is a smart and claustrophobic thriller, with plenty of scares and some shocking twists. The film does run out of steam a little toward the end, but for the most part it is gripping, fearless and gleefully dark.
Review by Brogen Hayes
KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS (USA/PG/101mins)
Directed by Travis Knight. Starring Charlize Theron, Matthew McConnaughey, Art Parkinson, George Takei, Ralph Fiennes.
THE PLOT: Kubo (Art Parkinson) spends his days making magical origami figures tell stories for the people in a nearby village, and his evenings caring for his mother, who is becoming increasingly distant. When he stays out after dark one night, however, Kubo is visited by his mother’s sinister sisters (Rooney Mara), who tell him that his grandfather stole one of his eyes, and has been searching for him for many years, in order to steal the other. Kubo suddenly realises that the stories he has told all his life are in fact true and, with the help of Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) sets out to find a magical suit of armour to destroy his evil aunts and grandfather once and for all.
THE VERDICT: Brought to us by Laika, the studio behind ‘Coraline’, ‘ParaNorman’ and ‘The Boxtrolls’, ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ is a beautifully animated stop motion film, that blends together Japanese legend with cinematic adventure, to tell a wonderful tale.
The voice cast of ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ is filled with familiar voices, including Charlize Theron, Rooney Mara, George Takei, Ralph Fiennes, Art Parkinson and Matthew McConaughey in his first animated film. All of the cast do well with their characters, making them warm and caring, sinister and scary, and generally believable on all fronts.
The screenplay, written by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler brings together Japanese myth and legend to tell a compelling tale. There are time when plot twists are obvious, but this does not detract from the warmth and fun to be had with the film. Where the story falls down, however, is in the final moments, when characters lie to others in ways that seem out of their nature, and the entire film comes to a galloping, and rather too sweet halt. Aside from this however, ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ is a fun adventure and mystery tale that is woven together well on screen.
As director Travis Knight, co-founder of Laika, making his directorial debut, obviously has fun with ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’, and the action adventure parts of the film are a particular joy to watch. There are moments that are snatched away too soon for the audience to feel completely satisfied – and, as mentioned, the finale feels a little out of place – but the voice work is strong and the film is a visual delight.
In all, ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ is a film that will delight adults and kids alike with its clever storytelling, magical adventures and strong message about those who love us never truly going away. This final element does become problematic however, especially in the closing moments of the film.
Review by Brogen Hayes
Directed by Timur Bekmambetov. Starring Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Morgan Freeman, Rodrigo Santoro, Nazanin Boniadi.
THE PLOT: In the time of “The Messiah” Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) and his adopted brother Messala (Toby Kebbell) have a strong bond until Messala leaves Jerusalem to fight with his people; the Romans. When he returns, Messala is a Captain of the Roman army, and petitions his brother to allow Pontius Pilate (Pilou Asbaek) safe passage through the Jewish city. When Pilate is attacked, Hudah is blamed, and after five years as a Roman galley slave, returns home to seek revenge against the man he used to call brother.
THE VERDICT: There have been many versions of Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel made for the big – and small – screen, but the definitive film, the one many call the original, was released in 1959. Starring Charlton Heston and directed by William Wyler, this 1959 film was a three and a half hour, Technicolor epic. The 2016 pales in comparison with this ambitious and triumphant project, and leaves the audience wondering who exactly this film is for.
Jack Huston does fine in the leading role as Judah Ben-Hur, and it is clear to see that he is an actor with charisma and careful timing. Toby Kebbell also does OK as Messala, and Pilou Asbaek is sorely underused as the one-note Pontius Pilate. Elsewhere, Nazanin Boniadi struggles to make Esther feel like a rounded character, and Morgan Freeman brings some gravitas to proceedings – mainly through his voice – while hiding under a wig of grey dreadlocks.
Keith R. Clarke and John Ridley’s screenplay claims to be a new adaptation of Lew Wallace’s book, rather than a remake of earlier films, but there is massive deviation from the ‘Ben-Hur’ that audiences know and still love. As well as this, the dialogue in the film seems to be that of one-liners, rather than flowing conversation, and Messala is given little motivation other than he happens to be Roman by birth. Inserting characters from the Bible – Pontius Pilate in particular – seems clunky, as does Jesus turning up and spouting lines about how important it is to love thy neighbour. As for the final resolution… It is done in such a trite and saccharine sweet way that any patience left for the film quickly disappears.
As director, Timur Bekmambetov struggles to get the momentum of the film moving, relying on big set-pieces to do the work for him. There is little development of the characters, with many of the women seeming generic and interchangeable. Although the idea that forgiveness is stronger than hate is a powerful one, the soft-focus constant repetition of this message becomes tiresome and drawn out. The chariot race scene, which many fans will be waiting for, is fast paced and tries its best to be tense, but odd camera angles leave it hard for he audience to see just what is going on and why.
In all, ‘Ben-Hur’ is cinematic proof that just because something can be remade, it doesn’t mean it should be. The film is not quite bad enough to be laughable, but as it stands it is an exercise in boredom with a chariot race and other set pieces thrown in to try and up the ante.
Review by Brogen Hayes