“Charlie, When You Kill A Man, You End Up With His Father Or His Friends On Your Tail. It Usually Ends Badly…”
Acting as a cinematic vessel for his first work in the English language after the critical success of foreign language gems including Rust and Bone and the 2015 Palme D’or winner, Dheepan, French filmmaker, Jacques Audiard, brings to life the 2011 novel, The Sisters Brothers, by Canadian-born author, Patrick deWitt, for a “revisionist” Western tale which blends True Grit style black comedy with Hostiles levels of realism, one all held together by a simply stellar cast led by the brilliant one-two of Joaquin Phoenix (You Were Never Really Here) and John C. Reilly (Stan and Ollie) as the titular brothers, Charlie and Eli Sisters. Already classified as a box office bomb after making just over a quarter of its’ respective budget, Audiard’s latest is a prime example of a finely crafted move which deserves to be subject to a wider audience but due to the likes of the awful, Hellboy, among others taking up cinema screens due to their “blockbuster” appeal, The Sisters Brothers is unfortunately not likely to be seen by many at all, a real shame indeed considering how enjoyably dark, comedic and thoroughly engaging Audiard’s first foray into the English language is, with an added Jake Gyllenhaal.
Working from a central narrative which primarily focuses on the blood-bound titular siblings, a pair of very differently minded yet infamous hit-men working under the command of Rutger Hauer’s (Blade Runner) ruthless Commodore, Audiard’s movie sees the bickering duo attempt to track down the whereabouts of Gyllenhaal’s (Nightcrawler) John Morris, a fellow employee of the Commodore and private detective sent to locate Riz Ahmed’s (Venom) Hermann Kermit Warm, after he is accused of theft. Whilst the movie does indeed follow particular genre conventions with hard-edged shootouts, campfire musings on the meaning of life and of course, alcohol-laden bar brawls, Audiard is undoubtedly much more interested in his central characters, with each performance wonderfully directed and expertly written, creating individuals rather than templates which make the drama much more emotionally engaging that I would ever have expected. With Phoenix blending that off-kilter comedic edge he has shown in the past in the likes of Inherent Vice with murderous sadism, his reckless ways are balanced by the lighter touch of Reilly, who amidst murdering people for money, comes across as the much more focused and rational of the pair, with certain set pieces in particular so well designed, you immediately recognise both the strengths and weaknesses of each without the need for exposition or clumsy dialogue. With superb supporting performances from Ahmed and Gyllenhaal, The Sisters Brothers is a tale of greed, redemption and brotherhood, and for a film which is being shown exactly nowhere in my local area, ironically Audiard’s movie is one of the best of the year so far.
Overall Score: 8/10
“You’re Not Leaving, Are You, Stan? The Show Must Go On…”
Directed by Scottish filmmaker, Jon S. Baird, perhaps most famous for bringing Irvine Welsh’s scorchingly jet black comedy, Filth, to the big screen back in 2013, Stan and Ollie very much steps in the complete opposite direction, with Baird’s latest a surprisingly low key and slightly muted biographical drama focusing on the later lives of both Stanley Laurel and Oliver Hardy as played by Steve Coogan (Alan Partridge) and John C. Reilly (We Need To Talk About Kevin) respectively. Based on a screenplay from Jeff Pope who reunites with Coogan after their work together on the Bafta winning, Philomena, Baird’s latest primarily drops the audience into the tail end of the legendary comedy duos’ career, one previously stuffed with fame, fortune and rapturous critical plaudits but which has now seemingly fizzled out, resulting in the middle aged stars returning to the shores of the UK in order to secure the finances for a potential big screen project. With a central screenplay which chooses to rely primarily on the central relationship between the two stars, Stan and Ollie is a charming yet frustrating movie, one which works on the strength of its’ leading performers but ultimately feels significantly flat in its’ storytelling approach, resulting in a movie which fails to ever feel cinematic and would probably be better served on the small screen rather than in a multiplex where it may fail to garner significant audience interest.
With Pope’s screenplay relatively straightforward and simple, to the extent that the movie almost felt as if it could have been made in the era of its’ leading characters, the neutral sensibility of the movie does ultimately lack any real push, flash or energy to propel the movie into another gear, and in comparison to the likes of other biographical dramas which focus on central historical figures much less charismatic and well known than the likes of Laurel and Hardy, Baird’s movie does ultimately feel somewhat of a missed opportunity when examining the piece as a whole. Where the film does ultimately work however is in the strengths of particular building blocks which make up the final piece, with none more so than the central superbly cast pairing of Coogan and Reilly who embrace the sweaty, exhausting lifestyles of men attempting to revamp their careers after decades of excessive levels of fame. With Coogan slightly more reserved in his comedic output in comparison to his previous on-screen roles, the tender balance between himself and the prosthetics heavy Reilly relies on a level of substance and depth which is completely absent from any other character relationships within the movie, particularly that of the criminally wasted female characters including the wonderful Shirley Henderson. With the best parts of the movie undoubtedly the pair’s reenactment of particular famous Laurel and Hardy sketches, it goes without saying that when a film seems stretched even with a ninety minute runtime, something seems to have been lost in translation, but with the beaming smiles of Coogan and Reilly to help you through to the end, Stan and Ollie is good enough, just not as spectacular and memorable as its’ central iconic subjects.
Overall Score: 6/10
“And Now For The Million Dollar Question: Do People Assume All Your Problems Got Solved Because A Big Strong Man Showed Up..?”
Continuing on from 2012’s highly entertaining animated spectacle, Wreck-It Ralph, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ latest venture sees the return of the titular well-meaning and reluctant arcade game villain, voiced once again by the one and only John C. Reilly (We Need To Talk About Kevin), who continues his blossoming relationship with Sarah Silverman’s (Battle of the Sexes) bubblegum racing princess, Vanellope von Schweetz, in an adventure which follows the atypical cliche of most movie sequels by offering something bigger, bolder and particularly in the case of Ralph Breaks the Internet, a movie which thrives on being rather quite barmy. Directed by the working couple of the returning Rich Moore and Zootropolis screenwriter, Phil Johnston, the second installment in the Ralphverse pretty much continues on from where its’ predecessor ended, with Ralph, Vanellope and the motley crew of arcade game characters carrying on with their wildly colourful existence within the confines of a universe full of retro throwbacks and particular designs which seem to make certain fanbases in the world giggle with utmost joy when seeing their favourite characters appear on the big screen. Wowed by the introduction of the unpronounceable “WiFi” plug which is brought into the arcade by the aged, behind-with-the-times owner, Ralph and Vanellope soon journey into the the new area after the latter’s game, Sugar Rush, is unplugged due to an accident indirectly caused by Ralph himself.
Whilst the central storyline to Ralph Breaks the Internet undoubtedly fails to be as straightforward, streamlined and easy to follow as its’ predecessor, moving from one plot point to another and then to another again in the spirit of George Lucas at his insufferable worst, the most surprising aspect of the movie is the almost uncanny similarity to the truly awful, The Emoji Movie, with varying familiar themes regarding on-the-nose product placement and the darker, seedier side of the world wide web all bringing to mind how terribly wrong everything involved with that particularly movie ultimately became. Fortunately for Ralph and co, Disney’s attempt proves much more successful, blending the wide range of internet-based notions to a much more effective degree which even manages to suppress the annoying factor of the obvious advertisement, and with crisp, well designed and admirable animation to soak up, Ralph volume two is rife with astronomical levels of detail including numerous, off-centre comedic asides which in a similar vein to The Lego Batman Movie, will undoubtedly require subsequent viewings in order to locate every single easter egg on offer. With effective guest voice actors including Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) as a Death Race inspired, super-cool racing driver and Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures) as a social media obsessed entrepreneur, a trippy final act filled with animation spectacle at its’ finest and a particular scene involving Disney Princesses which is the finest animated comedic set piece since everything involving Jack-Jack in The Incredibles 2, Ralph Breaks the Internet is a more than adequate sequel which ticks all the boxes for all-round family friendly animated adventure.
Overall Score: 7/10
“It’s Time To Show Kong That Man Is King!”
As per the new craze of recent cinematic ventures, the newest big-screen franchising exploration comes in the form of classic Hollywood monsters being revamped and reissued in Legendary Entertainment’s so-called “MonsterVerse”, beginning of course with Rogue One director Gareth Edward’s excellent Godzilla in 2014 and continuing this week with Kong: Skull Island, a “re-imagining” of the infamous giant ape who graces the big-screen for the first time since Peter Jackson’s take on the character back in 2005. Helmed by The Kings of Summer director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, as well as featuring arguably one of the best casts of the year with Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John Goodman and Samuel L. Jackson all vying for screen time, Skull Island is the type of movie which justifies the existence of IMAX-infused mega screens, with the trailer alone being rife with a heightened sense of spectacle and splendour. As for the finished article, Skull Island is indeed the silly, OTT monster-mad movie I think many were expecting without ever pushing the boundaries of being anything more than such.
Light on characterisation yet heavy on the spectacular at times, Skull Island is inherently silly from beginning to end, with a runtime which feels almost half the length of Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation but too feels completely different in tone, relying on the effects-heavy production of giant spiders, murderous “skull-crawlers” and of course the titular Kong himself rather than any meaningful contribution to fleshing out its’ leading stars in a manner which took up the first hour of Jackson’s movie back in 2005. Helping the film along in its’ choppily edited fashion is the rip-roaring sound of the 70’s, with a soundtrack which ranges from Black Sabbath to David Bowie. evoking the shadow of a film like Apocalypse Now, an argument particularly obvious due to Skull Island’s Vietnam War setting, whilst the CGI-fuelled monster-battles feel almost too much like a Jurassic World rip-off at times to be put in the same league of jaw-dropping splendour as its’ predecessor within the same cinematic universe, Godzilla. Much likes its’ titular ape, Skull Island is a big and fluffy piece of escapism which knows what it wants to be and doesn’t attempt to be anything more. Yeah, that’s right, Kong is very fluffy. Well, sort of.
Overall Score: 7/10
“When You’ve Reached Rock Bottom, There’s Only One Way To Go, And That’s Up..!”
As we are all well aware, the golden age of animation is well and truly upon us, with the contemporary battle between Universal and Disney for the right to declare themselves masters of the animated art a mouth-watering proposition, resulting in a wide array of superb movies such as the Minion franchise from Universal and the likes of Inside Out and Zootropolis from those crafty devils up in Disneyland, whilst the likes of films such as Song of the Sea and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya prove that gems are being formed from all areas of the globe. Following on from the success of Minions last year, a film which took a staggering one billion plus at the box office, Illumination Entertainment boast an early return with Sing, an animated swing at the tedium of modern-day talent shows featuring Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon and Seth Macfarlane who each lend their voice to an animation which could have been better served by being one of those five minute shorts that precede films that are worthy of being a full-length feature. Sing isn’t necessarily a bad movie in any sense, it’s just a fine example of a film which runs out of steam just under half way through and fails to grasp any effective reason to continue into a staggering 110 minutes of a jukebox style cheese-fest.
Featuring a endless swarm of overplayed chart sewage from the past couple of years or so for the majority of the soundtrack, the film does offer rare snippets of a relieving sense of juxtaposition with half-decent attempts to cover good classic tunes including Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing”, but with all the voice talent and Son of Rambow’s Garth Jennings on directorial duty, Sing follows in the footsteps of last years’ The Secret Life of Pets by being a film which ultimately is a resounding disappointment and a movie which completely lacks a punchy and durable narrative amidst semi-laughable set pieces which were used so heavily in trailers and advertisement for the movie. Whilst the plot is somewhat obviously played, Sing suffers too from a rafter of characters which although tick the checkbox in attempting to grab a vivid selection of cultures and societal traits, still resort to singing corporate crap which most of the world is sick and tired of by now and belongs nowhere other than the next version of Now That’s What I Call Music! Forgettable and mediocre, Sing serves to be nothing more than an animated version of season 43 of The X-Factor, just without Simon Cowell’s sarcastic banter.