“Life Is About More Than Just Survival. We Were A Family. Dysfunctional, Sure, But What Family Isn’t…”
How a lot can change in the world of cinema in just one decade. Since the release of the first Zombieland back in 2009, Emma Stone has picked up a much deserved Academy Award, Woody Harrelson stunned audiences with a career-best performance in the first season of True Detective and Jesse Eisenberg has become more and more of a sanctimonious asshole after winning plaudits for his central role in the outstanding, The Social Network and then bombing any chances of redemption after delivering one of the worst villainous performances in the history of cinema in the awfully misguided, Batman Vs. Superman. Forever placing itself in the hearts of cult movie fanatics since its’ initial release, the world of Zombieland returns with Double Tap, a movie which finally hits the big screen after years of development hell and one helmed once again by returning director, Ruben Fleischer, whose exploits since the original movie have included the vacuous and noisy double bill of Gangster Squad and Venom. With jokes aplenty, some juicy comic violence and an erratic, lightning-fast pacing, Fleischer’s movie is exactly the movie you think it is, and an enjoyable one at that.
Whilst there is some degree of a central narrative at the heart of the movie, one involving our four horsemen (and ladies) of the apocalypse splitting off from each other in search of individual life decisions, Double Tap is without doubt more interested in set pieces, set pieces involving smart, sarcastic and well timed comedic gags during the heat of the battle against the hordes of the undead who make their way into the storyline when absolutely needed. With particular gags from the original being repeated, including the well-versed “zombie rules” utilised as a recurring flashpoint and the mighty Metallica returning to boost the soundtrack’s awesomeness, Double Tap is far from original, and whereas the original was essentially America’s answer to Edgar Wright’s superior zombie classic, Shaun of the Dead, Double Tap concludes with the most Americanised and overly ridiculous climax ever seen in a zombie flick. With the cast being supported by excellent supporting cameos including the scene stealing, Zoey Deutch (Everybody Wants Some!!) and a weird post-credits sequence involving Bill Murray (Groundhog Day), Double Tap is perfect Friday night nonsense, with emphasis on the nonsense.
Overall Score: 6/10
“This City, This Whole Country, Is A Strip Club. You’ve Got People Tossing The Money, And People Doing The Dance…”
Based on the 2015 New York magazine article, “The Hustlers at Scores”, by American journalist, Jessica Pressler, Hustlers is the latest from the superbly named New Jersey filmmaker, Lorene Scafaria, who returns to cinemas in a directorial sense after the successful one-two of the 2012 Steve Carell staring, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and the 2015 comedy drama, The Meddler. Featuring a particularly starry, female-led ensemble cast, Scafaria’s latest primarily follows Constance Wu’s (Crazy Rich Asians) Dorothy over the course of nearly a decade as her career as a stripper leads her into the path of Jennifer Lopez’s (Out of Sight) Ramona, a powerful and streetwise matriarch who soon teams up with her fellow strippers in order to rip off high profile clients in response to the economical effect of the 2008 Financial Crisis. Less The Big Short and more a spicy blend of Showgirls meets Ocean’s Eleven, just without the R-rated extremism of the former, Hustlers is a thoroughly engaging and brilliantly acted original crime drama, one which benefits from a tight, well-judged runtime and an element of spicy exoticism which most mainstream pictures would be too afraid to touch let alone actually produce.
With a central narrative which feels comfortable remaining within the confines of reality and seemingly sticks close to the real life events, such a decision both benefits and hinders Scafaria’s movie, one which shifts along an elongated, year jumping time frame with relative sharpness and ease, due in part to some Scorsese-esque storytelling, cut-throat editing techniques and key characters which manage to be both well-rounded, charismatic and engaging. Central to the film’s success is undoubtedly Lopez who in her career best performance manages to evoke a wide range of characteristics, traits which develop her character from the savvy, sexy titan of the stripping industry to a relentless, greed-inflicted criminal, one who is determined to return the pain of the financial crisis on those who she believes is responsible. With Constance Wu continuing her excellent leading form after her success with Crazy Rich Asians and the movie having a fundamentally likeable sensibility, the only real downfall of the picture is how forgettable the central plot device actually is, with the inevitable outcome predictable and therefore lacking any sort of gut-punching memorability, but where the movie lacks in any sense of grandiose it more than makes up for in terms of style and for a movie which clocks in at just under two hours, Hustlers is well worth your time.
Overall Score: 7/10
“Chinese People Have A Saying; When People Get Cancer, They Die…”
First released to the public at this year’s Sundance Film Festival to overly positive critical and audience reviews, The Farewell comes to British cinemas this week with an impressively widespread general release, particularly for a movie which predominantly relies on the use of subtitles, an art of which the lay cinema fan still seems to strangely shy away from. Directed and written by Beijing born filmmaker, Lulu Wang, The Farewell is a comedic drama based in-part on her own experience involving her elderly grandmother who was hidden from the truth of her terminal cancer diagnosis by her own family, a decision of which in Chinese culture is apparently relatively common and surprisingly lawful. Portrayed as a sort of indie inspired, heartfelt comedy from its’ supporting trailer, Wang’s movie is indeed an interesting, minimal and contemplative piece, one which takes much pleasure in exploring a particular culture completely alien to that of most Westerners including myself, but with a strangely flat pacing and a onenote idea which runs out of steam come the hour mark, The Farewell is clearly a project made with an abundance of passion, but as a film, failed to completely draw me in on an emotional level and thus come the final hurdle, becomes slightly benign and immediately forgettable.
Following up from interesting supporting performances in the likes of Ocean’s 8 and the vastly superior cultural comedy, Crazy Rich Asians, Awkwafina this time takes the lead role as Billi, the supposed fictional stand-in for Wang who upon hearing about her family’s decision to hide the traumatic news from her grandmother, Nai Nai, played in a rather excellent form by Zhao Shuzhen, takes the long trip over to China in order to engage in a makeshift family wedding, a particular event used as an excuse for the family to reunite in order to see their beloved matriarch for potentially the final time. With the comedic quips minimal in favour of long, drawn-out shots of contemplative nothingness, the pace of the movie does feel bafflingly lifeless, and even when at the heart of the story is a plot device which should naturally woo the hearts of even the sturnest audience member, the truth is that at no time did I really care about anyone on-screen throughout the course of a hundred minutes which in all honesty, felt closer to the two hour mark, a negative aspect if ever there was one. With my mind not fully engaged therefore, the excellent performances do sort of become taken for granted, whilst the interesting cultural examinations don’t really make any real difference, and with a concluding act which doesn’t make any narrative sense and sort of makes the entire point of the movie completely pointless, Wang’s movie is clearly made with a lot of heart, but it still lacked that key ingredient you need from a drama; drama.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Tonight Is Our First Middle School Party. There’s Going To Be Girls There. You Know What That Means..?”
With 2019 undoubtedly the year where the coming of age movie has become the weekly norm, this week sees the release of Good Boys, an American teen comedy brought to the big screen by both Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg through their production company, Point Grey Pictures, a film studio responsible most recently for the rather excellent, The Disaster Artist, and the mildly entertaining, Long Shot, from earlier on this year. Directed by Ukrainian-born filmmaker, Gene Stupnitsky, in his big-screen debut, Good Boys sees Stupnitsky team up with long-term writing collaborator, Lee Eisenberg, after their extensive work together on the American, and much much better, version of The Office, for a movie which takes the very well-worn and cliched tale of youth and young manhood and spices it up with a impressively hilarious comedic script which results in one of the most surprising and rewarding American comedies in recent history.
Wholly focusing on the trials and tribulations of the self-proclaimed “bean bag boys”, Good Boys sees Brady Noon, Keith L. Williams and the ever improving, Jacob Tremblay (Room, Wonder) as Thor, Lucas and Max respectively, three awkward inbetweeners who upon taking the big step from fifth to sixth grade, are invited to a house party ran by their school’s most popular kid, one who promises the chance for our leading lads to partake in the horrifying encounter they all aren’t prepared for; kissing a girl. As per the difficulty when it comes to this type of story, the tale of teens angst and rife anti-social behaviour isn’t exactly anything original, with the likes of Booksmart this year alone offering a very similar plot, if being a tad more adult and certainly better made on an aesthetic level, but where Good Boys falls down on a basis of freshness and a slight cheap sensibility, it more than makes up for in terms of comedic output, with the razor sharp script offering numerous hilarious set piece, one of which actually made me giggle so much, tears began streaming from my eyes, an effect of which I haven’t experienced from an American comedy in donkeys, and when a comedy works its’ magic to the extent that bodily fluids extract themselves from your body, it’s fair to say that such a movie does its’ job pretty damn well.
Overall Score: 7/10
“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.