“You’ll Float Too…”
Following in the footsteps of The Dark Tower earlier this year, the release of It is of course yet another cinematic adaptation of a novel from horror aficionado Stephen King and similarly is a story of which I have read from top to bottom, a particular strain when considering its’ mammoth 1400 plus page count, and whilst many regard the 1990 miniseries starring Tim Curry with high esteem, there is no doubting its’ staggered weariness since its’ release, particularly in regards to the cheap effects and corny dialogue which encompassed much of television serials for that particular period in time. With Mama director Andy Muschietti steadying the ship and King’s blessings showered over its’ production, the time for a contemporary adaptation of arguably King’s most iconic novel has been highly anticipated since the first murmurings of its’ release were afoot, and with the film following the natural course of a plain sailing narrative by focusing primarily on the story of the children and leaving the elder’s tales until the sequel, It has the capacity to be up there with the best King adaptations to date. With a script which is as faithful to the source material as perhaps practically possible, Muschetti has effectively managed to craft a crowd-pleasing modern day horror classic, one which combines the fearlessness of youth with rib-tickling comedy and of course, the underlying element of utmost terror, one which is amalgamated within the form of a simply terrifying incarnation of King’s most disturbing creation thus far.
Switching the 1950’s era of the novel to the late 1980’s, a period of time consisting of cinemas showing A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 and sounds of The Cult and The Cure, It begins in the horrific, iconic fashion of the source material, using the death of Georgie Denbrough as effective characterisation for both brother Bill and Bill Skarsgård’s portrayal of Pennywise, and whilst the death of a minor is always difficult to portray upon the big screen, Muschietti’s decision to act strictly within the confines of the film’s highly deserved 15 rating is both shocking and ballsy, but too a decision which ultimately benefits the sadistic and murderous nature of the film’s titular villain, and with Skarsgård’s portrayal of Pennywise carrying the fearful threat which made the character so powerful within the novel, each and every time his character appears on-screen either in clown form or the many other disguises depicted, the fundamental uncertainty of clowns which I believe resonates in almost everyone is absolutely and undeniably terrifying. With minimalistic, subverted facial twitches, surrealist voice cues and the bonus of added digital effects, the world has finally found the definitive portrayal of Pennywise, and although Tim Curry’s performance will always be admired by many of a certain ilk, Skarsgård’s interpretation is the character I totally envisioned when reading the novel and from a person who tends not to fall under the spell of jump scares, Skarsgård’s Pennywise managed to both fill me with terror and make me check my pants after a collection of effectively maneuvered horror set pieces.
In regards to both members and enemies of the Losers Club, casting director Rich Delia is arguably the real hero of the movie, accumulating an ensemble cast of primarily youth-inflicted, un-established talent which transcribes on-screen as pretty much perfect in terms of each respective character’s transition from paper to screen, and whilst the depth of characterisation prevalent in the novel was always impossible to fit into a two hour movie, Muschietti manages to direct each individual with enough vigour and charm to establish themselves as wholly believable and empathetic. Whether it be the sadistic parenting of both Beverly Marsh and lead bully Henry Bowers or the overbearing figure of Eddie Kaspbrak’s anxious mother, the development of the characters has the desired effect whenever they are placed in a position of peril, and even though from reading the novel I was aware of where each of the character’s narrative threads was heading, the channeling of the brilliantly constructed cast makes the horror elements much more effective. In a sentence, you’ll scare because you care. Whilst the threat of Pennywise does lesser slightly come the concluding battle between forces both good and evil in the surroundings of Derry’s less than attractive sewering system and the CGI construction of particular monsters not being as effective as the titular leading character, Muschietti’s movie is a masterclass of how to transition a story from page to screen, and whilst It is only part one of the story to come, the culmination of a superbly intertwined genre-swapping narrative, a perfectly moulded cast and an unparallelled faithfulness to the novel, Muschietti’s film is not only a marvel of modern horror cinema, but it redefines how Hollywood should be treating its’ horror-loving audience. See you in 27 years.
Overall Score: 9/10
“You Have More Talent And Imagination Than The Rest Of This Town Combined…”
Directed and written by newcomer on the block Geremy Jasper, Patti Cake$ follows in the footsteps of The Big Sick this year by being yet another independant cinematic venture which has journeyed through the avenues of film festival after film festival in order to secure the dream of a wide release in order to lay its’ claim for existence upon a much wider audience. Whereas Amazon Studios managed to secure the rights to Showalter’s endearing rom-com earlier this year, a deal which ultimately ended up resulting in rapturous praise from all across the critical board, the distribution of Patti Cake$ has landed in the laps of Fox Searchlight, and whilst Jasper’s movie was a cinematic pleasure that I managed to catch at a sneak preview this week, the releasing platform as a whole for the movie has been pretty poor, considering the closest cinema to be showing it around me is near enough forty miles away. If you are a lucky soul in close proximity of a showing however, Patti Cake$ is that rare case of a movie which yes, is ultimately predictable and overly cliched in places, but still manages to ride the lightening of it’s weaknesses and come out on top, resulting in one of the most effective feel-good, nihilistic music dramas in recent history.
Attempting to use her natural skills as a talented rapper to some form of effect within the confines of the beaten down, lifeless townland of New Jersey, Danielle Macdonald’s titular leading character is the archetypal dreamer, one who is constantly battling the abusive nature of her fellow peers and unsupportive mother in her attempts to get herself on the track of recording, selling and releasing her music to a wider audience who might just accept her for her musical talent, rather than her personal image. With a standout leading performance from Macdonald, one which mixes beautifully the portrayal of joy and clear happiness regarding her love of music and the conflicted hatred for her abusers and disbelieving acquaintances, Patti Cake$ works by concentrating heavily on the believable whilst attempting to tell a story that is well versed in the cinematic format but with a twisted edge of nihilism and introduction of oddball characters which break the mould and keep you entranced within a world which is all too familiar for many within the similar working class areas of deprivation across the world. With obvious comparisons to 8-Mile, Patti Cake$ follows in the footsteps of Eminem’s finest cinematic hour by being an effectively played, fist-punching musical drama and solidifies the notion that if given the right chance, independant movies are more than capable of keeping ground with their big-budget cousins, if not more so.
Overall Score: 8/10
“You Logan’s Must Be As Simple Minded As People Say…”
With the release of Logan Lucky this week, the most welcome return of director Steven Soderbergh after his self-imposed, but wholly brief, filmmaking hiatus, couldn’t be better timed, particularly after a summer period in which, let’s face it, Hollywood decided to throw more turds in the general direction of audiences than golden tickets, and whilst there is always a Nolan out there to save the day, Soderbergh is more often than not a director who always hits the mark when it comes to cinema, with Logan Lucky conforming to the formula audiences have come to expect from a man famous for being behind the camera of movies such as Oceans Eleven and the Hitchcock-infused Side Effects. With an extensive, impressive cast which includes the likes of Channing Tatum, Adam Driver and a peroxide-addicted Daniel Craig, Soderbergh’s latest would be sloppy to mark solely as Oceans with a mighty Southern twang, and whilst the mark of Soderbergh’s previous ventures does ultimately have its’ DNA solely planted within his latest release, Logan Lucky is a mighty fine piece of work for a man who has had four years to mull over his returning project.
After being fired from his job and attempting to combat the risk of custody battles and a supposed family curse, Jimmy Logan (Tatum) approaches brother Clyde (Driver) and sister Mellie (Riley Keough) for help in his attempt to pull off a heist at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Adding to the makeshift merry band of amateur criminals is Joe Bang (Craig), an incarcerated explosives expert who along with his own members of family, begin to craft the perfect hillbilly. With Soderbergh’s traditional coolness in terms of cinematic sensibility trickling throughout the narrative, Logan Lucky is the type of film which is just enviously easy to enjoy, and whilst the overall picture isn’t the most original or groundbreaking, the top-end cast are all on top-form and so obviously enjoying themselves that the pleasure is reciprocated onto an audience which run away into a world of dodgy accents and effective comedic characters for just under two hours. Whilst the film does have issues, such as the unnecessary inclusion of Hilary Swank’s character and Seth MacFarlane running away with the worst British accent since Don Cheadle, Logan Lucky is a welcome return for a director who seemingly always has something different to offer.
Overall Score: 8/10
“Haven’t You Ever Wanted Something More Barry? You Should Be Serving Your Country…”
Failing rather spectacularly this year in both critical and financial means with The Mummy, a reboot of the iconic horror character which was meant to act as a catalyst for the success of the so-called “Dark Universe” franchise, Tom Cruise returns to the big-screen oh so quickly with American Made, a biographical drama based on the life of airline pilot turned drug smuggler, Barry Seal, and a movie directed by the steady hands of Doug Liman, a filmmaker who has garnered previous plaudits for releases such as the Tom Cruise-led Edge of Tomorrow alongside the likes of The Bourne Identity, and a director who knows how to shoot a decent action set piece when needs be. In the case of American Made, Liman takes the reigns of a flashy and surprisingly entertaining crime drama, one which revels in the excesses and absurdity of the core narrative and a movie which is bolstered primarily by a Tom Cruise on top of his game. If The Mummy showcased a Tom Cruise performance which was the definition of phoned in, then American Made harks back to the charismatic, charm-ridden Cruise Hollywood is used to and boy, is it a welcome return.
For those avid Netflix fans, the character of Barry Seal is a familiar sight in the land of Narcos, and whilst the Escobar-focused on demand series only briefly expanded the life of one of the more low-key players in the 20th century drug trade, American Made takes no time whatsoever in getting straight to the action, with the movie dropping the character of Seal ever so swiftly into the shady doings of the CIA, the DEA and of course, the infamous Medellin Cartel, and much like the previous Liman/Cruise collaboration, Edge of Tomorrow, American Made is a movie which revels in a joyously crafted flashy sensibility which doesn’t take any chance whatsoever to offer any real substance to both characterisation or any sense of real substantial emotional involvement, but heck, it’s undoubtedly a lot of fun. American Made is the type of movie Cruise could only hope for after the mediocrity of The Mummy, and whilst it is unlikely to crack any person’s top film list for the year, Liman’s latest flies in one ear and zooms out the other and reminds the audience why many loved an a-typical Cruise performance the first time around.
Overall Score: 7/10
“It’s A Warzone Out There, They Are Destroying The City…”
After the early days of Near Dark and the ever enjoyable Point Break, the turn of the century has solidified Kathryn Bigelow as one of the most reliable and tantalisingly adventurous filmmakers working at this very moment in Hollywood. Becoming the first and only female in history so far to win Academy Awards for best director and best film for 2008’s The Hurt Locker, Bigelow’s critical success continued with the superbly crafted Zero Dark Thirty, a movie which not only marked Jessica Chastain as one of the leading acting heavyweights in the world, but one which sent a template for the type of movies Bigelow was going to make for the remainder of her entire working career. Returning this week with Detroit, a movie which follows in the footsteps of Bigelow’s previous two releases by being based once again on true and wholly controversial events, the American filmmaker directs a star-studded but wholly youthful cast including the likes of John Boyega, Will Poulter and the reasonably unknown figure of Algee Smith, within a movie which is as flexible with its’ dramatic tendencies as it is nail-shreddingly tense, and whilst Detroit feels almost too much of a movie at times, Bigelow’s latest is a superbly entertaining thrill ride which continues her riveting hit rate when it comes to hard-as-nails cinema.
Beginning with an animated tour guide of events leading up to the racial tensions present within the 1960’s era of Detroit, Michigan, Bigelow’s latest swiftly moves through a rafter of character introductions in order to set the key players up for the centerpiece of the movie which takes place within the confines of the Algiers Motel. In presenting a dramatic representation of the widely reported incident which took place between the night of the 25th and 26th of July 1967, Bigelow and journalist-turned-screenwriter Mark Boal admit to using a rafter of dramatic liberties in order to beef out a final script, and whilst the final product may indeed be a work of unsubstantiated speculation, Detroit never falls into any sort of lull to allow the audience to become that picky, particularly with a middle act which is so nail-bitingly uncomfortable that it wouldn’t look strange being the centrepiece of a Ben Wheatley-directed horror movie. With Poulter on riveting top form as the film’s leading antagonist and Boyega giving a suitably dramatic, if underused, leading performance, the steal of the show belongs solely in the court of Algee Smith, whose portrayal as Larry Reed is the true through-line of the movie and was the one character that managed to effectively bring a fully rounded breadth of characterisation. Where the film ultimately doesn’t work is in its’ belief that the bigger the film, the better it ultimately will be, and with a constantly changing central narrative which concludes with a somewhat courtroom-esque drama, Detroit doesn’t hold the prestigious esteem of Zero Dark Thirty, but for two-thirds of its’ runtime, it sure came close.
Overall Score: 8/10
“There Is Only One War That Matters. The Great War. And It Is Here…”
When attempting to combat the weight of expectation from a series finale, showrunners and writers have to understand completely the balance between payoff and the mouthwatering expectation of the audience in regards to wanting more as quickly as possible. In the case of “The Dragon and the Wolf”, a feature length episode which included everything you have come to expect from a standardised GoT entry, Series Seven managed to craft together effectively enough a crowd-pleasing conclusion to a series which has ultimately been short on explanation and high on spectacle, and whilst ironically “The Dragon and the Wolf” was arguably the most talky episode of the series, it also showcased how smoothly the show manages to push particular plot lines ahead without ever feeling as if the mediocrity of exposition comes across truly as an issue. With death, dragons, sex and the falling of both key characters and prestigious Westerosi landmarks, Series Seven’s concluding chapter was the kind of episode which made the entirety of its’ core audience flock to Twitter in order to discuss the radical changes and future ills which are set to occur within a final season which might not even brace our screens for at least another two years. I know, the feels.
Beginning with the positive, the concluding image of an undead dragon, one controlled by the megalomaniacal bringer of death which is the Night King, cutting through the wall like knife through butter, was impressive to say the least, and whilst the show has sometimes come under fire for particular elements which don’t completely work due to a limited budget, the falling of arguably the show’s most iconic landmark was both terrifying in terms of what such destruction ultimately means as it was remarkable to behold, particularly on a strictly technical sense. Aside from the wall, the death of Littlefinger was also both grimly and poetically handled, and whilst the disposal of one of the show’s key, plot-threading characters was always inevitable, it is sad to see the slimey figure of Aidan Gillen leave the show after a remarkably long tenure as the most infamously loved crafty sod on television. Where the episode ultimately doesn’t completely fit together however is the core reveal at the centre of the narrative regarding the heritage of Jon Snow, a reveal which was so obviously expected that the conjecture of both the realisation of such and the inevitable scene of Ice and Fire combining was somewhat flat in its’ handling. Picky, I know, and whilst Series Seven has swayed away heavily from the slow moving, chess-esque positioning of characters and set pieces which encompassed previous series, the blockbuster action and iconic fantastical battles have made the latest series of Game of Thrones arguably the most crowd-pleasing one yet. Until next time.
Episode Score: 9/10
Season Score: 8.7/10
“I Can Assure You, We Are More Than Prepared For Any Assault…”
Samuel L. Jackson is unfortunately the type of actor who nowadays more often than not falls into the category of “picking up the cheque” when it comes to movie role choices, and whilst I’m game for most things with Jackson in some form of leading role, with recent releases including The Hateful Eight proving that Jackson still has the capacity to show off his acting chops, there comes a time when there can only be so many films in the ilk of xXx: The Return of Xander Cage that you begin to question your fundamental allegiances. With The Hitman’s Bodyguard however, the latest from Australian director Patrick Hughes, a filmmaker who came to big budget fame with The Expendables 3 back in 2014, Jackson teams up with Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds, Daredevil‘s Élodie Yung and Gary Oldman in order to create arguably the most retrograde action comedy of the past few years. Whilst B-Movie nonsense is a genre of movies which sometimes can be overly charming and irresistible even with the fundamental flaws at the heart of it, The Hitman’s Bodyguard manages to fail at every hurdle it attempts to maneuver, utilising nonsensical elements to a somewhat cynical effect and testing the patience of its’ audience from pretty much the outset.
After being demoted from his role as a triple A rated security agent due to the extraordinary death of a client, Bryce (Reynolds) is brought back to the spotlight by ex-partner and Interpol agent Roussel (Yung) in order to protect the life of contract killer Darius Kincaid (Jackson) who is set to give evidence against the evil dictatorship of Belarusian leader, Vladislav Dukhovich (Oldman). Cue retrograde treatment of all female characters, unnecessary levels of violence and jarring usage of profanity, The Hitman’s Bodyguard is the type of movie which features phoned-in performances from the entirety of its’ leading cast, who in their attempt to swivel around the cliched and idiotic plot, scream, shout and swear their way through two hours of absolute nonsense. Reynolds is unbearable, Oldman is worse, and Jackson seems to mixing his performance as Jules from Pulp Fiction with his character from Snakes on a Plane, just without the cool and sophisticated characterisation of the former. The Hitman’s Bodyguard is the type of movie which makes Bad Boys II look like a masterpiece. Avoid.
Overall Score: 3/10
“Smart People Don’t Come Up Here Looking For The Dead…”
With the penultimate episode of each Game of Thrones season renowned for being either filled with spectacle or rife with tear-inducing character deaths, “Beyond The Wall” was an hour of television which undoubtedly fit such a mould rather extravagantly, and whilst the long-awaited battle of fire and ice was finally presented on-screen after years and years of build-up, the epic fight sequence at the heart of the episode was only the beginning of the true fight which lies ahead for the battling forces within the realm of Westeros. Focusing primarily within both the North and the frozen grounds of death covered plains on the other side of the wall, our merry band of travellers led by the ever growing grisly figure of Jon Snow began the first half of the episode with the expletive laden banter the show’s audience has come to expect from characters such as The Hound and Tormund, yet within the midst of the sniggers and laughs, the touching sentiment between Jon’s conversation with Jorah was rather effectively done, with each living off the past sins of their own respective father’s but still forcing a way through to combat the even bigger threat which faces them together as a whole, with the snappy dialogue which GoT has been renowned for acting as the catalyst for the character development scenes to work efficiently enough to not seem just hammered in for the sake of it, even when the conversations switch from areas beyond the wall to Dragonstone and then back north again to Winterfell in lightning fashion.
With the concluding half of the episode fuelled with spectacle and mystical action, the crowd-pleasing set pieces which the show tends to get so damn right was once again on top form, with the shot of our brave heroes surrounded completely by an army of the dead staggeringly accomplished even when the audience is too savvy to think any of the truly key characters are set to meet their maker, with the murderous streak of previous important individuals inevitably halting for now with the show’s endgame in near sight. With undead beasts and the bone-crunching destruction of white walker after white walker in the spirit of The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, the real kicker of the story is of course the death and resurrection of a particular flying creature, and whilst it was hard to imagine the trio of Dragons surviving throughout the entirety of the series unscathed, the sight of the Night King coldly deciding to dispatch one of Dany’s scaly children was a rather extraordinary and iconic moment to witness. With action a go-go throughout, “Beyond the Wall” was a crowd-pleasing blockbuster of an episode, one which featured enough mind-bending set pieces and destruction to please even the most cynical of audiences, but in an almost uncanny vein to many contemporary summer, big budget movies, is too an episode which suffers from particular narrative flaws which prevent it from being the second masterpiece of the series so far.
Overall Score: 9/10
“You Can’t Stop What’s Coming. Death Always Wins…”
Growing up with Stephen King books going as far back as I can remember, the cinematic accessibility of the American’s many novels has resulted in a variety of classic movies over the course of nearly half a decade, and whilst The Shining, The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me are arguably the standout examples, even when Kubrick’s famous horror barely resembles the source material, The Dark Tower series has seemingly been in production hell since the first whispers of a possible adaptation came to the floor at the turn of the 21st century. With previously attached filmmakers J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard both passing on the project, the task has fallen into the hands of Danish director Nikolaj Arcel, who along with King’s own blessings and Howard’s descent into a production role, has finally managed to create a live-action adaptation of King’s monstrous fantasy epic. Being an avid reader of all things King, The Dark Tower series is indeed a collection of novels which I have enjoyably devoured, and whilst King’s own notion of such a series being a cross between The Lord of the Rings and Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy, the novels do have weaknesses, particularly within the concluding three releases, and whilst many have bulked at particular high profile changes which have occurred in the transition from paper to screen, Arcel’s adaptation is a release I have been eagerly awaiting since the first trailer was announced and with the fundamental and historical issues some stories have when making the jump to the big screen, the question on everyone’s lips is; was it worth the wait?
In a nutshell? Not quite, and whilst Arcel’s adaptation of King’s novels suffers from a wide range of basic filmmaking issues, The Dark Tower was a movie in which I was never bored, never lost in the rapid overlapping of plots and crucially, never bothered by the gargantuan and radical differences that have occurred between the process from paper to screen, and because of this, the movie was a rare case of a film which seemed to be rather enjoyable even when the weaknesses are so apparent on screen. In my own view, my ability to overlook such downfalls such as awful editing, ear-scraping dialogue and cheesy special effects, is ultimately down to my affinity to the source material and although the convoluted plot will undoubtedly seem incoherent and completely bonkers to an audience coming to the film with no previous knowledge of the characters or the setting, Arcel’s movie is so obviously an adaptation made solely for the readers of the series, and for that alone, I applaud the ballsy approach to create such. With obvious production problems at the heart of the finished article, The Dark Tower is a movie which worked more than it failed, and whilst the rafter of negative reviews and poor box office numbers will unfortunately class the film as a failure, Arcel’s adaptation will no doubt be the beginning of a series which is destined to be explored much, much more either on the big screen or the small.
Overall Score: 6/10
“We Either Serve And Die Or Fight And Die. I’ve Made My Choice…”
Beginning with perhaps the most obvious rescue in Thrones history, “Eastwatch” was a curiously intriguing episode, one which swapped action set pieces for cleverly maneuvered interactions, resulting in a swiftly paced hour of television which saw the return of long lost characters, the reunion of old friends and enemies and a game-changing couple of narrative tweaks which had fans screaming at the television with frustration the one minute and then applauding with joy the next. With Bronn inevitably the saving grace behind the cliffhanger of last week’s episode, allegiances seem to be at some sort of an end between the two after the latter understandably quipped, “dragons is where our partnership ends”, and whilst Bronn may have lost a selection of fans for his attack on Drogon last week, the comedic chemistry between himself and Jamie is still rife and effective as ever, even after witnessing an abundance of soldiers being shot up in flames. Furthermore, the death of both Tarly father and son raised an interesting predicament for Daenerys’ characterisation, with her villainous streak seeping out once again and arguably becoming more jarring by the second, yet with the vessel of Jon Snow by her side, you would expect each to learn from each other and ultimately level each other out, particularly after Dany’s shocked reaction to Drogon’s response to Jon.
Fitting in as many storyline developments as humanly possible within the second half, “Eastwatch” managed to swing in a glossed over historical game-changer, the long-awaited return of Gendry and the forming of Thrones’ own magnificent seven who ventured out beyond the wall in an attempt to begin preparations for the battle with the dead. Whilst this week’s episode was indeed low on blockbuster action, the low-key smuggling attempts and shadowy meetings in the dark made the episode feel almost Season One-esque, particularly with Littlefinger having the screen time to return to his more dastardly means at Winterfell, and whilst the travelling times for particular characters in Westeros has somewhat been subsided, “Eastwatch” was a thoroughly enjoyable episode, one which crammed in as much information as possible with a sole purpose of setting the ground for the remaining two episodes which are guaranteed to be explosive entertainment. We are ready.