“There’s Been Whispers Of A Thief. He’s Got Our Commoner’s Looking Up, Seeing Hope…”
With the unintentional hilarity which ensued during last year’s dire attempt to recreate one British legend in the form of Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, in which a cameo from David Beckham was one of the better aspects of the movie, Hollywood’s obsession with re-hashing well versed tales of adventure and heroism continues with yet another adaptation of Robin Hood, succeeding Ridley Scott’s mediocre 2010 version as the most contemporary telling and one which utilises the talents of Taron Egerton (Kingsman: The Golden Circle) in the titular role. Directed by Otto Bathurst, a British filmmaker famous so far for his acclaimed work on the likes of Black Mirror and Peaky Blinders, and based on a debut script from Ben Chandler and David James Kelly, Robin Hood circa 2018 somehow manages to leapfrog in front of Guy Ritchie’s work of nonsensical silliness with relative ease in terms of cinematic woefulness, channelling an off-kilter tonal mix between Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and Monty Python and the Holy Grail as it attempts to redefine the age-old tale with a strange stylistic decision which seems to cater particularly for audiences who are simply after a slice of mindless fun. Unfortunately for Bathurst and co, Robin Hood isn’t a movie which can be branded with such positivity, bordering instead more on the edge of being totally irredeemable as it slogs its’ way through a two hour incoherent mess featuring awfully slim characters, a laughably bad script and feeling that once again a supposed future cinematic franchise dies spectacularly with its’ first attempt. Whoops.
Opening with a cockney-geezer voice-over which instructs its’ awaiting audience to forget everything they know about the tale of Robin of Loxley and be amazed at a fresh new take of the historic legend, hilariously, such a statement is ultimately completely contradicted almost immediately thanks to one of the most lazily constructed and cliched scripts not only this year but in living memory. Introducing our central hero as a toffee-nosed, obnoxious ruling class beefcake who quickly chooses to swap allegiances after four years of war, Egerton is charming to an extent but ultimately feels wickedly miscast as he is simply directed to portray a hooded version of his character from Kingsman, awful accent and all, and therefore loses all sense of belief in a performance which at times crossed into the realm of on-screen pantomime. Joining him on this list of miscastings, Jamie Foxx’s (Baby Driver) role as a dodgily accented prisoner of war turned teacher is the American’s worst on-screen appearance in recent history, whilst joining in on the pantomime sensibility of the film is surprisingly Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One), an actor who aside from slowly being typecast as the turn-to Hollywood sneering villain, pulls off the most OTT and overly camp lead villain performance since Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending. With woefully directed action set pieces which include a jaw-droppingly misjudged opening scene set in a Iraqi inspired third-world war zone, automatic crossbows and all, and a penchant for utilising the “art” of slow-motion to paint over the pants choreography which seems directly inspired from similar tactics used in King Arthur, the latest version of Robin Hood isn’t just bad, it’s a lazy, pointless and amateurish so-called “blockbuster” which makes Guy Ritchie look like the reincarnation of Stanley Kubrick. Avoid like a CGI arrow to the chest.
Overall Score: 3/10
“So Today, I Want To Talk About The Greatest Woman I’ve Ever Met…”
Much like the beginning of Matt Smith’s tenure as the Eleventh Doctor many moons ago, the eleventh series of Doctor Who brings with it both a fresh, new incarnation of the travelling Time Lord alongside an alternative showrunner, with Broadchurch creator, Chris Chibnall, taking over the reigns from Steven Moffat who presided over both Smith and Peter Capaldi’s time in the role which boosted the show into international success. Getting the primary talking point from the new series out of the way, The Doctor has of course decided to shift genders, with Chibnall reuniting with Broadchurch star, Jodie Whittaker (Journeyman) to offer up the first female incarnation of the character in the show’s fifty five year history, and whilst my main concern isn’t of course anything to do with the gender of a character who not only is alien but has managed to last on our screens for over fifty years, there are particular worries regarding Chibnall’s ability to take over a show loved by so many across the globe, particularly when you examine Chibnall’s previous writing credits on the show which so far have been anything less than impressive. Here we are however and what “The Woman Who Fell To Earth” proved to us was that the show is indeed headed in a different course entirely to the Capaldi era, channeling more of the early Smith-led episodes for an opener which was high on ideas but low on execution.
Utilising a full hour to not only introduce a brand new Doctor to the world but a considerable amount of new companions too, Chibnall grounds his opening episode in contemporary Sheffield, where a regenerated and slightly shaken Doctor crashes into the lives of the Sinclair family and Mandip Gill’s probation serving Police Officer, Yaz, who believes her time is better spent than dealing with more than parking disputes. With hammy acting and quick-fire comedic dialogue, Chibnall’s writing feels more than a touch of Moffat’s handling of Matt Smith’s Doctor, and even with a wide range of local, Northern banter which keeps on reminding that “We don’t get aliens in Sheffield”, Whittaker’s first performance manages to blend the kookiness of Smith and Tennant with the sincere dramatic pull of a Eccleston or Capaldi, with the former particularly coming to mind in how his early beginnings seemed to show an actor uncomfortable with the lighter touches than the heavy doses of drama. With dark, brooding cinematography and a Blade Runner-esque heavy synth soundtrack from Murray Gold replacement, Segun Akinola, Chibnall’s attempts at balancing the tonal waverings of the show does slightly fail, and even with a staggering amount of death and a rather creepy leading antagonist which looked like a cross between the Green Goblin and the monster from Jeepers Creepers, the feel of the show never really settled down but undeniably still managed to evoke more of the “classic” Who than one would have imagined. With bundles of exposition adding to its’ downfall, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” was no means a disappointment, just an opening hour which comes nowhere near to the excellent openings NuWho has presented in the past, and with nine weeks to flourish and become her own interpretation, Chibnall’s’ reign begins in interesting, if flawed fashion. That theme tune though.
Overall Episode Score: 6/10
“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
“The Pearl Is The Tallest, Most Advanced Building In The World…”
With Rampage up there with one of the most tedious examples of over-inflated, digitally enhanced works of blockbuster trash so far this year, following on from the similarly painful endurance test which was last year’s Jumanji remake, it’s fair to say my opinion of Dwayne Johnson’s acting pedigree has somewhat deteriorated recently, but with the release of Skyscraper, the latest movie from Rawson Marshall Thurber who reunites with Johnson after their work together on Central Intelligence, Johnson returns to the bombastic, B-Movie-centric blockbuster hero many have come to love in a movie which revels in its’ utmost absurdity and succeeds in being nothing more than one heck of a fun ride. Based on a screenplay written by Thurber, Skyscraper is the type of disaster movie unashamed to scream out its’ influences as it swerves between a mix of Die Hard, The Towering Inferno and Panic Room, with Johnson’s former FBI agent turned amputee security adviser, Will Sawyer, forced into a perilous situation as he attempts to save his family who have been trapped within the titular structure coined “The Pearl” and a terrorist plot helmed by Roland Møller’s (Atomic Blonde) muscular if underwritten Kores Botha.
With the movie taking no time out of its’ harmless ninety minute runtime at all for meaningful characterisation, with even Sawyer’s opening catastrophic life-changing injury flashed through without cliff-notes, Thurber’s screenplay is much more interested in using Johnson’s physicality to influence the story in a fashion which was gratingly absent from the actor’s previous endeavours on screen, particularly in the likes of Rampage when Johnson’s natural charisma was wasted in favour of over-inflated digital pixels and explosions. Whether it be a bruising and practical one-on-one fist fight, holding up crumbling bridges with just his hands or taking a leap of faith with the movie’s most bananas moment as his character evades certain death when jumping from a crane into the heart of the fire ridden tower in order to save his family, Skyscraper is indeed ridiculous, but the type of movie which manages to phase through its’ cheesiness and leave you with an almighty grin, even with the inclusion of corny plot exposition and character deceptions which are so obvious there really wasn’t any need to attempt to hide them in the first place. Whilst offering nothing new whatsoever to the genre in which it sits, Skyscraper is a ninety minute guilty pleasure which reinforces the love for Johnson that was once lost, proving that when placed in the right scenario, The Rock is the man you need to save you from certain death.
Overall Score: 6/10
“These Creatures Were Here Before Us. And If We’re Not Careful, They’re Going To Be Here After…”
With Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World managing to take an eye-watering amount of cash at both the worldwide and U.S domestic box office back in 2015, a sequel to the return to all things dinosaurs was rather unsurprising and expected giving the current cinematic climate, and with Fallen Kingdom adding to the already mind-blowing array of big-screen blockbusters within the past six months, 2018 seems to be the year to beat in terms of record breaking ticket sales. With Trevorrow taking a step back from directorial duties for the time being, with the American reduced to executive producer before returning to the director’s chair for the third Jurassic World instalment in 2021, The Orphanage and A Monster Calls director, J. A. Bayona takes control of a middle trilogy entry which remains high on gorgeous spectacle and charismatic characters, but one too which is aching for any meaningful level of substance, but with a flashy, beautifully designed catalogue of reincarnated dinosaurs and a riveting potential set-up for Jurassic World part three, Fallen Kingdom is a popcorn-induced exercise of cinematic box-ticking which becomes more rewarding the less you examine its’ rather obvious many faults.
With the movie sweeping towards you with a break-neck speed from the outset, the frenetic pacing of the piece provides quite obviously a film which may have benefited from being broken in two, with the first hour dedicated to a return to Isla Nubar, the titular home of the Jurassic Park franchise, for the basis of a rescue operation after the introduction of previously inactive volcano which is set on eradicating all life on the island, and the second hour a hammer-horror style exaggerated set-piece which sees the newly created Indoraptor wreak havoc within the confines of a mansion where the richest of the rich have come to exploit the now captured prehistoric beasts. With characterisation out the window and the emphasis instead on set pieces, Bayona’s movie attempts to juggle a wide range of interesting notions, ranging from animal rights to the strange inclusion of human cloning, amidst continuous destruction in order to both add something original and stay faithful to audiences who come to just see dinosaur mayhem on-screen, and whilst the end result is messy, the attempt can at least be applauded, particularly when some of the more downright horror inflicted elements of the movie work rather efficiently. With a handful of gorgeously executed shots, including the sight of a sole dinosaur being swollen up by the darkness of an on-shore volcano and the biggest survival downhill run seen in years, Bayona’s take on the Jurassic World franchise is admirable and engaging enough to paint over the creases, and with a tantalising premise hinted at during its’ conclusion, Fallen Kingdom is undoubtedly the middle act of a wider scheme which does its’ duties well enough to suit the generic movie-going audience eager for some explosive digital dinosaur action.
Overall Score: 7/10
“Hell Of A Day, Huh? Science Experiments Falling From The Sky…”
Ever so slightly based on the incredibly retro arcade games of the same name which began all the way back in 1986, Brad Peyton (San Andreas) returns to the big screen with Rampage, a CGI ridden reunion with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) which sees him front and centre of a science experiment gone massively out of control, resulting in gigantic, destructive beasts being let loose in the heart of Chicago. With the arcade game instructing players to destroy everything and anything in their wake whilst famously controlling an oversized gorilla in order to move on to the next level, Peyton’s movie features a screenplay which attempts to sew together some form of genuine narrative around such, and with the aid of a seemingly unlimited digital effects budget and the presence of Johnson who always seems to lure in the big bucks, such a feat has somehow been accomplished, albeit one far from a standard of quality for the movie to be considered at all successful. With endless mind-numbing action, a ludicrous and thoroughly stupid narrative, and some ropy examples of both effects and acting alike, Peyton’s movie is annoyingly not the fun blockbusting entertainer one may have hoped for, and whilst the movie may not have any issues at the ticket stand, the film seems only to work to a particular audience of which I can proudly admit I bear no chance of being part of.
With the film struggling to hold together a rafter of intertwining plot threads throughout its’ overbearing 100 minute runtime, the first half hour attempts to build up the central relationship between Johnson’s Davis Okoye, a retired soldier turned primatologist, and the albino gorilla, George, whose presence is managed through a mix of effects and Andy Serkis-inspired motion capture, and with it difficult to think of anything other than Rise of the Planet of the Apes and its’ subsequent critically acclaimed sequels when it comes to a cinematic relationship between man and ape, Rampage does manage to hold its’ respective bond to a solid and passable degree. Unfortunately for the rest of the movie, come the latter two-thirds when destruction upon destruction is the central focus for a staggeringly dull and unpleasant period of time, all the good work is undone and the film essentially becomes an amalgamation of Pacific Rim, Transformers and all the other bloated works of cinema which don’t earn their decision for utter and ultimate destructive chaos. Throw into the mix truly awful performances from the likes of Jake Lacy (Their Finest) and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen), with the latter essentially just doing his role of Negan from The Walking Dead, Peyton’s mix is a real uninteresting work of nonsense which fails to capture both the enjoyment of the video game in which it derives from and the guilty pleasure sensibility in which it undeniably should have aimed for.
Overall Score: 3/10
“This Isn’t Just A Game. I’m Talking About Actual Life And Death Stuff…”
With The Post earlier this year garnering a wide flurry of Oscar nominations and a critical consensus which boarded on the side of rousing positivity, a return to form for director Steven Spielberg after the yawn-inducing mediocrity of The BFG was welcomed with open arms, and with only three months since its’ release here in the UK, Spielberg returns once again to the movie-fold with Ready Player One, a cinematic adaptation of Ernest Cline’s 2011 science fiction adventure novel of the same name. Projected in 3D for its’ preview screening release, Spielberg’s latest primarily focuses on Tye Sheridan’s (X-Men: Apocalypse) Wade Watts, a slum-stricken teen who uses the environment of the OASIS, a virtual reality gaming platform created by Mark Rylance’s (Dunkirk) recently deceased James Halliday, to both escape his daily slumber and more importantly, to join many others in the hunt for three “Easter Eggs” left within the game by Halliday before his death which give the finder both riches beyond belief and the key to control of the entire OASIS itself. With pop culture references galore and an upbeat, heroic sensibility, Spielberg’s latest undeniably should work in the hands of a filmmaker renowned for popcorn delights, but with a brain scorching over-reliance on digital effects and a screenplay both absent of emotion and effective engagement, Ready Player One doesn’t work as a whole and is merely saved by individual elements which make it passable rather than thoroughly entertaining.
With an obvious social commentary regarding the nature and impact of modern technology, Spielberg’s movie mixes the subversive ideas within Cronenberg’s Existenz and Videodrome with a obvious love for the science fiction genre in its’ eye-watering levels of on-screen references, levels which makes The Cabin in the Woods look like a passing fling with its’ respective horror genre, but too a staggering amount which by the half-way point does become overly tacky and cheap. With an entire segment dedicated to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, the set-piece is a real bottle spinner in regards to how one might respond, with my own personal obsession with Kubrick’s masterpiece resulting in a subverted distaste to seeing our on-screen heroes quickly pop through the Overlook Hotel, music cues and all, and instead making me think how I would rather be watching The Shining instead. With Ready Player One a movie which Spielberg himself has coined as the most difficult movie he’s worked on since Saving Private Ryan due to the staggering levels of visual effects, the CGI battle scenes really aren’t worth the time, particularly in a final act which boarders on George Lucas style dullness and a complete lack of character engagement when at least eighty percent of the film is spent inside the OASIS itself with digitally designed “avatars”. With Ben Mendelsohn once again resigned to Rogue One style typecasting as the film’s one-note central antagonist and a ear-scraping level of exposition heavy dialogue, Ready Player One certainly has more negative aspects than positive, and for a director who time and time again has proven that giant gargantuan science fiction spectacle is part and parcel of his day job, Spielberg’s latest annoyingly doesn’t hit the heavy heights we are all very much used to.
Overall Score: 4/10
“You Messed With The Wrong Family…”
With Angelina Jolie and co. all the way back in 2001 showing how not to make a half decent video game adaptation with Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, a movie perhaps best remembered for featuring a pre-martini’d Daniel Craig in his youthful glory and the most annoying supporting character ever in the form of Noah Taylor’s I.T addicted Brit, here we are seventeen years later bearing witness to yet another cinematic franchise reboot with Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) taking over the reigns as the titular wall climbing heroine. Based upon the similarly titled 2013 video game from developers Square Enix, a game of which I can confess to playing from beginning to end and thoroughly enjoying, Tomb Raider, directed by Roar Uthaug (The Wave) follows the more robust and hunter-gatherer motif of the rebooted game series, utilising a much younger and innocent Croft as she develops her skills and understanding of the mystical forces of nature in a Casino Royale styled coming-of-age fashion, and whilst the movie does remain loyal to its’ foundations with some interesting ideas and a dedicated leading lady, Uthaug’s movie is still slightly under par of something which should have been much more entertaining.
With Vikander adding a staggering amount of muscle in preparation for the role, her physical demeanour and willingness to at least look the part lands kudos points on her as an individual, and whilst the Swede is an undeniably likeable leading star, her approach to the role of Lara Croft is somewhat undermined by a screenplay which tends to verge on the edge of slumbering dullness, particularly in its’ first half when we move from the urban wasteland of contemporary London through to the mysterious island of Yamatai via a stop-off in a thieve-ridden Hong Kong. Where the movie does eventually pick up the pace is in Croft’s discovery of the island she so dearly seeks in order to answer questions regarding her father’s disappearance, an area which formed the basis of the 2013 video game, and a location which introduces both Walton Goggins (The Hateful Eight) as the underwritten primary antagonist and Dominic West’s (The Wire) hermit-esque and poorly wigged father figure whose narrative arc does seem relatively cliched. Concluding with a poorly managed “twist” which comes across as the definition of shark jumping, Tomb Raider is a somewhat mediocre blockbuster adventure and one which suffers primarily from a tendency for action over substance, but with Vikander an enjoyable leading presence with a kick-ass sensibility, the latest video game adaptation just about crosses the line.
Overall Score: 5/10
“Welcome to Jumanji!”
Despite the fact that the Robin Williams starring, 1995 adventure romp Jumanji was somewhat dismissed by many critics when first released despite it being a somewhat successful item at the box office, the cult status and underground following of the movie since has subversively led to both a re-examination of its’ qualities by many and as per the norm of many cinematic releases in the current climate, a unwarranted sequel. Directed by comedy staple, Jake Kasdan and featuring a script co-written by Chris McKenna, whose previous credits include the likes of The Lego Batman Movie and Spider-Man: Homecoming, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a functional if rather predictable and laborious adventure romp which utilises the star power of its’ cast to shrug off the many, many weaknesses which encompass its’ existence, and whilst many will be swept up in the wisecracking humour and electric editing pace, Kasdan’s movie is the epitome of a release which can be crammed into the genre of “not exactly my cup of tea”.
With the titular gaming sensation transforming its’ form to keep up with the popular trends of the twenty first century, our leading four youthful heroes are sucked into the jungle of Jumanji where complete control of their gaming avatars forces them to play the game and defeat the threat of Bobby Cannavale’s power hungry, insect ridden villain. With Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan taking over for the majority of the movie therefore, the narrative mixes the absurd nature of our heroes’ surroundings with ongoing banter style comedic quips, most of which ironically do make an appearance in the film’s trailer, and although the chemistry between the leading quartet is undeniable, the film never really progresses from its’ opening gag, resulting in endless penis and body transformation jokes which do end up becoming increasingly grating amidst one of the most self-aggrandizing performances from Johnson ever in his on-screen career. With Cannavale’s pedigree as a villain well known after his turn on Boardwalk Empire, his character is ultimately completely wasted in favour of numerous CGI-ridden action, and whilst Kasdan and the crew are obviously having a superb time, the fun only resonates for a short spate of time, and for a film which runs on for two hours, well, you can do the math.
Overall Score: 4/10
“Paddington Wouldn’t Hesitate If Any Of Us Needed Help! He Looks For The Good In All Of Us…”
Amidst talk of political scandals, sexual harassment allegations and the threat of nuclear armageddon, what an absolutely fantastic and necessary time it seems for the release of Paddington 2, Paul King’s live-action sequel to the runaway success of the titular Peruvian bear’s first real big screen appearance back in 2014, a film which not only put the marmalade loving charmer back into the hearts of millions, but reminded that when done well, the reinvention of a classic, culturally important character can lead to successes for both filmmaker and its’ respective audience. With the inevitable sequel upon us therefore, Paddington 2 reunites the bulk of the original movie’s cast with the added inclusion of acting heavyweights Hugh Grant and Brendan Gleeson, and whilst sequels rarely surpass the brilliance of their predecessor, King’s return is an undeniable heartwarming delight from beginning to end, utilising Paddington’s fundamental characteristics of kind-willed ignorance to great comedic effect, alongside a note perfect ensemble cast who seem to be having as much fun as the rest of the audience within a movie which perfectly caters to younglings and adults alike. Anyone for marmalade?
With Paddington well and truly moulded into the lives of the Brown family, his attempts to raise money for an exquisitely designed pop-up book for Aunt Lucy is thwarted when the item is stolen and Paddington blamed, resulting in the Peruvian settler quickly incarcerated alongside the menacing figure Brendan Gleeson’s Knuckles McGinty. With a plan on the outside from the Brown family to locate the real culprit, with Hugh Grant’s narcissistic Phoenix Buchanan being the top target, Paddington has to use all his charm and unwavering loyalty to escape prison and clear his name. With comedic elements which seem to have been directly influenced from the likes of Monty Python and the movies of Wes Anderson, with the prison sequences almost uncannily referencing The Grand Budapest Hotel, and emotive, beautiful set pieces including an early journey through a pop-up view of London and a concluding reunion which is bound to make even the sternest of audiences reach for the tissues, King’s movie not only continues the brilliance of the original but dramatically improves upon it, with the casting of both Gleeson and Grant a major factor in its’ many successes, and in a time when uncertainty and ambiguity is rife within the real world, Paddington 2 is a family-friendly work of escapism which everyone could do with a slice of.