“Our Girls Are Not Thinking Things Through. I’m Going To Stop Them…”
Directed by cinematic first-timer Kay Cannon, whose previous credits lie solely on each of the screenplays for the highly successful Pitch Perfect trilogy, Blockers is a ripe, rude and well-meaning coming of age American comedy which features Leslie Mann (How To Be Single), Ike Barinholtz (Snatched) and John Cena (Daddy’s Home 2) as three out-of-touch parents who attempt to thwart their respective daughter’s plans for prom night after discovering a “sex pact” between them whilst generously snooping on their online, social media based conversation. With Bad Moms showcasing that preconceptions regarding American comedies sometimes shouldn’t be entirely faithfully adhered to at all times, Blockers is yet another fairly successful U.S based romp which not only manages to mix a heartwarming soul with well-worked elements of ludicrous comedy, but also develops its’ characters of both generations to a telling degree that each works as an individual rather than a two-dimensional caricature, and even if at times, the narrative dwindles into a wacky mix of saccharin sweetness and silliness with a runtime which overplays its’ hand for at least twenty minutes longer than necessary, Cannon’s movie is a solid and enjoyable directorial debut.
With Cena’s Mitchell playing hilariously against type, with his imposing, muscular demeanour being offset with a personality which cries at the first flicker of emotional weakness and favours tucked-in chequered shirts and easily mocked crew cut haircuts, and Leslie Mann’s Lisa Decker ferociously abstaining against anything to do with her daughter’s ascent into adulthood, it is left to Barinholtz’s Hunter to steady the ship, with his character heeding the warning of the consequences of his fellow parents’ actions, even when his own strange, sometimes excruciatingly awkward personality promotes him as the worst father figure type imaginable. With big-screen newcomers, Gideon Adlon, Geraldine Viswanathan and Kathryn Newton (Lady Bird) as the troublesome trio of teenagers eager to rid themselves of their sexual innocence, their superb chemistry also aids the film’s sense of appeal, particularly in regards to their familiar and overly contemporary use of youthful language and prom night experiences, and with the movie balancing all of its’ characters with empathetic ease, Blockers is the type of movie which yes, is of course not the most original or entirely captivating in history, but for a hundred minutes swing, is wickedly enjoyable and earns kudos for featuring the best naked BDSM game scene in comedy history. Yeah, that’s the selling point if ever there was one.
Overall Score: 6/10
“I’m Done Living In A World Where I Don’t Get To Be Who I Am…”
With Barry Jenkins’ outstanding big-screen debut, Moonlight, breaking fresh cinematic ground last year by being the first Best Picture winner at the Academy Awards to not only feature an all-black cast, but to have a LGBT centred narrative at the heart of it too, it seems almost incredibly quaint to finally be seeing a strong wave of widely different styled movies which focus on expanding the boundaries of romance within contemporary mainstream cinema as we know it, somewhat making up for the infamous misstep of handing Crash the Best Picture gong back in 2006 when pretty much everyone assumed it was heading in Brokeback Mountain’s direction. Adapted from Becky Albertalli’s 2015 novel “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda”, Love, Simon, directed by DC’s Arrowverse writing and producing stalwart, Greg Berlanti, follows in the footsteps of Moonlight and Call Me By Your Name by being yet another success story with a predominant LGBT storyline, one which sees Nick Robinson (Jurassic World) as Simon Spier, a repressed gay teenager who attempts to come to terms with the world’s reaction to his possible social revelation whilst seeking out the identity of the mysterious “Blue”, an online pen-pal who has used the luxury of the internet to express his sexuality and whom Simon slowly begins to fall for.
With a warm, chocolate sweet high-school sensibility which takes heed of classic coming of age movies such as the entire John Hughes back catalogue and the more modern examples such as Easy A and The Edge of Seventeen, Berlanti’s movie focuses heavy on the core relationship between Spier and his close-knit group of friends, with the screenplay allowing each character to have enough breathing space to be both convincing and engaging, even when it seems the parent figures of both Josh Duhamel (Transformers) and Jennifer Garner (Dallas Buyers Club) are seemingly left aside to pick up the crumbs in both metaphoric and literal terms come the end of the movie. With smart, crackling teenage quips and a steady handed tone which doesn’t dwell on the the nature of it’s romance in a sickly sweet saccharin fashion, Love, Simon instead works on the simplicity of its’ storytelling and the dedicated performance of its’ cast, particularly that of the impressive Robinson who manages to convey a rainbow of conflicting emotions with staggering ease, and even when the movie comes full circle and does end with a slight tinge of predictability and Disney-fulled cheesiness, Berlanti’s movie will leave you pleasantly surprised and see you departing the auditorium with a Joker-wide smile.
Overall Score: 7/10
“Why Do I Always Get Screwed For Doing My Job…?”
Itching with a sense of Hollywood styled nepotism, director Nash Edgerton brings brother Joel (Red Sparrow), Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road) and Oxford’s own, David Oyelowo (Selma) aboard for his directorial debut, Gringo, a kooky, wildly inconsistent crime caper based on a screenplay by both Anthony Tambakis and Matthew Stone which sees Oyelowo’s white-collared Harold Soyinka caught between his sickeningly narcissistic bosses and the murderous ventures of the Mexican cartel as attempts to reconstruct his life based around cheating partners and financial ills by conning his way into a paycheck suitable enough to begin a new life. With the trailers somewhat misleading the movie’s true intentions by presenting it as a full bodied comedy, Gringo instead is the type of movie which can’t seem to make up its’ mind as it grinds solemnly through a runtime which edges just under two hours, and whilst each of the cast members give it their all in attempting to breathe some sort of life into proceedings, Edgerton’s movie just doesn’t seem to leave any sort of meaningful impression and simply comes in via one ear and departs swiftly out of the other.
Beginning by laying the foundations for the misfortunes which await Oyelowo’s titular “Gringo” as he follows Theron and Edgerton’s success craved business partners across the Mexican border in order to talk business regarding the sale of a marijuana-infused pill, Edgerton’s movie takes time to really set sail, with a first half unsure of its’ ultimate direction resulting in losing audience interest rather swiftly, and even as the action unfolds once we hit the the sunny sights of a gangland infested Mexico, Gringo doesn’t at any time hit a steady stride in regards to what we as the audience are meant to be taking in and dissecting. A few chuckles aside, Gringo doesn’t ultimately work as a comedy either and is a film better served being admired as a Guy Ritchie-esque double crossing caper, just without the freshness of a Lock, Stock… or the zesty absurdity of a Snatch, and with a thrown in penchant for unnecessary violence and crude stereotypes regarding one-dimensional Mexican citizens, Edgerton’s movie is a strangely dull mixed bag of a movie. With the trio of front and centre stars all managing to come across somewhat watchable however, with Oyelowo’s likeable luckless lead the obvious standout, Gringo isn’t exactly poor, it’s just badly managed, and for a cast this talented at the heart of it, Edgerton’s debut could, and should have, been much, much sharper.
Overall Score: 5/10
“For The Next Hour You’re Not Going To Know What’s Real Or What’s Fake…”
Part of the ensemble of writers behind the screenplay for Marvel’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, film-making duo, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein return to directing with Game Night, a blackly comic mystery popcorn delight based on a script by the relatively unknown figure of Mark Perez, featuring Jason Bateman (The Gift) and Rachel McAdams (Spotlight) as the competitive married couple who are sucked into a night of outrageous antics with their weekly “game night” comrades by Kyle Chandler’s (Manchester By The Sea) returning overzealous and annoyingly successful brother figure who promises the players a night of gaming unlike any before it. With laugh out loud gags from beginning to end and a joyous first time viewing in which the audience is pulled left, right and centre in regards to the many twists which come before them, Game Night is an American comedy which ultimately works much more effectively than your average US-based comic farce thanks to a tightly wound script and an ensemble cast who undeniably seem to be having as much fun as the fee paying customers come to observe, and even if the movie may not work as well on repeat viewings after its’ concluding payoff, Daley and Goldstein’s latest is still a resounding full house.
With obvious narrative comparisons to David Fincher’s 1997 mystery drama The Game, albeit with with a much more comical tone, Game Night manages to succeed in intertwining both the whodunit elements of its’ narrative with the sickly black tone of its’ sharp humour, with set pieces featuring amateur bullet hole surgery and the attempted deep clean of a blood soaked dog resulting in hysterical fits of giggles as you soak up the sheer absurdity which unfolds throughout a tightly packed 100 minutes runtime. With Bateman and McAdams leading the line of couples entrapped in the film’s leading mystery, the chemistry between them is undeniably well measured, and even with my own personal reservations regarding the former’s on-screen talents when it comes to comedy, their central relationship is crucial to the more out-there comedy elements which in lesser hands may have indeed folded under the silliness of it all. With Jesse Plemons (Hostiles) stealing the show as the woefully awkward next door neighbour and a fantastically designed post-movie credit sequence, Game Night is if anything, outstanding popcorn fun, and for an American comedy to hold my attention for its’ entire runtime, that is a miracle within itself.
Overall Score: 7/10
“I Want You To Be The Very Best Version Of Yourself That You Can Be…”
Arriving as the final Best Picture nomination from the upcoming Academy Awards to be released in the UK before the ceremony takes place on the first weekend of March, Greta Gerwig (Jackie) halts her acting career for her directorial debut, Lady Bird, a coming of age comedy drama formed around a screenplay written by Gerwig herself and starring Saoirse Ronan as the titular troublesome teen from Sacramento, California who in her transference from school to college faces difficulties within both her home-life and her widening taste of the adolescent outside world. Supported by the likes of Laurie Metcalf (Toy Story 3), Tracy Letts (The Post) and Beanie Feldstein (Neighbours 2), Gerwig’s movie manages to break free from the cliches and pressures of coming-of-age dramas in which the film undeniably takes inspiration from, with the likes of particularly Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and 2016’s little seen The Edge of Seventeen obvious reference points in terms of storyline, thanks to a tightly wound script which manages to balance each of the film’s leading characters with their own personal strengths, weaknesses and flaws, resulting in performances which not only feel perfectly rounded and entirely believable, but are so fundamentally humane and empathetic that the movie spins you around and grips you tightly from the opening scene in which we discover the roller-coaster nature of the relationship which is progressively examined between mother and daughter.
After shining in a wide array of roles including The Grand Budapest Hotel and particularly John Crowley’s magnificent 2015 romantic drama, Brooklyn, Ronan’s portrayal of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson is an absorbing and entirely empathetic performance, an awards courting triumph which perfectly captures the wildly inconsistent emotion of teenage angst, acne faced and all, one which is aided profusely by the magnificently resonant aura which the Irish star brings to a leading role bursting with flavourful personality and charisma, a character who although is proven to be riddled with human error and socially shocking flaws, manages to be much more interesting than the standardised Hollywood image of a cinematic on-screen teenager. Although the flashy editing and electrifying pace of the movie interweaves Lady Bird’s in-school debacles and the choppy relationships with both the female and male sex, with Manchester By The Sea’s Lucas Hedges and Call Me By Your Name’s Timothée Chalamet the cameo love interests whose personal narrative endpoints both end in extravagant fashion, the cornerstone of the movie is entirely focused on the exhausting battle between the child and parent, with Laurie Metcalf’s mother figure, Marion, a resoundingly commonplace thorn in the side of youthful curiosity of which many 21st century teenagers are more than accustomed to, with the performance of Metcalf equally as impressive as her younger counterpart, resulting in the many on-screen discussions between the two strong willed characters entirely captivating. With a deep level of care for the characters and precise direction from Gerwig who in her obvious admiration and pride for her screenplay manages to get the best out of even the most bit-part players of the piece, Lady Bird is flawless, a movie full with outstanding performances and a movie which manages to blend laugh out loud and perfectly pitched comic timing with elements of lachrymose inducing tenderness so effectively, you’ll think you would have known each of the film’s characters for years, and for a movie with a runtime with just over ninety minutes, it’s suffice to say, I would have happily stayed for much, much longer.
Overall Score: 10/10
“The Universe Has A Tendency To Point Us In The Right Direction…”
Renowned for his work as an accomplished cinematographer on an array of American comedies including War Dogs, The Hangover Trilogy as well as the upcoming blockbuster franchise sequel, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, New Jersey citizen, Lawrence Sher, turns to a debut in directing for Father Figures, a messy, overlong and staggeringly sickening road trip comedy featuring Owen Wilson (Wonder) and Ed Helms (Captain Underpants) as alienated siblings, Kyle and Peter Reynolds who embark on a self proclaimed journey known as “Operation Whose Your Daddy” after being informed by Glenn Close’s (The Girl With All The Gifts) mother figure, Helen Baxter, that she is unaware of her children’s true parentage. With a narrative which twists and turns through redemptive family drama to lad-cultured sex ventures and finally settling for saccharin fuelled cop-out nonsense, Sher’s movie is fundamentally unsure of what it entirely aspires to be, and with a two hour runtime attempting to hold it all together, Father Figures is unsurprisingly dour, a film which not only comes across as your run of the mill Owen Wilson centred comedy, but an Owen Wilson centred comedy without any meaningful laughs.
Settling on air of overripe repetition as our leading duo move from state to state in order to locate their true titular father figure, the screenplay attempts to shoehorn in as many jarring cameos as humanly possible for some form of comedic effect, with the likes of Ving Rhames, Terry Bradshaw and the Oscar winning J. K. Simmons, yes, that J. K. Simmons, each conforming to a soap opera type scenario in which each character has around ten minutes to show off their goods and force some form of sketch show-esque comedic set piece before being entirely forgotten about as we head onto the next underwritten character who swiftly follows such a mould. With Wilson hitting snooze mode and regressing into normality after winning back some form of merits after his performance in Wonder, the star revels in handing the director a stereotypical Owen Wilson performance, one which clashes with Ed Helms’ pretentious, all-moaning flannel of a character who not only couldn’t look farther from being an on-screen sibling of Wilson if he tried but is the type of American character who believes their life is an utter shambles even with staggering levels of wealth and a high class occupation which of course only acts as a continuous, narrative weaving joke. The jokes are joyless, the script soulless and ponderous, and whilst at times the chemistry between the two stars evoke a sense of enjoyment that the film may be heading somewhere, the concluding act is shameful and for two hours of your life you may never get back, Father Figures really isn’t worth the risk.
Overall Score: 3/10
“The Age Of Stone Is Over. Long Live The Age Of Bronze…”
Best known for his work on the many forms of Wallace & Gromit and the ever-charming Shaun the Sheep franchise, Nick Park is undoubtedly the first name which springs to mind whenever the art form of stop-motion animation comes into discussion, and his return to the big-screen this week in the form of Early Man is one which reminds how much of a delicate and impressive pastime such a particular form of expressive freedom actually is, and with the likes of Chicken Run and 2015’s rather surreal Shaun the Sheep Movie both proving financially and critically successful, the cinematic appeal of stop-motion still applies more than ever. Utilising an equally impressive voice cast featuring the likes of Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything), Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones) and Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers), Park’s movie centres around a rather straightforward and overly predictable heroic narrative focusing on Redmayne’s ambitious caveman, Dug, who challenges the rule of Hiddleston’s green-eyed, wealth obsessed and questionably accented Lord Nooth to a game of football in order to claim back their quaint and idyllic homeland of which was stolen in order to mine out its quantity of ore.
Whilst the feature includes a wide range of chuckle-inducing, zippy one-liners, ranging from cute, animated asides to comments about the state of modern-day football, Park’s movie unfortunately never feels expressive or varied enough to warrant its’ big-screen release, with a ninety minute runtime attempting to squeeze as much out as possible of an incredibly basic plot and failing, resulting in a sense of a one-note joke being somewhat stretched to the widest extent possible and creating a staggering pace which begins the terrible feat of time checking curiosity. Thankfully for Park however, the stop-motion animation is flawless and beautiful enough to somewhat paper over the cracks, and with a concluding act which although confines to the plot’s heavy predictability, is impressive in its’ charming demeanour and positive sensibility, resulting in Early Man managing to succeed in being a solid, if overly throwaway, ninety minutes of animated escapism in which will undoubtedly work for kids more than it may work for us picky, somewhat legged, coffee consuming adults.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Downsizing Is About Saving Yourself. We Live Like Kings…”
Although, rather ashamedly, awareness of Alexander Payne’s previous work is limited to absolute zilch, resulting in a complete bypass of the likes of Nebraska, Sideways and The Descendants, the Academy Award winning American’s latest, Downsizing, is ironically somewhat unavoidable thanks to an early hurricane of hype regarding its’ quality and the decision for distributors to plaster its’ trailer on every release for at least the past three months. Starring Matt Damon as Paul Safranek, a downbeat, struggling occupational therapist, who along with wife, Audrey, played by Kristen Wiig, decides to agree to the titular, groundbreaking operation in order to reap the individual and world wide rewards which are offered, Payne’s latest is a particularly wild oddity, one which revels in a concoction of varying ideas and yet fails to clutch at a single straw and stay strictly on course. Sold as a comedic social satire, Downsizing begins in entertaining fashion, focusing primarily on Damon’s Safranek and his decision to undergo the procedure which reduces his mass to a fraction of his normal size, and with particular attention to detail and a number of cute, size related chuckles, the movie’s first hour is a real triumph, with the pace and script effectively managing to hold the balance between hypothetical science fiction and rib-tickling comedy.
Unfortunately for Payne however, once the movie moves into territory which can only be regarded as mindless, sanctimonious preaching, the film begins to test your patience, and with a final act which discusses notions of apocalyptic foreboding and the survival of the entire human race, Downsizing almost becomes two completely different movies, with the second so wrapped up in a narrative so conflicting with its’ first, the size of our leading characters is somewhat normalised and loses its’ the sense of purpose it ultimately and successfully began with. With Damon on solid form and the likes of Christoph Waltz and Brawl In Cell Block 99′s, Udo Kier, doing the best they can with the little time they have on screen, Payne’s wild card in the form of Hong Chau’s Vietnamese political freedom fighter, Ngoc Lan Tran is also a troublesome element within the film, a broken English speaking Asian with a prosthetic leg whose appearance in the narrative seems only to be there in attempt to widen the comic relief. Whilst not exactly ever resorting to the level of Mickey Rooney’s overtly troubled portrayal of I. Y. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Tran is indeed a misjudged caricature, who although is portrayed as somewhat brazen and overwhelmingly commanding, is still a completely off-kilter inclusion within a movie which rightly can be lauded for its’ ideas but too can be criticised for its’ execution, and whilst Payne’s latest may seem impressive on the surface, underneath it bears a more than a few staggering issues at the heart of it.
Overall Score: 5/10
“You’re Fifty Years Old And You Still Think The World Was Made For You…”
Tackling notions of the mid-life crisis and looking back on a lifetime gone swiftly by, School of Rock writer, Mike White, directs and provides the screenplay for Brad’s Status, a low-key and pleasantly thoughtful comedy which utilises the leading star skills of Ben Stiller who returns to the big screen after a somewhat nonexistent cinematic footprint over the course of the past few years or so. Whilst Stiller’s comedy can somewhat not exactly hit the mark, take the likes of Zoolander 2 for instance, the emergence of White’s script and a wide range of lovely supporting performances from an extravagantly well-versed cast, proves to be a solid winning return for the comedic stalwart, and although the underlying narrative point of the movie is one which has been tackled before in a wide range of differing movies ranging from American Beauty to last year’s Ingrid Goes West, Brad’s Status is a cool, sombre and sometimes heartwarming drama which doesn’t ever feel the need to raise up from its’ subtle examination of its’ titular leading character.
Accompanying his son, Troy (Austin Abrams, Paper Towns) along the East Coast whilst they seek out potential future colleges, Brad Sloane (Stiller) reminisces about the success of his out of touch school friends whilst he contemplates his own life’s middling mediocrity, one which is full with seething regret and unwarranted shame in comparison to his long lost forgotten acquaintances. With the narrative primarily explained through the use of Stiller’s voiceover and some rather excessive yet undeniably comedic dream sequences which convey’s Sloane’s belief of his friend’s individual successes, White’s movie works primarily thanks to a brilliantly conflicted leading performance from Stiller alongside the grounding of its’ youthful cast, with the likes of Abrams and Shazi Raja counteracting Sloane’s contempt for the world by explaining its’ true riches in a It’s a Wonderful Life style monologue. Whilst the movie falls at times for swaying too much from the central narrative and limiting its’ actual comedic zingers to a minimal amount, White’s movie is still an interesting social drama which reinforces the idea that when put to good use, Stiller is still an important and welcome leading star.