“Hashtag: I Am Ingrid…”
In a week in which every single cinema in the county has been asked to cram its’ screens with the toxic waste of Justice League, thank the heavens for a film in the ilk of Ingrid Goes West, an interesting, blackly comic contemporary stalker drama with a cracking lead performance from Legion star, Aubrey Plaza as the titular social media obsessed Ingrid Thorburn. Directed and written by big time debutant Matt Spicer, the movie depicts an Instagram fixated dreamer who relocates to Los Angeles after the death of her mother in order to seek out Elizabeth Olsen’s social media star, Taylor Sloane and become part of her excessively independent lifestyle which she shares with Wyatt Russell’s hipster husband, Ezra. Beginning with an opening act which straight away highlights the aggressive nature of Ingrid’s obsession and to what end she may go to in order to combat her rage and discomfort at being isolated in a world riddled with people’s wishes to be noticed, Ingrid Goes West goes on to explore the contemporary issue of social media excess and the notion of a life based solely around the viewing of society through a small shiny screen.
With Black Mirror vibes aplenty and the likes of Single White Female a sure inspiration, with a name drop in the narrative necessary to cement such, Spicer’s sure footed direction allows the movie’s key players to bring all round top notch performances, from O’Shea Jackson Jr’s Batman obsessed screenwriter to Billy Magnussen’s hateful steroid fueled junkie, all of whom acting as catnip for Plaza’s character’s downfall into complete and utter obsession with a character who is the epitome of everything wrong with society’s quest for avocado on toast and early twentieth century sociological literature. Whilst Spicer’s movie does involve elements of jet-black comedy and ironic societal comments, most of Ingrid Goes West’s healthy ninety minute runtime is played particularly straight faced, accumulating in a concluding act which although is admiral in what it’s attempting to say, doesn’t exactly pay off, but with a brilliantly kooky and unpredictable leading performance from Audrey Plaza, Ingrid Goes West is a highly enjoyable ideas laden social drama which reminds that you don’t always need a big budget to win an audience around.
Overall Score: 7/10
“These Animals Took Everything From Us…”
Forged around a screenplay devised by the talented minds of Joel and Ethan Coen, who for less aware cinephiles like myself have previous writing and directorial credits on films including Fargo, The Big Lebowski and No Country for Old Men, Suburbicon, the latest directorial release from George Clooney, on paper, is the type of all star release which almost seems too big to fail, with the likes of Matt Damon, Julianne Moore and Oscar Isaac all arriving to the heed of Mr. Clooney’s wishes, and whilst Clooney’s directorial career hasn’t exactly matched the worldwide success of his acting back catalogue, Suburbicon has without doubt all the right ingredients to allow the American to finally earn credence as a director in his own right. With the off-kilter zaniness and black comedic ripeness of the Coen’s writings evident throughout and some committed performances from the film’s leads, Clooney’s latest is a mixed bag of a movie, one which channels previous Coen scripts to an almost uncanny degree but more interestingly, a movie which suffers from a dwindling sense of having too much to say without ever having any real sense of substance or depth to pull it off.
Set in the heart of the titular, fictional white-picket fenced, idyllic neighbourhood of Suburbicon, Clooney’s movie focuses on the Fargo-esque narrative of Matt Damon’s Gardner Lodge and the events surrounding him regarding the death of his wife, his suspicious son and the presence of his dead wife’s twin sister, Julianne Moore’s Margaret. Pulling on notions which lightly touch on themes of racism, class wars and the American dream, Clooney’s movie is almost an idiot’s guide to the workings of the Coen brothers, utilising the murderous, black hole comedy of their best work but primarily evoking Fargo and its’ brilliant television spin-off series, and whilst there are interesting ideas at work within the movie, the handling of the transition from paper to screen seems to have been somewhat lost in translation, with the movie not really sure whether it wants to focus on societal commentary or a straight forward shocker comedy, resulting in a jarring collection of scenes which don’t entirely work, primarily a plot thread regarding a racist coo after the all-white population of the area is threatened by the arrival of an African-American family. With that in mind, when the movie does focus on the underlying narrative of betrayal and murder and the interactions between Damon, Moore, Jupe and the drastically underused Oscar Isaac, Suburbicon is enjoyable, but for a movie with this many superstars, Clooney’s movie is the type where much more should have been expected.
Overall Score: 6/10
“I’m Putting Together A Team Of People With Special Abilities. I Believe Enemies Are Coming…”
Whilst it may seem that we are now in a world where every month bears witness to oh yet another superhero blockbuster, with Thor: Ragnarok still making significant moves at the box office, the release of Justice League is a particularly interesting beast. With the DC Universe already significantly tarnished to say the least thanks to the likes of Suicide Squad and Batman V. Superman, the release of Wonder Woman earlier this year proved that the series was somewhat heading in the right direction, and whilst the DC universe seems to always be playing catchup to Marvel’s respective ongoing movie franchise, Justice League seems to be the real kicker in deciding the future success of the series as was The Avengers for Marvel, a film whose successes led the chance to delve deeper into the more subversive characters within Marvel’s respective comic history. Helmed once again by long-term DC collaborator, Zack Snyder and overseen for completion by the steady hand of Marvel aficionado, Joss Whedon, Justice League forges together characters both old and new in a popcorn laced team-up tackling the threat of Ciarán Hinds’ Steppenwolf, and whilst one would have hoped the latest addition to DCEU would follow the success of Patty Jenkins’ work on Wonder Woman, Justice League is an unfortunate giant explosive leap in the wrong direction, one which seems to not have learnt at all from the failings of its’ predecessors and that alone makes Snyder’s latest an agonisingly painful botch-job experience of the highest order.
With Superman gone and the world in mourning, Ben Affleck’s grizzy Bruce Wayne seeks to bring together a team of highly skilled superheroes in a bid to defeat the threat of the wholly uninteresting and lifeless Steppenwolf, who like every CGI-based villain in cinematic history, seeks to bring Earth under his apocalyptic control. Adding to the eclectic cast of characters therefore, Justice League brings Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa and Ray Fisher into the fold as The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg respectively, and whilst it is cheap and easy to compare the DCEU with the MCU everytime either has a new release, Justice League fails on a fundamental level of not having even the slightest of backstory for any of its’ leading characters before mangling them all together, resulting in a complete absence of empathy or willingness for them to succeed in their battle against evil. This of course is down primarily to the heavy handed approach of Warner Bros’ willingness to spurt out the next release as quickly as possible and completely disregard the Marvel approach of taking adequate time in developing its’ leading stars before mixing them into the bigger picture with Justice League just the icing on the cake for a universe which, aside from Wonder Woman, will be tarnished with a reputation of being the laziest big budget franchise in the history of cinema. Harsh you say? Not at all, with Justice League the type of movie which makes Suicide Squad look like The Dark Knight, with obvious weaknesses presenting them all over the place ranging from a non-existent storyline to cringe-laden chemistry between the titular team of indestructible heroes who come together simply for reasons of monetary incentives.
With a villain in the form of the poorly digitally designed Steppenwolf, a character who ironically does somewhat improve on the blood curdling awfulness of Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, Justice League’s main antagonist is the epitome of the film’s issues, with heavy plot exposition acting as the character’s only limited development for a villain who too often resorts to Viking-esque growling and cliched fight scenes to come across as anything other as sleep-inducingly dull, and for a character who seems to strike fear into the heart of many of the film’s heroic protagonists, it comes at no surprise that Snyder has once again forged a wholly forgettable leading threat which at not one point manages to match the scale of even the most camp carnival esque qualities of DC’s wacky TV show, Gotham. With too many characters and not enough script for anyone to expand out of their 2D, cardboard box cutout performances, Justice League ultimately wastes its’ extensively impressive cast, with the likes of J.K. Simmons, Jeremy Irons and the outstanding qualities of Amy Adams simply being resorted to window dressing in favour of the likes of Ray Fisher and the inevitable return of Henry Cavill who are simply not good enough in their respective superhero roles. Justice League is seethingly awful, and for a movie which features the worldwide branding of Batman and Wonder Woman, Snyder’s movie is a farce of the highest order and one which laughs in the face of its’ fans by utilising beloved characters simply for reasons of box office projections, and with not enough redeemable aspects in sight, Justice League is the movie which I would think puts the DCEU finally to bed. Thank god for Patty Jenkins.
Overall Score: 2/10
“No Matter What You Hear Or What’s Going On, Stay Together…”
Directed by American filmmaker Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy, Oblivion), Only the Brave tells the dramatic and heartbreaking tale of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite team of firefighters who in their attempts in thwarting the Yarnell Hill Fire in June of 2013 became American heroes and the subject of Sean Flynn’s GQ article “No Exit” of which Kosinski’s movie is based upon, and whilst the American’s previous forays into the world of science fiction cinema have been somewhat laboured, the same cannot be said for his ability in the genre of biographical dramas, with Only the Brave being a slow-burning, character-driven tale of heroism and bravery which follows in the footsteps of Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day by being effectively crafted without ever falling into the realms of schmaltziness or cliche. Working with an ensemble cast which includes a reunion with Jeff Bridges and the likes of Josh Brolin and Miles Teller, Kosinski uses the ultimate conclusion of the tale to full emotive effect by using the bulk of the movie to develop meaningful relationships and characteristics, ranging from Miles Teller’s Brendan’s evolution from junkie to father to Josh Brolin’s “Supe” who uses the thrill of his occupation to fill the gap left behind by a previous illegal pastime.
Whilst the movie does suffer slightly from being twenty minutes too long and sometimes not using the likes of Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Connelly to full effect considering their pedigree as actors, Only the Brave chooses instead to focus primarily on Josh Brolin and Miles Teller’s characters, particularly in regards to their respective personal issues and familial ties, and whilst this sometimes leaves other members of the team to come across as simply window dressing, the performances of both hold the key to the film’s successes, with the contrasting final arc of their tale bringing the previous development together to a nicely cropped end which will leave even the most thick skinned audiences gasping with a sense of awe and shock, particularly in one of the film’s final shots when we see our heroes’ family members waiting together in a staggering state of uncertainty. Mixed together with a soundtrack which ticks all the boxes in terms of greatness, with the likes of Pearl Jam, AC/DC and Metallica all making a welcome appearance, Kosinski’s movie manages to be both an excellent homage to the true heroes of the tale and a menacing thrill ride at the same time and with central performances at the top of their game, Only the Brave is an excellent piece of biographical cinema.
Overall Score: 8/10
“Paddington Wouldn’t Hesitate If Any Of Us Needed Help! He Looks For The Good In All Of Us…”
Amidst talk of political scandals, sexual harassment allegations and the threat of nuclear armageddon, what an absolutely fantastic and necessary time it seems for the release of Paddington 2, Paul King’s live-action sequel to the runaway success of the titular Peruvian bear’s first real big screen appearance back in 2014, a film which not only put the marmalade loving charmer back into the hearts of millions, but reminded that when done well, the reinvention of a classic, culturally important character can lead to successes for both filmmaker and its’ respective audience. With the inevitable sequel upon us therefore, Paddington 2 reunites the bulk of the original movie’s cast with the added inclusion of acting heavyweights Hugh Grant and Brendan Gleeson, and whilst sequels rarely surpass the brilliance of their predecessor, King’s return is an undeniable heartwarming delight from beginning to end, utilising Paddington’s fundamental characteristics of kind-willed ignorance to great comedic effect, alongside a note perfect ensemble cast who seem to be having as much fun as the rest of the audience within a movie which perfectly caters to younglings and adults alike. Anyone for marmalade?
With Paddington well and truly moulded into the lives of the Brown family, his attempts to raise money for an exquisitely designed pop-up book for Aunt Lucy is thwarted when the item is stolen and Paddington blamed, resulting in the Peruvian settler quickly incarcerated alongside the menacing figure Brendan Gleeson’s Knuckles McGinty. With a plan on the outside from the Brown family to locate the real culprit, with Hugh Grant’s narcissistic Phoenix Buchanan being the top target, Paddington has to use all his charm and unwavering loyalty to escape prison and clear his name. With comedic elements which seem to have been directly influenced from the likes of Monty Python and the movies of Wes Anderson, with the prison sequences almost uncannily referencing The Grand Budapest Hotel, and emotive, beautiful set pieces including an early journey through a pop-up view of London and a concluding reunion which is bound to make even the sternest of audiences reach for the tissues, King’s movie not only continues the brilliance of the original but dramatically improves upon it, with the casting of both Gleeson and Grant a major factor in its’ many successes, and in a time when uncertainty and ambiguity is rife within the real world, Paddington 2 is a family-friendly work of escapism which everyone could do with a slice of.
Overall Score: 8/10
“We’re Gonna Put The Ass Back In Christmas..!”
Although American based comedies tend more than most to fall on the side of face-palm induced awfulness, with the likes of The House, CHiPs and the horror of Table 19 from this year alone proving such a genre is rife with utter, utter trash, last year’s Bad Moms was a release of which I personally was pleasantly surprised by, a movie which although suffered from a dwindling lack of originality, featured enough charming characters and sharp one-liners to pass off as one of the better comedies to come from the US of A, particularly in the past few years or so. Whilst the success of the original by no means meant that a sequel was warranted, as per the norm of every single reasonably well received movie in Hollywood nowadays, here we are with A Bad Moms Christmas, a movie which takes the formula of its’ predecessor and mixes in the saccharin filled notion of everyone’s favourite holiday, a seasonal delight which either leads to cinematic classics such as It’s A Wonderful Life or vomit-inducing crap such as Jack Frost. Eugh. Whilst it is no surprise that A Bad Moms Christmas is nowhere near the passable fun of its’ predecessor, with the guilty pleasure appeal of the first movie somewhat absent a second time around, there is still enough smart gags and overripe new characters to allow the sequel to warrant its’ existence. Sort of.
With Christmas around the corner and the unexpected arrival of their respective parents on the cards, the leading trio of the original return once again to “take back Christmas” in a manner which begins by bearing huge similarities to its’ predecessor with excess drinking, low-level criminality and drunk dancing with Santa, one which subsequently flows into a Meet the Parents type comedy which focuses on each of our leading ladies’ troublesome mother figures. With Mila Kunis once again having enough charming eloquence to take control of the main bulk of the film and Kathryn Hahn’s Carla always guaranteed to make the most cynical of audiences giggle in places, A Bad Moms Christmas undeniably belongs to the domineering presence of Christine Baranski as Ruth Mitchell, a maternal devil figure who is both bitchy and comedic in equal measure with Baranski’s performance being one of the main reasons why the sequel does indeed work on some level. With the gross factor turned up however and the annoying overuse of obscenity rife from beginning to end, A Bad Moms Christmas is not exactly the sequel to carry on the successes of the first but for ninety odd minutes, it passes the time rather harmlessly.
Overall Score: 5/10
“My Name Is Hercule Poirot And I am Probably The Greatest Detective In The World…”
Helmed by the steady of hand of theatre and screen aficionado, Kenneth Branagh, the latest adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express comes eighty three years after the source material was first published and forty three years after the first cinematic venture of such a story, one directed by Sidney Lumet and featured an extensively impressive cast which included the likes of Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman and the post-Bond presence of Sean Connery. Returning to the big screen once again with a similarly majestic group of actors, Branagh’s take on arguably Christie’s most iconic story is one which cranks up the absurdity in a manner which takes on board Darren Aronofsky’s adaptation of Noah, whilst being a film which too enjoys basking in the nostalgia factor of its’ early twentieth century setting, and whilst there is undeniable charm and enjoyment at the heart of Branagh’s project, the real lack of freshness and a wavering narrative hook results in the latest Murder on the Orient Express being just good enough to warrant another punt at the famous source material.
Whilst it seems everyone and their dog is aware of the story at the heart of Christie’s novel, Branagh’s movie utilises Blade Runner 2049 and Logan screenwriter Michael Green’s script to introduce a few minor character differences and narrative swings, of which some directly link back to the Sidney Lumet version of the story and some which are wholly original, with my personal favourite being a karate loving Count Andrenyi who is introduced with a simply baffling scene of him roundhousing a fellow passenger before boarding the titular medium of travel. With the added use of CGI to enhance the titular locomotive’s unplanned halt on the snow-filled tracks and some effectively crafted flashback scenes which both improve on the Lumet version and make things simple for even the most wavering audience mind, Branagh’s first attempt at a big-screen Christie tale passes the time rather harmfully, with the director’s portrayal of Belgium’s most famous export being a charming and suave interpretation, and with an concluding act which sets out a possible future franchise, Murder on the Orient Express is best served with a bourbon biscuit and a nice cup of Earl Grey. Put the kettle on love.
Overall Score: 6/10
“I’m Sorry To Differ With You Sir, But You Are The Caretaker. You’ve Always Been The Caretaker…”
In a year where the works of Stephen King have seemed to have taken siege upon both the big screen and the small, the re-release of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining ironically seeks out to remind how much the horror masterpiece differs from its’ ghostly source material, and whilst King himself has famously distanced himself from the 1980 classic on a moral level, the haunting ambiguity and off-kilter tonal essence of Kubrick’s classic once again reminds why such a movie is always part of the conversation when discussing the greatest and most influential horror movies of all time. Published in January of 1977, King’s third novel quickly followed the breakout successes of Carrie and Salem’s Lot, and whilst the story on the surface primarily focuses on the horrors of the Overlook Hotel and the toll it takes on the Torrance family, the underlying notions of alcoholism and regret mirrored the struggles of the novel’s own during that period of time, resulting in The Shining being arguably King’s most personal work up to that date, creating an understandable air of indifference from King to a movie released only three years later which decided to focus primarily on the supernatural elements of the novel rather than the subplots regarding familial tensions and the conflicted leading character of Jack Torrance to a larger extent portrayed on film. Thankfully for Kubrick, his version of The Shining is arguably more terrifying than one could have envisioned when adapting King’s story from page to screen, thanks primarily to a typically maddened performance from Jack Nicholson whose portrayal of the writer’s block inflicted father will arguably go down as his most iconic and memorable role within a career which goes down with arguably one of the greatest ever.
Whilst the casting of Nicholson seemed to many at the time to be one of ease over exploration, with Nicholson’s Oscar winning performance as Randle McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest already showcasing Nicholson’s penchant for portraying the slightly insane, the guidance of Kubrick as the film’s master of puppets resulted in a live-action Jack Torrance which seeped with uncertainty and ferocious ingrained rage from beginning to end. With Shelley Duvall as the repressed, doe-eyed Wendy Torrance on Nicholson’s arm and the youthful appearance of Danny Lloyd as son, Danny, a child afflicted with the titular mysterious power as coined by Scatman Crothers’ Dick O’Halloran, Kubrick’s take on the already well established horror genre is arguably his most auteurist within a filmography which puts most recent filmmakers to shame, and whilst the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Dr Strangelove proved the widening spectrum of Kubrick’s work, his OCD-esque tendency for frame-by-frame perfection and famously subverted workings of actors, sets and camera usage is no more apparent than in The Shining, a film, which not unlike the book, has a surface narrative regarding one man’s descent into darkness but underneath is filled with famously hidden notions which ranged from everything from Kubrick’s stance on the moon landing to a comment regarding the massacring of native American indians.
Of course, the discussion regarding the hidden elements of Kubrick’s masterpiece is not exactly hot topic for most, and when reviewing the movie on just cinematic grounds, The Shining is near flawless, a ice-cold spook-a-thon which although was aware of previous examples of the genre such as The Haunting and more obviously, The Amytiville Horror, broke new ground in its’ ghostly balance between psychological horror and flat out slasher, one which is all helmed together by the performance of Nicholson and arguably the most impressive batch of iconic set pieces to ever grace the genre of horror. Whether it be Danny’s meeting with the mysterious visitor in Room 237, the image of two deceased twins or of course, the legendary, improvised line of “here’s Johnny”, The Shining is a rare case of a movie which although is a shadow of the source material of which I am undoubtedly a huge fan, is undoubtedly a masterwork in its’ own way, and with the chance to see Kubrick’s movie on the big screen for the very first time this week, such an opportunity is one which film fans in general cannot pass by.
Overall Score: 10/10
“Now The Games Are Simple. Best Ones Are. You Want Mercy? Play By The Rules…”
It’s Halloween guys, and the return of the sadistic rampaging murderer with a moral compass known as Jigsaw returns after a few years hiatus, and whilst the Saw movies were the epitome of a series which died a slow and painful death after every subsequent release following the undeniably impressive first film directed by James Wan and released all the way back in 2004, it seems the audience’s thirst for blood continues to be a factor in the return of such an undying horror franchise. Continuing with Jigsaw therefore, Predestination directors, The Spierig Brothers, take the helm of an entry which although is still retrograde in terms of its’ complete lack of originality, minimal levels of substance and a penchant for leary comments regarding the movie’s leading female characters, is undeniably not exactly the worst Saw sequel to embrace the big screen, and with the inclusion of a major franchise character and some rather gooey death scenes which encompass the exploitation goodness of the series, Jigsaw is passable in the sense that it really isn’t worth remembering after you evacuate from its’ relatively harmless ninety minute runtime.
Featuring a brand new handful of relatively pointless cannon fodder to act as instruments of subverted play for our titular serial killer, Jigsaw spins its’ narrative round and round in a sickening twisting motion, one which seems dead keen on keeping the audience guessing in regards to what truly is happening and who is really behind such elaborate, murderous schemes, and whilst the depth or shock value of previous entries make the latest entry pretty pointless on the face of it, the inclusion of Tobin Bell is always a pretty remarkable bonus, whilst the concluding twist was extravagant enough to overcome the gaping plot holes, resulting in a sensation which allows you to just ride with it, culminating in a final death scene which reminds everyone just how stupidly fun the franchise can be when not taking itself too seriously. With the sounds of hysterical screeching becoming unbearable at times however and the rather silly, B-movie budget holding it narrowly together, Jigsaw is complete trash, just not trash that has been as harmless as similar movies which have preceded it in the past.
Overall Score: 4/10
“No One’s Ever Believed It’s Possible To Live As You Do…”
Whilst Andy Serkis is the type of Hollywood star who can rarely do wrong in my own humble and completely correct opinion, his directorial debut in the form of Breathe puts aside the man we have come to know and love as Gollum, Caesar and that one armed chap from the MCU with a movie which is as far away from mystical beings and superhuman heroes as one could possibly get, with Serkis’ debut focusing on the true story of Robin and Diana Cavendish and their lifelong battle with the former’s fight with permanent paralysis after being stricken with polio. Whilst the film features a likeable leading duo in the form of Andrew Garfield and The Crown star, Claire Foy, Breathe is unfortunately a hard task of a movie, one which takes both too long to begin and an eternity to end in the space of a two hour runtime which utilises a narrative which really doesn’t have enough to say at all in order to keep its’ audience entertained throughout, and whilst there is real heart at the centre of the film’s production, Serkis’s movie is the type of movie which more often begins to grind the mind rather than warming the heart.
With an opening title which not only sets the pacing for the movie but evoked the workings of classic movies in a similar ilk to Sofia Coppola’s beautifully crafted title card in The Beguiled earlier this year, Breathe begins by handing the audience the movie’s leading relationship pretty quickly but without any real meaningful sense of substance, a decision which becomes much stranger as the film heads into a final act which easily could have been condensed into losing at least twenty minutes, twenty minutes which instead could have been spent on an opening act which focused more on the development of the meeting between Robin and Diana rather than just passing it off and expecting the audience to generate empathy from out of completely nowhere. Because of this decision, the opening act ultimately feels rushed whilst the concluding act features more endings than The Return of the King, and whilst I can enjoy saccharin sweetness when done effectively, Breathe is the type of movie which feels it necessary to flog the sympathy doll as much as possible without any of it really working. Sorry Mr. Serkis, we’re off to a rocky start.