“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’ve Faced Many Evil’s In My Life. This One Is Different Though…”
Acting as the latest entry within the ongoing Blumhouse Production line of horror releases, Insidious: The Last Key, the fourth and supposedly final picture within the rather drawn out Insidious franchise, is the first big screen jump-fest to hit multiplexes this year, and whilst there is a lack of consideration, particularly from myself, in regards to why yet another sequel is necessary to a franchise which suffers from a bruising sense of unmemorability, aside from its’ rather creepy first entry back in 2010, The Last Key is a somewhat acceptable, time-passing affair. Directed by horror stalwart Adam Robitel, whose previous releases in the form of The Taking of Deborah Logan and Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension acts as confident evidence for his directorial appointment, The Last Key primarily focuses on Lin Shaye’s psychic ghost hunter, Elise Rainier, as she returns to face the fears of her childhood in order to help Kirk Acevedo’s Ted Garza who calls for aid after experiencing strange hauntings within the house Rainier and her long lost brother grew up in under the watchful eye of their monstrous father.
Suffering in a way which most contemporary horror sequels, prequels and spin-offs ultimately do by feeling just a little bit worse for wear in terms of the freshness of the narrative and overall surprise factor, Robitel’s movie ironically begins in impressive fashion, heading further back in time to explore Rainier’s childhood in order to lay the groundwork for the story ahead, and with two mightily timed jump scares to start off proceedings, The Last Key was in danger of becoming much better than one might have expected. Unfortunately, yet not exactly surprisingly, however, the swift move back to the somewhat present day then brings about the middling return to a horror blueprint which covers everything from screaming dead entities to an overkill sensibility regarding the use of cliched horror tropes, tropes which become tiring as they finalise by simply resorting each and every time to the cattle prod horror cinema audiences seem to lap up. With comedy which doesn’t always work coming from the Chuckle Brothers of horror in the form of Rainier’s bumbling assistants and a concluding reveal which is unsurprising and hokey, The Last Key is pretty much your substandard horror sequel, but for the impressive first ten minutes, a committed performance from Shaye and a sense that finally the series has been put to bed, Robitel’s movie isn’t a classic but it at least works in a audience pleasing kind of fashion which for many, is all that you need.
Overall Score: 5/10
“Hey Santa! Wanna Party…?”
So here it is, Merry Christmas! Everybody’s having fun, look to the future now… Okay, time to stop. The annual season of mass consumerism, wasted mince pies and cheesy red jumpers is upon us and where Christmas follows, so does certain inevitabilities; last ditch shopping, the Doctor Who special and of course, the release of cheesy Christmas movies. Picking up the slack this year is Office Christmas Party, a seasonal comedy which adheres to the blueprint of many before it by squeezing as many famous faces as possible into the mix in the hope that the glowing smile of Jennifer Aniston can take the audience’s attention away from the dire script holding it together. Although not entirely terrible in the backlog of awful comedies, Office Christmas Party is pretty much a 90 minute booze-fest, one which not only has the cringey themes of sexism, toilet humour and general awfulness of party culture films such as Project X and The Hangover, but also adds cheesy, wooden narratives that unfortunately are created to collide with the seasonal nature of the film. Did the film get me ready for Christmas though? No. No. No.
With these types of movies it is strikingly obvious that deep thought and some sort of underlying themes are completely absent, with the main goal of course being that sweet sound of a cash register, and whilst Office Christmas Party isn’t the first movie to abide by these rules, and undoubtedly won’t be the last, you could be forgiven for thinking it might be a complete stinker. The harsh truth however is that Office Christmas Party isn’t even that, it’s just passable fluff, fluff which will bound to suit a certain breed of audience but for me, does nothing at all except wishing I was watching It’s A Wonderful Life instead. After his rather cracking performance in The Gift, it’s a real shame to see Jason Bateman return to easy ground whilst Kate McKinnon attempts to continue her reputation as the kooky linchpin of the movie after her performance in the recent Ghostbusters remake. If this is the type of movie Christmas will continue to offer, I might just hibernate through next years’ annual festivities but at the same time, at least we have Star Wars to look forward to.
Overall Score: 4/10
“It’s Called A Hustle Sweetheart…”
And finally, here we are at last. The showdown between two heavyweights. The greatest battle ever to have graced this crazy world. That’s right guys, it’s Zootropolis against Batman V Superman. Disney against Warner. Bunny against Bat. See what I’m getting at? Good, I’ll stop now. Continuing the riveting success of movies of the animated variety over the course of the past few years or so is Disney’s latest pet project (No pun intended) Zootropolis, a film proud enough to stand toe-to-toe with BvS in hope of snatching that esteemed number one spot in the top ten list come the end of the Easter Holidays. If money doesn’t speak volumes to you however, then the critical concentration of the two films is the thing you may indeed be looking at, with Zootropolis being leagues ahead in terms of overall quality in comparison to the Batman behemoth, with laughs being rife all the way though it’s Chinatown-esque mystery themes and nods to the adult variety which will bound to leave all audiences leaving the cinema with a smile. And a new annoyingly catchy song to hum to.
Leaving the carrot-harvesting life of her surroundings, optimistic young rabbit Judy Hopps enrols within the Police Recruitment program whereby she is reassigned to the vast and sprawling city of Zootropolis after graduating top of her class and having the esteemed reputation of becoming the first rabbit to do so. Although beginning life as a lowly traffic warden, Judy soon becomes unravelled in a kidnapping plot and with the help of fox con-artist Nick Wilde, she attempts to uncover the deep, dark secrets surrounding the cities anthropomorphic lifestyle. Featuring fantastic visuals and a incredible voice cast including the likes of Jason Bateman, Idris Elba and Ginnifer Goodwin as the young Officer Hopps, Zootropolis manages to encapsulate all the things that make animated movies the success that they are, with well-timed jokes cracked left, right and centre whilst the well-designed characters are crafted with more-than-enough detail to keep all the little ones interested and engaged. Although it perhaps doesn’t include the same wonder factor of last years’ brilliant one-two of Inside Out and Song of the Sea, Zootropolis is indeed a brilliant addition to the Disney canon, one in which I could watch again and again and continue to smile. Oh yeah, and that Shakira song is damn catchy.
Overall Score: 8/10
What’s In The Box?
If you are an avid follower of my own personal film reviews on this blog, you may have latched on to the notion that my hatred of Blumhouse Productions stems from the fact that such a company seem to be the physical form of Satan himself in an attempt to not only ridicule and dispose of all the goodness that decent horror films bring, but to destroy them completely, with tosh including the never-ending Paranormal Activity and Insidious series just a few examples of why Blumhouse were on my hit-list of companies to dissolve as soon as possible. What a crossroads I seem to have hit however this year with not only the absolute masterful Whiplash being released under such a company, but now The Gift, a film that so unexpectedly diverts from all the solemn traits of a Blumhouse production that maybe, just maybe, such a company is finally changing for the better, with their latest release being a Hitchcokian feast of chills and thrills from start to finish.
Written, directed, and starring Joel Edgerton, The Gift focuses on married couple Simon (Jason Bateman, Arrested Development) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall, Iron Man 3) who after moving into their luxurious new home in Simon’s hometown of California, begin to receive gifts from newly acquainted friend Gordo (Edgerton) whom Simon knew from school. When the number and type of gifts begin to be questioned, Simon breaks the friendship off, much to the displeasure of Gordo who subsequently sends a letter to their home regarding his hope in letting “bygones be bygones”, much to the confusion of both Robyn and Simon. When Simon seems to be letting off less than he actually knows, Robyn seeks to find the truth behind Gordo’s murky past, yet such discoveries lead to a path much different to what she originally believed about both Gordo and husband Simon. First off, the now famous bore-fests that have come to embrace Blumhouse “horrors” is strictly, and gracefully, absent from The Gift, with the cliched “cattle prod cinema” being replaced with atmosphere, darkness, and a sense of threat which has been sorely missing from both horrors and thrillers over recent history. Scenes in which silence is the key function, overclouded with perpetual darkness, were heart-wrenching to say the least, resulting in the jump scenes actually being wholly effective and more importantly, deserved.
One of the most striking things for me about The Gift for me however, was how multi-layered it was, with themes of loneliness, revenge, heartbreak, and regret all being touched upon in its’ perfectly weighted runtime of 110 minutes wherein our feelings regarding who is to blame and who is the true victim constantly changing, even within the films’ shocking conclusion in which its’ ambiguous nature leaves the audience to make up their own minds, something of which I wholeheartedly salute. Adding to the films’ brilliance is the acting in which our main three characters are all brought to screen in a superb fashion, particularly mastermind Edgerton who forces you to hate him one minute and then subsequently sympathise with him the next with an on-screen threat reminiscent of Kevin Spacey’s Jon Doe in Seven. So in conclusion, here I am eating a huge slice of humble pie and wondering how on earth two of the best films of the year in Whiplash and The Gift are now firmly locked in the filmography of Blumhouse. But wait, its’ Sinister 2 next. Just a blip then? We shall see.