“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
“We Were Scum, Trash, Refuse That Didn’t Fit Into The System, Until Someone Had The Bright Idea Of Recycling Us To Serve Science…”
Moving into the world of English language movies for the first time at the fresh age of seventy three, French filmmaker, Claire Denis (Let the Sunshine In) and long-term collaborator, Jean-Pol Fargeau, bend the minds of audiences across the globe with High Life, a mesmerising, often beautiful, art-house influenced science fiction nightmare which mixes the psychological impact of isolation seen in the likes of Solaris and Moon, with a truly stunning design and technical nuance, one clearly influenced by the likes of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Nolan’s own space travel masterpiece, Interstellar. Set, in true genre fashion, during a dystopian future world in which the Earth is seemingly struggling from a disturbing lack of resources, High Life follows, in nonlinear fashion, Robert Pattinson’s (Twilight) Monte, a convicted murderer who along with other troubled felons, are sent out into the far reaches of space within the confines of a claustrophobic and self-sustaining spacecraft and towards a far-away black hole in order to attempt to examine and potentially extract the energy within in order to aid their fellow humans back on Earth.
With the nonlinear fashion of the narrative allowing the tale to unravel through being watched rather than being explained, Denis’ movie begins in an almost Silent Running esque manner, presenting Pattinson’s shaved-headed convict all alone in space with the responsibility of not only maintaining his own life through the care of his spacecraft, one which includes a recycling based garden and a computer program which requires daily updates in order to prevent complete destruction, but of a young child too, one born of space and one whose parentage isn’t entirely clear until the drama moves forward. With excellent supporting performances from the likes of previous Denis collaborator, Juliette Binoche (Ghost in the Shell) as a cracked scientist hell bent on perfecting the art of artificial insemination, and a rather placid, understated one from André Benjamin (Revolver) as a convict turned pacifist, High Life moves slowly but does so in a way to ensure that every detail has both meaning and impact, with particular set pieces bound to either make you look away in disgust or remain jaw-dropped at just how surreal the story ultimately plays out. With Pattinson once again proving how fine an actor he has become after choosing projects away from the limelight in the ilk of Cosmopolis and Good Time, Denis’ first foray into the English language is by no means perfect, but boy is it utterly unforgettable.
Overall Score: 8/10
“So Today, I Want To Talk About The Greatest Woman I’ve Ever Met…”
Much like the beginning of Matt Smith’s tenure as the Eleventh Doctor many moons ago, the eleventh series of Doctor Who brings with it both a fresh, new incarnation of the travelling Time Lord alongside an alternative showrunner, with Broadchurch creator, Chris Chibnall, taking over the reigns from Steven Moffat who presided over both Smith and Peter Capaldi’s time in the role which boosted the show into international success. Getting the primary talking point from the new series out of the way, The Doctor has of course decided to shift genders, with Chibnall reuniting with Broadchurch star, Jodie Whittaker (Journeyman) to offer up the first female incarnation of the character in the show’s fifty five year history, and whilst my main concern isn’t of course anything to do with the gender of a character who not only is alien but has managed to last on our screens for over fifty years, there are particular worries regarding Chibnall’s ability to take over a show loved by so many across the globe, particularly when you examine Chibnall’s previous writing credits on the show which so far have been anything less than impressive. Here we are however and what “The Woman Who Fell To Earth” proved to us was that the show is indeed headed in a different course entirely to the Capaldi era, channeling more of the early Smith-led episodes for an opener which was high on ideas but low on execution.
Utilising a full hour to not only introduce a brand new Doctor to the world but a considerable amount of new companions too, Chibnall grounds his opening episode in contemporary Sheffield, where a regenerated and slightly shaken Doctor crashes into the lives of the Sinclair family and Mandip Gill’s probation serving Police Officer, Yaz, who believes her time is better spent than dealing with more than parking disputes. With hammy acting and quick-fire comedic dialogue, Chibnall’s writing feels more than a touch of Moffat’s handling of Matt Smith’s Doctor, and even with a wide range of local, Northern banter which keeps on reminding that “We don’t get aliens in Sheffield”, Whittaker’s first performance manages to blend the kookiness of Smith and Tennant with the sincere dramatic pull of a Eccleston or Capaldi, with the former particularly coming to mind in how his early beginnings seemed to show an actor uncomfortable with the lighter touches than the heavy doses of drama. With dark, brooding cinematography and a Blade Runner-esque heavy synth soundtrack from Murray Gold replacement, Segun Akinola, Chibnall’s attempts at balancing the tonal waverings of the show does slightly fail, and even with a staggering amount of death and a rather creepy leading antagonist which looked like a cross between the Green Goblin and the monster from Jeepers Creepers, the feel of the show never really settled down but undeniably still managed to evoke more of the “classic” Who than one would have imagined. With bundles of exposition adding to its’ downfall, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” was no means a disappointment, just an opening hour which comes nowhere near to the excellent openings NuWho has presented in the past, and with nine weeks to flourish and become her own interpretation, Chibnall’s’ reign begins in interesting, if flawed fashion. That theme tune though.
Overall Episode Score: 6/10
“I Think They’re Attempting Hybridisation. They’re Upgrading On Every Planet They Visit…”
With it being thirty one years since the original Predator in which Arnold Schwarzenegger out muscled Carl Weathers and a brand new monster franchise was violently brought to the attention of Hollywood, director Shane Black (Iron Man 3, The Nice Guys) brings his own particular twist to the series with a direct sequel to the previous entries which features over-inflated ego’s, jaw-dropping violence and an eclectic twist of tones as we see the threat of the titular monster land on the doorstep of Boyd Holbrook’s (Logan) Quinn McKenna, a merciless Army Ranger sniper whose team are swiftly massacred after a mysterious alien ship crash lands on earth. With Black himself famously having a leading role in the original, his penchant for black comedy which has been rife throughout his directorial back catalogue thus far is surprisingly the standout tone of The Predator, a film which attempts to pay respects to the original with ridiculous levels of violence and an overwhelming B-movie sensibility, but a sequel which too ultimately feels nothing more than a slice of popcorn flashiness without the lingering aftershock which made the original release back in 1987 so darn re-watchable even after initial sniffy reviews back in the day. What’s the point of film critics anyhow? Please continue.
Following in the footsteps of the soon-to-be released Mile 22 by disregarding the fundamental laws of film-making by glossing over basic characterisation and seemingly hiring editors who are hooked on some sort of maniacal drug, Black’s movie doesn’t half move like a bullet train, hooking audiences straight into the action as a quick detour into the jungle leads onward to hidden government bases, Halloween covered schools and finally back to the jungle as our titular murderous beast gleefully tears the wide range of cannon fodder violently apart. With Black choosing to focus the heart of the action upon Holdbrook’s shoulders as his character finds himself on the self proclaimed “loony bus” alongside the likes of Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight) and Thomas Jane’s (The Punisher) rather forgettable but equally homicidal “troubled” soldiers, the quick quipped banter between the characters at first doesn’t seem to fit with the tone of the movie whatsoever but as the movie progresses into more extreme and over the top territory, including a drastically overlong and plodding conclusion, Black’s vision is clearly groundwork for an expanse into wider Predator related territory, and whilst his latest is riddled with flaws and silly mistakes, the best way to view The Predator is to understand what it fundamentally is at heart; a trashy B-movie wannabee.
Overall Score: 6/10
“See, You Thought I Was A Cripple But You Didn’t Know That I’m A Ninja…”
Between the creative talents of Leigh Whannell and Jason Blum, the founder of Blumhouse Productions, the two have seemed to have built an ever-expanding empire of horror cinema, with the success of Whannell’s own Insidious franchise seemingly paving the way for ventures into much more diverse examples of the genre. Cue Upgrade, the latest venture from Whannell who writes and directs an ultra-violent, brutally black comic horror which sees Logan Marshall-Green (Prometheus) as Grey Trace, a traditionally work hungry grease monkey who soon becomes a guilt-ridden quadriplegic after he and his wife are brutally attacked by the hands of murderous criminals. With Grey taking the chance to walk once again by accepting the offer given to him by Harrison Gilbertson’s (Need for Speed) Eron Keen, a socially awkward billionaire tech freak whose newly created device, STEM, harnesses the power to render Grey’s disability defunct amidst a few hidden upgrades which soon turn Grey into a merciless, vengeful killer as hunts down the similarly dangerous and technologically advanced killers who have changed his life forever.
Set within the cyberpunk world of a near future dystopia in which drones control the skies and technology is quickly eradicating the need for a human-based workforce, Upgrade revels in the contemporary fashion of evoking the multi-coloured, neon stratosphere world of Blade Runner, as seen this year alone in the likes of Netflix’s Altered Carbon and Mute, in which people are seen lost within the confines of virtual reality and back-alley hackers are distinctive by their gender fluidity and knack for groovy hair dye. Adding to the wonderfully absurd surroundings in which the action takes place, the film’s awareness of its’ B-Movie exploitation origins manages to effectively balance elements of Cronenbergian body horror with dark, warped comedy in which enemies are devoured in the most violent ways possible seen on the big screen since Brawl in Cell Block 99. With Logan Marshall-Green suggesting he’s much more than just a Tom Hardy lookalike with a brilliantly crafted physical performance in which particular body movements look almost too surreal to comprehend, Upgrade is a step in the zany direction for Blumhouse, but boy is it god damn enjoyable.
Overall Score: 7/10
“That Thing’s Out There. We Need To Find It And Kill It…”
Rushing onto the big screen and breaking the rules of conventional cinematic rules by managing to swerve away from straight-to-video bargain bucket where it undeniably belongs, everyone’s favourite bald-headed Brit, Jason Statham (The Fate of the Furious) leads the cast of The Meg, a horrendously dire, B-Movie nightmare which sees Statham as Jonas Taylor, a seemingly invincible and overly irresistible rescue diver who is tasked alongside a team of awfully inane scientists to defeat the titular Megalodon, a seventy foot long murderous shark thought extinct which is released upon the world to chew upon the cannon fodder of citizens which lay in its’ wake. Based upon the 1997 book “Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror” by American science fiction author, Steve Alten, The Meg fails on a comprehensive level of failing to be the type of movie which can be typecast as “so bad its’ good”, with the film’s dire script, awful dialogue and shambolic acting performances all managing to co-exist together in a finished product which ranks up there with the worst cinema has offered up this year so far, a turgid release which makes you yearn for the sheer absurdity of Sharknado.
Whilst Jason Statham is the sort of actor whose presence is always welcome in any type of movie, his particular individual performance within The Meg is Oscar worthy in comparison to the carnival of awful side-notes which encompass the supporting cast, with the likes of Rainn Wilson (The Office), Ruby Rose (John Wick: Chapter Two) and the horrendously accented Li Bingbing (Transformers: Age of Extinction) all being handed woefully two-dimensional characters whose chemistry and comedic timing comes across utterly cringe-worthy at a range of different points during the action. With a screenplay which includes the type of dialogue where each character takes it in turn to shout obvious warnings and entirely lazy portions of tiresome exposition, The Meg seems to know the genre basis it attempts to sink its’ teeth into quite clearly, but thanks to the staggeringly inadequate direction of Jon Turteltaub, a filmmaker renowned for the likes of The Sorcerers Apprentice and erm, Cool Runnings, the finished product is downright stale and unworthy of viewership, and whilst it’s easy to poke fun at movies which try to be just good old fun instead of attempting to come across as the new Citizen Kane, The Meg just doesn’t work at any level at all, and for a movie which happens to include the brooding baldness of Jason Statham, that’s quite a startling feat in itself.
Overall Score: 3/10
“No World They Create For Us Can Compete With The Real One…”
With the finale of Westworld’s debut season a fascinating, masterful and downright majestic ninety minutes of television which not only offered up more questions than answers within a series which was getting more and more renowned for having more narrative rabbit holes than some audiences could feasibly cope with, but more importantly, set the base line for the second round of stories which would ultimately follow, “The Passenger”, the similarly feature length concluding arc of the show’s second season undoubtedly had a hard act to follow, particularly when the preceding nine episodes this time around have left arguably a wider amount of certain story-lines teetering on the edge. With deaths aplenty, brain-melting exposition and enough shocking twists to make M. Night Shyamalan bow to exhaustion, Westworld’s latest closing chapter was a plot heavy but familiarly beautiful example of science fiction at its’ most ludicrous and inventive, one which once again boldly offered up more question marks than straightforward answers in an attempt to lay the mouthwatering stepping stones for the future of the show which on the basis of its’ ever expanding nature, has endless possibilities lying ahead.
With the majority of the plot focused on a heavy proportion of the main characters converging at the Valley Beyond, now envisioned as a mystical, Stargate-esque gateway which the hosts enter in order to “free” their minds from the prison of the park and into a virtual reality free from their physical self, the chance to see a culmination of Maeve, Akecheta and the redeemed figure of Simon Quarterman’s Lee Sizemore all having their own particular second season character arcs come to a end was particularly well managed, even when after the sheer mastery of episode eight, Akecheta ultimately seemed a tad bit wasted over the course of the entire run amidst a few fatal plot holes such as the extent of Maeve’s Neo-like powers and the issue of why not everyone seemed to be effected by the Clementine spreading virus which swiftly turned the hosts into 28 Days Later inspired rampaging murderers. With the pace of the episode not allowing audiences the chance to come up for fresh air at all, the bulky exposition section involving Delores, Bernard and Charlotte Hale’s band of Delos security did ultimately seem rather mind-melting at times, particularly when we see Delores and Bernard jump into the storage pump of the guests and reunite with a virtual manifestation of Logan who proceeds to explain the predictability and simplicity of mankind in a elongated set piece which unfavourably reminded me of the convoluted Architect scene in The Matrix Reloaded, and whilst particular resolutions were brought to the table, their is no doubting that “The Passenger” is the sort of episode that requires second, third and even fourth viewings in order to dissect the entirety of the subject matter it attempts to portray.
With Westworld’s second season in general improving with every step, “The Passenger” reminded that even when the show is at its’ most extreme in terms of baffling its’ audiences, the beauty in its’ construction deserves to be wildly lauded, and with soaring, stunning cinematography once again and a masterful collection of musical pieces by Ramin Djawadi, including a concluding reworked version of Radiohead’s “Codex”, the show continues to be one of the most vividly rewarding televisual experiences of the moment, one which challenges works of cinema for sheer, resounding spectacle. With twist after twist and the finality of death not strictly being adhered to, the episodes’ final twenty minutes was undoubtedly close to pushing the panic button at times in terms of swaying from the realms of plausibility, but with a joyously entertaining turn of events which sees our favourite hosts transfer from one world to another and the fate of William/The Man in Black being well and truly thrown up into the air, “The Passenger” concluded a series by adhering to the show’s characteristic of being at times remarkable and challenging in equal measure, but with curious possibilities lying ahead to be explored, Westworld finished in a way which every season should by leaving the audience seriously wanting more.
Overall Episode Score: 9/10
Overall Season Score: 8.5/10
“The Only Real World Is The One Outside These Borders…”
With the entirety of last week’s episode of Westworld beautifully dedicated to Zahn McClarnon’s Akecheta and the origin of the Ghost Nation, the penultimate episode of the show’s wonderful second season resorts back to the multi-layered narrative strands which the series is renowned for, exploring a deeper characterisation of a key central character whilst attempting to lay out the explosive turn of events which are guaranteed to kick off in the series finale next week. With William/The Man in Black taking centre stage for the majority of the episode, several interesting notions which had previously been glanced at in the past were granted much needed exploration, particularly in regards to the previously ambiguous event of William’s wife’s mysterious suicide and his own dedicated purpose to the world which he has created. With William’s wife, the offspring of James Delos and sister of Logan, presented as a troubled, conflicted alcoholic whose uncertainty of her own husband forces her into a feeling of prolonged anger and hate, William’s revelation of his natural place in Westworld and embracing of his inner darkness acts as the deciding turn for her death, a decision which undeniably still haunts both William and daughter Emily.
With Emily’s own uncertainty about her father resulting in her attempting to save him in both physical and spiritual senses, her own discovery of her father’s true nature also led to a shocking conclusion, one which not only conclusively presented William as being well and truly lost and swallowed up by his inner turmoil but one which begged the question of whether William himself is human or host, a question echoed by the repeated voice of Emily who stated “if you keep pretending, you’re not going to remember who you are.” With the backstory of William’s wife also highlighting once again Ford’s knowledge of the “project” within the “valley beyond”, now confirmed to be a radical exploration of cognition replication in order to change guests into hosts, his personal struggle of being forced out of his own creation led to the promise of “one more game” and perhaps the fundamental reasoning for Ford’s willingness to facilitate the host’s defection, but with Bernard attempting to rid himself of Ford’s control in order to save Elsie, there still remains questions regarding Ford’s ultimate park endgame. Concluding with a rather emotional death and the sense that particular characters, both human and host, seem to be close to the edge of complete and utter desolation, the penultimate episode of Westworld was yet another majestically crafted hour of science fiction which sets up a concluding chapter which will simply be unmissable.
Overall Score: 9/10
“Death Is A Passage From This Brutal World. You Don’t Deserve The Exit…”
With Westworld in the past consigned to a natural and intended cold-hearted sensibility which entwines its’ way though the show’s genetic makeup, one which seems to mirror the stark alien and unforgivable landscape in which it details, one of the main issues which many have picked up is a rare absence of heart or emphatic empathy for pretty much any of the leading characters, Bernard aside, where even the radical characterisation of Delores this year has resulted in a change of outlook on arguably Season One’s most heartbreaking character. Step forward Zahn McClarnon this week however, an actor famous for his scene-stealing leading role in Noah Hawley’s second season of Fargo alongside cameo performances in the likes of Bone Tomahawk, and “Kiksuya”, the eighth episode of this rapidly improving ten episode haul, is undoubtedly the most impressive and deliriously heartbreaking episode of not only this season, but the entire show thus far, one which utilises historical exposition to detail the history of the intriguing Ghost Nation and one which proves that under that tough level of skin, Westworld can produce moments of pure, unrivalled beauty.
With the whole episode dedicated to the life of McClarnon’s host, Akecheta, the excessively painted leader of the Ghost Nation whose intentions up to now have seemed questionable to say the least, his ability to recall the past lives in which he has both lived and died paints a glorious travel through time as we swiftly move from the early origins of the park to the present day, gorgeous cinematography in hand, and one which develops the once ambiguous season subtitle, “The Door”, as we learn of both Akecheta’s, and in a brilliant concluding twist, Maeve’s endgame in attempting to reach a world which they believe rightfully belongs to them. With a narrative through line which sees Julia Jones as Kohana, Akecheta’s beautiful love interest, the heart-wrenching coldness of the park is executed with extraordinary success, with Akecheta’s personal discovery of the park’s true foundations resulting in a tear-inducing set piece, one made all the better by yet another brilliant Ramin Djawadi musical twist which this time sees a top-note piano rendition of Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box”. With a heartfelt caressing of Westworld’s newest, and arguably, most interesting character this season, this week’s episode was a ravishing and visually stunning hour of larger-than-life television which halted the breaks on the action and took the time to delve deeper into a host POV which both balanced the pacing of the overall plot as well as adding to it with masterful results. This was HBO at its’ finest people.
Overall Score: 10/10
“The Passage From One World To The Next Requires Bold Steps Bernard…”
With the climax of last week’s episode teasing the return of Anthony Hopkins’ elegant and calculating Dr. Robert Ford, the question surrounding “Les Ecorches”, the seventh episode of the ever-improving second season of Westworld, was how big a part the character’s return would play in regards to answering the questions that seem to have all have arisen at the same time of his character’s infamous “death” in the debut season’s finale. With Bernard entering the dreamscape sensibility of the Cradle in order to make contact with Ford, his re-introduction this week alleviates a minor slither of ambiguity regarding the overall purpose of the park, with the notion of human survival seemingly the primary goal of the Westworld hierarchy, something of which was touched upon in previous episodes, particularly within “The Riddle of the Sphinx” in which the groundhog day effect of James Delos’ everlasting host seems much more crucial to the Westworld endgame in retrospect, and with Ford now still alive in conscious form rather than physical, his transfer into the mind of Bernard crafted up some rather creepy, spectre-esque imagery as Bernard was forced to murder against his will and fall in line towards the will of Ford and his calculating scheme of survival.
With the episode beginning with the secrets of Bernard being set free into the hands of Tessa Thompson’s Charlotte Hale, the ghost of Theresa Cullen loomed over Bernard as he was forced to face the truth surrounding his fundamental existence, and with the narrative chopping back and forth between time periods once again, the outcome of last week’s train bombing paid dividends with a long-awaited meeting between the two alpha females on each side of the pack. With Thompson’s Charlotte and Delores finally meeting head-to-head in the Westworld HQ compound, the former’s attempts at scrambling the mind of the now murderous host was swiftly eradicated, with Delores seemingly well aware of the bigger picture surrounding the park and the possibility of man’s wish of everlasting life, and with Charlotte close to experiencing the violent delights of the host’s capabilities, the interaction between the two was well executed and brilliantly tense. With action aplenty and numerous low-key character deaths, both human and host alike, “Les Ecorches” balanced action with meaningful exposition rather excellently, and with the return of Anthony Hopkins adding that extra slice of sinister charm that encompassed his character last season, this week’s episode of Westworld was an hour of absorbing and wholly entertaining science fiction spectacle.