Category Archives: Action

Locarno Film Festival

LFF: Let the Corpses Tan

FILMSNAP: A film review that is 300 words or less.

Screeching to focus with a smattering of gunshots (the first of many), Let The Corpses Tan makes clear early on that this isn’t your typical French-Belgian psychedelic western. A midnight movie that plays out like an unrestrained Free Fire that’s careless with its pacing and thankfully even more careless with everything else too, directors/madcap cinematic scientists Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani throw everything and the bullet-strewn kitchen sink stylistically to create an exploitation extravaganza that takes advantage of its audience as much as its cast.

Set in the sunscorched Mediterranean (cinematographer Dacosse making full use of that sun with an overload of heavenly silhouettes to frame in front of it), three gang members stash stolen gold in a recluse owned by an unhinged artist and poet. A pair of cops arrive, and what follows is a hyper-stylised shoot-em-up, interpreted in the vein of Tarantino but pushed to breaking point and then some. The editing is simply gorgeous – a kinetic display of whip-pans, zooms, time distillation and everything else,  that playfully pokes fun at its genre like the grinning pastiche it is.

Our senses implode – we hear the squeak of creased leather, we feel the characters roast and their backs sweat, and we see men guzzling champagne that’s being secreted by a woman on a cross. If the film finally succumbs to enervation with twenty or so minutes to spare, it’s only due to the restive cinematic brilliance of what came before.  

Scattered images leave us to pick up and pick apart strands of reason and infer the point of the film. Is the point that we’re all primal, beastly animals at heart? Is there even a point? Is the fact that there may not be a point, the whole point? Who cares – it’s great fun.

-Gus Edgar

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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Fantastic Beasts’ title card may bear the same familiar font and sweeping melody of its big brother, but the film is a far cry from Harry Potter. For one, it takes place in 1920s New York; a more grimy, unromanticized version than we’re used to. This New York is saturated in a general unease with the wizarding community, rather than the embracing of magic seen in the Harry Potter franchise, and thus each wizard and witch is forced into hiding, unable to reveal themselves under the judgement of the No-Maj (America’s less-than-subtle equivalent of a Muggle). So when Newt Scamander, a magical zoologist wonderfully realised by Eddie Redmayne, inadvertently lets loose an array of creatures, or, ‘Fantastic Beasts’, to run amok in the city, you can imagine the chaos it would cause.

And sure, it does cause chaos, but to what effect? Fantastic Beasts takes a while to get going – penned by JK Rowling herself, it’s a film composed of two major plotlines: the escape and subsequent capture of Scamander’s Fantastic Beasts, and the concept of an Obscurus and its relation to the leading members of the Second Salem (an organisation keen on stamping out magic and exposing magicians). Sadly, the plotline the film adopts as its title is both the least interesting and the least relevant of the two.

The film plunges straight into action without first establishing character motivations or defining a significant threat that the protagonists face. A mole-like creature called a Niffler with an affinity for treasure, easily the film’s most memorable critter, escapes from Scamander’s case to provoke an entertaining sequence in which Scamander scurries around a bank looking for it. Here, he meets Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), an endearingly bumbling No-Maj who’s needed as the audience’s perspective. After a brief(case) mix-up, he accidentally involves himself in the wizarding world, much to the disdain of Katherine Waterston’s Tina, a demoted Auror (investigator of crimes related to the Dark Arts). We’re not sure why Scamander’s in New York, nor the consequences of letting the Niffler loose, and so these opening few scenes lack significance if not entertainment, stripping the film of any momentum. When the main protagonists of Scamander, Tina and Kowalski involve themselves with one another, such as during a dinner scene at Tina’s residence, it comes across as unimportant – there’s simply no driving force behind it all.

We are introduced to The Second Salem, a magic-hating organisation, but it’s not made clearer until the film’s second act how exactly they’re important to the story. Bluntly put, the pacing is dreadful. It takes too long to learn how this plotline interacts with the main protagonists, and when it does, it just casts the realisation that there wasn’t much point to the ‘Fantastic Beasts’ storyline in the first place. That’s not to say that there’s no enjoyment to be had watching Eddie Redmayne attempt to woo a weird rhino-esque creature with an unorthodox mating display in order to capture it, but the scenes lack substance, and are, surprisingly, unmemorable. There’s no moments of wonder created akin to Harry’s first ride on the Hippogriff – most of the magic has seemingly died with the Potter saga.

Kowalski certainly seems taken aback, however, by his discovery of magic. His journey in Scamander’s briefcase is a highlight of the film, signalling how the divide between No-Maj and wizard needn’t be. Fantastic Beasts deals with these politics skillfully – it’s a simple oppressed-minority structure that applies to our world as much as it does the wizarding world, but is integrated well into the story and gives various scenes superb heft. Some of these scenes involve Percival Graves, played with manipulative assertion by Colin Farrell. He’s a senior Auror who works in league with Ezra Miller’s Credence, a member of the Second Salem, and his performance is brash and menacing. This contrasts well with Scamander’s inherent introversion, where Redmayne gives a certain charm to the character that would come across as cloying in the hands of a less capable actor. His performance isn’t the caricaturish loner either – he’s as introverted with humans as he is extroverted to his various creatures, supporting his affixion with the beasts. The roles in Fantastic Beasts are testament to JK Rowling’s knack for churning out interesting, believable characters – the one misstep is Tina Goldstein, her one-note, soapy characterisation wasted on Katherine Waterston’s talent.

Yet her writing, in this instance, doesn’t extend to a sophisticated or restrained plot. The film juggles too much – when it works, it’s awe-inspiring. But there’s an inordinate amount of loose plotlines, all culminating in an exhaustive final battle sequence. As the latest entry in the Wizarding World, it’s a disappointment rather than a failure. There are, however, moments of intrigue and awe to be had among its plodding narrative – Fantastic Beasts is a film jam-packed with superfluous storylines, but also a film jam-packed with mature themes and exciting new characters.

The Accountant

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Ignore the uninspired title – The Accountant is a film heavy on gun-toting action and comparatively light on office space mundanity. Our number-cracking hero, Christian Wolff, is played with straight-faced indifference by Ben Affleck – he’s a bulky genius of a man, on the spectrum to some degree (though it is never definitively disclosed to what extent), and throughout the film we observe the makings of his confused characterisation via various flashbacks. He was a troubled child, with a stern father that enforced rigorous and vigorous martial arts training on both him and his brother, tidily explaining away Wolff’s effective brawling and focus on fatherhood.

This ‘high-functioning’ accountant in question is tasked with investigating a company’s mis-managing of money, by the company itself.. uncovering their dodgy dealing…before it’s erased by the company…wait what? And J.K. Simmons gets involved as Ray King, a financial crimes director, I think, that attempts to track Wolff down…or does he? Then Anna Kendrick also appears as the company’s in-house accountant, and faux-love interest..or does she even have a particular point to the story? It’s all rather difficult to follow, or doesn’t make any sense, or both. Subplots seem shoehorned in and without purpose, buzzwords are thrown around in confusion, and the story never stops to explain anything that’s going on. The film’s jargon isn’t nearly as complex as in films such as this year’s The Big Short, but it’s also not as deftly handled either, and so manages to be a tediously baffling mixture of financing that’s too difficult to understand or too difficult to care about understanding, and unrealistic action set-pieces that are somehow just as dull.

The narrative is barmy on so many levels, buckling under the weight of its own ridiculousness. Wolff is a superhero of sorts, his form of autism fetishised rather than fleshed out – he’s super-intelligent, barely takes a punch in fights, and his shooting is pin-point accurate to a fault. His is a character that director Gavin O’Connor fails to root in reality, his attributes tritely displayed, window-writing and all. There’s barely any substance applied to Wolff’s autism, and so the best Affleck can do is stare vacantly and act expressionless – luckily that’s something he’s very good at. Thankfully, this film acknowledges its own slightness, and so doesn’t stray too far into overwrought sentimentality, instead opting for silly action sequences and a nonsensical narrative.

In some ways, there’s almost a delight to be had revelling in the stupidity of it all. There’s no denying its enjoyability, though most of it stems from laughing at the film rather than with it, and there’s a certain charm to the way Wolff’s character is performed by Affleck. Sadly, this doesn’t salvage The Accountant, a film too troubled with irrational decision making and irrelevant plotlines.

Crucially, and perhaps most damning of all, it’s a predictable fare, bereft of any of the thrills or shocks we would expect from its increasingly-Bourne-like premise. The Accountant is brash and clumsy – extending to its inability to hide a blatant Chekhov’s Gun, with just enough humour, at its own expense, to support a plot in desperate need of a reworking.

-Gus Edgar

Doctor Strange

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Benedict Cumberbatch is an arrogant, lovable genius who solves problems against seemingly insurmountable odds. No, he’s not Sherlock, but Doctor Stephen Strange, one of the more barmy entries in Marvel Studios’ roster of superheroes. After suffering an accident due to his own arrogance, his job as a renowned neurosurgeon is put out of action. To return to work, Strange strives to restore the use of his hands, finally stumbling across a mysterious ‘cult’ based in Nepal…

There, with the aid of Tilda Swinton’s ‘The Ancient One’, an enigmatic figure with dark secrets, he trains his mind, in a rushed but intriguing 20-minute sequence. He’s arrogant and foolish, but his mentors, including Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo and Benedict Wong’s, er, Wong, see his potential. Will he overcome his own hubris to achieve greatness? Do I really even need to ask that question?

Strange’s narrative arc is a familiar one – the fall, the redemption, the shortcomings, the solution – but director Scott Derrickson manages to prevent this flick from becoming another stale offering in the Marvel universe. For one, it does away with the use of technical jargon and scientific explanations, and embraces the mesmerising, nonsensical world of magic while keeping a straight face. Its opening battle, where buildings twist and turn like bloodthirsty cogs, is only a fleeting glance at the world’s potential, and each burst of psychedelic brawling thereafter are intelligently differentiated from one another. It’s a world steeped in preposterous magical concepts of mirror dimensions and astral forms, but it works, because it’s just as believable as any other film in its franchise.

Sadly, with so many otherworldly concepts to get through, Doctor Strange does become bogged down in exposition. It’s still fascinating to listen to, much owing to Tilda Swinton’s reliably excellent delivery, but results in very little time afforded to developing characters such as, say, Mads Mikkelsen’s barely-fleshed-out baddie. It’s disappointing to see his character treated that way when Marvel finally shows a real awareness to its tired formula – the film may have found a cure to third act CGI-heavy explosive showdowns, but weak villains seems to be a recurring problem in need of similar treatment.

Yet when these mind-boggling concepts are put to use, the effects are often astounding. Running up skyscrapers, hopping between continents, reversing time – its visceral, excellent cinema, unique and purposeful, with enough ingenuity to prevent drawing any unearned comparisons to Inception. Further still, there are moments of quiet brilliance that shine through amid the crazed conflicts. A scene that takes place in suspended rain, with lightning sprawling across the screen like a cracked window, is both memorable in imagery, and extremely poignant. It’s sharp, mature writing, that functions as a worthy sendoff and a way to calm the film’s prior breakneck pace.

Oddly, despite the inherent silliness of the film’s ideas, its one of the most sensible Marvel films to date. Derrickson, who has worked beforehand on various horror films such as Sinister, makes clear in the film’s opening scene that there’s a real sense of menace and danger. Tragedy, desperation, and various inner conflicts are dealt with astutely, and Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange is as complex a character as any in the Marvel universe. Perhaps this also serves as reasoning for why the film’s comedic beats aren’t quite so successful, misplaced in almost every scene to give a light-hearted spirit that isn’t needed (save for a terrific exchange between Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius and Cumberbatch’s Strange).

It may not be quite as odd as its namesake, but the film is certainly as imaginative as any Marvel film has dared so far, offering visual splendour, an impressive amount of maturity, and a great character in Doctor Stephen Strange.

 -Gus Edgar

Sicario

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Director Denis Villenueve and cinematographer Roger Deakins have received monumental critical success for 2013’s realistically nightmarish Prisoners and 2014’s menacingly impenetrable Enemy, and the team are beckoned back once more for Sicario, one of Villenueve’s more accessible films, but no less intense. The film kicks off straight at the deep end, and barely even surfaces as the end credits roll. It’s that kind of film – consistently gripping, politically weighty, tension wonderfully palpable.

With the haunting thrums of Johann Johannsson’s masterful score, Sicario lurches into life; Kate Macer an FBI agent played with scintillating vulnerability by Emily Blunt, leads a SWAT mission to infiltrate a house along the USA-Mexico border with links to a drug cartel. Not everything goes to plan, and the horrifying sight of a mass of rotting bodies is uncovered, provided as the lingering image that launches Sicario’s mature, if well-worn plot. Macer is recruited into a combative border control task force, supposedly attempting to diminish a drug cartel behind the film’s shocking opener. From there, she meets the charismatic, sandal-wearing operation leader Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and his shady, threatening partner Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro). The operatives  immediately encounter danger during an astonishing bridge crossing sequence, the brimming intensity producing one of the best scenes of the year.

If the film had kept up this ferocious potency, we’d be looking at a 5-star film. Unfortunately, Taylor Sheridan’s script suffers from a dramatic lull in its second act – the film picks up again during a night-time mineshaft raid, but by then, the damage is done, the tension hasn’t been maintained. A part of the problem is that the script’s subject matter is inherently tired, and so Sheridan’s attempt to deviate and provide a fresh take on the matter has sacrificed Sicario’s clearly confused focus point. The third-act switch from Blunt’s Kate Macer to Benicio del Toro’s Alejandro Gillick is brave but jarring; instead of a smooth transition, we are thrusted into his life with little prior development of his character, and so as an audience we aren’t invested in his travails, despite his actions being crucial to the plot’s overarching themes. There is also a noticeable emphasis placed on a Mexican police officer named Silvio (Maximiliano Hernandez) and his family, which serves as a well-intended microcosm for Mexico as a whole that’s lost in the story’s main narrative. It deserves it’s place in the film, but is integrated in a way that gives it the impression of seeming irrelevant.

Denis Villenueve’s direction competently masks Sicario’s wayward plot, however. His visual chemistry and nous for generating mood is made clear in his partnership with Roger Deakins, who brings the film’s central themes and tones to life: a haunting aerial shot of Mexico that establishes the residences’ terrifying beauty, a mesmerising sunset long-take that portrays the operatives as literally disappearing into the ground, and a powerful wide shot of a family at their kitchen table all help to muster up Sicario’s terrific energy and strikingly dark attitude.

Yet the film would still fall apart without its three central performances – Emily Blunt’s aforementioned vulnerability is nuanced and displays a sense of hopelessness that is omnipresent throughout the film’s running time. Josh Brolin is physically imposing and uses charismatic quirkiness to juxtapose his fraudulent motivations, and Benicio del Toro is satisfyingly cold and calculated, his strive for revenge a far cry from his sleepy, charming introduction.

Only a competent rather than excelling script hinders Sicario’s potency. It’s shot wonderfully, acted effectively and is directed in a way that portrays its mature themes without detracting from their sociopolitical heft. Villenueve has followed up his recent success with another scorcher of a film.

-Gus Edgar

Spectre

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In the opening scene of Spectre, the Daniel Craig era of James Bond soars to new heights (quite literally) with a terrific Dia de Muertos sequence. Sadly, the following 130 minutes of screentime can’t maintain the high standards set – and as the film progresses, the expectancy of another Bond classic dwindles indefinitely.

Bond’s 24th (non-linear) outing takes place in the wake of Skyfall, where Judi Dench’s recently deceased ‘M’ kickstarts Spectre’s messy plot into action.  He must kill the criminal Marco Sciarra, and attend his funeral in Rome. From there, the murky depths of a shadowy organisation called ‘Spectre’ are revealed, and at the centre of this establishment is the enigmatic figure of Waltz’s Franz Oberhauser.

This infiltration of Spectre is clumsily written, where action sequences are nonsensical and character developments are ignored – but at least it’s engrossing. The film’s subplot, however – a heavy-handed pro-Snowden exploration of Andrew Scott’s villainous ‘C’ and his endorsement of world-surveillance – needlessly swamps Bond’s mission; the problem with it is that it’s just not all that interesting, and written less as part of the plot and more as a vehicle for director Sam Mendes’ views. With a subplot as weak as Spectre’s, the main story better be good – sadly, ‘engrossing’ doesn’t cut it.

It’s a strange concoction of Craig’s gritty new-era Bond and Moore’s cheesy Austin Powers-esque Bond, and rather than combining the two seamlessly, the script only produces a weird, tonally-jarring mood that serves to diminish Casino Royale’s attempts at a modern Bond with modern ideas. There’s a wonderfully-elaborate villain’s lair, a train fight involving Bautista’s beast of a henchman, Mr. Hinx, that hearkens back to Jaws (the figure, not the film), and the return of gadgets is a welcome sight. Unfortunately, each of these ideas are misused, a microcosm of Spectre’s extravagantly-clumsy plot: the villain’s lair is destroyed too easily, and inevitably, too soon, Mr. Hinx is poorly fleshed out and his actions contradict the motivations written for him, and the gadgets aren’t used in a clever way, but rather as a ‘MacGyver’ in order to end action sequences as they drag on. The action sequences themselves – aside from Spectre’s brilliant opener – are honestly as naff as they come. A car chase is lifeless and lacking in suspense, a mountainous plane ride is shot amateurishly and ends too soon, the aforementioned train fight is anticlimatic and opposes Waltz’s intentions, and a speedboat-helicopter chase has a disappointing resolution.

Much has been touted of Spectre’s empowering presentation of females, where Monica Bellucci has been advertised as the ‘oldest Bond-girl‘. Yet her appearance is more of a cameo, a 5-minutes irrelevance that gives way to Lea Seydoux’s barely-fleshed-out Madeleine Swann, a woman who rejects Bond’s advances and swiftly swoons for him; a rushed romance that epitomises the contrivances of Mendes’ hap-hazardous plot. Lea Seydoux is wasted potential, her character written so lazily and confusedly that she can’t muster the chemistry with Craig’s forever-average Bond for the relationship to bear any believability. The villain is equally wooden, his motives generic and disappointing. This is a step down from Skyfall’s Bardem, and is only salvaged by Waltz’s reliably menacing schtick.

 

For all the expectancy surrounding Craig’s potential final outing, its script does not deliver. From an untidy plot to stilted characterisation and development, this would be a sour note for Craig to end on. Some critics have stated that Spectre is in need of a rewrite – I couldn’t agree more.

– Gus Edgar

 

The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials

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And the award for most disappointing sequel of 2015 goes to Scorch Trials, the follow-up to 2014’s actually-quite-good Maze Runner. Helmed once again by Wes Ball, the film kicks off right where the last one left us – Thomas (played enthusiastically by Dylan O’Brien) and his group are ‘rescued’ and sent into a menacing facility where other young groups – each previously having their own maze – are waiting for them. Cue an expected escape from the building after Thomas unearths horrifying secrets about who their captors are, with the remainder of the film taking place in the sun-scorched open air, the gang encountering numerous obstacles that move the plot along, though not swiftly enough.

Right from the off, it’s made clear that the novel isn’t being adapted from, but rather being used as a source of inspiration. There are certain elements of James Dashner’s best-seller that remains untarnished, but most of the plot is replaced and restructured in order to either make the flick more palatable to a modern audience, or to avoid breaching the slim budgetary constraints. Though despite the film being limited by its budget, it comes across as a $20m flick rather than $60m, thanks to dodgy effects and the use of shaky-cam to obscure action.

Simply put, the new plot that this sequel has is just not good enough. The directing is admirable, the acting fine – though a league below its predecessor – and the camerawork impressive for a YA adaptation. The plot, however, is deeply convoluted, fatuous, and irritatingly generic. In my Maze Runner review, I praised the film for its refreshing refusal to bow down to YA tropes. Sadly, Scorch Trials doesn’t follow suit, integrating a tepid love plot, uninspired zombies and somehow finding room for a celebratory house-party – yes, in the middle of a dusty, zombie-ravaged world. Revelations concerning the film’s characters and the series’ overarching plot arise every now and then amid the contrived chaos, but you hardly care – you’re just lost trying to find out whether each plot point the film undergoes has relevance or even makes sense in context of the film. Here’s a hint: it doesn’t.

 

– Gus Edgar

Big Hero 6

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There’s been talk of a Disney renaissance; hot off the heels of Frozen’s commercial – and critical – success, the studio released Big Hero 6, a charming flick that was met with a similarly superb response. So much so, it went on to beat the likes of The Lego Movie and The Tale of Princess Kaguya to the Best Animated Feature Oscar. The accolade was clearly indicative of the golden period Disney now finds itself in – away from the depths of the 2000s; the award was sweet, a success story, a signifier of great things to come. The award was undeserved.

Big Hero 6 is undoubtedly a pleasant, likeable film. Baymax, the sidekick of main protagonist Hiro (Ryan Potter), is irresistibly adorable and wonderfully voiced by Scott Adsit. Together these two heroes attempt to stop a mysterious masked villain in control of a creation owned by Hiro himself – microbots -, a figure of formerly ambiguous motives. To conquer this villain, they team up with a group of scientists/thinly-veiled caricatures, each given an upgrade via Hiro’s genius that tailors to each character’s specific skill set. To give any more plot points away would risk delving into spoiler territory – it’s a shame then that you’ll see each plot development coming a mile away. Disney has certainly benefited from their control over the majority of Marvel, and Big Hero 6 is a way to flaunt that control; adapted from the Marvel comics of the same name, the series offers a huge array of creative sequences to choose from. And Big Hero 6 certainly excels in its world-building – the film takes place in the city of San Fransokyo, an imaginative hybrid city that looks beautiful and is much a character of the film as any of the other characters. If the movie shines in one department, then its most obviously the world created, and its sumptuous visuals.

The creativity of the city isn’t translated into plot however, where somehow the writers manage to turn an animation – a cinematic form that has endless possibilities – into a formulaic, albeit enjoyable romp that’s inseparable from a large proportion of live-action movies: A protagonist is introduced, a traumatic event occurs that spurs on the emergence of a hero from within the protagonist, a villain arises and the protagonist, with the help of some lazily-written sidekicks, battle this villain in a huge showdown of mass destruction. It’s disappointing, and frustrating, to see a plot mishandled and shaped into a generic Marvel formula when there’s potential for so much more. It’s not just live-action Marvel films that Big Hero 6 seems to be copying- the animations wears references of The Iron Giant on its sleeve, the similarities bravely shuffling on the edge of ripping-off as opposed to endearingly referencing.

The dialogue itself is a mixed bag – some jokes hit, others are miscalculations, a large portion of the characters are poorly written and used more as plot devices than for realism, and there are many, many expositional problems at the start of the film (“Our parents died in a fire when I was 3, remember?”). Where the script succeeds is in its truthful, adult moral message, and how the film conveys that message. It’s touching, heartfelt, and admirably separates itself from feel-good animations that may end up serving as lies given to younger viewers. This is fast becoming a trend in 2015 – Inside Out deals with a similarly mature, acceptance-themed message too, and is made all the better for it. The ending of Big Hero 6 hits hard (although it’s then hindered by a following scene), despite the likelihood that you may see it coming, and proves to be a high of a film that’s otherwise a little flat.

Big Hero 6 is one of the most beautiful films animated, yet its visuals and resoundingly satisfying message can’t quite make up for poor plot-characterisation, poor plot writing and simply a poor plot. How this won the Oscar over The Lego Movie is anyone’s guess.

– Gus Edgar

American Sniper

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Clint Eastwood’s critical, box office and Academy Awards juggernaut tells the tale of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), a prolific, er, American sniper, and his endeavours on and off the battlefield during the Iraq war. It’s a heavily lethargic adaptation of a heavily controversial book about a heavily divisive ‘American Hero’. Not to say that the flick itself is wildly patriotic – though the ending tries its best to disprove that – but nor is it an anti-war film, as director Eastwood haplessly attempts to argue. Which is where American Sniper’s greatest fault, among many faults, lies; it’s a film that is too afraid to carry any political heft, any commentary that would make the viewing experience worthwhile. As a result, the whole point of the film is rendered null.

A war film not bold enough to make a statement is playing it unforgivably safe and choosing to appease to a mass audience – as it did, generating almost $350 million in the US – at the expense of a weighty, powerful, good quality drama. With that choice made by Eastwood, any potential that American Sniper has is diminished. If you look at war classics – Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line – they take a memorable, bold stance at the repercussions of war (among powerful existentialism, which American Sniper doesn’t have either). American Sniper is devoid of anything remotely satisfying to take away from the ‘experience’ it offers.

It’s reluctance to carry political weight is just one of American Sniper’s many, many problems. Clint Eastwood doesn’t deal in subtlety here; the classic advice of ‘show, don’t tell’ is completely disregarded. A doctor, informing Kyle ‘Wow, your blood pressure is really high’ is laughable in execution and an incredibly clumsy way to get the character’s PTSD across; as is a TV screen overlaid by gunfire, or Kyle’s rage at a broadcasted 9/11 attack (which almost reaches Jon Voight-levels of overblown disgust). This lack of subtlety exemplifies how poorly-written and portrayed Bradley Cooper’s character is: Cooper’s does his best to present Kyle with the script he’s been given, and he does a fine job (without ever being deserving of that Oscar nomination), but Chris Kyle is a despicable human being who felt no remorse for his actions overseas, and Eastwood chooses to neglect this fact; skirting on an ‘American Hero’ interpretation before confirming it just before the ending credits. It’s a deplorable decision from Eastwood, and one that hinders his flick immediately.

This isn’t helped by his inability to inject any life into the film: the flick is lifeless, devoid of any colour or energy; even during the action sequences, this lack of life burdens scenes that would otherwise grab attention – reducing gunfire to dull echoes. There are moments of tension – the flick’s first trailer spoiling one of them – but these moments are few and far between, and are lost amid the mass of boredom presented by a seemingly bored director himself. The film’s generic, lazy score does little to redeem the continuous lull of excitement, nor does Sienna Miller’s awful, wooden performance as Kyle’s wife. The film’s only truly enjoyable moment arrives in the form of an unintentionally funny scene involving a ridiculously fake baby.

Eastwood’s Oscar darling is an American Sniper that wildly misses the target.

– Gus Edgar

Kingsman: The Secret Service

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Director Matthew Vaughn has a very accomplished track record; Kick-Ass is a breath of fresh air amid the abundance of Marvel superhero flicks, X-Men: First Class is a hugely entertaining romp that serves as the franchise’s finest, and Stardust, despite being rarely mentioned, is a competent and non-formulaic addition to the fantasy genre. You can imagine my disappointment, then, at Kingsman: The Secret Service, a spy caper devoid of any heart or wit that we have come to expect of the director.

The flick follows ‘Eggsy’ (Taron Egerton), a low-life, criminal that is taken in by Harry Hart (Colin Firth), to attempt to gain a place in the ranks of the titular Kingsmen, via a series of testing, if superfluous trials. From there, it’s a bonkers (and for me, too ridiculous to stomach) third-act to defeat the menacing Valentine, a character annoyingly played with a lisp and without charm by Samuel L Jackson. Incorporated into its convoluted plot, we have a mad, violent killing spree in a church, a mission to shoot a missile-launcher at a satellite after being sent into the Earth’s atmosphere via pressurised balloons, and a unique fireworks display that involves mass genocide – including President Obama, himself. Sounds farcical and preposterous, doesn’t it? That’s because it is.

Sadly, Kingsman: The Secret Service is an amalgamation of contradictions. Its a spoof on the recent gritty Bond capers, but begs to be taken seriously. Amid its story overstuffed with chaos are scenes that should carry weight, or shock, or any emotion whatsoever. All the emotional heft is lost due to the frantic fiasco occurring on screen. Yes, the film is violent and destructive, but despite its plot that threatens to congest, it’s an empty film, where character development – or even the care to structure characters realistically in any way – are sacrificed for full-on mayhem. Its third act amps up the inane tenfold, resulting in an unbalanced mess.

Where the violence worked for Vaughn’s previous effort, Kick-Ass, it falters and stumbles magnificently here; there is always a looming sense of seriousness and tension involved with Kick-Ass, where scenes carry an overbearing sense of danger. In Kingsman, it’s incredibly difficult to be invested in the plight of the characters when henchmen often less than a foot away cannot aim at the protagonist. The mindless violence is shocking and chaotic for the sake of being shocking and chaotic – any depth that the film has is replaced with unrelenting tedium. Amid this influx of violence are actual, genuine, plot points, but the script seems to have decided that incoherent coincidences should decide which way the plot turns; the decision proving beneficial to the protagonist and antagonist in equal measures, but at the expense of fluidity.

And while the film has been critically commended for originality, it is unable to escape condescending stereotypes of the lower-class. It seems as if Matthew Vaughn took all the different exaggerated tropes of a lower-class Brit family and concocted them into a thinly-scripted and one-dimensional set of characters. Nor can the film come up with decent character motivation for its antagonist, settling for an incentive that can only be described as cliche.

In terms of acting, it’s a mixed bag. Aside from a horribly miscast Mark Strong that looks thoroughly hapless throughout the flick, and Samuel L Jackson’s confusing attempt to convey a mixture of Blofield and Rain Man, the cast is largely competent. Taron Egerton is charming and assured, Colin Firth is refreshingly energetic as Hart, and both Sofia Boutella and Sophie Cookson play their strong female characters (which is always a welcome sight) with aplomb.

Yes, Kingsman is undeniably entertaining in short bursts – a skydive without a parachute and the now-infamous church scene set to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Free Bird’ is a joyous, if unfulfilling romp. Sadly, its entertainment value cannot make up for a strained plot, wooden characters, and a frustrating script. And to top it all off, Kingsman is not nearly as funny as it thinks it is; most of its jokes fall flat – a huge surprise when looking at the director’s credentials. Unfortunately, Kingsman: The Secret Service, much like its final pre-credits scene, is ugly, hugely disappointing, and lacking in any subtlety.

– Gus Edgar