Already two months into 2015, and we’re still spoilt for choice in the DVD aisles. Among February’s thrilling releases, are the latest in an ever-increasing crop of YA dystopian adventures, a thriller that sees Ben Affleck play victim to some superlatively twisted mind-games and a psychological horror that might just unnerve the keenest of late-night readers…
The Maze Runner
Building on the success of other dystopian book adaptations like The Hunger Games and The Divergent Series, James Dashner’s Maze Runner series is the latest to get a cinematic release. The story follows Thomas, a sixteen year old boy (Played by Teen Wolf‘s Dylan O’Brien) who wakes up in a rusty elevator, with memory of nothing but his name. It turns out that Thomas has been transported to ‘The Glade’ – a large grassy field that is enclosed by tall, stone walls and inhabited by an entire group of adolescent boys (‘Gladers’), who have formed a society within the dystopian environment. It is also revealed that mysterious benefactors send in a boy each month, to dwell in the Glade and make attempts to escape through a vast and dangerous maze, in which no-one has ever survived.
As a singular film, it’s not bad. The cast, which also features rising British stars, Kaya Scodelario (Skins), Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Love Actually, Game of Thrones) and Will Poulter (We Are The Millers), is fairly strong and convincing. The plot, though adhering to the same kind of themes as The Hunger Games and The Divergent Series, is also quite interesting and reasonably engaging as darker sub-plots and events are revealed. In the long run, however, whether this series will benefit – fandom aside – from the relentless ongoing film-making that is currently planned, is questionable.
The Maze Runner is available to buy from 2nd February 2015* | AH – Read the full Review here.
Based on Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name, Gone Girl was one of the major talking points in cinema last year. The film revolves around Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), who on the day of his fifth wedding anniversary, finds that his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) is missing from their Missouri home. Because of Amy’s popularity – as the inspiration for her parent’s ‘Amazing Amy’ children’s books – her disappearance receives heavy press coverage along with a wide and deeply invasive police search, in which Nick is held the prime suspect for his wife’s disappearance and possible murder. However things – and people – are not all as they seem, and the case begins to extrapolate into a superlatively twisted scheme that plays with the minds of all who live there.
It’s easy to see why people were enthusing about the film so much. It is a genuinely compelling mystery, that unravels to become an even more fascinating study of the lives and mentality of this couple – as well as the way in which the media and police can be so manipulated in a situation as dire as this. The performances are also very interesting. Affleck’s portrayal of the victimised husband trying to protest his innocence and figure out what’s going on is exceptional, but the real star of the show is Pike. Deservedly Oscar-nominated for her performance, the way in which she plays the multi-faceted character of Amy is utterly fascinating, and shows a real edge to her acting that hasn’t necessarily been seen before. The supporting cast, featuring Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry, is also great. That, along with the tumultuous plot and the effortlessly stylised and gritty aesthetic of David Fincher’s direction makes the film utterly transfixing and well worth a watch.
Gone Girl is available to buy from 2nd February 2015* | AH – Read the full Review here.
Dracula is probably one of the most recognisable names in the horror genre. The vampire who first gained immortality in Bram Stoker’s classic novel has been adapted with varying degrees of success, from Bela Lugosi iconic performance in the 1930’s to the dismal portrayal of the Count by Richard Roxburgh in 2004’s Van Helsing. In Dracula Untold, Luke Evans (The Hobbit) is the most recent actor to take on the legend, and as the title suggests, this isn’t a Dracula we’ve seen before. Vlad Tepes (Evans) is a Transylvanian prince living a happy life with his wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon) and son Ingeras (Art Parkinson), whilst trying to put his past as a Turkish slave-turned-elite-warrior behind him. This all changes when Sultan Mehmed (Dominic Cooper) demands Vlad’s people hand over their sons for his army – including Ingeras. After failing to negotiate an alternative, Vlad finds himself in desperate need of help to defeat Mehmed’s vast army and finds his way into the domain of an ancient creature (Charles Dance) who promises to temporarily grant Vlad the power he needs. For a price of course – should he abstain from human blood for three days, the power will leave him and he’ll return to normal.
What comes next really allows Evans to shine. The idea of people turning to desperate measures in times of crisis isn’t original, but here we see a man who is trying to hold onto the life he’s built and not slip back into the life he left behind. All while trying to deal with the insatiable need within him to consume the very thing he must deny himself. Take away the name ‘Dracula’ and the film’s themes of morality, family, devotion and temptation come across just as strong. While the film may not make the classics lists any time soon, it’s still worth a watch.
Dracula Untold is available to buy from 9th February 2015* | MR
The Babadook is Jennifer Kent’s truly terrifying tale of things that go bump in the night. Based on her short film Monster, The Babadook follows widowed mother Amelia and her troubled son Robbie as they fight for their lives against the chilling monster that is Mr Babadook. Whilst it’s not the first time audiences have been subjected to mother/son relationships that have gone wrong within the horror genre, it is the first film for a while that actually makes you care for its protagonists. Essie Davis’s portrayal of Amelia is nothing short of sublime; her mundane job and everyday struggle to keep her family in one piece is heartbreaking and endearing at the same time, making her one of the most relatable characters the horror world has ever seen. Daniel Henshall gives an incredibly genuine performance as troubled young boy Robbie, and we see nothing but success awaiting the pair of them respectively. Kent appears to have made a conscious decision to allow the audience to peek into the world of Amelia and Robbie pre-Babadook, making the Nosferatu-esque ghoul’s infiltration into their lives all the more harrowing as a result.
Although it may at first appear to be a film about every child’s nightmare – a faceless monster from a fictional book that comes to life. At second glance it becomes abhorrently clear that the evolution of the relationship, in particular the strengthening of the relationship after the turmoil that Mr Babadook wreaks, is the unique selling point.The Babadook has received praise and admiration from critics and moviegoers alike, with many hailing it as one of the most ingenious horrors of its time. Whilst it may have it’s faults (for example the sudden bombardment of horror cliches towards the end of the film’s 90 minute duration), there is no denying that Kent’s horror debut is a future classic. Following the unsurprisingly underwhelming feature that was Annabelle, The Babadook is an incredibly refreshing take on possession and paedophobia, with a truly twisted final sequence that will feed the appetite of fright fanatics all around the world.
The Babadook is available to buy from 16th February 2015* | SM – Read the full Review here.
Film criticism is an art form that is embraced by almost everyone these days. Whether professionally, or just fleetingly on social media, we have an inbuilt desire to watch films and then share their impact on us with others. This ritualistically common understanding of film however, may not have been so widespread if not for Roger Ebert. Forget Kermode and Mayo or BBC Film 2015, Ebert and Gene Siskel were the forefathers of popular film criticism – bringing cinematic awareness to mainstream audiences long before their contemporary counterparts. Life Itself, is a captivating documentary that explores not only their incredibly successful partnership and the impact they made on the film world, but also Ebert’s life story – following both the highs of his renowned career and the lows that bred from the cancer that eventually killed him in 2013.
Among the contributors to the documentary are a number of big names in cinematic and critical circles, respectively. Acclaimed auteur, Martin Scorsese both produces and discusses – with heartfelt honesty- the impact that Ebert had not only on cinema, but also on his own career as a director. Selma director Ava DuVernay and Ebert’s wife Chaz, also feature – sharing their memories of the legendary critic. The documentary itself, is slickly made and put together like a scrapbook; featuring photos and drawings taken by Ebert, as well as snippets of his memoirs and some of his most famous reviews – such as Bonnie and Clyde, Crash and Blue Velvet. If you have a love for film or like me, have aspirations to become a film critic, then Life Itself will prove to be a fascinating insight into the world of cinema and criticism. Ebert’s website/blog – which became his voice in the last few years of his life – is still running and available to view, over at RogerEbert.com
Life Itself is available to buy from 23rd February 2015* | AH
Also out on DVD and Blu-ray this month*: If I Stay (2nd), Life After Beth (2nd), Maps to The Stars (2nd), What If (9th – Full Review), The Book of Life (16th), TMNT (16th – Full Review), Annabelle (23rd), Fury (23rd – Full Review), Serena (23rd) and Mr Turner (23rd)
*Please note that all release dates referenced are UK only. International release dates may differ.
Words by Annie Honeyball, Sophie Mace and Megan Roxburgh
Compiled by Annie Honeyball