Diego Luna

Flatliners

29/09/17

If there was a prize for the least anticipated remake ever, Flatliners would probably be pretty high on the list. On its release, Joel Schumacher’s 1990 original was roundly drubbed by most critics as ‘pretty but vacuous’ and this new version seems to have reached the big screen with very little trumpeting from its makers. On the face of it, not much has changed from the original story.

A bunch of medical students based in an American hospital, all of whom are haunted by incidents in their past, decide to run a series of experiments where they deliberately stop each other’s hearts in order to try and discover the answer to an age old question: is there life after death? Ring leader Courtney (Ellen Page) is tormented by the fact that, nine years ago, she inadvertently caused the death of her younger sister in a car accident. Rich-kid Jamie (James Norton) ran out on his pregnant girlfriend. Sophia (Kiersy Clemons) was the ringleader of a bullying campaign on a vulnerable girl at her high school, and Marlo (Nina Dobrev) accidentally caused the death of a patient at the hospital and then falsified the records. Only Ray (Diego Luna) appears to have no skeletons rattling in his closet but, luckily, he’s the one who always knows what to do in any given emergency – and, inevitably, things go wrong fairly often.

From the word go, viewers are asked to swallow a rather unlikely premise – that there’s a fully equipped and functioning operating theatre down in the hospital’s basement, one that isn’t guarded and is only ever to be used ‘in an emergency.’ (Yes, I know.) However, if you can accept that, what follows is entertaining enough in a kind of breathless, galumphing sort of way. Each character undergoes a freaky near-death experience – and afterwards, is haunted by ghostly visions and inexplicable events. The jump scares are expertly handled by director Niels Arden Oplev and the first two thirds of the film whizz by quite entertainingly. It’s only as it thunders into the final furlong that things begin to run out of steam and I find myself with the conviction that the writers haven’t really thought the story through properly. To be haunted by a dead person is one thing. To be haunted by somebody who is still demonstrably alive and existing happily in the world, is quite another. And to me, that’s a problem. Because, if the ‘spirits’ are only a manifestation of an already guilty conscience, why do the young doctors need to flatline in order to awaken them?

The acting from the ensemble cast is consistent throughout and it’s interesting to see Happy Valley’s James Norton making what looks like a pretty assured transition to Hollywood. Just for the sake of tradition, Kiefer Sutherland (who had a lead role in the original) throws in a cameo performance as a rather grumpy teacher, prone to snarling at his pupils and banging his walking stick on their desks whenever they fail to answer his questions correctly. The film’s somewhat cheesy conclusion – that people need to be ready to ‘forgive themselves’ – kind of blows what’s left of the credibility.

Ultimately, I think, this is one to watch when there isn’t much else on offer – and, come to think of it, that’s exactly why we’re seeing it. It’s decent enough entertainment but, in the end, forgettable and a bit… dare I say it? Flat.

3.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

17/12/16

There are prequels and there are sequels – and then there are ‘inbetweenquals’ like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, helmed by brit director Gareth Edwards and starring Felicity Jones, making a surprisingly confident transition to action hero territory. But the ultimate question that must inevitably hang over this production is this: as a standalone, does its justify its place in the already extensive Star Wars canon? And the answer is… just about.

After JJ Abrams crowd-pleasing revamp (a film that even those who didn’t much care for Star Wars could easily enjoy), Rogue One is clearly aimed much more at the obsessive fans of the series – and it must be said that the must successful parts of this film really are the ones that recall classic moments from the original movies.

The events of this film take place sometime after the end of the clone wars and before those outlined in Episode IV – A New Hope. Young Jyn Erso (Jones) is the daughter of Death Star designer, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), now estranged from him because of his apparent return to the Empire after the murder of his wife at the hands of Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). Captured by stormtroopers and on her way to prison, Jyn is rescued by members of the Rebel Alliance and made to accompany handsome young rebel Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) on a mission to find her father, in order to try to discover a way to defeat the terrifying weapon before it makes mincemeat of all who oppose it. We already know, of course, that the Death Star was destroyed at the end of Episode IV – this film, then,  seeks to explain how the information about a fatal flaw, planted in the Death Star’s workings gets into Princess Leia’s hands in the first place.

Edwards makes a reasonable attempt at this – there’s some convincing world-building going on and enough references to later films to keep all the fan boys and girls happy. However, there’s a seemingly endless series of battles and the film only really hits its stride in the final third. There’s also one gasp-out-loud moment when a character turns around to reveal the face of deceased actor Peter Cushing – or rather a walking, talking CGI recreation of him, testament to just how adept these special effects have become – but sadly there’s not an awful lot here in terms of character development and it says a lot when some of the strongest aspects of the script are the droll quips of the film’s main android character, K2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk), which lends some much-needed humour to what is a parade of rather po-faced antics.

Star Wars diehards will doubtless approve of this. It ticks enough boxes to earn its place in the pantheon, and there’s a cameo by classic character Darth Vader. Those like me, who enjoyed the first two films, hated the next four, but loved the relaunch, may simply find this a bit of a Star Bore. Choose wisely my young apprentices- and may the force be with you!

3.4 stars

Philip Caveney