“Grab Your Families, Your Loved Ones, And Get Out. We Won’t Be Able To Come For You…”
With a related trailer which highlights Sam Raimi as a “producer” on Evil Dead and Alexandre Aja as “director” of The Hills Have Eyes, it’s fair to say that whilst such claims from the spin merchants of Crawl are indeed factually accurate, it also reinstates how fundamentally messed up the genre of horror has become thanks to the way in which every classic horror movie has been chopped up and churned out thanks to the wonderful notion of remakes and spin-offs in recent years. With Raimi of course being the mastermind and director of the original, and better, The Evil Dead in 1981, and producer on the 2013 Fede Álvarez directed remake, a film of which I can admit to actually enjoying, to say that Aja is best known for his work on the rehash of The Hills Have Eyes in 2006 is generally rather aggravating, when the mighty Wes Craven, director of the 1977 grindhouse original classic, seems to be the subject of a Stalinesque mind-wipe towards younger audiences who may not even be aware of Craven or his impact on the genre of horror. Moan aside, Aja and Raimi this week team up for a rather familiar B-movie creature-feature in the form of Crawl, an overly generic work of nonsense which in some ways is quite enjoyable due to the sheer fact that it’s the type of movie which seems to be released at least thirty years too late.
With a very basic, genre-literate set-up, Crawl sees Kaya Scodelario (Extremely Wicked…) as Haley, a swimming obsessed student athlete who stupidly returns to her hometown in the heart of Florida in order to check on the welfare of her father after a Category five hurricane begins to make its’ way towards the mainland. Upon arriving at her deserted childhood home, Haley finds father Dave, as played by Barry Pepper (Saving Private Ryan), unconscious within the crawl space of their home for no immediate apparent reason until soon discovering the amidst decaying childhood homes, a ridiculously overblown natural threat and unnecessary daddy issues, ravenous alligators have decided to take over the house and are happy to eat anything that gets in their way. With Aja beginning his career with the enjoyably nonsensical, Switchblade Romance, and making his way into Hollywood with unnecessary remakes, Crawl does seem like an attempt to appease as mass an audience as possible, and whilst the exploitation violence within the movie is highly enjoyable in places, the screenplay isn’t exactly one to be desired as it attempts to blend into the carnage meaningless narrative tangents such as reserved family issues without any real point to it whatsoever. When it comes to a film such as Crawl, the violence and the silliness should always be the primary focus and be capped off within a harmless eighty minutes, but with Aja’s latest so predictable and lifeless, the lack of threat and lack of bite, pun intended, means Crawl is a glorified bargain bucket B-movie which just happens to be allowed on the big screen for no real apparent reason whatsoever.
Overall Score: 5/10
“Sooner Or Later The Party Has To End…”
Less of a coming of age drama and more like a raging alcohol and drug fuelled stupor, South Australian director, Sophie Hyde, brings to life Emma Jane Unsworth’s 2014 novel of the same name in the form of Animals, an internationally produced “buddy” movie which sees Holliday Grainger (My Cousin Rachel) and Alia Shawkat (Green Room) as Laura and Tyler, two close friends hitting the tender age of their mid-30’s who spend their time frolicking, excessively drinking and partaking in hard drugs in the name of staying young, keeping fresh and shying away from the responsibilities of the “adult” world. Screened to the public at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and departing with a overly positive buzz, Hyde’s movie is a refreshingly low-key if wildly spirited take on the trials and tribulations of adulthood, one which embraces many of the plot devices and genre conventions evident in previous and better works of a similar ilk, but too a film which works off the strengths of its’ leading characters as we follow them through a particular path which audiences of similar age range will undoubtedly understand and sheepishly relate to.
With 2019 seemingly being the year where the coming of age movie has re-emerged into the cinematic spotlight, Animals follows most closely to the likes of Booksmart in some ways, a film which takes the American Graffiti route of exploring one last childhood hurrah before venturing into the world of growing up, and whilst of course the age ranges of our particular characters in each film differ by a decade or so, the central narrative of Hyde’s movie focuses on two friends seemingly reluctant to take that next step into becoming what they fear most; serious adults. With Grainger’s Laura then becoming the first to attempt to bridge the gap between child and adult as she falls in love with Fra Free’s (Les Misérables) mopey, piano loving straighthead, tensions soon build up between the pair, with each seemingly beginning to resent each other as they slowly drift apart as Laura falls more into the trap of modern-day normalisation involving marriage and family, whilst Tyler continues her life of unemployment, heavy drinking and endless partying. With the film relying on the central double act to basically hold the film together, the performances of both Grainger and Shawkat are good enough to keep you more than interested, aided nicely by some sharp comedic dialogue and snappy sarcastic quips, and whilst Hyde’s movie will come and go without leaving much of a lasting impression, Animals is an enjoyable, if slightly wandering, tale of friendship and the ability to drink many, many bottles of white wine.
Overall Score: 6/10
“I’m Dealing With The Future Of The Planet. I’m The Necessary Shock To The System. I Am Human Evolutionary Change…”
After a rather petulant, if supposed, high-profile, on-set fall out, the hotly reported, rather extended and overly silly “feud” between the muscle-headed duo of both Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Vin Diesel results in the release of Hobbs and Shaw this week, a similarly stupid, bloated and mind-numbingly dull spin-off from the jaw-droppingly successful Fast and Furious franchise, a blockbuster series which staggeringly continues to make shed loads of money even when the quality chops and changes more often than the leader of the Conservative party. Whilst the Furious franchise has become less about fast cars and more about fuel-injected explosions over the course of nearly two decades, Hobbs and Shaw is the first to overtly discount any notion of similarity from the set up of the series’ first couple of movies and fall more into the bracket of full-on, high-octane, science fiction oriented action, one which sees The Rock and Jason Statham pretty much play themselves as they happily accept bundles of cash in order to reprise the titular roles of Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw respectively in order to prevent a catastrophic, world-ending, overly cliched bad thing from occurring. Whilst I am all for silly, hot-headed nonsense from time to time, Hobbs and Shaw is the type of action movie which is so painfully sterile and cheap, you long for the craftsmanship of 1990’s era Michael Bay to come in and at least churn out a decent level of enjoyment, but with excess for the sake of excess and an annoying scent of self-congratulating sprayed upon it, the Furious franchise’s first spin-off makes you long for the return of Vin Diesel.
Let’s start with the stars of the movie themselves. Take The Rock for instance, a dramatically effective action superstar with enormous physicality to boot who when placed in semi-decent, B-movie esque action romps in the ilk of Skyscraper can be thoroughly enjoyable to observe, but for too long now seems to be continually placed in simply awful works of cinema including the likes of San Andreas, Rampage and Jumanji, all of which unsurprisingly then proceed to take millions upon millions of dollars resulting in the cycle of bang-average movies continuing forevermore. In the case of Hobbs and Shaw, the addition of the always likeable Statham and Idris Elba should indeed be a trio made in heaven, but thanks to a quite awful screenplay, one full of genre-literate cliches and dodgy accents, eclectic editing which literally made me cheer inside once a shot held still for more than thirty seconds, and digital effects which take you completely out of the action due to their sheer cheap and tacky sensibility, Hobbs and Shaw is a real cause for concern regarding the way in which summer blockbusters seem to be heading, particularly when you look at the other examples this year alone in the ilk of Godzilla and Men in Black, but with the movie guaranteed to be a box office marvel as it provides certain types of audiences with enough to keep them coming, I for one can only speak the truth, and in the case of Hobbs and Shaw, it really is quite crap.
Overall Score: 3/10
“I’m Working On Something Now, Something So New That The World Will Never Be The Same…”
Filmed and completed almost two whole years ago, with the original release date back in 2017 shelved following the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal and the subsequent MeToo movement, The Current War finally hits the big screen after being acquired and released by Lantern Entertainment, an American film studio who purchased all assets owned by The Weinstein Company as the disgraced company fell into liquidation following their owner’s high profile fall from grace. Directed by Texas-born filmmaker, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, whose previous works include the overly kooky, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, and directorial credits on both episodes of Glee and American Horror Story, The Current War attempts to dramatise the titular battle fought by both Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse during the latter stages of the nineteenth century, as each attempt to outwit each other and become the leading light of electrical power across the globe. With very little background noise or press following closely behind it, it seems fair to say that The Current War is the kind of movie which Lantern Entertainment feel the need to let loose just for the sake of it, with the main goal of course being to recoup a slender amount of financial reward after the cost to make it, yet much in the same way Billionaire Boys Club came and went like a fart in the wind after the similarly troubling Kevin Spacey allegations, Gomez-Rejon’s movie feels rather icky and strangely enough for a film without electrical power, staggeringly lifeless.
Central to the film’s array of issues is its’ central narrative, one based upon a screenplay from American playwright, Michael Mitnick, who seems to have been catching up on the back catalogue of Christopher Nolan by producing what can only be described as a monumental bore of a story, a cheap, Nolanized knock-off which attempts to recreate the fast-paced, engaging storytelling Nolan does so well, yet forgetting to include any sort of pace or engaging, meaty plot whatsoever, resulting in the cardinal sin of watch checking only five minutes in. With the film clocking in and just under two hours, it’s fair to say that The Current War only works as a medicinal prescription for prolonged sleep deprivation, a laborious, yawn-inducing borefest which wastes good acting talent including the likes of Michael Shannon, Tom Holland and Katherine Waterston, whilst reasserting the notion that Benedict Cumberbatch is quickly becoming the most typecast actor in the acting business today, with another leading role which leans heavy on the intelligent, sarcastic know-it-all characteristic and less on the sympathetic nice guy, akin to other historical figures the Brit has played in the likes of The Fifth Estate and The Imitation Game. Add into the mix woozy, sanctimonious camera work from Chung Chung-hoon who seems to think he’s the reincarnation of Kubrick alongside simply awful time-hopping editing and The Current War is the first movie in a good while to be so awfully dull, I began to worry for the future of cinema as we know it.
Overall Score: 3/10
“Bruce Is The Direct Line To All That’s True In This Shitty World…”
Winning the award for least surprising “secret” screening as introduced by your local Cineworld earlier in the month, Blinded by the Light is the type of a-typical, good natured crowd-pleaser which Cineworld members have come to expect in recent times from the sporadic and hotly anticipated hidden previews such a cinema chain bowls out from time to time, with the likes of The Hate U Give and Green Book from previous secret screenings following along the likes of movies which sort of tick all the boxes for a lay audience member without clearly offending anyone in this very multicultural and diverse contemporary society of ours today. Written and directed by Kenyan-born filmmaker, Gurinder Chadha, whose most famous flicks so far include Bend It Like Beckham and Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, Blinded by the Light is a similarly independently British romantic comedy drama which just happens to have a central character with a film-selling addiction to The Boss himself, one Mr. Bruce Springsteen, and whilst there are undoubtedly worst addictions to have a film based upon, Chadha’s movie is a wildly inconsistent but passably enjoyable work of fluff which takes its’ Springsteen licensing levels to new extremes.
Utilising big-screen debutant, Viveik Kalra, in the lead role of Javed, and set within the turbulent political and culturally manic period of late 1980’s Britain, Chadha’s movie sees her leading star begin at a familial and social crossroads, with Javed at the centre of a divide between both his overly religious Pakistani family and the racial tensions apparent in the outside world, all of which are hindering his dreams of becoming an important literary voice on the issues of the world in which he lives. Cue an introduction to the back catalogue of New Jersey’s own rock and roll legend, Bruce Springsteen, and soon the musical segments come a-knocking, transforming the movie from a low-key, soap opera, dodgy acting and all, to a full on sing-a-thon gateway, with choreographed set pieces in the ilk of Rocketman all bowing down to the radical words of The Boss as our hero falls in love, impresses Hayley Atwell’s overly-attractive English teacher and then decides to stalk Mr. Springsteen forevermore, all the whilst racist marches take place in the background. With the movie featuring more ideas than it can practically handle, it’s no surprise really that a lack of focus on any result in it being the movie equivalent of Jackson Pollock painting, and even though I’m a sucker in some ways for the joyous celebration of rock music, Chadha’s movie is perfectly fine, but boy is it a mess.
Overall Score: 5/10
“Please Be A Five Star Ride…”
Holy moses, look at the weather. With beaming sun rays and over-zealous holidaymakers itching for the feel of sand running through their shoes and into their nicely ironed socks, the British six week summer holidays are finally here, a particular calendar event which always guarantees two things; improved ice-cream sales and trashy action movies. Whilst particular percentage of the populous would snigger at the opportunity to waste good tanning time in favour of popping into the nicely cooled darkness of your local multiplex, films in the ilk of Stuber are the type of time wasting pastimes which instead offer crucial opportunities to catch up on lost nap time, and whilst I am usually pretty fair game for semi-entertaining, B-movie shlock from time to time, it’s fair to say that Stuber is the type of movie which makes you yearn for Liam Neeson and his growly knack for kicking the hell out of kidnapping criminals. As you might be able to tell by this review so far, Stuber is the type of movie which doesn’t exactly inspire much to say about it, resulting in a hopeless attempt to write as much waffle as possible in order to swiftly blurt out some form of comment. Stay with me.
Directed by Canadian filmmaker, Michael Dowse, whose previous works include the likes of It’s All Gone Pete Tong, a rather fitting title considering the works that followed, and featuring a screenplay from the relatively unknown, Tripper Clancy, Dowse’s movie is an awfully directed hybrid of Taxi and Collateral, one which sees Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Short) as Stu, an annoyingly compulsive Uber driver who falls into the lap of Dave Bautista’s (Guardians of the Galaxy) grizzly, visually impaired, LAPD detective, Vic, as the former attempts to bring to justice a one dimensional, badly designed criminal played by the highly talented but woefully handled, Iko Uwais, of The Raid fame. With a film which thanks its’ trailer for wrapping the entire narrative through line into a nicely rounded two minute clip, Stuber is the type of movie I thought Hollywood would have left behind by now, an American action comedy without any decent choreographed action or deftly timed comedy, and leadings stars that we know can simply do better, with Nanjiani seemingly going more and more downhill since his excellent work on The Big Sick, Bautista surely getting better offers than this after expanding his work into the likes of the MCU and Bond, and Uwais once again completely wasted by Western movie makers when we know how much of a gifted, physical actor the guy is. Stuber? More like poober. He he.
Overall Score: 3/10
“One Day The Sun Will Set On My Time Here, And Will Rise With You As The New King. Remember…”
As per the norm of contemporary blockbuster cinema, the magnificent movie monopoliser that is Disney Studios once again returns to the big screen this week with yet another big-screen re-hash of one of, if not, the, definitive animation story in the form of The Lion King. Following on from the gush of non-existent, if slightly colourful, air of Guy Ritchie’s middling stab at Aladdin, Disney’s decision to remake a film which positively affected an entire generation of children, parents and extended families, is arguably the biggest stab in the dark yet, begging the immortal question once again of, “what’s the bloody point?” With 2016’s similarly revived version of The Jungle Book placing director Jon Favreau in the holy graces of Disney forevermore, with a healthy balance of critical and commercial success always a banker for career enhancements, the Iron Man and Marvel Universe star returns to helm a strangely lifeless, annoyingly pointless big screen regurgitation, a movie which is the Disney equivalent of the criminally overrated, Gravity, with it being a movie which yes, looks absolutely stunning on a visual and technical level, but fails to tickle, let alone pull with any force at all, at the heartstrings and leaves you with a violent urge to remove it from your memory as soon as possible.
With a central narrative which as everyone knows has a strong basis in William Shakespeare’s, Hamlet, the 1994 original version of The Lion King was undoubtedly Disney at its’ storytelling best, a child’s movie which managed to blend Bambi-esque levels of heartbreak with notions of power, greed, redemption and of course, the “circle of life”, and with the new version adding thirty more unnecessary minutes to proceedings, the storytelling this time around is much more arduous then it needs to be, and whilst I’m all for development of character in any film, the fact remains that it is extremely hard to bond with animated characters who show simply zero range of expression or emotion, resulting in you viewing the movie in a fashion akin to popping down to your local zoo and deciding to sneer at caged animals whilst doing made-up voices within your own head. With the film on a technical level absolutely breathtaking at times to behold, with the photorealistic computer animation making every single living creature look one hundred percent conscious and breathing, the visual splendour is effective for a period but still at the end of the day, animation, no matter how much nonsense Disney can spread about this version being “live-action”, and when a movie’s only good parts are the ones simply nabbed from the original, Disney’s latest movie is absolute sacrilege, but at least a technically proficient work of sacrilege.
Overall Score: 5/10
“Everything You See In Here Is Either Haunted, Cursed, Or Has Been Used In Some Kind Of Ritualistic Practice. Nothing’s A Toy…”
Following on from the most anti-horror horror movie of the year so far in the form of the excellent and magnificently barmy, Midsommar, your local cinema screen this week is once again reunited with the more mainstream, financially friendly sight of the Conjuring universe, with everyone’s favourite and overtly nightmarishly designed porcelain doll gracing the big screen once again just in time for the summer holidays. With the tangential Annabelle series beginning particularly sloppy and then improving rather nicely for 2017’s nicely worked, Annabelle: Creation, the financial success of both ultimately results in yet another very familiar threequel in the form of Annabelle Comes Home, the seventh installment in Warner Bros’ horror series banker which sees returning screenwriter, Gary Dauberman, bumped up to directorial duties in his big screen debut for a movie which is the definition of a very safe pair of cow-poking and slightly creepy, fog covered hands.
Whilst the leading antagonistic figure of “Annabelle” itself is fundamentally creepy on first glance, conveying to the rules of horror by inverting objects which are meant to bring joy and happiness, the sheer amazement that only one, rather unkempt doll has successfully landed a trilogy of spin-off movies is rather impressive in its’ own right, and whilst Creation was the first movie aside from the central Conjuring pictures to really have its’ own voice, Dauberman’s movie does annoyingly take a slight step back, offering less of an enjoyable cliche and more of a semi-talented, copy and pasted template with only minor delights. Of the more positive elements, the cinematography and set design is actually pretty darn neat, with nice inventive set pieces, including one referenced in the movie’s trailer involving a multi-colour night light, offering a certain level of creepiness, something of which can be somewhat lacking from the weakest of the series’ offerings such as The Nun and The Curse of La Llorona, and with yet another standout performance from Mckenna Grace (I, Tonya) in the film’s leading role, Annabelle Comes Home is not exactly the worst horror genre film, it just happens to be one which screams “PLAY IT SAFE.”
Overall Score: 5/10
“It’s Quite The Fairytale You Got Going On Here. From Top Flight Model In Moscow To Rubbing Shoulders With The Elite…”
After successfully managing to hit the grand old age of sixty, French filmmaker, Luc Besson, seems to have become slightly nostalgic in his old age as he returns to the type of feminine-led action flick which made him renowned across the world at the beginning of his career during the early 1990’s. With Besson sort of losing the plot in recent years with the simply awful, Lucy, and the woefully titled, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, a film which begins equally as bad but then grew into some sort of guilty pleasure come the final credits, the Frenchman returns to the subject matter he knows best in the form of Anna, a clear modern-day incarnation of Besson’s own 1990 action piece, Nikita, and a movie which sees the relatively unknown Sasha Luss as the titular beauty who shifts from street-living junkie to globe-trotting deadly assassin within the confines of a screenplay which is as aggravating as it is enjoyably ludicrous.
With a narrative structure which jumps back and forth through different time zones more often than Back to the Future, Besson’s movie does begin in interesting fashion, with the opening hour utilising a particularly glossy sheen of smoke and mirrors as it introduces Luss’ titular leading heroine, a top KGB assassin working under the wing of Helen Mirren’s creaky, nicotine loving Olga, as she works her way through a number of high profile assassinations. As the movie soldiers on in a semi-effective, genre-literate fashion, the introduction of both the dodgy accented Luke Evans and cheekbone enthusiast, Cillian Murphy, as opposing geographical ends of a conflicted love triangle is where the film ultimately shows its’ rather annoying hand, utilising flashback after flashback in order to highlight just how clever Besson thinks he is. On the contrary, such diversions from what should be a generic, B-movie storyline ultimately makes it more aggravating the more it goes on, and even with an abundance of decent, John Wick inspired action set pieces, Anna is at least better than similar movies of recent years including Red Sparrow and Atomic Blonde, but too a movie which lacks that sense of cult-heavy wackiness which the early Besson movies stored in abundance.
Overall Score: 6/10
“It’s Sort Of A Crazy Festival. It Only Happens Every Ninety Years. Special Ceremonies And Drinking And Dressing Up…”
After a variety of thought provoking and acclaimed independent short films, director Ari Aster burst into the spotlight for audiences and critics alike last year thanks to the release of Hereditary, the spine-tingling work of desolate dread which will forever remain as one of the most terrifying experiences I have had to endure within the confines of the cinema during my life so far. As per the remit of any good filmmaker, Aster’s decision to not milk the praised poured upon him for too long results in his swift return in the form of Midsommar, a film of which Aster himself proclaims as his first “true” horror movie after declaring Hereditary nothing more than a “family drama”, albeit the most unhinged and depressing cinematic depiction of such to ever have graced this good earth, and whilst Aster’s latest does indeed obey many of the rules laid down within the confines of such a genre, Midsommar is not your average, or even mainstream, horror flick, a disturbing, surrealist and surprisingly darkly comic folk drama which continues the many thematic qualities used in Aster’s works as it brings to light notions of grief, isolation and of course, ideology and religion, for a two and a half hour marathon of madness which successfully rubber stamps Aster as one of the most masterful and original horror filmmakers working in cinema today.
Firstly, if you head into Midsommar believing that what you are going to get is simply Hereditary volume two, you will undoubtedly walk away highly disappointed, and whilst Aster’s movie begins in familiar fashion as we are introduced to Florence Pugh’s (Fighting With My Family) grieving and emotionally unstable Dani, the opening, dread-filled act is the only slice of downright terror the movie feels obligated to offer. If Hereditary could fall into the category of domesticated drama then Midsommar is essentially a two hour plus break-up movie, one which allows the audience to follow Dani, her absent boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor – Free Fire) and Will Poulter’s Mark to the very sunny, Northern area of Hårga, Sweden in order to take part in area’s midsommar celebrations as requested by Vilhelm Blomgren’s Pelle, who returns to his isolated homeland. Whilst genre fans nowadays are well versed in the way of how films with this kind of set-up ultimately pan out, the familiarities with the likes of Robin Hardy’s 1973 horror classic, The Wicker Man, and to an extent, Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, are easy enough to see, but with an extended runtime and a overarching sense of head tilting madness all the way through, Aster’s latest actually bears more of a raging similarity to Luca Guadagnino’s outstanding remake of Suspiria, particularly in terms of style and pacing, but with Aster also adding a surprising touch of black comedy throughout, Midsommar is a more impressive beast the longer you think about it. Whilst not as damn right horrifying as Hereditary, Aster’s second big screen feature is an impressively un-mainstream genre delight, a superbly written, expertly acted, cult flick with jaw-dropping exploitation violence which leaves you both startled and grinning as you attempt to make sense of how exactly Midsommar should make you feel.