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Film Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

“These Creatures Were Here Before Us. And If We’re Not Careful, They’re Going To Be Here After…”

With Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World managing to take an eye-watering amount of cash at both the worldwide and U.S domestic box office back in 2015, a sequel to the return to all things dinosaurs was rather unsurprising and expected giving the current cinematic climate, and with Fallen Kingdom adding to the already mind-blowing array of big-screen blockbusters within the past six months, 2018 seems to be the year to beat in terms of record breaking ticket sales. With Trevorrow taking a step back from directorial duties for the time being, with the American reduced to executive producer before returning to the director’s chair for the third Jurassic World instalment in 2021, The Orphanage and A Monster Calls director, J. A. Bayona takes control of a middle trilogy entry which remains high on gorgeous spectacle and charismatic characters, but one too which is aching for any meaningful level of substance, but with a flashy, beautifully designed catalogue of reincarnated dinosaurs and a riveting potential set-up for Jurassic World part three, Fallen Kingdom is a popcorn-induced exercise of cinematic box-ticking which becomes more rewarding the less you examine its’ rather obvious many faults.

With the movie sweeping towards you with a break-neck speed from the outset, the frenetic pacing of the piece provides quite obviously a film which may have benefited from being broken in two, with the first hour dedicated to a return to Isla Nubar, the titular home of the Jurassic Park franchise, for the basis of a rescue operation after the introduction of previously inactive volcano which is set on eradicating all life on the island, and the second hour a hammer-horror style exaggerated set-piece which sees the newly created Indoraptor wreak havoc within the confines of a mansion where the richest of the rich have come to exploit the now captured prehistoric beasts. With characterisation out the window and the emphasis instead on set pieces, Bayona’s movie attempts to juggle a wide range of interesting notions, ranging from animal rights to the strange inclusion of human cloning, amidst continuous destruction in order to both add something original and stay faithful to audiences who come to just see dinosaur mayhem on-screen, and whilst the end result is messy, the attempt can at least be applauded, particularly when some of the more downright horror inflicted elements of the movie work rather efficiently. With a handful of gorgeously executed shots, including the sight of a sole dinosaur being swollen up by the darkness of an on-shore volcano and the biggest survival downhill run seen in years, Bayona’s take on the Jurassic World franchise is admirable and engaging enough to paint over the creases, and with a tantalising premise hinted at during its’ conclusion, Fallen Kingdom is undoubtedly the middle act of a wider scheme which does its’ duties well enough to suit the generic movie-going audience eager for some explosive digital dinosaur action.

Overall Score: 7/10

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Film Review: Deadpool 2

“Doing The Right Thing Is Messy. You Want To Fight For What’s Right, Sometimes You Have To Fight Dirty…”

With Avengers: Infinity War concurring global box office domination for the past four weeks or so, it seems only fair that another highly anticipated superhero sequel should try and chip at the financial willingness of a 21st century, comic-hungry audience, and whilst that sequel this week is of course Deadpool 2, it comes at no surprise that Marveland more unsurprisingly, Disney, feel the need to make even more eye-watering sums of cash with yet another hot release. I mean come on, it almost feels like yet another Star Wars should be coming out soon, right? Right? Swapping mass universal destruction and gut wrenching superhero genocide for the 15 rated oeuvre in which 2016’s Deadpool graced its’ successful presence, Deadpool 2 swaps original director, Tim Miller, for Atomic Blonde and unaccredited John Wick director, David Leitch, as it attempts to build on the meta-referencing, fourth-wall breaking shenanigans of its’ predecessor and proving the joke of R-rated comic book carnage isn’t as one note as one might expect. With the original Deadpool described in my own review as “not amazing, but enjoyable nonetheless” and a movie which “goes in one ear and carves its’ way out the other in the most violent and adolescent way possible”, it’s ironic how such sentiments echo the feeling of its’ sequel, a movie which takes the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 approach of playing to its’ predecessors strengths and attempting to expand upon them to successful degrees, and whilst Vol.2 never was going to match the success of its’ respective predecessor, Deadpool 2 does manage to complete such a task and whilst Leitch’s movie still isn’t on the same level of excellence as other Marvel alternatives, it’s still a expletive laden ride.

With Ryan Reynolds (Life) returning as the invincible and titular figure of Wade Wilson, the added inclusion of 2018’s man of the year, Josh Brolin, as the time travelling, futuristic cyborg killer, Nathan Summers/Cable, is undeniably one of the more pressing reasons for the sequel’s existence, but with Brolin’s superbly crafted digital performance of Thanos in Infinity War setting a new bar for superhero villains, it’s surprising how little character development Brolin’s Cable is afforded in the movie’s extended two hour runtime, resulting in his character somewhat lacking in memorability even when Brolin is as cool and imposing as ever. With an added level of sentiment within a Looper inspired narrative, particularly aided by the inclusion of Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s, Julian Dennison, the tonal shifts between shock value comedy and gut punching loss does not work well at all, with the early death of an important character not entirely suiting the film’s overly silly sensibility, but with at least eighty percent of the quickfire puns and sharp, slick in-house references resulting in effective laughs, Deadpool 2 feeds the paying audience exactly what they want without ever stopping slow enough to fall out of the carnival-esque state the movie straps you into, and with solid enough action and comedy set pieces, a quickfire editing pace and a combination of brilliantly designed pre and post credit sequences, Deadpool 2 is flashier, more experimental and much more rewarding that its’ first incarnation, but too a movie which begs the question how much longer the joke can be stretched out before it begins to feel slightly tiresome. I’m sure the box office will have the final answer on that one.

Overall Score: 7/10

Film Review: The Strangers: Prey at Night

“Is Someone Else Staying Here? I Thought We Were Alone..?”

With it being an entire decade since the release of Bryan Bertino’s mildly successful 2008 American horror, The Strangers, the follow up sequel, subtitled Prey at Night, finally hits the big screen under the direction of English filmmaker Johannes Roberts, whose previous credits include 47 Metres Down and The Other Side of the Door, with Bertino still attached to the project by supplying the screenplay for the movie alongside American pen pusher Ben Ketai. With the original film based on a culmination of the infamous Manson Family murders and a personal experience of break-ins in and around an area to which Bertino lived within, the 2008 release was nihilistic oddity with a genuine nasty streak which paid tribute to the likes of famous video nasties including Straw Dogs, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Last House on the Left, and what Prey at Night offers is a very familiar, ultra violent slasher flick which overcomes a wide array of weaknesses thanks to a stylish, retro tone and various interesting and well orchestrated set pieces which offers the case for Roberts’ movie being a case of a sequel which improves upon the basis set by its’ predecessor.

With an opening act which introduces the quartet of leading familial victims including Christina Hendricks’ (Drive) mother figure, Cindy, Martin Henderson’s (Everest) Mike, and the two teenage children played by Bailee Madison and Lewis Pullman, the attempt to flesh out any reasonable characterisation within the first twenty minutes fails pretty spectacularly, with the reasoning behind the families sudden venture to the most vacant of caravan parks not really expanded upon, resulting in a complete absence of empathy for when the inevitable violence eventually occurs. Thankfully however, once the action begins, Prey at Night continues the overly hyper-violent tone of the original to impressive means, utilising a surprising early character death to set the pace for remaining hour or so of the piece, and with the aid of the creepy masked killers, the iconic image of the series so far, the murderous rampage which the film embarks upon is surprisingly entertaining. Central to the film’s success however is a strangely ironic and satirical undertone, one which is beefed up by a wholly comedic and off-kilter 1980’s jukebox soundtrack, and one which allows individual set pieces to blossom with a heavy sense of style, particularly a latter act scene involving a superbly manoeuvred confrontation at a swimming pool which for me, took the film to a higher level than it possibly should have ever been, and although Prey at Night does indeed fall into a realm of cliche and predictability when looking back as a whole body of work, its’ the film’s style and nasty streak which makes the sequel work to an entertaining degree.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: Pacific Rim Uprising

“This Is The Way The World Ends…”

With Guillermo del Toro joyously arriving home earlier this month with a couple of Academy Awards in his back pocket for The Shape of Water, his latest rousing critical success is brought somewhat back down to earth with the release of Pacific Rim Uprising, a sequel to del Toro’s 2013 ridiculously silly action gargantuan which in all fairness, is more painfully cheesy than entertaining, and a film which brings to mind the middling rough patch the Mexican seemingly went through before this year’s resounding return to form. Swapping the director’s chair for a producing role however, the job of taking hold of the unnecessary sequel falls to Steven S. DeKnight of Daredevil Season One fame, undeniably the strongest Marvel/Netflix release to date, whose big-screen debut features John Boyega (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) as Jake Pentecost, son of the legendary General Stacker Pentecost as portrayed by Idris Elba (Thor: Ragnarok) in the first film, who swaps his life of thieving and black market dealings for a return to the fold in line with the Jaeger program after a fresh threat arises from the destructive, otherworldly Kaiju. With awful dialogue, a woeful lack of emotional investment and endless, mind-numbing overblown action set pieces, Uprising is unsurprisingly utter tosh, and even when some of the characters at times threaten to make the film more interesting than it should be, it’s plain to see that the main function of DeKnight’s cinematic debut is of course, solely monetary.

Whilst the first feature was just straightforward, unadulterated nonsense with an added layer of awfulness due to Charlie Hunnam’s vacuous leading character, the performances of both Idris Elba and Rinko Kikuchi meant that the film was at least likeable to a certain degree, and with the latter one of the more interesting returning characters added to the fold once again, her particular narrative strand within Uprising is systemic to the problems of the film. Far too many times are new and returning characters given so little to do in terms of engaging character development that when the film does eventually heed to the wishes of its’ true and fundamental natures in the form of CGI-engulfed action sequences, not one audience member actually really cares who does what and who makes it out alive. With it becoming patently clear that any movie touched by the woeful “talent” of both Charlie Day (Fist Fight) and Scott Eastwood (Suicide Squad) is destined to be labelled as god-awful, Uprising does at least benefit from a committed, cockney-fuelled performance from the ever-charismatic Boyega and a runtime which improves on the staggeringly long length of its’ predecessor, but with a concluding act which makes Man of Steel look like a Woody Allen movie and a jarring post-credits sequence which makes you roll your eyes in utter condemnation of the movie’s future possibilities, Uprising doesn’t totally suck, it’s just the type of movie you watch with a blank expression and let it leave your consciousness as soon as its’ over. If you stay awake that is.

Overall Score: 4/10

Film Review: The Cloverfield Paradox

“I Don’t Know What To Believe Anymore…”

Dropping out of nowhere and onto Netflix in a remarkably abnormal and somewhat anarchic fashion, The Cloverfield Paradox, the second sequel to Matt Reeves’ 2008 shaky-cammed monster marathon Cloverfield after 2016’s claustrophobic, 10 Cloverfield Lane, bears it teeth without any sign of meaningful marketing or propaganda-esque pushing aside from a thirty second trailer proceeding its’ release only hours before its’ availability worldwide on everyone’s favourite streaming service. Whilst such a decision is undoubtedly refreshing and boundlessly groovy, the question remains whether the film itself is worthy addition to a franchise which deserves plaudits for its’ adventurous attempts at building a somewhat Twilight Zone infused shared universe, and with a cast list featuring the likes of Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Miss Sloane), Daniel Brühl (Rush) and David Oyelowo (Selma), and a ideas-based narrative which attempts to solve the ambiguities of its’ predecessors, The Cloverfield Paradox, on paper, has success stamped all over it. Unfortunately however, Netflix’s latest high profile release is a ludicrous mess of a movie, one which begins in absorbing fashion with acres of room to flex its’ muscles but then descends into a shark-jumping bore-fest which not only veers the franchise off course, but could potentially endanger it completely.

Attempting to gel together the mystery at the heart of the franchise in regards to the origin of the destructive beast from the first entry, The Cloverfield Paradox, directed by big-time debutante, Julius Onah, follows Mbatha-Raw’s Ava Hamilton as she crews up with her expeditious space team aboard the Cloverfield Station in order to test the particle accelerator by the name of “Shephard” which has been designed in order to combat the life-threatening global energy crisis on Earth. Mixing in elements of Interstellar, Event Horizon and in regards to its’ dealings with augmented reality splits, the rather excellent, if little seen, Coherence, Onah’s movie suffers from having too much to say without any real follow-through, and with a wildly inconsistent tone which rakes in awfully timed comedy amidst perils of catastrophic possibilities, The Cloverfield Paradox is undoubtedly a missed opportunity and hands down the worst entry of the franchise thus far. With Chris O’Dowd being the glaring error of casting, with his supposedly intellectual character undoubtedly the most cringe-worthy performance of the year so far, and elements of slapstick-laden body horror amidst dialogue which can only be described as the cinematic equivalent of a paint by numbers book, Netflix’s latest big budget cornerstone is really quite poor, and even when the ideas on the surface are interesting enough to warrant some form of applause for trying, the execution is badly managed and ultimately, a sobering disappointment.

Overall Score: 4/10

Film Review: Maze Runner: The Death Cure

“We Started This Together. We May As Well End It That Way Too…”

Whilst probably not the best person in some way to comment on a concluding act to a trilogy of which I have been completely absent from up to now, the latest entry into the Maze Runner series, directed by franchise stalwart, Wes Ball, brings to end arguably the most uninteresting young adult dystopian book adaptation to date, one which seemed in all honesty to exist primarily in order to latch onto the success of the far superior Hunger Games, and whilst I always revel in the chance to be proved wrong, The Death Cure is unfortunately, if not entirely surprisingly, a complete and utter elongated drag, one which fails to ignite any sense of interest or involvement throughout its’ unbelievably running time and a film which although is primarily designed for the younger side of audiences, seems entirely misjudged and altogether unrewarding. Beginning in a Skyfall-esque fashion with a somewhat well executed train heist, The Death Cure follows Dylan O’Brien’s (American Assassin) indestructible Thomas and his merry band of wavy hair followers through a Mad Max inspired landscape in order to save Ki Hong Lee’s Minho, who has been captured by the ridiculously named organisation, WCKD, in order to utilise his immunity to a virus unlike 28 Days Later’s rage virus and potentially save the remaining human race. Sound convoluted? That’s just the start.

Whilst I am all for spectacle-infused action carnage which sides with brass over an influx of brains, Ball’s movie is fundamentally one which reeks of glaring similarity, and whilst the film seems to be at least made with a somewhat dedicated respect to the source material, the movie ultimately suffers due to a wavering and uncertain narrative and an inclusion of characters which not only come across as the epitome of one dimensional, but too are characters so underdeveloped and dull that any of them could have been simply plucked from the set of either Hunger Games or Divergent without any of the other cast entirely noticing or caring. With Dylan O’Brien in the leading role as the one-note resistance cornerstone, Thomas, his performance similarly seems to have been simply transferred from the set of last year’s American Assassin, with the actor once again proving that with even the strongest will in the world, the American is still one of the most boring leading performers working today, and with the film personifying the term, deus ex machina, thanks to a constant stream of deadly set pieces which are suddenly revoked thanks to laughably bad saviours who seem to pop out of the cinematic ether for no apparent reason, The Death Cure is a shark-jumping bore of the highest order.

Overall Score: 3/10

Film Review: Insidious: The Last Key

“I’ve Faced Many Evil’s In My Life. This One Is Different Though…”

Acting as the latest entry within the ongoing Blumhouse Production line of horror releases, Insidious: The Last Key, the fourth and supposedly final picture within the rather drawn out Insidious franchise, is the first big screen jump-fest to hit multiplexes this year, and whilst there is a lack of consideration, particularly from myself, in regards to why yet another sequel is necessary to a franchise which suffers from a bruising sense of unmemorability, aside from its’ rather creepy first entry back in 2010, The Last Key is a somewhat acceptable, time-passing affair. Directed by horror stalwart Adam Robitel, whose previous releases in the form of The Taking of Deborah Logan and Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension acts as confident evidence for his directorial appointment, The Last Key primarily focuses on Lin Shaye’s psychic ghost hunter, Elise Rainier, as she returns to face the fears of her childhood in order to help Kirk Acevedo’s Ted Garza who calls for aid after experiencing strange hauntings within the house Rainier and her long lost brother grew up in under the watchful eye of their monstrous father.

Suffering in a way which most contemporary horror sequels, prequels and spin-offs ultimately do by feeling just a little bit worse for wear in terms of the freshness of the narrative and overall surprise factor, Robitel’s movie ironically begins in impressive fashion, heading further back in time to explore Rainier’s childhood in order to lay the groundwork for the story ahead, and with two mightily timed jump scares to start off proceedings, The Last Key was in danger of becoming much better than one might have expected. Unfortunately, yet not exactly surprisingly, however, the swift move back to the somewhat present day then brings about the middling return to a horror blueprint which covers everything from screaming dead entities to an overkill sensibility regarding the use of cliched horror tropes, tropes which become tiring as they finalise by simply resorting each and every time to the cattle prod horror cinema audiences seem to lap up. With comedy which doesn’t always work coming from the Chuckle Brothers of horror in the form of Rainier’s bumbling assistants and a concluding reveal which is unsurprising and hokey, The Last Key is pretty much your substandard horror sequel, but for the impressive first ten minutes, a committed performance from Shaye and a sense that finally the series has been put to bed, Robitel’s movie isn’t a classic but it at least works in a audience pleasing kind of fashion which for many, is all that you need.

Overall Score: 5/10

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

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