“Sooner Or Later The Party Has To End…”
Less of a coming of age drama and more like a raging alcohol and drug fuelled stupor, South Australian director, Sophie Hyde, brings to life Emma Jane Unsworth’s 2014 novel of the same name in the form of Animals, an internationally produced “buddy” movie which sees Holliday Grainger (My Cousin Rachel) and Alia Shawkat (Green Room) as Laura and Tyler, two close friends hitting the tender age of their mid-30’s who spend their time frolicking, excessively drinking and partaking in hard drugs in the name of staying young, keeping fresh and shying away from the responsibilities of the “adult” world. Screened to the public at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and departing with a overly positive buzz, Hyde’s movie is a refreshingly low-key if wildly spirited take on the trials and tribulations of adulthood, one which embraces many of the plot devices and genre conventions evident in previous and better works of a similar ilk, but too a film which works off the strengths of its’ leading characters as we follow them through a particular path which audiences of similar age range will undoubtedly understand and sheepishly relate to.
With 2019 seemingly being the year where the coming of age movie has re-emerged into the cinematic spotlight, Animals follows most closely to the likes of Booksmart in some ways, a film which takes the American Graffiti route of exploring one last childhood hurrah before venturing into the world of growing up, and whilst of course the age ranges of our particular characters in each film differ by a decade or so, the central narrative of Hyde’s movie focuses on two friends seemingly reluctant to take that next step into becoming what they fear most; serious adults. With Grainger’s Laura then becoming the first to attempt to bridge the gap between child and adult as she falls in love with Fra Free’s (Les Misérables) mopey, piano loving straighthead, tensions soon build up between the pair, with each seemingly beginning to resent each other as they slowly drift apart as Laura falls more into the trap of modern-day normalisation involving marriage and family, whilst Tyler continues her life of unemployment, heavy drinking and endless partying. With the film relying on the central double act to basically hold the film together, the performances of both Grainger and Shawkat are good enough to keep you more than interested, aided nicely by some sharp comedic dialogue and snappy sarcastic quips, and whilst Hyde’s movie will come and go without leaving much of a lasting impression, Animals is an enjoyable, if slightly wandering, tale of friendship and the ability to drink many, many bottles of white wine.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Bruce Is The Direct Line To All That’s True In This Shitty World…”
Winning the award for least surprising “secret” screening as introduced by your local Cineworld earlier in the month, Blinded by the Light is the type of a-typical, good natured crowd-pleaser which Cineworld members have come to expect in recent times from the sporadic and hotly anticipated hidden previews such a cinema chain bowls out from time to time, with the likes of The Hate U Give and Green Book from previous secret screenings following along the likes of movies which sort of tick all the boxes for a lay audience member without clearly offending anyone in this very multicultural and diverse contemporary society of ours today. Written and directed by Kenyan-born filmmaker, Gurinder Chadha, whose most famous flicks so far include Bend It Like Beckham and Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, Blinded by the Light is a similarly independently British romantic comedy drama which just happens to have a central character with a film-selling addiction to The Boss himself, one Mr. Bruce Springsteen, and whilst there are undoubtedly worst addictions to have a film based upon, Chadha’s movie is a wildly inconsistent but passably enjoyable work of fluff which takes its’ Springsteen licensing levels to new extremes.
Utilising big-screen debutant, Viveik Kalra, in the lead role of Javed, and set within the turbulent political and culturally manic period of late 1980’s Britain, Chadha’s movie sees her leading star begin at a familial and social crossroads, with Javed at the centre of a divide between both his overly religious Pakistani family and the racial tensions apparent in the outside world, all of which are hindering his dreams of becoming an important literary voice on the issues of the world in which he lives. Cue an introduction to the back catalogue of New Jersey’s own rock and roll legend, Bruce Springsteen, and soon the musical segments come a-knocking, transforming the movie from a low-key, soap opera, dodgy acting and all, to a full on sing-a-thon gateway, with choreographed set pieces in the ilk of Rocketman all bowing down to the radical words of The Boss as our hero falls in love, impresses Hayley Atwell’s overly-attractive English teacher and then decides to stalk Mr. Springsteen forevermore, all the whilst racist marches take place in the background. With the movie featuring more ideas than it can practically handle, it’s no surprise really that a lack of focus on any result in it being the movie equivalent of Jackson Pollock painting, and even though I’m a sucker in some ways for the joyous celebration of rock music, Chadha’s movie is perfectly fine, but boy is it a mess.
Overall Score: 5/10
“Please Be A Five Star Ride…”
Holy moses, look at the weather. With beaming sun rays and over-zealous holidaymakers itching for the feel of sand running through their shoes and into their nicely ironed socks, the British six week summer holidays are finally here, a particular calendar event which always guarantees two things; improved ice-cream sales and trashy action movies. Whilst particular percentage of the populous would snigger at the opportunity to waste good tanning time in favour of popping into the nicely cooled darkness of your local multiplex, films in the ilk of Stuber are the type of time wasting pastimes which instead offer crucial opportunities to catch up on lost nap time, and whilst I am usually pretty fair game for semi-entertaining, B-movie shlock from time to time, it’s fair to say that Stuber is the type of movie which makes you yearn for Liam Neeson and his growly knack for kicking the hell out of kidnapping criminals. As you might be able to tell by this review so far, Stuber is the type of movie which doesn’t exactly inspire much to say about it, resulting in a hopeless attempt to write as much waffle as possible in order to swiftly blurt out some form of comment. Stay with me.
Directed by Canadian filmmaker, Michael Dowse, whose previous works include the likes of It’s All Gone Pete Tong, a rather fitting title considering the works that followed, and featuring a screenplay from the relatively unknown, Tripper Clancy, Dowse’s movie is an awfully directed hybrid of Taxi and Collateral, one which sees Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Short) as Stu, an annoyingly compulsive Uber driver who falls into the lap of Dave Bautista’s (Guardians of the Galaxy) grizzly, visually impaired, LAPD detective, Vic, as the former attempts to bring to justice a one dimensional, badly designed criminal played by the highly talented but woefully handled, Iko Uwais, of The Raid fame. With a film which thanks its’ trailer for wrapping the entire narrative through line into a nicely rounded two minute clip, Stuber is the type of movie I thought Hollywood would have left behind by now, an American action comedy without any decent choreographed action or deftly timed comedy, and leadings stars that we know can simply do better, with Nanjiani seemingly going more and more downhill since his excellent work on The Big Sick, Bautista surely getting better offers than this after expanding his work into the likes of the MCU and Bond, and Uwais once again completely wasted by Western movie makers when we know how much of a gifted, physical actor the guy is. Stuber? More like poober. He he.
Overall Score: 3/10
“We’ve Been Compromised, With Every Citizen At This Planet At Risk. Trust No One…”
With the catalogue of blockbusters appearing on the big screen post-Avengers: Endgame so far this year not exactly managing to hit the same levels of excellence in any way shape or form whatsoever, with the likes of Godzilla: King of the Monsters and X-Men: Dark Phoenix failing to win over both critics and the box office alike, one of Hollywood’s most rusty cinematic franchises is strangely brought back to life in the form of Men in Black: International in a last-ditch attempt to save the day for cinema chains across the world. With the original Men in Black from 1997 still too darn entertaining to be regarded as a guilty pleasure, with a typically sarcastic Tommy Lee Jones and a Will Smith in full-on Fresh Prince-era brilliance resulting in a cinematic partnership for the ages, the subsequent sequel and threequel failed to ignite similar levels of excellence, resulting in sheer bemusement when rumours of a fourth entry was on the way, and with the latest chapter this time being directed by F. Gary Gray, whose work on the excellent, Straight Outta Compton, has somewhat been overshadowed after the not-so excellent, The Fate of the Furious, it’s fair to say that International isn’t the most anticipated movie of the year thus far.
With the usual acting suspects dropped in favour of Thor and Valkyrie themselves, it’s fair to say that the likeable pairing of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson (Avengers: Endgame) is one of the only good things about International, a lifeless, run-of-the-mill, cash-grab which sees Thompson as Molly Wright, a wide-eyed, alien-obsessed dreamer whose experience of the titular darkly attired agents as a young child results in her soon joining up herself and working alongside Hemsworth’s suitably cocky and annoyingly charming, Henry, in order to, you guessed it, save the world against an alien threat known as the hive. With cringe-inducing dialogue, poor storytelling and an over-reliance on forgettable special effects, Gray’s movie prefers the art of nonsensical explosions over a decent plot and whilst the inclusion of Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick) as the voice of a clingy, cutesy egg-shaped alien adds a much needed level of comedic spice, International is annoyingly both a gigantic waste of time and talent, adding itself rather nicely to the collection of half-baked summer blockbusters thus far. Neurolyse me now.
Overall Score: 4/10
“I’m Going To Try And Conduct Myself In Such A Way That Does Not Risk Global Humiliation…”
Mixing together the almighty and Oscar winning talent of Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road) with erm, Seth Rogen, (The Interview) Long Shot is the latest from American filmmaker, Jonathan Levine, who reunites with Rogen after their work together on the 2011 comedy drama, 50/50, for a romantic comedy which attempts to balance political and social satire with a well-worn tale of unlikely and improbable love. Based around a screenplay from the double-act of Liz Hannah and Dan Sterling, famous for their individual work on the likes of The Post and The Interview respectively, Long Shot is that rare sight in contemporary cinema, an American comedy which actually works, and whilst the central romance at the heart of the story does indeed venture into gargantuan levels of cliche come the end of the almost two hour runtime, Levine’s movie works predominantly elsewhere, with a mix of knowing, and at times, strikingly unintentional, modern-day satire, pleasantly supplementing a likeable and utterly charming core relationship, one which gleefully bursts with volcanic levels of chemistry and pushes the final product into something which although might not be at all memorable, is rather enjoyable.
Coined in the trailer by one of the film’s supporting actors, the one and only, O’Shea Jackson Jr., (Straight Outta Compton) as having a very familiar central narrative to that of Garry Marshall’s 1990 classic, Pretty Woman, Levine’s movie at least jumbles up the profession of the leading characters, with Seth Rogen’s Fred Flarsky not exactly the first person to come to mind when it comes to the prostitution business, with him instead being landed with the role of an idealistic, rough-edged journalist with a penchant for thinking out loud, a character trait of which soon finds him unemployed and penniless. Enter Theron’s Charlotte Field, the highly popular Secretary of State with eyes for the presidency who in her earlier teenage years used to babysit a young and lovestruck Flarsky, and the two suddenly reconnect after Field utilises Flarsky’s innovative written word to boost her appeal to the American public. With worldwide trips on the menu, the two suddenly become attached to each other by the hip, resulting in the film’s central and heartwarming romance, and with an abundance of hilarious set pieces, including one of the best inverted sex scenes in cinema history and a heavy night on the town which results in a majorly mistimed hostage negotiation, Long Shot goes along way to make you care for the film’s characters, and even with a runtime which does slightly drag come the final act, Levine’s movie is a solid slice of American comedy cheese with added Charlize Theron.
Overall Score: 6/10
“A Lot Of The Time We Feel That Our Lives The Worst, But I Think That If You Looked In Anybody Else’s Closet, You Wouldn’t Trade Your Shit For Their Shit…”
Acting as the first of two independently released coming-of-age dramas this month under the umbrella of the increasingly impressive A24 Films, a film company responsible for backing recent cinematic classics including Moonlight, Under the Skin and Hereditary to name a few, Mid90s sees Hollywood star, Jonah Hill (21 Jump Street, The Wolf of Wall Street) move from in front of the camera to behind it, working off of his own personalised script which sees Sunny Suljic (The Killing of a Sacred Deer) as thirteen year old, Stevie, a repressed, overly quiet teenage inbetweener who finds solace away from his violent and complex home-life in a group of skateboard loving misfits with a tendency for underage parties, drinking and other anti-social discrepancies. With Greta Gerwig’s masterful, Lady Bird, a film also released under the banner of A24 Films, the contemporary benchmark for the modern coming-of-age story on film, Mid90s takes a very familiar if surprisingly low-key approach to the age-old tale of troubled youth, but with a convincing sense of grungy realism and a superb central performance from one of Hollywood’s rising stars, Hill’s movie is a thoroughly engaging and emotionally stimulating ninety minute character piece which acts as an excellent kickstarter to Hill’s career as a director.
Shot entirely with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio and on 16mm film, a cinematic technique used also on Darren Aronofsky’s, mother!, Hill’s movie takes the bold approach to come across as the most nineties inflicted movie ever, at least on an aesthetic level, with the letterbox framing and grainy cinematography actually quite startling and jarringly retro when it first appears on screen, but once the fancy gimmicks are taken in their stride, the drama takes its time to expand Stevie’s character, offering glimpses into his abusive relationship with both his fitness obsessed older brother and emotionally complex and very young single mother, with the only way out in the form of his newly found band of slackish outsiders led by the charming and morally conflicted figure of Na-Kel Smith’s Ray. With a variety of set pieces which tap into the self-destructive nature of a young boy’s journey into adulthood, Hill ultimately chooses to portray his own coming-of-age tale as one of extreme hardship and cruelty, tackling a variety of issues including loneliness, jealousy and despair, and whilst the script does feature elements of seething darkness, the optimism and sentiment you would expect from this sort of movie does eventually fall into place come the final act, and with added excellent supporting performances from the likes of Katherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts) and the A24 acting staple, Lucas Hedges (Lady Bird), Mid90s is a realist portrayal of youth in crisis with enough dedication from its’ creator to win me over completely. Plus, the soundtrack is freakin’ awesome.
Overall Score: 8/10
“You’ve Got A Unique Sound And We Believe We Can Help You Get It Released By A Major Label…”
Whilst not at all a film about the origins of the infamous menthol lozenges which just happen to share a similar title, Fisherman’s Friends instead brings to the big screen the miraculous rise to fame of the Port Isaac Fisherman’s Friends, the ale-loving, overly traditionalist band of male singers who broke into the UK music charts back in 2010. Directed by British filmmaker, Chris Foggin, in his second big screen release after 2016’s Kids in Love starring Will Poulter, Fisherman’s Friends takes a rather BBC Two approach to a story which airs on the side of cheesy as we see Daniel Mays (The Limehouse Golem) as Danny, an influential and respected music mogul who after venturing on a stag do down to sunny Cornwall with his friends and seedy boss, Troy, as played by Doctor Who legend, Noel Clarke, is asked to sign to his label the local singing group led by the gruff figure of James Purefoy’s (Altered Carbon) Jim. Falling somewhere between the annoying flatness of The Aftermath and the well executed splendour of Colette, Fisherman’s Friends is the type of film which feels nicely planted in the background of an afternoon tea, and whilst films of similar ilk aren’t necessarily entirely bad, they do beg the question why the feel the need to be up on the big screen in the first place.
Shot with the same kind of televisual aesthetic you’d get from an episode of Countryfile, Fisherman’s Friends ticks all the boxes you sort of expect when heading into a movie based on what pretty much is Cornwall’s answer to Led Zeppelin, and with a cheerful, ludicrously mood-inducing soundtrack which wouldn’t seem amiss on a jukebox for the near-dead, Foggin’s movie absolutely reeks of cliche and gag-inducing corniess from the offset. With Mays offering the sort of semi-likeable, leather jacket toting lead performance as he blunders his way through the smell of salt water and seagulls, the real standout of the piece is undoubtedly Purefoy, who superbly radiates a sense of internal conflict as he balances new found fame with the responsibilities of a life both inland and on the fair seas, and with the interactions between the group in general pretty well handled, it’s sort of a shame that all of the top-end jokes were spoiled in the trailers, resulting in a resounding silence as everyone else laughed in the cinema apart from me when they inevitably arrived. Topping up just under two hours, it’s no surprise that the movie does become an absolute drag as it finally arrives at its destination without harming anyone at all in the process, Fisherman’s Friends isn’t exactly bad, it’s just A Star is Born for the Cornish minus all the good parts and a film more than suitable for your bed-ridden aunt. Bring the tea and biscuits.
Overall Score: 5/10
“The Only Voices I Heard Were Joan Rivers And Tupac. And They Did Not Get Along…”
Acting as a wholly unnecessary and unwarranted “loose” remake of the Mel Gibson led What Women Want from 2000, Hairspray and Rock of Ages director, Adam Shankman, directs What Men Want, a terribly handled and woefully inept attempt at some form of comedy which sees Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures) take the lead role as Alison Davis, a successful sports agents who is left by the wayside after failing to be accepted for a work promotion in favour of her annoying, mostly white, big-headed colleagues. On the subsequent night out used to rid herself of her man-hating anger, she soon takes cues from Amy Schumer in I Feel Pretty by being the subject of an accidental injury which after a swift overnight recovery, leaves her with the ability to read the mind of every male she comes into contact with. Whilst I’m all for trashy comedies which regardless of their overall quality actually manage to make me laugh in the ilk of Bad Moms, Shankman’s latest is unsurprisingly a woefully inept, painfully unfunny two hours, one made worse with obvious notions of grandeur which attempt to tap into the #MeToo generation and ends up landing face down in a burning bit of awfulness as it crawls its’ way to the credits and offers you salvation away from what is one of the worst remakes there is and ever will be.
With a fundamental false step from the outset as the movie attempts to introduce Henson’s supposedly charming, lead character, the fact that I nearly left the cinema after being in her company for only twenty minutes didn’t exactly bode well heading forward. Whilst I appreciate a movie led by a female in a position of power, for some unknown and bizarre reason, Shankman’s direction allows Henson to become a screaming, irritating black hole of annoyance in the ilk of Lucas Cruikshank in Fred: The Movie as she literally bellows her dialogue from the far reaches of her annoying mouth for pretty much the entirety of the film’s opening act. As the movie moves more into the mystical aspect, the word cliche doesn’t even cover it, and as we stumble through the inevitable hook-ups and notions of deception cooked up by Hanson’s Davis, her character becomes even more despicable after she takes advantage of the one saving grace in the movie in the form of Aldis Hodge’s (Hidden Figures) Will, a thoughtful, calmly spoken single father who for some reason finds Davis absolutely irresistible. Whilst I am aware that What Men Want doesn’t exactly have myself in mind when it comes to the desired target audience, with (massive stereotype incoming) the film primarily designed for drunken female sleepovers and bachelor parties, such a point doesn’t shy away from the fact that Shankman’s movie was an utter drag from start to finish. Woeful.
Overall Score: 3/10
“Good Morning, Wrestling Nerds. This Is Where We See Whether Or Not You Get To Go On The WWE…”
With an absolute absence of knowledge pertaining to anything slightly resembling the world of wrestling, with my own views regarding the slightly absurd money making machine something of which I might just keep restrained for this particular review, it’s fair to say that Fighting With My Family is the type of rags-to-riches true story which from an outsiders point of view, would have to spoon feed me the rise of Saraya “Paige” Bevis, the Norwich born, heavy metal loving hard-ass who became the youngest wrestling champion ever at the age of twenty one. Written and directed by the immediately recognisable figure of Stephen Merchant (The Office, Logan) and backed financially by WWE Studios, whos previous endeavours include erm, The Scorpion King and Leprechaun: Origins to name a few, Fighting With My Family takes the cliched, formulaic approach to bringing the story of Paige to the big screen, and whilst such genre conventions force the underlying narrative to be more than overly predictable, even for someone without knowing the wrestling back story heading in, Merchant’s movie succeeds due to other elements elsewhere, with warm, interesting characters and a charming, likeable sensibility pushing his movie into what can only be regarded as just a damn fine, if overly cheesy, time at the flicks.
With the superbly talented Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth) taking the leading role as Paige, her iconic accent and emo-inflicted personality immediately offers an element of depth thanks to a central performance which manages to completely immerse you in the journey she undertakes from the rocky roads of Norfolk to the absurdity of the big stage in the sun soaked shores of America. Whilst the film revels in portraying the ills of a Rocky style training camp and the drill sergeant-esque manner from a rather finely tuned supporting performance from Vince Vaughn (Brawl in Cell Block 99) as Paige’s talent scout and mentor, Merchant never seems to forget the core family unit which Paige leaves behind back home, and whilst Pugh is undoubtedly the leading star, the screenplay also balances the effect her newly found fame has on her brother, Zak, as portrayed by Jack Lowden (Dunkirk) whose dreams of capturing the world’s imagination on the biggest platform available are soon crushed as he watches his younger sibling take the road to stardom instead. With scene stealing supporting comedic roles from the always reliable Nick Frost (Hot Fuzz) and Lena Headey (Game of Thrones), Fighting With My Family of course oozes saccharin sweetness and cheesy sentimentality, but when a film is made with enough heart and soul to bypass such flaws, the end result is and hour and forty minutes of good old fashioned lovey-dovey entertainment, even with some rather egoistic cameos from Dwayne Johnson.
Overall Score: 7/10
“When You Drive The Same Road Day After Day, It’s Easy To Think About The Road Not Taken…”
Making the headlines recently for some rather interesting and Twitter inciting comments, Liam Neeson returns to the big screen once again in Cold Pursuit, an interesting, off-beat and knowingly extravagant crime drama which sees Neeson resorting back to the sort of role audiences have come to expect from him ever since the successful release of Taken back in 2008. With Steve McQueen’s, Widows, last year marking a slight return to top dramatic form for the actor, Neeson’s latest doesn’t exactly manage to fall into the same level of cinematic greatness, but with a particularly strange, genre-crossing blend of Coen style black comedy and at times, the rather jerking cinematic sensibility of Yorgos Lanthimos, Cold Pursuit is still a rather enjoyable, if overly pointless, B-movie revenge flick. Acting as a direct American remake of the 2014 Swedish flick, In Order of Disappearance, starring the one and only Stellan Skarsgård, the director of the original, Hans Peter Molland, follows in the footsteps of Michael Haneke by choosing to take charge of the English speaking version by himself as we drop into the life of Neeson’s Nelson Coxman, the recently awarded “Citizen of the Year” from the ski and tourism heavy locale of Kehoe, who suddenly chooses to take sweet and merciless revenge against a local gang organisation after his son is found dead.
Whilst the set up is the a-typical Liam Neeson cinematic vehicle many have come to expect from an actor who has seemed to have revelled in a latter day shift into action flicks, Cold Pursuit boldly attempts to stick out from the likes of Taken, The Commuter or Run All Night by subverting the rather serious tones prevalent in Neeson’s previous and almost coming across as a cheeky, overly knowing micky take. With Neeson’s Coxman shifting from ordinary everyman to cold hearted hitman in the space of about thirty seconds, it’s fair to say that character development isn’t exactly the top priority for Molland, whose decision to play the drama as an uncanny blend of Fargo and Death Wish works rather effectively for the opening hour as we are introduced to the varied strands of character groups including the local police department and the raging war between Tom Bateman’s (Murder on the Orient Express) mentally unstable drug lord, Viking, and Tom Jackson’s Native American crime boss, White Bull. Whilst the sensibility of the film is fun enough to sort of hold together, the film is ironically personified by a recurring motif in which after every character death is an on-screen epitaph to the respected fallen, a particularly odd element which on the first couple of uses are rather giggle-inducing, yet after the fifty eighth time, does become slightly tiresome, a phrase which come the end of almost two hours of pointless violence and murder, pretty much sums up the film rather nicely, and whilst Cold Pursuit isn’t the worst latter life Neeson flick, see Taken 3 for reference point, it sure ain’t no Taken. Although I’m still not sure who’s driving the boat.