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Film Review: The Hitman’s Bodyguard

“I Can Assure You, We Are More Than Prepared For Any Assault…”

Samuel L. Jackson is unfortunately the type of actor who nowadays more often than not falls into the category of “picking up the cheque” when it comes to movie role choices, and whilst I’m game for most things with Jackson in some form of leading role, with recent releases including The Hateful Eight proving that Jackson still has the capacity to show off his acting chops, there comes a time when there can only be so many films in the ilk of xXx: The Return of Xander Cage that you begin to question your fundamental allegiances. With The Hitman’s Bodyguard however, the latest from Australian director Patrick Hughes, a filmmaker who came to big budget fame with The Expendables 3 back in 2014, Jackson teams up with Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds, Daredevil‘s Élodie Yung and Gary Oldman in order to create arguably the most retrograde action comedy of the past few years. Whilst B-Movie nonsense is a genre of movies which sometimes can be overly charming and irresistible even with the fundamental flaws at the heart of it, The Hitman’s Bodyguard manages to fail at every hurdle it attempts to maneuver, utilising nonsensical elements to a somewhat cynical effect and testing the patience of its’ audience from pretty much the outset.

After being demoted from his role as a triple A rated security agent due to the extraordinary death of a client, Bryce (Reynolds) is brought back to the spotlight by ex-partner and Interpol agent Roussel (Yung) in order to protect the life of contract killer Darius Kincaid (Jackson) who is set to give evidence against the evil dictatorship of Belarusian leader, Vladislav Dukhovich (Oldman). Cue retrograde treatment of all female characters, unnecessary levels of violence and jarring usage of profanity, The Hitman’s Bodyguard is the type of movie which features phoned-in performances from the entirety of its’ leading cast, who in their attempt to swivel around the cliched and idiotic plot, scream, shout and swear their way through two hours of absolute nonsense. Reynolds is unbearable, Oldman is worse, and Jackson seems to mixing his performance as Jules from Pulp Fiction with his character from Snakes on a Plane, just without the cool and sophisticated characterisation of the former. The Hitman’s Bodyguard is the type of movie which makes Bad Boys II look like a masterpiece. Avoid.

Overall Score: 3/10

Film Review: The Dark Tower

“You Can’t Stop What’s Coming. Death Always Wins…”

Growing up with Stephen King books going as far back as I can remember, the cinematic accessibility of the American’s many novels has resulted in a variety of classic movies over the course of nearly half a decade, and whilst The Shining, The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me are arguably the standout examples, even when Kubrick’s famous horror barely resembles the source material, The Dark Tower series has seemingly been in production hell since the first whispers of a possible adaptation came to the floor at the turn of the 21st century. With previously attached filmmakers J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard both passing on the project, the task has fallen into the hands of Danish director Nikolaj Arcel, who along with King’s own blessings and Howard’s descent into a production role, has finally managed to create a live-action adaptation of King’s monstrous fantasy epic. Being an avid reader of all things King, The Dark Tower series is indeed a collection of novels which I have enjoyably devoured, and whilst King’s own notion of such a series being a cross between The Lord of the Rings and Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy, the novels do have weaknesses, particularly within the concluding three releases, and whilst many have bulked at particular high profile changes which have occurred in the transition from paper to screen, Arcel’s adaptation is a release I have been eagerly awaiting since the first trailer was announced and with the fundamental and historical issues some stories have when making the jump to the big screen, the question on everyone’s lips is; was it worth the wait?

In a nutshell? Not quite, and whilst Arcel’s adaptation of King’s novels suffers from a wide range of basic filmmaking issues, The Dark Tower was a movie in which I was never bored, never lost in the rapid overlapping of plots and crucially, never bothered by the gargantuan and radical differences that have occurred between the process from paper to screen, and because of this, the movie was a rare case of a film which seemed to be rather enjoyable even when the weaknesses are so apparent on screen. In my own view, my ability to overlook such downfalls such as awful editing, ear-scraping dialogue and cheesy special effects, is ultimately down to my affinity to the source material and although the convoluted plot will undoubtedly seem incoherent and completely bonkers to an audience coming to the film with no previous knowledge of the characters or the setting, Arcel’s movie is so obviously an adaptation made solely for the readers of the series, and for that alone, I applaud the ballsy approach to create such. With obvious production problems at the heart of the finished article, The Dark Tower is a movie which worked more than it failed, and whilst the rafter of negative reviews and poor box office numbers will unfortunately class the film as a failure, Arcel’s adaptation will no doubt be the beginning of a series which is destined to be explored much, much more either on the big screen or the small.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: Annabelle: Creation

“Forgive Me, Father, For I Am About To Sin…”

Of all the contemporary horror franchises currently still running, The Conjuring universe is one which although isn’t as groundbreaking as many believe it is within the horror genre, still manages to succeed in some regard, primarily because of how much fun they are, with there always being enough effective jump-scares and spooky children to please the most mediocre of horror fans even when the plot lines are so strikingly familiar to horror enthusiasts. Whilst the cattle-prod approach of jump scare cinema isn’t at all what I deem as ingredients for a decent horror movie, the trope is becoming so well-worn in the current cinematic climate that to see horror films take any other approach is somewhat of a miracle, and whilst Annabelle: Creation isn’t exactly breaking the mould of what we have come to expect from the James Wan-led staple, the addition of Lights Out director David F. Sandberg alongside some enjoyably camp set pieces, the prequel/sequel to 2014’s Annabelle is good enough to warrant its’ existence, even when the narrative swings and overall themes don’t hold the tension and fear factor you expect from a classic horror.

With Sandberg in charge after his high-profile success with Lights Out, Creation is a movie which focuses extensively on the quintessential notion that darkness and the absence of light results completely in absorbing the audience into a state of fear, and whilst the spooky factor begins well for the first half of the movie, as soon as the movie shows it’s hand and reveals the rather clunky demonic presence at the heart of the movie, the tension does inevitably fall apart. With endless shots of lightbulbs either exploding or magically decreasing in strength, Sandberg’s abnormal obsession with such basic horror tropes does become rather grating come the ramped-up final act, yet for the first hour or so, the haunted house formula and multiple usage of camera angles which focus on either ambiguous presences or the rounded, creepy face of the titular porcelain doll are solid enough to keep the interest held, even when questionable decisions from our leading characters puts such comforts at some sort of risk. Creation isn’t a masterpiece, but I can safely say I was never bored and for the time it was on screen, Sandberg’s big budget debut passed the time nicely.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: Atomic Blonde

“I’m My Own Bitch Now…”

If ever there was someone in Hollywood who is the epitome of kick-ass action, Charlize Theron undoubtedly takes that prestigious award all the way home, with recent releases such as Mad Max: Fury Road and The Fate of the Furious in particular showcasing that it’s not just the male fraternity of actors that should get all the explosive fun when sometimes their female counterparts can do it so much better. With Atomic Blonde therefore, the latest release from John Wick director (albeit strangely uncredited) David Leitch, a filmmaker renowned primarily for stunt work on a wide range of cinematic releases including the likes of V for Vendetta and The Bourne Ultimatum, it comes at no surprise that many could simply regard Theron’s latest as somewhat of a John Wick-infused cash-in, yet with a cast which features the likes of Eddie Marsan, James McAvoy, Toby Jones and John Goodman, Atomic Blonde on paper has the groundwork to be it’s own beautiful beast. Unfortunately, this is most definitely not the case, with Leitch’s latest suffering way too heavily from fundamental script issues and mind-bashing plot twists to be classed as a film in which I could safely say I enjoyed from beginning to end, and whilst there are certain elements which are delicious in their execution, for the most part, Atomic Blonde is a vicious let down.

Whilst the late 1980’s, fall of the Berlin era is effectively flashy enough, the underpinning of a narrative which hinges on flashbacks is fundamentally at the heart of the problem of the film, one which uses a script which comes across stinking of a seeping air of sanctimony in it’s belief regarding how clever and slick it is, and too a picture which revels in the exploitative use of undeserved levels of profanity and violence which comes across much too jarring and distracting throughout pretty much the entirety of the film. With the back and forth nature of the story much too convoluted for anyone to really care what is actually going on, the film isn’t helped either by Atomic Blonde having arguably the worst plot twists since the stupidity of Now You See Me 2, and whilst Theron makes the most of what she has handed, style alone in the form of costume design and makeup doesn’t form a memorable character, resulting in a heavy heart when realising I forgot the lead character’s name as soon as I exited the foyer, something of which doesn’t normally happen when the film has truly engaged me. Jarring more than enjoyable, Atomic Blonde is mediocrity incarnated and too not the first film to use stairways as the backdrop to a decent fight scene. DAREDEVIL DAMMIT.

Overall Score: 5/10

Film Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

“It’s Our Mission That Doesn’t Make Sense, Sir…”

With French filmmaker Luc Besson not succeeding in making a decent movie since the 1990’s when it comes to directing, the array of fingers which he has managed to stick into a wide range of cinematic pies including The Transporter and Taken series, means that particular film companies still feel the need to finance certain projects which stem from the mind of a man who continues to live off the success of his earlier and much more impressive bodies of work, of which Nikita and Léon still remain the standout features. With his latest release of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets this week, aside from having arguably the most arduous and stupidest film title in recent memory, Besson’s return to science fiction brings with it a relative amount of caution, particularly when the finished product could either be the silly, blockbuster fun of The Fifth Element or the idiotic, laziness of a film such as Lucy, and whilst there is no doubting that Valerian is filled to the rafters with a mountain of issues and quandaries, Besson’s latest is the type of movie which you begin to hate from the outset but then slowly edge through acceptance, excitement and enjoyment as the film reaches its’ long-awaited conclusion. Valerian is stupid, nonsensical and completely bonkers, but boy, I didn’t half enjoy it.

Although the screenplay is primarily based upon the French science fiction comic series, Valérian and Laureline, there is no doubting the visual splendour of the film takes cues from a wide variety of movies from fantasy cinematic history, and whilst it comes across as lazy to simply paint Valerian as a Star Wars rip-off, the sandy plains of the opening act and the introduction of characters that so clearly resemble famous faces from a galaxy far, far away is strikingly undeniable, even when the film effectively manages to be designed in such a superbly crafted fashion it’s impossible to not applaud the creative process behind it. With the visuals so flashy and impressively detailed, the cheddar-cheese dialogue and questionable acting does manage to be somewhat overlooked, even when Cara Delevingne manages to act almost everyone off the screen including leading co-star Dane DeHaan whose montone affinity results in him coming across as a next-generation Keanu Reeves cast-off, and with a narrative as bonkers and fundamentally confusing as the one at the centre of it, Valerian is that rare case of a movie being so wrong it’s right, and whilst I may be in the minority when the dust eventually settles, Besson’s latest isn’t a masterpiece by any measure, it’s just ridiculous, braindead fun.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: The Emoji Movie

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

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

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

Overall Score: 2/10

Film Review: The Big Sick

“Can You Imagine A World In Which We End Up Together…?”

Of the many cinematic releases within the Judd Apatow staple, there really isn’t many which I could regard as down and out, truly effective comedies, due in part to my tin-eared response to most examples of American-laden comedies, including the likes of Anchorman and Trainwreck, films which may have garnered an array of positive responses from many on release, but to me, just didn’t work on any level from which I can regard as comedic gold. With the release of The Big Sick however, a loose adaptation of the true-life events of leading star Kumail Nanjiani and co-writer Emily V. Gordon, such a film delightfully breaks the mould of mediocrity, taking a humane and totally believable leading narrative and having the extra boost of a perfectly formed cast to reinforce it and create a consistently funny drama which ranks up there with the best comedy films to be released in recent memory, whilst simultaneously proving that with a decent script and filmmakers who understand the effect of comedic timing, not all American comedies can be utter trash.

Although The Big Sick adheres to the boy-meets-girl formula of practically every romantic comedy since the dawn of time, the added depths given to the relationship between leading couple Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan, with the former’s religious traditions and the latter’s narrative hanging medical issues the stand-out elements of the story, forms a charming bond between the two in which the audience only wants to see flourish and prosper come the end of the drama, and with added support from the likes of Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, the movie manages to succeed on all fronts as both a romantic drama and a rib-tingling comedy. At the core of the real reason on why the movie really works, is the dedication to the believability of the players involved and each of their separate trials and tribulations, and whilst recent supposed comedies such as Snatched and The House believe comedy is warranted through vulgarity and petulant, adolescent nonsense, thank the baby Jesus for a movie like The Big Sick, a overtly impressive comedy which undoubtedly belongs up there with the best comedies to travel overseas in flippin’ years.

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: Dunkirk

“There’s No Hiding From This Son, We Have A Job To Do…”

The release of a new Christopher Nolan movie is always the time for utmost rejoice, a filmmaker who fundamentally adores the classic ways and means of cinema, and more impressively, a director who, like a modern incarnation of Steven Spielberg, is a guaranteed win for both box office and critical success, something of which each and every one of his films have achieved since his early work all the way back in 2000 with Memento. After the brilliance of Interstellar, a film which although may have been slightly divisive with critics, undoubtedly remains up there with the best work Nolan has offered up so far in terms of spectacle, the London-born filmmaker returns this week with Dunkirk, a live-action blockbuster focusing on the infamous titular evacuation which took place during the early stages of the Second World War and a movie which holds extra levels of kudos for being filmed in the heart of my very own hometown in sunny, sunny Dorset. Whilst you can expect nothing less than a movie with many different levels of wonder from a director such as Nolan, Dunkirk still manages to exceed the already vertigo-esque levels of anticipation which preceded it, and to put the experience of watching Dunkirk into words is a staggering undertaking in itself but what Nolan has ultimately accomplished can only be regarded as a masterpiece of spectacle, sound and sumptuous levels of tension, resulting in the best film to be released so far this year.

Avoiding completely the notion of a stereotypical, singular, character-driven wartime epic in the vein of Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan and Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, Nolan’s determined decision to focus on the triage of land, sea and air narrative threads means that although we are in the company of many different characters throughout each of them, their really isn’t time to discover backstory for any of the respective characters before the real power of the movie starts to come to fruition. From the first opening shot, screeching bullets and the tick-tock of Hans Zimmer’s unbelievably stunning soundtrack grip you in a contortion of spellbinding unrelenting tension, with the face of Fionn Whitehead’s youth-inflicted Tommy at the heart and centre of peril for most, if not all, of the time you share his particular journey of death and destruction, all caused by the unseen entity of the enemy soldier. Whilst Zimmer is renowned for being the brains behind classic musical soundtracks of the past, Dunkirk is undeniably up there with his best work to date, using Nolan’s own personal fob-watch at the heart of the metronome-esque piece of music which fuels the rising anxiety which encompasses the main thrust of the narrative, and by utilising his work hand in hand with the simply stupendous sound design, Dunkirk is the type of movie which is crying out to only be watched on the biggest screen possible in order to truly experience the craft at the heart of it.

With the film’s cinematography being left in the hands of Hoyte van Hoytema, whose previous works includes Her, Spectre and Nolan’s own science fiction epic, Interstellar, it comes as no surprise that Dunkirk is absolutely beautiful to behold, and although the particular screening in which I was in was the normalised digital approach to projection, if you are lucky enough to get the chance to witness Dunkirk in IMAX 35mm or 70mm, take it, with scenes of tantalising air to air battles and sweeping camera shots of soldier infested beaches showcasing an artist at the top of his respective game. Whilst pretenders such as the likes of Michael Bay believe the best use of IMAX cameras is to showcase how endless amounts of pointless explosions look within the format, thank god for the likes of Christopher Nolan, a filmmaker who is grounded completely in the epic grittiness of practicality and more importantly, a director who believes wholeheartedly in the importance of film. Dunkirk isn’t simply just a movie, it is a masterstroke of spectacle and a work of artistic tendency, and a film which not only results in the best blockbuster of the year and perhaps, even the past decade, but is the finest of examples of why cinema is so darn integral and important to those who truly love to witness a filmmaker at the peak of his powers. Nolan is just that, and in spades.

Overall Score: 10/10

Catch-Up Film Review: Raw

“Your Mum Was Tough At First. And Then We Had Our First Kiss, And I Understood…”

Whilst not the most delightful of subject matters, the notion of cannibalism has been rife within horror cinema ever since the exploitation days of the mid-to-late 20th century when films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust highlighted the cinematic pleasure of watching controversial subject matter erupt on the big screen and blow raspberries at many who believed such stories simply could not be classed as any form of legitimate entertainment. Whilst the days of video nasties have thankfully been and gone, the idea of cannibalism still remains to this day, and with the release of Raw, a French-Belgian production directed by Julia Ducournau, cannibalism has never been presented so ripe or ridiculously enjoyable, with the movie blending seamlessly elements of comedy, romance and shock-tastic body horror, culminating in an experience which is not only effective in its’ sheer willingness to exploit the squeamish nature of its’ audience but one which lives long in the memory or quite possibly, your nightmares.

Dropped off by her parents in order to start her education at veterinary school, dedicated vegetarian, Justine (Garance Marillier) is swiftly integrated into the dedicated rituals of the school’s “elders”, of which her sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf) is already an integral part of. After being forced to surrender her will and consume a raw rabbit kidney as part of the school’s initiation, Justine begins to experience a dramatic change in both body and mind, resulting in a realisation regarding not only herself but others around her. Whilst the shock-tactic set pieces within the movie are the elements which are bound to either disgust or delight the movie’s audience, the underlying black comedy within the both the narrative and direction place Raw in completely its’ own category, and whilst the film obviously owes a debt to the jet-black seriousness of We Are What We Are and its’ subsequent American remake, traits of the likes of The Neon Demon, Let the Right One In and even Black Swan are all visible in the movie’s genetic makeup even when it is undoubtedly an original release in its’ own right.

In the leading role, Garance Marillier is absolutely superb in attempting to portray a conflicted youth struggling to contain her inevitable and violent change, and with the aid of some juicy and flawless practical effects and brilliant sound design, particular set pieces including a nightmarish desire for scratching and a shaving incident gone terribly wrong, are as wonderful in their sheer execution as they are joyously terrible to observe. Not for a long time has a film been so outlandish in its’ sense of exploitation greatness that I have resorted to covering my eyes in fear of scaring my mind and although some may even regard such sequences as overtly stupid and seemingly searching for the cheapest of thrills, my response to such was one of utmost bliss even when admiring it through partially closed fingers. If exploitation horror is simply what you want from a particular movie, Raw is a much bigger and better beast than simply just that, and when contemplating the likes of The Handmaiden and Elle, Ducournau’s big-screen debut continues to prove that foreign language exploits are sometimes leagues above the likes of their English-speaking counterparts, particularly when it comes to horror.

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: David Lynch: The Art Life

“David, I Don’t Think You Should Ever Have Children…”

Eraserhead. Blue Velvet. Twin Peaks. Mulholland Drive. Inland Empire. There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that the one and only David Lynch is hands down my personal favourite filmmaker of all time, a man who knows no boundaries when it comes to the creation of cinema and a director who continues to baffle, amaze and wonder even to this day, with the return of Twin Peaks currently gracing our screens and being as surreal and beautifully constructed as ever. With that in mind, the chance to see David Lynch: The Art Life can only be classed as a “no-brainer”, a documentary constructed by the triage of Neergaard-Holm, Barnes and Nguyen, and a film which documents impressively the early stages of Lynch’s life, beginning with his upbringing in the Western state of Montana through to his breakthrough love of artistic freedom and concluding just before the release of the surrealist 1977 classic Eraserhead. 

Narrated completely by Lynch himself, The Art Life combines an awfully extravagant array of elements in order to gather an effective understanding of what it was like to be a young, doe-eyed, expressive Lynch, highlighting the extraordinary and wholly eclectic catalogue of Lynch’s penchant for surrealist art and and adding context to its’ foundations by channelling stories which seem to have crafted the entire back catalogue of Lynch’s propulsion onto cinema. Whether it be a tale of a clucking, mentally ill woman on his street or the first sight of natural, naked beauty, Lynch’s fundamental and wholly natural ability as a storyteller is really what makes the alluring appeal of his presence so impressive and when up against the challenge of holding the camera on just himself for ninety minutes, Lynch inevitably manages to pull it off. Whilst the film does lull in places, with the normality of Lynch’s life never really holding its own when contrasted with the nightmarish images that haunt particular scenes of the documentary, The Art Life is an interesting portrayal of one man’s quest onto cinema and whilst Lynch himself is never going to be for everyone, the documentary is clearly made for those who truly adore him. Myself included.

Overall Score: 7/10