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Film Review: Downsizing

“Downsizing Is About Saving Yourself. We Live Like Kings…”

Although, rather ashamedly, awareness of Alexander Payne’s previous work is limited to absolute zilch, resulting in a complete bypass of the likes of Nebraska, Sideways and The Descendants, the Academy Award winning American’s latest, Downsizing, is ironically somewhat unavoidable thanks to an early hurricane of hype regarding its’ quality and the decision for distributors to plaster its’ trailer on every release for at least the past three months. Starring Matt Damon as Paul Safranek, a downbeat, struggling occupational therapist, who along with wife, Audrey, played by Kristen Wiig, decides to agree to the titular, groundbreaking operation in order to reap the individual and world wide rewards which are offered, Payne’s latest is a particularly wild oddity, one which revels in a concoction of varying ideas and yet fails to clutch at a single straw and stay strictly on course. Sold as a comedic social satire, Downsizing begins in entertaining fashion, focusing primarily on Damon’s Safranek and his decision to undergo the procedure which reduces his mass to a fraction of his normal size, and with particular attention to detail and a number of cute, size related chuckles, the movie’s first hour is a real triumph, with the pace and script effectively managing to hold the balance between hypothetical science fiction and rib-tickling comedy.

Unfortunately for Payne however, once the movie moves into territory which can only be regarded as mindless, sanctimonious preaching, the film begins to test your patience, and with a final act which discusses notions of apocalyptic foreboding and the survival of the entire human race, Downsizing almost becomes two completely different movies, with the second so wrapped up in a narrative so conflicting with its’ first, the size of our leading characters is somewhat normalised and loses its’ the sense of purpose it ultimately and successfully began with. With Damon on solid form and the likes of Christoph Waltz and Brawl In Cell Block 99′s, Udo Kier, doing the best they can with the little time they have on screen, Payne’s wild card in the form of Hong Chau’s Vietnamese political freedom fighter, Ngoc Lan Tran is also a troublesome element within the film, a broken English speaking Asian with a prosthetic leg whose appearance in the narrative seems only to be there in attempt to widen the comic relief. Whilst not exactly ever resorting to the level of Mickey Rooney’s overtly troubled portrayal of I. Y. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Tran is indeed a misjudged caricature, who although is portrayed as somewhat brazen and overwhelmingly commanding, is still a completely off-kilter inclusion within a movie which rightly can be lauded for its’ ideas but too can be criticised for its’ execution, and whilst Payne’s latest may seem impressive on the surface, underneath it bears a more than a few staggering issues at the heart of it.

Overall Score: 5/10

Film Review: mother!

You Give, And You Give, And You Give. It’s Just Never Enough…”

Encapsulating in human form the very definition of divisive, Darren Aronofsky for me is the idealistic, brave and shit-hot filmmaker needed within the midst of summer blockbusters and endless unwarranted sequels in the current climate of cinema, and whilst many understandably lift their nose at the thought of anything with the Brooklyn born movie-maker’s recognisable touch, there is an unparalleled level of talent within a man who in my eyes rarely puts a foot wrong. Whether it be the depraved, nihilistic portrayal of addiction within Requiem for a Dream, the depiction of regret and sorrow within The Wrestler, or indeed the Argento inspired ripeness of Black Swan, Aronofsky holds no standards for a crowd-pleasing cop-outs and that alone has resulted in widespread appeal for his movies, particularly mother!, Aronofsky’s latest feature which for all its’ lack of publicity and reportedly inflammatory subject matter still manages to secure a wide release across the UK. Challenging, subversive, oppressive and surreal, Aronofsky’s latest transcends the realm of cinema itself and leaves you in a state of prolonged shock as soon as the final credits roll, and whilst many are guaranteed to loathe the sadistic and ripe arty nature of the film’s final product, mother! is an experience of an ilk similar to the likes of Funny Games and Kill List by being a film so terribly haunting and tough, the execution of such simply has to be rapturously applauded.

Set wholly within the confines of the winding home of Jennifer Lawrence’s “mother” and Javier Bardem’s writer’s block ridden “him”, Aronofsky’s narrative twists between home invasion horror, jet-black comedy, Lynch-style surrealism and a Dogville-style societal commentary, and whilst the underlying story is undoubtedly based upon writings drawn from Christianity and the sacred texts within the Bible, the twisted nature of Aronofsky’s storytelling offers much more than just one simple way to manoeuver through the ambiguity and the three-act structure, with each act after the next increasing in tension and shock value as the movie progresses through to its’ ultimate conclusion. With the camera solely fixed on the subjective view of Lawrence, with all but a few minor shots either directly focusing on her face or over her shoulder, the Oscar winning actresses performance is absolutely mesmerising, conveying a rafter of facial expressions and emotions as the narrative forces her to compliment the downward spiral of horror which transcends upon the screen and a performance which evoked the spirit of Nicole Kidman in Lars Von Trier’s Dogville and Mia Farrow’s iconic role in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, a movie of which directly influences mother! in it’s rollercoaster ride of a final act, one which comes extremely close to dive bombing the movie altogether in its’ sheer jaw-dropping extravagance.

With Bardem on usual form as the somewhat ciphered, unknown quantity, and both Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer reminding everyone of their raw and unquestionable talent, Aronofsky throws the remainder of his cast around and around in order to suit his narrative endgame, with jarring inclusions from the likes of Domhnall Gleeson and Kristen Wiig seeming so surreal it almost cripples the way in which you as a viewer should be embracing the movie, particularly in regard to its’ ever-wandering tone. If you head to in to a screening of mother! wanting a jump-scare ridden horror, you are bound to leave extremely disappointed, and whilst there is undoubtedly elements of genre-literate exploitation aplenty, with the film evoking everything from the likes of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me in terms of its’ hateful depiction of the human existence to the social commentary extremity evident within Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, Aronofsky’s latest is not a film to be enjoyed, instead it is the type of movie you digest, mull over and decide to what to make of it after three glasses of whisky and a trip to a puppy farm to combat the oppressive shock your mind is layered in after exiting the auditorium. mother! gave me nightmares, and not many films manage to bury that deep within the confines of my psyche but it goes to show how much of an astonishing, messed-up cinematic achievement Aronofsky has managed to create in a cinematic environment when risks are so rarely eaten up.

Overall Score: 9/10

Film Review: Despicable Me 3

“Face It, Gru. Villainy Is In Your Blood..!”

Much like Transformers and even the MCU, Illumination Entertainment is the kind of film company that know the key to success in terms of financial revenue, and whilst expansive items such as The Secret Life of Pets wasn’t exactly received perfectly by the likes of myself and other, more famous film critics, the company know which one of their little darlings will always attract the younger generation and their parents’ hard-earned dollar. MINIONS! Returning in their animated form with Despicable Me 3, the famous yellow coloured dumplings take the backseat somewhat after their success within the standalone entry Minions in 2015, paving way for the return of the Steve Carell voiced Gru, the bad-guy-turned-good who this time faces up against the long lost presence of twin brother, Dru Gru in a reunion which sets the basis for a movie which knows what to do in order to make most of its’ animation-loving audience happy. With slapstick galore and some rather hilarious characterisation of the film’s leading villain, Despicable Me 3 is a solid enough threequel, and a movie which uses the appeal of the Minions to undeniable effect.

Released side by side with the likes of The House, the comedic arsenal of Despicable Me 3 makes the film look like an animated Annie Hall in comparison to Will Ferrell’s woeful excuse for a mainstream comedy, and whilst it is true that watching minions read out the yellow pages would probably be an entertaining pastime in itself, the unparalleled addiction of admiring the existence of their particular race is undeniably the best element about the Despicable Me series and whilst they somewhat play second fiddle in this particular entry, the moments they are on-screen are definitely the strongest. Add into the mix a villain with a penchant for shoulder pads, disco balls and a jukebox soundtrack which features everything from Madonna to Dire Straits, DM3 is a surrealist bag of kooky wackiness, using the animated platform to construct characters and sets which I couldn’t help but laugh at, with the best being the inclusion of a pig-infested Freedonia in which cheese is supplied and eaten between moments of courting. DM3 is actively funny enough to warrant its’ existence in the Despicable Me franchise and whilst the narrative is somewhat predictable and uninspiring at times, sometimes you have just got to leave your brain at the door and admire the madness on-screen. BANANA.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: Sausage Party

“I’m So Happy The Gods Put Our Packages Together…”

Judging from the trailers alone, everyone knew what to expect with Sausage Party, the latest comedy venture from the Seth Rogen rubble, directed by Conrad Vermon and Greg Tiernan, with crude and vulgar humour set to being seeped throughout an animation which attempts to poke holes in the family-friendly works of Disney and Pixar by following in the footsteps of a supermarket-based sausage named Frank (Seth Rogen) who like every other food item in the store, believes being “chosen” by the “gods” results in a swift and joyous journey into heaven. Of course the reality of the situation is a closely-hidden secret, a secret in which Frank and his merry band of faithful food friends including Frank’s girlfriend, Brenda (Kristen Wiig) attempt to bring to light.

Although strangely hypnotic for the first ten minutes or so, Sausage Party does swiftly descend into plights of sheer boredom, with the one-note shine of relying on vulgarity and ridiculous levels of swearing not exactly managing to survive the full 90 minutes in which subplots aplenty attempt to hold up the animation into earning its’ reason to be on the big screen. Although the final act is one in which all involved must have been patting themselves firmly on the back after creating, its’ ludicrousness as a whole confirms that if made as a 30 minute sketch, perhaps the idea of Sausage Party may have been a successful one. Instead, the film is just another excuse for Seth Rogen to make penis jokes, and although occasional laughter can be created by such, Sausage Party isn’t the comedy I was hoping for. The animation is good though so you know, not all bad. Peace.

Overall Score: 4/10

Film Review: Ghostbusters

“We’re The Ghostbusters!”

Perhaps gathering the craziest amount of sexist-hate since the birth of mankind itself, it is fair to say that Paul Feig’s revival of the Ghostbusters is that strange case of a film being seemingly given up on before one reel of the final footage has even been released. Of course, being of sound and sane mind like many die-hard cinephiles, the hatred towards the idea of a female-led, 21st century take on Ivan Reitman’s cult classic is one that seemed exciting, interesting and inherently different in a day and age when many remakes or reboots simply repeat the formula of their predecessor in order to simply make a quick buck, destroying the legacy of the original in its’ wake. Point Break most recently pointed out how, when done wrong, remakes can be viewed as just plain stupid and nonsensical, and whilst Ghostbusters is most definitely not as good as the 1984 original, it is nowhere near the disaster many believed it was set to become. That’s right haters, we have a new team in town.

Perhaps relying too much on the uneven plot of CGI set piece after CGI set piece, Ghostbusters indeed is the summer blockbuster you would expect, led by a confident quartet of Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon, whose barmy Jillian Holtzmann is arguably the standout of the four, a confident introduction when up against the famous faces of both McCarthy and Wiig. Comedic elements throughout also help the film in times when it verges on the edge of weariness, whilst one scene in particular effectively managed to make me jump out of my seat in horror, perhaps due to the rather obvious 3-D, which, I say with a slice of humble pie, was actually rather effective with scenes in which we witness spectres upon spectres break the frame and reach out into the audience being a rather inventive surprise. Ghostbusters is indeed not the flop many regarded it as before it hit the big screen, but it is nowhere near as good as it perhaps should have been. Light entertainment which will pass the time nicely, Ghostbusters is solid, but not spectacular.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: Zoolander No. 2

“You Really Are An Idiot Aren’t You?”

Although I can confess to only recently watching Zoolander, the 2001 satirical comedy directed, written and starring Ben Stiller, this long-awaited sequel was something that I can confess to not entirely looking forward to in a week where so many films share a release schedule and battle for supremacy at the box office. With returning characters such as Ben Stiller as the titular Derek Zoolander, the dim-witted, good-mannered fashion model, resigned to living life as a “hermit crab” due to the loss of wife and son, both of which he believes to be sole responsible for, as well as Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell as Hansel and Mugatu respectively, Zoolander No.2, was in danger of falling into the pit of despair many comedy franchises have been led into over the course of the past decade within cinematic history with awful examples of the genre taking centre stage such as Get Hard and Unfinished Business. Unfortunately for Stiller and co., Zoolander No.2 is a rather unremarkable and most importantly, unfunny continuation of the life of Mr. Zoolander.

Featuring more or less everything that made the first film full of snigger-induced fits, Zoolander No.2 continues the trait of dim-witted Derek Zoolander being incredibly, you guessed it, dim-witted, all-the-while being surrounded by strange celebrity cameos in an attempt to carry on the trend started within the first film, a film in which cameos included David Bowie (RIP), Victoria Beckham as well as everyone’s favourite republican Donald Trump. Now in Zoolander No.2, we have Justin Bieber being shot violently to death, one of the few saving graces of the film, as well as stand-out appearances from Sting, Kiefer Sutherland and Benedict Cumberbatch looking extremely startling as All, the sexually ambiguous male/female model. The problem with the wide range of celebrity cameos is that they attempt to divert from the rather shallow plot and lack of inventive humour and when the screen-time is left solely to the core actors of the movie, Zoolander No.2 fails to live up to the comedic value of its’ predecessor with a rather bland story and jokes that don’t exactly live up to scratch. Another example of a sequel not being as good as the first film, Zoolander No.2 is something that will swiftly be forgotten. The Godfather Part II it is not.

Overall Score: 4/10

Film Review: The Martian

Life On Mars

When the first theatrical trailer for Ridley Scott’s new sci-fi movie The Martian was released to the world a few months back, the two-minute clip was so spoiler-heavy in terms of some rather important plot points, you could have been easily forgiven for not choosing to pay to watch what essentially might have been a two and a half hour extension of the ideas highlighted in that particularly short amount of time, and when a following six-minute trailer for the film was released soon after the first, I completely blocked it in order to save some of the excitement for the film’s release. If you were one of the many who chose to watch The Martian in its’ six-minute release format, I can’t imagine you could have been overly impressed by the complete package, with it, like Everest recently, suffering from the now-familiar problem that its’ core shocks and storylines were overtly spoiled before the film’s release in a vain attempt to sell the film to the masses via that of a trailer, something of which detracts the film from the excellence it could have possibly become.

When the NASA led Ares III manned mission to Mars is forced to retreat due to heavy storms and dangerous weather, astronaut and acclaimed botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left for dead on the planet after being hit by debris, yet soon after, NASA realise Watney is in fact alive and well on the planet after surviving the accident and is now attempting to survive on Mars for the duration of time it takes until the next scheduled NASA mission lands. Using the wide range of expertise of both Watney and those back on Earth, the two combine in an attempt to accomplish the miracle of getting Watney back home, a destination all of 33 million miles away. Directed by the genius that is Ridley Scott, creator of two of my favourite films of all time in the form of Blade Runner and Alien, The Martian proves to be one of his better works in recent times but ultimately fails to touch the greatness of some of his most prestigious work whilst feeling indirectly and unfortunately familiar to the masterpiece that was last year’s Interstellar, with the film even going so far as having some of the same actors (Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain) whilst having an unbelievably uncanny plot point that derives straight from last years’ Nolan epic (Matt Damon being stranded alone on a alien planet).

Areas in which the film succeeds is the way in which Damon’s portrayal of the lone astronaut Mark Watney is strongly handled with him neither passing into the realm of annoyance or boredom and instead being an interesting and well-developed character throughout, whilst the interaction of geeks and gargantuan space-filled characters on Earth was also highly enjoyable with a wide range of unexpected comedic content, aside from the inclusion of Donald Glover’s Rich Purnell whose annoying ten-minute inclusion almost ruined every scene in which he was present. Excellent also was the presentation of the desperate wasteland that is Mars, with Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography being on tip-top form when confronted with the planet’s desolate surroundings. The main problem in my opinion with The Martian, aside from it being around twenty-minutes too long, was there was no real sense of threat for the character of Mark Watney, with it being blindingly obvious that his escape from Mars was set to be a successful venture, something of which was rather disappointing, whilst the sometimes cheesy script and dialogue (That Iron Man scene…Eugh) resulted in The Martian being a solid return for Sir Ridley, but nothing actually that spectacular on the face of it.

Overall Score: 7/10