“We Fight New Wars. The Old Options, Military, Diplomacy. They Don’t Always Succeed…”
Acting as the fourth collaboration between Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg after Lone Survivor and the excellent one-two of Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day, Mile 22, based upon a screenplay written by American writer, Lea Carpenter, sees Wahlberg as James Silva, the ferociously agitated, quip-laden sociopathic leader of Overwatch, an elite, CIA-led special ops division who are tasked with traversing the destructive roads of Indonesia as they attempt to extract a prize asset from the country into the United States in return for the location of missing weapons grade plutonium. With Berg’s previous releases successfully managing to balance the re-telling of horrific true events with strong storytelling and well orchestrated action set pieces, Mile 22 manages to bat in completely the opposite direction, with Berg’s latest a film which can only be described as a crazed frenzy of a movie, a ninety minute, action packed head rush which is as violent as it is overly ridiculous, and a movie which results in you leaving the cinema with a guaranteed headache and a high chance of tinnitus as you feel your body become overcome with exhaustion from the events that have occurred before your eyes on screen.
Whilst strictly based on some form of “true story” regarding the existence of the Overwatch programme within contemporary wars across the globe, Mile 22 clearly wavers towards fictionalised events in which Wahlberg’s Silva and his team of cold-hearted killers have free reign to blow up, violently execute and cause as much general havoc as they desire. With paper thin characterisation which mainly focuses on our “heroes'” penchant for killing as effortlessly as possible, this only results in there being no sympathy whatsoever for events which unfold throughout the movie, particularly towards Wahlberg’s Silva, a foul-mouthed, utterly despicable smart-ass, a leading performance which made me wonder whether Wahlberg had actually been incredibly mis-cast due to Wahlberg not at all managing to balance the OTT nature of his character and ends up coming across more annoying than heroic. However, with a heart-stopping editing pace, crunchy action scenes with gunfire aplenty and a rousing, physical performance from arguably the greatest action star of the past decade in the form of Iko Uwais (The Raid, The Raid 2, Headshot), Mile 22 was a film in which I was never bored, and for a film in which its’ mistakes are blindingly obvious, Berg’s latest is a confusing, often manic, all action speed rush which sort of won me over the more it ventured into the realms of complete and utter ridiculousness.
Overall Score: 6/10
“There Is A Hokkien Phrase ‘Kaki Lang’. It Means: Our Own Kind Of People, And You’re Not Our Own Kind…”
Based upon the 2013 novel of the same name by Singaporean–American writer, Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians takes the familiar tale and narrative path of romantic comedies from the past and places it slap bang in the middle of Southeast Asia as we follow Constance Wu’s (Torchwood) Rachel Chu, a successful professor of economics at New York University who travels with her secretive boyfriend, Henry Golding’s (A Simple Favour) Nick Young, to Singapore in order to finally meet his family and friends. Directed by Jon M. Chu, a filmmaker whose previous credits haven’t exactly been rewarded with critical admiration thanks to the likes of Now You See Me 2 and, shiver incoming, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, Crazy Rich Asians manages to be the director’s first outstanding success, with his latest release a frothy, uplifting and thoroughly enjoyable rom-com which manages to balance a catalogue of underlying themes and ideas whilst offering stellar development of its’ many leading and supporting characters who each come across identifiable and wholly individual, and whilst at times the narrative may feel overly familiar and cliched, the sheer sense of wonder the movie emits showers over its’ creases with expert levels of delight.
Whilst the big and most important headline regarding the film’s release is the fact that Chu’s latest is shockingly the first film since the 1993 drama, The Joy Luck Club, to simultaneously feature a predominantly Asian cast and be financed, backed and released by a major Hollywood studio, Crazy Rich Asians is much more than just a kick-starter for filmic equality, with committed performances, laugh-out loud levels of comedy and a warm beating heart at its’ core all congealing around a central duo of lovers whose chemistry is so convincing, the fact the film only ever has one outcome doesn’t matter whatsoever and only serves to improve the good-hearted nature of the tale. With comments on the global class system and the potential cost of being an outsider, the film’s screenplay takes the appeal up a level from just being yet another bog-standard romance re-hash, and with pain-staking levels of detail and admiration for the movie’s location setting, the eye-watering levels of excess, ranging from deluxe style houses to ridiculous bachelor parties, never feels annoying or sickening, with the depiction of the culture’s food in particular guaranteed to make the stomach rumble. Leaving all audiences undoubtedly with a spring in their step and a tear in their eye, Crazy Rich Asians is a traditional love story which manages to feel both fresh and fantastical without ever feeling to need to be manipulative in order to win over its’ audience. Superb entertainment.
Overall Score: 8/10
“I Think They’re Attempting Hybridisation. They’re Upgrading On Every Planet They Visit…”
With it being thirty one years since the original Predator in which Arnold Schwarzenegger out muscled Carl Weathers and a brand new monster franchise was violently brought to the attention of Hollywood, director Shane Black (Iron Man 3, The Nice Guys) brings his own particular twist to the series with a direct sequel to the previous entries which features over-inflated ego’s, jaw-dropping violence and an eclectic twist of tones as we see the threat of the titular monster land on the doorstep of Boyd Holbrook’s (Logan) Quinn McKenna, a merciless Army Ranger sniper whose team are swiftly massacred after a mysterious alien ship crash lands on earth. With Black himself famously having a leading role in the original, his penchant for black comedy which has been rife throughout his directorial back catalogue thus far is surprisingly the standout tone of The Predator, a film which attempts to pay respects to the original with ridiculous levels of violence and an overwhelming B-movie sensibility, but a sequel which too ultimately feels nothing more than a slice of popcorn flashiness without the lingering aftershock which made the original release back in 1987 so darn re-watchable even after initial sniffy reviews back in the day. What’s the point of film critics anyhow? Please continue.
Following in the footsteps of the soon-to-be released Mile 22 by disregarding the fundamental laws of film-making by glossing over basic characterisation and seemingly hiring editors who are hooked on some sort of maniacal drug, Black’s movie doesn’t half move like a bullet train, hooking audiences straight into the action as a quick detour into the jungle leads onward to hidden government bases, Halloween covered schools and finally back to the jungle as our titular murderous beast gleefully tears the wide range of cannon fodder violently apart. With Black choosing to focus the heart of the action upon Holdbrook’s shoulders as his character finds himself on the self proclaimed “loony bus” alongside the likes of Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight) and Thomas Jane’s (The Punisher) rather forgettable but equally homicidal “troubled” soldiers, the quick quipped banter between the characters at first doesn’t seem to fit with the tone of the movie whatsoever but as the movie progresses into more extreme and over the top territory, including a drastically overlong and plodding conclusion, Black’s vision is clearly groundwork for an expanse into wider Predator related territory, and whilst his latest is riddled with flaws and silly mistakes, the best way to view The Predator is to understand what it fundamentally is at heart; a trashy B-movie wannabee.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Everyone In This Town Has Some Sin Or Regret. Some Cage Of His Own Making…”
For the majority of television series, the real discussion regarding a show’s particular merits generally land on the effectiveness of the book-ending episodes, with scrutiny more than most applied to both the opening and concluding chapters, particularly the latter with criticism always leaning towards whether the respective end of a series bows out in a well balanced and universally accepted manner or crashes and burns under the weight of the hours of storytelling which have come before it (see Dexter for such an example). In the case of Castle Rock, Hulu’s debut series was undoubtedly a refreshingly interesting, albeit flawed, genre bending haunted house of a series which attempted to pay respect to the mind of horror’s most influential contemporary writer whilst offering a glance into a town riddled with nightmares and head scratching mystery. When it came to the show’s concluding hour therefore, there was no doubt that theory after theory regarding the potential resolution of the main plot thread involving Bill Skarsgård’s The Kid was always going to be one which divided audiences, and whilst Castle Rock finished on a familiarly atmospheric and creepy note with a lot to admire, “Romans” still managed to feel ever so slightly underwhelming considering the potential that was in line to be grasped.
Picking up on events directly after episode eight, with the previous episode entirely dedicated to revealing The Kid’s true nature as Henry Deaver mark one, or maybe not as we’ll discuss later, Castle Rock’s final chapter focused on Deaver one’s willingness to return back to his own reality with the aid of Deaver mark two, whose reluctance to abide is shifted as we see through his eyes potentially more truth to Warden Lacy’s opinion regarding mark one’s closeness to evil. With the town of Castle Rock crumbling by the hour thanks to shocking character deaths, the rising sound of paranoia and a particularly violent prison escape, all plot threads seemingly accumulate as we follow both Deaver’s into the heart of the woods where Deaver mark one’s faint flicker of embedded evil seems to manifest in the show’s most terrifying jump cut throughout the entire series, and whilst many thought, myself included, that the show would inevitably veer towards a more Hollywood style resolution with Deaver one safely reunited with his true reality, what a kick in the teeth we were left with as the circle closed on seeing Deaver one once again held captive within the heart of Shawshank, this time watched closely by his alternate counterpart whose belief in his prisoner’s evil is enough to warrant a lifetime of sin. Ultimately, Deaver’s decision may not be the most humane or rewarding from the perspective of the audience but hey, throughout the series we have been warned of Castle Rock’s underlying seediness, and with a post credits sequence which suggests further exploration into the mythos and mind of Stephen King, Castle Rock‘s debut series was a brooding, bewildering and maddening slice of horror which can only get better with time.
Overall Episode Score: 8/10
Overall Series Score: 7.7/10
“It’s So Disappointing When People Stoop To Backstabbing…”
Based upon the extraordinary Hatton Garden safe deposit burglary which occurred over the Easter Bank Holiday of 2015, a contemporary infamous act of criminality which has been labelled as the “largest burglary in English legal history”, King of Thieves, the latest feature by The Theory of Everything and The Mercy director, James Marsh, is the third adaptation of the events onto film after a couple of low-budget attempts including The Hatton Garden Job featuring the likes of Larry Lamb and Matthew Goode, but the first to hit the big screen, aided undoubtedly by a joyously star-studded cast which features the likes of Michael Caine (The Dark Knight), Ray Winstone (The Departed) and Jim Broadbent (Paddington 2) as the aged crooks who are determined to seal off their careers with one last job. With cocky attitudes, an abundance of cockney accents and enough chemistry between the cast to keep the enjoyment levels flowing, King of Thieves is a flawed but enjoyable, overly cliched heist movie which primarily suffers due to a inability to harness the film’s wildly inconsistent tones as it sways between comedy, drama and an overbearing sense that maybe at times, we’re having too much fun with what are essentially murderers and thieves.
With Caine’s Brian Reader acting as the central focus of the opening act of the movie in which we see an early loss act as a catalyst for his return to crime, the film’s opening forty five minutes is wildly entertaining as we are introduced to an eclectic herd of aged bad boys as they banter themselves to death whilst the central heist is planned, perfected and then carried out with eye-watering rewards. With the cast clearly enjoying themselves with seemingly ad-libbed sweary dialogue and particular members not exactly trying hard to be anything other than themselves, Mr. Winstone, I’m looking at you, it’s a particular shame that the second half of the movie completely bombs as Marsh attempts to juggle the seriousness of the effect the central crime has on those around it with a crow-barred notion of how our leading characters are actually violent murderers who are happy to off Police officers without an echo of remorse, and whilst the movie ultimately overstays its’ welcome by at least twenty minutes, King of Thieves is an odd little movie, but enjoyable nonetheless.
Overall Score: 6/10
“God Turned His Back On This Place. Abandoned Us…”
As stated within previous reviews of Hulu’s latest success story, the fact that Castle Rock has been proclaimed as an “anthology” series by its’ creators in the vein of American Horror Story or True Detective, means that loose ends and unresolved mysteries aren’t exactly on the menu once the drama ultimately concludes in the very near future. Thankfully, Castle Rock’s penultimate episode just happened to be a twisting, mind-bending and thoroughly enjoyable chapter which put to bed the mystery of Bill Skarsgård’s, The Kid, whilst shining a ray of optimism heading into the show’s highly anticipated climax next week in which further unresolved plot threads are bound to be tied up in one way or another. With the previous episode fading to black after leaving the audience safe with the knowledge that The Kid and Molly seem to share more in common than meets the eye, “Henry Deaver” decided to dedicate the entire episode to Skarsgård’s character in order to develop such a notion as we came to realise The Kid’s true nature and place within the town of Castle Rock and the way in which his presence may indeed be key to the evil which has spread across the town since his arrival.
With an ominous opening speech featuring the familiar line; “people say it wasn’t me, it was this place” and further evidence of the seedy history of Castle Rock, the action swiftly moves onto the chance to witness the transformation of Skarsgård’s alternate Henry Deaver from a universe in which he seemingly survived childbirth and became an advocate for Alzheimer’s treatment and saving cute cats, to the enslaved victim of one man’s religious beliefs as he crosses over into “our” dimension in which the young Henry Deaver’s disappearance is finally explained. Considering the resolution of the show’s central mystery ultimately landed well and truly on the crazier side of things, kudos must go to the screenplay, with the episode’s handling of the reveals managing to explain particular plot threads rather well without ever becoming too much or too confusing whilst leaving a heavy amount of the load for the audience to ultimately figure out for themselves. With Skarsgård on absolutely gripping form as the episode’s lead and some wacky psychedelic imagery and cinematography, Castle Rock once again proved that when the show is at its’ most subversive and bizarre it’s undoubtedly at its’ best, and whilst certain questions do remain unanswered heading into the finale in the coming days, if the show can be wrapped in a similar fashion to the storytelling in its’ penultimate episode, everything should be swell.
Overall Episode Score: 8/10
“The Abbey Has A Long History. Not All Good…”
Presenting itself as the fifth entry in the surprisingly successful The Conjuring franchise which began in 2013 with James Wan’s ferociously entertaining opening chapter, The Nun, directed by British filmmaker, Corin Hardy, takes the franchise back even further into the past as we see Taissa Farmiga’s (American Horror Story) Sister Irene venture into Romania circa 1952 alongside Demián Bichir’s (The Hateful Eight) Father Burke in order to investigate the recent suicide of a nun from the local abbey. With an abundance of torrid genre conventions and cliches, laughable special effects and a tiresome reliance on boring, repetitive jump scares, Hardy’s addition to The Conjuring franchise is undoubtedly the weakest entry yet, a movie which fails to ignite the interest which its’ predecessors carried in spades thanks to a complete ignorance of movie-making fundamentals including a paper thin plot and borderline insulting levels of characterisation which results in The Nun being a painful and overly ridiculous supernatural horror which jerks at the chance to create something special with what is undoubtedly a horrifying and spooky titular character.
With Hardy’s only previous cinematic endeavour so far being 2015’s The Hallow, a trashy, supernatural horror B-movie, its’ no real surprise that The Nun covers similar ground, with an over-inflated mist budget and creepy religious landmarks setting the stage up with open arms for a movie which you are praying (no pun intended) makes the most of its’ many fundamentally spooky elements. Unfortunately, with an utterly dire script by horror aficionado Gary Dauberman (It) where plot is overshadowed by dour set pieces in which scares are few and even jump-scares are awfully timed, Hardy fails to grab the attention of even the most lenient of horror audiences, and with the added impotence of some overly hokey performances by the likes of Jonas Bloquet (Elle) as “Frenchie” a try-hard, mopey local who deserves to die the moment the audience lays eyes on him, The Nun becomes more of a laugh out loud comedy as it claws its’ way towards a finish line which crow-bars its’ very faint relation to the wider The Conjuring universe. With Taissa Farmiga following in the footsteps of her sister (The Conjuring’s Vera Farmiga) by undoubtedly being the best part of the film, The Nun isn’t entirely woeful, it’s just a movie in which its’ trailer is a much scarier and tighter work of horror than the full feature.
Overall Score: 4/10
“See, You Thought I Was A Cripple But You Didn’t Know That I’m A Ninja…”
Between the creative talents of Leigh Whannell and Jason Blum, the founder of Blumhouse Productions, the two have seemed to have built an ever-expanding empire of horror cinema, with the success of Whannell’s own Insidious franchise seemingly paving the way for ventures into much more diverse examples of the genre. Cue Upgrade, the latest venture from Whannell who writes and directs an ultra-violent, brutally black comic horror which sees Logan Marshall-Green (Prometheus) as Grey Trace, a traditionally work hungry grease monkey who soon becomes a guilt-ridden quadriplegic after he and his wife are brutally attacked by the hands of murderous criminals. With Grey taking the chance to walk once again by accepting the offer given to him by Harrison Gilbertson’s (Need for Speed) Eron Keen, a socially awkward billionaire tech freak whose newly created device, STEM, harnesses the power to render Grey’s disability defunct amidst a few hidden upgrades which soon turn Grey into a merciless, vengeful killer as hunts down the similarly dangerous and technologically advanced killers who have changed his life forever.
Set within the cyberpunk world of a near future dystopia in which drones control the skies and technology is quickly eradicating the need for a human-based workforce, Upgrade revels in the contemporary fashion of evoking the multi-coloured, neon stratosphere world of Blade Runner, as seen this year alone in the likes of Netflix’s Altered Carbon and Mute, in which people are seen lost within the confines of virtual reality and back-alley hackers are distinctive by their gender fluidity and knack for groovy hair dye. Adding to the wonderfully absurd surroundings in which the action takes place, the film’s awareness of its’ B-Movie exploitation origins manages to effectively balance elements of Cronenbergian body horror with dark, warped comedy in which enemies are devoured in the most violent ways possible seen on the big screen since Brawl in Cell Block 99. With Logan Marshall-Green suggesting he’s much more than just a Tom Hardy lookalike with a brilliantly crafted physical performance in which particular body movements look almost too surreal to comprehend, Upgrade is a step in the zany direction for Blumhouse, but boy is it god damn enjoyable.
Overall Score: 7/10
“I Sent You To London So You Wouldn’t Start A War In Kingston…”
With hot rumours surfacing of him taking the role of the next James Bond and the return of BBC’s hit crime drama, Luther, in the near future, it’s fair to say that Idris Elba is indeed a busy, busy man, and with a fundamental warmth and undeniable likeability, Elba’s career seems to be going from strength to strength even when the steely-eyed few still remember Elba’s superb performance as Stringer Bell in the greatest television programme of all time, The Wire. It comes with a particularly heavy heart therefore that Elba’s directorial debut, a hazy adaptation of Victor Headley’s 1992 cult novel, Yardie, is unfortunately a plodding, strangely dull and overly cliched crime drama which fails to ignite the touchpaper of Elba’s switch from in front of the camera to behind it. With dedicated performances from many newcomers within the cast, an eclectic mix of groovy musical accompaniments and an obvious love for the source material from Elba, Yardie isn’t exactly terrible, but its’ major flaws are so crushingly obvious that it’s hard to paint over the cracks in order to make the film better than it really is.
Focusing on Aml Ameen’s (Kidulthood) Dennis “D” Campbell and his rise within the criminal underworld of a poverty stricken Kingston, Jamaica, the early exposition of the movie is recalled through the age-old use of voice-over, and whilst my own personal preference for storytelling undoubtedly favours a “show me, not tell me” format, Elba’s particular narrative technique does quickly become overly cheap and relatively boring as every single movement is described when the audience is already ten steps ahead. With the movie primarily suffering from an utter lack of effective characterisation which results in the film simply being observed than truly being sucked into the drama, the overly familiar gangster set-up fails to carry any fresh ideas, even when its’ key characters on the surface are interesting but are unfortunately let down by poor writing and dialogue which is as hokey as it is sometimes undecipherable. With a groovy soundtrack and some smokey, 70’s era London cinematography, Elba’s vision for the movie is admirable but with the whole much weaker than the sum of its’ parts, Yardie is a yawn-inducing disappointment.
Overall Score: 4/10
“The Human Mind Is Expressly Designed To Forget Much Of Its’ Past Suffering…”
With Castle Rock hitting top stride last week with undoubtedly the best episode of the series so far, an extended hour’s worth of television which by the time the series ends will more than likely still remain top of the tree due to the sheer excellence expelled from both its’ storytelling and construction, “Past Perfect”, the eight episode of the series, reverts back to much more of the classic Castle Rock feel this week, adding more development to particular plot points whilst dialling up the hysterical sensibility canvassing the titular town which resulted in a variety of violent conclusions. With the re-introduction of the two new members of the town after their short appearance earlier on in the series when they are seen being sold the renowned “murder house” by Molly, the episode begins in familiarly wacky fashion by showing the turbulent relationship between Mark Harelik’s Gordon and Lauren Bowles’ Lilith, a rocky marriage dented by Lilith’s unfaithful indiscretion but one still on track as they declare themselves the new owners of Castle Rock’s B and B which the two are dedicated to design around the many historical deaths which have occurred within the town throughout the ages.
With an opening segment featuring an abundance of bloody murder which clearly evoked the shot of the dead twins from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, the inclusion of Gordon reeked heavily of Psycho’s Norman Bates and with the added touch of a selection of axes and spooky mannequins, Castle Rock’s B and B seemed to be the main place for strict avoidance. With Molly’s predictable rescue of Henry resulting in yet more death from her part in the name of the man she clearly loves, Henry’s discovery of the now deceased Alan Pangborn resulted in The Kid being blamed for his murder even after an enlightening conversation with the local Police in which Henry was reminded of his school-time nickname of the “Black Death”, a title relatively apt considering the timeline of events which have occurred since Henry’s return to Castle Rock. With Skarsgård once again stealing the show, his IT related reference regarding his twenty seven year wait for Henry still remains overly ambiguous even when his refusal to age, as evidenced by the huge collection of eerie paintings within the B and B, points heavily towards the supernatural, and with a final, overly ripe five minutes in which Molly’s secrets were unveiled and Jackie Torrance’s hereditary knack for using an axe made total sense, “Past Perfect” was a mad yet enjoyable Castle Rock chapter.