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Film Review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

“Welcome to Jumanji!”

Despite the fact that the Robin Williams starring, 1995 adventure romp Jumanji was somewhat dismissed by many critics when first released despite it being a somewhat successful item at the box office, the cult status and underground following of the movie since has subversively led to both a re-examination of its’ qualities by many and as per the norm of many cinematic releases in the current climate, a unwarranted sequel. Directed by comedy staple, Jake Kasdan and featuring a script co-written by Chris McKenna, whose previous credits include the likes of The Lego Batman Movie and Spider-Man: Homecoming, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a functional if rather predictable and laborious adventure romp which utilises the star power of its’ cast to shrug off the many, many weaknesses which encompass its’ existence, and whilst many will be swept up in the wisecracking humour and electric editing pace, Kasdan’s movie is the epitome of a release which can be crammed into the genre of “not exactly my cup of tea”.

With the titular gaming sensation transforming its’ form to keep up with the popular trends of the twenty first century, our leading four youthful heroes are sucked into the jungle of Jumanji where complete control of their gaming avatars forces them to play the game and defeat the threat of Bobby Cannavale’s power hungry, insect ridden villain. With Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan taking over for the majority of the movie therefore, the narrative mixes the absurd nature of our heroes’ surroundings with ongoing banter style comedic quips, most of which ironically do make an appearance in the film’s trailer, and although the chemistry between the leading quartet is undeniable, the film never really progresses from its’ opening gag, resulting in endless penis and body transformation jokes which do end up becoming increasingly grating amidst one of the most self-aggrandizing performances from Johnson ever in his on-screen career. With Cannavale’s pedigree as a villain well known after his turn on Boardwalk Empire, his character is ultimately completely wasted in favour of numerous CGI-ridden action, and whilst Kasdan and the crew are obviously having a superb time, the fun only resonates for a short spate of time, and for a film which runs on for two hours, well, you can do the math.

Overall Score: 4/10

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Film Review: Daddy’s Home 2

“This Year It’s No More Back And Forth At Christmas. It’s A Together Christmas..!”

With 2015’s Daddy’s Home being one of the few cinematic releases which managed to simply pass me by without me having the chance, time or perhaps the need to catch up and review it, the release of it’s inevitable sequel after the comedy hit became Will Ferrell’s highest grossing live action film to date brings with it a sense of heavy duty dread, particularly when reminiscing the more contemporary Ferrell releases such as The House and Zoolander 2, and whilst it requires quite an extensive amount in the American comedy genre to actually impress me, who would have thought that a Christmas themed sequel to a film which never really was asking for a continuation in the first place was actually somewhat quite good fun? With Mel Gibson and John Lithgow added to the cast as the fathers of Mark Wahlberg’s Dusty and Ferrell’s Brad respectively, Daddy’s Home 2 is a surprisingly sharp and witty sequel which although suffers from a overly formulaic plot, some interesting narrative swings and a completely saccharin sweet ending which nearly resulted in me chucking up into the nearest popcorn box, is throwaway comedy trash of the cheesiest order which just happens to be quite enjoyable.

With a script which ironically mirrors the Bad Moms Christmas approach by utilising the added input of an older generation to the plot and therefore the inclusion of much more acting talent, the inclusion of both Gibson and Lithgow does strangely work, with the latter using all his musky, outdated charm and guile to interfere with the family arrangements, and the latter’s penchant for cringe-laden conversations and weirdly intimate family relations managing to balance the widely cliched characterisation of pretty much everyone from child to elder. With rib-tickling set pieces managing to win me over from the start and Wahlberg being undeniably the star of the show, Daddy’s Home 2 does falter in an over-reliance on weak slapstick more times than necessary, whilst the inclusion of a strangely ill-judged gun scene is somewhat muddled in its’ execution, particularly when contemplating recent events in the US. Daddy’s Home 2 isn’t perfect, but nobody heading in was expecting It’s A Wonderful Life, and whilst some may feel the need to slate it’s cocksure and rather unsteady cinematic existence, it really isn’t worth getting angry about, and with that particular mindset in check, Ferrell’s latest is just plain dumb fun.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: Paddington 2

“Paddington Wouldn’t Hesitate If Any Of Us Needed Help! He Looks For The Good In All Of Us…”

Amidst talk of political scandals, sexual harassment allegations and the threat of nuclear armageddon, what an absolutely fantastic and necessary time it seems for the release of Paddington 2, Paul King’s live-action sequel to the runaway success of the titular Peruvian bear’s first real big screen appearance back in 2014, a film which not only put the marmalade loving charmer back into the hearts of millions, but reminded that when done well, the reinvention of a classic, culturally important character can lead to successes for both filmmaker and its’ respective audience. With the inevitable sequel upon us therefore, Paddington 2 reunites the bulk of the original movie’s cast with the added inclusion of acting heavyweights Hugh Grant and Brendan Gleeson, and whilst sequels rarely surpass the brilliance of their predecessor, King’s return is an undeniable heartwarming delight from beginning to end, utilising Paddington’s fundamental characteristics of kind-willed ignorance to great comedic effect, alongside a note perfect ensemble cast who seem to be having as much fun as the rest of the audience within a movie which perfectly caters to younglings and adults alike. Anyone for marmalade?

With Paddington well and truly moulded into the lives of the Brown family, his attempts to raise money for an exquisitely designed pop-up book for Aunt Lucy is thwarted when the item is stolen and Paddington blamed, resulting in the Peruvian settler quickly incarcerated alongside the menacing figure Brendan Gleeson’s Knuckles McGinty. With a plan on the outside from the Brown family to locate the real culprit, with Hugh Grant’s narcissistic Phoenix Buchanan being the top target, Paddington has to use all his charm and unwavering loyalty to escape prison and clear his name. With comedic elements which seem to have been directly influenced from the likes of Monty Python and the movies of Wes Anderson, with the prison sequences almost uncannily referencing The Grand Budapest Hotel, and emotive, beautiful set pieces including an early journey through a pop-up view of London and a concluding reunion which is bound to make even the sternest of audiences reach for the tissues,  King’s movie not only continues the brilliance of the original but dramatically improves upon it, with the casting of both Gleeson and Grant a major factor in its’ many successes, and in a time when uncertainty and ambiguity is rife within the real world, Paddington 2 is a family-friendly work of escapism which everyone could do with a slice of.

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: A Bad Moms Christmas

“We’re Gonna Put The Ass Back In Christmas..!”

Although American based comedies tend more than most to fall on the side of face-palm induced awfulness, with the likes of The House, CHiPs and the horror of Table 19 from this year alone proving such a genre is rife with utter, utter trash, last year’s Bad Moms was a release of which I personally was pleasantly surprised by, a movie which although suffered from a dwindling lack of originality, featured enough charming characters and sharp one-liners to pass off as one of the better comedies to come from the US of A, particularly in the past few years or so. Whilst the success of the original by no means meant that a sequel was warranted, as per the norm of every single reasonably well received movie in Hollywood nowadays, here we are with A Bad Moms Christmas, a movie which takes the formula of its’ predecessor and mixes in the saccharin filled notion of everyone’s favourite holiday, a seasonal delight which either leads to cinematic classics such as It’s A Wonderful Life or vomit-inducing crap such as Jack Frost. Eugh. Whilst it is no surprise that A Bad Moms Christmas is nowhere near the passable fun of its’ predecessor, with the guilty pleasure appeal of the first movie somewhat absent a second time around, there is still enough smart gags and overripe new characters to allow the sequel to warrant its’ existence. Sort of.

With Christmas around the corner and the unexpected arrival of their respective parents on the cards, the leading trio of the original return once again to “take back Christmas” in a manner which begins by bearing huge similarities to its’ predecessor with excess drinking, low-level criminality and drunk dancing with Santa, one which subsequently flows into a Meet the Parents type comedy which focuses on each of our leading ladies’ troublesome mother figures. With Mila Kunis once again having enough charming eloquence to take control of the main bulk of the film and Kathryn Hahn’s Carla always guaranteed to make the most cynical of audiences giggle in places, A Bad Moms Christmas undeniably belongs to the domineering presence of Christine Baranski as Ruth Mitchell, a maternal devil figure who is both bitchy and comedic in equal measure with Baranski’s performance being one of the main reasons why the sequel does indeed work on some level. With the gross factor turned up however and the annoying overuse of obscenity rife from beginning to end, A Bad Moms Christmas is not exactly the sequel to carry on the successes of the first but for ninety odd minutes, it passes the time rather harmlessly.

Overall Score: 5/10

Film Review: Jigsaw

“Now The Games Are Simple. Best Ones Are. You Want Mercy? Play By The Rules…”

It’s Halloween guys, and the return of the sadistic rampaging murderer with a moral compass known as Jigsaw returns after a few years hiatus, and whilst the Saw movies were the epitome of a series which died a slow and painful death after every subsequent release following the undeniably impressive first film directed by James Wan and released all the way back in 2004, it seems the audience’s thirst for blood continues to be a factor in the return of such an undying horror franchise. Continuing with Jigsaw therefore, Predestination directors, The Spierig Brothers, take the helm of an entry which although is still retrograde in terms of its’ complete lack of originality, minimal levels of substance and a penchant for leary comments regarding the movie’s leading female characters, is undeniably not exactly the worst Saw sequel to embrace the big screen, and with the inclusion of a major franchise character and some rather gooey death scenes which encompass the exploitation goodness of the series, Jigsaw is passable in the sense that it really isn’t worth remembering after you evacuate from its’ relatively harmless ninety minute runtime.

Featuring a brand new handful of relatively pointless cannon fodder to act as instruments of subverted play for our titular serial killer, Jigsaw spins its’ narrative round and round in a sickening twisting motion, one which seems dead keen on keeping the audience guessing in regards to what truly is happening and who is really behind such elaborate, murderous schemes, and whilst the depth or shock value of previous entries make the latest entry pretty pointless on the face of it, the inclusion of Tobin Bell is always a pretty remarkable bonus, whilst the concluding twist was extravagant enough to overcome the gaping plot holes, resulting in a sensation which allows you to just ride with it, culminating in a final death scene which reminds everyone just how stupidly fun the franchise can be when not taking itself too seriously. With the sounds of hysterical screeching becoming unbearable at times however and the rather silly, B-movie budget holding it narrowly together, Jigsaw is complete trash, just not trash that has been as harmless as similar movies which have preceded it in the past.

Overall Score: 4/10

Film Review: Blade Runner 2049

“I Always Told You. You’re Special. Your History Isn’t Over Yet. There’s Still A Page Left…”

Reissued to the big screen last year, Ridley Scott’s 1982 cult, science fiction classic Blade Runner is one of the greatest films of all time, period. Directed by a Scott on form of which has never been topped and beautifully designed through soaring cinematography and a world class Vangelis soundtrack, the cinematic adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is likely never to be topped within the genre of forward-thinking futuristic fiction. Treading with an air of trepidatious caution therefore, the release of Blade Runner 2049 is shackled with a the undeniable questioning of why a sequel was ever needed to a film laced with ambiguity and uncertainty twenty-five years ago, but with Scott being reduced to a production role only, a factor most fortunate considering the lack of mediocre releases from the American lately, and arguably the best filmmaker working at this moment in the form of Sicario and Arrival director Denis Villeneuve in charge, 2049 manages to create a heavy sense of confliction regarding its’ existence inside my cinematic mind. With a returning Harrison Ford, a grit-infused Ryan Gosling and the who’s who team of top class filmmakers, featuring the likes of Hans Zimmer and cinematographer Roger Deakins, 2049 holds the ace card for complete success, and what Villeneuve has managed to create is fundamentally a multi-million dollar art house inflicted masterpiece, one which expands the Blade Runner universe into expansive, lurid territory whilst simultaneously paying complete tribute to an original so beloved by many by coming oh so close to toppling the foundations of its’ predecessors unwavered supremacy as the masterwork of nightmarish, dystopian science fiction.

Whilst dissecting the details of the plot would be utter sacrilege, 2049 works as both a worthy continuation of the plot threads left over from the 1982 original and an organic beast in its’ own right, using the underlying narrative regarding the existence of replicants to a more than effective degree in attempting to piece together a story which both points to the past and propels into the future, with Ryan Gosling’s Agent K central to a narrative which combats its’ high-profile cast by giving each star a sharply defined character of notable distinction and interest, with Jared Leto’s Tyrell inflicted Wallace and Sylvia Hoeks’ Luv the standout characters of the piece. Concluding with all the ambiguity and uncertainty of the original, opportunity ultimately remains open for yet another sequel in the Blade Runner canon, yet with the care and delicate approach clearly given to its’ creation, 2049 seems more beneficial to remain solely as a chance to explore deeper the world originally created by Scott as a one-off, and whilst Villeneuve has the American to thank for handing him the chance to mould the Blade Runner world to his liking, the touch of a man who directed the woozy tranquility of Arrival is all over Blade Runner 2049, a film which revels in handing its’ audience a sense of exploration in attempting to piece out the satirical, sociological and thematic notions which are laid out on the screen, a screen which attempts to hold together images which evoke a sense of jaw-dropping awe when attempting to conclude how any living human could create such art. With amber-infused radioactive plains of a destroyed Las Vegas, the surrealist, art deco interior of Wallace enterprises, and the polluted airs of downtown Los Angeles, cinematographer and long awaited Oscar recipient, Roger Deakins, is at the top of his game, creating eye-widening spectacle after spectacle in helping Villeneuve establish the world in which the darkness and despair of the plot ultimately relies on, and whilst beauty has never been absent from the work of such a talented DP (the descent into darkness from Sicario and the sniper scene in Skyfall to name a few memorable shots), 2049 is undoubtedly the picture which will make the world stand up and proclaim Deakins as the undeniable master of his respective art form.

With Gosling’s Agent K on Drive territory, the brooding, bloodied body of his character is essential to the picture’s overt sense of dread which is played straight from beginning to end, and whilst the deliciously packed two hours and forty five minutes may seem a tad of a stretch to some, the film’s excesses never bothered me and even could have gone on further without a hint of objection or disdain. With a eye-watering budget at his disposal, it is quite remarkable how Villeneuve’s approach to 2049 is to completely follow the essence of the original in terms of both tone and feel, using long, sometimes drawn out sequences to enforce the eerie sense of isolation felt by the film’s leading characters, with the best moments sometimes utilising no dialogue or musical accompaniments at all, with the camera focused instead on how a particular character moves, feels or reacts to a particular scenario or plot development, with even Ford managing to be so much more than just a cast-off cameo in his return as Deckard, with a tense and almost Lynchian scene involving him and Leto’s Wallace a breathtaking example of each of the respective actors at the top of their game. With Hans Zimmer supplying the honking, synthy, Vangelis inspired soundtrack to completely encompass the film’s heart of darkness, the resulting chemical equation of putting together so many skilled filmmakers in the same room is rather quite staggering, with Villeneuve’s film managing to not only topple the lofty expectations set upon it, but also managing to portray science fiction cinema at its’ most beautiful and imaginative. Handed with the chance of the lifetime, Blade Runner 2049 is undoubtedly Villeneuve’s film, and with the Avengers style team of movie makers around him all working in complete synchronisation, the world can now finally see what it truly means to be a true sequel to film that never thought needed to be continued in the first place.

Overall Score: 10/10

Film Review: Flatliners

“Okay, Now’s The Point When You Say It’s All A Joke…”

Remake. Reimagining. Reboot. Whatever. Of all the many psychological horror one-off’s in the world, Joel Schumacher’s 1990 cult flick, Flatliners, is indeed a movie devoid of all reasoning for such a continuation, and whilst the original had interesting ideas and a youthful, enthusiastic cast including the likes of Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts and Kevin Bacon, the jury still remains out on why exactly a sequel is needed at all. With The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo director Niels Arden Oplev helming the similarly titled sequel this week, which from trailers alone, comes across as the bare-bones, cheap money cash-in many would expect it to be, at least there is some reason to be slightly excited, particularly with Oplev helming the likes of Mr. Robot and the somewhat mediocre, if stylish Colin Farrell starring, Dead Man Down since his success with the first of the Swedish-based Millennium series. Whilst it’s almost lazy to tarnish Oplev’s latest with all the obvious cliched quips, it is startling how much Flatliners is completely dead on arrival, with the latest Hollywood sequel lacking both pulse and heart as it only manages to succeed in making the original look like a forgotten cinematic classic.

Using the narrative of the first film to almost pinpoint exactness albeit for minor, lacklustre tweaks, Flatlines suffers fundamentally from the age old issue with sequels with it being a film which doesn’t attempt to build on the successes of its’ predecessor but simply decides to rehash the exact same ideas, and whilst there is an idea at the heart of Schumacher’s original movie which could be made into a thrilling exercise of science fiction, screenwriter Ben Ripley resorts to creating a sequel which attempts to be more Final Destination-esque in tone than the Black Mirror style of story the underlying narrative brings to mind. Whilst Ellen Page tries her best in the leading role, her untimely conclusion creates a vacuum of dullness in the film’s second half, one which utilises tiresome jump scares aplenty and hopeless horror to carry the story to its’ overstayed conclusion, and without a sense of threat and the element of mystery to hold the audience’s attention until the very end, Oplev’s movie is unfortunately a remake than simply cannot be revived no matter how much adrenaline charged substances can be shoved into its’ veins.

Overall Score: 3/10

Film Review: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

“Manners. Maketh. Man. Let Me Translate That For You..”

Arguably being the director responsible for the rise of Daniel Craig as the world’s greatest British secret agent due to his successes with Layer Cake back in 2004, Matthew Vaughn’s successful trip with the Kingsman series returns this week with The Golden Circle, a star-studded action sequel which follows on from the fanfare of the first by being a film fundamentally addicted with the Bond series and all its’ many pleasures, but too a sequel which is primarily focused on the excesses evident within arguably the worst Bond films in the canon, releases which chose CGI surfing and invisible cars over any form of substance, and whilst The Golden Circle does boast a returning Colin Firth, Julianne Moore and Jeff Bridges, there is too few elements to enjoy within the space of a two hour-plus movie which follows the common trends of the sequel by being not at all in the realm of critical greatness as its’ predecessor. Whilst the first film did have a variety of flaws, including a crass, laddish undertone which attempted to derail the film completely, The Golden Circle goes one further in mediocrity and suffers fundamentally from elements which so easily could have been avoided, particularly when admiring the previous works of director, Matthew Vaughn.

Of the many elements which do not work, the chauvinistic, sexist portrayal of female characters which began slightly in The Secret Service continues to an extent within The Golden Circle, a particular flaw which makes Roger Moore’s treatment of women in his respective Bond films seem gentlemanly beyond belief. Whether it be a completely twisted and jarring scene of sexual spy implementation rape in a Glastonbury tent or the total lack of substance for characters portrayed by the likes of Halle Berry and Sophie Cookson, The Golden Circle is ran by a script which simply doesn’t care for its’ characters whatsoever, and with the return of Colin Firth after his death in the previous movie, the film suffers too from a complete lack of peril or fear due to the notion that a bullet wound to the head can simply be fixed by magical glue. With fight scenes a-plenty which are just CGI-fueled mania, Julianne Moore arguably giving her worst performance ever and Elton John popping up to add humour to proceedings, The Golden Circle is an absolute mess of a movie, but one which is somewhat redeemed by flashy editing, a cucumber cool soundtrack and a solid leading performance from Taron Egerton but ultimately a sequel which still manages to be the lesser body of work when compared to its’ predecessor. Shame.

Overall Score: 4/10

Film Review: Annabelle: Creation

“Forgive Me, Father, For I Am About To Sin…”

Of all the contemporary horror franchises currently still running, The Conjuring universe is one which although isn’t as groundbreaking as many believe it is within the horror genre, still manages to succeed in some regard, primarily because of how much fun they are, with there always being enough effective jump-scares and spooky children to please the most mediocre of horror fans even when the plot lines are so strikingly familiar to horror enthusiasts. Whilst the cattle-prod approach of jump scare cinema isn’t at all what I deem as ingredients for a decent horror movie, the trope is becoming so well-worn in the current cinematic climate that to see horror films take any other approach is somewhat of a miracle, and whilst Annabelle: Creation isn’t exactly breaking the mould of what we have come to expect from the James Wan-led staple, the addition of Lights Out director David F. Sandberg alongside some enjoyably camp set pieces, the prequel/sequel to 2014’s Annabelle is good enough to warrant its’ existence, even when the narrative swings and overall themes don’t hold the tension and fear factor you expect from a classic horror.

With Sandberg in charge after his high-profile success with Lights Out, Creation is a movie which focuses extensively on the quintessential notion that darkness and the absence of light results completely in absorbing the audience into a state of fear, and whilst the spooky factor begins well for the first half of the movie, as soon as the movie shows it’s hand and reveals the rather clunky demonic presence at the heart of the movie, the tension does inevitably fall apart. With endless shots of lightbulbs either exploding or magically decreasing in strength, Sandberg’s abnormal obsession with such basic horror tropes does become rather grating come the ramped-up final act, yet for the first hour or so, the haunted house formula and multiple usage of camera angles which focus on either ambiguous presences or the rounded, creepy face of the titular porcelain doll are solid enough to keep the interest held, even when questionable decisions from our leading characters puts such comforts at some sort of risk. Creation isn’t a masterpiece, but I can safely say I was never bored and for the time it was on screen, Sandberg’s big budget debut passed the time nicely.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: Cars 3

“You’ll Never Be The Racer You Once Were. You Can’t Turn Back The Clock, Kid, But You Can Wind It Up, Again…”

With the likes of Inside Out and Zootropolis being superb recent examples of when Disney get it bang on in regards to releases from their animation platform, with the latter managing to proclaim itself as one of the few top marked films on this particular film review site, a healthy title if ever there was one, the release of Cars 3 is ultimately a bit of a downer, a sequel to one of Disney’s more middling franchises but too a film which undoubtedly will surpass many releases at the box office due to the nature of the prolonged six weeks summer holidays in which sweet-addicted children swarm your local cinema screening and make you cringe at their unwanted immaturity and annoying little booster seats. Bit harsh I know, but what we have with Cars 3 is ironically a solid entry into the ever-expanding Disney canon, a film which takes no time at all in laying the groundwork for the narrative ahead, with its’ sweet, harmless tone offering more than enough spectacle for the young at heart. whilst an effective array of jokes prove that there is more enough chewy material to satisfy the adults, even when the plot does fall into the realm of cliche and over-sentimentality at times.

Suffering from the inevitability of old age and facing the threat of newer, faster racing vehicles including the likes of the Armie Hammer voiced, Jackson Storm, Owen Wilson’s Lightning McQueen begins to question his suitability on the race track, and with the legendary racer potentially facing the unwanted exposure of falling into past history, McQueen teams up with Cristela Alonzo’s wannabe-racer Cruz Ramirez and Chris Cooper’s legendary racing trainer, Smokey, in order to get back on track and finally overcome the presence of the egotistic Storm. With flashy colours and an explosion of jet-waxed colours from beginning to end, Cars 3 ticks all the boxes in what you would expect from a Disney animation sequel aimed primarily at kids, and whilst the narrative is somewhat obvious and cringey at times from an adult point of view, the smart-witted dialogue and joyous concluding act proves that the film’s existence does hold more than just being that film that you take your kids to see. Whilst the money will keep on rolling and the spin-off merchandise will keep on selling, the concluding edge of the narrative does suggest we have seen the last of the Cars franchise for good, but with Disney not exactly shying away from a quick buck at times, you can’t take anything at face value these days.

Overall Score: 6/10