“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
“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
“I Can Assure You, We Are More Than Prepared For Any Assault…”
Samuel L. Jackson is unfortunately the type of actor who nowadays more often than not falls into the category of “picking up the cheque” when it comes to movie role choices, and whilst I’m game for most things with Jackson in some form of leading role, with recent releases including The Hateful Eight proving that Jackson still has the capacity to show off his acting chops, there comes a time when there can only be so many films in the ilk of xXx: The Return of Xander Cage that you begin to question your fundamental allegiances. With The Hitman’s Bodyguard however, the latest from Australian director Patrick Hughes, a filmmaker who came to big budget fame with The Expendables 3 back in 2014, Jackson teams up with Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds, Daredevil‘s Élodie Yung and Gary Oldman in order to create arguably the most retrograde action comedy of the past few years. Whilst B-Movie nonsense is a genre of movies which sometimes can be overly charming and irresistible even with the fundamental flaws at the heart of it, The Hitman’s Bodyguard manages to fail at every hurdle it attempts to maneuver, utilising nonsensical elements to a somewhat cynical effect and testing the patience of its’ audience from pretty much the outset.
After being demoted from his role as a triple A rated security agent due to the extraordinary death of a client, Bryce (Reynolds) is brought back to the spotlight by ex-partner and Interpol agent Roussel (Yung) in order to protect the life of contract killer Darius Kincaid (Jackson) who is set to give evidence against the evil dictatorship of Belarusian leader, Vladislav Dukhovich (Oldman). Cue retrograde treatment of all female characters, unnecessary levels of violence and jarring usage of profanity, The Hitman’s Bodyguard is the type of movie which features phoned-in performances from the entirety of its’ leading cast, who in their attempt to swivel around the cliched and idiotic plot, scream, shout and swear their way through two hours of absolute nonsense. Reynolds is unbearable, Oldman is worse, and Jackson seems to mixing his performance as Jules from Pulp Fiction with his character from Snakes on a Plane, just without the cool and sophisticated characterisation of the former. The Hitman’s Bodyguard is the type of movie which makes Bad Boys II look like a masterpiece. Avoid.
Overall Score: 3/10
“You Asked Me How Far I Would Go To Protect My Country. Whatever It Takes…”
It comes across wholly ironic that in a week in which we see the big budget release of Alien: Covenant, the sequel to 2012’s Prometheus and a sequel in which does not include the wholly reliable face of Noomi Rapace who declined to participate, that the Swedish born actress turns up in Unlocked, an action-packed spy thriller directed by Michael Apted, perhaps most famous for the Pierce Brosnan led The World is Not Enough, and the type of movie which belongs entirely within the realms of straight-to-DVD mediocrity. Of course, the coincidental notion of these two films being released side by side might not mean anything whatsoever, but in terms of further advancing the career of Rapace, it doesn’t exactly compute why such an esteemed actress chose Apted’s laughably poor action raspberry of a movie rather than the Ridley Scott led sci-fi epic, a movie which although is nowhere near a masterpiece in its’ own right, when put up against Unlocked comes across as some kind of 21st century work of art. With a cast which indeed includes the likes of Rapace, John Malkovich, Toni Collette, Michael Douglas and Orlando Bloom, yes, Orlando Bloom, Unlocked does boast an incredibly strong payroll but with a narrative which is woeful as it is unintentionally hilarious, Apted’s latest is perhaps the least enjoyable time I’ve had with an action flick since, well, last week’s Sleepless. Not exactly a strong week for films.
After stumbling into a double crossing, trust bending, terrorism plot, Noomi Rapace’s shock-filled London based CIA agent is thrown violently back into the fold, shooting her way through building after building in order to establish the real play-makers behind a massive biological threat. Cue exposition galore, over-dramatic cameo performances and plot strands which edge of the side of cinematic malpractice, Apted’s real ace in the hole comes in the form of Orlando Bloom who appears half way through the action, conveying the tattooed, grungy, untrustworthy ex-jarhead who enters with a gold pass into the hall of worst cockney accents ever alongside Don Cheadle and Dick Van Dyke who are there to keep him company in the ways of mastering the voice of the East-End. Not only does Bloom win the award for worst cameo of the year so far, his character ultimately is entirely inconsequential to the extent that his existence is some form of contractual agreement to allow Bloom to garner a quick pay check after seemingly disappearing into thin air over the past few years. Unlocked is obviously awful, and although the narrative does threaten to entertain around the twenty minute mark, Apted fails to hold such attentive themes and constructs an action flick so poor that you pray for the likes of Gareth Evans to direct every action movie ever from now on.
Overall Score: 3/10
“They’re Afraid They Won’t Be Able To Put Us Back In The Box When This Is Over, And It Makes Them Belligerent…”
Directed by Lone Scherfig, the creative mind behind films such as The Riot Club and the Oscar nominated drama, An Education, Their Finest, based upon the 2009 novel, Their Finest Hour and a Half by British author Lissa Evans, seemingly begins a cycle of early 20th century war biopics which are set to be released this year, with highly anticipated releases such as Churchill and Christopher Nolan’s unbelievably exciting take on Dunkirk coming to a theatre near you over the course of the next few months or so and whilst Scherfig’s latest is arguably not in the same wide-spread level of appeal as the latest Nolan release or a film depicting one of Great Britain’s most influential figures of recent history, with a cast which includes the bravura acting talents of Gemma Arterton, Eddie Marsan and Bill Nighy, the groundwork for excellence has somewhat already been established. The question remains therefore whether the finished picture matches the ability of its’ leading stars and whilst Their Finest is indeed a charming low-key drama, one which is laced with a full swing of tea-swigging Britishness, the final flurry of its’ second act doesn’t hold the interest of the first and dwindles into a movie which is wholly admirable but ultimately inconsequential.
Perhaps the biggest criticism of Their Finest is it being a film which once again is a solid example of a movie which doesn’t have enough actual meat on its’ bones to run the course of its’ two hour runtime, utilising narrative avenues which don’t exactly work in the long run, such as the inclusion of Jack Huston as Arterton’s underdeveloped partner, in order to enforce a dramatic subplot which although sets up the film’s leading romantic element, could have been cut out entirely and averted the risk of the dreaded clock-watching from its’ audience. On the contrary, the film does boast a overarching feel-good narrative which is bound to leave its’ intended audience “weeping in the aisles” as stated by Bill Nighy’s excellent portrayal of the fame-addicted presence of ageing actor Ambrose Hilliard, whilst Gemma Arterton continues the argument that whatever she is in she is always top of the class no matter if its’ fighting zombies in The Girl With All The Gifts or battling the sexist and wholly misogynistic ways of 20th century Britain in her role as Welsh writer Catrin Cole. Ultimately, Their Finest is a enjoyable fluffy drama which tells a story and tells it admirably well aside from a few notable exceptions but with a cast as reliable as the one on its’ books, it never really was going to fail.
Overall Score: 7/10
“The Answer To What Is Happening To You Is Here. You Five Are The Power Rangers…”
Of all the many facets of my well-nurtured youth between the mid 1990’s and the early years of the 20th century, Power Rangers was the pretty much the last thing I personally had in mind to be reincarnated and re-imagined for the purpose of reaching out to a modern-day audience, yet here we are this week reviewing a movie which not only conjures up a youth-infused opinion regarding the sheer awesomeness of 1995’s Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, a film which featured the iconic presence of Paul Freeman as Ivan Ooze and in an adult-fuelled retrospect, isn’t as awesome as originally thought, but also begs the question where Hollywood will eventually stop when it comes to flogging and remaking as many footnotes of entertainment that they possibly can. Featuring a primarily youth-infused cast such as Me, Earl and the Dying Girl’s RJ Cyler and The Martian’s Naomi Scott, each battling for screen time against not only their similarly aged peers but the famous figures of both Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Banks, Power Rangers is a tiresome and wholly predictable CGI-fuelled mess which can’t decide whether it wants to adhere to a Nolan-esque level of maturity or come across as just an overly corny cheese-fest, resulting in a movie which bears similarities to the latest adaptation of Fantastic Four in all the worst possible ways.
Straight off the bat, Power Rangers suffers from a fundamental flaw of having five leading characters who aren’t only ridiculously underdeveloped but are just outright annoying, with introductions ranging from a criminalised youth who finds spare time to wreak havoc on the local town to a bitter bully who thinks it’s fun to sex shame her friend and assault her boyfriend whilst wondering why each of these relationships goes downhill rather fast. Although I understand there is a level of flexibility within a narrative which centres around superheroes and aliens but it takes even the most optimistic of audiences to accept that the five youths portrayed on-screen are indeed the best humanity has to offer. Aside from monotonous central characters, Power Rangers suffers too from the same illness which has raged Michael Bay and Zak Snyder movies for years by including a final act which can only be described as an amalgamation of Man of Steel and Transformers in the worst way possible, utilising awful CGI in creating foes which not only come across as spitting images of the watchers from Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, but are as threatening as a battery powered furby.
Whilst the contractual duties of both Cranston and Banks are both adhered to in some form, both appear and act in ways which can only be seen as dollar-ringed, with the former literally doing absolutely nothing in the twenty seconds he is on screen both in physical and digital form, whilst the latter taking the form of the villainous Rita Repulsa, a simply terrible villain whose penchant for gold infused items can only be regarded as a metaphor for Banks’ appetite for a Power Rangers signed cheque, thanks to a performance which bears similarities to Eddie Redmayne’s camp-fuelled monstrosity in Jupiter Ascending, just without a sense of memorability. Power Rangers ultimately is two hours of film-making recklessness which you won’t get back and being aware of the film-maker’s promise of at least a SIX movie story arc, perhaps we can live in the hope of their first offering being indeed the worst of the bunch. In conclusion, 2017’s Power Rangers is the type of movie in which you leave longing for the ripeness of a 1990’s Ivan Ooze in order to push it into a realm of enjoyment which is severely lacking through almost two elongated hours of dullness. Not for me.
Overall Score: 3/10
“We Got Multiple Explosions. We Need Help Down Here..!”
Of the many cinematic pleasures within 2016, Peter Berg’s Deepwater Horizon was a surprisingly entertaining thrill-ride, utilising the on-screen likeability of Mark Wahlberg to helm a dramatisation of one of the 21st centuries’ most infamous accidental disasters in a vein both poignant and wholly respectful. Whilst the one-two pairing of Wahlberg and Peter Berg shared mild success previously with Lone Survivor, the release of Deepwater Horizon last year has ultimately pushed the duo into a formidable partnership, returning this year with yet another live-action adaptation of a high-profile disaster in the form of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, a recent example of terrorism action within the United States. With a supporting cast featuring the likes of Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons and John Goodman, Patriots Day is a thrilling continuation of the Berg’s recent cinematic success, creating a sometimes breathtaking drama which mixes white-knuckle tension, Michael Mann-esque action set pieces and an effective screenplay which amalgamates a wide range of on-screen depictions of many who were involved in the events which occurred during that terrifying day almost four years ago.
In terms of differences between the previous works of the successful duo, unlike in Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon where Wahlberg portrayed real-life characters, Patriots Day allows the Boston-born A-Lister to fill his boots with a strictly composite character, created to not only fill certain narrative gaps throughout the movie, but also act as the walking cinematic guide for the audience, seemingly being wherever the high-octane events take place as often and as quickly as possible. Whilst the film uses its’ leading stars to a somewhat solid degree, the frighteningly startling and wholly believable pairing of Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze as terrorist brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev are the real stars of the show, using their intimidating capabilities to create one of the tensest scenes of the year so far in which they carjack and threaten to kill the life of a Chinese U.S national in a manner similar to feel and tone of a similarly haunting scene within last year’s Nocturnal Animals. Concluding with interviews with the true survivors and heroes of Boston, Patriots Day follows in a similar vein to Deepwater Horizon by not only being a entertaining body of work but by being one which is entirely respectful too.
Overall Score: 8/10
“There’s Something Out There…”
Although way too young to realise the impact of The Blair Witch Project when it was released back in 1999, the found footage masterpiece is one of the most traumatising horror movies I had ever seen when I finally got around to watching it in my late teens. Even days after witnessing the events that took place within the movie, the sheer terror of the film still shook me like no other horror movie I had seen previously, with its’ complete lack of jump scares and a pinpoint and effectively measured sense of realism resulting in a movie which left everything to the imagination without any sense of closure or answers to the many questions directors Sanchez and Myrick brought up. Now in 2016, we have Blair Witch, a true successor to the 1999 original (We will forget about Book of Shadows), directed by Adam Wingard, of whom I am a fan of after making effective horrors in the past with You’re Next and segments for the V/H/S franchise. Of course, there was simply no chance that Wingard’s take on the legend of the Black Hills Forest was set to surpass the original yet even so, Blair Witch is a terrifying enough experience to warrant its’ existence, if feeling ever so much like the original in ways both bad and good.
After treading upon a recently uploaded video supposedly containing his long lost sister Heather, James ventures into the Black Hills Forest with his camera-obsessed friends in order to find closure regarding his sisters’ disappearance; events which took place within The Blair Witch Project. After meeting with the young locals who uploaded the video, the group venture into the forest and soon succumb to the curse of the Blair Witch with the group, and particularly James, understanding what his sister may have experienced herself over a decade previously. Although Blair Witch is weakened by its’ fundamental similarities to the original, with the setup and plot twists being pretty much a full-on retread of what fans already know when it comes to the Black Hills Forest, Wingard’s take on the story does boast some effective tense-ridden scenes, particularly in the latter act of the movie when we once again venture into the supposed residence of the titular entity through complete and utter darkness. The cast too are loving every minute and chewing the scenery as they go from one spooky location to the next, yet the film does suffer from not entirely having the organic and strange feel of the original, and although the myth of the Blair Witch herself is slightly scuppered by brief images of a potential reveal, Wingard’s Blair Witch is terrifying enough in sections to warrant a thumbs up. As a fan of the original, Blair Witch is actually a solid, spooky horror which pays a sense of justice to the original, if only too much at times.
Overall Score: 7/10
“We Ain’t Stealing From You. We’re Stealing From The Bank…”
Much like Bone Tomahawk, which reaffirmed the cult status of the legend that is Kurt Russell, Hell or High Water, the latest from Sicario writer Taylor Sheridan and Starred Up director David Mackenzie, above all, highlights the power of the cinematic pro, those that have been in the game for so long, that you know, if given a decent script, are going to bring their A-game to the floor and pull it out of the bag. In the case of Hell or High Water, that pro is Jeff Bridges who brings his most True Grit performance since, well, True Grit, as rugged police chief Marcus Hamilton, unsure of the notion of his impending retirement when news of numerous bank robberies bring him swiftly back into the action alongside trusted colleague, Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham). Flip on to the other side of the coin however and we thrown into the lives of Toby and Tanner Howard, portrayed majestically by Chris Pine and Ben Foster, who are the cause of such crimes in order to align their families’ financial difficulties amongst a seemingly despaired and depressing West Texas. Like Sicario last year, scriptwriter Taylor Sheridan has once again pulled off an intelligent and thought-provoking crime thriller, one which understands the impact of subtlety and the power of effective characterisation.
Where many of this years’ summer blockbusters have simply failed due to a sublime lack of any sort of residual quality, intelligence or fundamental originality, Hell or High Water is the perfect film to combat the pains of the past two months or so with it being a well-scripted, flawlessly acted work of drama which attempts to portray each side of the law, each with their own necessities and issues, with each given equal screen time to build up an efficient level of depth in order to sympathise and care for these characters in the space of only 100 minutes. Where Sicario was a film seeped in ambiguity and became a much darker entity for it, Hell or High Water is for the most part, a laid-back western bromance, with humorous banter and jet-black humour not only adding to the characterisation but to the audiences’ perception of a plausible, true-crime drama which could perhaps be regarded as some sort of realism within the financial uncertainty of the 21st century. Of course, when the violence ensues, it is observed with sheen and calculative efficiency, something of which was sorely missing from the whirlwind-editing of the recent summer blockbusters. Hell or High Water is the type of movie which puts its’ larger and bigger hyped Hollywood cash-cows to shame; it’s a proper, hard-edged drama with top-end acting and a superb script, showcasing the ever-increasing talents of writer Taylor Sheridan. Ironically, Hell or High Water is this year’s Sicario, just with a lighter touch.
Overall Score: 8/10
“Are You A Watcher Or A Player?”
Remember Black Mirror? Yeah, that’s right, that simply brilliant jet-black satirical drama ran by the creative mastermind that is Charlie Brooker and featured weekly tales of horror and torment which ran incredibly close to the perils of modern day society in a fashion not too dissimilar from classic shows such as The Twilight Zone? Well, think back to “White Bear” from the second season in which our beloved heroine is chased through forests and streets by unknown assailants dressed in masks who appear to be following her through video capture on their mobile device as she attempts to figure out what on earth is going on, add into the mix a Hollywood style budget as well as the likes of Dave Franco and American Horror Story’s Emma Roberts, and Nerve is pretty much a Black Mirror episode dragged out to 90 minutes, a notion that has both attractions and problems, yet still results in becoming a solid style-infested summer slick flick.
After swiftly becoming involved in the underground internet-based craze Nerve, a dare-based contest in which “players” compete for “watchers” and cash by accepting and then attempting to complete a wide range of dangerous tasks, Emma Roberts’ Vee, soon becomes entangled with the motorcycle riding adrenaline junkie that is Dave Franco’s Ian, who soon become a formidable pairing in the world of Nerve, racking up both popularity and wealth as they bond through night-time Staten Island. Does all bode well for our recently beloved pairing? Not particularly, and although the final act of Nerve can only be reduced to becoming a complete and utter cop-out, the middle act, in which we witness our power couple of Roberts and Franco compete in doing reckless and simply ludicrous acts of stupidity, is surprisingly addictive and ironically, nervy to watch. The sights out of long-distance heights from that of mobile devices is enough to make anyone squeal, yet Nerve manages to contain such drama effectively and keep itself reasonably low-key in order to adhere to its’ underground nature, at least until the last act in which we are left with a finale so OTT and predictable, it nearly spoils the fun we were having before it. Nearly, but not quite. Stupid, dumb fun with some flashy cinematography is at the heart of Nerve, and for 60 minutes at least, it was some adrenaline pushing drama. Shame about the other 30.