“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
“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
“Alexander Elliot, It Was You Who Drew The Sword! This Realm Faces Mortal Danger..!”
In a time in which both King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and the awfully misjudged, Robin Hood, at least effectively reminded everyone that sometimes rolling out the same old story time and time again isn’t always the best quick route to success, the release of The Kid Who Would Be King sees yet another legendary tale being brought to the big screen just in time for half term. Directed and written by Joe Cornish, whose previous credits include Attack the Block and the screenplay for 2015’s Ant-Man, the London born filmmaker helms a family friendly retelling of the Arthurian legend, this time set in the heart of contemporary England as we follow Louis Ashbourne Serkis’ (Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle) Alexander, a geeky and overly charming school pupil who soon becomes central to thwarting the resurfacing of the evil presence of Morgana, who attempts to take over Earth after centuries away in waiting for the planet to fall into a particularly desolate point of crisis. With supporting trailers for the movie which teetered on the edge of awfulness, the signs weren’t exactly overwhelmingly positive heading into Cornish’s latest, and whilst The Kid Who Would Be King does have some interesting ideas alongside some likeable themes ideas, the latest spin on the well versed fantastical tale is admirable, but is too a movie which fails on a fundamental level of not entirely being worthy up upon the big screen.
With Serkis following in the footsteps of his father, Gollum himself, Andy Serkis, by immediately coming across as a more than adequate lead performer, the initial thirty minutes set up is actually rather well done, with Cornish’s script managing to blend youth infused comedy with the ridiculousness of the central legend as we our introduced to both Alex’s home life with his struggling single mother and his school life, which is balanced between the daily battle against constant bullying from Tom Taylor (The Dark Tower) and Rhianna Dorris’ Lance and Kay, and his friendship with Dean Chaumoo’s Bedders, the self proclaimed Samwise to Alex’s Frodo. With Excalibur soon being thrusted from its’ positioning in a desolate building yard, the arrival of Angus Imrie’s Led Zeppelin supporting Merlin pushes the comedic elements of the movie into a string of constant Thor esque gags as we witness the wizard attempt to make the wide-eyed fellow pupils of Alex aware of impending doom. Sharing the role with the wispy white haired figure of Patrick Stewart (Logan), Merin is undoubtedly the most interesting character within the drama, with Rebecca Ferguson’s, (Mission: Impossible – Fallout) Morgana, ridiculously underwritten, resulting in a threat level which is shared with the awfulness of Toby Kebbell in Destroyer. As the movie swings past the hour mark however, the remaining fifty minutes annoyingly become devoid of fun, ideas or decent editing, concluding with a final special-effects laden battle which seems to have less production value than the early episodes of Doctor Who, and whenever a film tests my patience after starting so well, the final package isn’t really worth it come the end of it. Solid, but very mediocre indeed.
Overall Score: 5/10
“We Are Going To Do Great Things. It’s An Experience. Love, Tragedy, Joy. It’s Something That People Will Feel Belongs To Them…”
Stricken with a long history of production issues and endless failed attempts at bringing the story of rock music’s most flamboyant and talented rock vocalist to the big screen, Bohemian Rhapsody finally brings the life of the one and only Freddie Mercury to cinematic fruition, utilising the skills of Mr. Robot star, Rami Malek, in the lead role within a musical biopic which portrays the rising fame and fortune of Mercury’s involvement with Queen and the subsequent troubles and tribulations which occurred both in-house between the band members and the much publicised issues present within Mercury’s own personal life. Primarily directed by Bryan Singer, the mega-mind behind the best entries within the live action X-Men franchise, yet completed by Dexter Fletcher, director of the upcoming of Elton John biopic, due to Singer famously leaving the project after a wide range of reported unprofessional discrepancies, Bohemian Rhapsody is as overblown, cheesy and undeniably likable as the subject band themselves, a biopic which although sacrifices deep levels of substance for karaoke pleasures and cringe-inducing, fan pleasing nods and knowing gag, still remains entirely watchable, a movie which will undoubtedly serve long-standing fans of the band’s music more than those coming to the movie hoping for a scalpel-like incision of one of rock music’s most studied and iconic figures of the past fifty years.
Much in the way Straight Outta Compton was led entirely, particular in the narrative sense, by the remaining members of N.W.A in return for complete back catalogue access and musical rights, an executive decision resulting in particular audiences commenting on slight historical issues involving domestic and drug abuse being slightly paved over in favour of the glamour and fame of musical stardom, Bohemian Rhapsody strangely follows suit, utilising the combined forces of Brian Many and Roger Taylor in the producing roles to focus the story on a depiction of Queen arguing about record labels, song titles and how much of a wet flannel John Deacon seemed to be instead of completely focusing on the figure of Mercury as he rises from baggage collector to international star within only a couple of riotous musical years. With the majority of the paying audience who will rock up to see Bohemian Rhapsody already well aware of Mercury’s sexuality and subsequent life-ending illness, Singer’s movie does feel slightly underwhelming in attempting to delve deeper into Mercury’s personal life, particularly when considering the dedication put into the role by Malek, whose performance is worth the entry fee alone with him managing to pull off the physicality and likeness of Mercury with a sense of coolness and ease. With the musical soundtrack obviously whipping out corker after corker and the stunningly crafted conclusion leaving audiences begging for more, Bohemian Rhapsody is a solid enough musical biopic which although offers nothing new to die-hard Queen fans already well versed in the history of their fallen hero, will satisfy the mass majority of popcorn eaters simply because of the fact that everyone loves Queen. Get on your bikes and ride…
Overall Score: 6/10
“Violence. Brutality. It’s The Same Story, Just A Different Name…”
Based upon American author Angie Thomas’ 2017 award-winning novel of the same name, Notorious and Barbershop director, George Tillman Jr., returns with The Hate U Give, an idealistic, young adult drama which focuses on contemporary notions of inherent racism from the point of view of Amandla Stenberg’s (Everything Everything) Starr, a bright and strong-willed resident of the fictional neighbourhood of Garden Heights, a struggling and poverty stricken community infested with drugs and control from the infamous criminal gangs led by Anthony Mackie’s (Avengers: Infinity War) local drug lord, King. Attempting to balance the parallel worlds of her life at home and life at her out-of-town school situated in a predominantly white and more affluent area, Starr’s understanding of the world is turned upside down after she witnesses the death of her childhood friend, Algee Smith’s (Detroit) Khalil, by the hands of a young, white Police Officer, resulting in her grasping the reality of injustice within a society which seems to set black people up to fail as preached by her ex-con father played by Russell Hornsby (Fences).
Boosted by a screenplay bursting with substance and depth and featuring a stand-out central performance from Stenberg, The Hate U Give is an engaging topical drama which attempts to balance a wide variety of ideas with a high degree of success, and even when at times the central message becomes slightly messy and overly preachy, a particular scare tactic which might alienate and lose particular audiences who may struggle to put themselves in the shoes of someone in such a dangerous and disturbing American landscape, the central story is undoubtedly well told and follows in the footsteps of Spike Lee’s brilliant BlackKklansman by harbouring a central message which comments on the contemporary societal divide in the a Trump-era United States. Whilst the use of voice-over within cinematic releases can sometimes work with a high degree of success, particularly the way in which Scorsese has utilised the method throughout his career, Tillman Jr.’s movie does fall into the trap early on of favouring rather corny and irksome levels of exposition over allowing the audience to simply discover particular plot developments for themselves, yet as soon as the movie focuses on the central heated debate over the power and positioning of black people even now in a contemporary society, the action swiftly becomes thoroughly engaging, primarily due to the performance of Stenberg who manages to pull of being both believable and empathetic in her discovery for justice. With brilliant supporting roles from the likes of Hornsby, Common (John Wick: Chapter Two) and Regina Hall (Girls Trip) as Starr’s worrying mother, The Hate U Give is the type of YA cinema with a purpose and one bound to provoke discussion regardless of the audience observing.
Overall Score: 7/10
“Doing The Right Thing Is Messy. You Want To Fight For What’s Right, Sometimes You Have To Fight Dirty…”
With Avengers: Infinity War concurring global box office domination for the past four weeks or so, it seems only fair that another highly anticipated superhero sequel should try and chip at the financial willingness of a 21st century, comic-hungry audience, and whilst that sequel this week is of course Deadpool 2, it comes at no surprise that Marvel, and more unsurprisingly, Disney, feel the need to make even more eye-watering sums of cash with yet another hot release. I mean come on, it almost feels like yet another Star Wars should be coming out soon, right? Right? Swapping mass universal destruction and gut wrenching superhero genocide for the 15 rated oeuvre in which 2016’s Deadpool graced its’ successful presence, Deadpool 2 swaps original director, Tim Miller, for Atomic Blonde and unaccredited John Wick director, David Leitch, as it attempts to build on the meta-referencing, fourth-wall breaking shenanigans of its’ predecessor and proving the joke of R-rated comic book carnage isn’t as one note as one might expect. With the original Deadpool described in my own review as “not amazing, but enjoyable nonetheless” and a movie which “goes in one ear and carves its’ way out the other in the most violent and adolescent way possible”, it’s ironic how such sentiments echo the feeling of its’ sequel, a movie which takes the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 approach of playing to its’ predecessors strengths and attempting to expand upon them to successful degrees, and whilst Vol.2 never was going to match the success of its’ respective predecessor, Deadpool 2 does manage to complete such a task and whilst Leitch’s movie still isn’t on the same level of excellence as other Marvel alternatives, it’s still a expletive laden ride.
With Ryan Reynolds (Life) returning as the invincible and titular figure of Wade Wilson, the added inclusion of 2018’s man of the year, Josh Brolin, as the time travelling, futuristic cyborg killer, Nathan Summers/Cable, is undeniably one of the more pressing reasons for the sequel’s existence, but with Brolin’s superbly crafted digital performance of Thanos in Infinity War setting a new bar for superhero villains, it’s surprising how little character development Brolin’s Cable is afforded in the movie’s extended two hour runtime, resulting in his character somewhat lacking in memorability even when Brolin is as cool and imposing as ever. With an added level of sentiment within a Looper inspired narrative, particularly aided by the inclusion of Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s, Julian Dennison, the tonal shifts between shock value comedy and gut punching loss does not work well at all, with the early death of an important character not entirely suiting the film’s overly silly sensibility, but with at least eighty percent of the quickfire puns and sharp, slick in-house references resulting in effective laughs, Deadpool 2 feeds the paying audience exactly what they want without ever stopping slow enough to fall out of the carnival-esque state the movie straps you into, and with solid enough action and comedy set pieces, a quickfire editing pace and a combination of brilliantly designed pre and post credit sequences, Deadpool 2 is flashier, more experimental and much more rewarding that its’ first incarnation, but too a movie which begs the question how much longer the joke can be stretched out before it begins to feel slightly tiresome. I’m sure the box office will have the final answer on that one.
Overall Score: 7/10
“He’s Here. Or Maybe, It’s All In My Head…”
Returning from a self-imposed early retirement last year with the rather entertaining Logan Lucky after a four year hiatus, director Steven Soderbergh returns once again to the cinematic fold with Unsane, a delightfully kooky psychological thriller starring The Crown’s Claire Foy as the equally wacky named Sawyer Valentini who is forced into mental despair from a stalker whom she believes has followed her into the confines of a mental institution which is seen to be holding her illegally against her will. Whilst comparisons to the standout genre examples when it comes to the notion of asylums and the mentally ill are wholly inevitable, Soderbergh’s latest undoubtedly revels in a familiar B-movie sensibility prevalent in films of a similar ilk, with the likes of The Ninth Configuration, Shutter Island and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest the main ball-park areas the film can be aligned against, but with the added hysteria caused by the threat of Valentini’s stalker figure, Unsane is closer to Patrick Brice’s 2014 independent chiller, Creep, more than anything else, with the narrative’s uncertain ambiguity resulting in a sense of not truly foreseeing where the film ultimately is heading.
Shot from start to finish by use of an Apple iPhone 7 Plus and the FiLMiC Pro application which allows video to be stored in 4K, Unsane bears more of a tonal similarity to that of a found footage horror, and whilst at times the cinematography is radically subversive and riotously unconventional, the wider ratio aspect and grainy image does aid the claustrophobic nature felt by Foy’s Valentini, particularly with continuous Sergio Leone style close-ups and the jolty movement of the picture whenever the camera follows her character in a deliberate attempt to mimic the continuous threat of being watched. With Side Effects in Soderbergh’s back catalogue, the Hitchcock-esque thriller type is something in which the American is more than capable at portraying, and whilst Unsane does conform to the more wacky end of the genre spectrum, there is no denying that Soderbergh is arguably at his best when offering more of a challenging, unconventional set-up. Whilst at times the many ludicrous plot holes and questionable narrative choices do weaken the final product as a whole, Unsane is a thoroughly enjoyably and viciously wild cult piece which is gelled together by a Claire Foy on cracking form, and with a concluding act which is genuinely freakish and oddly unsettling, Soderbergh’s second return is another rousing, off-beat success.
Overall Score: 8/10
“I Did Not Start This War. I Offered You Peace. I Showed You Mercy. But Now You’re Here. To Finish Us Off. For Good…”
Although the original Planet of the Apes movies are films in which I can apologetically state I have never, ever seen, with not even the woefully panned, Mark Wahlberg starring Tim Burton version being at the forefront of my mind in terms of movie catch-up, 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a thrillingly satisfactory reinvention of the famous franchise, using the motion performance mastery of Andy Serkis in creating arguably the most effective digital character of the 21st century in Caesar, (Yes, I know, Gollum is probably more iconic) resulting in a duo hit rate of success with both critics and audiences and ultimately leading to where we are today. After continuing the success of Rise with the Matt Reeves directed, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, an adventurous, if rather flawed blockbuster sequel, Reeves returns this week with War for the Planet of the Apes, a third instalment of the Apes franchise before setting out and directing that film about that geezer in a cape who likes bats. With spectacle in abundance and an emotional yet wholly bleak narrative at its’ core, War is the best of the 21st century Apes franchise so far, combining perfect and sometimes staggering motion capture with top-notch performances and an array of cinematic nods which result in Matt Reeves offering the most effective slice of blockbuster brilliance so far this year.
Following on from the events of Dawn in which the Human/Ape battle is entirely in full swing due to the actions of the treacherous Koba, War begins with a particularly spectacular opening set piece, one which sets the dark and violent tone for the narrative ahead and one which builds the foundations of Caesar’s decision making in his battle against the psychopath figure of Woody Harrelson’s The Colonel. Whilst the 12A rating will open the film up to an extended audience, including the possibility of kids, War is no means a completely joyous ride, with the narrative undeniably melancholic and sometimes masochistic in its’ portrayal of the conflict between the two opposing sides, whilst the death count on-screen rivals pretty much any top-end blockbuster release within recent years or so, yet with so much darkness and dread encompassing the story, the concluding act feels almost like a substantial reward for an audience who feels every inch of the pain our leading ape has to go through in order to save both his family and his race. With winking nods to films such as The Great Escape and Apocalypse Now, with the latter’s influence clearly stated halfway through the action, War is boosted by the quite brilliant digital effects, effects which completely have you believing in the fictional characters on-screen and effects which showcase once again Andy Serkis for the genius he undeniably is. Grimy, grungy and gargantuan in scale, War is an excellent example of a character-based blockbuster and a movie which is made with such care and intelligence, you leave the cinema only wanting more.
Overall Score: 8/10
“What I Need Is An Amazing Adventure…”
In a world where American comedy is usually as effective as a chocolate teapot, Amy Schumer undeniably is up there with the worst that particular side of the continent has delivered over the course of the past few years, with her venture onto the big screen with releases such as Trainwreck burdening millions with her screechy Americanised tones and hysterically dull sensibility which really doesn’t compute with my idea of an effective comedic personality, particularly in a day and age in which memorable comedies are quite hard to find. Co-starring this week in Snatched with Hollywood legend Goldie Hawn, mother of Kate Hudson and partner to the awesomely cool Kurt Russell, Schumer once again proves that her particular brand of comedy just doesn’t work within the cinematic atmosphere, resulting in a performance which ultimately solidifies the notion of her inability to create laughs through a tired and cliche-ridden narrative which attempts to turn the vulgarity up to eleven in order to distract the audience from the utter boredom which encompasses the events on-screen. Goldie Hawn, what on Earth are you doing in this movie? I guess a gas bill must be due sometime soon. Ker-ching indeed.
After being dumped by her rock and roll boyfriend, Schumer’s unbelievably annoying leading character decides to make the most of her pre-planned trip to South America by inviting her feline-loving mother (Goldie Hawn) with a penchant for over-protection and questionable sculpturing techniques. Cue loud and completely unnecessary scenes of alcoholism, party music and nudity, Snatched is the type of 21st century so-called “comedy” which adds to the argument that the good times have most definitely come and gone in regards to its’ respective genre. Whilst Hawn seems to be there only for the sake of financial inducement, the film really doesn’t paint a sympathetic picture of its’ leading character, resulting in a warped sensibility which desires her captors to actually go through with their sickening plan and dispose of their prisoners as swiftly as possible. If this was indeed the case, the audience would have been spared from a 90 minute bore-fest whose only redeemable character is the poor U.S state department official who gets forced to help save their lives. Maybe next time mate, just forget the rescue and leave them to it.
Overall Score: 3/10
“You’re An Exception. The Rules Don’t Apply To You…”
Whilst Warren Beatty might be best known in contemporary media circles as being lead conspirator in the Best Picture fiasco at this year’s Academy Award’s ceremony, a recent high-profile cock-up more commonly known as “La La-Gate”, the attention comes in a somewhat suspiciously well timed manner considering the release of Rules Don’t Apply this week, a picture directed, produced, written by and of course, starring the cinematic legend, who takes the leading mantle as infamous businessman Howard Hughes within the setting of 1950’s Hollywood, supported by a simply enormous cast featuring the likes of Hail! Caesar star Alden Ehrenreich, Lily Collins, Matthew Broderick, Annette Bening, Alec Baldwin and the always superb, Ed Harris. With a cast as vast as this, Rules Don’t Apply is the type of movie you would think on the surface is one which everyone in the current cinematic world seemed to aching to be involved in, particularly with the reputation of Beatty at the helm, yet the finished picture is one of entirely mixed fortunes, one which suffers from a non-existent narrative and some misjudged moments of self-indulgence amidst some basic film-making errors which makes you wonder whether the real Warren Beatty should most definitely stand up.
Of the good things within Rules Don’t Apply, the leading trio of Beatty, Ehrenreich and Collins each give respectable performances amidst a screenplay which doesn’t really offer much chance to break new ground, with Beatty really hitting the zany mark in his depiction of Howard Hughes, taking cues from DiCaprio in The Aviator when needed but strictly focusing on the wilder side of the infamous billionaire, whilst Ehrenreich continues to impress every time I see him perform on screen, gearing him up for inevitable higher levels of stardom come next year’s Han Solo spin-off release. Star of the picture however is Lily Collins as the doe-eyed and wondrous Marla Mabrey, the keen and confident Virginian rookie who although is trying sometime in terms of awkward character quips and decision making, is a real find and completely holds her own against the likes of Beatty in a leading role. As for the not-so good elements of the film, Beatty treats the film as a personal blueprint for himself to engage in exceptional levels of excess, an understandable element when considering the character in which he is portraying, yet the sight of an aged Hollywood legend feeling up an intoxicated young star really didn’t sit well on a personal level whilst some fundamental film-making traits are completely disregarded, with endless questionable edits and narrative trails which simply go nowhere. resulting in a movie which ultimately is a complete drag to sit through and when you consider the talent at hand behind it, Rules Don’t Apply can only be regarded as a monumental disappointment.