“What You Did To Me, It Never Goes Away…”
With Blumhouse Productions essentially proclaiming themselves as the second reincarnation of Hammer Horror Studios, the likes of the excellent, Get Out, and the financially successful, Happy Death Day, have allowed the company to pretty much make anything they want with a guaranteed box office reward. Enter Ma, a completely barmy, over-the-top stalker horror which takes hints from pretty much every single B-movie ever, one which sees Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water, Instant Family) as the titular mother figure, Sue Ann, a lonely veterinary technician who soon begins a middling friendship with town newcomer, Maggie Thompson, as played by rising star, Diane Silvers,(Booksmart) and her own freshly found group of friends who quickly become attracted to Sue Ann’s willingness to both provide an abundance of alcohol and a safe place to party. Directed by the steady hand of Tate Taylor, a filmmaker who reunites with Spencer after their work together on the Academy Award winning, The Help, Ma is a solid and well made addition into the Blumhouse repertoire which just happens to have a particularly talented actress in the lead role of a genuinely unnerving and creepy genuine psychopath.
Bearing a very similar narrative to that of Greta earlier this year, a stalker movie which too featured a prominent and well regarded actor/actress in the lead role of a movie which was undoubtedly too schlocky and mad for mainstream audiences, Ma basically swaps Isabelle Huppert for Spencer and Chloe Grace Moretz for Silvers whilst adding a slightly more audience-friendly filmic texture. Whilst the movie never really evokes any sense of longing dread or threat to our laddish, alcohol and sex obsessed leading group of rebellious teenages, Ma instead balances nicely the absurdity of its’ narrative with a hefty streak of black comedy as you giggle your way through a ninety minute picture which allows Spencer to not only chew the scenery, but devour it. With the most menacing on-screen haircut since Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men and a personality which mixes Annie Wilkes from Misery with Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Spencer is undoubtedly the star turn within the movie, and with a couple of truly nasty, sadistic and memorable set pieces, Ma is not exactly groundbreaking, but with enough positive elements to make genre fans happy, the latest Blumhouse chapter is cheap, giggle-inducing fun.
Overall Score: 6/10
“The Mind Is A Fragile Thing. It Takes Only The Slightest To Tip In The Wrong Direction…”
With Avengers: Endgame showing forevermore how to successfully handle a blockbuster, superhero franchise which not only pretty much exceeded the expectations of obsessive fans across the globe, myself included, but ticked the boxes many times over in both the critical and financial categories, here we are no more than a month and a half later with X-Men: Dark Phoenix, 20th Century Fox’s own “endgame” which brings to a messy conclusion, the entire X-Men franchise which began all the way back at the start of the century with a movie which in retrospect, could be argued as being the kickstarter for the comic-heavy filmic universe we find ourselves in today. With the X-Men cinematic universe being handled with less delicacy as the MCU, it’s fair to say that Dark Phoenix arrives with little hype or expectation, a concluding chapter that screams with half volume a fond farewell to the alternative universe of our familiar mutated characters first introduced in X-Men: First Class, revived excellently in the franchise best, Days of Future Past, and once again in the not-so great but still watchable, Apocalypse, and with the movie attempting to revive the titular and very well regarded “Dark Phoenix Saga” from the original comics which was somewhat soiled in the franchise low, X-Men: The Last Stand, the final chapter in Fox’s almost twenty year franchise is indeed a solid, by-the-numbers superhero blockbuster, but that’s pretty much it.
As per the standard of most cinematic franchises, Dark Phoenix ultimately works or doesn’t work depending on how much you personally bring to it, and whilst I do not hold Fox’s own superhero franchise with anywhere near as much regard as I do with the MCU, I can claim to bear a slight relationship with the film’s central characters, with the likes of McAvoy (Filth), Fassbender (Shame) and Jennifer Lawrence (mother!) each returning in their respective roles, yet where the movie ultimately fails is in its’ approach to both the sloppy introduction of new characters, particularly Jessica Chastain’s (Zero Dark Thirty) criminally underdeveloped leading villain, and the wider universe, with timelines now completely out of whack and the effect of the predecessing movies having less of an impact when watching in retrospect. With sloppy dialogue and a highly predictable plot, Dark Phoenix is ultimately saved by the Phoenix herself, with Sophie Turner of Game of Thrones fame giving the best big screen performance of her career so far, outshining her elder Hollywood colleagues who in all honesty, seem to be waiting for the franchise to end in order to collect their well earned bonuses, and whilst a film which starts with a car crash is somewhat begging for certain similarities to be made, Dark Phoenix is by no means the worst superhero movie in the world, it just happens to be one of the more forgettable. See ya, X-Men…
Overall Score: 6/10
“We Were Scum, Trash, Refuse That Didn’t Fit Into The System, Until Someone Had The Bright Idea Of Recycling Us To Serve Science…”
Moving into the world of English language movies for the first time at the fresh age of seventy three, French filmmaker, Claire Denis (Let the Sunshine In) and long-term collaborator, Jean-Pol Fargeau, bend the minds of audiences across the globe with High Life, a mesmerising, often beautiful, art-house influenced science fiction nightmare which mixes the psychological impact of isolation seen in the likes of Solaris and Moon, with a truly stunning design and technical nuance, one clearly influenced by the likes of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Nolan’s own space travel masterpiece, Interstellar. Set, in true genre fashion, during a dystopian future world in which the Earth is seemingly struggling from a disturbing lack of resources, High Life follows, in nonlinear fashion, Robert Pattinson’s (Twilight) Monte, a convicted murderer who along with other troubled felons, are sent out into the far reaches of space within the confines of a claustrophobic and self-sustaining spacecraft and towards a far-away black hole in order to attempt to examine and potentially extract the energy within in order to aid their fellow humans back on Earth.
With the nonlinear fashion of the narrative allowing the tale to unravel through being watched rather than being explained, Denis’ movie begins in an almost Silent Running esque manner, presenting Pattinson’s shaved-headed convict all alone in space with the responsibility of not only maintaining his own life through the care of his spacecraft, one which includes a recycling based garden and a computer program which requires daily updates in order to prevent complete destruction, but of a young child too, one born of space and one whose parentage isn’t entirely clear until the drama moves forward. With excellent supporting performances from the likes of previous Denis collaborator, Juliette Binoche (Ghost in the Shell) as a cracked scientist hell bent on perfecting the art of artificial insemination, and a rather placid, understated one from André Benjamin (Revolver) as a convict turned pacifist, High Life moves slowly but does so in a way to ensure that every detail has both meaning and impact, with particular set pieces bound to either make you look away in disgust or remain jaw-dropped at just how surreal the story ultimately plays out. With Pattinson once again proving how fine an actor he has become after choosing projects away from the limelight in the ilk of Cosmopolis and Good Time, Denis’ first foray into the English language is by no means perfect, but boy is it utterly unforgettable.
Overall Score: 8/10
“Amy, We Only Have One Night Left To Have Studied And Partied In High School. Otherwise, We’re Just Going To Be The Girls That Missed Out…”
Acting as the hundred and eighty first coming of age movie this year alone, give or take a couple of exaggerated additions, Booksmart acts as the directorial debut of the wonderfully talented Olivia Wilde, who follows in the footsteps of the equally brilliant Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) by making the tricky transition from in front of the camera to behind it with enormous success. With Gerwig basing the screenplay for her own coming of age story on her personal experiences growing up in 1990’s Sacramento, the template for Booksmart from writing duo, Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins, appeared on the infamous “Black List” of unproduced screenplays for a number of years before being picked up by Wilde and her production company, and in the transition from paper to screen, Wilde’s debut sees Kaitlyn Dever (Beautiful Boy) and Beanie Feldstein (Lady Bird) play best of friends, Amy and Molly, as they hit the eve of their high school graduation and become ready for their next step into adult life. With both believing their hard work and grades have been the result of a complete absence of any form of debauchery during their school life, they soon find out that even the hardest of party animals have likewise secured an impressive future, resulting in both utilising the last night of high school to engage in as much carnage and outrageousness as humanly possible.
With the set up rather familiar, taking nods from the classic coming of age tales of old, particularly George Lucas’ American Graffiti and Richard Linklater’s stoner comedy, Dazed and Confused, Wilde’s movie moves like a steam train as it skips from the inner workings of American school life to the party-centric madness of primarily the wealthiest one percent, with gigantic yachts and mansion sized family homes acting as the basis for debaucherous set piece after debaucherous set piece. With the central characters more likeable then one would have thought after the film’s rather irritating trailer, Booksmart doesn’t solely aim for the outrageous, with a generous amount of characterisation and interesting narrative arcs allowing the final payoff to be more than rewarding, one which comes together with a familiar sentiment that all good coming of age movies do, whether it be the riotous declaration of friendship from The Breakfast Club or the beginning of a new chapter in Everybody Wants Some!!, Wilde’s movie nicely fits the mould of what should be expected from such a genre movie. With a few scenes which do unfortunately test the patience, particularly an animated, drug-fuelled nightmare come the halfway mark which doesn’t work at all, Booksmart is still an engaging, ludicrous and highly enjoyable cinematic debut from yet another filmmaker whose switch to behind the camera has paid off in spades.
Overall Score: 7/10
“Our World Is Changing. The Mass Extinction We Feared Has Already Begun. And We Are The Cause. We Are The Infection…”
With Gareth Edwards having the chance to bring the infamous sight of cinema’s most versatile monster to the big screen once again in 2014’s visually stunning, Godzilla, Legendary Entertainment’s so called “MonsterVerse” was thus born in an attempt to choke audiences and critics alike with yet another extended universe. With the so-so success of Kong: Skull Island back in 2017, this week sees Godzilla: King of the Monsters be released, acting as the second chapter in the fire-breathing legend’s repertoire before taking on Mr. Kong himself in Godzilla vs. Kong next year. With Edwards choosing not to return for a second outing, the directing mantle is instead handed to Michael Dougherty (Krampus) who along with an endless digital effects and explosives budget, has the absolute pleasure to work with an absolute top-notch, A-list cast, with the likes of the returning Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water) and Ken Watanabe (Batman Begins) joined by the ever-reliable presence of Vera Farmiga (The Conjuring) and Kyle Chandler (Manchester by the Sea) for a movie which in all honesty, completely wastes the army of talent involved as it pummels you to death with endless carnage, ear-grating dialogue and a central story which rivals Geostorm for having the stupidest screenplay of the past five years or so.
Whilst it may be slightly highbrow to head into a Godzilla movie wanting something much more than just two plus hours of entire cities being dismantled by gargantuan, irresponsible titans, the fact remains that Edwards’ own interpretation of Godzilla was first and foremost primarily interested in its’ characters, with his movie essentially a family drama which just happened to include world destroying monsters, and whilst Dougherty’s movie seems to have similar desires, woeful characterisation and exposition heavy dialogue means that in terms of an empathetic level, his movie is completely lifeless and unengaging come the forty minute mark when the army of superb acting talent is left behind in favour of endless and ridiculously overblown set pieces. With the likes of Farmiga, Chandler and the now heavily typecast, Charles Dance, all wasted, with the latter essentially playing a high-tech version of Tywin Lannister, the only two redeeming features of the piece is rising star, Millie Bobby Brown, of Stranger Things fame, who with her extended level of screen time undoubtedly gives the best performance of the lot, and of course, the monsters themselves, with the titular ‘Zilla, the three headed Ghidorah and the beautiful Mothra all actually incredibly well designed, resulting in a couple of epic shots which deserve to be witnessed on the biggest screen possible. Whilst King of the Monsters doesn’t hit the sordid lows of Roland Emmerich’s version, Dougherty’s vision is a messy, palm-inducing two hundred million dollar B-movie which should be a guilty pleasure but instead, is immediately forgettable.
Overall Score: 4/10
“You Stumbled Upon An Opportunity. I Can Make You Rich. Rich Enough To Impress A Princess…”
Acting as the second Disney backed money making exercise of the year so far, with the likes of The Lion King and Lady and the Tramp still to come, Aladdin follows hotly in the footsteps of the critically trashed and solidified box office bomb, Dumbo, by once again “treating” audiences to a live-action “reimagining” of the 1992 animated classic of the same name which to many, is the ultimate Disney adventure thanks to its’ outrageously memorable and Academy Award winning soundtrack and of course, the iconic dulcet tones of the late, great Robin Williams as Genie. With Aladdin circa 2019 therefore, the transition from animation to live action brings in the cinematic enigma that is Guy Ritchie (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) as director, a bold and overly baffling decision considering the Brit’s recent back catalogue, and whilst sometimes such clashes bring forth works of brilliance, it comes at no surprise that Ritchie’s take on the animated classic begs the question yet again of why such a remake is necessary in the first place, and whilst Aladdin does feature some interesting and well orchestrated set pieces, all the positive elements seem to be those cherry picked from the original to an uncanny exactness with the tacked on additions only damaging a picture which falls into the same category as Dumbo; absolutely pointless.
With an opening forty minute act which ranks almost as mind numbingly dull as that seen within Dumbo, the screenplay from Ritchie and John August (Dark Shadows, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) swiftly introduces us to the main players of the piece, with Mena Massoud (Jack Ryan) handed down the titular lead role as the kind hearted, street rat who soon falls deep in love with the glowing beauty of Naomi Scott’s (Power Rangers) Princess Jasmine, and whilst Scott undoubtedly has talent to burn, singing voice and all, it’s ironically Massoud who nearly sinks the ship completely, with his performance devoid of all charisma or charm and supported by a vocal capacity which challenges Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia! for worst contemporary evidence of on-screen karaoke. With the first act almost sending me to sleep, I almost resorted to prayer at the sight of Will Smith (Bad Boys, Independence Day) as he finally marks his appearance on the big screen, and whilst his own take on Genie is undoubtedly a cross between the Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Nicolas Cage after snorting contaminated cocaine in Mandy, the remaining eighty minutes seem to be no longer directed by Ritchie at all, with the film’s choreographer instead enhancing the movie into a pretty fun ride, albeit one seen exactly before in the 1992 version, but with the noose already tightened and added inclusions which really don’t work and only seek to stretch out the already tired runtime, Aladdin is fine but pointless and a remake which just happens to have Will Smith as the clear ace in the pack.
Overall Score: 5/10
“There Are Moments In A Rock Star’s Life That Define Who He Is. Where There Is Darkness There Is Now You, And It’s Going To Be A Wild Ride…”
Coming only months after the Academy Award for Best Actor was wrongly handed to Rami Malek for his often caricature laden and mime heavy portrayal of one of rock’s greatest singers in Bohemian Rhapsody, the story of Elton John now finds its’ way onto the big screen within Rocketman, a swear and drug heavy musical biopic which sees Taron Egerton (Robin Hood) take on the leading role for a movie which thankfully shows audiences what a decent biographical drama should look like. Directed by actor-turned-director, Dexter Fletcher, who ironically was handed the mantle of completing Bohemian Rhapsody after original director, Bryan Singer, was sacked for particular unruly pastimes, the London born filmmaker brings to life a joyous, often dazzling, celebration of rock and roll’s most loveable figure, one which blends musical arrangements with a hard-nosed examination of the rough edges of John’s early musical career, and with a whole double sided LP of top notch performances, Rocketman is a thoroughly engaging and satisfying burst of nostalgia which comes ever so close to being a work of excellence.
With Egerton in recent years attempting to throw his once promising career into the garbage with back-to-back works of sheer awfulness in the form of Kingsman: The Golden Circle and Robin Hood, Fletcher reunites with the star after their work together on Eddie the Eagle and allows the young Brit to completely immerse himself in the character of John, a career best performance which perfectly captures the inner insecurities brought on by his sexual ambiguity and non-existent relationship with both his holier-than-thou mother and absent, war-torn father. With the central performance nailed, the screenplay also allows Jamie Bell (Filth) to shine as long-term songwriting compatriot, Bernie Taupin, alongside stand-out supporting roles from the likes of Stephen Graham (Line of Duty) and Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) as John’s unbelievably self-obsessed mother, and with the narrative itself played back in almost dream like fashion, this allows the movie to indulge itself in dramatic absurdities as it crosses paths between A Star is Born and La La Land as we are treated to excellently choreographed set pieces which tweak the most famous of John’s back catalogue in order to expand upon his youthful endeavours. Whilst the movie is at least twenty five minutes too long and fails to maintain its’ wondrous sensibility throughout, Rocketman is a lavish and extreme work of musical delirium which will suit both Elton John obsessives and those somehow unaware of his music alike.
Overall Score: 7/10
“They Wanna Privatise Our Minds, Keep Us In Our Seperate Boxes…”
Following on from the likes of the excellent, Mid90s, and the not so excellent, Eighth Grade, 2019 treats audiences once again to yet another coming-of-age tale, one which trades the urban wasteland of the United States for the erm, urban wasteland of 1990’s Scotland as we follow two socially isolated friends attempt to rise above their familial and personal issues through their shared admiration and love for rave culture. Directed by Scottish filmmaker, Brian Welsh, who as far as I’m aware bears no genetic ties to the infamous Irvine Welsh, Beats follows a very familiar aesthetic and tonal similarity to the latter’s most well known literary work, Trainspotting, with the subsequent big screen adaptation from Danny Boyle undeniably playing a huge part in influencing a movie which tries hard but ultimately fails to have the same impact on both cinema and culture Boyle’s undisputed masterpiece did back in the day.
With the little known Christian Ortega and Lorn Macdonald in the leading roles of Johnno and Spanner respectively, Welsh’s movie spends the first forty five minutes developing a loving friendship separated by social class, with Johnno’s recent familial move to a fancy new build away from the harsh wastelands of Scotland’s high rises and “scum” a whole different world away from the desperate upbringing of Spanner, whose strength on the outside conflicts with an inner vulnerability caused by his ruthless and sociopathic older drug dealing brother. Come the fifty minute mark however and Beats soon falls into the trap of running completely out of steam, with a central narrative involving a music and drug led revolution not interesting in the slightest, and even with a clear nod to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Beats begins promising but then falls down as it fails to really focus on a meaningful message.
Overall Score: 5/10
“Sometimes Duty Is The Death Of Love. You Are The Shield That Guards The Realm Of Men….”
When it comes to the art of storytelling, one thing is for certain that whenever there is a beginning, there is always inevitably an end point, and whether that be forged by the written hand on paper or directed upon the big or small screen as a visual companion, certain works are always going to be judged by how exactly their own select story plays out. When it comes to television, you do not have to look very far away from Game of Thrones in order to see how certain conclusions immediately evoke discussion from audiences, with the likes of The Sopranos and The Wire, shows both helmed by HBO and regarded as the best of contemporary visual drama, each proclaimed as masterpieces in their own right but when highlighting both their final chapters, immediately causes particular viewers to engulf in a raging fit of dissatisfaction after years of building relationships with the show’s characters and ultimately handed a conclusion they personally might not agree with. Step in “The Iron Throne”, the long awaited final episode of Game of Thrones, and once again we are dealt a bookended chapter which for some may be the perfect swansong for a show we all knew would end this year and for others, is the ultimate sacrilege as it fails to pull out the hat every single piece of fan service ever seen on social media or news article in a manner which would have spanned at least another eight seasons. For me personally, Season Eight of Game of Thrones was no means perfect, with an obvious sense of drop and run from the showrunners resulting in a rather eclectic pacing and particular endgame decisions which don’t entirely make complete sense, but with enough technical craft and an emotional farewell to cap off the greatest show of recent years, “The Iron Throne” was in some ways the only way such a gargantuan show could finally come to an end.
Let’s face it, the shocktastic twist of Daenerys going full Al Pacino circa The Godfather was something of which that was always going to occur, with small moments of madness creeping up in the seasons which came before resulting in a extending sense of detachment the more time I spent in the dragon Queen’s company, and whilst the moment itself could have been handled slightly more delicately, Season Eight’s “Baelor” or “The Rains of Castamere” moment was still a good old fashioned Game of Thrones narrative turn, resulting in an even bigger turn when Jon’s decision to murder the once innocent victim sending streams of fans into fits on enraged madness, well at least on Twitter and IMDB. As for me, sure it kind of made sense, with Dany’s death in a roundabout sort of way actually managing to create in full Aladdin style, a whole new world, albeit at the expense of her as Queen as she was whisked away by the world’s last remaining dragon who decided to not only burn the titular Iron Throne down completely but fly off to a location unknown in order to seemingly live out the rest of his days pecking at his dead mother. Ironically, the most depressing moment of the finale was witnessing Jon pay for his betrayal by being sent back to Night’s Watch, a somewhat now defunct organisation considering the now removed threat of the Night King, in a fashion which made the show at least come completely full circle, and with the remaining Stark’s getting the happiness they deserve and King’s Landing left in the hands of more reliable characters, Game of Thrones surprisingly ended on a heartwarming and upbeat note, and whilst the execution was by no means perfect or completely satisfying enough to proclaim it as anywhere near masterful, “The Iron Throne” was still an excellent way to tie up a show which ultimately suffered from how big it became, and whilst many will whimper at the bold narrative choices and throw their once loved DVD collections in the bin as they proclaim to never watch the show ever again, maybe it’s time to take a breather and reminisce at a show which we will never see the likes of ever again. It’s been an emotional journey Game of Thrones, thank you for everything.