Month: December 2016

Equals (2016)

Sometimes films get a run they don’t deserve and fell prey to scathing reviews. Equals would be one such example as it had a run on the festival circuit but after some less-than-impressed reviews it did not get the run it should’ve had. Thanks to the magic of Twitter Drake Doremus’ feature had a quiet corner making noise in it’s praise, which gave me intrigue into checking this film out. And it has to be said, Equals could be one of the better largely-unnoticed films I have encountered.

Equals is set in what seems to be quite an Orwellian futuristic landscape where the world is without war and suffering thanks to the human race being devoid of emotions. What initially seems to be sold as a utopian society, is quickly realised to be quite a dystopian future look on the world.


Nicholas Hoult and Kristen Stewart are placed at the centre of this film and their chemistry on screen is one of the greatest delights about this film. Silas (Nicholas Hoult) works interpreting Nia’s (Kristen Stewart) words in the form of colourful illustrations, when the rest of the world is devoid of colour.

Usually with dystopian films of this nature where the world is without emotion, everyone is drone-like and moves in the same way. Equals moves in a different way, as we see the humans dart around, some with a sense of purpose, instead of moving single file. They even have Silas bump into other Citizens, as he tries to find his place in this world.

Instead of focusing on this emotionless structure of the dystopian world, Doremus chooses to observe the emotions passed between Silas and Nia, which becomes key throughout this film. His choice to shoot these emotions in a handheld style accentuates the discreet emotions exhibited by the dynamic duo.


As their stories become entwined, the story bears on and it’s worth noting that the opening sections are slow and plod through the opening fifteen or so minutes. This is expected, but as the story picks up it’s pace, the film matches the pace as it picks up smatterings of the love-struck lovers in Romeo and Juliet.

This is all down to the perfect casting of Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult and their subtle facial expressions throughout. This mixed with their tendencies to show discreet emotions works superbly within Equals. As I said, Doremus employed the use of shooting the film via the means of handheld really perfects the intimate, precious scenes between Silas and Nia.

Their curiosity becomes really vivid as they discover these emotions together during their after-hour stays in the bathroom, all the while creating some tense scenes. Due to this shooting choice and the genuine performances by Hoult and Stewart, a lasting connection forms between the two and it reverberates off the screen. So much so, as the film enters into the latter half, the story began to fill me with angst and worry as the narrative pressed on.


This latter half takes on a somewhat surprising turn, which left me guessing as to what was going to happen in regards to Silas and Nia. This was all played out to perfection on screen and left me reeling. This comes down to the excellent way in which the story plays out throughout the picture and this is all but helped by the shades of Romeo and Juliet.

Now with a dystopian tale such as this, it would have been easy for Doremus to focus on the two central figures either escaping the confines of ‘The Collective’ or bringing down the tyranny. Instead Doremus focuses on Silas and Nia’s relationship as they discover emotions for the first time. I cannot give Doremus enough praise as Equals was just an absolute joy to watch and left me reeling throughout the story which doesn’t happen often.

This is all but helped on by the fantastic casting and acting by Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult throughout the hour and a half runtime. His choice to focus on the characters rather than the state of the world was the absolute key to this story working so well and their delicate but precise interactions with each other made the film even greater. If anything, I would implore everybody to watch this film as it deserves more viewings than it’s festival run.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Last year marked the rebirth of the Star Wars anthology with The Force Awakens. Disney announced the releasing of a Star Wars film every year until at least 2020. Rogue One marks the first of these standalone films in the extended Star Wars universe.

The first of these standalone films, Rogue One takes place in the chronology of order some time between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. The story behind Rogue One also concerns the matter of how the rebel alliance got their hands on the Death Star plans in A New Hope.


As JJ Abrams took creative control of the The Force Awakens, Gareth Edwards is at the helm of this Star Wars story, having his own creative take on the franchise. He neglects to use the traditional Star Wars opening in the form of the famous scrolling text. 

As Edwards chooses to disregard the time-honoured Star Wars opening, he chooses to display the narrative via a series of snapshots around different planets and cities to gather speed going into the film. This is of course after the all-important opening stage to set up our hero Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) as she watches her mother slain in cold blood and her father taken by the menace that is Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic.


As Jyn witnesses this, she is saved by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whittaker) and so begins the aforementioned snapshot around the planets fifteen years later. During this snapshot, an Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) has defected to deliver a message to Saw from Jyn’s father Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen). Jyn has also been captured by the Imperials and is being made to work in a labour camp, until Rebel Alliance members Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his reprogrammed Imperial robot companion K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk), rescue her from her captors. 

As you’re probably reading this, you’re thinking that is a humungous amount to digest, and you would be correct, as this happens within the opening fifteen to twenty minutes. Unfortunately, this makes the film falter in parts as it feels heavy and begins to drag over the 120+ minute run time, which has become a standard for Star Wars films.

As the film continues, it becomes a quest to discover what message the defected Imperial pilot has from Galen and whether it can help bring down the super weapon the Empire have been building. As they close in on the pilot’s location on Jedha, we can begin to see the familiar gorgeous expanse landscape that can be soaked up by the audience.


Rogue One quickly becomes a quest against time as the super weapon is used on Jedha, making the city erupt into a beautiful oncoming mass of dust and smoke. The message delivered by Rook is only seen by Jyn before the message is engulfed in a blaze of glory. Jyn learns there is a weakness to the new super weapon, which can cause a chain reaction to destroy the newly named Death Star. (Sounds a bit familiar all this, doesn’t it?)

I shall not reveal any more information, through fear I have divulged too much already. As a standalone Star Wars film, Gareth Edwards has created a solid filmmaking piece, which is enjoyable. However, it doesn’t come without some flaws, such as the pacing of the first two acts, which weighs the film down. Act three was the act that kept my eyes glued to the screen and wanting more.

As Edwards had creative control over this project, it must be said he has continued the beautiful expanses that I have really enjoyed in Star Wars films, including the almost-tropical landscape of Scarif, and the also the Tatooine-looking Jedha. The clear cut winner was the casting throughout this film though as Felicity Jones becomes a character you are invested in, which marks the second consecutive Star Wars film with a strong heroine. She is backed up by a strong following of  Luna and Tudyk, but I would’ve enjoyed to see more of Whittaker’s and Mikkelsen’s character as they seem all to brief. 


As the film does stand are plus two hours, it does become laborious in parts, until the third act, which steals the show and of course links perfectly into A New Hope. In my opinion the film could stand to lose around a half hour of runtime and still have been just as good as it flows into the third act. 

It has to be said though that act three of Rogue One included some of the best Star Wars scenes in memory, which was gloriously played out. As a standalone Star Wars film, this is the perfect dosage with the inclusion of certain characters like Moff Tarkin, the Red and Gold Leader fighers and of course the cameo of R2 and C3PO. Edwards has made an admirable effort for Rogue One and I’ll be interested to see what comes with the second standalone film in the Star Wars universe. 


Spoilers are ahead. 

These are not the spoilers you are looking for.

I warned you.

 

There seems to be a darker undertone throughout Rogue One that hasn’t been seen in the franchise before. Gareth Edwards deployed this dark tone perfectly by an abundance of considerable amount of deaths throughout the film, instead of one or two that is the usual choice in Star Wars. Not only this, Edwards had the questioning of intentions throughout the from and regardless of who is following orders how can they constitute what is good and evil if the objective is the killing of someone. This device was cleverly done and played out excellently by Luna and Jones.

Edwards take on this darker undertone made the film interesting with its themes, but the pacing still remains an issue for me. That being said, there is a certain beauty in this film as they discover the vast expanses of the differing planets, which continues to be one of my favourite things about the Star Wars universe.

End of spoilers.

Sully (2016)

It’s not often a positive story can appear when it involves New York City and airliners, but there was such a case with the ‘Miracle On The Hudson’ when an airliner landed on the Hudson River back in 2009.

The nature of this story being a biographical retelling of a recent event, Clint Eastwood cleverly decides not to focus on the crash so to the speak, but the effect it had. Sully understandably had Captain Chesley Sullenberger take centre stage for this tale, as it recounts the flight of US Airways Flight 1549 and it’s famous landing.

As it recounts those fateful 208 seconds in the air, there is no better man to be cast for the cool, calm and collected persona of Sully than Tom Hanks. And he fits perfectly into this role as he takes command of the flight when a flock of Canadian Geese crash into both of the engines, causing them both to fail.

sully-15795-large

As I mentioned Eastwood doesn’t focus on the flight per say, but rather the effect it had on the captain, as we see a restless Sully run the streets of New York in the freezing January weather. It’s not only this, but the effect it has on Sully’s marriage as his wife is hounded by the media whilst being sick with worry as their conversations become few and far between after the events of January 15th.

Eastwood also manages to excellently display these strains on Sully’s life in between Sully’s meetings with the National Transport Safety Board (NTSB). These meetings become a tense state of affairs as they grill Sully on his routine up to the flight in hope they can deem a ‘Pilot Error’.

sully_clip_onthehudson

Although the events of this flight happened in recent memory, Eastwood managed to make the flight scenes a tense 3 minutes and 28 seconds, as they are suspended in the air. Eastwood recounts the flight on three occasions, making each as tense as the last as he explores new elements in the sequence.

Although the film lasts around 90 minutes, it does feel longer as it’s predominately undertaken by the ‘discussions’ between Sully and the NTSB and his sleepless nights. It becomes interesting as these sleepless nights begin to make Sully question what he did was right, even though he saved all of the passengers.

It’s an interesting film, but it also worked because due to the largely positive story that came out of it. As the film has this positive undertone the film becomes heart-warming, especially as you see the people of New York club together and save everyone on the Hudson. As it’s mentioned a few times, Sully manages to bring a positive story to New York involving airliners.

brody-clint-eastwoods-sully-existential-burden-1200

The pairing of Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart worked tremendously for this film as they both bought along that cool and collected persona that was needed for the film. Tom Hanks portrayed the calmer of the two whilst Eckhart was the most obtrusive and abrasive character, especially towards the NTSB. But both characters in the cockpit were resilient in ensuring the safety of their passengers and crew.

In a year which has seemed to bring forth a bunch of bad news, Sully has tried to end it on a good note recounting the 2009 event. The way Eastwood fed the story throughout the 90 minutes worked, but it does become a laborious venture as it shoots the film using the backdrop of New York in January. Although it’s not exactly a groundbreaking spin on the autobiographical events, there are areas that work and areas that don’t, but on a whole it’s a positively heart-warming tale that was well thought-out. Eastwood is seemingly back to his better directing self with this film, just unfortunately the timings make the film drag.