“Everything You See In Here Is Either Haunted, Cursed, Or Has Been Used In Some Kind Of Ritualistic Practice. Nothing’s A Toy…”
Following on from the most anti-horror horror movie of the year so far in the form of the excellent and magnificently barmy, Midsommar, your local cinema screen this week is once again reunited with the more mainstream, financially friendly sight of the Conjuring universe, with everyone’s favourite and overtly nightmarishly designed porcelain doll gracing the big screen once again just in time for the summer holidays. With the tangential Annabelle series beginning particularly sloppy and then improving rather nicely for 2017’s nicely worked, Annabelle: Creation, the financial success of both ultimately results in yet another very familiar threequel in the form of Annabelle Comes Home, the seventh installment in Warner Bros’ horror series banker which sees returning screenwriter, Gary Dauberman, bumped up to directorial duties in his big screen debut for a movie which is the definition of a very safe pair of cow-poking and slightly creepy, fog covered hands.
Whilst the leading antagonistic figure of “Annabelle” itself is fundamentally creepy on first glance, conveying to the rules of horror by inverting objects which are meant to bring joy and happiness, the sheer amazement that only one, rather unkempt doll has successfully landed a trilogy of spin-off movies is rather impressive in its’ own right, and whilst Creation was the first movie aside from the central Conjuring pictures to really have its’ own voice, Dauberman’s movie does annoyingly take a slight step back, offering less of an enjoyable cliche and more of a semi-talented, copy and pasted template with only minor delights. Of the more positive elements, the cinematography and set design is actually pretty darn neat, with nice inventive set pieces, including one referenced in the movie’s trailer involving a multi-colour night light, offering a certain level of creepiness, something of which can be somewhat lacking from the weakest of the series’ offerings such as The Nun and The Curse of La Llorona, and with yet another standout performance from Mckenna Grace (I, Tonya) in the film’s leading role, Annabelle Comes Home is not exactly the worst horror genre film, it just happens to be one which screams “PLAY IT SAFE.”
Overall Score: 5/10
“It’s Quite The Fairytale You Got Going On Here. From Top Flight Model In Moscow To Rubbing Shoulders With The Elite…”
After successfully managing to hit the grand old age of sixty, French filmmaker, Luc Besson, seems to have become slightly nostalgic in his old age as he returns to the type of feminine-led action flick which made him renowned across the world at the beginning of his career during the early 1990’s. With Besson sort of losing the plot in recent years with the simply awful, Lucy, and the woefully titled, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, a film which begins equally as bad but then grew into some sort of guilty pleasure come the final credits, the Frenchman returns to the subject matter he knows best in the form of Anna, a clear modern-day incarnation of Besson’s own 1990 action piece, Nikita, and a movie which sees the relatively unknown Sasha Luss as the titular beauty who shifts from street-living junkie to globe-trotting deadly assassin within the confines of a screenplay which is as aggravating as it is enjoyably ludicrous.
With a narrative structure which jumps back and forth through different time zones more often than Back to the Future, Besson’s movie does begin in interesting fashion, with the opening hour utilising a particularly glossy sheen of smoke and mirrors as it introduces Luss’ titular leading heroine, a top KGB assassin working under the wing of Helen Mirren’s creaky, nicotine loving Olga, as she works her way through a number of high profile assassinations. As the movie soldiers on in a semi-effective, genre-literate fashion, the introduction of both the dodgy accented Luke Evans and cheekbone enthusiast, Cillian Murphy, as opposing geographical ends of a conflicted love triangle is where the film ultimately shows its’ rather annoying hand, utilising flashback after flashback in order to highlight just how clever Besson thinks he is. On the contrary, such diversions from what should be a generic, B-movie storyline ultimately makes it more aggravating the more it goes on, and even with an abundance of decent, John Wick inspired action set pieces, Anna is at least better than similar movies of recent years including Red Sparrow and Atomic Blonde, but too a movie which lacks that sense of cult-heavy wackiness which the early Besson movies stored in abundance.
Overall Score: 6/10
“It’s Sort Of A Crazy Festival. It Only Happens Every Ninety Years. Special Ceremonies And Drinking And Dressing Up…”
After a variety of thought provoking and acclaimed independent short films, director Ari Aster burst into the spotlight for audiences and critics alike last year thanks to the release of Hereditary, the spine-tingling work of desolate dread which will forever remain as one of the most terrifying experiences I have had to endure within the confines of the cinema during my life so far. As per the remit of any good filmmaker, Aster’s decision to not milk the praised poured upon him for too long results in his swift return in the form of Midsommar, a film of which Aster himself proclaims as his first “true” horror movie after declaring Hereditary nothing more than a “family drama”, albeit the most unhinged and depressing cinematic depiction of such to ever have graced this good earth, and whilst Aster’s latest does indeed obey many of the rules laid down within the confines of such a genre, Midsommar is not your average, or even mainstream, horror flick, a disturbing, surrealist and surprisingly darkly comic folk drama which continues the many thematic qualities used in Aster’s works as it brings to light notions of grief, isolation and of course, ideology and religion, for a two and a half hour marathon of madness which successfully rubber stamps Aster as one of the most masterful and original horror filmmakers working in cinema today.
Firstly, if you head into Midsommar believing that what you are going to get is simply Hereditary volume two, you will undoubtedly walk away highly disappointed, and whilst Aster’s movie begins in familiar fashion as we are introduced to Florence Pugh’s (Fighting With My Family) grieving and emotionally unstable Dani, the opening, dread-filled act is the only slice of downright terror the movie feels obligated to offer. If Hereditary could fall into the category of domesticated drama then Midsommar is essentially a two hour plus break-up movie, one which allows the audience to follow Dani, her absent boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor – Free Fire) and Will Poulter’s Mark to the very sunny, Northern area of Hårga, Sweden in order to take part in area’s midsommar celebrations as requested by Vilhelm Blomgren’s Pelle, who returns to his isolated homeland. Whilst genre fans nowadays are well versed in the way of how films with this kind of set-up ultimately pan out, the familiarities with the likes of Robin Hardy’s 1973 horror classic, The Wicker Man, and to an extent, Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, are easy enough to see, but with an extended runtime and a overarching sense of head tilting madness all the way through, Aster’s latest actually bears more of a raging similarity to Luca Guadagnino’s outstanding remake of Suspiria, particularly in terms of style and pacing, but with Aster also adding a surprising touch of black comedy throughout, Midsommar is a more impressive beast the longer you think about it. Whilst not as damn right horrifying as Hereditary, Aster’s second big screen feature is an impressively un-mainstream genre delight, a superbly written, expertly acted, cult flick with jaw-dropping exploitation violence which leaves you both startled and grinning as you attempt to make sense of how exactly Midsommar should make you feel.
Overall Score: 8/10
“I Don’t Think Tony Would’ve Done What He Did, If He Didn’t Know That You Were Going To Be Here After He Was Gone…”
With Avengers: Endgame managing to tie up a decade’s worth of multi-layered storytelling with enormous success, with the recent re-release clearly a marketing tool to make sure Marvel’s gargantuan epic finally knocks Avatar off the top spot for highest grossing film of all time, the release of Spider-Man: Far From Home this week is arguably one of the first MCU films to carry with it a heavy sense of superhero fatigue, particularly with Endgame still taking up cinema screens across the globe, and one which follows on from the high watermark of what audiences now come to expect from releases within its’ respective cinematic universe. Acting as a sequel to both 2017’s Homecoming and Endgame, Far From Home sees Jon Watts return to direct Tom Holland’s portrayal of the friendly neighbourhood wall crawler for a film which although feels very familiar, is a sweet, thoroughly entertaining and highly comedic chapter in the Marvel universe, a move which sees young Peter Parker attempt to come to terms with the loss of Tony Stark/Iron Man by venturing upon a school trip in which his only goal is to build up the nerve to finally unleash his feelings on the zany MJ. Whilst a road trip without the sight of digitally designed mayhem would have been a bold choice indeed to follow on from Endgame, Far From Home of course features enough web-slinging and superhero goodness to make every MCU fan more than happy, and with such a likeable cast and sharp, clever dialogue, Watts’ movie shows there is still an abundance of life in the old Marvel movie making machine yet.
With an opening act which attempts in a hilarious cliff notes format to present the aftershocks of the events of Endgame, where those not affected by the so called “blip” have of course moved up in years whilst the returned have stayed the same, Far From Home successfully manages to blend the “Spidey” sensibility of Peter Parker attempting to balance the responsibility of a superhero with the wishes of a teenager as seen before in the likes of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, a movie which still remains top of most people’s favourite wall crawling live-action feature, and thanks to a deliciously engaging script, Holland’s performance is a tornado of teenage angst as he is constantly interrupted by Samuel L. Jackson’s returning Nick Fury and co. in order to aid Jake Gyllenhaal’s (Nocturnal Animals) Quentin Beck against the forces of “The Eternals”, even when asking out Zendaya’s (The Greatest Showman) MJ is the most important task in his life. As for Gyllenhaal, the multi-talented cinematic legend does begin somewhat awkward in a role of which an actor of his pedigree tends to avoid, particularly after the non-existent success of Prince of Persia, but as the movie’s central, and somewhat expected for those familiar with the Quentin Beck/Mysterio character, twist finally arrives, the American is allowed to breathe, turning a somewhat ordinary antagonist into one of the more memorable MCU villains, one which taps into previous Gyllenhaal roles, particularly his full-on level of unhinged madness within the superb Nightcrawler. With a runtime slightly too long and a concluding act which is hard to distinguish between other MCU chapter conclusions, Far From Home is an excellent Spider-Man film and a very good MCU story which takes on the heavy task of following on from Endgame and passes with just enough success.
Overall Score: 7/10
“See, We Pay And You Write Songs, And Then You Make A Ton Of Money. And Then We Take Most Of It…”
With Danny Boyle being the subject of a very big hoo-hah after departing the much troubled project which is Bond 25, his latest venture in the form of Yesterday couldn’t be further from a tale about a cold-blooded British spy with a penchant for the ladies. Based around a screenplay from Richard Curtis, the acclaimed writing mind behind stalwart Christmas movies including Love Actually and Notting Hill, Boyle’s latest challenges you to hold back all levels of sanctimonious sniffing and imagine a world in which the iconic voice of The Beatles never existed, a movie which features Himesh Patel (Eastenders) in the lead role of Jack Malik, a passionate and wholly unsuccessful singer-songwriter whose only long-term dedicated fan is his manager and close friend, Ellie, as played by Lily James (Baby Driver). After a worldwide blackout, Jack is the victim of a nasty traffic collision and awakens to discover that neither “The White Album” or “Abbey Road” ever existed, resulting in him deciding to rip off the famous words of Lennon and co. in order to stake a claim of fame for himself.
With a central idea which is in itself slightly ludicrous, Boyle has managed to deal with particularly out-there screenplays throughout his career, whether it be the mind-bendingly confused state of a film like Trance or the more down-to-Earth, family friendly Millions, a film with a central idea which in this political climate seems a million miles away, and with a first act which joyously announces all the lead characters, including Jack’s oblivious parents and Joel Fry’s (Game of Thrones) maniacal roadie, Yesterday begins in interesting and heartwarming fashion, particularly when the first chords of famous Beatles tracks are seemingly heard for the very first time by Jack’s close family and friends. As soon as Ed Sheeran turns up however, the film moves from low-key niceties to schlocky, sentimental nonsense, taking the worst parts of Love Actually and turning them up to eleven as the film evolves into a Beatles inspired love-in with added saccharin sweetness whilst seemingly forgetting the greatness of a first act which in all its’ absurdity still managed to feel real, and with a final curtain which made me nearly gag at the sheer audacity of attempting to make everyone grab the nearest tissue, Boyle’s movie is a messy, violently polished work of tosh which just happens to have a great first act which saves the piece from being a total disaster. Plus, they didn’t even mention the best Beatles song; HELTER SKELTER, COMING DOWN FAST!
Overall Score: 6/10
“At Kaslan We Believe That Happiness Is About More Than Entertainment. It’s About Being Known, Understood, Loved…”
Whilst sniffy critics in the past have balked at the idea of “classic” horror movies being brought back to the big screen in either a spin-off or complete remake capacity, with the most pointless and offensively bad cases come the turn of the century undoubtedly being the likes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and A Nightmare on Elm Street, it’s fair to say that 1988’s Child’s Play is a movie which isn’t exactly held in the same esteem as classic works from the likes of Wes Craven or Tobe Hooper, hence an almost absence of complaint following this week’s release of the similar titled remake/reboot. Directed by Norwegian director, Lars Klevberg, in his big screen directorial debut, Child’s Play couldn’t come at a more ironic time, arriving side-by-side with Disney’s Toy Story 4, yet obviously not the type of film to take your small children, and with a particularly impressive cast including Aubrey Plaza (Ingrid Goes West, Legion) and Tyree Henry (Widows), the latest reincarnation of the kill-crazy toy is actually a rather highly enjoyable, dare I say it, guilty pleasure.
With central idea of Child’s Play essentially being a Goosebumps style, late-night nightmare with R-rated violence, the many sequels which followed the 1988 original didn’t exactly manage to set the world on fire, with the series sort of matching the Puppet Master franchise for baffling levels of endurance, but with a improved financial backing and the likes of Plaza, Henry and of course Mark Hamill (Star Wars) as the voice of Chucky himself added into proceedings, there is no doubting the ambition of the movie to try and break into the mainstream sector once again after falling by the wayside and on straight-to-video. With juicy moments of exploitation violence, a justifiably naff script and enough tonal irregularities to make your head pop, Klevberg’s movie follows on from the likes of Brightburn only recently by being a movie which knows both its’ limitations and weaknesses and plays heavily to both, resulting in having just enough quality to appease hardcore horror fans and lay audience members alike, particularly thanks to the new design of Chucky which manages to tap into contemporary concerns about the growing rate of technology. Hereditary it most definitely is not, but if you’re after cheap, Friday night horror violence, then Child’s Play circa 2019 is indeed the movie for you.
Overall Score: 6/10
“You’re Bonnie’s Toy. You Are Going To Help Create Happy Memories That Will Last For The Rest Of Her Life…”
Come the end of Toy Story 3 back in 2010, it’s fair to say that a huge majority of both film critics and fans alike seemed to all be in universal agreement that the story of Woody and Buzz had been wrapped up rather beautifully, concluding a trilogy of award-winning animation movies which would forever be regarded as Disney Pixar’s very own pièce de résistance and a particular franchise that would never be topped. When the first whispers of a further sequel arose therefore, a wave of pandemonium and panic justifiably surfaced across social media, with the same critics and fans jaw-dropped at the idea that such a beloved trilogy could potentially be tarnished for what seemed to exist for no other reason than that of a quick cash-grab, and whilst many may head into Toy Story 4 carrying a suitcase worth of trepidation, what a huge relief it is to report that Disney Pixar’s latest is a heartwarming, hilarious and sometimes beautiful animated delight, a third sequel which mixes the return of all of the franchise favourite characters with interesting new inclusions alongside a central narrative which although does feel overly familiar for a series spanning twenty years plus, will undoubtedly work for both children and adults alike.
With a different director at the helm once again, Pixar Animation Studios stalwart, Josh Cooley, is gleefully offered the top job, taking the directing mantle away from the likes of John Lasseter and Lee Unkrich, after his work on recent animated works including Inside Out and Up, and with a script from a whole army of screenwriters, including Lasseter himself, Toy Story 4 primarily picks off where its’ predecessor ended, with Woody (Tom Hanks) and co. now being cared for by young Bonnie, the playful daughter of the parents living next door to Woody’s previous owner, Andy, and with Woody now being resigned to a limited amount of playtime, Bonnie soon finds herself a new best friend in the figure of Forky (Tony Hale) a makeshift, DIY hybrid of trash and toy whose lust for freedom results in Woody and the gang attempting to rescue him and bring him back to the loving arms of his creator. With more comedic punches than so-called contemporary comedies, an array of interesting new characters including Keanu Reeves’ (John Wick) Duke Caboom, and simply stunning animation, Toy Story 4 is indeed Disney Pixar at their most charming, and whilst the overall plot does seem slightly run-of-the-mill and franchise built, Cooley’s movie benefits from a tonal sensibility that only the best Disney movies can do, with it the type of movie which within the space of just over ninety minutes makes you smile, laugh and cry all at the same time. Oh, and I loved the massive nod to The Shining.
Overall Score: 7/10
“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
“What You Did To Me, It Never Goes Away…”
With Blumhouse Productions essentially proclaiming themselves as the second reincarnation of Hammer Horror Studios, the likes of the excellent, Get Out, and the financially successful, Happy Death Day, have allowed the company to pretty much make anything they want with a guaranteed box office reward. Enter Ma, a completely barmy, over-the-top stalker horror which takes hints from pretty much every single B-movie ever, one which sees Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water, Instant Family) as the titular mother figure, Sue Ann, a lonely veterinary technician who soon begins a middling friendship with town newcomer, Maggie Thompson, as played by rising star, Diane Silvers,(Booksmart) and her own freshly found group of friends who quickly become attracted to Sue Ann’s willingness to both provide an abundance of alcohol and a safe place to party. Directed by the steady hand of Tate Taylor, a filmmaker who reunites with Spencer after their work together on the Academy Award winning, The Help, Ma is a solid and well made addition into the Blumhouse repertoire which just happens to have a particularly talented actress in the lead role of a genuinely unnerving and creepy genuine psychopath.
Bearing a very similar narrative to that of Greta earlier this year, a stalker movie which too featured a prominent and well regarded actor/actress in the lead role of a movie which was undoubtedly too schlocky and mad for mainstream audiences, Ma basically swaps Isabelle Huppert for Spencer and Chloe Grace Moretz for Silvers whilst adding a slightly more audience-friendly filmic texture. Whilst the movie never really evokes any sense of longing dread or threat to our laddish, alcohol and sex obsessed leading group of rebellious teenages, Ma instead balances nicely the absurdity of its’ narrative with a hefty streak of black comedy as you giggle your way through a ninety minute picture which allows Spencer to not only chew the scenery, but devour it. With the most menacing on-screen haircut since Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men and a personality which mixes Annie Wilkes from Misery with Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Spencer is undoubtedly the star turn within the movie, and with a couple of truly nasty, sadistic and memorable set pieces, Ma is not exactly groundbreaking, but with enough positive elements to make genre fans happy, the latest Blumhouse chapter is cheap, giggle-inducing fun.