Y Llyfrgell/The Library Suicides

Cast: Catrin Stewart, Dyfan Dwyfor, Sharon Morgan, Ryland Teifi

Cyfarwyddwr/Director: Euros Lyn

Awdur/Writer: Fflur Dafydd


Yn y blynyddoedd diwethaf mae’r trawsnewidiad yn nheledu Prydain wedi cael ei hysgogi i raddau helaeth gan y dramâu Sgandinafaidd tywyll a grutiog sydd wedi ymddangos ar ein sgriniau. Mae’r Nordig Noirs hyn yn taro cynulleidfaoedd gyda’u lleoliadau hunllefus tywyll, arddulliau gweledol diffinedig cryf a straeon dwys afaelgar, a’r dylanwad y maent wedi cael yn amlwg ar unwaith. Mae arddull, naws ac ansawdd sioeau fel The Killing a Borgen erbyn hyn yn amlwg ledled teledu Prydeinig mewn rhaglenni fel Sherlock, Broadchurch a Happy Valley, ac mae Euros Lyn wedi gweithio ar bob un o’r rhain. Y tro hwn mae Lyn wedi cymryd yr awyrgylch sinistr, y lliwiau llym a’r cynnwys grutiog sydd wedi datblygu’n nodweddion o’r dramâu hyn ac wedi eu trosglwyddo i’r sinema i wneud y ffilm Gymraeg, Y Llyfrgell. Mae’r ffilm gyffrous seicolegol yn arddangosiad cryf ar gyfer yr arddull esthetig gweledol mae Lyn wedi meithrin trwy gydol ei yrfa nodedig, ond un sydd yn y pen draw yn teimlo’n fflat.

Mae’r ffilm yn agor gyda’r awdur enwog a nodedig Elena (Sharon Morgan) yn ôl pob golwg yn cyflawni hunanladdiad wrth iddi syrthio o ffenest. Gyda’i hanadl olaf, fodd bynnag, mae hi’n datgelu wrth ei merched efeilliad unfath Ana a Nan (y ddwy yn cael eu portreadu gan Catrin Stewart) mai ei chofiannydd Eben (Ryland Teifi) a laddodd hi. Yn dilyn y datguddiad hwn mae Ana a Nan yn gweithio gyda’i gilydd i lunio cynllun manwl i ddialu ar y dyn hwn tu fewn i Lyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru lle maent yn gweithio. Ar y noson mae Eben wedi trefnu i edrych drwy archifau Elena, mae Ana a Nan yn rhoi eu cynllun ar waith drwy cyffurio dau o’r swyddogion diogelwch ar ddyletswydd a chloi Eben yn y siambr mae wedi bod yn gweithio ynddi. Fodd bynnag mae pethau’n mynd o chwith pan mae’r swyddog diogelwch Dan (Dyfan Dwyfor) deffro o’i drwmgwsg yn gynt na’r disgwyl ac yn amharu ar eu cynllun. Yr hyn sy’n dilyn yw helfa cath-a-llygoden fel mae Ana a Nan yn ceisio dysgu y gwirionedd am farwolaeth eu mam a chosbi y dyn oedd yn gyfrifol.

Mae ymagwedd Lyn i’r stori yn fanwl wrth iddo cymryd gofal i adael i’r stori ddatblygu yn raddol mewn modd sy’n ein galluogi i werthfawrogi manylion bach. Cyn i gynllun yr efeilliaid gael ei wireddu mae’r ffilm yn rhoi digon o amser i ddatgelu rhywfaint o’u trefn ddyddiol ac yr ydym yn dysgu llawer amdanynt drwy olygu a llwyfannu clyfar. Unwaith mae’r cynllun yn mynd rhagddo, fodd bynnag, mae’r ffilm yn parhau i fod yn wyliadwy ond byth yn llwyddo i fod mor dynn neu mor afaelgar ag y basai yn dymuno bod, yn rhannol oherwydd nad yw’r ffilm yr enigma y mae’n anelu i fod. Mae’r troeon a’r troellion niferus sy’n digwydd yn ystod plot y ffilm yn eithaf rhagweladwy ac felly nid ydynt yn ysgogi yr adweithiau a ddymunir. Un darn o bôs y ffilm hon yw tudalen goll o ddyddiadur Elena o’r flwyddyn y ganwyd yr efeilliaid. Mae cynnwys y dudalen mor hawdd i’w ddyfalu mae’n eich tynnu allan o’r teimlad o fod wedi ymgolli yn y ffilm, a thrwy hynny yn tanseilio y dirgelwch sydd i fod i barhau. Er na wnes i byth gweld y ffilm yn ddiflas wnaeth o ddim fodd bynnag achosi fy nghalon i lamu nag i mi wasgu fy nyrnau.

Ynghyd â chyfarwyddyd medrus Lyn, mae perfformiad deuol trawiadol Stewart yn un o’r elfennau sy’n achub y ffilm rhag cyffredinedd. Mae Ana a Nan yn ddelweddau ddrych o’i gilydd yn eu edrychiad, dillad ac ystumiau ond mae gwahaniaethau cynnil sy’n eu gwahanu. Ana yw’r un mwy addfwyn ac ymostyngol o’r ddwy tra mae Nan yn llymach ac yn fwy didostur. Nid yw’n anodd dyfalu sut y bydd y ddwy ohonynt yn ymddwyn unwaith y bydd eu cynllun yn anochel yn mynd o’i le, ond mae Stewart yn portreadu y ddwy ohonynt gydag ymroddiad ac argyhoeddiad. Uchafbwynt arall oedd Dyfan Dwyfor fel y Dan digywilydd a direidus sy’n darparu rhywfaint o ryddhad comig mawr ei angen yn ogystal â dyfnder. Mae’n portredu ei ran fel diogyn trafferthus sydd mwyaf sydyn yn wynebu sefyllfa sy’n ei orfodi i weithredu yn rymus ac yn dda.

Er bod gweithrediad y ffilm ar y cyfan yn llai na syfrdanol, gellir fodd bynnag edmygu y ffilm am yr hyn roedd Lyn yn ei gyfranu iddi fel cyfarwyddwr. Er y gallwn yn hawdd gweld i ba gyfeiriad oedd y stori’n mynd, roedd Lyn yn dal i lwyddo i hoelio sylw y gynulleidfa trwy delweddu oriog, golygu celfydd a defnydd cryf o leoliad. Fodd bynnag, man gwan y ffilm yw ei diweddglo, tro annisgwyl gwan a allai fod wedi gweithio’n well gyda phwyslais cryfach ar seici y cymeriadau ond yn hytrach yn ymddangos braidd yn wirion a gwag. Nid yw’n cael yr effaith hir-barhaol mae o fod i gael ond yn hytrach yn ymddangos yn ddi-sail a swta. Gall y rhai sy’n gwylio’r ffilm ac yn caniatáu eu hunain i gael eu hudoli gan y defnydd o arddull heb feddwl gormod am y stori ei hun efallai ei mwynhau ar lefel esthetig, hyd yn oed yn artistig. Bydd y rhai sydd yn edrych i gael eu swyno a’u syfrdanu gan ddirgelwch y ffilm hon yn ôl pob tebyg yn siomedig. Fel Cymro Cymraeg, yr wyf yn gwerthfawrogi’r cyfle i wylio ffilm mewn iaith nad yw’n aml yn cael triniaeth sinematig ac yn gobeithio y bydd Lyn yn ymdrechu i wneud mwy yn y dyfodol.

★★★


In recent years British TV has undergone a transformation that has been largely motivated by the dark and gritty Scandinavian dramas that have graced our screens. These Nordic Noirs struck audiences with their gloomy, nightmarish settings, strongly defined visual styles and intensely gripping stories and the influence they’ve had is immediately apparent. The style, tone and quality of such shows as The Killing and Borgen can now be seen all over British television in such programmes as Sherlock, Broadchurch and Happy Valley, all of which Euros Lyn has worked on. This time Lyn has taken the sinister atmosphere, harsh colours and gritty content that have become staples of these dramas and has carried them over to the cinema to make the Welsh-language film, The Library Suicides. This psychological thriller is a strong showcase for the aesthetic visual style that Lyn has cultivated through his distinguished career, but one that ultimately feels flat.

The film opens with the famous and celebrated author Elena (Sharon Morgan) seemingly committing suicide as she falls from a window. With her dying breath however she reveals to her identical twin daughters Ana and Nan (both played by Catrin Stewart) that it was her biographer Eben (Ryland Teifi) who murdered her. With this revelation Ana and Nan work together to devise an elaborate plan to enact revenge upon this man within the National Library of Wales where they both work. On the night that Eben has arranged to look through Elena’s archives, Ana and Nan put their plan into action by drugging both of the security guards on duty and trapping Eben in the chamber he’s been working in. However things go awry when the security guard Dan (Dyfan Dwyfor) awakens from his stupor earlier than anticipated and disrupts their plot. What follows is a cat-and-mouse chase as Ana and Nan seek to learn the truth of their mother’s death and punish the man responsible.

Lyn’s approach to the story is meticulous as he takes care to let the story unravel at a steady pace that allows us to appreciate the little details. Before the twins’ plot is carried out, the film allows us enough time to follow their daily routine and teaches us much about them through clever editing and staging. Once the plan is underway however the film remains watchable but never manages to be as tense or as gripping as it wants to be. Part of this is because the film is not the enigma that it aspires to be. The numerous twists and turns that happen over the course of this plot are fairly predictable and therefore do not provoke the reactions that they are supposed to. One of the pieces of the puzzle that is this film is a missing page from Elena’s diary from the year that the twins were born. The information it contains is distractingly easy to guess, thus undermining the mystery it is supposed to perpetuate. Although I never found the film to be dull, it never had my heart racing or my fists clenching.

Along with Lyn’s skilful direction, Stewart’s impressive dual performance is one of the elements that saves the film from banality. Ana and Nan are mirror images of each other in their looks, apparel and mannerisms but that there are subtle differences which separate them. Ana is the gentler, more sheepish of the two whereas Nan is tougher and more ruthless. It isn’t hard to guess how each of them will behave once their plan inevitably goes wrong, but still Stewart plays them both with the utmost dedication and conviction. Another highlight was Dyfan Dwyfor as the cheeky and roguish Dan who provides the film with some much needed comic relief and depth. His arc as a troublesome layabout who is suddenly faced with a situation that forces him to take action is a compelling one that he plays well.

While the execution may have been underwhelming, one can still admire this film for what Lyn was able to bring to it as a director. Although we can easily see the direction in which the story will go, Lyn still manages to retain the audience’s engagement through moody visuals, stylish editing and a strong use of location. The film’s Achilles heel however is its weak twist ending that might have worked better with a stronger emphasis on the characters’ psyches but instead comes across as rather silly and hollow. It doesn’t have the lingering effect it’s supposed to and instead seems unearned and abrupt. Those who watch the film and allow themselves to be enraptured by its use of style without thinking too much about the plot itself might enjoy this film on an aesthetic, even artistic level. Those who are looking to be captivated, confounded and mystified by this film will probably be disappointed. For me, as a Welsh speaker, I appreciated the chance to watch a film in a language that does not often get the cinematic treatment and hope that Lyn shall endeavour to make more in the future.

★★★

Pete’s Dragon

Cast: Bryce Dallas Howard, Oakes Fegley, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban, Oona Laurence, Robert Redford

Director: David Lowery

Writers: David Lowery, Toby Halbrooks


After The BFG, this is the second blockbuster I’ve seen this summer that has evoked within me memories of Spielberg’s E.T. People like to complain that they don’t make movies like that anymore but the truth is that they do. They may not get made often enough or may get overshadowed by something more popular like Minions, but they’re still there for people to watch. Like The BFG, this movie targets itself towards young children but also offers something for the teenagers and adults who remember what it was like to be that age. Like in E.T. the plot in Pete’s Dragon is secondary to the central relationship being focused on. The film is childish in its playfulness and whimsicality but also adult in its tranquillity and stillness. Although they may not get made or seen often, the claim that Hollywood’s children’s movies have lost this thoughtful and wondrous quality is just wrong.

Six years ago, a little boy named Pete (Oakes Fegley) got lost in the forest and was found and rescued by a great but friendly dragon with the ability to turn invisible. Pete names the dragon Elliott (sound familiar?) and goes on to live with him in the forest. When an older Pete spots a lumberjack crew chopping down some trees near his home, he is spotted by Natalie (Oona Laurence), the daughter of the foreman Jack (Wes Bentley). After he gets caught, Jack’s girlfriend, the park ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), takes Pete in and tries to learn who he is and where he came from. When Grace learns about Elliott, she finds herself believing the story her father Meacham (Robert Redford) used to tell her about the time he came across a dragon in the forest. Pete agrees to lead them to Elliott, unaware that Jack’s brother Gavin (Karl Urban), a hunter, has also encountered this dragon and plans to catch him.

One of the things Pete’s Dragon accomplishes so well is that it captures the subtle yet immediately identifiable sense of what it feels like to be a child. The forest and the dragon that inhabits it not only look enormous, they feel enormous the way that everything does when you’re little. It captures that childish sense of adventure in both its wonder and scariness, a sensation that Pete’s parents remark on right before the car crash that would leave him an orphan. Bravery, says his father, is what he needs to see an adventure through and that is what a lost, scared and forlorn Pete finds in Elliott. It is significant that we meet the dragon immediately at the beginning because it means that imagination and fantasy are allowed to reign supreme. How trite would this movie have been if it had opted for ambiguity surrounding the dragon’s existence assisted by misunderstandings and dismissals by joylessly unimaginative grown-ups? This is a movie that appreciates the depths and possibilities of children’s dreams and imaginings and fully embraces them.

In this film Pete names Elliott after the dog in the book he’s reading and their relationship plays out in a classic A Boy and His Dog fashion. The dragon is simply teeming with life and personality and shows himself to be caring, loyal and protective of Pete. He is a smart and perceptive creature capable of reason and thought, allowing their friendship to be a mutual one on an emotional level. Elliott needs Pete every bit as much as Pete needs him. At no point does Elliott talk in this movie, meaning that the movie must convey his character solely through his expressions and personality, something that it does marvellously. A lot of the film’s heart is carried through by the humans as well with their subtle yet affective performances, save its two-dimensional baddie. Howard’s portrayal of a sweet and down-to-earth woman witnessing a phenomenon beyond anything she could have imagined is a moving one. Redford, being the old pro that he is, acts everybody else under the table as he manages to bring a childlike innocence to his role without it seeming silly or even quirky.

There is no shortage of smart and thoughtful children’s movies being made today and not all of them belong to Pixar. Pete’s Dragon, like The BFG before it, is a charming and enchanting movie that I found to be delightful. It takes itself and its audience seriously, but not too seriously. The film is sincere, restrained and heartfelt but it is also bright, exciting, funny and childish. While there are many kid’s movies that make the misstep of always being on the move and constantly making noise for fear of losing the children’s attention, Pete’s Dragon is a movie that allows itself to stand still, take a moment, and just breathe. Perhaps the approach isn’t as nuanced as it is in a typical Studio Ghibli feature, but it is welcome regardless. If it is to be believed that these movies are indeed a dying breed, then I truly hope that audiences will embrace and cherish this film and all the others like it.

★★★★

Suicide Squad

Cast: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Karen Fukuhara, Ike Barinholtz, Scott Eastwood, Cara Delevingne

Director: David Ayer

Writer: David Ayer


Watching Suicide Squad has made one thing about the DC cinematic universe clear to me: it isn’t just Zack Snyder. The trouble with this franchise is not the brainchild of a single overseer, it’s happening on an institutional level. It pains to write this because I watched the cartoons growing up, read the comic books as a teenager, and deeply love this universe and its characters.. Nothing would please me more than to sing the praises of the movie franchise that has brought this universe to life. I can’t do that though because for three films now they’ve made the same mistakes again and again. All three movies have been entertaining on a spectacular level, but their stories and characters continue to suffer from an aggravating inability to realise these fundamental flaws. Suicide Squad is an improvement on this front, but at the end of the day it suffers from the same overall problem as the other DC movies. The ultimate problem is that Warner Bros is more interested in making movies with good trailers than it is in making good movies.

Following Superman’s death, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has determined that the Earth needs a new force to protect humanity against inhuman threats. Her proposal is a mercenary team made up of dangerous criminals kept in check by chips implanted in their brains. The villains selected for this team are the skilled assassin Deadshot (Will Smith), the insane Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the incendiary El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) the rugged thief Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), the genetic deformity Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and the ancient sorceress Enchantress (Cara Delevingne). Leading the team is Waller’s trusted colonel Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman), a soldier with little patience for the criminal scum he must work with. When Midway City is besieged by a horde of monsters powered by some mystical weapon, the Suicide Squad is sent on their first mission to combat them. Hot on their trail is the Joker (Jared Leto) who is on his own mission to liberate his beloved Harley Quinn.

The movie’s saving grace is its main cast. Despite some illogical inconsistencies, a feeble villain and a weak second half, the ensemble managed to carry this movie most of the way through and made it more fulfilling to watch than either of DC’s first two offerings. Viola Davis is fantastic as Waller, a ruthless government official who gives orders and combats threats with a cold, business-like attitude. Will Smith succeeds marvellously in playing Deadshot both as an adept assassin and as a concerned father trying to do right by his daughter. Margot Robbie is perfectly cast as Harley Quinn and delivers a crazed and layered performance that was regrettably undermined by the movie’s excessive objectification of her character. I was also a big fan of Jay Hernandez as El Diablo, a fundamentally good man cursed with a destructive power that he cannot entirely control. Leto however, considering the enormous publicity surrounding his performance and the standard set by Nicholson, Hamill, and Ledger, was a let-down. While his portrayal as the Joker was somewhat intriguing, his screen time is minimal and his role is almost entirely immaterial to the main story.

The films starts off promisingly enough as we are introduced to these characters and get to know them a bit. The numerous flashbacks are quite disorienting due to some messy editing and there were also some parts that can only be described as bizarre (The one that stands out is that mindboggling moment featuring Batman and Harley Quinn), but I was still on board when the team was finally assembled and ready to set out on their mission. From this point onwards Suicide Squad becomes the same generic action movie we’ve seen a million times. There’s the bland villain with the vague motivation, the expendable, faceless army sent to combat the main cast, and the same old indefinably destructive portal from movies like Fantastic Four that threatens to destroy the world or something. The characters do help to make the movie’s second half somewhat entertaining, but the threat facing them is bland and forgettable and the amount of tension the film is able to conjure up is almost nil. This made for a movie that was fun to watch, but not particularly engaging or thrilling.

I think that the critical panning this film has received has more to do with the audience’s frustration with the DC franchise than it does with any of the movie’s particular faults. When held to its own merits and demerits as separate from the franchise, I don’t think it deserves the hate it has received. Suicide Squad is an often entertaining movie with many colourful and memorable characters that falls apart in its second half. It doesn’t suffer from the stale tone of Man of Steel or from the severely overblown plot of Batman v. Superman. It is however symptomatic of a misguided franchise that is more interested in making movies that look good than in making movies that actually are good. The gimmick of seeing iconic characters from the comics come to life on the big screen will wear off for most viewers and already has for some. Unless Warner Bros wakes up and starts to offer something more substantive in these movies, the audience’s exasperation will only continue to grow.

★★★

Finding Dory

Cast: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy

Director: Andrew Stanton

Writers: Andrew Stanton, Victoria Strouse


Pixar (and Disney in general for that matter) doesn’t have a great track record with non-Toy Story sequels and prequels. Neither Cars 2 nor Monsters University were able to attain that level of creativity, wonder and heart that usually makes Pixar’s movies so astonishing. Finding Nemo is such a movie. The tale of an anxious clownfish scouring the depths of the ocean in search of his son is one that captured my imagination and filled me with pure delight as a child. The film contains some of the best comedy in any Pixar movie, stunning animation, and a touching (if predictable) message about family and trust. Dory was easily the most entertaining character in the film with her scattered brain, idiosyncratic personality and perfectly cast voice. If a sequel did indeed have to be made, then putting her character at the helm was certainly a wise move.

One year after helping Marlin rescue Nemo, Dory accompanies Nemo’s class on a field trip when an incident triggers a memory of her parents. Realising that she has an actual family, she sets out to resume her search for them with her friends’ help. The only thing she remembers is that they lived at the Jewel of Morro Bay, so they venture there and find a Marine Life Institute. Dory is caught and taken into the Quarantine section where she meets a seven-legged octopus named Hank. He agrees to help Dory find the section of the Institute where she believes her parents might be found if she agrees to help sneak him onto a truck bound for an aquarium in Chicago. Meanwhile Marlin and Nemo need to find a way inside the Institute so that they can rescue Dory. As Dory gets closer to her home, she receives additional flashbacks that help to fill in the blanks over who her parents were and how she got separated from them.

My biggest worry going into this film was that it would end up being a “here we go again” type of sequel. I was afraid that this movie would merely set itself on following the same formula as the original and hitting the same beats without any real variance, resulting in a stale imitation. And that’s actually how it plays out for the first 10-15 minutes. Immediately after Dory, Marlin and Nemo set out on their adventure, they encounter a predatory squid and must avoid it, just like with the sharks, the anglerfish, and the jellyfish in the first movie. However, once the setting is moved to the Marine Life Institute, it becomes its own movie. The film places a strong emphasis on Dory’s personal struggle in the story, stressing the anxiety and frustration that come with Dory’s disability. There’s a good sequence where Dory is trying to navigate a maze of pipes and gets lost as she is unable to remember the directions she received just moments before. This insight into Dory’s inner-turmoil coupled with the flashbacks of her childhood allowed for a deep, personal investment in her journey.

The animation is also as stunning as ever. The character of Hank, the seven-legged octopus that can camouflage itself to its surroundings, allowed the Pixar team to have a field day with all of the shapes and colours at their disposal. The film was also able to experiment with new ideas as in one scene near the end where we see Dory following her own footprints (so to speak). The comedy is also pretty strong, in large part due to many of the new characters that are introduced. These include Destiny, a near-sighted whale shark, Becky, a clueless common loon, and also an incredibly lonely clam. The film certainly doesn’t lack for imagination in the kind of scenarios it is willing to conjure up, as in a bit in the climax that features a truck and Louis Armstrong. It is a bizarre, completely over the top scene but, what the hell, I went along with it. Once a movie has you properly engaged and invested, it’s amazing the kind of places you’ll be willing to follow it.

With Finding Dory Pixar has broken its sequel/prequel trend. While it’s not the equal of Finding Nemo, it succeeds splendidly as a movie on its own terms and delivers an adventure that is funny, exciting and moving all at once. Dory’s journey as a character is a compelling one and it broke my heart to see what an obstacle her short-term memory loss was to realising an objective that meant so very much to her. I re-watched Finding Nemo not long after seeing this film and saw the character in an entirely new light. Before I simply saw her as a potent source of comic relief. Now I see her as a layered and sympathetic character who is undergoing a great struggle, even when she isn’t realising it. If a sequel or a prequel can make me look at the original movie in an entirely new light, then it has definitely done something right. Finding Dory is a far better film that I dared to hope and is worthy of the Pixar name.

★★★★

Jason Bourne

Cast: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles, Riz Ahmed

Director: Paul Greengrass

Writers: Paul Greengrass, Christopher Rouse


There is hardly an action movie today that doesn’t owe some kind of debt to the Bourne trilogy. After the slick, stylised action of Cold War cinema, Bourne pioneered a brutally intense style befitting the post-9/11 age we live in. Through narrow framing, camera shakes and sporadic editing these three films developed a style of action that feels more energetic and severe than those before it. It is a style that has since been widely adopted, emulated, misused, parodied and developed throughout the last decade. With all the time that has gone by since the trilogy ended, Jason Bourne is faced with the task of recapturing that same feeling without simply feeling like yet another imitation, something that The Bourne Legacy was unable to do. Given how Matt Damon long proclaimed that he would not reprise Bourne unless Paul Greengrass was on board and the script felt right, there was reason to be optimistic about this possibility. Sadly, the movie did not live up to the promise.

A decade after recovering from his amnesia and exposing Operation Blackbriar, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) been living in exile. He is found in Greece by Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) who informs him of a discovery she’s made regarding Bourne’s recruitment into Blackbriar and how his father might have been involved. Her intrusion into the CIA’s mainframe was detected by the head of the cyber ops division Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) and reported to the CIA’s Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones). To stop her, the CIA dispatches an operative known as the Asset (Vincent Cassel), who then proceeds to disrupt Nicky’s meeting with Bourne in Athens. From there Bourne must go on the run once again, must learn the truth of a mystery from his past, and must discover whatever secret it is the CIA is trying to cover up.

Jason Bourne is essentially more of the same and that is both a strength and a weakness. The action is technically still phenomenal. The scene where the Asset chases Bourne and Nicky through the streets of Athens while a riot takes place is a stunning sequence. The fistfights are as intense and energetic as ever. The impact however is somewhat lulled due to the widespread adoption of the trilogy’s style. This type of action is no longer unique to Bourne, therefore it doesn’t really stand out amongst all the other action-thrillers being made today. A compelling story with interesting characters would have been extremely helpful in this regard, but Jason Bourne failed to deliver on that front. Whereas the government agents in the first three movies were intently focused on finding Bourne and stopping him from exposing Operations Treadstone and Blackbriar, the main antagonist of this movie concerns himself with a subplot that is wholly immaterial to Bourne’s story. This subplot, which deals with issues of privacy and surveillance, is the movie’s attempt to be socially relevant, but in execution it steals away from the central narrative and does not affect the plot in any meaningful way.

The disparity in story made it difficult to become engaged with the characters. Tommy Lee Jones dedicated so much of his screen-time to a story irrelevant to Bourne’s that the link between them was not nearly as strong as it was with Brian Cox, Joan Allen and David Strathairn. Some viewers might appreciate the movie’s attempt to tackle such a critical political and social issue, but for me the central conflict of Jason Bourne just wasn’t personal enough. Vikander, who is plays more of a role in the hunt for Bourne than Jones, does a little better here. Damon himself is sufficiently tough and intense and Bourne, who has never been a particularly complex or emotive character, but does feel a bit like he’s on autopilot at points. This wasn’t as glaring as it was with Stiles though who was practically asleep in all of her scenes. Cassel I think was the one performer who really came through as a highly trained assassin with a personal vendetta against Bourne.

Sadly Jason Bourne is fated to join the line of unnecessary and underwhelming sequels in great franchises that should have left well enough alone, along with The Godfather: Part III and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. While by no means bad, it wasn’t worth the wait and did not live up to the promise. After years of waiting for the right script to come along, I wonder what it was about this offering that convinced Damon and Greengrass that this movie just had to be made. Jason Bourne is a solid enough movie in its own right but under the shadow of its franchise it isn’t up to par. If all you want from a Bourne sequel is more of Matt Damon kicking ass and taking names, then this movie is just fine. If you want a movie that brings the Bourne franchise to new heights and inspires the same level of intrigue and captivation as the original Bourne movies, you will be sorely disappointed.

★★★

The BFG

Cast: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jermaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, Bill Hader

Director: Steven Spielberg

Writer: Melissa Mathison


Roald Dahl had a singular gift for capturing children’s imaginations. In novels like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda and James and the Giant Peach he demonstrated an uncanny ability to see the world through the eyes of a child. While adults tend to have their feet grounded in reality, children are able to accept the impossible in stride, something that Dahl fully embraced. His stories were creative, silly and relatable and they dealt with the fantastic and the bizarre in a very matter-of-fact way. Sometimes they could be dark (I remember this one passage in The BFG that described what all the different children of the world tasted like) but the baddies always got their just deserts in the end and there was always a moral for kids to take away. There are few films that can match the childlike wonder of Dahl’s work, but E.T. is unquestionably one of them. I cannot think of a more suitable team to bring one of Dahl’s stories to life than Spielberg and Mathison.

Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) lives in a London orphanage where she often reads into the late hours of the night when everyone else is asleep. One night at the “witching hour” she spots an elderly giant lurking in the shadows outside of her window. The giant snatches her from her bed and carries her all the way to Giant Country. There the Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance) explains that she must remain in his home forever so that she may never reveal the existence of giants to the world. The other giants are all enormous, repulsive bullies with names like Fleshlumpeater (Jermaine Clement) and Bloodbottler (Bill Hader) who spend their nights stealing children and eating them. The BFG meanwhile spends his days capturing dreams which he then casts into children’s minds as they sleep. As Sophie becomes friends with the BFG, she determines that something needs to be done about the rest of the giants and enlists the BFG to help her.

The plot, much like in E.T., is very simple and minimal, allowing for more time to focus on the interactions between Sophie and the BFG. This movie is perfectly content with putting the story on hold so that a moment may be allowed to play out. Even when the plot does move forward in the third act with Sophie and the BFG appealing to the Queen of England, the film still finds time for an amusing scene the morning after where the disparity between the giant and the humans is played on for comic effect. The film also pauses to focus on moments of enchantment, as when the BFG takes Sophie to the pool where he collects his dreams. It is a tremendous scene that allows the viewer to get lost in the magic for a moment. Other times the film simply lets Sophie and the BFG talk to each other, allowing us to enjoy the evolution of a fascinating and unlikely friendship.

Despite the vast differences between them, Sophie and the BFG are remarkably similar in a number of crucial ways. They are both outsiders, Sophie being an orphan and the BFG being the runt of the giants. Both are childish in certain ways and adult in others, meaning they must both be responsible for each other. Sophie is mature for her age but is still helpless against the giants, therefore it is the BFG’s responsibility to protect her. The BFG however is rather scatter-brained and timid, making it Sophie’s responsibility to mother him. Barnhill makes her splendid debut as the clever and witty Sophie while Rylance is simply magical as the odd and affectionate giant. In a motion-capture performance that rivals even those of Andy Serkis, Rylance’s delivery of the BFG’s garbled lines and realisation of his peculiar movements amount to an utterly charming character. The friendship the two of them form is the heart of this movie and watching their interactions was a delight.

The BFG is a movie about dreams and stories, family and childhood, and having courage in the face of adversity. It is above all a film about friendship. It is a tale of kindness, valour and goodness winning against bullying, malice and cruelty. The movie is patient and clever enough that it doesn’t need to constantly keep the story moving forward for fear of losing the children’s attention. The magical world it depicts and the enjoyable characters it portrays are both fascinating enough to keep the viewer engaged, even in the moments where there doesn’t seem to be much happening. The film doesn’t have the emotional punch of E.T. but it has the creativity, humour and wonder. The BFG is an endearing, kind-hearted movie that I’d like to think Mr. Dahl would’ve been proud of. I think it is a worthy fulfilment of the book I enjoyed so fondly as a child and I hope it is one that will resonate with children today.

★★★★

Star Trek Beyond

Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, John Cho, Idris Elba

Director: Justin Lin

Writers: Simon Pegg, Doug Jung


I’m not a huge Star Trek fan. I don’t mean that in the sense that I don’t like it but rather in the sense that I haven’t watched enough of it to consider myself a huge fan. While I have watched all three instalments of the reboot, the only classic Star Trek movie I’ve ever gotten round to seeing is Wrath of Khan (which I found to be a better movie than any of the new ones). Therefore when I talk about the characters in this movie and the universe they inhabit, I do so from an unenlightened perspective. I am not intimately familiar with this franchise and have no substantive opinion of how a Star Trek movie is supposed to be done. The only fair standard I can set for this film is that provided by the J.J. Abrams movies, both of which I enjoyed but didn’t love. That is more or less how I feel about this movie as well.

Three years into their five-year mission, Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) starts contemplating the endless nature of their voyage as he approaches his thirtieth birthday, making him one year younger than his father was when he died. While on shore leave Kirk is offered a promotion and recommends Spock (Zachary Quinto) as his successor, should he accept that is. Spock meanwhile finds himself in a similarly dejected state after ending his relationship with Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and receiving word that Ambassador Spock has died. The Enterprise is then sent on a rescue mission which turns out to be an ambush. The ship is destroyed by Krall (Idris Elba), a ruthless alien seeking revenge against the United Federation of Planets, and most of the crew is taken captive. Kirk manages to escape with Chekov (Anton Yelchin) while Spock escapes with Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban). Stranded, scattered and crippled, it is up to Kirk to reunite his crew, find out what Krall is planning and save the Federation.

While I understand that the classic Star Trek movies were largely concerned with character-based drama and themes of morality and philosophy, these modern takes have leaned more heavily towards aspects of action/adventure. Although I’ve enjoyed these movies for the thrills they’ve provided, I have often felt that the stories and characters have left me wanting. While the characters in these films are certainly memorable, likeable and entertaining to watch, I’ve seldom found them to be truly compelling. In Star Trek Beyond there was a lot of potential for drama that the movie was able to set up but couldn’t quite follow through on. In Kirk’s arc for example it seems like the movie is trying to present him in a lost, estranged state, living under the shadow of the father he never knew and undergoing a crisis of identity. To me however, it just came across as Kirk being bored of his job. Spock, who lost his home planet in the first film and has learned of the passing of his alternate self, could have been allowed to confront issues of mortality, endurance and responsibility. Instead he breaks up with his girlfriend. Because these movies are so focused on getting to the action, there just isn’t enough time for them to really ask the big questions or to delve deeply into these characters. This doesn’t make them bad or boring, it just makes them somewhat unfulfilling.

Still, the action is often spectacular and is a nice change from the shaky cam and lens flares that often proved distracting in the Abrams movies. There are some incredible sequences in this film, such as Krall’s attack on the Enterprise, that had my heart racing. The action does get more generic in the third act but the ones that really work well are simply stunning. The movie also puts its excellent cast to good use, at least on an entertainment level. The banter between Spock and Bones is good for a few laughs. Pegg provides Scotty with plenty of moments in the spotlight and crushes them. Uhura isn’t given really given enough to do but Saldana is still able to deliver far more than what she was given. Pine has really grown into the role of Kirk and carries an undeniable air of authority befitting a strong and respected leader. The only disappointment was the villain who, despite Elba’s best efforts, is let down by a forgettable personality, vague motivations and a weak plot twist.

Star Trek Beyond is a good enough movie on a purely entertaining level. It has good characters portrayed by a superb cast, some great comedic highlights and plenty of action. It’s weakness, as with the previous two instalments, is its inability to give its story and character the depth that they deserve. The promise is there, the films just aren’t brave enough to follow through with it. Star Trek Beyond is thrilling and it is enjoyable, but there ultimately isn’t very much that separates it from all the other sci-fi/action blockbusters being made today. I may not have seen enough of the classic Star Trek movies and TV shows to claim any sort of authority where they are concerned, but what little I have seen I’ve found to be intelligent, captivating and unlike any big budget movie being made in this current climate. If these movies ever took the risk of putting the action in the backseat and allowed themselves to attempt that same level of innovation and nuance, we might have been treated to something truly special.

★★★

Ghostbusters

Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Cecily Strong, Andy Garcia, Charles Dance, Michael K. Williams, Matt Walsh, Chris Hemsworth

Director: Paul Feig

Writers: Katie Dippold, Paul Feig


Before delving into this film I suppose I ought to address the absurd controversy it has provoked. There seem to be two separate camps of thought on the Internet that have made the most noise on this issue. One regards the original Ghostbusters movie as some kind of sacred holy text that must never ever ever be violated by any kind of a remake or revival. The other is a fanatically extreme form of feminism that believes anyone who could possibly dislike a movie starring four women for any reason must be a misogynist. Both sides are as ridiculous as they are irrational and the uproar they created is one worthy of a South Park episode. Anyway, my basic attitude leading up to the movie was this: I love the original Ghostbusters movie but was open to the prospect of a female-led reboot. I like the director and the actresses they chose but didn’t like the trailer they released. However good movies get bad trailers all the time (and vice-versa) so I went in hopeful that the movie might still end up being good. In the end I thought it was okay.

Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), a physics professor at Columbia University, is being considered for tenure when she discovers that a book she co-authored about the paranormal has been republished. Fearing for her reputation she contacts her collaborator Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) with whom she hasn’t spoken in years. Abby agrees to take the book out of circulation if Erin agrees to help her and Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), an eccentric engineer, investigate a claim of paranormal activity. They head over to a museum where they discover an actual ghost, confirming everything they had theorised years ago. They decide to follow through with this discovery and open a business on the upper-floor of a Chinese restaurant for the study and capture of ghosts. Joining them is Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), the subway worker who gives the team their first lead, and Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), their attractive but dim-witted receptionist. Together they face a great, otherworldly threat that only the Ghostbusters can stop.

As ludicrous as the controversy is, it unfortunately left an impact on this film. There was so much pressure for this movie to match up to the first Ghostbusters that it ended up trying to appease the fans with awkward call-backs and forced cameos. It’s a shame because whenever the movie actually did its own thing, it worked pretty well. The dynamic between the four leading ladies worked for the most part and could have been taken even further. The action is a lot more creative and inventive than in the original and is often fun to watch. The visuals, while hardly groundbreaking, are decent and match the style of the original while still looking different enough to give the movie its own tone. Not everything new works well (the villain is bland and forgettable) nor is everything old stale (Slimer’s cameo rocks) but ultimately the movie’s biggest weakness is that it is too afraid to be its own movie.

The movie’s second biggest weakness is the inconsistency in its humour. For every joke in this movie that works, there is one that does not. I hope that whoever was in charge of the trailer got sacked because, in a movie that has some very funny jokes and moments, they were somehow able to cherry pick the absolute worst and most cringeworthy of the bunch. The inconsistency is present throughout the film and is often frustrating. Having Holtzmann snack on a can of pringles during their first ghost sighting is quite funny. Having that ghost puke on Erin is not. The movie is full of these moments where it temporarily wins you over with something smart or humourous only to lose you straight away with something stupid or banal. Near the end when the Ghostbusters were battling possessed parade balloons I found myself going along with it alright until the entry of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man brought me out all over again. It is this mismatch that made it difficult for me to really get drawn into the movie.

The movie’s best resource is its main cast, which played a vital role in saving this movie from its lesser qualities. Wiig and McCarthy’s characters are the straight players of the ensemble so they don’t get many opportunities to be funny. When the chances do present themselves though, they make it work (Wiig’s delivery of “Burn in hell” is comedic gold). McKinnon, with her crazed expressions and deadpan deliveries, is splendid as Holtzmann, the film’s strongest character. Jones also does well with what she has, although what the movie gives her is quite limiting. I liked the idea of turning the practice of having a stupid but attractive woman in every comedy on its head by casting Hemsworth as the male equivalent but found the execution uneven. Sometimes it works but other times they make him too stupid. Between them they cannot make every joke work because the material is often just too weak but, when the movie does give them something good, they knock it out of the park.

All in all, I neither love nor hate this movie. I don’t think it’s a betrayal of the original Ghostbusters but it certainly isn’t its equal. The Ghostbusters of 1984 was its own weird and wonderful thing that can never be recaptured (we know because they tried in 1989), so I’m glad that they at least tried to do something different with the property. I just think that the result is a mixed bag. The movie is funny and creative enough that I can understand why someone would like it but it is also tedious and awkward enough that I can understand someone disliking it. In either case it most certainly isn’t worth all of the abhorrence and antagonism that has been generated around it. Anyone who claims that this movie has ruined their childhood needs to get a life. Anyone opposed to the idea of a major franchise making a movie with a female ensemble needs to grow up. At the end of the day Ghostbusters is a clumsy but sometimes enjoyable mess and you can either take it or leave it.

★★★

The Legend of Tarzan

Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Samuel L. Jackson, Margot Robbie, Djimon Hounsou, Jim Broadbent, Christoph Waltz

Director: David Yates

Writers: Adam Cozad, Craig Brewer


Before we had Batman, Superman or the Avengers, there was Tarzan. In this day and age where superheroes command the box office, it makes sense that Hollywood would want to revive and capitalise on one of the original superheroes. It is however rather telling that the figure they chose is a white man who rises as a hero and saviour for the people of Africa. Since race is one of the hottest topics in the world right now, a movie based on a story that reflects 19th century values of white supremacy seems at the very least ill advised. The film does acknowledge some of the dated aspects of this concept but is less than successful in its attempt to rise above them. The larger debate that needs to be held is one that I am not nearly qualified enough to engage in but, due to the prominent role these concerns play in the movie, it is an issue that needed to be acknowledged. Putting the politics and racial issues aside, The Legend of Tarzan is a sometimes exciting but otherwise drab movie.

The film is set in the late 19th century and opens in the Belgian Congo where Léon Rom (Christoph Waltz), a ruthless captain, has been sent by King Leopold II of Austria to search for diamonds. There he meets the tribal leader Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) and strikes a bargain with him. The bargain concerns Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) who currently lives in London as Lord Greystoke with his wife Jane Porter (Margot Robbie). Although the Tarzan myth is a popular one in England, it is one that Greystoke is determined to leave in the past. Therefore, when he receives an invitation from the Prime Minister and King Leopold to visit Boma and assess the progress of the Congo’s development, it is an offer he is inclined to refuse. His mind is changed by the American entrepreneur George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) after he shares his suspicion that the Belgians are engaged in an illegal slave trade. Greystoke thus returns to his home with Jane and Williams to investigate these claims and there finds that he must become Tarzan once again to save the Congolese people.

The reason I’m more inclined to view and judge this movie through a political and racial lens rather than, say, Disney’s Tarzan is because this film brings it upon itself. The story tackles such historically provocative subjects as African colonisation and slavery and presents a revisionist version of events that allows the Brits and Americans to come across as the goodies. One way it does this is through the inclusion of George Washington Williams, a real life veteran of the civil war and writer of African-American history. The film hopes that it can escape the racist and imperialistic connotations of the Tarzan mythos by having a black character around to assure the audience that everything happening on screen is just fine and to remind us that the Belgians are the real baddies. Maybe the movie’s heart was in the right place but it just doesn’t work. When the film features such images as the jubilantly white Tarzan and Jane being hailed and celebrated by the black natives, it’s difficult to resist the urge to groan or to roll your eyes.

A 21st century movie based on Tarzan was always going to be problematic and working around the undertones of the original story was never going to be easy. The Legend of Tarzan however falls flat just as a movie in general. There are some good elements like the flashbacks revealing Tarzan’s origin which work well in their lucidity and restraint. Tarzan himself however is about as bland as a protagonist can get. The physique Skarsgård achieved for the role is certainly impressive but it shouldn’t have been the most interesting thing about him. Waltz meanwhile is called upon once again to portray yet another watered-down version of Hans Landa. Robbie does well as the spirited and capable Jane, which is a change from the damsel in distress she is usually portrayed as if a little bit idealistic for a movie set in the 19th century. The movie could’ve used a lot more of the life that she gave to her role.

The fatal weakness of The Legend of Tarzan is that it is dull, dull, dull. While the action is well executed, it isn’t until the final third that we get to see any of it. The visuals are flat and uninspired, which comes as a great disappointment after the example set by The Jungle Book. The story is tedious and typical of Hollywood in its obvious and simplistic way. If the movie had been more exciting and fulfilling to watch, perhaps its backwards and misguided subtext might have been a little more tolerable. Even then, Disney proved that it is possible to take the story of Tarzan and turn it into a fun, exciting and innocent adventure. The Legend of Tarzan in contrast is a misguided movie with a white saviour story that it is constantly trying to excuse to the point that it gets uncomfortable to watch. When people say that Hollywood is out of touch, this is the kind of thing they’re talking about.

★★

The Secret Life of Pets

Cast: (voiced by) Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Steve Coogan, Ellie Kemper, Bobby Moynihan, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Hanniball Buress, Jenny Slate, Albert Brooks

Directors: Chris Renaud, Yarrow Cheney

Writers: Brian Lynch, Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio


In the current climate of children’s animation where recent hits include such movies as Inside Out and Zootropolis, the standard, and consequently the level of expectation, has never been higher. Not only were both of these movies wildly entertaining, but they also told smart and multifaceted stories with challenging and compelling themes that resonated strongly with children and grown-ups alike. The Secret Life of Pets is not one of them. It is a cute and fun movie that is enjoyable for audiences to watch, which is enough if all you seek is a fun and pleasing distraction for your kids. Very few viewers will be moved or astounded by what they see in this film but plenty of them will have a laugh and will delight in looking at all the cute, well-designed animals that get drawn into the story. It’s the movie that children will like while they’re watching it but won’t remember after it’s done.

A terrier called Max lives with his owner Katie in an apartment and their lives are just about perfect. That is until Katie adopts Duke, a large dog from the pound, who then starts to take up Max’s space and Katie’s attention. A jealous Max tries to leave Duke stranded in the middle of the city but things go wrong when they both lose their collars and are then caught by animal control. The dogs are rescued by a psychopathic rabbit named Snowball who then tries to recruit them in his crusade against humanity. The two have to work together to escape Snowball’s crazed army and find their way home. Meanwhile Gidget, a Pomeranian with a crush on Max, notices that he is missing and forms a ragtag team of pets, including Chloe the tabby cat, Norman the guinea pig and Tiberius the red-tailed hawk, to help her find and rescue him before Katie gets home.

The plot is essentially Toy Story with pets. The protagonist who enjoys a perfect relationship with his master, the new guy who upsets the status quo, the bungled plan that results in them both getting separated from the master; it’s all there. However, whereas the journey in Toy Story had stakes, The Secret Life of Pets does not. The dangers Max and Duke encounter, such as a ruthless street gang of cats and a giant, deadly snake, are greatly exaggerated, resulting in an adventure that feels more like a cartoon than Toy Story ever did. There is little emotional weight or tension attached to their struggle and little risk taken in the story. This isn’t to say that the adventure isn’t fun to watch or that the characters they encounter aren’t entertaining, just that it is not the thrill ride nor the emotional rollercoaster that some of the best animations in recent years have proven to be. There isn’t a larger story being told beyond that of two dogs trying to find their way home but it’s still a story that will keep you entertained for a couple of hours.

Max is a relatable enough protagonist that following him around isn’t a bore. His function in the story however is essentially to serve as a vessel for the audience which means that he has to play it straight most of the time. Therefore most of the laughs in this movie come from the side characters. One notable example is Kevin Hart’s Snowball, the manic bunny rabbit on a homicidal rampage against human beings. Another is Jenny Slate’s Gidget, the intensely enamoured dog who is thoroughly prepared to turn the city upside down in pursuit of her beloved Max. My favourite was Albert Brooks’ Tiberius, a furtive hawk who must team up with the pets out of necessity and who must constantly restrain himself from hunting them. While I don’t expect any of these characters to become household names in the near future, they served the roles they needed to serve and were fun to watch.

When compared to the remarkable works produced by Disney, Pixar and Studio Ghibli, The Secret Life of Pets does not rank highly. It is not a particularly smart, creative or groundbreaking movie. It doesn’t really offer anything that you will not have seen before nor is there anything truly valuable for either children or adults to take away from it. However if a 90-minute distraction is all that you want, then this is the movie for you. It is likeable, harmless and fun. It may not be Toy Story, but few movies are. The Secret Life of Pets may not have any innovative ideas, inventive imagination or deep meanings but it has colourful characters, amusing gags and neat designs. With the right expectations, those can be enough for an audience. It is not a movie that demands to be seen but, if you’re looking to kill some time, there are worse ways to spend an afternoon.

★★★