Rings (2017) – Review

mv5bnju1ndaxntg0mf5bml5banbnxkftztgwnzuxmjewmti-_v1_sy1000_cr006401000_al_When Rings (2017) opened with a standalone scene on an airplane completely unrelated to the rest of the plot, I had a bad feeling. Unfortunately that feeling came true and the film proceeded to try a dozen different ideas without fulfilling any but the most mediocre.

Rings is the third film in the American series which started with The Ring (2002), based on the Japanese Ringu (1998). Rings is the story of a girl who becomes worried about her suddenly distant boyfriend and head to his college to find out why, only to become tangled up in a cursed video which kills you after seven days.

For all its flaws, Rings does try to expand on the plot of the previous two films, exploring the background of the antagonist and fleshing out the lore of the story. It even introduces new and interesting concepts that work well in a more contemporary environment, like copying video files instead of VHS tapes and an underground research club at a university formed by a professor who is obsessed with the video’s connection to the afterlife through Samara, the terrifying ghost that kills you after seven days.

Hello blue filter, old friend, you've come to ruin more films for me.
Hello blue filter, old friend, you’ve come to ruin more films for me.

The film’s biggest problem is that it never fully explores some of its best options. The relationship between the two protagonists is shoved aside to focus on the ‘plot’, and the boyfriend becomes two-dimensional very quickly. The sleazy professor who cares more for his research than his students is discarded for little reason and the underground research club, which I thought was a fantastic idea, is thrown to the winds in favour of going into the countryside to research Samara’s backstory.

There are some solid performances but these are too infrequent to put a dent in the film’s determination to ruin itself. Johnny Galecki (of Big Bang Theory fame) is great as the standoffish professor and Vincent D’Onofrio delivers the best role in the film, but neither are used well enough to make much of a difference.

Rare instances of good practical effects and interesting settings fail to hold up immersion-breakingly bad CGI, poor writing and lack of consistency. Rings managed to grind to a halt with an ending somehow worse than the rest of the film, and I found myself more than ready to leave the cinema. If you find yourself wanting to head out and see Rings, I suggest you find a way to stream the original instead.

Grade: D-

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La La Land (2016) – Review

La La Land is the story of two ambitious young people in Los Angeles, a classic premise as far as cinema is concerned. The film follows Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress working as a barista, as she meets and begins a relationship with Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz pianist who wants more than anything to open his own jazz club. John Legend plays a supporting role as Keith, though surprisingly adds little musically, aside from one modern jazz performance.

Split into four seasonal-themed acts as the film progresses through the stages of Mia and Sebastian’s relationship, the audience is bounced from set piece to set piece, each as unique and original as the last, though they draw inspiration heavily from classic cinema and theatre.

And I really do mean bounce. This is a film that doesn’t let up; it allows for quiet, still moments but for the most part relies on a constantly moving camera and physical theatre. Cinematography is a highlight for La La Land, with moments that made my jaw drop thanks to stunning colour and framing. The audience is truly taken for a ride, and each setting and backdrop is meticulously vibrant and full.

The relationship between the two main characters feels refreshingly real and grounded.
The relationship between the two main characters feels refreshingly real and grounded.

Primarily, La La Land is a musical and, while I didn’t find myself coming out of the cinema with a tune stuck in my head, each number was exquisitely orchestrated and layered with emotional weight. From a starlit walk along a road overlooking the city, with a surprising tap dancing routine, to an intimate serenade at the piano in the living room, each song welcomes you into the moment to share an emotional journey with the two lead characters.

La La Land is one of the best films I have seen in a long time, one that utterly swept me off my feet with its emotional weight and beauty. Along with a soundtrack that I will happily listen to on its own, and gorgeous scene after gorgeous scene, this is a must-see.

Grade: A+

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The Accountant (2016) – Review

The Accountant (2016) stars Ben Affleck as Christian Woolf, a high-functioning autistic accountant who fixes books for bad people around the globe and protects himself with a range of skills honed thanks to a near-abusive military father and a childhood of globe-trotting and training.

This felt like two films to me. On the one hand, The Accountant is a story of a high-functioning autistic man who has managed to function in society but desires companionship despite his difficulty with social situations and connecting with other people. When he meets Dana, played by Anna Kendrick, he finds a chance to make a genuine connection with another person.

On the other hand, it is also a film about an accountant with elite military skills, who fixes books for some of the most dangerous people on the planet and protects himself by moving from place to place, along with a plentiful arsenal of weapons at his disposal.

These should not be two things that work, but they do. Not always, but there are plenty of moments in The Accountant where the two halves of this film meet beautifully. There are also great moments for each. Accountancy scenes and interactions between the two main characters feel genuine throughout, despite the obvious difficulties inherent in properly representing someone with Autism.

Likewise, the action scenes are fantastic. Affleck’s character allows for precise, brutal action sequences appropriate for a man whose life is based around total order as a necessity. There’s also some good comedy at times, and this is a film that knows how to be lighthearted without disrespecting the very sensitive issues at its core.

The action scenes are precise and brutal, which matches Affleck's character well.
The action scenes are precise and brutal, which matches Affleck’s character well.

Unfortunately, The Accountant does have several issues that keep it from being enjoyable at times. J.K Simmons is good, but unnecessary, appearing several times throughout the film to monologue exposition and then immediately move on. This is easily the most disappointing part of this film, and really takes you out just as character interactions and action sequences pull you in.

What could have been a subtle and meaningful merging of two very different ideas is shoved down the audience’s throat enough times to be annoying. I enjoyed The Accountant for its unique ideas, Ben Affleck’s fantastic, and accurate performance of a high-functioning autistic man, as well as a foreseeable but nonetheless satisfying twist. However, glaring flaws kept me from getting into it entirely and I walked away a bit irritated.

Grade: C-

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The Girl on the Train (2016) – Review

thegirlonthetrainposterThe Girl on the Train surprised me. Without any prior knowledge, save for a few poorly edited trailers, I expected to sit through a mediocre thriller and what I actually got was a deeply tragic character-driven story. The Girl on the Train is full of broken people, each with their own damaged past and mistakes and problems and emotions, and it knows how to show you. It does sometimes push too hard, putting too much effort into making you feel a certain way or showing you unnecessary backstory that, while heavily emotional and beautifully shot, doesn’t add much except more emotional weight to a story that weighed a ton already.

The main cast in this film deliver good performances for the most part, and Emily Blunt is fantastic in the role of Rachel, the titular girl on the train. A truly broken person, wallowing in her own self-destruction and sorrow, Emily Blunt makes Rachel pitiful a times, despicable at others and there are moments when I genuinely felt uncomfortable watching her. The focus on developing Rachel’s character, however, leaves very little time for the rest of the cast and some of the other characters have a tendency to be a bit two-dimensional.

Aside from the music, Emily Blunt is the strongest aspect of The Girl on the Train.
Aside from the music, Emily Blunt is the strongest aspect of The Girl on the Train.

The Girl on the Train leaps about with its story, jumping back and forth through time and between characters, for the most part fluidly. You rarely feel lost but the pacing does get a little chaotic from time to time even though this is likely done to mirror the rickety state of Rachel’s mind as she stumbles toward a conclusion about what’s really going on. And that is the crux of this film, as it is a film with a twist and, while it does make clear efforts to lead you toward a conclusion alongside Rachel in the second half of the film, you may find yourself putting the pieces together well before the finale. I was left feeling as though it could have gotten there a little smoother, and without some of the unnecessary melodrama and poetic moments, but it does get there in the end.

I enjoyed The Girl on the Train and, while it has a strong tendency to get caught up in itself, becoming pretentious or distracted with unnecessary flashbacks and plot development, it does a good job of showing how bleak and tragic life can be, and I walked out of the cinema emotionally affected.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016) – Review

jackreacherposterTom Cruise is in his element in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. A well-paced action film that knows exactly what it is, Never Go Back is thoroughly enjoyable but doesn’t quite live up to the relentless forward momentum of the previous film. Based on a long running book series known for being formulaic, this film surprised me by not just resting on the laurels of the first. While it doesn’t do anything spectacular or new, it manages to switch things up enough to keep fans of the first film more than interested, and ticks all the right boxes for any lover of the action genre.

This is not a character-driven film, but the acting is solid throughout and there is enough plot and character development to keep you more or less invested in the lead characters and their relationships, though a bland villain does little to help this along. One of the main villains barely makes an appearance throughout and the other could be a cardboard cutout with a gun for all it would help, he doesn’t even have a name!

Cobie Smulders delivers a strong performance alongside Cruise
Cobie Smulders delivers a strong performance alongside Cruise.

Tom Cruise maintains his characteristic intensity but the stoicism of the character allows for little else. If anything, he is less intense and less brutal than in the previous instalment, which is somewhat of a disappointment but may be down the addition of new protagonists for this outing. Cobie Smulders (of Avengers fame) and Danika Yarosh (who you may know from Heroes: Reborn) join Tom Cruise in a departure from the lone wolf aspect of the first film. This works fairly well, with some easy exposition and nice character development moments helping to flesh out the film somewhat, but unfortunately seems to cause the film to lose the unrelenting brutality that made me love the original, as it pushes too hard to emotionally affect the audience at times.

Director Edward Zwick is possibly the biggest letdown of the film. For someone whose previous work includes Blood Diamond and The Last Samurai, a generic action flick is the least of what we should be expecting. This is far from a bad film, it’s a solid action film that many people will enjoy but, with a strong cast and a director capable of beautiful action sequences blended with real character-driven stories, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back ultimately falls short of what I was hoping for.