“When I Was A Kid, There Was A Place, A Dark Place. They Closed It Down, And Let It Rot. But The Things That Live There, They Come Back…”
With Hollywood at a particular period in cinematic history where every single word written by the steady hand of Stephen King is set for some form of live action adaptation, with the release of Pet Sematary and It: Chapter Two alone this year resulting in very successful box office returns, the release of Doctor Sleep this week reminds that the best King adaptation in the form of Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece, The Shining, has yet to be truly tested even after nearly forty years. With King’s original novel undoubtedly one of his most iconic and well regarded by literary readers, the fear of any sequel to the tale of the Torrance’s and the Overlook Hotel were first raised when Doctor Sleep was published in 2013, and whilst King’s novel passed the time nicely during my university years with some interesting ideas and charming call backs to its’ predecessor, the narrative never held the same sense of supernatural wonder that the 1977 original novel had in spades. Cue the big screen adaptation therefore, one directed by the overly impressive skills of horror aficionado, Mike Flanagan, the mind behind both Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House series and of course, Stephen King’s own, Gerald’s Game, and what we have is a movie which succeeds in paying both homage to Kubrick’s classic horror and staying as faithful to the novel of Doctor Sleep as humanly practicable, a decision which ultimately simultaneously both hinders and supports Flanagan’s latest big screen project.
With Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining only carrying a slight sense of faithfulness to the source material in the first place, Flanagan’s movie directly follows events which take place in the 1980 horror classic after a decision was made that most people heading into Doctor Sleep would have probably seen Kubrick’s portrayal of events rather than read the original text, and with a central narrative which follows a now alcoholic and middle-aged Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) and his discovery of both others who “shine” and Rebecca Ferguson’s (Mission Impossible: Fallout) band of vampire-esque killers who feed off the “steam” of those inflicted with the power of the shining, Flanagan’s movie for those who would not have read the novel is a substantial diversion from the confines of the Overlook Hotel. Blending mystery, scenes of downright horrific violence and a really beautiful genre aesthetic, Doctor Sleep does have elements of real intrigue, even for someone who has read the source material, but at a staggering two and a half hours, the movie doesn’t half drag at times, particularly when we are exposed to utterly blasphemic reconstructions of scenes from Kubrick’s original movie and a tendency to focus on particular characters who suffer from a unhealthy balance of being both uninteresting and underwritten. The Shining it is not, but as a direct adaptation of a middling King novel, Flanagan’s movie is good enough but fails to ignite the sense of haunting wonder its’ predecessor continues to evoke even after nearly forty years.
Overall Score: 6/10
“We’ve Been Compromised, With Every Citizen At This Planet At Risk. Trust No One…”
With the catalogue of blockbusters appearing on the big screen post-Avengers: Endgame so far this year not exactly managing to hit the same levels of excellence in any way shape or form whatsoever, with the likes of Godzilla: King of the Monsters and X-Men: Dark Phoenix failing to win over both critics and the box office alike, one of Hollywood’s most rusty cinematic franchises is strangely brought back to life in the form of Men in Black: International in a last-ditch attempt to save the day for cinema chains across the world. With the original Men in Black from 1997 still too darn entertaining to be regarded as a guilty pleasure, with a typically sarcastic Tommy Lee Jones and a Will Smith in full-on Fresh Prince-era brilliance resulting in a cinematic partnership for the ages, the subsequent sequel and threequel failed to ignite similar levels of excellence, resulting in sheer bemusement when rumours of a fourth entry was on the way, and with the latest chapter this time being directed by F. Gary Gray, whose work on the excellent, Straight Outta Compton, has somewhat been overshadowed after the not-so excellent, The Fate of the Furious, it’s fair to say that International isn’t the most anticipated movie of the year thus far.
With the usual acting suspects dropped in favour of Thor and Valkyrie themselves, it’s fair to say that the likeable pairing of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson (Avengers: Endgame) is one of the only good things about International, a lifeless, run-of-the-mill, cash-grab which sees Thompson as Molly Wright, a wide-eyed, alien-obsessed dreamer whose experience of the titular darkly attired agents as a young child results in her soon joining up herself and working alongside Hemsworth’s suitably cocky and annoyingly charming, Henry, in order to, you guessed it, save the world against an alien threat known as the hive. With cringe-inducing dialogue, poor storytelling and an over-reliance on forgettable special effects, Gray’s movie prefers the art of nonsensical explosions over a decent plot and whilst the inclusion of Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick) as the voice of a clingy, cutesy egg-shaped alien adds a much needed level of comedic spice, International is annoyingly both a gigantic waste of time and talent, adding itself rather nicely to the collection of half-baked summer blockbusters thus far. Neurolyse me now.
Overall Score: 4/10
“Alexander Elliot, It Was You Who Drew The Sword! This Realm Faces Mortal Danger..!”
In a time in which both King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and the awfully misjudged, Robin Hood, at least effectively reminded everyone that sometimes rolling out the same old story time and time again isn’t always the best quick route to success, the release of The Kid Who Would Be King sees yet another legendary tale being brought to the big screen just in time for half term. Directed and written by Joe Cornish, whose previous credits include Attack the Block and the screenplay for 2015’s Ant-Man, the London born filmmaker helms a family friendly retelling of the Arthurian legend, this time set in the heart of contemporary England as we follow Louis Ashbourne Serkis’ (Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle) Alexander, a geeky and overly charming school pupil who soon becomes central to thwarting the resurfacing of the evil presence of Morgana, who attempts to take over Earth after centuries away in waiting for the planet to fall into a particularly desolate point of crisis. With supporting trailers for the movie which teetered on the edge of awfulness, the signs weren’t exactly overwhelmingly positive heading into Cornish’s latest, and whilst The Kid Who Would Be King does have some interesting ideas alongside some likeable themes ideas, the latest spin on the well versed fantastical tale is admirable, but is too a movie which fails on a fundamental level of not entirely being worthy up upon the big screen.
With Serkis following in the footsteps of his father, Gollum himself, Andy Serkis, by immediately coming across as a more than adequate lead performer, the initial thirty minutes set up is actually rather well done, with Cornish’s script managing to blend youth infused comedy with the ridiculousness of the central legend as we our introduced to both Alex’s home life with his struggling single mother and his school life, which is balanced between the daily battle against constant bullying from Tom Taylor (The Dark Tower) and Rhianna Dorris’ Lance and Kay, and his friendship with Dean Chaumoo’s Bedders, the self proclaimed Samwise to Alex’s Frodo. With Excalibur soon being thrusted from its’ positioning in a desolate building yard, the arrival of Angus Imrie’s Led Zeppelin supporting Merlin pushes the comedic elements of the movie into a string of constant Thor esque gags as we witness the wizard attempt to make the wide-eyed fellow pupils of Alex aware of impending doom. Sharing the role with the wispy white haired figure of Patrick Stewart (Logan), Merin is undoubtedly the most interesting character within the drama, with Rebecca Ferguson’s, (Mission: Impossible – Fallout) Morgana, ridiculously underwritten, resulting in a threat level which is shared with the awfulness of Toby Kebbell in Destroyer. As the movie swings past the hour mark however, the remaining fifty minutes annoyingly become devoid of fun, ideas or decent editing, concluding with a final special-effects laden battle which seems to have less production value than the early episodes of Doctor Who, and whenever a film tests my patience after starting so well, the final package isn’t really worth it come the end of it. Solid, but very mediocre indeed.
Overall Score: 5/10
“The End You’ve Always Feared Is Coming. It’s Coming, And The Blood Will Be On Your Hands…”
With screenplays for the likes of The Usual Suspects and Edge of Tomorrow on Christopher McQuarrie’s cinematic CV, it seemed only natural that McQuarrie would soon helm the US’s most longstanding and successful contemporary action franchise, where the transition from sole screenwriter to director has formed a winning partnership with Tom Cruise since the release of Jack Reacher in 2012 and the critically acclaimed Rogue Nation three years later. Returning to the fold this week with Fallout, the sixth Mission: Impossible release, McQuarrie reunites with the majority of his cast from Rogue Nation including Rebecca Ferguson (Life), Simon Pegg (Star Trek) and Alec Baldwin (The Departed) as Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is tasked with retrieving stolen plutonium cores before they fall into the hands of “The Apostles”, a terrorist cell with connections to “The Syndicate”, the primary antagonists from Rogue Nation which featured Sean Harris as their treacherous and anarchic leader. With spectacle in abundance, a barrage of breathless action sequences and an editing pace which holds your head in a storm of jaw-dropping disbelief, Fallout is the ultimate summertime blockbuster, an action movie which mixes style and substance as the best genre movies always do and a shining example of how a series can expand and improve when made with such precision and expertise.
With the franchise in general being more and more renowned for Cruise’s lust for practicality when it comes to stunts and set pieces, Fallout features some of the series’ best examples yet of Cruise at his most insane and death-defying. Whether it be a high-speed The Dark Knight inspired vehicle heist, a Casino Royale and Jason Bourne-esque rooftop chase, or a concluding aerial helicopter pursuit which channelled the opening act of Sam Mendes’ Spectre, Fallout perfectly blends the lines between fiction and reality, offering high-octane action on a constant basis in front of beautiful cinematography by Rob Hardy (Ex Machina, Annihilation) which makes you question how exactly a film which sees Cruise being put through the absolute wringer can be made without an over-reliance on digital effects. With an opening thirty minutes which does strangely drag after being bulked down with a crescendo of generic spy-genre exposition, Fallout isn’t perfect but is undoubtedly saved by the remaining two hours which provide a cracking amount of evidence for being the best example of the genre since Mad Max: Fury Road, and with Cruise and co. so obviously enjoying exploring the capacity for how far the action genre can be pushed to the limit before certain death, from an audience perspective, long may it continue.
Overall Score: 8/10
“You Could Save Them You Know. I Gave You All The Clues And Everything…”
Tackling a subject matter light years apart from the similarly titled Raymond Briggs written animation, The Snowman, a cinematic adaptation of Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbø’s best selling novel, marks the highly anticipated return of Swedish director Tomas Alfredson, whose decision to adapt his fellow Scandinavians’ work from page to screen makes some sort of sense considering the dark, twisty tones of his previous work, and whilst Nesbø’s novel is the seventh in a series based around the trials and tribulations of Michael Fassbender’s leading character, Harry Hole, Alfredson’s movie is the first attempt in bringing the author’s famous detective to some sort of cinematic fruition. With good omens behind it therefore, it comes at a complete surprise to report that Alfredson’s latest is unfortunately nothing more than a shockingly dire and unintentionally woeful, manufactured work of disillusioned trash, one which seems to have faltered primarily at a pre-production stage and ultimately released just for the sake of it, and when considering the talent behind it, with a cast which mirrors the impressive ensemble within Alfredson’s previous, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Snowman is undoubtedly one of the most infuriatingly contrived let downs in recent Hollywood history.
Suffering from a handful of flaws which range from sloppy unprofessionalism to sinful laziness, The Snowman seems to be the spawn of awful judgement primarily from a production standpoint, with the film’s narrative lacking any meaningful level of threat, coherence or substance in complete contrast to previous Scandinavian thrillers such as The Killing and the Millennium franchise, and whilst the absence of threat results in the bulk of the movie being replaced with utter tedium, the film is worsened by the bizarre comedic tendency it seems to evoke each and every time the movie slips into supposed dark territory, with awfully designed murder clips and the scene of a snowman’s head being planted on the top of a deceased body resulting in a combination of sniggers rather than the nail-biting thrills I believe the novels were famous for. With editing which verges on the point of insanity and scenes which move from one to another without any sort of meaningful connectivity, The Snowman is a incomprehensible mess of a movie, and whilst the likes of Fassbender and even Alfredson to some extent can’t be entirely to blame, the first entry of a supposed Jo Nesbø based franchise is a complete and utter stinker.
Overall Score: 3/10
“We’re Looking At The First Proof Of Life Beyond Earth…”
Battling head-to-head this year with Alien: Covenant for the most obvious rip off of the original Ridley Scott classic, Alien (1978), Child 44 director Daniel Espinosa returns this week with Life, a sloppily directed and face-palm inducingly stupid science fiction movie which steals so many cues from previous and inherently better movies that I began to lose count just over the halfway mark. With an impressive cast, featuring the likes of the always superb Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds, Life suffers from a fundamental flaw of failing to be something it really isn’t, with its’ utter silliness and complete lack of plausibility failing to stack up to the movie-maker’s obvious intentions, resulting in a sometimes painful experience which exposes its’ audience to a rough reek of sanctimony, particularly in a final act in which the film loses all sense of credibility due to wacky direction and a element of deafening inevitability. In a month in which Get Out reset the bar in regards to the power of contemporary horror movies, Life is unfortunately the type of film which just really lets the rest of the team down.
Whilst the film does boast an impressive leading alien species in the form of Calvin, a terrifyingly murderous martian which in a similar vein to the Alien franchise’s Xenomorph’s, feeds and grows at the rate of knots, Life doesn’t entirely put the leading foes’ effective features to good use, primarily due to a narrative which conflicts with the intellect of its’ supposed lead characters who throughout the movie are incredibly prone to making the most obviously stupid decisions in order to crank the plot into a dramatic submission. Whilst the death of an early character is strikingly shocking in terms of both its’ timing and the manner in which we are introduced to the power of Calvin the killer martian, the movie slowly loses its’ element of suspense and threat, resulting in moments of utter tedium when there should have been particles of strong horror which I personally was looking forward to after being warned of within the opening BBFC classification. A messy sci-fi which weakens as it progresses, Life is surprisingly uninspiring and mediocre. Also, what is it with films using defibrillators in the wrong way? YOU CAN’T SHOCK A FLAT-LINE. Peace.
Overall Score: 4/10
“What Happened That Night In The Tunnel?”
Much like the unreliable UK train service in out current state of affairs, this review comes somewhat a little late to proceedings in contrast to our usual disciplined services, due in part to my reluctance at seeing the big screen adaptation of The Girl on the Train, the ridiculously popular novel published last year and written by author Paula Hawkins, a novel in which I came to thinking it was something completely different, a novel which was indeed gripping in places but ultimately felt like a jumped up Midsummer Murders with an added slice of spice in order to fit in with the literary era of a novel such as Fifty Shades of Grey. Although book reviews aren’t a speciality of Black Ribbon just yet, Tate Taylor’s cinematic adaptation was somewhat something of a mystery on the face of it. Coming to the movie being well aware of the plot, it could have been an utter bore, yet with a cast that boasts pedigree left, right and centre, The Girl on the Train isn’t exactly remarkable, it’s just straightforwardly solid, featuring a stand out performance from Emily Blunt and sticking so close to the source material of which had the inherent problems the film contracts onto the big screen.
Where the film succeeds is in the casting of Blunt in the lead role of Rachel, who takes to the challenge of giving her all to the max, swaying in a drunken mess throughout most of the movie, unaware of her actions and the consequences that are the cornerstone of the movies’ mystery, whilst The Magnificent Seven’s Haley Bennett also deserves a mention for the conflicted Megan Hipwell. Aside from the movies’ two leading ladies, The Girl on the Train features a rafter of one-dimensional male characters, with Luke Evans and Justin Theroux being portrayed as sex/power hungry misogynist pigs, a cold portrayal of humanity in a film similarly cold and lifeless without much dramatic effect to keep it entertaining. Aside from characterisation, The Girl on the Train suffers from having the same problem as the novel; it’s just not that groundbreaking. Sure, as a two-part ITV drama it may have succeeded, yet on the big screen, Tate Taylor’s latest isn’t anything apart from good and for a film with such a cast list, I expected more.
Overall Score: 6/10
The British Invasion
It never fails to amaze me how even after years of movie companies churning out the same age-old tale of the super-spy, whether he be American or British, that even in 2015, such a story can be just as entertaining and thrilling as ever, and in the case of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, the fifth entry into the cinematic series based on the American TV series of the same name, the argument that too much of the same will inevitably get boring is lost in the chaotic spectacle that is Tom Cruise’s latest run out as IMF Agent Ethan Hunt. If the first M:I showed us that stunts and deception were the core traits of the series, then Rogue Nation laps up such a notion and turns it up to eleven, with the film offering as much spectacle as all the previous entries in the series put together, whilst fully embodying the comedic element supplied by the inclusion of Simon Pegg in a clear attempt to distance itself from the darker and much tougher spy movies we have been used to recently in the form of the Bourne Series and the Craig-era of James Bond.
In terms of the high points within the movie, the scene in which our beloved hero tracks down the leader of the so-called Syndicate during an operatic session within Vienna was a fabulous concoction of thrills, comedy and high-risk tension, with the background performance adding to the sense of drama that was occurring on-screen. Other highlights included the constant comedic output supplied by our team of agents, with Simon Pegg gratefully lapping up the chance to keep the British end up and be the star of the film in scenes in which we are reminded of how much a step-away Rogue Nation has decided to be from the darkness of say Skyfall and, I assume, Spectre, which from watching the trailer, looks even darker than its’ predecessor. Setbacks within the film include the obvious over-use of CGI in certain scenes which unfortunately only weakens the sense of reality we get from watching scenes and stunts that did not rely on CGI and were actually done FOR REAL in a George Miller-esque fashion, whilst the overarching villain in the form of Sean Harris’ Solomon Lane, won’t exactly be remembered outside of the film, with it being a rather hollow and cliched performance from start to finish. Rogue Nation therefore features a whole lot of thrills, but ultimately, a few too many spills, making it entertaining for the time-being, but definitely not something to be treasured for the long-run. Still, its’ better than M:I 2. Seriously John Woo, stop with the doves.
Overall Score: 7/10