“Welcome to Jumanji!”
Despite the fact that the Robin Williams starring, 1995 adventure romp Jumanji was somewhat dismissed by many critics when first released despite it being a somewhat successful item at the box office, the cult status and underground following of the movie since has subversively led to both a re-examination of its’ qualities by many and as per the norm of many cinematic releases in the current climate, a unwarranted sequel. Directed by comedy staple, Jake Kasdan and featuring a script co-written by Chris McKenna, whose previous credits include the likes of The Lego Batman Movie and Spider-Man: Homecoming, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a functional if rather predictable and laborious adventure romp which utilises the star power of its’ cast to shrug off the many, many weaknesses which encompass its’ existence, and whilst many will be swept up in the wisecracking humour and electric editing pace, Kasdan’s movie is the epitome of a release which can be crammed into the genre of “not exactly my cup of tea”.
With the titular gaming sensation transforming its’ form to keep up with the popular trends of the twenty first century, our leading four youthful heroes are sucked into the jungle of Jumanji where complete control of their gaming avatars forces them to play the game and defeat the threat of Bobby Cannavale’s power hungry, insect ridden villain. With Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan taking over for the majority of the movie therefore, the narrative mixes the absurd nature of our heroes’ surroundings with ongoing banter style comedic quips, most of which ironically do make an appearance in the film’s trailer, and although the chemistry between the leading quartet is undeniable, the film never really progresses from its’ opening gag, resulting in endless penis and body transformation jokes which do end up becoming increasingly grating amidst one of the most self-aggrandizing performances from Johnson ever in his on-screen career. With Cannavale’s pedigree as a villain well known after his turn on Boardwalk Empire, his character is ultimately completely wasted in favour of numerous CGI-ridden action, and whilst Kasdan and the crew are obviously having a superb time, the fun only resonates for a short spate of time, and for a film which runs on for two hours, well, you can do the math.
Overall Score: 4/10
“They’re Trying To Make A Hero Out Of Me…”
Whilst Peter Berg’s rather excellent Patriots Day detailed from beginning to end the events of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings with an added Mark Wahlberg, David Gordon Green’s latest, Stronger, takes a calculated and extensive look at the life of Jeff Bauman, whose life changing injuries during the bombings were subsequently the subject of a 2013 memoir written by himself and Bret Witter and now the basis of the screenplay for a movie led by the ever reliable presence of Jake Gyllenhaal as the famous and life-affirming Bostonian. Whilst Patriots Day was more focused on the action spectacle and a lightning fast editing pace, Stronger is a more low-key character piece which utilises the background of a terrifying event to understand one man’s journey through pain and suffering, and whilst Green’s latest is a picture seething with top-notch performances and likeable, empathetic characters, a bloated narrative over a needlessly extended two hour runtime does threaten to become tiresome at stages, but with Gyllenhaal on Oscar-worthy form, Stronger does manage to hold its’ own undeniably effectively.
Introducing the troubled, up and down relationship between Gyllenhaal’s Jeff Bauman and Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany’s Erin Hursley from the outset, the movie swiftly moves onto the events of the bombing without ever specifically focusing on its’ reasoning or motive and instead directly leads the narrative from the point of view of Bauman who throughout the course of the movie recounts flashbacks of the event, with each progressively getting more detailed and bloody as the film trickles through his long-standing recovery in both a physical and mental capacity. With Gyllenhaal using the character of Bauman as a vessel for his already well established acting chops, utilising the direction of Green to balance moments of emotion fuelled drama with low-key physical movements and reactions, Stronger does have a variety of Oscar baity speeches which in other hands would possibly have derailed the movie’s ultimate goal, but with impressive supporting performances from the likes of Maslany and Miranda Richardson, who although in her portrayal of the expletive ridden, Bostonian parent figure did bring to mind the brilliance of Melissa Leo in The Fighter, Green’s movie is a straightforward character piece, but with such an interesting character at its’ centre, Stronger is more then fulfilling, if slightly forgettable.
Overall Score: 7/10
“You Can’t Blend In When You Were Born To Stand Out…”
Based upon R.J. Palacio’s 2012 novel of the same name, Wonder tells the tale of Jacob Tremblay’s August “Auggie” Pullman and his battle with Treacher Collins syndrome as he attempts to manage his way through school and a coming of age lifestyle after years of homeschooling designed to prevent him from facing the potential fear of inevitable youth misunderstanding when it comes to his condition. Supported by the beach burnt Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts as Auggie’s father and mother tag team, and directed by Stephen Chbosky, whose previous credits include The Perks of Being a Wallflower and the lead writer’s gig for this year’s adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, Wonder is a solid by-the-numbers tale of acceptance and individual strength which although features an important fundamental message regarding acceptance and the impact of schoolground bullying, does become increasingly tiresome and overly manipulative in its’ emotional bulldozing as it passively lingers on to a conclusion which does manage to seal the deal to some extent and leave its’ audience with an undeniable smile.
Where Lenny Abrahamson’s Room introduced the world to the enviable talents of young Jacob Tremblay, Wonder solidifies once again that a huge future awaits for an actor who although throughout the film is covered in prosthetics akin to John Hurt in David Lynch’s heartbreaker, The Elephant Man, manages to encompass Auggie’s spectral of emotions to such an extent that the audience can’t help from getting on board and totally support the film’s leading character as he makes his journey through the trials and tribulations of a diverse and sometimes ignorant collection of fellow schoolmates. Whilst Wonder does attempt to balance the heavy dose of Auggie’s characterisation with his fellow family and friends, with the movie sometimes wandering off on tangents to do such via Tarantino-esque title cards, such diversions do come across as somewhat pointless, particularly when regarding the film’s overplayed two hour runtime, and with overly saccharin scenes of animal deaths and endless crying montages, the sentimental value of the narrative does become pretty irksome at times, but with Tremblay stealing the show and even Wilson and Roberts having a fair share of effective quick comedic quips as the relatable parents, Wonder is sometimes preachy but undeniably good hearted.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Just Because You Want It Doesn’t Mean It Can Happen…”
Whilst aware of the infamous nature of Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 independent drama, The Room, a movie widely quoted as the worst cinematic release of all time, I confess to not ever finding the time to sit down and embrace it aside from skimming across YouTube videos and university students screaming “hey, watch this movie, it’s so bad”, of which I inevitably and quickly chose not to listen to. Based upon Greg Sestero’s 2013 autobiographical book “The Disaster Artist”, a first hand account of Sestero’s involvement in The Room’s troubled production and his relationship with Wiseau, James Franco directs and stars in a dramatic adaptation of the source material with Franco himself starring as Wiseau and brother Dave Franco as Sestero. Whilst Franco-led comedies in the past have somewhat failed to ignite my comical ways, the same cannot be said for The Disaster Artist, a sharp and hysterically funny look into one of the more subversive and mysterious characters to originate in the world of filmmaking since the turn of the twentieth century, and a film which on the one hand shares admiration and on the other pokes holes into the darker side of a man whose name is slowly becoming a cine-literate household commodity.
With Franco’s portrayal of Wiseau being introduced in a barmy expose of talentless squander, the narrative primarily follows Dave Franco’s Greg Sestero as he begins to pull back the layers of the mysterious Wiseau after blindly following him to Los Angeles in order to fill the craving of success and stardom in the cut throat world of Hollywood. Bringing into conversation questions regarding Wiseau’s background, age and financial caterings, Franco’s portrayal of Wiseau is indeed one of riveting success, a performance which captures both the comedic traits of the character with a numerous amount of zippy, laugh-out-loud quips, as well as the more subversive, darker means and ways of a person whose societal skills and understanding of basic human conditioning is frankly rather non-existent. With the main comedic bulk of the movie focusing completely on the creation of Wiseau’s dramatic project to an alarming top-notch and uncanny degree, The Disaster Artist is an entertaining blend of comedy gold and character examination, and with a person as inevitably ambiguous as Tommy Wiseau at front and centre of the project, there is no reason to suggest why The Disaster Artist might prove to be the ticket to the Oscars Wiseau always dreamed of after all.
Overall Score: 8/10
“I’m Done Talking, Let’s Play…”
Fresh from her Oscar win in 2017’s best film so far in the form of Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, Emma Stone leads Battle of the Sexes, the latest from Little Miss Sunshine and Ruby Sparks directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, and a film which focuses on the titular infamous tennis match in 1973 between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs which ultimately lit the touchpaper for King’s advocacy for feminism and LGBT rights within twentieth century America. With Steve Carell co-starring as Riggs and the likes of Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman and Bill Pullman all making an appearance, the husband and wife directorial pair’s return is one of rousing success, a brilliantly acted docu-drama with a hell of a lot to say, and whilst the film sometimes doesn’t quite succeed in cracking open effectively all the notions evident on display, Battle of the Sexes is admirable in its’ attempt to raise the same questions which were raised forty four years ago but are unfortunately still increasingly evident even today.
With Stone continuing to prove why she is arguably the most in-demand talent within Hollywood at this moment in time with yet another brilliantly nuanced performance as Billie Jean King, the film’s strongest narrative thread is undeniably the relationship between her character and Andrea Riseborough’s stylist love interest, Marilyn, a partnership which not only holds the most substance between any of the leading cast in the movie, but thanks to effective dialogue and intensely invasive camera shots is so authentic in its’ design, the movie could have been good enough simply focusing on this particular plot thread alone. With a grainy, stylised 1970’s aesthetic and a jukebox soundtrack accompanying the story, Battle of the Sexes is undeniably a crowd-pleasing ace, and with a final act which although is undeniably inevitable in regards to its’ outcome, still manages to be rousingly intense, Faris and Dayton’s movie is ironically one of the more timely releases in a year rife with discussions regarding women’s liberation and the effect of feminism. Long may it continue.
Overall Score: 8/10
“This Year It’s No More Back And Forth At Christmas. It’s A Together Christmas..!”
With 2015’s Daddy’s Home being one of the few cinematic releases which managed to simply pass me by without me having the chance, time or perhaps the need to catch up and review it, the release of it’s inevitable sequel after the comedy hit became Will Ferrell’s highest grossing live action film to date brings with it a sense of heavy duty dread, particularly when reminiscing the more contemporary Ferrell releases such as The House and Zoolander 2, and whilst it requires quite an extensive amount in the American comedy genre to actually impress me, who would have thought that a Christmas themed sequel to a film which never really was asking for a continuation in the first place was actually somewhat quite good fun? With Mel Gibson and John Lithgow added to the cast as the fathers of Mark Wahlberg’s Dusty and Ferrell’s Brad respectively, Daddy’s Home 2 is a surprisingly sharp and witty sequel which although suffers from a overly formulaic plot, some interesting narrative swings and a completely saccharin sweet ending which nearly resulted in me chucking up into the nearest popcorn box, is throwaway comedy trash of the cheesiest order which just happens to be quite enjoyable.
With a script which ironically mirrors the Bad Moms Christmas approach by utilising the added input of an older generation to the plot and therefore the inclusion of much more acting talent, the inclusion of both Gibson and Lithgow does strangely work, with the latter using all his musky, outdated charm and guile to interfere with the family arrangements, and the latter’s penchant for cringe-laden conversations and weirdly intimate family relations managing to balance the widely cliched characterisation of pretty much everyone from child to elder. With rib-tickling set pieces managing to win me over from the start and Wahlberg being undeniably the star of the show, Daddy’s Home 2 does falter in an over-reliance on weak slapstick more times than necessary, whilst the inclusion of a strangely ill-judged gun scene is somewhat muddled in its’ execution, particularly when contemplating recent events in the US. Daddy’s Home 2 isn’t perfect, but nobody heading in was expecting It’s A Wonderful Life, and whilst some may feel the need to slate it’s cocksure and rather unsteady cinematic existence, it really isn’t worth getting angry about, and with that particular mindset in check, Ferrell’s latest is just plain dumb fun.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Hashtag: I Am Ingrid…”
In a week in which every single cinema in the county has been asked to cram its’ screens with the toxic waste of Justice League, thank the heavens for a film in the ilk of Ingrid Goes West, an interesting, blackly comic contemporary stalker drama with a cracking lead performance from Legion star, Aubrey Plaza as the titular social media obsessed Ingrid Thorburn. Directed and written by big time debutant Matt Spicer, the movie depicts an Instagram fixated dreamer who relocates to Los Angeles after the death of her mother in order to seek out Elizabeth Olsen’s social media star, Taylor Sloane and become part of her excessively independent lifestyle which she shares with Wyatt Russell’s hipster husband, Ezra. Beginning with an opening act which straight away highlights the aggressive nature of Ingrid’s obsession and to what end she may go to in order to combat her rage and discomfort at being isolated in a world riddled with people’s wishes to be noticed, Ingrid Goes West goes on to explore the contemporary issue of social media excess and the notion of a life based solely around the viewing of society through a small shiny screen.
With Black Mirror vibes aplenty and the likes of Single White Female a sure inspiration, with a name drop in the narrative necessary to cement such, Spicer’s sure footed direction allows the movie’s key players to bring all round top notch performances, from O’Shea Jackson Jr’s Batman obsessed screenwriter to Billy Magnussen’s hateful steroid fueled junkie, all of whom acting as catnip for Plaza’s character’s downfall into complete and utter obsession with a character who is the epitome of everything wrong with society’s quest for avocado on toast and early twentieth century sociological literature. Whilst Spicer’s movie does involve elements of jet-black comedy and ironic societal comments, most of Ingrid Goes West’s healthy ninety minute runtime is played particularly straight faced, accumulating in a concluding act which although is admiral in what it’s attempting to say, doesn’t exactly pay off, but with a brilliantly kooky and unpredictable leading performance from Audrey Plaza, Ingrid Goes West is a highly enjoyable ideas laden social drama which reminds that you don’t always need a big budget to win an audience around.
Overall Score: 7/10
“These Animals Took Everything From Us…”
Forged around a screenplay devised by the talented minds of Joel and Ethan Coen, who for less aware cinephiles like myself have previous writing and directorial credits on films including Fargo, The Big Lebowski and No Country for Old Men, Suburbicon, the latest directorial release from George Clooney, on paper, is the type of all star release which almost seems too big to fail, with the likes of Matt Damon, Julianne Moore and Oscar Isaac all arriving to the heed of Mr. Clooney’s wishes, and whilst Clooney’s directorial career hasn’t exactly matched the worldwide success of his acting back catalogue, Suburbicon has without doubt all the right ingredients to allow the American to finally earn credence as a director in his own right. With the off-kilter zaniness and black comedic ripeness of the Coen’s writings evident throughout and some committed performances from the film’s leads, Clooney’s latest is a mixed bag of a movie, one which channels previous Coen scripts to an almost uncanny degree but more interestingly, a movie which suffers from a dwindling sense of having too much to say without ever having any real sense of substance or depth to pull it off.
Set in the heart of the titular, fictional white-picket fenced, idyllic neighbourhood of Suburbicon, Clooney’s movie focuses on the Fargo-esque narrative of Matt Damon’s Gardner Lodge and the events surrounding him regarding the death of his wife, his suspicious son and the presence of his dead wife’s twin sister, Julianne Moore’s Margaret. Pulling on notions which lightly touch on themes of racism, class wars and the American dream, Clooney’s movie is almost an idiot’s guide to the workings of the Coen brothers, utilising the murderous, black hole comedy of their best work but primarily evoking Fargo and its’ brilliant television spin-off series, and whilst there are interesting ideas at work within the movie, the handling of the transition from paper to screen seems to have been somewhat lost in translation, with the movie not really sure whether it wants to focus on societal commentary or a straight forward shocker comedy, resulting in a jarring collection of scenes which don’t entirely work, primarily a plot thread regarding a racist coo after the all-white population of the area is threatened by the arrival of an African-American family. With that in mind, when the movie does focus on the underlying narrative of betrayal and murder and the interactions between Damon, Moore, Jupe and the drastically underused Oscar Isaac, Suburbicon is enjoyable, but for a movie with this many superstars, Clooney’s movie is the type where much more should have been expected.
Overall Score: 6/10
“I’m Putting Together A Team Of People With Special Abilities. I Believe Enemies Are Coming…”
Whilst it may seem that we are now in a world where every month bears witness to oh yet another superhero blockbuster, with Thor: Ragnarok still making significant moves at the box office, the release of Justice League is a particularly interesting beast. With the DC Universe already significantly tarnished to say the least thanks to the likes of Suicide Squad and Batman V. Superman, the release of Wonder Woman earlier this year proved that the series was somewhat heading in the right direction, and whilst the DC universe seems to always be playing catchup to Marvel’s respective ongoing movie franchise, Justice League seems to be the real kicker in deciding the future success of the series as was The Avengers for Marvel, a film whose successes led the chance to delve deeper into the more subversive characters within Marvel’s respective comic history. Helmed once again by long-term DC collaborator, Zack Snyder and overseen for completion by the steady hand of Marvel aficionado, Joss Whedon, Justice League forges together characters both old and new in a popcorn laced team-up tackling the threat of Ciarán Hinds’ Steppenwolf, and whilst one would have hoped the latest addition to DCEU would follow the success of Patty Jenkins’ work on Wonder Woman, Justice League is an unfortunate giant explosive leap in the wrong direction, one which seems to not have learnt at all from the failings of its’ predecessors and that alone makes Snyder’s latest an agonisingly painful botch-job experience of the highest order.
With Superman gone and the world in mourning, Ben Affleck’s grizzy Bruce Wayne seeks to bring together a team of highly skilled superheroes in a bid to defeat the threat of the wholly uninteresting and lifeless Steppenwolf, who like every CGI-based villain in cinematic history, seeks to bring Earth under his apocalyptic control. Adding to the eclectic cast of characters therefore, Justice League brings Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa and Ray Fisher into the fold as The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg respectively, and whilst it is cheap and easy to compare the DCEU with the MCU everytime either has a new release, Justice League fails on a fundamental level of not having even the slightest of backstory for any of its’ leading characters before mangling them all together, resulting in a complete absence of empathy or willingness for them to succeed in their battle against evil. This of course is down primarily to the heavy handed approach of Warner Bros’ willingness to spurt out the next release as quickly as possible and completely disregard the Marvel approach of taking adequate time in developing its’ leading stars before mixing them into the bigger picture with Justice League just the icing on the cake for a universe which, aside from Wonder Woman, will be tarnished with a reputation of being the laziest big budget franchise in the history of cinema. Harsh you say? Not at all, with Justice League the type of movie which makes Suicide Squad look like The Dark Knight, with obvious weaknesses presenting them all over the place ranging from a non-existent storyline to cringe-laden chemistry between the titular team of indestructible heroes who come together simply for reasons of monetary incentives.
With a villain in the form of the poorly digitally designed Steppenwolf, a character who ironically does somewhat improve on the blood curdling awfulness of Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, Justice League’s main antagonist is the epitome of the film’s issues, with heavy plot exposition acting as the character’s only limited development for a villain who too often resorts to Viking-esque growling and cliched fight scenes to come across as anything other as sleep-inducingly dull, and for a character who seems to strike fear into the heart of many of the film’s heroic protagonists, it comes at no surprise that Snyder has once again forged a wholly forgettable leading threat which at not one point manages to match the scale of even the most camp carnival esque qualities of DC’s wacky TV show, Gotham. With too many characters and not enough script for anyone to expand out of their 2D, cardboard box cutout performances, Justice League ultimately wastes its’ extensively impressive cast, with the likes of J.K. Simmons, Jeremy Irons and the outstanding qualities of Amy Adams simply being resorted to window dressing in favour of the likes of Ray Fisher and the inevitable return of Henry Cavill who are simply not good enough in their respective superhero roles. Justice League is seethingly awful, and for a movie which features the worldwide branding of Batman and Wonder Woman, Snyder’s movie is a farce of the highest order and one which laughs in the face of its’ fans by utilising beloved characters simply for reasons of box office projections, and with not enough redeemable aspects in sight, Justice League is the movie which I would think puts the DCEU finally to bed. Thank god for Patty Jenkins.
Overall Score: 2/10
“No Matter What You Hear Or What’s Going On, Stay Together…”
Directed by American filmmaker Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy, Oblivion), Only the Brave tells the dramatic and heartbreaking tale of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite team of firefighters who in their attempts in thwarting the Yarnell Hill Fire in June of 2013 became American heroes and the subject of Sean Flynn’s GQ article “No Exit” of which Kosinski’s movie is based upon, and whilst the American’s previous forays into the world of science fiction cinema have been somewhat laboured, the same cannot be said for his ability in the genre of biographical dramas, with Only the Brave being a slow-burning, character-driven tale of heroism and bravery which follows in the footsteps of Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day by being effectively crafted without ever falling into the realms of schmaltziness or cliche. Working with an ensemble cast which includes a reunion with Jeff Bridges and the likes of Josh Brolin and Miles Teller, Kosinski uses the ultimate conclusion of the tale to full emotive effect by using the bulk of the movie to develop meaningful relationships and characteristics, ranging from Miles Teller’s Brendan’s evolution from junkie to father to Josh Brolin’s “Supe” who uses the thrill of his occupation to fill the gap left behind by a previous illegal pastime.
Whilst the movie does suffer slightly from being twenty minutes too long and sometimes not using the likes of Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Connelly to full effect considering their pedigree as actors, Only the Brave chooses instead to focus primarily on Josh Brolin and Miles Teller’s characters, particularly in regards to their respective personal issues and familial ties, and whilst this sometimes leaves other members of the team to come across as simply window dressing, the performances of both hold the key to the film’s successes, with the contrasting final arc of their tale bringing the previous development together to a nicely cropped end which will leave even the most thick skinned audiences gasping with a sense of awe and shock, particularly in one of the film’s final shots when we see our heroes’ family members waiting together in a staggering state of uncertainty. Mixed together with a soundtrack which ticks all the boxes in terms of greatness, with the likes of Pearl Jam, AC/DC and Metallica all making a welcome appearance, Kosinski’s movie manages to be both an excellent homage to the true heroes of the tale and a menacing thrill ride at the same time and with central performances at the top of their game, Only the Brave is an excellent piece of biographical cinema.