“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
“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
“I Did Not Start This War. I Offered You Peace. I Showed You Mercy. But Now You’re Here. To Finish Us Off. For Good…”
Although the original Planet of the Apes movies are films in which I can apologetically state I have never, ever seen, with not even the woefully panned, Mark Wahlberg starring Tim Burton version being at the forefront of my mind in terms of movie catch-up, 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a thrillingly satisfactory reinvention of the famous franchise, using the motion performance mastery of Andy Serkis in creating arguably the most effective digital character of the 21st century in Caesar, (Yes, I know, Gollum is probably more iconic) resulting in a duo hit rate of success with both critics and audiences and ultimately leading to where we are today. After continuing the success of Rise with the Matt Reeves directed, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, an adventurous, if rather flawed blockbuster sequel, Reeves returns this week with War for the Planet of the Apes, a third instalment of the Apes franchise before setting out and directing that film about that geezer in a cape who likes bats. With spectacle in abundance and an emotional yet wholly bleak narrative at its’ core, War is the best of the 21st century Apes franchise so far, combining perfect and sometimes staggering motion capture with top-notch performances and an array of cinematic nods which result in Matt Reeves offering the most effective slice of blockbuster brilliance so far this year.
Following on from the events of Dawn in which the Human/Ape battle is entirely in full swing due to the actions of the treacherous Koba, War begins with a particularly spectacular opening set piece, one which sets the dark and violent tone for the narrative ahead and one which builds the foundations of Caesar’s decision making in his battle against the psychopath figure of Woody Harrelson’s The Colonel. Whilst the 12A rating will open the film up to an extended audience, including the possibility of kids, War is no means a completely joyous ride, with the narrative undeniably melancholic and sometimes masochistic in its’ portrayal of the conflict between the two opposing sides, whilst the death count on-screen rivals pretty much any top-end blockbuster release within recent years or so, yet with so much darkness and dread encompassing the story, the concluding act feels almost like a substantial reward for an audience who feels every inch of the pain our leading ape has to go through in order to save both his family and his race. With winking nods to films such as The Great Escape and Apocalypse Now, with the latter’s influence clearly stated halfway through the action, War is boosted by the quite brilliant digital effects, effects which completely have you believing in the fictional characters on-screen and effects which showcase once again Andy Serkis for the genius he undeniably is. Grimy, grungy and gargantuan in scale, War is an excellent example of a character-based blockbuster and a movie which is made with such care and intelligence, you leave the cinema only wanting more.
Overall Score: 8/10
“Face It, Gru. Villainy Is In Your Blood..!”
Much like Transformers and even the MCU, Illumination Entertainment is the kind of film company that know the key to success in terms of financial revenue, and whilst expansive items such as The Secret Life of Pets wasn’t exactly received perfectly by the likes of myself and other, more famous film critics, the company know which one of their little darlings will always attract the younger generation and their parents’ hard-earned dollar. MINIONS! Returning in their animated form with Despicable Me 3, the famous yellow coloured dumplings take the backseat somewhat after their success within the standalone entry Minions in 2015, paving way for the return of the Steve Carell voiced Gru, the bad-guy-turned-good who this time faces up against the long lost presence of twin brother, Dru Gru in a reunion which sets the basis for a movie which knows what to do in order to make most of its’ animation-loving audience happy. With slapstick galore and some rather hilarious characterisation of the film’s leading villain, Despicable Me 3 is a solid enough threequel, and a movie which uses the appeal of the Minions to undeniable effect.
Released side by side with the likes of The House, the comedic arsenal of Despicable Me 3 makes the film look like an animated Annie Hall in comparison to Will Ferrell’s woeful excuse for a mainstream comedy, and whilst it is true that watching minions read out the yellow pages would probably be an entertaining pastime in itself, the unparalleled addiction of admiring the existence of their particular race is undeniably the best element about the Despicable Me series and whilst they somewhat play second fiddle in this particular entry, the moments they are on-screen are definitely the strongest. Add into the mix a villain with a penchant for shoulder pads, disco balls and a jukebox soundtrack which features everything from Madonna to Dire Straits, DM3 is a surrealist bag of kooky wackiness, using the animated platform to construct characters and sets which I couldn’t help but laugh at, with the best being the inclusion of a pig-infested Freedonia in which cheese is supplied and eaten between moments of courting. DM3 is actively funny enough to warrant its’ existence in the Despicable Me franchise and whilst the narrative is somewhat predictable and uninspiring at times, sometimes you have just got to leave your brain at the door and admire the madness on-screen. BANANA.
Overall Score: 6/10
“The Imminent Destruction Of All We Know And Love, Begins Now…”
Whilst overly long blockbuster movies are indeed not exactly anything original, it does take the patience of a saint to be able to sit through and enjoy most of Michael Bay’s most recent cinematic exploits, and whilst The Rock and Bad Boys prove that sometimes Bay does manage to create something which although is undeniably stupid, is too a whole bunch of fun, his annoyingly pompous stamp on the Transformers series proves without a doubt that fame and fortune is the only thing on the mind of its’ creators, particularly when the series just doesn’t seem to be slowing down in terms of worldwide and domestic gross. Clocking in at a staggering 149 minutes however, a runtime which is actually generously measured when put up against previous Transformers entries, The Last Knight is stated by both Bay and leading star Mark Wahlberg to be the final entry into the CGI-fuelled, overlong, action franchise and with that in mind, there is a sense of joy heading into the cinema knowing that this may indeed be the last time to witness Bay’s live action interpretation of Hasbro’s famous plastic toy range. Unfortunately, yet rather inevitably, The Last Knight is not exactly a movie which can classed as anything remotely joyful, with Bay successfully managing to create the most insipid, boring and woeful excuse for a blockbuster in years. Wait a second while I just clear my tinnitus.
Although narrative and plot are never usually at the forefront of most Transformers movies, The Last Knight actually revels in the fact that there simply isn’t a story to be told. Whilst something about King Arthur, Merlin and some ancient, historic sword attempts to linchpin the movie together, Bay’s latest makes Batman v. Superman look like a picture-book example of coherent A to B storytelling, with the movie too often more interested in endless explosions and placid CGI to really offer anything for the audience to really sink their emotional teeth into. Aside from a woeful narrative, epileptic editing and a cash-hungry supporting cast including the likes of Sir Anthony Hopkins, The Last Knight suffers from two inexcusable elements which simply make the film a painful exercise of patience. Firstly, the length. Not many films earn the right to be 150 minutes plus and whilst The Last Knight may be one of the shorter Transformers offerings, my sweet lord do you feel every single second of its’ sheer awfulness, with each passing minute ripping your soul apart as you slowly lose hope in the future of cinema as we know it. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the 12A rating slapped onto the movie encourages kids to go and see it, albeit with their parents, and whilst the action and spectacle may keep many wildly entertained, the constant use of unnecessary expletives and ripe sexual references make this supposed “kids” movie a poison chalice of misjudgement, and a movie which although may succeed in taking shed loads of money, will surely not satisfy even the most hardcore of Transformers fans. An explosive mess of a movie, The Last Knight is worthy of complete avoidance. Don’t take the risk.
Overall Score: 2/10
“You Have Been My Greatest Love. Be Careful, Diana. They Do Not Deserve You…”
Whilst many audiences could be forgiven for experiencing a somewhat turgid time at the cinema within the summer period, suffering from a duo hit of remakes and sequels amidst an air of superhero fatigue, particularly within a year in which the two major forces in the form of DC and Marvel Comics are warring face to face in a contest which rivals the Battle of Helms Deep for sheer epic eventfulness, with more films than ever being released which focus on big-screen adaptations of everyone’s favourite literary heroes. Whilst Marvel waits on hold for the time being, with Spider-Man: Homecoming set for release next month, the ball is currently in DC’s court this week with the release of Wonder Woman, the fourth entry in the so-far much maligned DC Universe, but more importantly, the first real big-screen adaptation of the Amazonian Queen and the first superhero film since Elektra to be solely focused on a leading female character. Adding to the winning formula, Patty Jenkins, director of the Oscar winning serial killer drama Monster, takes the lead of a movie which holds so much in attempting to add a sense of integrity into a franchise which has been slowly dwindling in the shadow of Marvel’s many successes. Thankfully, Wonder Woman is indeed a winning return to form for DC, taking a brilliantly cast leading star and working with a script which adds an element of fun and adventure back into a series which has been sinking into the shallow depths of despair.
Whilst her introduction within the mighty mess of Batman V. Superman was overly rushed and ineffective, Wonder Woman perfectly crafts a backstory for a character who to most audiences may be completely alien, with WW possibly being the first time understanding the nature and background of such an infamous leading comic character. With Gal Gadot in the leading role, the DC Universe has finally hit the first mark in terms of casting, putting to shame recent debacles such as Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luther and Jared Leto’s overly wasted Joker, with her physical ability and enviable natural screen presence adding organic depth to a character who is represented more than adequately in Gadot’s shoes. Pairing up with the always reliable Chris Pine, the narrative does reek somewhat of similarity at times however, using the first half of the movie to generate backstory whilst using the latter as a chance to once again conclude with a staggeringly dull CGI boss battle, yet the comedic element which rips throughout the dialogue is effective enough to combat a two hour plus running length, a decision perhaps primarily based upon Marvel’s successes in mixing action, drama and comedy within most of their many releases. If Wonder Woman is the direction in which the DC Universe is heading, sign me up for more, and whilst Jenkins doesn’t really offer anything particularly new to the superhero scene, the brilliance of Gadot in the leading role is the best thing DC has done since Nolan was around. No, it’s not The Dark Knight by a long shot, but Wonder Woman is still a success.
Overall Score: 7/10
“Find Jack Sparrow For Me And Relay A Message From Captain Salazar. Tell Him: Death Will Come Straight For Him…”
Praise be and grab your rum of choice, it is indeed that time once again. After believing that the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise had sailed its’ last sail with On Stranger Tides, a third sequel to Curse of the Black Pearl, Disney’s flagship theme park based series swiftly returns this week with Salazar’s Revenge or perhaps, Dead Men Tell No Tales, depending on where exactly you will be spending your hard earned cash in order to witness the newest CGI orgy of famous actors dressing up like second year university students hitting the town and pretending to act serious when shouting “arghhh” and battling invisible, digitally created cannon fodder, all of whom are eager for disposal by death. Holding my frightfully cynical tone for a moment, the release of Salazar’s Revenge might controversially be the film which reinvents my opinion of the gargantuan series, and even with expectations as low as the depths of the pacific ocean, the addition of Norwegian directorial pair Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg alongside the ever reliable presence of Javier Bardem is a cause for cautious optimism, particular with the latter’s ability to carry off a damn fine villain when necessary. Inevitably, Salazar’s Revenge instead is yet just another CGI-fuelled bore-fest, one which trades set pieces for narrative and acting ability for budget costs within a skin peeling two hours which confirms the series has indeed sunk to the depths of mediocrity without any sign of resuscitation aboard.
Whilst the film centrally is based around the retrieval of a mysterious object which breaks every and any curse laced upon the many characters within the Pirates universe, Salazar’s Revenge also has to try and squeeze in the titular character’s quest for violent justice, with Javier Bardem’s CGI-masked villain setting his sights on the figure of Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow, a Captain Jack Sparrow who has seemingly worsened in every subsequent movie, resulting in a performance which has increasingly become a caricature of itself in an almost cringe-like fashion. With a script which is laced with cheesy and ear-grating dialogue, Depp has finally managed to confirm that his time in the spotlight as the world’s worst pirate must finally come to some sort of a dignified end, and whilst the inclusion of Orlando Bloom and a completely silent Keira Knightley could leave some fans jumping for joy, the return of their respective characters adds absolutely nothing to the overall enjoyment of the movie. Alongside some terrible sound editing and a complete lack of threat, Salazar’s Revenge is unsurprisingly a meaningless, dull affair, one which continues the woeful track record of blockbusters this year and a film which rivals David Beckham for worst cameo of the year so far. I mean, Paul McCartney, what are you thinking?
Overall Score: 3/10
“No Rules, No Punishments And No More Secrets…”
As proven by the release of Park Chan-Wook’s marvellous mystery thriller The Handmaiden and the return of Paul Verhoeven with Elle, the genre of erotica within contemporary cinema is still well and truly kicking, with each of these respective releases using elements of romance and explicit sexual imagery to a degree which is both interesting and original but more importantly used to a degree which makes sense within the overall narrative of the movie. In the case of the first Fifty Shades movie only two years previous, the fundamental issue was that not only the script unbelievably cliched and cringey, it was also so agonisingly dull, with the infamous tales of sexual naughtiness which was rife within the E. L. James novels not exactly transposing onto the big screen and coming off as something worth the time. Inevitably, with the ridiculous amount of money in which Fifty Shades of Grey managed to take, a sequel was never in doubt, but with a director as noteworthy as Glengarry Glen Ross director James Foley in charge, could Fifty Shades Darker be a sequel which surpasses its’ awfully defunct predecessor?
In a sentence; not really, with Fifty Shades Darker annoyingly continuing the utter dullness and dreariness which encompassed the original, whilst its’ snigger-inducing narrative and awful dialogue proves to its’ respective audiences that nothing at all was learnt from the criticism of first film except for going along with the notion that the cheap, uninteresting sex scenes are obviously only there as the true appeal of a movie which attempts to hammer in some sort of story around it in order for it to be considered something resembling a film. As for the movie’s other issues, the drama within the story is entirely anti-climactic, the romance is wooden and ridiculously unbelievable and with a supporting cast which includes Rita Ora and a cheque-swiping Kim Basinger, Fifty Shades Darker really doesn’t have much going for it except for arguably a much better leading performance from Jamie Dornan whose portrayal of the highly intense and weirdly paranoid billionaire playboy is at least not entirely woeful in the grander scheme of things. With one more Shades film in the pipeline, the time can not come soon enough to end the raspberry jam of erotica once and for all.
Overall Score: 3/10
“I Keep Thinking About This Story. There’s This Video That Kills You. Seven Days After You Watch It…”
Blah, blah, blah. Whilst there is nothing new in the notion of American remakes, the category in which really grinds my gears is the one filled to the rim with English-speaking “re-imaginings” of foreign language horror movies, with absolute classics in the form of A Tale of Two Sisters, Let The Right One In and Ju-on: The Grudge all being mashed up and reproduced in the flight of gaining a quick yet tainted blood-stained buck on the account of the butchery which tends to happen when foreign movies are translated onto an audience which is primarily English speaking. Of the many horror franchises which has roots well and truly set in the minds of more intelligent filmmakers, Rings, directed by Spanish filmmaker F. Javier Gutiérrez, is yet another entry into the Ringu canon which began all the way back in 1998 with Hideo Nakata’s terrifying cinematic take on the Koji Suzuki novel of the same name, and whilst the third American entry seems to begin with an element of interest, Rings unfortunately, yet unsurprisingly, ends up being yet another wasted opportunity, with it not only coming across as incredibly offensive to horror fans across the world, effectively spits on the shadow of its’ former self with its’ sheer and utter dreadfulness.
With a leading star who carries as much charisma and interest as an ASDA bag for life, Rings begins with a narrative which looks as if it is set to offer some new light into the world of spooky water-covered teenagers with long black hair by delving into a somewhat underground network of shady college preps who view the infamous killer video tape as a reason to get up in the morning, using the threat of Samara as a messed up type of adrenaline rush alongside a basis for Johnny Galecki’s character’s thesis on the mystery of her existence. Whilst this interesting notion covers roughly the first fifteen minutes of the movie, the following 90 minutes is essentially a cheap re-telling of a story in which every single person in the cinematic world is now bored to death with, trading real elements of threat and suspense with cheesy dialogue and awful jump scares which rely on the power of the cinema’s sound system in order to actually come across as worthwhile. News alert; they don’t. Ending on a supposed twist which offers up the idea that the franchise is set to continue into the future, Rings is the type of cinematic face-palm which you really struggle to understand its’ existence. If you’re thinking of buying it on DVD, don’t.
Overall Score: 3/10
“Sometimes, The Thing You’ve Been Looking For Your Whole Life, Is Right There Beside You All Along…”
Whilst the first Guardians of the Galaxy was perhaps the first entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in which expectations were not exactly of the highest order, the finished product was ironically one of the best the franchise has had to offer so far, introducing expertly characterised leading heroes amongst a crowd-pleasing narrative which managed to balance the irregularity and oddness of the source material whilst serving up arguably the best jukebox soundtrack this side of Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. With power comes increasing levels of responsibility however and a sequel to the biggest surprise of 2014 was downright inevitable, yet with James Gunn returning as director and the added involvement of iconic screen presences such as Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell, Vol. 2 is indeed up there with the most excitable releases of the year and a movie which is lynch-pinned within a period of twelve months in which there are so many superb upcoming movies to look forward to and a year in which Vol. 2 begins the triage of MCU movies which are set to be released over the course of 2017. What we have with Vol. 2 however is a sequel which is indeed as inventive and magical as it’s predecessor, playing all the cards in all the right areas to keep its’ intended audience more than happy, but too a movie which suffers from the issue in which many sequels tend to have, with it not entirely being up to the critical level of the original but still being an excellent new addition into the MCU.
With the added input of Kurt Russell as Ego, the long lost father of Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill/Star-Lord, Vol. 2 thrives on the same sense of retro-loving freedom which encompassed the original, nodding its’ head at a wide range of nostalgic avenues alongside yet another successful jukebox soundtrack which ticks off everything from E.L.O to George Harrison across a two-hour plus runtime which does seem a tad too drawn out come the final act. Furthermore, in a similar vein to that of Age of Ultron, Vol. 2 attempts to differ slightly from its’ predecessor by sticking to a driving narrative which comes across as a much darker and melancholic tale, focusing upon a wide range of notions such as the meaning of family alongside a deeper sense of characterisation for each of the leading guardians who individually have enough substantial screen time between them to sway off arguments of favouritism from fans, even when the superbly managed inclusion of Baby Groot manages to steal every scene in which he is involved in. Whilst not setting up anything major in terms of the future of the MCU, Vol. 2 is a substantially entertaining blockbuster which although features arguably a higher dose of comedy than the first, is inevitably not as surprisingly awesome than one indeed hoped for, yet with a core character base in which you could happily spend an entire lifetime with, James Gunn’s second helping of galaxy saving guardians is entertainment galore.