The latest cinema releases reviews


REVIEW: Loving


Jeff Nichols’ latest film, Loving, tells the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple whose marriage leads the powers that be in their home state of Virginia to banish them from their home. Desperate to return, their desire to be free to love would be heard and ultimately, change American law forever.

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REVIEW: La La Land


La La Land follows the story of two hopefuls drifting through Los Angeles on the flight of their dreams alone: Mia is an aspiring actress desperate to be given the chance to prove her talent rather than vicariously connect through that world in her role as the barista of the studio lot’s coffee shop; Sebastian is a musician almost obsessively besotted with Jazz as an art form, and hopes to one day own his own Jazz club where he can let the improvisational joy of Jazz flourish. The two are seemingly drawn by the hands of fate to one another, romance blooms … but the paths of love and creative fulfilment prove to be a twisted road, and the journey they take will test the beliefs they hold dearest within their hearts.

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REVIEW: Monster Trucks

Monster Trucks

I’m going to hold my hands up high and declare that I didn’t hate Monster Trucks. Did I love it? Of course not. There’s very little to love in this familiar moral tale that warns of the dangers of oil drilling and damaging the environment, while promoting the importance of following your dreams and fighting for good. Stamping on the big guy. Proving the small man can win, etc.

The story follows Tripp (Lucas Till) who works at a garage building a monster truck made from scrap metal. He lives in a down-beaten, dull town and yearns for bigger things, hoping that his truck will lead him on the road to better things and a freedom he is yet to find. An accident at an oil drilling site offers him the opportunity when a tentacled monster is unleashed from the ground; with a love for speed, the monster jumps in to Tripp’s truck and puts the pedal to the metal, taking Tripp and his lady friend Meredith (Jane Levy) on one hell of an adventure.

Monster Trucks was not made for critics or for audiences over the age of twelve, so it’s no surprise to see that this film is probably not going to appeal to 99% of the people reading this review. However, below the surface of its need for speed and general sense of “wahoooo!”, Monster Trucks has a solid – albeit familiar – message about the environment which is relevant, even if it’s not particularly earth-shattering. Remembering that this film is targeted at kids and early teens, it will do no harm for them to be reminded of the importance of saving animals (or tentacled car-loving monsters), returning them to their habitat and learning that going against the grain can sometimes be a good thing.

Tripp’s characterisation, again, is not the most refreshing and there are around 1.25 million films that follow various characters wishing for more than life has dished them. Nonetheless, it is a feeling that many will associate with and, once again, especially those young teenagers that the film is targeting. Remembering that school is not everything – although, very important – and that you can educate yourself in the wide world, too, will appeal to those that feel out-of-place in the education system. And, what’s wrong with that? Tripp skimps out of school – to the annoyance of Meredith who is keen to excel in a project they’ve been teamed up on – but, he goes on to achieve different greatness by following his dreams and committing to something outside of school.

Yes, the film is that cheesy. It’s all about the greater good and never backing down, making sure you listen to your heart and never give up, etc. The script is bursting with lines that’ll have you cringing; especially from Tripp’s almost nemesis Sheriff Rick (Barry Pepper) who loves to tell Tripp how rubbish a human he is. Alas, all this negativity feeds Tripp’s desire to leave the town, encouraging us to never let the dickheads (excuse my French) get us down.

As to be expected, there’s a whole heap of exciting action sequences in there, too. They are ridiculous. Almost Fast and Furious 7 levels of ridiculous, but they’re also a ridiculous amount of fun. Who doesn’t want to see a monster-driven truck jump off a 1000ft (estimate) cliff? Exactly, you all know you do. The CGI isn’t even that bad and despite the film’s bizarre similarities to the Sharktopus films (particularly the one with the Pteracuda), the special effects are not B-movie level.

All in all, this isn’t going to be an Oscar-nominated cult classic that will go down in history as a genre-bending masterpiece, but, I didn’t fall asleep when I watched it and I only sighed a couple of times. Kids will find it fun and parents will probably want to sob into their popcorn, but it’s really not that bad. Average, but not terrible, Monster Trucks is an unforgettable ride packed with familiar moral lessons and a heart that is undoubtedly in the right place.

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SiREN Review


SiREN grows upon the mythology created in a segment in anthology film, V/H/S. The segment plays well at the beginning of the feature film and creates a deep mythology already and eludes to it as little as possible in its brief running-time. This time, director Gregg Bishop has a full feature-length to play with in his mythology, reinventing the world and bringing new characters with a similar dynamic to the segment itself. Amateur Night, the title of the segment, had promise for an expansion it seemed. Sadly, the feature film proves otherwise with all of the exhilaration and interest of the succinct short, evaporating as it lingers along.

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REVIEW: A Monster Calls (2016)


(Warning: When you see this film…take tissues. Take lots and lots of tissues. Heck, take a box, because otherwise there will be an Alice in Wonderland-esque sea of tears ready to drift you right out of the theatre and you’ll only have yourself to blame!)

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REVIEW: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)


To generations of children and adults alike, Harry Potter is one of the greatest book franchises ever, centring on a young boy who is told he is a wizard and sent to study magic at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The seven book series spanned eight films, a theatre production, tonnes of merchandise as well as theme parks across the world.

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REVIEW: Arrival (2016)


We have seen it all before. Aliens come down, humans fear them, the ones in charge are eager to press the button. Yet Denis Villeneuve never does anything straightforward. Instead, the director uses the classic format to tell a touching story that harnesses a universal and profound message. It’s not take me to your leader; more like take me to your lecturer.

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Review: Nocturnal Animals (2016)


Nocturnal Animals follows Susan Morrow, a successful art gallery owner struggling for emotional and creative satisfaction in her life. Suddenly, she receives the manuscript for a novel written by her ex-husband, Edward; a violent tale of murder, revenge and the darkest moral questions. As she moves through the book, she finds herself looking back on her past and her relationship with Edward, desperately seeing symbolic associations and perceived attacks within the dark tones of his tale, leading to her malaise reaching a level of crisis as she seeks catharsis for her past transgressions.

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Review: Train to Busan (2016)


The zombie genre is one that, for the love of an obvious pun, never seems to die. From the Romero classics, through to the increasingly aware works of reinterpretation and homage at the start of the new century, represented most iconically by 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead, the zombie horde comes back, again and again. However, like the zombies themselves, the genre has once again fallen into another tired stumble for a familiar, and predictable, formula. As such, the arrival of a film as vital and compelling as Yeon Sang-ho’s Train to Busan feels not simply like a true revival, but one of the most impressive and satisfying experiences in the history of the genre.

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REVIEW: In a Valley of Violence (2016)


When Ti West announced he would be moving from horror to western, many were surprised that it would be his next feature. Horror and westerns are centred around similar themes: vengeance, violence, masculinity and generally cynical in the past three decades. In a Valley of Violence is an interesting turn from a director whose authorial vision even leads to him editing his own pictures. Editing your own films can cause the risk of self-indulgence, especially when an outside pair of eyes can tighten everything, but this is a trap that Ti West doesn’t fall into. In all his feature films, brevity – if perhaps budget related – is prevalent and is in fact one of his directorial strengths. This proves that once again.

In a Valley of Violence takes you to a town, nicknamed the ‘Valley of Violence’, with Ethan Hawke as its mysterious stranger. With only a pet dog as a companion, one he confides to and is his only conversation, there is a sense of danger around him from the offset with actions early on. From there, the character is already well-defined and Hawke explores him to his full capacity. An act of violence takes Hawke’s mysterious stranger caving into his personal demons that want violent vengeance.

West is clearly romantic about the western genre, throwing in a reference with a classic western zoom early on and honing in on a well-told, well-worn story of a wayward stranger showing his true character to the arrogant town-folk, proud of their own masculinity through self-affirmation and intimidation. Hawke’s doesn’t fall to those demanding immediate fear, causing a competition to prove one’s self in an escalating rivalry. As the camerawork ogles the Old West with the same starkness of its 35mm predecessors, West pays homage all the while crafting an adept visual style. If anything, its visual style – which is perfectly fine – is a weakness in its own lack of creativity. Through the simplicity of its visuals, there’s a need for more interesting visuals to elevate it over the homages and give power to the picture through pictures.

In a Valley of Violence: John Travolta, Taissa Farmiga, Karen Gillan and James Ransone

The cast is strong, Taissa Farmiga a specific standout in the chattering, nervously confident hotel clerk with conflicted commitments.  Her exploration of her character is portrayed with precision, all the while remaining integral and interesting throughout the film. James Ransone plays a strong arrogant bastard with real gravitas to his scenes, his frame that’s thinner than the Eastwoods or Waynes of yesteryear manages to remain menacing through his dedication to masculinity portrayed through violence. The strongest standout is one that it’s a great relief, letting out a sigh and a potential hopeful ‘He’s back…’ rattling around your head. John Travolta plays the town’s sheriff, a complex coward who forces bravery and mindfulness to achieve a real resolution. Travolta’s performance is honest, strong, a little reminiscent of Stallone in Cop Land. The weakest, by quite a margin, is Karen Gillan who needs a director to tone her down as her performances sometimes lean into being inconsumable for over 1.6bn people in the world due to its hammy-ness. It works in Oculus, it’s passable in Guardians of the Galaxy, but it’s beginning to grate and needs working on since there is real talent there to explore.

Overall, In a Valley of Violence is a revisionist western in its cynicism as it is romantic about the films that inspired it. West explores the west and all of its themes with ease, allowing for a critical eye to find appetising food for thought while the narrative entertains and thrills. The casting is interesting and generally successful, especially with the Travolta comeback that’s felt overdue. Hopefully this is the first in a sleugh of the Trevolution (coining it now in case it catches on). The film’s visuals really do let it down from being a bit more excellent since their simplicity is the same downfall of Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight – but at least this didn’t waste 65mm film on an indoor set to look so average and reverential. In a Valley of Violence is a thrilling, thoughtful revisionist western with an emptiness permeating from it that stops it from being truly special.

A trailer for Ti West's latest film, In a Valley of Violence, starring Ethan Hawke, John Travolta and James Ransone
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