“I’ve Always Wondered What It’s Like To Be Undeniably Pretty…”
Following on from the mediocrity of Trainwreck and the sheer awfulness of Snatched, the latest face of American comedy in the form of Amy Schumer returns this week with I Feel Pretty, an attempted idealistic comedy written and directed by the film-making duo of Abby Kohn and Mark Silverstein, whose previous work together includes Valentines Day and How To Be Single, which sees Schumer as Renee Bennett, an inspiring low-level worker for cosmetic giant, Lily LeClaire whose concerns regarding low self-esteem and sweeping generalisations regarding society’s reaction to those not considered “perfect” are suddenly vanquished after an accident which results in her seeing her own body image in a completely different light. With the film’s trailers pretty much giving away the entirety of the narrative from beginning to end, Schumer’s latest is a movie which relies too much on the supposed talent of Schumer and the underlying message of the film, but with a severe lack of comedic elements whatsoever and a convoluted, confused and mistreated discussion regarding beauty being on the internal rather than the external, I Feel Pretty is somewhat majorly out of fashion.
With Schumer attempting to juggle a wide range of narrative strands which range from her fortunate psychological switch, a relationship with Rory Scovel’s (The House) Ethan and her blossoming career path, one aided by the ever radiant Michelle Williams (Manchester By The Sea) as the highly pitched Avery LeClaire, a similarly confused fashion mogul whose freakishly kooky performance is undeniably the best element in the film, I Feel Pretty primarily fails to warrant its’ nearly two hour runtime and unsurprisingly outstays its’ welcome come just before the eighty minute mark. With the middle section of the movie in which Schumer manages to embrace her sudden boost in confidence actually managing to develop her leading character into someone resembling more of a walking punch bag than a redemption punching martyr for societal freedoms, the underlying themes regarding the expression of our individual beauty just becomes totally tedious, concluding in a cringe-laden final speech in which female liberation is expressed whilst conducting a pitch for high-end beauty products which attempt to make the lay person much more attractive. With no laughs, a lack of diligent editing techniques and Schumer yet again failing to impress, I Feel Pretty should have just focused on Michelle Williams’ character, something of which I would happily have enjoyed much much more.
Overall Score: 4/10
“Who Are We If We Can’t Protect Them? We Must Protect Them…”
Utilising arguably the most basic and fundamental element of horror cinema since the inception of the genre at the turn of the twentieth century, John Krasinski (Detroit) stars, writes and directs A Quiet Place, a thrilling and genuinely unnerving apocalyptic creature feature which mixes survivalist adventure with threatening terror and one which is held together by a key and tightly held plot point regarding the use of silence and the deadly consequences that arise whenever the rules of such an element are broken. Transferring their relationship in the real world into the landscape of the film, Krasinski is joined by Emily Blunt (Sicario) as two grief stricken parents, Lee and Evelyn Abbott, who attempt to survive in the treacherous, ambiguous world that now homes vicious, unrelenting and seemingly indestructible alien creatures who hunt primarily by responding to sound, no matter how small the disturbance may be. Beginning with a gripping opening act which sees the Abbott family scour the dredges of a The Walking Dead inspired future wasteland for resources and goods, the ground-rules for the drama is delicately set, with silence the overarching soundtrack and communication limited to close-quartered whispers and sign language whilst movement too limited to bare foot expeditions and a handy stock of sound reducing sand.
Whilst Krasinski himself has declared a complete rejection at horror movies in the past, the co-written screenplay from himself, Bryan Woods and Scott Beck is undeniably inspired by classic examples of not only the genre of horror but classic monster thrillers too, and with an opening act concluding in a manner which bears similarities to Stephen King’s famous opening tragedy in his magnum opus It, the thrills and spills throughout A Quiet Place are indeed recognisable but still highly effective in to an alarming degree. With post apocalyptic landscapes a common theme in contemporary cinema with the likes of Mad Max: Fury Road and The Road two very different movies at either end of the spectrum in terms of what the genre can offer, the survivalist tendencies shown in A Quiet Place are never lingered upon in attempt to shove the notion of desolation completely in your face, with the narrative instead brilliantly glossing over such in a blasé fashion which makes the audience accept the surroundings in which our heroic family are based without getting solid answers on the cause or what the murderous monsters at the centre of the peril really are. With Noah Jupe (Wonder) and Millicent Simmonds (Wonderstruck) as the Abbott children, the former’s deafness (something of which Simmonds has in real life) offers in itself a brooding sense of peril, with the soundtrack switching from the background noise of the wild to complete and utter silence whenever Simmonds is on-screen, something of which works particularly well later in the action when her character is somewhat unaware of the power of her unfortunate infliction.
With Blunt undeniably the standout performer of the piece, her own attempts to balance the preservation of her family with the upcoming arrival of a new life results in a standout set piece involving a wince-inducing injury and the worst period of child labour in the history of cinema. With Blunt originally suggesting to partner Krasinski that someone else should take the part, her decision to be involved continues her ability to convey superb performances in a wide range of differing genres ranging from comedy (The Devil Wears Prada) to action thrillers (Edge of Tomorrow, Sicario) and now creature feature horror. Clocking in at a healthy ninety minutes, the pacing of the movie is brilliantly measured, with a hearty, white-knuckle build-up leading to a concluding act which mixes Jurassic Park style set pieces with 28 Days Later inspired terror all happening at a lighting fast paced that come the final credits, you can’t help but feel an extra course would be lapped up more than generously. For a movie which relies on the element of silence and resorts to having dialogue reduced to an absolute minimum, A Quiet Place could be praised on its’ own for just being a superbly brave mainstream exercise, but with top-notch performances all around, a wondrously creepy premise and come the end, a strangely heartwarming familial tale, Krasinski’s movie is a resounding and genuinely unnerving success.
Overall Score: 9/10
“The Cold War Did Not End, It Merely Shattered Into A Thousand Pieces…”
Based upon the similarly titled 2013 novel by former Central Intelligence Agency agent, Jason Matthews, director Francis Lawrence reunites with long-term collaborator, Jennifer Lawrence (mother!), after their work together on the final three entries within Hunger Games film series with Red Sparrow, a sadistic spy thriller which attempts to blend the nihilistic approach of cold war paranoia with a Robert Ludlum-esque secret agent mystery narrative featuring Lawrence in the leading role as the Russian ballerina turned operative who is tasked with discovering a native mole who has been supplying the US with state secrets. With a lifeless, cold tone and a jaw-dropping exploitation sensibility which airs more on the side of advantageous leering regarding its’ lead star than that of actual substance, Red Sparrow is a staggeringly misjudged and overly dull affair, one which although can be somewhat praised for attempting to present a more bolder and brutal by the numbers spy story, hashes it’s early promise and comes across more as an overly disappointing affair with a, hold your breath, completely miscast leading lady.
After sustaining an ill-fated injury which prematurely ends her career as a prestigious ballerina, Jennifer Lawrence’s awfully accented Dominika Egorova turns to Matthias Schoenaerts’ (The Danish Girl) Ivan Dimitrevich Egorov, her slimy, power hungry uncle who recruits her into the “Red Sparrow” programme and under the wing of Charlotte Rampling’s (45 Years) Matron who attempts to teach her the ways of psychological, sexual and overly humiliating manipulation. With Lawrence being confined to direction which forces her to maintain a complete look of utter boredom and attempting to preserve a straight face during set pieces which give Fifty Shades of Grey a run for its’ money, Red Sparrow suffers primarily from a key weakness regarding Lawrence’s implausibility as a hard-edged Russian spy, and whilst her dodgy accent isn’t the only one in the movie to induce sniggering fits of laughter, the film is made worse by being a key example of an obsession between director and leading star reaching astronomical levels, with the camera woozily ogling at the sight of its’ leading star whenever she is forced to take off her clothes or engage in one of many terribly misjudged sexuality torture scenes. Whilst I am all for nudity and stylised violence when absolutely necessary, Lawrence’s latest is one the most unnecessary gory examples of mainstream exploitation cinema I’ve seen in recent history, and when you through into the mix a yawn inducing underlying narrative about double-crossing agents and a resolution which is the definition of cop-out, Red Sparrow is indeed quite poor, even with a semi-decent Joel Edgerton attempting to save the day.
Overall Score: 4/10
“We’re Gonna Put The Ass Back In Christmas..!”
Although American based comedies tend more than most to fall on the side of face-palm induced awfulness, with the likes of The House, CHiPs and the horror of Table 19 from this year alone proving such a genre is rife with utter, utter trash, last year’s Bad Moms was a release of which I personally was pleasantly surprised by, a movie which although suffered from a dwindling lack of originality, featured enough charming characters and sharp one-liners to pass off as one of the better comedies to come from the US of A, particularly in the past few years or so. Whilst the success of the original by no means meant that a sequel was warranted, as per the norm of every single reasonably well received movie in Hollywood nowadays, here we are with A Bad Moms Christmas, a movie which takes the formula of its’ predecessor and mixes in the saccharin filled notion of everyone’s favourite holiday, a seasonal delight which either leads to cinematic classics such as It’s A Wonderful Life or vomit-inducing crap such as Jack Frost. Eugh. Whilst it is no surprise that A Bad Moms Christmas is nowhere near the passable fun of its’ predecessor, with the guilty pleasure appeal of the first movie somewhat absent a second time around, there is still enough smart gags and overripe new characters to allow the sequel to warrant its’ existence. Sort of.
With Christmas around the corner and the unexpected arrival of their respective parents on the cards, the leading trio of the original return once again to “take back Christmas” in a manner which begins by bearing huge similarities to its’ predecessor with excess drinking, low-level criminality and drunk dancing with Santa, one which subsequently flows into a Meet the Parents type comedy which focuses on each of our leading ladies’ troublesome mother figures. With Mila Kunis once again having enough charming eloquence to take control of the main bulk of the film and Kathryn Hahn’s Carla always guaranteed to make the most cynical of audiences giggle in places, A Bad Moms Christmas undeniably belongs to the domineering presence of Christine Baranski as Ruth Mitchell, a maternal devil figure who is both bitchy and comedic in equal measure with Baranski’s performance being one of the main reasons why the sequel does indeed work on some level. With the gross factor turned up however and the annoying overuse of obscenity rife from beginning to end, A Bad Moms Christmas is not exactly the sequel to carry on the successes of the first but for ninety odd minutes, it passes the time rather harmlessly.
Overall Score: 5/10
“I’ve Already Lived Through This Day. Someone Is Going To Kill Me Tonight…”
For a film which even come the concluding act references Groundhog Day, Happy Death Day, the latest from the indie-horror sensation filmmakers at Blumhouse Productions, at least doesn’t attempt to shy away from the fundamental similarities between it’s own narrative and the Bill Murray comedy classic, and whilst this time the titular groundhog is replaced with an ice cold, rampaging murderer with a penchant for baby-faced, plastic masks in the ilk of famous slashers of the past, Happy Death Day is still a highly entertaining black comedy which although undeniably lacks completely in originality, makes up for in pristine execution. Helmed by the rather unknown low-key figure of Jessica Rothe as the stuck-up, air-headed student, Theresa, Happy Death Day follows a narrative in which although is overly predictable in a paint-by-numbers kind of fashion, mixes together well a blackly comic violent streak with a life-affirming redemption tale without seeping too far into overkill or saccharin silliness, and with the chance to witness again and again the death of the movie’s leading character, director Christopher B. Landon plays around with the comical elements almost too much at times that if it weren’t for moments of shock-inducing violence, Happy Death Day could pass itself as a late-turn edition of Scooby-Doo, and whilst such a notion sounds fundamentally ridiculous, the turnaround of the film’s leading character results in the movie ultimately coming across too charming to dismiss as just overly ripe silliness.
With moments which include nicely orchestrated jump scares and a brilliant supporting performance from Israel Broussard as the non stereotypical stereotypical fresher student and exposition handler, Carter, Happy Death Day understands the joyous nature of films which on the one hand balance traditional horror tropes and on the other, light hearted comedy, and whilst a few scenes throughout the course of the film’s 90 minutes don’t entirely work, including a compilation of our heroine’s attempts to locate her own killer and a final twist which is the definition of obviousness, Landon’s movie works on a level of popcorn-fuelled escapism of which I went into the screening particularly yearning for. Whilst Blumhouse Productions have undoubtedly crafted much more impressive and long-lasting horror releases, Happy Death Day passess the time effectively enough to warrant its’ existence, even when half way through I couldn’t get the image of Bill Murray out of my mind.
Overall Score: 7/10
“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
“Can You Imagine A World In Which We End Up Together…?”
Of the many cinematic releases within the Judd Apatow staple, there really isn’t many which I could regard as down and out, truly effective comedies, due in part to my tin-eared response to most examples of American-laden comedies, including the likes of Anchorman and Trainwreck, films which may have garnered an array of positive responses from many on release, but to me, just didn’t work on any level from which I can regard as comedic gold. With the release of The Big Sick however, a loose adaptation of the true-life events of leading star Kumail Nanjiani and co-writer Emily V. Gordon, such a film delightfully breaks the mould of mediocrity, taking a humane and totally believable leading narrative and having the extra boost of a perfectly formed cast to reinforce it and create a consistently funny drama which ranks up there with the best comedy films to be released in recent memory, whilst simultaneously proving that with a decent script and filmmakers who understand the effect of comedic timing, not all American comedies can be utter trash.
Although The Big Sick adheres to the boy-meets-girl formula of practically every romantic comedy since the dawn of time, the added depths given to the relationship between leading couple Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan, with the former’s religious traditions and the latter’s narrative hanging medical issues the stand-out elements of the story, forms a charming bond between the two in which the audience only wants to see flourish and prosper come the end of the drama, and with added support from the likes of Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, the movie manages to succeed on all fronts as both a romantic drama and a rib-tingling comedy. At the core of the real reason on why the movie really works, is the dedication to the believability of the players involved and each of their separate trials and tribulations, and whilst recent supposed comedies such as Snatched and The House believe comedy is warranted through vulgarity and petulant, adolescent nonsense, thank the baby Jesus for a movie like The Big Sick, a overtly impressive comedy which undoubtedly belongs up there with the best comedies to travel overseas in flippin’ years.
Overall Score: 8/10
“You Can’t Trust Anyone But Family…”
Learning his cinematic craft on the set of not one, nor two but three Terrence Malick productions including the staggeringly beautiful The Tree of Life, American filmmaker Trey Edward Shults follows on from his critically acclaimed debut, Krisha, this week with It Comes at Night, a psychological horror movie which features The Gift’s Joel Edgerton in the leading role and a movie which seems to have somewhat drifted under the propaganda radar, resulting in the first time in a while in which I head into a movie having no idea or preconceptions about what I am about to witness on-screen. Whether this is an element which ultimately damages or aids a particular release, there is a sense of thrilling ambiguity being unaware of a film’s direction, particularly in regards to a horror movie, and what we have with It Comes at Night is a staggeringly bleak, yet wholly effective white-knuckle thriller, one which uses its’ minimalist surroundings to outstanding use and a movie which perfectly showcases the acting talents of one Joel Edgerton, an actor who seems to have found his perfect hunting ground in order to grind out the best he has to offer upon the big screen.
Set in the aftermath of an unknown, ambiguous, worldwide pandemic, It Comes at Night focuses primarily on Edgerton’s Paul, the husband and father figure of a survivalist family destined to keep safe in the midst of the darkened wilderness who are suddenly forced to surrender their safety for the greater good when they come across another trio of survivors who too are desperate for survival. With a narrative edge as bleak and nihilistic as films such as The Road and even at times, The Mist, It Comes at Night is a effective mix of psychological and body horror, one which echoes a wide range of previous films from 28 Days Later to last year’s The Girl With All the Gifts, particularly in regards to its’ underlying notion of disease and contagion, and with cinematography which makes the likes of Seven look like a Disney movie, the jet black colour pallet adds to the ghostly air of uncertainty which embraces the viewer and leaves the audience with a sense of never really knowing where the tension is directly heading. Whilst the violence and dastardly dark plot turns result in the movie not exactly being for all audiences, for someone who loved the likes of The Witch and The Neon Demon recently, It Comes at Night is independent horror at it’s most effective.
Overall Score: 8/10
“He’s A Good Person. He Wanted Me Before I Was Smart…”
Aside from making moves in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Captain America, Chris Evans is very seldom seen in other visual ventures between the criss-crossing of fighting Tony Stark and aiding the woes of Bucky Barnes, and whilst this week’s release of Gifted is a far stretch away from CGI-fuelled mayhem and size-bending superheroes, the charismatic manner of the Hollywood star is indeed a welcome sight in a drama which allows Evans to convey his acting abilities and prove that muscle mass and tight rubber pants are not the only thing he feels comfortable doing. Directed by Marc Webb, a director renowned for the indie sensation which was (500) Days of Summer but probably best known in the geek world for the very good The Amazing Spider-Man and the not so good 2014 sequel, Gifted is a charmingly grounded family drama, one which includes a zippy and snappy narrative rife with effective comedic dialogue and tropes, and too a film which although could be classed as a good example of emotive manipulation, offers good enough reasons to bypass the saccharin sweetness at times and just enjoy the ride whilst it lasts. As the great Roger Ebert stated, “Some people like to be emotionally manipulated. I do, when it’s done well”.
Focusing on the one-two uncle and niece duo of Frank (Chris Evans) and Mary Adler (Mckenna Grace), Gifted begins primarily by setting the scene of the drama which is set to unfold, with seven year old Mary attending school for the first time and becoming increasingly noted for her outstanding mathematical abilities and street-wise nature which extends way past each and all of her similarly aged peers. At the heart of the narrative too is both the kind-hearted and softly spoken first-grade teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate) and the Cruella de Vil-esque character of the piece, Evelyn Adler (Lindsay Duncan) who interrupts the peace and tranquillity of Frank’s quest for a normal life in order to fulfil her own petulant and wholly selfish commemorative wishes, using Mary as a pawn in a proceeding tale of family breakups and legal scaremongering, all in a quest for Evelyn’s view of the greater good. Whilst both Mckenna and Evans give both incredibly charming performances, using the great chemistry between them effectively within an array of heartwarming comedic scenes which focus on the innocence of youth and the hardship of fatherhood, Gifted does suffer from a rather overly ripe shiny-happy-people ending and the inclusion of Duncan’s steely-eyed antagonist does come across as slightly too boo-hiss at times to feel a natural fit for the overall feel of the movie. Webb knows how to do the mis-fit, slightly kooky comedy drama well, and whilst Gifted isn’t as flashy as (500) Days of Summer, it sure worked for the most part in which I was emotionally invested with its’ loving, leading characters.
Overall Score: 7/10
“Whatever It Cost My Cousin In Pain And Suffering Before He Died I Will Return With Full Measure…”
Although unaware of her particular line of writing beforehand, the release of My Cousin Rachel has not only expanded my understanding of English author Daphne du Maurier but more interestingly has highlighted the importance of her writing, particularly in regards to its’ impact on cinema, with the likes of full-on classics such as Don’t Look Now, Rebecca and The Birds all being based upon du Maurier’s talented scripture. Following in the footsteps of Nicolas Roeg and Alfred Hitchcock, arguably one of the most daunting double acts to take the mantle from, director Roger Michell brings to life du Maurier’s writings once more with My Cousin Rachel, a direct adaptation of the 1951 novel and a remake of the 1952 original movie which starred Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton in the two leading roles, leading roles that this time are handed to Oscar winner Rachel Weisz and Their Finest star, Sam Claflin. With the infamy and reputation of previous successes of du Maurier’s works in the background, My Cousin Rachel understandably is nowhere near the calibre of anything from Hitchcock or Roeg, but with a stand out performance from Weisz and some gorgeous costume and set design, Michell’s movie is a solid enough attempt to transpose the ambiguous and paranoid writing of du Maurier onto the big screen.
Whilst the film’s narrative effectively reeks of uncanny uncertainty, the movie is undoubtedly bolstered by the magnetic presence of Rachel Weisz in the titular leading role, giving a superbly maligned performance which edges on the side of both troubled innocent and femme fetale depending on where exactly you believe the underlying plot is being directed by the careful hand of Roger Michell. Whilst Weisz is the undeniable guiding light of the movie, the same unfortunately cannot be said for the likes of Sam Claflin as Phillip, the incredibly annoying and wholly idiotic man-child who immaturely decides to deconstruct his entire life slowly but surely over the course of the film’s two hour runtime all-the-while the audience responds not with an inch of sorrow or remorse but instead wondering how on earth such a devious tit managed to achieve such wealth to begin with. Whether it be petulantly screaming and barking orders at his much more humane serving staff or wondering whether he is at the epicentre of a epic murderous scandal, Claflin has successfully gone and created arguably the most annoying leading character of the year so far, and when put up against the strong centrality of Weisz’s character, Claflin’s Phillip ultimately is a complete fail. Whilst the film’s key mystery is arguably too anti-climactic and the plot sometimes downgrading into lulls of utter dreariness, My Cousin Rachel passed the time nicely in a way which will see it on the BBC Two afternoon schedule sometime in your near future.