"Spotlight" and "Room"

Photo by Davidlohr Bueso / CC BY

  With Oscar Sunday approaching there are several films poised to take the coveted best picture award. We've had a chance to show a few of them including: The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, and The Revenant. Among those we haven't shown are Spotlight and Room which you will be able to see February 26th - 28th and February 29th - March 3rd, respectively, here at the Circle.

  You won't want to miss these, but don't just take our word for it. 

  "Spotlight" Review

  "Room" Review

Why the New Star Wars Movies Are a Good Thing

  About a year and a half ago, Disney rocked the world when news broke of its 4 billion dollar purchase of Lucasfilm and the subsequent announcement of a new saga of Star Wars films. Understandably, millions of fans of the franchise cried out in agony as flashbacks of the pain caused by the prequel trilogy came rushing back into their minds. George Lucas had already tried to ruin the legend of Star Wars with his space politics and Jar Jar Binks, and the wound was still too fresh for these fans to accept a new trilogy was being added to the original trio of masterpieces. The fans that weren't extremely angered by the announcement, such as myself, mostly reacted with cautious optimism. These new films could be great, but there was still equal chance that they would further damage the legacy of the galaxy far, far away.

  Now since time has passed and we know a lot more details surrounding the new films and the creative team that has been assembled to produce them, people seem to be warming up to the idea of Star Wars' return to the silver screen. The doubts are still there, of course, but when the teaser trailer is as epic as this, it definitely helps with the transition of anger into excitement. The trailer played into our nostalgia by showing us things we love about the original trilogy, such as the Millennium Falcon in action, and of course Han and Chewie at the very end. This was a genius decision by Disney and Episode VII director J.J. Abrams. While this new trilogy will be a continuation of the events following Return of the Jedi, it will also create a new story to be told in the Star Wars universe, but they made sure to focus on what we know and love before introducing too much new stuff. Considering the depth of Star Wars and the limitless stories that could be told based on its universe, it isn't hard to realize the opportunity here. And I'm not just talking about the opportunity for Disney to make more money.

  Instead, I am referring to the amazing opportunity that has been laid out in front of Hollywood's biggest filmmakers of today. Many people within the entertainment industry fell in love with filmmaking because of the magic that George Lucas originally created with the very first Star Wars. J.J. Abrams has said time and time again that he was a huge fan of the franchise when he was a kid, and now he is at the helm of the biggest movie release in recent memory. He grew up loving film because of things like the Star Wars world and he then parlayed that love into a successful career. Now he gets to make his own mark on the intergalactic franchise that was a significant part of his childhood. The most important thing to remember here is that he is only directing The Force Awakens. That means the other 5 movies announced to be released over the next 5 years all present an opportunity for another lover of the franchise to come and, essentially, fulfill a childhood dream of theirs.

Photo by Gage Skidmore / CC BY

Photo by Gage Skidmore / CC BY

   Considering it takes place in an entirely new galaxy, Star Wars obviously has the potential to be one of the deepest story worlds out there. There are already a ridiculous amount of comics, video games, and even shows that are based in the Star Wars universe, so why couldn't there be more films? The threat of George Lucas forcing audiences to watch Jar Jar Binks is no longer there, and instead we get to see the talent of filmmakers such as Godzilla director Gareth Edwards, who actually got the job for Godzilla from his independent film Monsters, which he did all of the visual effects for on his home computer. He obviously has tremendous skill in filmmaking, and once raved about his hilarious obsession for Star Wars in an interview, so the opportunity to now work on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is quite likely the best moment of his career. After Episode VII and Rogue One, audiences will be treated to Episode VIII and see what one of my favourite writer/directors can do with the most popular film franchise in history. Rian Johnson was the creative mind behind the hugely underrated Looper, so once again Disney has handed the reigns to a young talent instead of an established director. I love this decision and it makes me even more excited for the new saga of Star Wars. These filmmakers have been given the biggest opportunity of their careers, and it will be exciting to see young creative talent being infused into Star Wars films instead of George Lucas' style that we have become all too familiar with. 

"Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials" Review

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  While there is a serious lack of Mazes in this second instalment in The Maze Runner series, there is more than enough running to make sure the title still makes sense. Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is the sequel to the 2014 blockbuster film based on the successful teenage book series and it follows in the original film's footsteps with a fast pace and surprisingly mature action. The themes and story elements that make up the foundation of the series are very similar in fashion to The Hunger Games, another fictional series based on a future dystopia where adults have a strange obsession with torturing teenagers. That isn't a slight to Maze Runner, as The Hunger Games series obviously did something right to earn over a billion dollars at the box office and was a major factor in Jennifer Lawrence's sudden rise to star status. This leads me to point out that The Scorch Trials is not the most original film out there, although its ambition is admirable.

  Similar to The Hunger Games, The Scorch Trials relies on its action sequences to keep the audience's attention, despite the depth of world the film creates actually being quite impressive. There is a large assortment of characters within the film, but this hurts it overall as many of the supporting characters are never fully fleshed out. The film's furious pace takes our hero Thomas, played by Dylan O'Brien, and his close allies out of the maze from the first film and thrusts them into location after location. They never seem to stay in an area for longer than 10 minutes, and while this helps the film stay fresh and maintains its pace, it also becomes repetitive and the story doesn't have much time to progress during the numerous chase scenes.

  Sure, these chase scenes are usually pretty entertaining, but there always seems to be something new that our heroes have to run from, whether it be military soldiers, or infected humans that are essentially zombies. The zombies were probably the coolest twist in the movie. I didn't think the film would get so terrifying since I was expecting action primarily geared towards youth. Again, the film is not wildly original, and major similarities could be seen in these thriller sequences and other infection-filled stories such as The Last of Us and World War Z.

  Story-wise, however, The Maze Runner series actually offers a pretty cool world and plot line. Its apocalyptic world is absolutely stunning, as we see things like an entire city buried under sand dunes and the background story has a lot to offer. That being said, the film spends too much time on the constant marathon that Thomas and his friends are running, to really delve deeper into what's happening around them. Instead, the audience is constantly subjected to new characters and new settings at a furious pace, which in turn slows down the story progression to a crawl.

  In the end, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials offers breathtaking visuals and exciting chase scenes to make the film look great on the surface. Even the young actors bring solid performances to the big screen, but reflecting back there seems to be a lot left to be explored within the story and its vast collection of characters. The Scorch Trials had the chance to be a pretty great entry into the suddenly crowded "future teenage dystopia" genre, but its ambitious approach comes up short in regards to the story, despite building an impressive world around it.

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"Southpaw" Review

  The genre of fighting movies, especially ones centered on boxing, have always been emotionally charged stories about overcoming the odds and having everything come down to one last fight. It makes for great entertainment, and some of my favourite movies actually fall under this category; Rocky being a classic that I love, and Warrior is an underrated treasure. Southpaw follows in line with Jake Gyllenhaal portraying Billy Hope, a champion boxer that has already risen from nothing to become one of the best fighters in the world. The film then follows Billy's struggles as everything he loves is taken away from him and he has to face the toughest fight of his life.

  The plot of the film is obviously not one that is wildly original, much like most fighting movies, but it is unique to see this type of film pick up when the protagonist is already at the top of his profession. Billy is the undisputed light heavyweight champion of the world, and everything in his life seems perfect until tragedy strikes and his wife, played by Rachel McAdams, is killed. The famed fighter must now face his battle with grief, which is not made easier when his daughter is taken away by child services. Given these circumstances, Southpaw is obviously a very emotional film, and it relies heavily on Gyllenhaal's performance to sell the trauma that his character has endured. Unsurprisingly, Gyllenhaal nails this. He portrays Billy as an absolute trainwreck of a man with ease, but the parts I really enjoyed of his performance come when he is in the ring, as Gyllenhaal becomes completely terrifying. He has a dangerous fighting style that is based on him getting beat up pretty badly before relying on his anger to overcome his body and dominate his opponents. The ferocity of Billy comes off as so believable that you will probably be scared of Gyllenhaal for the rest of the film.

  As this type of film has been done time and time again, Southpaw should be trying to separate itself through its plot, performances and directing. While its plot is pretty good and it's performances are great, it then comes down to Antoine Fuqua's directing abilities to really sell the film. Keeping in mind that this is the same man that helmed the terrific film Training Day, my expectations are high when it comes to Fuqua's work. That being said, Southpaw is directed just fine, with flashes of brilliance really saving it from being too bland of directing. These flashes of brilliance mostly come within the fighting scenes, which of course are necessary to nail in a boxing movie. The fights are presented with great choreography and have fantastic stylistic qualities that highlight Gyllenhaal's terrifying nature. However there is a slow pace to the film after the first twenty minutes or so, and portions of the film are too mundane in this regard. Between the flashes of brilliance, Southpaw is made up of routine montages of training and the presentation style of Billy's fight outside of the ring is pretty standard. While this isn't Fuqua's best effort, he still manages to put together a solid emotional film.

  The foundation of Southpaw is built on cliché story elements and features a too familiar formulated approach to a tired genre. Carrying the film out of mediocrity is the one-two punch of the solid performances, led with terrifying execution by Gyllenhaal, and Fuqua doing a good enough job in making the film emotionally moving enough to be memorable. There are still things that could have been improved upon in Southpaw, but the end result is a good flick for fans of fighting films or people that want to be scared of Jake Gyllenhaal, instead of just really creeped out after watching him in Nightcrawler.

"The Man from U.N.C.L.E." Review

  The first day I heard about The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I was pretty skeptical. I had only seen Henry Cavill as Superman, which was not bad, and I always associate Armie Hammer with The Lone Ranger, which is not a good thing to be known for. Guy Ritchie had surprised me with the Sherlock Holmes films he directed, as they were smoothly executed and featured a unique stylistic approach that effectively mirrored the film’s themes of cleverness and action, but I still did not think of him in the highest regard. I also did not have high expectations for the plot, as it seemed like there was a good chance that it could come off as unoriginal. To my pleasant surprise, I was wrong to be skeptical in every single way.

  The first thing I have to mention is the amazing execution of Guy Ritchie’s directing. While his Sherlock films had their own distinguishable style, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is even more impressive in the way it weaves an exciting directing style with an equally exciting plot-line. There are many instances that mesh together multiple shots into a collage of frames on the big screen, with the result being perfect montages that portray some type of thrilling action that would otherwise come off as filler action. It is essentially as if, instead of showing a couple of minutes of exactly what the secret agents are doing, Ritchie has condensed those scenes down into short bursts that are as coherent as they are attention grabbing. Perfectly interlacing with the slick visuals is the film's terrific musical score, one that echoes the pacing of the action seamlessly. The film is both visually stimulating and pleasing to the ears through its presentation and action, with this highly stylistic approach making the film even more appealing to the audience than the story alone could provide.

  Now on to the two leads, Superman and the Lone Ranger, Cavill plays CIA agent Napoleon Solo; he is the agency's most efficient employee in regards to espionage and serial womanizing. He's a blend of suave nature and expert thieving skills that exists as the American equivalent to James Bond. However, Solo is also given an intriguing background that details how he ended up with the CIA in the first place and adds depth to his character past his charm and good looks. He of course works best alone, but is still partnered with the KGB's most ruthless agent in Illya Kuryakin, portrayed quite well by Armie Hammer. Illya is the opposite type of secret agent in comparison to Solo, as he is a brute force that relies on his physicality to get the job done. He also has an interesting background that establishes the Russian as a tortured soul with a short temper, which is a terrifying combination given his limitless physical ability. The film relies on the dynamic between the two super agents to payoff in a big way. If their chemistry isn't believable, then the whole movie could fall apart. Luckily, Superman and the Lone Ranger are the best odd couple since Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan

  The plot thrusts these two men together to take down a criminal organization that is trying to create nuclear weapons during the dark days of the Cold War. They are tasked with protecting a skilled mechanic named Gaby, played by the talented Alicia Vikander, as they search for her father, a brilliant scientist with the necessary skills to create an atom bomb. The mission forces the unlikely trio to get along with each other despite each of them having their own agendas, and the entire plot is thoroughly entertaining to watch unfold. 

  Warner Bros. must have been hoping that Ritchie could emulate his blockbuster triumphs he had with the Sherlock films, as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. seems like it could be the start of a successful new franchise. The film is extremely fun, thanks to its excellent action choreography meshing perfectly with the exciting style of Ritchie's directing. Throw in a great film score and two lead actors that bring respectable performances along with an entertaining dynamic and Warner Bros. must be happy with the end result. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is the best summer blockbuster of 2015, not named Mad Max, and is definitely worth the price of admission.

"Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation" Review

  One of the biggest action stars of the past 25 years is back in his most successful franchise, and it's exactly what should be expected. Tom Cruise reprises his role as the impossibly cool Ethan Hunt in this 5th entry of the Mission: Impossible series. The film picks up right where Ghost Protocol left off, with Ethan trying to track down a shadowy organization known as The Syndicate. This terrorist group has apparently been behind dozens of seemingly random attacks and Ethan is the only one with the abilities to stop them.

   Now, that premise sounds like it could be a little corny, but then again, all of the M:I films have their fair share of cheesy moments. This latest entry is no different. Rogue Nation is filled with high-octane action sequences that will either leave you with your adrenaline pumping or just shaking your head as to what just happened. With that in mind, there is no denying that Rogue Nation, much like all the M:I movies before it, features some of the coolest and sometimes even innovative action scenes in recent film memory. However, these scenes also can come off as so over-the-top that they destroy the audience's suspension of disbelief, which can take the viewer right out of the film. There are a lot of convenient occurrences for the good guys, and some scenes could use more explanation on how they happened, but it's not like these flawed elements are new to the action film genre. They are embarking on an impossible mission after all, so there are obviously going to be involved in impossible events. 

   The original M:I still stands as one of the great action movies of the past couple decades, and each film in the series since has been trying to recapture that magic. They all attempt to be wildly original in some way, but sometimes it doesn't quite pan out that way; Mission: Impossible II comes to mind here. Rogue Nation succeeds in some ways while failing in others. The end result is better than the 2nd and 3rd M:I films, but slightly worse than the original and Ghost Protocol. Something unique that I enjoy about the M:I series is that in comparison to other major action franchises, for example James Bond or The Transporter films, is that they are more family friendly. Of course there is still a lot of PG violence, but they rarely cross over into themes of sex and I do not recall hearing a single swear word. This is a refreshing take on a genre that tends to be formulaic in its portrayal of action intertwining with sexual themes.

  In regards to the cast, Simon Pegg is always fantastic and the other supporting cast of good guys Ving Rhames, Jeremy Renner, and Alec Baldwin do just fine. On the other side, the villain played by Sean Harris seems to come off as less intimidating than intended. His voice and overall demeanour doesn't exactly scream terrifying force of evil. Trust me, Simon Pegg even has a stronger voice than Harris. He is more creepy than scary, but he is supposed to be an intellectual challenge for Ethan, so maybe the intimidation factor was never really built up on purpose. The final major cast member was also the biggest surprise for me; Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust is just plain awesome. She comes off as essentially the female version of Ethan, and there are a few scenes that will surely leave the audience impressed with her moves. Ferguson brings all the elements a proper femme fatale should have, and she does not give up much spotlight to the leading man, himself.

  Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is a ridiculously entertaining ride with Tom Cruise performing insane stunts, even if the action can get a little carried away. The film features an intriguing storyline, but it is not as if it is an overly original one. Not to say there isn't any originality in the film though, as there are a few sequences that are extremely cool to see unfold on the big screen. There are still silly gadgets and the occasional funny scene, so this is definitely a M:I film, but it feels kind of like a missed opportunity to build on the momentum caused by Ghost Protocol reigniting the franchise. In the end, Rogue Nation features Tom Cruise being awesome, Rebecca Ferguson being even more awesome, and the whole 2-hour ride is a very entertaining film. It has its flaws in the form of cheesiness and absurd, but still ultimately cool, action sequences. If you are just looking for a fun flick to get your heart pumping, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is a solid choice. 

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"Ant-Man" Review

  It seems like Marvel releases a new superhero film every other day, or at least it has felt that way for the past few years. They have released 12 films already since 2008, with all the films coexisting in what is now known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU. So with this constant churning out of different superhero tales, you might think that their films would begin to feel repetitive and tiresome. Ant-Man definitely does not. Much like Guardians of the Galaxy from last summer, Marvel took a gamble by creating a superhero film based off a lesser known comic book series, and then another gamble by casting prominent comedy actors in both leads. Luckily for Marvel, both films thrive because of these risks.

  Honestly, the concept behind Ant-Man sounds silly at first, but it's undeniably unique in comparison to the other MCU films and their respective heroes. Paul Rudd stars as Scott Lang, a former criminal looking to redeem himself, who find his second chance in the form of world saving heroics. He is much like Iron Man in how he needs a suit to give him superpowers, and even then, all it allows him to do is shrink to the size of an ant with the touch of a button. I know it sounds silly but bare with me. He is unique because his powers aren't combat focused like most of the Avengers, but instead emphasize strategy. Ant-Man isn't a God with a devastating hammer or a giant green monster that can level buildings with ease, instead he has the power to shrink while also increasing his strength. But that's not at all; Ant-Man can also communicate with, you guessed it, ants. This is a major difference in his arsenal when compared to the Avengers. It allows for planning and strategic thinking. Compare that mentality to "Hulk Smash!" and you should be able to understand what I mean.

  The film follows Scott Lang as he is sought out by brilliant scientist Hank Pym, played by Michael Douglasto succeed him in being the world's tiniest hero. Pym needs the combination of Scott's thieving expertise and the power of the Ant-Man suit in order to pull off a heist that will ultimately save the world. The film's plot is well paced and fleshed out, as it introduces the world of Ant-Man and really sells the motive behind every character. Now, one of my biggest worries going into the film was how the sequences where he is miniature would be executed. Trying to base a film off of scenes featuring a man the size of an ant could end up being pretty silly, and director Peyton Reed had to have known this going into production, because it is really embraced. They have fun with making small objects suddenly huge, and the film transitions from the small scale sequences back to normal size with smoothness and occasionally a bit of humour. These sequences really are the core of the film, and what helps separate Ant-Man from being just another ordinary superhero movie. Well, these sequences, and of course Paul Rudd.

  Many people will know Paul Rudd from his comedy roles in films such as I Love You, ManWet Hot American SummerAnchorman, or even his stint during Friends' final season. He is not exactly known outside of a comedy setting, but that doesn't hinder his performance during Ant-Man in the slightest. Chris Pratt absolutely killed it as Starlord last summer, so it might be a bit unfair to compare Rudd to him, but of course I am still going to. Pratt was more charming while Rudd is more awkward, which is not anything new if you have seen any of these actors' work before. I believe Pratt also thrived by having a stellar supporting cast to play off of, while Rudd has to essentially carry the comedic relief himself. Sure, he still has the great Michael Douglas and the beautiful Evangeline Lilly to share the screen with, but they do not have the same presence and dynamic as the Guardians of the Galaxy team. Overall, Paul Rudd does a fine job as the titular character, even if it is a slightly less memorable performance when compared to Chris Pratt as Starlord.

  Ant-Man is different, funny, and ultimately a very entertaining movie. The latter, at least, seems to be the goal of all the Marvel films. It also helps that Scott Lang as Ant-Man is perhaps the most relatable hero, so far, within the MCU. The film and its hero come off as very genuine compared to the other larger-than-life comic book heroes. In the end, Peyton Reed and Paul Rudd create a superhero flick that has charm, humour, and interesting action sequences, which all combine to result in a fresh take on an established genre. The most important fact about Ant-Man, however, is that it doesn't feel like an unnecessary entry into the overwhelming MCU, and is actually one of the best yet. This film should surprise audiences just as much as Guardians did last summer, which is definitely a good thing.

"Mr. Holmes" Review

  Sherlock Holmes is undoubtedly one of the most popular characters in the history of fiction. His adventures span throughout novels, short stories, and more recently in films. Everybody knows he's the greatest detective who doesn't have a phobia of bats. In the past 6 years alone there have been two movies and two television series based on Sherlock Holmes. Mr. Holmes exists as a totally different film than any of these entries. This time around, Sir Ian McKellen is filling the shoes of the famous detective.

  First off, Sherlock Holmes is obviously a huge role to take on for any actor. He must be able to reintroduce a character that has already been brought to life more times than I care to count, and he will join the long list of actors that have been there before him; including impressive names such as Benedict Cumberbatch, the late Christopher Lee, and Michael Caine. The two biggest roles for British actors to take on have to be James Bond and Sherlock Holmes, with the latter essentially just being a wittier James Bond who doesn't drink as many martinis and is less distracted by women with hilarious names.  One of the unique features about this version of Sherlock, however, is that he is very old, 93 to be exact. I am pretty sure there would be no one better to play an elderly version of the detective than Sir Ian McKellen because, as everyone should know by now, this guy is absolutely amazing, having played such prominent roles as Magneto and Gandalf. While it's almost safe to assume before watching the film that McKellen will provide a great performance; I can confirm that he is in fine form yet again.


  Mr. Holmes is more than a typical Sherlock mystery, however, as it actually provides significant depth to a character that usually does not get such treatment. Its comparable to how Skyfall actually gave more background to James Bond than the 22 films that came before it. This different style is a refreshing change of pace, but don't worry, director Bill Condon still manages to create an intriguing, classic Sherlock mystery that will keep you pondering what exactly is going on. The film follows three different timelines. All of which relate to Mr. Holmes' last case he took before retiring to become a beekeeper, which is probably the next best thing to being the world's most famous detective. The primary timeline of the story is set in 1947, as the elderly Mr. Holmes struggles with his fading memory and other setbacks that naturally come with such an advanced age. This is where the film was the most interesting to me. What happens to a detective when he can't rely on his own memory? How does a man that is famous around the world come to grips with the fictionalised identity of himself? This is in stark contrast to the usual Sherlock Holmes stories, which focus on an elaborate crime meant for Sherlock to solve. Instead, there are very real and relatable personal struggles that Mr. Holmes has to deal with in this film, which leads to the most humanised version of the detective that I have seen. Sir Ian McKellen deserves much of the credit for this.

  The mysteries are not adventurous and don't force the detective into life-threatening situations, but they are interesting nonetheless. The pace is therefore much slower than the other more recent incarnations of Sherlock Holmes, but this is a much more moving film experience than those. This elderly man is deeply flawed and filled with regret. He is tormented by the failure of his last case, and even more so by the failure of his own memory. The result of his struggle with personal demons is a thought-provoking depiction, with a tender touch from the director, mixed with fine performances from the cast, and especially the main man himself.


  Overall, Mr. Holmes is another fine entry into the lore of Sherlock Holmes. It takes more chances than previous iterations, but that it was makes it stand out. This is definitely more gentle and emotionally driven than many of the other stories, and the pace of the film may be too slow for some moviegoers, but the payoff is worth it. Just don't go in expecting it to be like when Iron Man was Sherlock. Mr. Holmes is a moving film that brings depth to a character that does not usually have any. It is worth a watch for both Sherlock Holmes fans and moviegoers that want to see more of Sir Ian McKellen now that he is probably done being Magneto and Gandalf.