“That Hole Is A Gateway. And It Leads, Straight Down, To Hell. Now, Who Wants To Buy Some Drugs..?”
Juggling the role of front-man for the psychedelic rock band, Kula Shaker, alongside recently venturing into the world of cinematic endeavours, the multi-talented Crispian Mills reunites with Simon Pegg (Mission: Impossible – Fallout) after the 2012 independent horror comedy, A Fantastic Fear of Everything, with Slaughterhouse Rulez, a similarly genre bending creature feature which combines The Inbetweeners style laddish humour with a St. Trinian’s inspired backdrop which sees Finn Cole’s (Peaky Blinders) northerly Don Wallace reluctantly attend the titular upper class school, the militaristic, private education palace full with inner social class turmoil and overseen by the rather exuberant Headmaster as played by Michael Sheen (Apostle). Whilst Pegg himself can relate to starring in arguably the greatest British horror comedy of all time in the form of Shaun of the Dead, Mills’ second feature unsurprisingly fails to come anywhere close to Edgar Wright’s masterpiece, instead offering a strange concoction of Doctor Who inspired science fiction, political commentary and B-movie splatter, resulting in a ninety minute headrush of a movie which in parts is thoroughly enjoyable and laugh-out loud funny, but at other times, completely loses its’ way and slowly wanders into territory bordering on irksome, but with some of Britain’s best acting chops on show, Slaughterhouse Rulez is still amusing enough to pass the time.
With the bulk of the narrative focusing on the wretched school life entwined within the confines of the titular cathedral of knowledge, Mill’s screenplay begins in interesting fashion, introducing both Cole’s streetwise and savvy newcomer and Asa Butterfield’s (Hugo) kooky, alcohol and cigarette dependant, Willoughby Blake, as the central duo of the piece who quickly fall upon the insidious doings of a renowned fracking company who have been tasked with digging out the corpulent supply of shell gas kept under the school’s ground. Cue the nod to the Doctor Who serial “Inferno” from 1970 in which a mining disaster breeds unknown evil hostiles from beneath the surface of the earth and that’s pretty much the entire second half of Mill’s movie, just without venturing into alternative universes and apocalyptic doom. Whilst I am all for witnessing the sight of a drug-laden, hippie Nick Frost (Hot Fuzz) and violent, flesh hungry cave dwellers ripping endless hordes of cannon fodder to shreds within reason, Mills fails on a fundamental level to hold the shakey lines of genre crossing at a steady beat, resulting in a movie which not only feels way too long come the hour mark as the screenplay begins to run out of ideas good enough to hold the attention of its’ audience, but one which is neither scary or threatening, resulting in Slaughterhouse Rulez essentially being a feature length back-end episode of Torchwood with occasional slices of comedy gold and a Michael Sheen in his most camp and scenery chewing film role thus far.
Overall Score: 5/10
“Beware Of False Prophets Which Come To You In Sheep’s Clothing…”
With an acute and overly clingy fondness for The Raid franchise ever since Iko Uwais first decided to clatter a room full of criminals in an exceptionally violent and undeniably impressive fashion on the orders of director, Gareth Evans, it’s fair to say that no matter what the Welshman decides to take on next as a film project, I am instantly hooked and ready to savour whatever falls my way. Departing the world of Indonesian crime for the time being, Evans’ latest, Apostle, drops onto Netflix this week, following on from the likes of big name directors such as Paul Greengrass and Alex Garland who have gleefully taken the steaming service’s cash in order to develop their own movie on their own terms in return for exclusive streaming rights, and what Evans brings to the table is an overripe, hyper-violent and ridiculously entertaining period horror which revels in cramming together as many classic horror riffs as humanly possible into a narrative which sees Dan Stevens’ (Legion) Thomas Richardson head to a remote island off the coast of Wales in order to infiltrate an extremist cult led by Michael Sheen’s (Frost/Nixon) Prophet Malcolm who are holding his beloved sister hostage as they await payment from Richardson’s rich father.
From the synopsis of Apostle alone, the immediate and obvious reference point is of course Robin Hardy’s 1973 British horror classic, The Wicker Man, with Stevens essentially a covert cardboard cutout of Edward Woodward’s Sgt. Neil Howie, albeit with lesser inner turmoils regarding the discovery of an extreme new religion and the fact that due to his willingness to remain hidden, violence could potentially reveal itself at any corner. Whilst the film seems to begin with an air of seriousness in its’ introduction to Sheen’s crazed cult leader and Lucy Boynton’s (Murder on the Orient Express) reluctant daughter figure intent on being more than just the offspring of a prophet, the more the movie veers into a crazed blend of Silent Hill and the blood-splatting carnage of a film such as You’re Next, the sillier it undeniably becomes, resulting in various X-rated set pieces which remind you that Gareth Evans really does like playing with things so over-the-top and bloodthirsty, they are guaranteed to make you squeal. Whilst the narrative does wander at times and the central mystery sort of veers off course in favour of the concluding bout of violence, the performances are dedicated, particularly from Sheen who gives his best blend of Shakespeare and Charles Manson as the leading antagonist, and the early twentieth century aesthetic is wonderfully creepy, and whilst the whole is indeed lesser than either of The Raid movies, Apostle is an interesting and very silly genre piece which ranks up there with the better originals to come from Netflix this year.
Overall Score: 7/10
“You’re Fifty Years Old And You Still Think The World Was Made For You…”
Tackling notions of the mid-life crisis and looking back on a lifetime gone swiftly by, School of Rock writer, Mike White, directs and provides the screenplay for Brad’s Status, a low-key and pleasantly thoughtful comedy which utilises the leading star skills of Ben Stiller who returns to the big screen after a somewhat nonexistent cinematic footprint over the course of the past few years or so. Whilst Stiller’s comedy can somewhat not exactly hit the mark, take the likes of Zoolander 2 for instance, the emergence of White’s script and a wide range of lovely supporting performances from an extravagantly well-versed cast, proves to be a solid winning return for the comedic stalwart, and although the underlying narrative point of the movie is one which has been tackled before in a wide range of differing movies ranging from American Beauty to last year’s Ingrid Goes West, Brad’s Status is a cool, sombre and sometimes heartwarming drama which doesn’t ever feel the need to raise up from its’ subtle examination of its’ titular leading character.
Accompanying his son, Troy (Austin Abrams, Paper Towns) along the East Coast whilst they seek out potential future colleges, Brad Sloane (Stiller) reminisces about the success of his out of touch school friends whilst he contemplates his own life’s middling mediocrity, one which is full with seething regret and unwarranted shame in comparison to his long lost forgotten acquaintances. With the narrative primarily explained through the use of Stiller’s voiceover and some rather excessive yet undeniably comedic dream sequences which convey’s Sloane’s belief of his friend’s individual successes, White’s movie works primarily thanks to a brilliantly conflicted leading performance from Stiller alongside the grounding of its’ youthful cast, with the likes of Abrams and Shazi Raja counteracting Sloane’s contempt for the world by explaining its’ true riches in a It’s a Wonderful Life style monologue. Whilst the movie falls at times for swaying too much from the central narrative and limiting its’ actual comedic zingers to a minimal amount, White’s movie is still an interesting social drama which reinforces the idea that when put to good use, Stiller is still an important and welcome leading star.
Overall Score: 6/10
“There’s A Reason We Woke Up Early…”
If ever were a movie to put off its’ audience by sheer propaganda-esque exploitation, then Passengers is it, a movie advertised within the inch of its’ life within every single cinema screening over the past four months or so, and a movie which seems to be once again a case of revealing too much to be a true success as a two-hour spectacle instead of a two-minute preview. With two of most bankable acting talents at the moment leading the way in the form of Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, Passengers, directed by Morten Tyldum of The Imitation Game alongside a story by Prometheus and Doctor Strange screenwriter Jon Spaihts, is a traditionally cheesy sci-fi romance, one which gains kudos for attempting to subvert its’ narrative giveaways within its’ trailers with a nice juicy twist to get the film going, but ultimately succumbs to its’ fundamental 12A-ness and becomes yet another flashy yet forgettable piece of cinema.
Following in the footsteps of Allied recently, a similarly forgettable tale which just happened to feature top-end A-List actors, Passengers suffers primarily from a saccharin-sweet filled narrative at its’ core, one which above all, results in the concluding act of the movie being one hard not to shout “Cheese!” at, with a cliched resuscitation scene being the heart of such of a problem. Whilst Lawrence and Pratt have some decent on-screen chemistry, the absurdness of their celebrity appearance throughout the movie (Not one pixel of make-up is out of place) creates a difficulty in taking in the apparent science fiction notions the film attempts to lay on its’ audience, with obvious nods to Interstellar, Alien, Solaris, Moon and even The Shining putting the film in danger of being just a reel of scenes from better and more memorable productions. Whilst there are a wide range of issues with Passengers, the inherent friendliness makes it somewhat suitable for this particular period of the year, yet its’ plain-sailing approach sadly just won’t make it past the month as something memorable, a shame when considering the talent on display. Also, what was the point of hiring Andy Garcia? HE DOES NOTHING. Merry Christmas.
Overall Score: 5/10