“You’re Not Leaving, Are You, Stan? The Show Must Go On…”
Directed by Scottish filmmaker, Jon S. Baird, perhaps most famous for bringing Irvine Welsh’s scorchingly jet black comedy, Filth, to the big screen back in 2013, Stan and Ollie very much steps in the complete opposite direction, with Baird’s latest a surprisingly low key and slightly muted biographical drama focusing on the later lives of both Stanley Laurel and Oliver Hardy as played by Steve Coogan (Alan Partridge) and John C. Reilly (We Need To Talk About Kevin) respectively. Based on a screenplay from Jeff Pope who reunites with Coogan after their work together on the Bafta winning, Philomena, Baird’s latest primarily drops the audience into the tail end of the legendary comedy duos’ career, one previously stuffed with fame, fortune and rapturous critical plaudits but which has now seemingly fizzled out, resulting in the middle aged stars returning to the shores of the UK in order to secure the finances for a potential big screen project. With a central screenplay which chooses to rely primarily on the central relationship between the two stars, Stan and Ollie is a charming yet frustrating movie, one which works on the strength of its’ leading performers but ultimately feels significantly flat in its’ storytelling approach, resulting in a movie which fails to ever feel cinematic and would probably be better served on the small screen rather than in a multiplex where it may fail to garner significant audience interest.
With Pope’s screenplay relatively straightforward and simple, to the extent that the movie almost felt as if it could have been made in the era of its’ leading characters, the neutral sensibility of the movie does ultimately lack any real push, flash or energy to propel the movie into another gear, and in comparison to the likes of other biographical dramas which focus on central historical figures much less charismatic and well known than the likes of Laurel and Hardy, Baird’s movie does ultimately feel somewhat of a missed opportunity when examining the piece as a whole. Where the film does ultimately work however is in the strengths of particular building blocks which make up the final piece, with none more so than the central superbly cast pairing of Coogan and Reilly who embrace the sweaty, exhausting lifestyles of men attempting to revamp their careers after decades of excessive levels of fame. With Coogan slightly more reserved in his comedic output in comparison to his previous on-screen roles, the tender balance between himself and the prosthetics heavy Reilly relies on a level of substance and depth which is completely absent from any other character relationships within the movie, particularly that of the criminally wasted female characters including the wonderful Shirley Henderson. With the best parts of the movie undoubtedly the pair’s reenactment of particular famous Laurel and Hardy sketches, it goes without saying that when a film seems stretched even with a ninety minute runtime, something seems to have been lost in translation, but with the beaming smiles of Coogan and Reilly to help you through to the end, Stan and Ollie is good enough, just not as spectacular and memorable as its’ central iconic subjects.
Overall Score: 6/10
“As It Turns Out, I’m Capable Of Much Unpleasantness…”
With one of the weirdest, oddball and critically acclaimed back catalogues in recent history, Greek filmmaker, Yorgos Lanthimos, returns to the world of cinema once again after the success of 2017’s excellent, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, with The Favourite, an award touted period drama which reunites the director with Olivia Colman (Broadchurch) after their work together on 2015’s equally baffling, The Lobster. Based on a screenplay from Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, Lanthimos’ movie sees Colman as Queen Anne, a reclusive and emotionally unstable British ruler at the beginning of the 18th century who has come to rely on the charm and power of Rachel Weisz’s (My Cousin Rachel) Sarah Churchill, her abiding and secretive confidant who has grasped the true power of the monarch whilst the Queen procrastinates with luxurious pastimes in order to make the days go by. In the midst of wartime discussions and power struggles however, Anne is suddenly mesmerised by the recent acquisition of Emma Stone’s (La La Land) lady-turned-servant, Abigail Hill, who takes no time whatsoever in attempting to creep into the ear of the Queen herself, resulting in the creation of a vicious and violent rift between herself and the steely gaze of Churchill who takes no pleasure in watching her power over the Queen slowly drift way.
With Lanthimos throughout his career failing to ever be plastered with the term, predictable, The Favourite primarily relies on the preposterousness of the central drama to differentiate itself from just another period piece, with the slightly off-kilter and bizarre tone which the Greek’s films are renowned for immediately sending alarm bells to those audiences heading in unaware of the works of Lanthimos or expecting a cinematic equivalent to Netflix’s, The Crown, but for those well versed in the ways and means of a filmmaker who knows how to cultivate such oddities to perfection, the absurdity of the piece ultimately suits the overarching sensibility of a film bound to raise discussion. With the three pronged central performances from Colman, Stone and Weisz all absolutely top notch, the central conflicting duplicity between all involved immediately brought to mind the likes of My Cousin Rachel, with Weisz essentially portraying a very similar counterpart to her role in such a film albeit with less ambiguity, whilst Colman superbly manages to balance on the one hand a primarily fool-type role which is undoubtedly played for laughs for the majority of the film, and on the other, a person riddled with conflict, mental health issues and an abundance of loss and grief, a notion personified by the over-reliance on rabbits which are kept closely within her chambers. With one of the most subversive, surreal and simply baffling conclusions to a movie I can remember seeing for a significant amount of time, Lanthimos’ movie is by no means his trip into the conventional, with The Favourite managing to retain the darkened edge the Greek has become accustomed to but too a movie which brings home a triage of powerhouse performances which deserves the plaudits which have been raining down upon them.
Overall Score: 8/10
“And Now For The Million Dollar Question: Do People Assume All Your Problems Got Solved Because A Big Strong Man Showed Up..?”
Continuing on from 2012’s highly entertaining animated spectacle, Wreck-It Ralph, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ latest venture sees the return of the titular well-meaning and reluctant arcade game villain, voiced once again by the one and only John C. Reilly (We Need To Talk About Kevin), who continues his blossoming relationship with Sarah Silverman’s (Battle of the Sexes) bubblegum racing princess, Vanellope von Schweetz, in an adventure which follows the atypical cliche of most movie sequels by offering something bigger, bolder and particularly in the case of Ralph Breaks the Internet, a movie which thrives on being rather quite barmy. Directed by the working couple of the returning Rich Moore and Zootropolis screenwriter, Phil Johnston, the second installment in the Ralphverse pretty much continues on from where its’ predecessor ended, with Ralph, Vanellope and the motley crew of arcade game characters carrying on with their wildly colourful existence within the confines of a universe full of retro throwbacks and particular designs which seem to make certain fanbases in the world giggle with utmost joy when seeing their favourite characters appear on the big screen. Wowed by the introduction of the unpronounceable “WiFi” plug which is brought into the arcade by the aged, behind-with-the-times owner, Ralph and Vanellope soon journey into the the new area after the latter’s game, Sugar Rush, is unplugged due to an accident indirectly caused by Ralph himself.
Whilst the central storyline to Ralph Breaks the Internet undoubtedly fails to be as straightforward, streamlined and easy to follow as its’ predecessor, moving from one plot point to another and then to another again in the spirit of George Lucas at his insufferable worst, the most surprising aspect of the movie is the almost uncanny similarity to the truly awful, The Emoji Movie, with varying familiar themes regarding on-the-nose product placement and the darker, seedier side of the world wide web all bringing to mind how terribly wrong everything involved with that particularly movie ultimately became. Fortunately for Ralph and co, Disney’s attempt proves much more successful, blending the wide range of internet-based notions to a much more effective degree which even manages to suppress the annoying factor of the obvious advertisement, and with crisp, well designed and admirable animation to soak up, Ralph volume two is rife with astronomical levels of detail including numerous, off-centre comedic asides which in a similar vein to The Lego Batman Movie, will undoubtedly require subsequent viewings in order to locate every single easter egg on offer. With effective guest voice actors including Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) as a Death Race inspired, super-cool racing driver and Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures) as a social media obsessed entrepreneur, a trippy final act filled with animation spectacle at its’ finest and a particular scene involving Disney Princesses which is the finest animated comedic set piece since everything involving Jack-Jack in The Incredibles 2, Ralph Breaks the Internet is a more than adequate sequel which ticks all the boxes for all-round family friendly animated adventure.
Overall Score: 7/10
“Today We Will Do Mean Things, And We Will Do Them In Style..!”
Acting as the third on-screen adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ 1957 children’s story, “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” after the 1966 television special and the Jim Carrey starring live-action version directed by Ron Howard at the start of the century, The Grinch, directed by the filmmaking double act of Scott Mosier (Clerks) and Yarrow Cheney, sees the latter reunite with Illumination Entertainment after being handed directorial duties for the forgettable, if slightly entertaining, The Secret Life of Pets back in 2016, for a contemporary adaptation of everyone’s favourite sarcastic green grump as he once again turns on the town of Whoville during the Christmas celebrations in order to spoil the holiday season in which he fundamentally despises. Voice by a Benedict Cumberbatch (Patrick Melrose) who mixes Smaug with a nasally American accent in order to perform with the iconic bah humbug voice, The Grinch is undoubtedly made with the joyfully crisp animation you would come to expect from a studio behind the likes of the Despicable Me franchise, but with a perfunctory, cliched and dare I say it, rather dull, screenplay, Illumination Studios’ latest venture may indeed work for younger audiences unaware of the dastardly works of its’ titular anti-hero but for those with even the slightest inkling of the well versed story at the heart of it, The Grinch is surprisingly quite bland.
Beginning with the positives, the visual aesthetic of the movie is rather quite beautiful, utilising sharp, detailed portrayals of both characters and settings in a manner which almost comes expected now in a world which constantly churns out impressive animation after animation, but with cute comedic asides coming from the likes of a screaming goat and Grinch’s loyal canine companion, Max, the design of the movie does allow for on and off moments of effective hilarious slapstick which usually results in particular characters being thrown, launched and smacked into oncoming trees. Whilst substance and depth isn’t exactly the first thing on the mind when approaching a film such as The Grinch, the real emotional punch of the film undeniably sits in the flashbacks where we see the experiences of a younger Grinch and the impact his own childhood has on his modern day hatred for all things Christmas, yet with most of the action taking place in the modern day, the simplistic screenplay unfortunately doesn’t match the freshness of the film’s aesthetic, treading ground covered in so many Christmas themed films from the past and ultimately becoming quite tiresome as it falls to a predictable end. Following on from the likes of Johnny English Strikes Again by being a movie which utilises comedic set pieces to flesh out its’ runtime, The Grinch never felt comfortable as a feature length re-telling of Dr. Seuss’ most infamous festive fiend, even when at retained at the heart of it is a central message which we all could take a slice of going forward towards “that time of year again”. Bah, humbug.
Overall Score: 5/10
“The Country Is In A State Of Complete Chaos And The Universe Sends Me You…”
Winning the award for least anticipated sequel of the year, Johnny English Strikes Again sees the return of Rowan Atkinson’s bumbling British secret agent following on from his first appearance on screen in 2003 and its’ sequel, Johnny English Reborn in 2011. Directed by Northern Irish big-screen debutante, David Kerr, the third installment of the spy spoof franchise is ninety minutes of pretty much what you would expect from a Johnny English movie, offering PG friendly slapstick comedy within a selection of sketches which are marginally worked around the thinnest of narratives which sees English hooked back into the payroll of MI7 after every single serving secret agent’s identity across the globe is revealed by an unknown, tech savvy hacker. Whilst most critics will undeniably head into Strikes Again fully aware of the certainty that the next Citizen Kane won’t exactly be waiting for them inside, the real litmus test for Kerr’s movie resides in the way in which it manages to work to its’ strengths, and whilst Strikes Again fails to offer anything fresh or interesting to the catalogue of spy-spoof comedies, Atkinson’s undeniable smirk-inducing talent results in a movie preferably best watched when either drunk or with highly energetic friends. Or even both.
With a high proportion of the funniest set pieces readily available within the movie’s trailer, ranging from a diabolical attempt at utilising cutting edge virtual reality to the complete and utter destruction of a classy, world renowned yacht, Strikes Again does manage to capatalise on Atkinson’s hilarious slapstick persona to a somewhat effective degree, and with the film’s best gag undeniably an elongated riff on a similar comedic routine seen in Jon S. Baird’s 2013 black comedy, Filth, in which English feels the effect of adrenaline enhancing drugs, it’s hard to prevent smiles being cracked even when you know the film as whole is absolute tosh. With the enigmatic presence of Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) chewing the scenery as the opinionated, wine-dependant British Prime Minister, the more the movie remembers it has to at least follow some sort of plot is when it ultimately crumbles to pieces, with Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace) and Jake Lacy (Rampage) managing to supply performances both instantly forgettable and agonisingly dull, and whilst it’s quite sanctimonious to hate on a film not exactly aiming for anyone other than a child-friendly audience, Strikes Again manages to be neither good nor bad, just ridiculous nonsense.
Overall Score: 5/10
“My Suspicions Were Correct. You’re Clinically Dumb…”
Directed by American filmmaker, Malcolm D. Lee, director of the surprisingly well received Girls Trip from 2017, Night School sees Lee team up with Kevin Hart, the high pitched, knowingly “pint-sized” comedian whose venture from the stage into cinema has been somewhat, how can I put this, exhausting, with the likes of Jumanji and Get Hard not exactly prime examples of a performer putting his talent to best use thus far. Based on a screenplay seemingly dissected by a committee of writers, including Hart himself, Night School sees Hart in the lead role as Teddy Walker, a high school dropout who constantly feels the need to impress his fiancee amidst wallowing under the pressure of proving other people wrong by driving fancy cars and renting flash apartments in order to disguise his career as a low-level BBQ salesman. After the complete and utter destruction of said BBQ sales space however, Walker is given the opportunity to work alongside Ben Schwartz’s (The Walk) financial analyst in a bid to recover his own career, but after discovering the only obstacle preventing him from doing so is his complete lack of GED’s (Sort of a GCSE hybrid qualification), Walker heads to night school under the watchful eye of Tiffany Haddish’s (Girls Trip) enthusiastic teacher, Miss Carrie.
Whilst the overall tone of the movie is surprisingly buoyant and pleasant, offering surface scratching comments on the notions of learning disabilities and the effect it can have on one person’s foray into the real world, and performances all around are undeniably dedicated, particularly from Haddish, whose cocky, streetwise power-house levels of sass allows her character to be both the most believable and relatable, Night School primarily suffers from the age-old problem of American comedies by not managing to balance its’ wildly inconsistent tone, with rather silly and embarrassing slapstick comedy being intercut with awfully designed set pieces which just make certain parts of the movie a real nightmare to sit through. However, where the film does manage to succeed is in the contained elements of the piece, particularly in our leading character’s relationships with each other, ranging from within the confines of the classroom in a The Breakfast Club inspired set-up to congratulating each other at results day in a way which did manage to slightly win me over, and whilst the film’s runtime seemed to miss the hand of a strong-willed editor willing to shed at least half an hour, Night School is mind-numbing, fluffy fun which doesn’t injure, maim or last long in the memory either.
Overall Score: 5/10
“Let Me Explain Something To You. I Am Not “Mr. Lebowski”. You’re Mr. Lebowski. I’m The Dude…”
Unbelievably, The Big Lebowski is twenty years old. As we all hide under our bed sheets and weep at the quick turn around and passing of two decades, Joel and Ethan Coen’s cult comedy classic returns to cinemas for one night only, offering the chance to witness the iconic presence of Jeff Bridge’s (Hell or High Water) Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski stroll around 1990’s Los Angeles slobbering White Russian’s and dozing around in flip flips upon the big screen. With the Coen’s undoubtedly supplying some of the best examples of modern cinema throughout the past three decades, with Fargo, Inside Llewyn Davis and No Country For Old Men being my personal favourite trio, The Big Lebowski has always remained the primary Coen release which a high percentage of cinephiles always relate to the swiftest. Whether it be the film’s endless array of quotes which falls only second to Pulp Fiction in terms of hit count from the 90’s, the hilarious comedic performances from its’ brilliant cast or the tonal balance between crime, drama and zaniness, The Big Lebowski is indeed endlessly watchable and thoroughly entertaining but ultimately does fall short of being masterpiece as it remains the one Coen release which still hasn’t completely and entirely won me over.
With a narrative which becomes entangled within a eclectic array of plot threads which seems to mirror the care-free, bohemian nature of the film’s leading Lebowski, the Coen’s movie centrally focuses on a bizarre case of mistaken identity as Bridge’s The Dude is introduced in a hilarious attempt to procure funds on behalf of Ben Gazzara’s (Dogville) criminal overlord Jackie Treehorn. With the real Lebowski being uncovered as David Huddleston’s (Blazing Saddles) wheelchair bound millionaire, The Dude quickly becomes embroiled in kidnap plots, bowling tournaments and the over-bearing, manic nature of John Goodman’s (Argo) Walter, whose on-screen relationship with Steve Buscemi’s (Reservoir Dogs) Donnie undeniably ranks up there with one of the most misunderstood bromances of the modern era. Whilst the laughs and giggles are quick-quipped and constant and the performances all fall into a Coen-inspired level of ripeness, The Big Lebowski still to this day remains on the zanier side of the Coen’s back catalogue, and even when the film is nowhere near the sheer wackiness of The Hudsucker Proxy or Burn After Reading, the Coen’s most famous venture still remains slightly too overbearing to be considered at all in any way flawless, but with a rewatchability factor which makes it undeniably entertaining, The Big Lebowski is back for one night only and deserves to be admired once again. Yeah, well, that’s just like, my opinion, man.
Overall Score: 8/10
“There Is A Hokkien Phrase ‘Kaki Lang’. It Means: Our Own Kind Of People, And You’re Not Our Own Kind…”
Based upon the 2013 novel of the same name by Singaporean–American writer, Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians takes the familiar tale and narrative path of romantic comedies from the past and places it slap bang in the middle of Southeast Asia as we follow Constance Wu’s (Torchwood) Rachel Chu, a successful professor of economics at New York University who travels with her secretive boyfriend, Henry Golding’s (A Simple Favour) Nick Young, to Singapore in order to finally meet his family and friends. Directed by Jon M. Chu, a filmmaker whose previous credits haven’t exactly been rewarded with critical admiration thanks to the likes of Now You See Me 2 and, shiver incoming, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, Crazy Rich Asians manages to be the director’s first outstanding success, with his latest release a frothy, uplifting and thoroughly enjoyable rom-com which manages to balance a catalogue of underlying themes and ideas whilst offering stellar development of its’ many leading and supporting characters who each come across identifiable and wholly individual, and whilst at times the narrative may feel overly familiar and cliched, the sheer sense of wonder the movie emits showers over its’ creases with expert levels of delight.
Whilst the big and most important headline regarding the film’s release is the fact that Chu’s latest is shockingly the first film since the 1993 drama, The Joy Luck Club, to simultaneously feature a predominantly Asian cast and be financed, backed and released by a major Hollywood studio, Crazy Rich Asians is much more than just a kick-starter for filmic equality, with committed performances, laugh-out loud levels of comedy and a warm beating heart at its’ core all congealing around a central duo of lovers whose chemistry is so convincing, the fact the film only ever has one outcome doesn’t matter whatsoever and only serves to improve the good-hearted nature of the tale. With comments on the global class system and the potential cost of being an outsider, the film’s screenplay takes the appeal up a level from just being yet another bog-standard romance re-hash, and with pain-staking levels of detail and admiration for the movie’s location setting, the eye-watering levels of excess, ranging from deluxe style houses to ridiculous bachelor parties, never feels annoying or sickening, with the depiction of the culture’s food in particular guaranteed to make the stomach rumble. Leaving all audiences undoubtedly with a spring in their step and a tear in their eye, Crazy Rich Asians is a traditional love story which manages to feel both fresh and fantastical without ever feeling to need to be manipulative in order to win over its’ audience. Superb entertainment.
Overall Score: 8/10
“It’s So Disappointing When People Stoop To Backstabbing…”
Based upon the extraordinary Hatton Garden safe deposit burglary which occurred over the Easter Bank Holiday of 2015, a contemporary infamous act of criminality which has been labelled as the “largest burglary in English legal history”, King of Thieves, the latest feature by The Theory of Everything and The Mercy director, James Marsh, is the third adaptation of the events onto film after a couple of low-budget attempts including The Hatton Garden Job featuring the likes of Larry Lamb and Matthew Goode, but the first to hit the big screen, aided undoubtedly by a joyously star-studded cast which features the likes of Michael Caine (The Dark Knight), Ray Winstone (The Departed) and Jim Broadbent (Paddington 2) as the aged crooks who are determined to seal off their careers with one last job. With cocky attitudes, an abundance of cockney accents and enough chemistry between the cast to keep the enjoyment levels flowing, King of Thieves is a flawed but enjoyable, overly cliched heist movie which primarily suffers due to a inability to harness the film’s wildly inconsistent tones as it sways between comedy, drama and an overbearing sense that maybe at times, we’re having too much fun with what are essentially murderers and thieves.
With Caine’s Brian Reader acting as the central focus of the opening act of the movie in which we see an early loss act as a catalyst for his return to crime, the film’s opening forty five minutes is wildly entertaining as we are introduced to an eclectic herd of aged bad boys as they banter themselves to death whilst the central heist is planned, perfected and then carried out with eye-watering rewards. With the cast clearly enjoying themselves with seemingly ad-libbed sweary dialogue and particular members not exactly trying hard to be anything other than themselves, Mr. Winstone, I’m looking at you, it’s a particular shame that the second half of the movie completely bombs as Marsh attempts to juggle the seriousness of the effect the central crime has on those around it with a crow-barred notion of how our leading characters are actually violent murderers who are happy to off Police officers without an echo of remorse, and whilst the movie ultimately overstays its’ welcome by at least twenty minutes, King of Thieves is an odd little movie, but enjoyable nonetheless.
Overall Score: 6/10
“If Shit Gets Crazy I’m Gonna Go Crazy As Shit…”
Whilst Jim Henson will always be primarily remembered for his work on The Muppets and the subsequent legacy the American’s famous puppetry has left on culture across the world, his subsequent work on a wide range of cult classics including the likes of The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth has meant the transition into film-making has always been one of great success, one which has revelled in a genre of storytelling which has always catered for the younger viewer in terms of tone and sensibility. With The Happytime Murders however, Henson’s takes a turn to the dark side with an overly crude and obnoxiously vile R-rated work of trash which sees the staggeringly woeful talents of Melissa McCarthy (Life of the Party) team up with Bill Barretta’s Phil Phillps in order to solve a number of puppet-related murders within a Los Angeles which has learnt to co-exist with puppets and humans alike. Cue awful elongated sexual gags involving crazed imagery and out of control bodily fluids, unnecessary swearing and simply terrible dialogue, Henson’s foray into the darkness is a hollow, vacuous and totally despicable work of awfulness. The horror, the horror.
Whilst the likes of Team America: World Police has shown that puppetry and X-Rated comedy can indeed go hand in hand to very successful ends, Trey Parker’s 2004 comedy is The Godfather of modern comedy in comparison to The Happytime Murders, a so-called “film” which seems absolutely thrilled with the fact that puppets have been allowed to say swear words and have demonic-esque sex upon the big screen for an audience who undenaibly deserve more than just immature filth which happens just for the sake of it without any real purpose or justification for its’ existence. With McCarthy continuing to baffle and perplex regarding just how such an awful actress seems to continue to get constant work, and even with the likes of Life of the Party and The Boss in her awfully sterile back catalogue, nothing is close to the sheer suicide-inducing rankness of her latest venture in which once again she uses overly rude slapstick to attempt to raise laughs from an audience who in my particular screening were completely silent throughout. On the upside, the one saving grace of The Happytime Murders is that I am not alone in my utter disdain for a movie which deserves the utmost disrespect and derision from everyone who pays money to see it. Complete and utter worthless nonsense that doesn’t even deserve to be written about.