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Film Review: A Simple Favor

“She’s An Enigma My Wife. You Can Get Close To Her, But You Never Quite Reach Her…”

Directed by Paul Feig, the American filmmaker behind the all female led reboot of the woefully unsuccessful Ghostbusters and the mildly entertaining action comedy Spy from 2016 and 2015 respectively, A Simple Favor, based on the 2017 debut novel of the same name from American author, Darcey Belle, sees Feig turn to the “dark side”, a self proclaimed statement of intent plastered within the film’s thoroughly intriguing trailer which sees Anna Kendrick’s (Table 19) Stephanie attempt to unravel the mystery of Blake Lively’s (Age of Adaline) Emily’s recent disappearance. Based on a screenplay from Nerve screenwriter, Jessica Sharzer, A Simple Favor is a strange beast, a film which on the one hand attempts to emulate the domesticated mysterious oddity of David Fincher’s wonderfully dark Gone Girl, and on the other, an Ira Levin-esque centralisation in which everything on the surface appears cosy and calm yet underneath, is riddled with secrets and lies, and whilst the key mystery of the film’s narrative begins well with enough room to flourish if handled correctly, the end product is ultimately produced in a manner way too convoluted and preposterous to be regarded as anywhere near the excellence of the many films Feig’s latest evokes.

Whilst it is fair to say that the increasingly agitating figure of Anna Kendrick in recent times has always left me loathing her acting ability more and more with every new release in which she inevitably sucks, with Table 19 being the key text of a film in which death by torture undoubtedly seems more rewarding, what a relief that when under the direction of Feig, a director who does manage to get the best out of his performers no matter the final product, (see Kate McKinnon circa Ghostbusters for example) Kendrick does manage to flourish and arguably gives the best performance of her career so far. Add into the mix the ever radiant Blake Lively, her knowingly ripe and hilarious portrayal of a walking ambiguity manages to work perfectly in tandem with her co-star, resulting in a healthy amount of hearty belly laughs which always seem so spare in American comedies of a similar ilk, and whilst the second half of the movie in which the core mystery unravels to an annoyingly predictable end does ultimately dive-bomb the overall appeal of the feature, A Simple Favor is throwaway, good-natured fluff which puts Kendrick back into my own personal acting guild good-books.

Overall Score: 6/10

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Film Review: The Spy Who Dumped Me

“Some Bad People Are After Me And Now They’re After You…”

Mixing together the comedic talents of Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters) and Mila Kunis (Bad Moms), an actress whose sensual, dramatic performance in Black Swan feels strangely historic considering her own personal penchant for the genre of American comedy since, The Spy Who Dumped Me, directed by Susanna Fogel, a returning filmmaker with her first release since 2014’s Life Partners, sees the duo as best friend partnership, Audrey and Morgan, who become embroiled in a murderous terrorist plot after being “dumped” by Justin Theroux’s (Mulholland Drive) suave super spy, Drew Thayer. With McKinnon unfortunately being the type of actress who so far in her career seems to have been handed a selection of raw deals when it comes to getting the best out of her natural flair for comedy, with Ghostbusters and Office Christmas Party being no more than solid examples of the genre, the same annoyingly can be said for The Spy Who Dumped Me, a surprisingly violent and tonally manic action comedy which falls much too heavy on a reliance for gunshots and action over genuine laughs within a screenplay which makes Rampage look like the most intelligent film of the year by an elongated mile.

With ineffective time jumps utilised at various points of the movie as an attempt to establish some form of characterisation, albeit in its’ most restricted format, the movie takes no time in establishing the layout of the narrative, using awfully constructed moments of naff dialogue to exercise the inevitable exposition before resorting back to endless action set pieces which begin in enjoyable fashion but then end up becoming tedious after the cycle of the movie becomes increasingly obvious come the sixty minute mark. With the film’s two hour running time overstretched by at least forty five minutes, the saving grace of the movie is ultimately its’ leading female stars, with McKinnon and Kunis working expertly well as a kooky double act caught in the cross-hairs of government conspiracy and double crossing international secret agents, and with the added involvement of the always magnanimous Gillian Anderson (The X-Files), girl power at least stops the movie from falling into the black hole of awfulness it may have gone without them. With a few chuckles but no full laughs, The Spy Who Dumped Me is full-on flash without any residue of substance or memorability, but with committed performances and likeable leading stars, the end result is messy but not exactly intolerable.

Overall Score: 5/10

Film Review: Ghost Stories

“Things Are Not Always As They Seem…”

Adapted from their very own play of the same name which premiered back in 2010, Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson swap the stage for the screen with Ghost Stories, a Hammer Horror inspired creeper which mixes a mock-documentary style narrative with elements of the portmanteau cinematic medium which has worked incredibly effectively before in the horror genre with the likes of V/H/S and it’s juicier, more experimental sequel arguably being the more contemporary standout examples. With Nyman himself assuming the lead role of Professor Phillip Goodman, a single minded debunker of the supernatural who is tasked with solving three individual and unexplained cases designed to test his ignorance of the paranormal, Ghost Stories takes the audience through an exhausting check list of every classic horror trope in existence as we move from one case to the next, with each investigation creepier and weirder than the last, and whilst most movies which form a narrative around very well-worn and rusty horror cliches more often than not tend to be complete and utter disasters, take Winchester this year alone for example, Ghost Stories works impressively due to a ripe and over-the-top sensibility which is simply too much fun to disregard.

Supported by a variety of tip-top British talent including Paul Whitehouse (The Death of Stalin), Alex Lawther (Black Ribbon – “Shut Up and Dance”) and the mighty Dr. Watson himself, Martin Freeman (Black Panther), their respective characters each provide the details of their own individual supernatural experiences including a haunted Session 9 inspired mental institution, a meeting with evil and an interaction with the freshly dead. With manically timed and alarmingly impressive jump-scares throughout, the horror elements are wickedly managed and at times, unrelenting in nature, and even when the film does suffer terribly in its’ opening quarter due to a wandering direction and lack of grounded involvement, as soon as we begin to interfere in our leading character’s draining investigations, the haunted house of a thrill ride adequately begins. Concluding with a final act which twists the film on its’ head and forces you to gasp at the sheer absurdity of where and how the action ultimately unfolds, Ghost Stories is a stellar success and a future British Halloween classic, one which both will please mainstream audiences and aficionado horror audiences who although are used to the thrills the movie offers, will lap it up in spades.

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: Winchester

“I Feel Their Presence. In The Air, In The Walls. He Has Found Us…”

With last year’s Jigsaw not being as terrible as one might have thought and Predestination still being a particularly mind-bending and wholly entertaining guilty pleasure, The Spierig Brothers aren’t exactly renowned for airing on the side of caution when it comes to their movies, and returning this week with Winchester, starring Dame Helen Mirren (The Queen) as the famous titular true to life figure of Sarah Winchester, the mould doesn’t exactly stop here. Setting the narrative within the confines of Winchester House in San Jose, California at the turn of the 20th century, Winchester follows Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty) as the drug addicted doctor, Eric Prince, who is tasked by representatives of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company to medically assess Sarah Winchester’s mental state as she pours her inherited income into constant construction of her isolated mansion in order to fulfil the wishes of the dead through her interaction with a medium after the passing of her late husband. Part The Haunting, part every single generic horror movie release ever made, The Spierig Brothers’ latest is uncharacteristically dreadful, a movie so woeful in its’ construction that you fail in your attempts to nod off thanks to a wide-set reliance on ridiculously loud jump scares which become worse and worse as the movie moves along, and even with a straight-to-video temperament surrounding it, Winchester can’t even be defined as so bad it’s good; it’s just trash.

With each of the performances rivalling Gods of Egypt for the title of worst ensemble cast performance of recent times, the narrative dwindles its’ way through a The Cabin in the Woods and, more specifically, a Thirteen Ghosts-esque setup, utilising the pull of being based on “actual events” to inspire a sense of horror at the sight of witnessing all hell breaking loose on-screen, ranging from high-pitched screaming hell demons to murdered psychopathic waiters who every now and then feel the need to explode onto the screen, screeching musical accompaniment in hand, in order to enforce a cattle-prod sensibility in which the lost art of actual horror and spine-tingling tension is unfortunately replaced with tedious, never-ending jump scares. With the plot ludicrous, the horror elements distastefully stupid, and even Mirren’s portrayal of a better financed Jennet Humfrye, AKA, The Woman in Black, being totally ridiculous, not even a Dame can save such a hot-steamed mess of a movie, and whilst many may enjoy the chance to jolt out of your seat every ten seconds thanks to an immensely setup surround sound system in your local screening of the movie, The Spierig Brothers have landed on their first cinematic calamity, with Winchester a movie which not only pokes fun at its’ claims of fictional inspiration but sticks needles in the eyes of all horror audiences who by now have learnt that not all horror is created equal.

Overall Score: 2/10

Film Review: Last Flag Flying

“I’m Not Going To Bury A Marine. I’m Just Going To Bury My Son…”

Famous for works which tend to side on the edge of indie extraordinaire, Everybody Wants Some!! and Boyhood director, Richard Linklater, returns this week in a somewhat low-key fashion with Last Flag Flying, a noticeably comedic and undeniably likeable road movie which although may take a meaningful amount of time and effort to seek out, is just about worth it thanks primarily due to trio of leading performances which personify the meaning of flawless excellence. Utilising the acting chops of Steve Carell (The Big Short), Laurence Fishburne (John Wick: Chapter Two) and Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Linklater’s movie focuses on their long awaited rekindling after almost thirty years since their experiences as young Marines during the Vietnam war, and with Carell’s Larry “Doc” Shephard leading the way for their reunion due to the untimely death of his son, what follows is a two hour journey through experiences both old and new, and one which focuses primarily on the effect of war and its’ continuation through generation after generation.

Beginning in highly ambiguous fashion in regards to the overall direction of the narrative, the first thirty minutes of the movie introduces each of our leading characters in a latter period of their lives in which the memories behind them have somewhat influenced their modern day choices and latter day lifestyle, with Carell’s Shephard a quietly reserved and delicate tragic figure of loss, contrasting Cranston’s Sal, a raging alcoholic with a tendency to speak whatever is at the forefront of his mind, and Fishburne’s Richard Mueller, a character seemingly acting as steady-handed counterpart to both, due to performance portraying a dedicated and contemplative man of faith who is forced into the duo’s journey through his religious sensibilities, much to his own personal disdain. With the bulk of the movie focusing primarily on conversation, ranging from the finality of death to the political landscape of 21st century America, Linklater’s movie works best when the emotional impact of the narrative really hits home, with Carell’s performance arguably the standout thanks to moments of sincere and authentic heartbreak in which you truly feel the pain and suffering which sifts through his now isolated character. Whilst the movie does ultimately feel rather too drawn out and not entirely cinematic in comparison to Linklater’s previous, similar endeavours, Last Flag Flying is worthy of admiration if not for a powerhouse of performances from actors renowned for not giving anything less.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: The Commuter

“Someone On This Train Does Not Belong. All You Have To Do Is Find Them…”

Whilst many took to the idea that Liam Neeson had adhered to his word of refusing to star in any future action movies, something of which which he stated profoundly across media lines last year, it comes at no surprise that this week audiences are treated to The Commuter, the latest from Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra, whose reunion with Neeson follows on from their previous work together on Non-Stop and Run All Night, with the word of the Irish actor much more uncertain and dishonest since he laughed off the possibility of Taken 3 in 2013, a sequel which was then swiftly released only two years later. Whilst the obvious similarities to previous action movies are inevitable for a movie starring an actor recently renowned for jumped-up, high octane nonsense, Neeson’s latest is a movie both ridiculous and enjoyable in equal measure, a laughably absurd ideas thriller which although suffers from a wide range of clearly defined issues, is indeed up there with the better Neeson action movies to be released since his turn as the revenge seeking killer in Pierre Morel’s 2008 cult classic, Taken, a movie which launched a latter-stage chapter of the actor’s career to ridiculous levels of newly found action hero fame.

Approached by the mysterious Vera Farmiga during his daily commute, Neeson’s Michael MacCauley is tasked with attempting to hunt down a particular unknown fellow passenger without truly understanding the reasoning behind such, aside from the offer of excessive monetary reward. Jumping in and out of the shadow of previous film ideas as swift as the film’s chaotic editing, The Commuter is the type of movie which evokes so many previous stories that the film almost becomes a entertaining ferris wheel of bingo in which you tick off every film that comes to mind as the carnage unravels in the loudest and silliest way possible. Switching from Red Eye to Source Code to Under Siege 2 as quickly as possible within a completely manic first act which does manage to contain a rigid element of threat and mystery rather entertainingly, The Commuter then concludes with a amalgamation of Unstoppable and 16 Blocks with added predictability and cheesiness, and whilst Neeson’s latest is obviously not as smart or original as it may think it is, the action is decent enough and the tone is welcoming and undeniably crowd pleasing, and for a man who may have given up on action movies for good, you can’t deny Neeson does look like he’s enjoying himself. As are we.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: Stronger

“They’re Trying To Make A Hero Out Of Me…”

Whilst Peter Berg’s rather excellent Patriots Day detailed from beginning to end the events of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings with an added Mark Wahlberg, David Gordon Green’s latest, Stronger, takes a calculated and extensive look at the life of Jeff Bauman, whose life changing injuries during the bombings were subsequently the subject of a 2013 memoir written by himself and Bret Witter and now the basis of the screenplay for a movie led by the ever reliable presence of Jake Gyllenhaal as the famous and life-affirming Bostonian. Whilst Patriots Day was more focused on the action spectacle and a lightning fast editing pace, Stronger is a more low-key character piece which utilises the background of a terrifying event to understand one man’s journey through pain and suffering, and whilst Green’s latest is a picture seething with top-notch performances and likeable, empathetic characters, a bloated narrative over a needlessly extended two hour runtime does threaten to become tiresome at stages, but with Gyllenhaal on Oscar-worthy form, Stronger does manage to hold its’ own undeniably effectively.

Introducing the troubled, up and down relationship between Gyllenhaal’s Jeff Bauman and Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany’s Erin Hursley from the outset, the movie swiftly moves onto the events of the bombing without ever specifically focusing on its’ reasoning or motive and instead directly leads the narrative from the point of view of Bauman who throughout the course of the movie recounts flashbacks of the event, with each progressively getting more detailed and bloody as the film trickles through his long-standing recovery in both a physical and mental capacity. With Gyllenhaal using the character of Bauman as a vessel for his already well established acting chops, utilising the direction of Green to balance moments of emotion fuelled drama with low-key physical movements and reactions, Stronger does have a variety of Oscar baity speeches which in other hands would possibly have derailed the movie’s ultimate goal, but with impressive supporting performances from the likes of Maslany and Miranda Richardson, who although in her portrayal of the expletive ridden, Bostonian parent figure did bring to mind the brilliance of Melissa Leo in The Fighter, Green’s movie is a straightforward character piece, but with such an interesting character at its’ centre, Stronger is more then fulfilling, if slightly forgettable.

Overall Score: 7/10

Film Review: Wonder

“You Can’t Blend In When You Were Born To Stand Out…”

Based upon R.J. Palacio’s 2012 novel of the same name, Wonder tells the tale of Jacob Tremblay’s August “Auggie” Pullman and his battle with Treacher Collins syndrome as he attempts to manage his way through school and a coming of age lifestyle after years of homeschooling designed to prevent him from facing the potential fear of inevitable youth misunderstanding when it comes to his condition. Supported by the beach burnt Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts as Auggie’s father and mother tag team, and directed by Stephen Chbosky, whose previous credits include The Perks of Being a Wallflower and the lead writer’s gig for this year’s adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, Wonder is a solid by-the-numbers tale of acceptance and individual strength which although features an important fundamental message regarding acceptance and the impact of schoolground bullying, does become increasingly tiresome and overly manipulative in its’ emotional bulldozing as it passively lingers on to a conclusion which does manage to seal the deal to some extent and leave its’ audience with an undeniable smile.

Where Lenny Abrahamson’s Room introduced the world to the enviable talents of young Jacob Tremblay, Wonder solidifies once again that a huge future awaits for an actor who although throughout the film is covered in prosthetics akin to John Hurt in David Lynch’s heartbreaker, The Elephant Man, manages to encompass Auggie’s spectral of emotions to such an extent that the audience can’t help from getting on board and totally support the film’s leading character as he makes his journey through the trials and tribulations of a diverse and sometimes ignorant collection of fellow schoolmates. Whilst Wonder does attempt to balance the heavy dose of Auggie’s characterisation with his fellow family and friends, with the movie sometimes wandering off on tangents to do such via Tarantino-esque title cards, such diversions do come across as somewhat pointless, particularly when regarding the film’s overplayed two hour runtime, and with overly saccharin scenes of animal deaths and endless crying montages, the sentimental value of the narrative does become pretty irksome at times, but with Tremblay stealing the show and even Wilson and Roberts having a fair share of effective quick comedic quips as the relatable parents, Wonder is sometimes preachy but undeniably good hearted.

Overall Score: 6/10

Catch-Up Film Review: The Limehouse Golem

“Here We Are, Again..!”

 Based upon the 1994 novel “Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem” by English author Peter Ackroyd, American director Juan Carlos Medina hits the big time this week after a string of independent, low-key releases with The Limehouse Golem, a British murdery mystery featuring the enigmatic figure of Bill Nighy in the leading role of Inspector John Kildare and a supporting cast which features the ever-reliable figures of Olivia Cooke, Daniel Mays and Eddie Marsan. Adapted from novel to screen by writer Jane Goldman, whose previous successes include Kick-Ass and the jet-black gothic horror of the worlds scariest 12A rated movie, The Woman In Black, Medina’s movie is unfortunately a slog of predictability, one which forces through style over substance and shock tactics over story, resulting in a televisual murder mystery which ultimately feels rather too silly to be taken seriously even with some eye-catching performances from its’ leading cast and effective gritty, murky cinematography from the film’s DP.

Put onto the case of the “Limehouse Golem” after a string of grisly, violent murders in Victorian-era London, Bill Nighy’s Inspector Kildare’s high profile history and attachment to former stage actor Elizabeth Cree (Olivia Cooke) is placed onto the local spotlight. With Cree on trial for the supposed murder of her husband, Kildare balances his attempt to prove her innocence along with revealing the identity of the crowd-pleasing vicious killer, one who has striked both fear and excitement from the bloodthirsty London audience. With the violence ridiculous, the dialogue cliched and the final twist so obvious even a half-asleep audience would have got there eventually, The Limehouse Golem doesn’t quite manage to live up to the retro, murder thriller vibe it so obviously wants to excrete on-screen, and whilst Nighy, Cooke and Douglas Booth give it their best go, Medina’s big-screen debut is B-movie fluff of which memorability isn’t exactly its’ leading trait.

Overall Score: 5/10

Film Review: American Assassin

“I Like Your Agenda. I Know Exactly What To Do With You…”

Based upon Vince Flynn’s 2010 novel of the same name, American Assassin presents itself within the realm of 21st century spy thrillers which take on both the ethos of the Bourne franchise and the direction of Paul Greengrass, with the filmmaking tactics deployed in The Bourne Supremacy onwards having a widespread influence on a vast spectrum of cinema ranging from the gargantuan Bond series to the more B-Movie approach of the Taken franchise. Brought to the big screen by Kill the Messenger director Michael Cuesta, this first entry into an anticipated string of Flynn-based releases features Dylan O’Brien as civilian-turned-killer Mitch Rapp and Michael Keaton as veteran training agent Stan Hurley, and whilst many audiences fall under the spell of money-grabbing action cash-ins due to a underlying love of anything with extravagant explosions and expletive-ridden dialogue, American Assassin is a prime example of an action movie so lazy and plodding in its’ creation, it is actually harder to comprehend its’ existence than it is to actually enjoy it.

With a lifeless, growling and utterly dull leading performance from O’Brien as the titular stone-cold killer, one who uses the cranked in and wholly exploitative plot point of a particular death as reasoning for murderous rampaging, American Assassin falls under the old chestnut of simply not being clever or eager enough to add any sense of depth to proceedings, resulting in a vacuum of space where the utter lack of either sympathy or empathy resides and is replaced by a severe level of tedium which in turn results in a much more enjoyable sleep-induced coma which the audience falls into in order to pass the time. Slapped with an 18 certificate, American Assassin contains a simply undeserved level of sadistic, awkward violence which has no reasoning for its inclusion and just results in a total sense of alienation from characters who are hard to distinguish between friend and foe, and with a conclusion which ranks up there with the most jump-the-shark scenes I have ever seen, Cuesta’s movie is the sort of tripe which brings absolutely nothing new to the overpopulated realm of action movies and is simply there for monetary issues. On this evidence, I can’t see that being a winner either.

Overall Score: 3/10