**Contains Spoilers for the latest episode of GoT**
Following last week’s rather boisterous episode, which culminated in one of the best moments of this season, is an episode more functional than phenomenal. With such a vast volume of characters it’s understandable that we will have to put up with some episodes containing set up sequences for the weeks ahead and with the final few episodes usually reserved for the culmination of numerous storylines it means this week was devoted to putting the pieces in place. However how interesting do these storylines currently look, and are we interested in how they play out. Here’s the Westeros based low down.
A Stark returns
There must be something in the water? Game of Thrones, as it displayed last week, has a fondness for killing off beloved characters but having seen John Snow resurrected we finally saw the return of Benjen Stark, former First Ranger of the Nights Watch. Alone in a blizzard being pursued by Ice zombies and with Bran having a vision frenzy (more on that later) Meera Reed, exhausted, gives up and embraces Bran having resigned herself to their fate. However the pair are saved when a rider in black arrives, wielding a peculiar mace-like weapon and dispatches of the wights with little issue.
The rider later reveals himself to be Benjen Stark, revived by the children of the forest having been slain in battle by a White Walker. He claims to have been summoned by the Three Eyed Raven, and with the old Raven dead he is now in service to his nephew Bran. How death has affected Benjen Stark is yet to be seen but he appears to have retained his characteristics and it’s always nice to know there’s another Stark around. They do die so frequently. Also how about Bran’s vision? We got a glimpse of the mad King, and an even briefer glimpse of Jaimie Lannister kebabing him. With Bran’s apparent time travel-like abilities these visions of Aery’s wildfire obsession must be somehow linked to what is to come. Whether Aery’s was somehow directly influenced in his madness by Bran or the previous Three Eyed Raven, or his Wildfyre stores will be somehow important in the future battle against the White Walkers, only time will tell.
We meet another awful father.
Game of Thrones has plenty of awful characters, but fathers seem to be especially horrible throughout the series. Tywin Lannister was a popular character on the show but his treatment of Tyrion was definitely the darkest part of his character. Now Tywin looks a contender for Dad of the year following our introduction to Randyll Tarley, father of Samwell. Having returned to Horn Hill so Gilly and little Sam have a place to stay whilst he trains as a Maester we meet Sam’s mother and sister who are both very pleasant, apparently loving and highly enthusiastic upon meeting Gilly and Little Sam. Having expected Sam to turn up and be treated as an outcast by his whole family it was a welcome surprise to see him greeted with open arms, particularly by his mother. Even when we meet his brother, who has unwillingly usurped his position as heir to Horn Hill, he seems perhaps a little rude but in Westeros a “little rude” could get you a Nobel peace prize. Randyll on the other hand does nothing to hide his disdain for the “fat” and “soft” son he has no respect for and whom he insults constantly in front of his whole family, humiliating him. Sam doesn’t respond, in fear his father may dismiss Gilly and little Sam from the household, so Gilly does defending Sam and angers Randyll even further when he discovers she’s a wildling. For all his cruelty he does allow them to stay, probably because his wife would rip his dick off otherwise. However Sam changes his mind, steals the Tarley family sword ‘Heartsbane’, and absconds with Gilly and little Sam. Whether he plans on taking them with him to the citadel or elsewhere remains to be seen.
No one no more.
Following all those weeks of stick fighting to become no one Arya gives it all up when her conscience gets the better of her. Watching the mummer’s play once again (presumably so she can at least see someone dressed as Joffrey die having missed out on the real thing) Arya sneaks backstage and poisons Lady Crane’s rum bottle. Whilst leaving she is stopped by her target and finds herself engaged in a conversation that draws similarities between the pair. Arya manages to talk her way out without arousing suspicion only to return in the nick of time to stop Lady Crane drinking the poison and warn her that Bianca, another member of the company, wants her dead. The Waif is nearby and witnesses Arya’s failure of the set task. Arya goes back to the beach where she buried Needle and retrieves her precious sword whilst the Waif reports back to Jaqen H’gar who grants her permission to kill Arya, under the condition she doesn’t suffer. Having flirted with the idea of being faceless for so long Arya’s inability to perform the execution was not surprising. She’s been instilled with a powerful sense of retribution, vengeance and perhaps hoped her transition into the order of the Faceless men would aid her vigilantism. Having being tasked to murder a woman guilty of no crime, on the behalf of a jealous co-star, went against Arya’s, admittedly brutal, sense of justice. Going against such a dangerous group will no doubt put Arya in danger, especially considering the Waif’s staunch dislike of her, but it was pleasing to see that Jaqen, so heavily devoted to the many-faced-God, at least gave the order of her death with the caveat of mercy. How Arya will deal with the aftermath of this will be an intriguing prospect.
Have you heard the good news?
Following weeks of power plays between the High Sparrow, Jaime Lannister, Margery and Tommen we finally found ourselves awaiting Margery’s walk of atonement. Jaimie leads the Tyrell army into the city and confronts the High Sparrow on the steps of the sept with the threat of liberating Margery and Loras by force. With an apparently unnegotiable stand-off insight the High Sparrow announces that Margery will not have to make the walk and Tommen then emerges from the sept to publically join forces with the faith militant. In the previous scene we see Margery is now firmly dancing to the High Sparrow’s tune following her realisation that she will have to co-operate in order to free herself and her brother. It appears the price set for her freedom was swaying Tommen’s support to the church using her manipulative skills, a task she performs with ease.
Tommen then strips Jaimie of his Lord Commander title and orders him to help Walder Frey retake Riverrun from the Blackfish. An angered Jaimie tells Cersei of his understandable frustrations and even threatens to get Bronn to assist him in performing a ‘hit’ on the High Sparrow (perhaps a notable line because of Bronn’s non-appearance so far this season). Cersei calms him and persuades him to retake Riverrun, telling him not to worry about her trial by combat as she has Ser Robert Strong fighting on her behalf (something she seems too confident about, considering this is GoT and even the slightest misjudgement can result in a sword up the bum).
We Welcome Back Lord Walder
Walder Frey is a despicable character, let me just say that, his part in the deaths of so many beloved characters along with his putrid manner make him a top contender on my GoT deathlist (Which I obviously recite each night before bed). That being said David Bradley is terrific as Walder Frey, perfectly cast; his acidic barbs are darkly hilarious especially in this episode where he directs his formidable toxicity on his own family. He announces his intent to retake Riverrun revealing his ‘ace in the hole’ Edmure Tully alive, and in chains. Let’s hope Edmure’s return to the series has more longevity than that of Osha, who lasted about 3 minutes following a 3 season absence.
Blood of my Blood
Dany pops up for the episodes finale discussing her intent to sail for Westeros (FINALLY), before waltzing off on her own for a little bit, only to return of the back of Drogon to give another big speech about how she’s going to go to Westeros (FINALLY). The speech is touching in parts, Dany forgoes the tradition of naming three blood riders and simply makes her whole army her blood riders. Talk about empowering your people. The scene has a lot of Dothraki waving their swords about and one poor guy who got short changed with a knife by the prop department. Fair play to the actor as he waves that thing around as passionately as he can, but he does look pretty damn ridiculous. This leaves Dany, having been stuck in shit creek a few episodes ago, with a massive army, a dragon she can seemingly wield and now just lacking the transport to invade Westeros.
No one – Seriously no one dies. No named characters. In fact the only extras that go down are wights slayed by Benjen and they’re already dead. There is also the brief glimpse of Aery’s being stabbed in a flashback but that is it. The last episode where no one died was Season 3 Episode 7 “The Bear and the Maiden Bear”.
- Benjen Stark’s return brings to an end a twenty year mystery regarding his disappearance, if you’re a book reader. Hopefully we will get more details in the upcoming episodes.
- Following Randyll’s insulting of Sam and Gilly it’s safe to say he’s in the doghouse with his wife, Melessa.
- Will Arya end up in a stick fight to the death with the Waif? I hope not, I don’t think I can surmise in the English language how sick I am of all the stick fighting.
- Is Jaqen truly done with Arya, or is there a larger plan at work? He said a face will be added to the wall no matter what. But does he care what face Arya brings him?
- Richard E. Grant has to be doing something in particular in this series right? There has to be a reason he was cast.
- Is Tommen the easiest character to manipulate ever? He literally does whatever any character asks him every episode. Littlefinger would have a field day.
- Having said that is Tommen now under the guidance of Cersei? They had that talk a few episodes ago about her helping him, is he making this pact with the Sparrow under her orders?
- Jaimie been stripped of his Kingsguard title is interesting. Does this allow him to become Lord of Casterly Rock in the future?
- Mace Tyrell should give all the pre-battle speeches. All whilst wearing his feathery helmet.
- Cersei’s trial by combat is coming up. She’s been championed by the Mountain, but who is going to fight for the faith? Perhaps Lancel Lannister, for shits and gigs? There are rumours of a once thought dead character returning towards the end of this season who could be up to the task. We could find out next week in “The Broken Man”
- Dany needs a thousand ships. Last week Euron said he wanted a thousand ships built. Coincidence?
- I hope Dany gets to Westeros before my body is forfeit to the passage of time.
Episode Rating 3/5 – A lot of interesting plot set ups, but with little actual action this week. Still a good episode and I’m clamouring for more.
When X -Men first came out in the year 2000 comic book movies were still finding their feet as we didn’t yet have the MCU, The Dark Knight trilogy or even Sam Raimi’s Spiderman trilogy. Now 16 years later the X-Men Universe has been joined by Marvel and DC in the superhero movie universe brigade/thing. Having helmed three of the previous X-Men films, including Days of Future Past, Bryan Singer has again been trusted in bringing the mutants to the big screen.
It’s now the 1980’s and the first mutant Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) has awoken and displeased by the culture he has awoken within (perhaps if he had awoken in the 60’s he would have been more chill) decides to eliminate humans from the planet so that mutants can truly rule supreme. He recruits the orphan girl Storm (Alexandra Shripp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), cage fighter Angel (Ben Hardy) and everyone’s favourite metal detector Magneto (Michael Fassbender). Elsewhere Professor X (James McAvoy) is running his institute for the gifted with Hank (Nicholas Hoult) and new student Scott/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) arrives alongside current student Jean Grey (Sophie Turner). Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) also stops by with Nightcrawler (Kodi-Smit Mcphee) as she is worried about Magneto’s wellbeing following a traumatic event. Quicksilver (Evan Peters) is also alerted to this as he feels he needs to bond with Magneto who is his father. Whilst Professor X looks into Magneto’s disappearance he comes across Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) again, as there were not enough sub-plots apparently.
Basically there’s a lot going on, and it’s mostly entertaining but doesn’t really feel weighted in anything because there isn’t enough time for the film to fit everything in. Apocalypse was one of my favourite villians from the old cartoon series and I didn’t feel his more ‘subtle’ design was effective. Oscar Isaac is a terrific actor but his performance felt very repetitive and stifling, not because of his lack of ability, but there wasn’t enough time or nuance devoted in the film’s runtime to keep him interesting. All of the returning players perform ably; Fassbender delivers a fine mix of gaunt expressions and passionate vengeance of a man going over the edge. Whilst the newcomers all perform promisingly in their roles they don’t get enough material to truly flourish and end up simply being promising additions. Whereas in Captain America: Civil War Tom Holland was a great Peter Parker/Spiderman in Apocalypse Sophie Turner seems that she could be a good Jean Grey, and Tye Sheridan could be a good Cyclops etc. but they hover on the periphery battling for screen time with all the other characters. Having stolen the show in Days of Future of Past with a breath-taking slow motion (or fast motion I suppose?) sequence Quicksilver returns with a similar scene here. It isn’t as good, going for a bigger is better approach, it is funny in parts but lacks the surprise and intricate detail it had in Days of Future Past. Then we get lots of worldwide destruction that makes Man of Steel look conservative by comparison, say what you will about DC’s attitude to city wide destruction at least in Batman vs Superman they showed the destruction from a personal perspective to add dramatic weight. In Apocalypse we watch as cities are sucked into the sky and feel simply that the animators did a stylish job with it, but no empathy whatsoever.
Despite my hang ups X-Men: Apocalypse has enough impressive action beats to be entertaining without being immersive. There are some funny gags, and impressive special effects but very little dramatic stakes. It’s definitely the weakest film of the “New class” trilogy (First Class and Days of Future Past being superior) but with an impressive cast to sell it does the job.
Film Rating 3/5
Review by Alexander Halsall
**WARNING** This review contains Spoilers for GoT Season 6 up to, and including, the latest episode!
It’s peculiar looking back over the previous seasons of Game of Thrones and thinking about the countless deaths of beloved characters that have befallen us hardened viewers. Barely an episode goes by without a supporting character or two getting sent to their death and yet each season there is always at least one moment of utter heartbreak that sends the internet into a rapturous frenzy of woe. So far this season we have bid farewell to Prince Doran, Areo Hotah, Trystane Martell, Roose Bolton, Walda, Walda’s new born babe, Balon Greyjoy, Ser Alliser Thorne, Othell Yarwyck, Bowen Marsh, Olly the little creepy kid, Shaggy Dog, Osha, Khal Moro and if we include flashbacks Ser Arthur Dayne and everyone else who got cut down at the Tower of Joy in episode 3. But this was a big one that for me sits aside some of GoT’s most emotionally crushing moments. Before we get to the unpleasantness there were plenty of other items on the agenda in this week’s episode.
Sansa takes control, whilst Tormund continues to put the moves on Brienne.
Sansa receives a message from everyone’s favourite husky voiced manipulator who has apparently travelled by jetpack in order to get to Molestown in his attempts to reconnect with Sansa. Ignoring the questionable logistics of his travel arrangements it was an interesting scene watching the once naive Sansa, so long a chess piece for others, tear into Littlefinger with a brutally blunt line of questioning. A less thoughtful Sansa may have commanded Brienne to shove Oathkeeper up Littlefinger’s backside but Sansa too now plays the game, and it’s perhaps wise of her to keep Baelish alive as even though she no longer trusts the man his information and command over the Vale could yet prove useful. She lies to John about how she came across the information she has (That the Blackfish, last seen going out for a perfectly timed piss on a tree at the Red Wedding, has retaken Riverrun) not revealing it was Littlefinger who informed her. Meanwhile Brienne, having dealt with Tormund’s suggestive chicken eating in the last episode, gets a look of pure wildling glee from the man who once claimed to have sex with a bear. Clearly he likes the look of Brienne and though a little critical voice inside my head tells me that the show is just using this relationship as fan service this image is so far my favourite of season 6, and the meme’s that it has inspired make me all kinds of happy.
Jorah finally tells Dany what we’ve known for five years.
Seeing Jorah reveal his greyscale to Dany was a little heart breaking in itself, but we have somewhat made peace with the fact that Jorah is living on borrowed time. But seeing him finally tell Daenarys what she already knows, that he loves her, was powerful in its simplicity. It was devoid of passion or energy. A statement of fact from a tiring, dying man who in this episode reveals he plans on ending his suffering before he goes full stone man. Seeing her return his admittance with her typical passionate furore, the desperation of a woman who has finally forgiven one of her closest confidantes only to discover his doom, was a nice moment for Jorah. Whether her ordering him to find a cure will come to anything I’m not sure. Usually in Game of Thrones a slight cut is a death sentence but with Red priests becoming more abundantly numerous could Jorah have a shot? Especially if the Red priests truly do support Daenarys.
Iron Islands election coverage: Man shows up and admits murder, crowned instantly.
The Iron Islands have always felt like a murky, boring Segway for me. I’ve never much cared for them since the end of season 2 finding their occasional appearances nothing more than a reminder that their still around. However with the arrival of Euron, the death of Balon and the re-emergence of Theon it seemed like the King’s Moot (the choosing of the new King/Queen or the Iron Islands) could be an interesting sequence. Yara declared her intent to become the first female leader of the Iron born and following a rousing speech of support by Theon things are looking good for her claim. However Euron shows up talks about reaching out to Daenarys, mocks Theon a couple of times for not having a penis anymore, then admits to the murder of his brother King Balon and is crowned almost instantaneously. Euron then gets drowned for a little bit (Imagine how awkward it would have been if he hadn’t coughed that water up) before having the most underdressed ceremonial crown in the seven Kingdoms placed upon his head. Now, thirty minutes later than he probably should have done, he plans to murder Yara and Theon only to discover they have stolen his best ships and have absconded to lands unknown. Have they set off to reach Danaerys first? Or are they heading elsewhere. Even though I wasn’t too gripped by the Kings Moot I am intrigued where Yara and Theon go from here.
Arya Stark, This is your life!
I sure hope all of this endless stick fighting pays off, it’s all Arya is seemingly being trained to do. She gets a bit of a beating from the Waif again, because we’ve been a bit short of that this season, and J’aqen informs her of a new target, her second chance and she won’t get a third (Cue ominous music). Turns out the target is an actress in a play based on the recent happenings in Kings Landing and once again Arya has to stand by and watch her father’s head being removed. The woman Arya is researching in her murder preparations seems to be a kind enough person and this seems to unnerve Arya slightly. Considering the content of the play this seems like a test for Arya to see if she can truly become no one and is infinitely more interesting than all of the endless stick fighting. I can’t help but wonder what the theatre troupe manager has to do with all this, he’s being played by Richard E. Grant for Christ’s sake so he must be important for something? Maybe it’s a misdirect, but I doubt it. Also we got a warty penis on display, I’m not sure why. Maybe GoT is trying to even the nudity field for men and women but it seems unfair that I get to appreciate Emilia Clarke stood naked in front of a burning Dothraki hut last week and this week my girlfriend gets two seconds of an ill penis. Just saying, doesn’t seem that fair.
Varys is now speechless, and ball less.
In an attempt to persuade Meereen that Daenarys is the right person to be ruling them Tyrion and Varys attempt to build public support through aligning with a red priestess named Kinvara. When they meet Tyrion attempts to forge an alliance based through mutual respect and belief that Daenarys should rule. Varys however becomes aggressive with the priestess based on his past abuses at the hands of a R’hllor worshipping sorcerer. Kinvara then recalls intimate details of Varys’s misfortunate encounter shocking him into a rare silence. Having seen what Melisandre has been able to accomplish throughout the series for the audience it is not particularly shocking that she would be able to gleen these details from the flame so I can’t say it was too entrancing, again though it will be interesting to see what Daenarys thinks of Tyrion’s pacts with Slave traders and religious groups when she returns to Meereen with a Dothraki horde in tow.
Hold the Door
Up beyond the wall Bran discovers that the White Walkers were in fact created by the children of the forest. Having been such mysterious figures of Westerosi folklore it was a question I wasn’t expecting to have answered anytime soon and an interesting plot development that we will hopefully get more details for. Later whilst the others sleep Brann goes off having psychic visions of his own without the watchful presence of the Three Eyed Raven. He sees a gigantic army of Wights and is grabbed on the arm by the Nights King himself. Bran awakes with a scar on his body and is told by the Three Eyed Raven that he has been marked and must leave now as the cave is not safe anymore (Nice one Bran).
The Three eyed Raven takes Bran into another vision of the past to give him some more information he will need in his travels. Before they can leave the Wights and the White Walkers attack the cave whilst the Children of the Forest attempt to hold them back. Eventually they break through and Summer attacks the Wights but is quickly cut down and Leaf (the seemingly last Child of the Forest) sacrifices herself with some form of acorn grenade thing in order to slow the Wights down. In his vision Bran sees his father as a young boy and his grandfather, oh and Hodor (or Wylis) is there again. The Three eyed Raven can’t run away (Y’know being a tree) and is hacked down mid vision by the Nights King. Meera, a mid-vision Bran and Hodor escape through a secret back door and Meera commands Hodor to “Hold the door”. These echoes can be heard in Brans vision and the young version of Hodor collapses into a seizure screaming “Hold the Door” seemingly witnessing his own death in the future, which then becomes “Hodor” and the origin of his name. In the present Hodor holds the Wights at bay for as long as he can, the screen fading to black before we see his fate. Bran watches on in the past and realises he has all sorts of fucked up (Nice one Bran).
Having seen Summer die I assumed that was going to be the big death of the episode but I was unprepared for the dual reveal of Hodor’s tragic past and his inevitable fate to die at that moment. It was brutally affecting because in a show where agendas and motives are driven by greed or lust and honourable action was often rewarded with a swift beheading it was pleasant to see a character so full of innocence “hodor” his way through six seasons of one of the most brutal shows on television without being struck down by the numerous ass hats that populate Westeros. In a pleasing sense I think the sequence was beautifully directed, with some great writing, and what was quite a convoluted concept (as time travel is oft to be) came across as clearly as it did. We are also left with the information that Bran was responsible for Hodor’s condition and if that’s the case can Bran truly influence the events of the future by changing the past? Or, as with Hodor, has he already affected it and can he have no true baring on these events, as the Three Eyed Raven said “The ink is dried”. Needless to say it was a thrilling end to the best episode of this season so far. We are only half way through so there is plenty more to come.
Leaf – “Many Children of the Forest perished, but Leaf was the only one credited with a name and she went out with a literal bang”
The Three Eyed Raven – “Cut to pieces by the Nights king, here’s hoping he has taught Bran enough in the time they spent together”
Summer – “Following the shock demise of Shaggy Dog comes another sudden Direwolf death, I know they must be expensive to animate but come on guys this is just mean”
Hodor – “Hodor”
- If Brienne and Tormund become a thing are we going ‘Brimund’ or ‘Trienne’?
- Did anyone else buy into Brienne pretending she didn’t know Tormund’s name, I sure didn’t.
- Will Jorah find a cure, or in the next episode will we see him carve ‘Jorah was here’ on a wall and hang his greyscale ass?
- 4 Direwolves down, 2 to go. We still got Ghost and possibly Nymeria wherever she’s gotten too, I assume she’s in a boat with Gendry and Benjen Stark.
- The next time I hold a door open for someone I have a horrid feeling I’m going to cry.
- Nice one Bran
Episode Rating 5/5 – the best of the season so far, evoked memories of some of the classic GoT episodes of the past.
Following the success of Bad Neighbours, which grossed $270 million worldwide on just an $18 million budget, a sequel was something of an inevitability. When a film performs so well at the box office and is also as entertaining as Bad Neighbours managed to be the only question would be could the cast and crew create a sequel of superior or equal quality?
We re-join Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne), pregnant with their second child, a couple of years after the events of the first film. They have just agreed a deal to sell their house, under the obligation that the new buyers have a 30 day period to back out of the purchase should anything go array. At the same time Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz) and a group of her friends move into the house next door to form a hard-partying sorority, Kappa Nu. Things are complicated further when Teddy (Zac Efron), leader of the fraternity from the first film, returns to assist Shelby in forming a successful sorority as retribution for his past grievances with Mac and Kelly.
Whilst it is pleasant to see a film attempt to challenge the male-centric domination of certain establishments across the educational system, it is repeatedly brought up that fraternities are allowed to host parties whilst sororities cannot, the attempts to highlight sexism and prejudices within the collegial system are undermined by the limited scope of the movie. Bad Neighbours 2 can’t help but feel like a re-tread of the first film, only this time attempting to highlight certain unfair and unwarranted treatment that women can still face. This isn’t a negative but there isn’t enough new material to keep the action fresh. Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne are a pair of the most charming actors working today and I wish Byrne had been given more content with which to showcase her talents. As much as I enjoy Rogen’s energetic displays one of my favourite aspects of the first film was Byrne’s performance and I felt that with so many different characters now in the sequel she was given the short end of the stick whilst others got a more prominent focus. Zac Efron had something of a breakout role with the first film, establishing himself as a talented comedic actor, this time round having seen what he can do his performance is a little bit underwhelming though it may be that the material he is working with is somewhat limited. Whist the previous film felt very fluid this sequel feels like a series of sequences that were written first, with a connecting line constructed as an afterthought. The two writers from the previous feature (Andrew J. Cohen & Brendan O’Brien) are again credited, but with three other writers also receiving credit (Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg & director Nicholas Stoller) which may explain the sense of incoordination the movie has at times. The newcomers of the sorority are somewhat of a mixed bag humour wise. Moretz doesn’t really get much comedic material with her actions carrying the drama of the film, her constant battle to maintain a sorority without having to resort to conforming to male expectancy of what a sorority should be is admirable, but It would have been nice for her to have a few more comic moments that maybe defined her character a little more beyond her battle for individualism.
After all is said Bad Neighbours 2 has a few funny gags, and some charming characters, but is not as entertaining or prolific as its predecessor. As a passable 90 minute romp you could do worse, or if you haven’t seen the first Bad Neighbours just watch that instead as it’s a lot funnier.
Review by Alexander Halsall
Cyber based horror has become quite a popular subgenre in the last couple of years, 2015’s Unfriended being the other example that comes to mind. Friend Request is directed by Simon Verhoeven (No relation to Robocop director Paul), and is his first directorial feature that is not a comedy, and in the English language.
Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey) is a popular college student who is highly active on social media, which includes her Facebook account (totalling over 800 friends). She then receives a friend request from Marina Mills (Liesl Ahlers) a classmate she barely knows who has no Facebook friends. Out of pity she accepts the request. After being messaged constantly by Marina she decides to lie about going out for her birthday in order to avoid her, however photos from the evening end up on Facebook and soon after Marina attacks Laura at school before filming herself committing suicide, which is posted all over Facebook. Following the suicide Laura and her friends come under attack from a demonic force that appears to be Marina out for revenge.
Friend Request is a pleasantly surprising horror feature, which is well-acted by the ensemble. The dialogue between the characters is quite natural and creates a feeling of camaraderie between Laura and her friendship group in the opening scenes of the film. The overarching themes regarding our reliance on social media and how the platforms can manage and manipulate our lives are quite cleverly staged for the most part. Watching Laura’s social media being hijacked creates a realistic parallel with stories that are relatable for us watching. Sure maybe when it happens to us it isn’t a cyber-demon we went to college with, but having a Facebook Page which serves as an outlet for our thoughts, memories and, well, lives being hacked and seeing spam being sent from a source masquerading under the guise of our identity is an upsetting experience for most. We now see social media accounts as an extension of ourselves, and each other, and Friend Request uses this parallel to make the haunting Laura is experiencing relatable to the audience. However Despite this praise Friend Request suffers from one rather major flaw, it isn’t scary. It’s certainly jumpy, and had me leaping a couple of times with its scary demons occasionally popping out like demented Whack-a-moles. But it fails to create a sense of dread, or withhold an unsettling atmosphere that makes a great horror movie. The concept of fusing witchcraft with modern technology is quite interesting, but has been covered in previous films to better effect and in the final act Friend Request throws aside any attempt of being a disturbing social commentary in lieu of illogical narrative choices, that I will not disclose to any who wish to see the film. The music in the film is scored by Gary Go and he does a fine job instilling a chilling layer of texture in the latter parts of the movie.
Friend Request is an entertaining, thoughtful, film. But it lacks further detail to make it essential viewing, along with not being unsettling enough to be scary on a baser level. Having left the cinema I, in an absent minded fashion, checked my Facebook page almost immediately without thinking, which merited a chuckle. While there is clearly some observant commentary in the film it doesn’t transcend into horror at any point, which is a missed opportunity, but it is still relevant enough to entertain for 90 minutes or so if you’re in the mood for a jump-scare or two.
Review by Alexander Halsall
Based on the popular video game series of the same name, revolving around a ‘somewhat fox like creature’ and his partnership with a robot. Ratchet and Clank is brought to the big screen by Rainmaker Entertainment, responsible for a lot of the straight to DVD/on demand Barbie films of the last decade. Having made the jump to cinematic releases in 2013’s Escape to Planet Earth, with reasonable financial success, their follow up is an attempt to adapt one of gaming’s most successful pairings of the 21st Century.
Ratchet (James Arnold Taylor), a Lombax, is a mechanic with dreams of achieving big things by joining the Galactic Rangers, led by his hero Captain Qwark (Jim Ward). However Chairmen Drek (Paul Giamatti), the leader of the Blarg, is destroying planets whilst building an unstoppable robot army led by his henchman Victor Von Ion (Slyvester Stallone), but due to a system error one of the robots created is Clank (David Kaye) a diminutive being who wishes to seek out and warn the Galactic Rangers of what is about to happen.
Immediately it becomes apparent that, despite some great efforts on the part of the design team, the budget impacts on the overall quality of the films aesthetic. Rather than feeling like a big screen adaptation of a videogame it feels like a high cost cut-scene, impressive on an XBOX one but not in a cinema. The film’s eponymous pair are likeable with the enthusiastic Ratchet contrasting charmingly with the robotic Clank, but they feel less like individualistic characters and come across as poor imitations of what we have seen before. As “cute” as Clank is he is not as funny or well designed as Baymax, or as emotive and endearing as Wall-e and he holds nothing like the depth and complexity of a character like The Iron Giant. With some marquee names in the cast, combined with veteran voice actors from the videogame series, the performances are large, enthusiastic and energetic, doing the maximum amount possible with the limited quality of the script and story. Co-written by Kevin Munroe, T.J Fixman and Gerry Swallow they attempt to draw humour through breaking the fourth wall but Sadly despite a few admittedly well written gags, the best of which younger children won’t enjoy anyway, Ratchet and Clank is a rather drab replay of better films.
In the age of animated brilliance we currently find ourselves within you can’t simply turn up with a few decent gags and an unoriginal plot and expect to get a return. The excuse of being “Just for Kids” doesn’t apply anymore when you consider how successful animation has been at appealing to all ages, something it should always aim to do. As proof the fantastic Zootropolis is currently the highest grossing film of 2016, sitting just shy of $1,000,000,000 worldwide gross. Should we expect an inexperienced studio, with a limited budget, to match the work of Disney? No, But is it wrong to want Ratchet and Clank to not take the easy options with its storytelling, to try and reach a little higher? The movie doesn’t completely lack humour; it’s got a colourful design, an inoffensive tone and charming lead characters to make it a passable experience. But in a world of Disney, Laika, Pixar, Dreamworks, Ghibli, Aardman, Illumination and countless other talented animation studios passable just isn’t enough.
Review by Alexander Halsall