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Film Review: The Front Runner

“This Campaign Is About The Future. Not Rumors, Not Sleaze, And I Care About The Sanctity Of This Process, Whether You Do Or Not…”

In an era when scandal, rumour and sleaze is the hot topic bound to sell newspapers or boost twitter headlines to pretty much everyone in today’s knowledge obsessed society, even to those too embarrassed or tight lipped to admit to enjoying such nonsense, one could argue that The Front Runner follows on nicely from the likes of Colette and the hotly anticipated, Vice, by being a particularly timely piece of cinema which above everything, proves that the world we live in today will undoubtedly be trivialised and dramatised onto unaware younger audiences in the future who will look up to their parents and ask with readying intrigue; “did that really happen?” In the case of The Front Runner, a dramatic big screen portrayal of the infamous Gary Hart 1987 presidential campaign, the central events at the heart of the drama most definitely did occur, occupying a time in which a shift of political focus in regards to the purpose of the media created one of the most infamous and talked about character assassinations in recent history. Directed by Jason Reitman (Juno, Tully) and based on the 2014 novel, “All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid” by American journalist, Matt Bai, The Front Runner is an interesting yet flawed political drama which somewhat buckles under the pressure of too many talking points, but ultimately is saved by some swift, sharp dialogue and a Hugh Jackman on top dramatic form.

Working around a screenplay from the combined talents of Bai, Reitman and House of Cards supervisor, Jay Carson, The Front Runner on the face of it and from the point of view of the trailers pushes forward a movie with a central focus on the rise and fall of Jackman’s Hart, a charismatic, well spoken and most crucially, refreshing change of leadership for an American public all ready well versed in the ways and means of enormous political scandal. Set primary in 1987, Reitman’s movie follows very familiar genre conventions from the start, showcasing the inside of election campaign headquarters, creaky, sweaty coach rides and of course, the smokey haze of twentieth century media rooms which immediately evoked All The President’s Men and last year’s, The Post, in more ways than none, with the film feeling the need to add the likes of Ben Bradlee and Bob Woodward into the mix with no real purpose other than to solidify the obvious connection between all three movies. Whilst there is indeed scandal, late night photo opportunities and the usual immediate panic when the story first breaks out, The Front Runner is arguably more interesting when it focuses on the underlying notion of shifting allegiances from the point of view of the media, a particular idea in which the source material was wrapped around, with Bai himself stating his words acted as a scathing critique of his own industry, one which had shifted from a high level of professionalism to essentially being gossip-laden papers rags in order to appease those ultimately paying the money to keep the news rolling. Whilst the film also suffers from a wandering and conflicted portrayal of the central figure, with it never really having the balls to delve deep enough into the central scandal to paint Hart anything more than a symbol of ambiguity, Reitman’s latest has just about enough as a whole to hold its’ enormous weight together but still feels rather like a big opportunity slightly missed.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: The Equalizer 2

“There Are Two Kinds Of Pain In This World. The Pain That Hurts, The Pain That Alters…”

With The Equalizer 2 being the first sequel in which Denzel Washington has starred in throughout his luxurious cinematic career so far, it goes to show the trust which has been established between actor and director Antoine Fuqua, a filmmaker who reunites with Washington for the fourth time after the likes of the excellent, Oscar winning Training Day and of course 2014’s The Equalizer, a film based on the 1980’s American television series of the same name in which Washington’s Robert McCall beats down on the evil of the world in an attempt to save the helpless and aid the innocent in the most violent ways possible. Jump forward four years later and McCall returns once again in a sequel which attempts to blend an It’s A Wonderful Life style story arc with gritty, hard-edge violence, culminating in a bit-part character study riddled with rather cliched twists and a strange lifeless tone which pushes the movie forward at almost walking pace, and even with flashes of brilliance at times and Washington at his mercurial best, The Equalizer 2 is still a forgettable sequel which fails to expand upon its’ predecessor in a way which warrants its’ reason for existence.

With the opening thirty minutes re-treading old ground by once again establishing McCall’s “hero for hire” type to an audience who potentially may have completely missed the first movie, Richard Wenk’s screenplay seems more interested in showing how McCall fits into the everyday lives of random residents of Massachusetts instead of actually delivering the promise of the film’s action-packed trailer, and whilst the next thirty minutes attempt to elbow in a murder mystery subplot featuring the return of Melissa Leo’s (The Fighter) Susan Plummer, Fuqua’s movie never really gets going until the final act when the film remembers it is meant to be shelved within the genre of action rather than dour, dramatic nonsense. With Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones) providing the most obvious character deception seen in cinema this year, the real fireworks within the movie undoubtedly resides between Washington and Ashton Sanders (Moonlight), with McCall’s patriarchal relationship to Sanders’ Miles providing the best scenes of the movie, particularly one set piece in which McCall rescues Miles from a criminal-infested high-rise and emotionally spells out the tight balance between life and death. Whilst there is something within the DNA of the character of McCall which makes him undeniably watchable and interesting, The Equalizer 2 unfortunately does not carry the same sense of intrigue, resulting in Fuqua’s latest being a rather stale sequel which starves both action audiences and Washington fans alike for any real sense of engagement or emotional involvement.

Overall Score: 5/10

Film Review: The Emoji Movie

“My Feelings Are Huge. Maybe I’m Meant To Have More Than Just One Emotion…”

Yes, you read the title correct, The Emoji Movie is indeed a real thing. Whilst films such as Dunkirk and The Big Sick recently showcase the real wonder of what cinema can offer to a wide array of audiences, sometimes you just gotta take the dark with the light and understand that for every Apocalypse Now there is unfortunately a Gods of Egypt, and whilst it’s never healthy to enter an auditorium with preconceived notions about the overall quality of a particular movie, a film entirely based on the existence of Emoji’s does inherently and fundamentally lead you to hold your head heavily in your hands and await your fate. So, enter the foyer and grab your ticket as you grip tightly the cold, smooth surface of your overly priced fizzy pop which aids you in your journey through the passages of hell as you grace your sticky, oversized seat and watch a movie about cartoon faeces and gigantic thumbs. And breathe. One could argue that with The Emoji Movie undoubtedly being a movie aimed at the younger variety of audiences in its’ creation, the thought of a 23 year old coffee maniac sitting down and reviewing it does seem rather disjointed, yet after managing to survive one of the most painful 85 minutes of my entire cinematic life, the horror and sheer toxicity of a film such as The Emoji Movie doesn’t deserve just to be reviewed, it deserves to be stripped down from top to bottom and dissected in hope that the many, many troubling issues at the heart of it can be highlighted to as many as possible in the hope that it simply fades away from cinema entirely.

As mentioned by many already, the overall narrative of The Emoji Movie rather unfortunately bears a sickening similarity to the masterpiece of animation which is Inside Out, a film which effectively highlighted the complications of an emotion-ridden child and built a world within which was both intelligent and fluffy enough to serve both a young and elder audience. With The Emoji Movie however, the key message of the film is for young children to simply use their mobile devices as a way of living your life from beginning to end, where instead of socialising through conversation and active involvement with others, apps such as Facebook, Instagram and Just Dance should be bought and used instead in order to really succeed in life at such an early stage, and whilst such a narrative is inherently toxic and vulgar, the film is made worse by the straight-faced manner in which such a message is played rather than there being any air of irony or satire to accept it. Amidst awful dialogue consisting of conversations regarding piracy, hackers and internet trolls, the evoking of swear words and sexual references make The Emoji Movie one of the most misjudged U certificate films I have ever seen, and with enough saccharin sweet awfulness and ear-piercing musical pieces to make you want to throw up in the aisle, animation has never hit levels so desperately low. In the 1990’s growing up, my generation had The Lion King. In 2017, the animation of the summer is The Emoji Movie, a hate-filled barrel of toxic slumber which deserves to be derided by everyone who pays to see it. What prevents it from being one star you ask? It’s only 80 minutes of your life you will never, ever get back.

Overall Score: 2/10

Film Review: Life

“We’re Looking At The First Proof Of Life Beyond Earth…”

Battling head-to-head this year with Alien: Covenant for the most obvious rip off of the original Ridley Scott classic, Alien (1978), Child 44 director Daniel Espinosa returns this week with Life, a sloppily directed and face-palm inducingly stupid science fiction movie which steals so many cues from previous and inherently better movies that I began to lose count just over the halfway mark. With an impressive cast, featuring the likes of the always superb Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds, Life suffers from a fundamental flaw of failing to be something it really isn’t, with its’ utter silliness and complete lack of plausibility failing to stack up to the movie-maker’s obvious intentions, resulting in a sometimes painful experience which exposes its’ audience to a rough reek of sanctimony, particularly in a final act in which the film loses all sense of credibility due to wacky direction and a element of deafening inevitability. In a month in which Get Out reset the bar in regards to the power of contemporary horror movies, Life is unfortunately the type of film which just really lets the rest of the team down.

Whilst the film does boast an impressive leading alien species in the form of Calvin, a terrifyingly murderous martian which in a similar vein to the Alien franchise’s Xenomorph’s, feeds and grows at the rate of knots, Life doesn’t entirely put the leading foes’ effective features to good use, primarily due to a narrative which conflicts with the intellect of its’ supposed lead characters who throughout the movie are incredibly prone to making the most obviously stupid decisions in order to crank the plot into a dramatic submission. Whilst the death of an early character is strikingly shocking in terms of both its’ timing and the manner in which we are introduced to the power of Calvin the killer martian, the movie slowly loses its’ element of suspense and threat, resulting in moments of utter tedium when there should have been particles of strong horror which I personally was looking forward to after being warned of within the opening BBFC classification. A messy sci-fi which weakens as it progresses, Life is surprisingly uninspiring and mediocre. Also, what is it with films using defibrillators in the wrong way? YOU CAN’T SHOCK A FLAT-LINE. Peace.

Overall Score: 4/10

Film Review: Passengers

“There’s A Reason We Woke Up Early…”

If ever were a movie to put off its’ audience by sheer propaganda-esque exploitation, then Passengers is it, a movie advertised within the inch of its’ life within every single cinema screening over the past four months or so, and a movie which seems to be once again a case of revealing too much to be a true success as a two-hour spectacle instead of a two-minute preview. With two of most bankable acting talents at the moment leading the way in the form of Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, Passengers, directed by Morten Tyldum of The Imitation Game alongside a story by Prometheus and Doctor Strange screenwriter Jon Spaihts, is a traditionally cheesy sci-fi romance, one which gains kudos for attempting to subvert its’ narrative giveaways within its’ trailers with a nice juicy twist to get the film going, but ultimately succumbs to its’ fundamental 12A-ness and becomes yet another flashy yet forgettable piece of cinema.

Following in the footsteps of Allied recently, a similarly forgettable tale which just happened to feature top-end A-List actors, Passengers suffers primarily from a saccharin-sweet filled narrative at its’ core, one which above all, results in the concluding act of the movie being one hard not to shout “Cheese!” at, with a cliched resuscitation scene being the heart of such of a problem. Whilst Lawrence and Pratt have some decent on-screen chemistry, the absurdness of their celebrity appearance throughout the movie (Not one pixel of make-up is out of place) creates a difficulty in taking in the apparent science fiction notions the film attempts to lay on its’ audience, with obvious nods to Interstellar, Alien, Solaris, Moon and even The Shining putting the film in danger of being just a reel of scenes from better and more memorable productions. Whilst there are a wide range of issues with Passengers, the inherent friendliness makes it somewhat suitable for this particular period of the year, yet its’ plain-sailing approach sadly just won’t make it past the month as something memorable, a shame when considering the talent on display. Also, what was the point of hiring Andy Garcia? HE DOES NOTHING. Merry Christmas.

Overall Score: 5/10

Film Review: The Shallows

“It Is Paradise…”

Looking at the back catalogue of director Jaume Collet-Serra brings with it an overt sense of trepidation. I mean House of Wax, come one, who on earth thought it was a good idea to cast Paris Hilton in anything, whilst Goal 2 and the Liam Neeson helmed trilogy of Unkonwn, Non-Stop and Run All Night don’t exactly ring the bells of excellence. With The Shallows however, Collet-Serra has brought to life “Jaws for the 21st century” as many have called it, yet my memory of Jaws was most definitely not one that included a rather silly screenplay, an overbearing sense of tin-eared dialogue and camera work so transfixed with its’ leading star that it verges on the edge of creepiness. You’ve got it folks, The Shallows is ironically, rather shallow and inept, a survival drama with no sense of threat, no sense of danger whatsoever and whose only character with more than a one dimensional feel to it is a flippin’ seagull. That’s right Lively, you aren’t the hottest bird in this particular movie.

So The Shallows expects us to believe that a supposedly intelligent med-school drop-out would continue with her journey into the unknown titular secret beach without her friend who feels its’ more important to hang out with cliched hot holiday dude. No, I don’t believe that. Secondly, the camera is so transfixed upon said med-school drop-out that I felt a restraining order was only a court case away, with the constant close-ups and wide-angled focusing of Lively just plain creepy akin to the recent treatment of the character of Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad. Thirdly, every single character is just there for the sake of it. No smooth characterisation whatsoever, just mashed up sentiment which is enforced in order to feel for our beloved surfer chick. Does it work? No, but does the film work aside from it? No. Although the underwater shots are well done and Steven Seagull is the best thing in it, The Shallows is just meh, and meh is not how I would summarise my memory of Jaws. 

Overall Score: 4/10

Film Review: Grimsby

“It’s An Elephant Bukakkee!”

Halfway though Grimsby, the new comedy from the warped mind of one Sacha Baron Cohen, I remembered quite vividly how the satirical undercurrent of Borat, the more-than controversial piece of cinema which attempted to upset everyone from the Jewish community to American feminists, saved the film from swaying into simple bad taste, with Cohen’s standpoint on the strange society of the USA being the fundamental notion at the heart of the comedic elements throughout the film. One of the most startling scenes in Borat is when our titular character ventures into the rodeo-ridden area of the south and speaks to a range of people voicing their rather right-wing opinions regarding everything from the strangeness of homosexuality to the war on terror. It’s a surreal scene, one that portrays a old-fashioned society with a fundamental set of norms and values that are inherently wrong. Enter Grimsby, a film that shows what Borat may have indeed become, a film, which although believes it is some sort of standpoint regarding the culture of the working class, is indeed a film rife with bad taste. That doesn’t mean it isn’t funny though.

Although Grimsby is undeniably and fundamentally a shoddy movie, one that consists of ear-scraping dialogue and cringe-worthy plot developments, the set pieces which attempt to out-gross one another as they come along during the films’ more then generous 90 minute runtime have a stark repulsiveness of which I have to admit I couldn’t help but laugh at. The infamous elephant scene for example is a five minute vision of vulgarity, one that although inherently reeks in bad taste, is so over-the-top and ridiculous that in a strange subverted kind of way, you have to admire its’ wrongfulness. It’s not offensive in a Borat style comedic element, its’ just plain wrong, much like the existence of the film itself. Albeit’s sheer ludicrous script, celebrity cameos and archaic treatment of the female characters within the film, Grimsby still manages to come off as strangely mediocre, neither awful, neither good, just here to make up the box office top ten within the week of Oscar supremacy. Grimsby is like a fart in the wind; repulsive to begin with yet slowly evaporating into non-existence. Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest isn’t the worst way to spend 90 minutes, it just isn’t the best either.

Overall Score: 5/10 

Film Review: Pixels

Game Over

Within the space of the past two weeks or so, the gods of cinema declared it within out interest to allow Adam Sandler to release not one, but two films in which he takes leading roles. If you saw my review of the awfully dull The Cobbler last week, you would have seen that Sandler’s first attempt at some sort of cinematic redemption flopped entirely yet the much more publicised release of this weeks’ Pixels seemed always to be the one in which Sandler was set to be at least slightly praised for. What can be said about the Christoper Columbus directed Pixels then? Is it any good? Not really. Is it terrible? Not at all. Does it feature Adam Sandler as a burned out low-life with no sense of future or accomplishment who somehow ends up with the gorgeous supporting actress through a wacky turn of events? Of course. Sandler territory here we are.

Years after a space probe featuring classic arcade games from the early 1980’s is sent into space, weaponised versions of such games declare war on Earth, much to the horror of President Cooper (Kevin James) who enlists the help of childhood friend Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler), Eddie Plant (Peter Dinklage) and Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad) to use their expert knowledge on arcade games to defeat the evil presence that has engulfed their planet. Sound cool right? And to be fair to Pixels, its’ well designed CGI and willingness to go full retro does play the cool card every time said arcade games are brought to life on-screen, but is ultimately let down by a farcical and cliched script, cringe-worthy acting, particularly, and strangely, from Dinklage of all people, and an adolescent desire to retire to age-old jokes about women and sex. Typical Sandler territory then. Although it may not be as mind-numbingly boring as The Cobbler, Pixels ultimately fails at bringing a rather cool premise to fruition and instead only accomplishes in being another cog on the wheel of Sandler’s embarrassing filmography.

Overall Score: 4/10