“That Thing’s Out There. We Need To Find It And Kill It…”
Rushing onto the big screen and breaking the rules of conventional cinematic rules by managing to swerve away from straight-to-video bargain bucket where it undeniably belongs, everyone’s favourite bald-headed Brit, Jason Statham (The Fate of the Furious) leads the cast of The Meg, a horrendously dire, B-Movie nightmare which sees Statham as Jonas Taylor, a seemingly invincible and overly irresistible rescue diver who is tasked alongside a team of awfully inane scientists to defeat the titular Megalodon, a seventy foot long murderous shark thought extinct which is released upon the world to chew upon the cannon fodder of citizens which lay in its’ wake. Based upon the 1997 book “Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror” by American science fiction author, Steve Alten, The Meg fails on a comprehensive level of failing to be the type of movie which can be typecast as “so bad its’ good”, with the film’s dire script, awful dialogue and shambolic acting performances all managing to co-exist together in a finished product which ranks up there with the worst cinema has offered up this year so far, a turgid release which makes you yearn for the sheer absurdity of Sharknado.
Whilst Jason Statham is the sort of actor whose presence is always welcome in any type of movie, his particular individual performance within The Meg is Oscar worthy in comparison to the carnival of awful side-notes which encompass the supporting cast, with the likes of Rainn Wilson (The Office), Ruby Rose (John Wick: Chapter Two) and the horrendously accented Li Bingbing (Transformers: Age of Extinction) all being handed woefully two-dimensional characters whose chemistry and comedic timing comes across utterly cringe-worthy at a range of different points during the action. With a screenplay which includes the type of dialogue where each character takes it in turn to shout obvious warnings and entirely lazy portions of tiresome exposition, The Meg seems to know the genre basis it attempts to sink its’ teeth into quite clearly, but thanks to the staggeringly inadequate direction of Jon Turteltaub, a filmmaker renowned for the likes of The Sorcerers Apprentice and erm, Cool Runnings, the finished product is downright stale and unworthy of viewership, and whilst it’s easy to poke fun at movies which try to be just good old fun instead of attempting to come across as the new Citizen Kane, The Meg just doesn’t work at any level at all, and for a movie which happens to include the brooding baldness of Jason Statham, that’s quite a startling feat in itself.
Overall Score: 3/10
“I Sailed Halfway Around The World To Find You…”
With Icelandic filmmaker, Baltasar Kormákur, having a recent cinematic back catalogue which can arguably be regarded as somewhat patchy, the 2 Guns and Everest director returns this week with Adrift, a romantic survival drama based on the true story of reckless adventurers, Tami Oldham and Richard Sharp, as they venture into the Pacific Ocean in order to sail a luxury sail boat from Tahiti to San Diego and end up coming face to face with a destructive and dangerous hurricane. Based on Tami Oldham’s own memoir “Red Sky in Mourning”, co-written with Susea McGearhart and published in 1998, Kormákur’s latest follows a familiar “lost-at-sea” narrative as it attempts to juggle the central relationship between Oldham and Sharp, played on-screen by Shailene Woodley (Snowden) and Sam Claflin (My Cousin Rachel) respectively, with a hard-edged tale of survival, and whilst the performances of the central duo are pleasantly believable and committed, particularly Woodley who gives her best on-screen performance since Snowden, Adrift is annoyingly a middling, overly mediocre affair which features zero sense of peril and an overriding sense that we have been here many, many times before.
With a time-jumping narrative which continually switches between the past and the present, the historical scenes sees the core relationship between Sharp and Oldham begin to blossom in the most cringey, overly saccharin way possible, with even Oldham’s character in one scene apologising for being too “cheesy”, but even with a screenplay which feels very much the typeface template for approaching on-screen Hollywood depictions of love, it’s to the leading duo’s credit that you still successfully believe in the pair as a genuine couple hunger for exploration and excitement on the rough seas. Cue the scenes of the present and it is here where Adrift ultimately and strangely becomes ever-so cliched, with the movie somewhat sitting between the all-out physicality of All is Lost and the ripe sentimentality of Titanic, but all-the-while feeling incredibly boring and wholly un-engaging even when Woodley gives it her all, peanut butter covered fingers and all. With a concluding twist which not only feels convoluted, cheap and utterly ridiculous, such a black hole of jarring inconsistency raises questions about whether the majority of the film was ultimately needed, but with a resounding sense that both Claflin and Woodley somewhat save the day, Adrift sort of gets past the finish line, albeit struggling and hanging on for dear life.
Overall Score: 5/10
“We Lose! He Beat Us! The Game Is Over..!”
Beginning his big-screen career with a collection of Hollywood stars and a mildly comedic central gag to play with, debutante director, Jeff Tomsic, adapts Russell Adams’ 2013 article, “It Takes Planning, Caution To Avoid Being It”, an account of a true story published in The Wall Street Journal which focused on a group of life-long friends who spend one month each year playing the titular game of tag with overly dedicated and sophisticated measures in order to succeed. With a band of usual American comedy suspects including Ed Helms (Father Figures), Hannibal Buress (Blockers) and Jake Johnson (21 Jump Street), Tomsic’s movie follows the reunion of four particularly immature friends as they team up in order to finally “tag” Jeremy Renner’s (Captain America: Civil War) swaggering, soon-to-be married Jerry before his self proclaimed retirement at the end of their chosen month in which the game takes place. With a handful of child-like slapstick set pieces, seething bromantic chemistry and an overarching sensibility which relies on its’ audience to be as similarly immature as its’ leading characters, Tag is indeed a solid comedic winner, one which although suffers slightly from a violently overstretched central gag and a couple of strange narrative add-ons, works due to a likeable array of personalities and sharp, well-timed gags which managed to make even this hard chestnut giggle with childish amusement.
With an opening act which introduces the central relationship between Helms’ Hogan Malloy and Jon Hamm’s (Baby Driver) Bob Callahan, a successful businessman who hides his inner paranoia and low self-esteem behind sharp suits and formal haircuts, the movie’s first set piece in which Malloy takes a job as a janitor at Callahan’s place of work in order to tag him pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the movie, with the zippy one hundred minute runtime being crammed with slapstick inspired chase sequences which move from golf courses to wedding receptions as particular characters attempt to evade the embarrassment of being it. With Renner as the self-proclaimed master of the game whose transition from child to adult has remained free of ever being tagged, his planned wedding is the battleground for one last attempt, and whilst Renner is only used sparingly at times in favour of the core quartet of friends, his performance is joyously entertaining, with Renner clearly embracing the sheer nonsensical nature of the script which he is working with. With a concluding attempt to pull at the heartstrings, the movie does finish on surprisingly rank terms, particularly when the tone of the movie pretty much throughout is utter silliness, but within the rather middling genre of contemporary American comedies, Tag is trashy fun which passes the time rather neatly.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Joe, Wake Up. It’s A Beautiful Day…”
Introduced to the ways of Scottish director Lynne Ramsay back in 2011 with the jaw-dropping, unrelenting and unforgettable We Need To Talk About Kevin, her Terrence Malick sensibility of putting the audience on hold for whatever project ultimately comes up next has resulted in a six year long wait for You Were Never Really Here, a similarly twisted and powerful crime thriller based on Jonathan Ames novel of the same name and featuring Joaquin Phoenix (Inherent Vice) as Joe, a retired war veteran with a tortured psych and suicidal vulnerability who is tasked by a U.S State Senator in hunting down his young daughter who has been in lost in the seedy underbelly of a contemporary and morally duplicitous New York City. With We Need To Talk About Kevin setting the ground-rules for audience expectations when it comes to the mind of a director unafraid to tackle hardened and controversial subject matters, You Were Never Really Here is a hallucinatory, startling and entirely captivating work of art which merges genre within genres and results in ninety minutes of sheer white-knuckle tension and a collection of set-pieces which will rank up there with the best evidence of cinema audiences will see this year.
With narrative similarities to Martin Scorsese’s 1976 classic, Taxi Driver, something of which many have commented on already, Ramsay’s latest is much more infatuated with the harrowing mind of its’ leading character, the brutish, bearded and morally conflicted figure of Phoenix’s Joe, a subverted private investigator whose specific speciality seemingly lies in locating lost children, a career choice somewhat channelled by his own troubling childhood and past traumas, elements of the movie which are highlighted in sporadic, sometimes terrifying flashbacks which couldn’t help but evoke the ghostly imagery of the The Shining, particularly in the film’s final act in which we see Joe scour the surroundings of an Overlook Hotel-inspired residence and is greeted with physical manifestations of his numerous nightmares. With the film reeking of style and a Winding Refn infused sensibility, the Jonny Greenwood score topples even his own outstanding work on Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread, with a mix of screeching strings and new wave electronica perfectly pumping up the emotion with one stroke and then creating an unbearable level of hostility and tension with the other, and with Thomas Townend’s luscious, vibrant cinematography creating a staggeringly beautiful landscape for Joe’s character to be absorbed within, You Were Never Really Here is a real treat for the senses.
Whereas We Need To Talk About Kevin was constructed around a revisionist tale of the creation of man into monster which relied heavily on backstory and flashbacks, You Were Never Really Here only utilises these elements in an short and snappy basis, with the narrative much more linear in nature, and with the style and substance both accompanying each other majestically hand in hand, to call the movie anything other than heartily fulfilling is a complete and utter falsehood. Boasting extraordinary set pieces including a violent rescue attempt shown only through the ghostly image of CCTV cameras and a The Shape of Water-esque funeral scene which will be hard to to top as the most heartbreaking scene this year, Ramsay’s film is a stunning achievement, one which features Joaquin Phoenix at a level of acting that’s hard to better, and one which lives long in the memory after the final credits begin to appear on screen. With the seven year gap between her last and recent release, it seems Ramsay is indeed a filmmaker who desires quality above all else, and after experiencing You Were Never Really Here, for that is what the movie undeniably is, a groundbreaking experience, it comes at no surprise that her latest venture is very much worth the wait.
Overall Score: 9/10
“We Started This Together. We May As Well End It That Way Too…”
Whilst probably not the best person in some way to comment on a concluding act to a trilogy of which I have been completely absent from up to now, the latest entry into the Maze Runner series, directed by franchise stalwart, Wes Ball, brings to end arguably the most uninteresting young adult dystopian book adaptation to date, one which seemed in all honesty to exist primarily in order to latch onto the success of the far superior Hunger Games, and whilst I always revel in the chance to be proved wrong, The Death Cure is unfortunately, if not entirely surprisingly, a complete and utter elongated drag, one which fails to ignite any sense of interest or involvement throughout its’ unbelievably running time and a film which although is primarily designed for the younger side of audiences, seems entirely misjudged and altogether unrewarding. Beginning in a Skyfall-esque fashion with a somewhat well executed train heist, The Death Cure follows Dylan O’Brien’s (American Assassin) indestructible Thomas and his merry band of wavy hair followers through a Mad Max inspired landscape in order to save Ki Hong Lee’s Minho, who has been captured by the ridiculously named organisation, WCKD, in order to utilise his immunity to a virus unlike 28 Days Later’s rage virus and potentially save the remaining human race. Sound convoluted? That’s just the start.
Whilst I am all for spectacle-infused action carnage which sides with brass over an influx of brains, Ball’s movie is fundamentally one which reeks of glaring similarity, and whilst the film seems to be at least made with a somewhat dedicated respect to the source material, the movie ultimately suffers due to a wavering and uncertain narrative and an inclusion of characters which not only come across as the epitome of one dimensional, but too are characters so underdeveloped and dull that any of them could have been simply plucked from the set of either Hunger Games or Divergent without any of the other cast entirely noticing or caring. With Dylan O’Brien in the leading role as the one-note resistance cornerstone, Thomas, his performance similarly seems to have been simply transferred from the set of last year’s American Assassin, with the actor once again proving that with even the strongest will in the world, the American is still one of the most boring leading performers working today, and with the film personifying the term, deus ex machina, thanks to a constant stream of deadly set pieces which are suddenly revoked thanks to laughably bad saviours who seem to pop out of the cinematic ether for no apparent reason, The Death Cure is a shark-jumping bore of the highest order.
Overall Score: 3/10
“I Hired You To Do Things That Other People Can’t Or Won’t Do…”
Whilst last year’s Alien: Covenant offered up a pretty solid attempt at dragging the reputation of its’ respective franchise through the gutter, the return of director Ridley Scott still manages to incite a cool sense of fangirl-esque anticipation, particularly when Alien and Blade Runner still remain undisputed masterpieces of cinema, and even though the American still hasn’t hit the high notes his reputation is built on since perhaps American Gangster, the residual feeling of hope for his next classic still remains. Hampered in post production due to the widely publicised sexual harassment claims made against leading star at the time, Kevin Spacey, Scott’s latest, All The Money In The World adds an extra layer of interest to its’ release due to Scott’s decision to recast Spacey’s role as oil magnate, Jean Paul Getty, weeks before its’ slated release. With Christopher Plummer willingly taking up the mantle left by the departed Spacey, Scott’s nine day reshoots with the actor offers up fundamental questions of the quality of the final product, and whilst there is no doubting the manner in which Scott manages to carve out some decent performances from his trio of leading stars, All The Money In The World is a staggeringly underwhelming and mediocre affair, one which suffers from a wildly paced opening first half and a movie which once again reignites the issue of Scott’s dedication of quantity over quality.
With the movie assuming the audience has previous knowledge of the key players involved in the drama which occurs on-screen, David Scarpa’s screenplay, based upon John Pearson’s 1995 book, “Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty”, essentially offers no fitting backstory or character development for any of the movie’s leading players, with the first hour of the film a jaw-droppingly dull affair, unaided by amateurish editing which moves the action back and forth between a rafter of time settings in a manner both nauseating and convoluted that you begin to lose track and interest almost immediately on what the overall message and narrative endgame the film is attempting to convey. When the movie does finally settle down heading into the second hour however, the emergence of Plummer’s brilliantly cold and inhumane performance as Getty and the back and forth presentation of hostage and hostage negotiator does becoming an interesting affair, but with the sloggish journey it takes you on to get there, Scott’s movie doesn’t have the sharpness or the nuance to be any more than just a mediocre examination of a story which in other hands may have been much more rewarding, and when a movie utilises the cliched usage of The Zombies’ “Time of the Season” to represent the hippy free feel of the 1970’s, you know it’s going to be a rather laborious affair.
Overall Score: 5/10
“You Managed To Build A Multi Million Dollar Business Using Not Much More Than Your Wits…”
The first film of 2018 has swiftly arrived and brings with it the talented presence of writer/director Aaron Sorkin whose screenplays for the likes of The Social Network, Moneyball and Steve Jobs have placed him at the top of many’s list for the most in-demand screenwriter in America. Turning to the director’s chair for the very first time, Sorkin utilises the prestigious talents of Jessica Chastain in a dramatic representation of Molly Bloom’s autobiographical memoir about the rise and fall of her independently managed luxurious poker empire and the subsequent legal battles following the fallout of a statewide led criminal investigation. With Sorkin’s recognisable literary craft sweeping throughout, Molly’s Game is a rigorous exercise of the American’s unmistakable style audiences have grown to respect and love, and whilst a lengthy and bloated narrative timeline does weaken the finished product and prevent the movie being held in the same esteem as previous Sorkin penned releases, Molly’s Game is a flashy full house of a movie with a Chastain on unmissable form.
Beginning with a quickfire introductory voiceover outlining a young Molly Bloom’s disastrous Olympic skiing experience, Sorkin’s narrative weaves its way sharply and smoothly throughout a first act which follows Chastain’s Bloom as she develops from wandering idealist to opportunist successor, one who uses her real estate agent contact (Jeremy Strong) to flex her intellectual muscles and take over control of an infamous and highly prestigious unlicensed poker ring. With the money flowing, the famous faces increasing and a drug addiction mounting, Sorkin’s script attempts to mix in a wide range of elements of both a personal and dramatic nature of which the source material may have successfully delved into on paper, but even with a two and a half hour runtime to play with, these multiple plot threads do end up feeling convoluted come the final act where even the addition of a ever reliable Idris Elba does strangely seem somewhat added on, with his character never really having the depth to solidify his existence. However, with Chastain owning a leading role which carries all the charisma and charm you would expect from an actress renowned for playing similar characters in Miss Sloane and Zero Dark Thirty, Molly’s Game is a zippy and smart character drama which excels thanks to the involvement of a writer whose move to directing has began more than rewarding.
Overall Score: 8/10
“You Can’t Blend In When You Were Born To Stand Out…”
Based upon R.J. Palacio’s 2012 novel of the same name, Wonder tells the tale of Jacob Tremblay’s August “Auggie” Pullman and his battle with Treacher Collins syndrome as he attempts to manage his way through school and a coming of age lifestyle after years of homeschooling designed to prevent him from facing the potential fear of inevitable youth misunderstanding when it comes to his condition. Supported by the beach burnt Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts as Auggie’s father and mother tag team, and directed by Stephen Chbosky, whose previous credits include The Perks of Being a Wallflower and the lead writer’s gig for this year’s adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, Wonder is a solid by-the-numbers tale of acceptance and individual strength which although features an important fundamental message regarding acceptance and the impact of schoolground bullying, does become increasingly tiresome and overly manipulative in its’ emotional bulldozing as it passively lingers on to a conclusion which does manage to seal the deal to some extent and leave its’ audience with an undeniable smile.
Where Lenny Abrahamson’s Room introduced the world to the enviable talents of young Jacob Tremblay, Wonder solidifies once again that a huge future awaits for an actor who although throughout the film is covered in prosthetics akin to John Hurt in David Lynch’s heartbreaker, The Elephant Man, manages to encompass Auggie’s spectral of emotions to such an extent that the audience can’t help from getting on board and totally support the film’s leading character as he makes his journey through the trials and tribulations of a diverse and sometimes ignorant collection of fellow schoolmates. Whilst Wonder does attempt to balance the heavy dose of Auggie’s characterisation with his fellow family and friends, with the movie sometimes wandering off on tangents to do such via Tarantino-esque title cards, such diversions do come across as somewhat pointless, particularly when regarding the film’s overplayed two hour runtime, and with overly saccharin scenes of animal deaths and endless crying montages, the sentimental value of the narrative does become pretty irksome at times, but with Tremblay stealing the show and even Wilson and Roberts having a fair share of effective quick comedic quips as the relatable parents, Wonder is sometimes preachy but undeniably good hearted.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Just Because You Want It Doesn’t Mean It Can Happen…”
Whilst aware of the infamous nature of Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 independent drama, The Room, a movie widely quoted as the worst cinematic release of all time, I confess to not ever finding the time to sit down and embrace it aside from skimming across YouTube videos and university students screaming “hey, watch this movie, it’s so bad”, of which I inevitably and quickly chose not to listen to. Based upon Greg Sestero’s 2013 autobiographical book “The Disaster Artist”, a first hand account of Sestero’s involvement in The Room’s troubled production and his relationship with Wiseau, James Franco directs and stars in a dramatic adaptation of the source material with Franco himself starring as Wiseau and brother Dave Franco as Sestero. Whilst Franco-led comedies in the past have somewhat failed to ignite my comical ways, the same cannot be said for The Disaster Artist, a sharp and hysterically funny look into one of the more subversive and mysterious characters to originate in the world of filmmaking since the turn of the twentieth century, and a film which on the one hand shares admiration and on the other pokes holes into the darker side of a man whose name is slowly becoming a cine-literate household commodity.
With Franco’s portrayal of Wiseau being introduced in a barmy expose of talentless squander, the narrative primarily follows Dave Franco’s Greg Sestero as he begins to pull back the layers of the mysterious Wiseau after blindly following him to Los Angeles in order to fill the craving of success and stardom in the cut throat world of Hollywood. Bringing into conversation questions regarding Wiseau’s background, age and financial caterings, Franco’s portrayal of Wiseau is indeed one of riveting success, a performance which captures both the comedic traits of the character with a numerous amount of zippy, laugh-out-loud quips, as well as the more subversive, darker means and ways of a person whose societal skills and understanding of basic human conditioning is frankly rather non-existent. With the main comedic bulk of the movie focusing completely on the creation of Wiseau’s dramatic project to an alarming top-notch and uncanny degree, The Disaster Artist is an entertaining blend of comedy gold and character examination, and with a person as inevitably ambiguous as Tommy Wiseau at front and centre of the project, there is no reason to suggest why The Disaster Artist might prove to be the ticket to the Oscars Wiseau always dreamed of after all.