“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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.