“Life Is About More Than Just Survival. We Were A Family. Dysfunctional, Sure, But What Family Isn’t…”
How a lot can change in the world of cinema in just one decade. Since the release of the first Zombieland back in 2009, Emma Stone has picked up a much deserved Academy Award, Woody Harrelson stunned audiences with a career-best performance in the first season of True Detective and Jesse Eisenberg has become more and more of a sanctimonious asshole after winning plaudits for his central role in the outstanding, The Social Network and then bombing any chances of redemption after delivering one of the worst villainous performances in the history of cinema in the awfully misguided, Batman Vs. Superman. Forever placing itself in the hearts of cult movie fanatics since its’ initial release, the world of Zombieland returns with Double Tap, a movie which finally hits the big screen after years of development hell and one helmed once again by returning director, Ruben Fleischer, whose exploits since the original movie have included the vacuous and noisy double bill of Gangster Squad and Venom. With jokes aplenty, some juicy comic violence and an erratic, lightning-fast pacing, Fleischer’s movie is exactly the movie you think it is, and an enjoyable one at that.
Whilst there is some degree of a central narrative at the heart of the movie, one involving our four horsemen (and ladies) of the apocalypse splitting off from each other in search of individual life decisions, Double Tap is without doubt more interested in set pieces, set pieces involving smart, sarcastic and well timed comedic gags during the heat of the battle against the hordes of the undead who make their way into the storyline when absolutely needed. With particular gags from the original being repeated, including the well-versed “zombie rules” utilised as a recurring flashpoint and the mighty Metallica returning to boost the soundtrack’s awesomeness, Double Tap is far from original, and whereas the original was essentially America’s answer to Edgar Wright’s superior zombie classic, Shaun of the Dead, Double Tap concludes with the most Americanised and overly ridiculous climax ever seen in a zombie flick. With the cast being supported by excellent supporting cameos including the scene stealing, Zoey Deutch (Everybody Wants Some!!) and a weird post-credits sequence involving Bill Murray (Groundhog Day), Double Tap is perfect Friday night nonsense, with emphasis on the nonsense.
Overall Score: 6/10
“You Wanna Control Your Life. But Life Isn’t A Science Experiment…”
With the beginning of 2019 primarily loaded with non-fictional dramatic adaptations and Oscar bait, the chance to take a reasonable comfort break from reality and back into the realm of mindless fictional horror comes around this week in the form of Escape Room, a strange oddity of a film which attempts to blend a whole catalogue of inspirations for a cinematic cocktail which seems neither good or awful, instead falling into that forgettable pot of big screen mediocrity which many horror pictures can unfortunately succumb to. Directed by horror genre stalwart, Adam Robitel, whose previous credits include the likes of Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension and Insidious: The Last Key, Escape Room states to have a screenplay from the minds of both Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik, but with so many glaring cliches at the heart of the action, one could argue that any cinephile with a faint knowledge of horror could have supplied the script at the heart of a film which somewhat revels knowingly at the fact that every single narrative turn seems to feature one cinematic rip off after cinematic rip off, and whilst Escape Room clearly fails to bring anything fresh or original to the genre in which it sits, Robitel’s latest is still a functional and partially entertaining high concept B-Movie with enough lavish silliness to make you just laugh at the absurdity of it all.
Amidst the tick list of the many cinematic “inspirations” present within the narrative, Escape Room comes across as a oddball hybrid of Saw, Hellraiser and the morbidly overlooked Cube, just without the jaw-dropping exploitation violence which made each so memorable first time around. Beginning by placing all the chess pieces into position as we our introduced to an array of underwhelming and underdeveloped lead characters, the action predominantly follows Taylor Russell’s (Lost in Space) Zoey, a timid and whispering scientific genius who after receiving a strange, indecipherable lock box, takes up the opportunity from the shadowy “Gamemaster” to solve his own personal “Escape Room” and the chance of winning ten thousand dollars. Cue absolutely ridiculous and impractical escape scenarios, shouty, swearing, panicky characters and of course, cringe inducing dialogue which includes each and every character reading out even the most minor part of the plot in case the audience member at the back of the screening just happened to miss it, Escape Room seems to revel in its’ unashamedly low budget nature, resulting in a sense that although the many weaknesses are as clear as day, the more silly the narrative gets, the more downright enjoyable the action ultimately becomes. With Deborah Ann Woll undoubtedly supplying the best performance of the bunch, continuing her excellent dramatic chops seen most clearly in Netflix’s Daredevil, Escape Room is an utter shambles and a complete mess, but with enough standout ripeness and a more than favourable runtime, Robitel’s latest is actually quite fun and at least made me leave the cinema with a questionable smirk.
Overall Score: 5/10
“That Hole Is A Gateway. And It Leads, Straight Down, To Hell. Now, Who Wants To Buy Some Drugs..?”
Juggling the role of front-man for the psychedelic rock band, Kula Shaker, alongside recently venturing into the world of cinematic endeavours, the multi-talented Crispian Mills reunites with Simon Pegg (Mission: Impossible – Fallout) after the 2012 independent horror comedy, A Fantastic Fear of Everything, with Slaughterhouse Rulez, a similarly genre bending creature feature which combines The Inbetweeners style laddish humour with a St. Trinian’s inspired backdrop which sees Finn Cole’s (Peaky Blinders) northerly Don Wallace reluctantly attend the titular upper class school, the militaristic, private education palace full with inner social class turmoil and overseen by the rather exuberant Headmaster as played by Michael Sheen (Apostle). Whilst Pegg himself can relate to starring in arguably the greatest British horror comedy of all time in the form of Shaun of the Dead, Mills’ second feature unsurprisingly fails to come anywhere close to Edgar Wright’s masterpiece, instead offering a strange concoction of Doctor Who inspired science fiction, political commentary and B-movie splatter, resulting in a ninety minute headrush of a movie which in parts is thoroughly enjoyable and laugh-out loud funny, but at other times, completely loses its’ way and slowly wanders into territory bordering on irksome, but with some of Britain’s best acting chops on show, Slaughterhouse Rulez is still amusing enough to pass the time.
With the bulk of the narrative focusing on the wretched school life entwined within the confines of the titular cathedral of knowledge, Mill’s screenplay begins in interesting fashion, introducing both Cole’s streetwise and savvy newcomer and Asa Butterfield’s (Hugo) kooky, alcohol and cigarette dependant, Willoughby Blake, as the central duo of the piece who quickly fall upon the insidious doings of a renowned fracking company who have been tasked with digging out the corpulent supply of shell gas kept under the school’s ground. Cue the nod to the Doctor Who serial “Inferno” from 1970 in which a mining disaster breeds unknown evil hostiles from beneath the surface of the earth and that’s pretty much the entire second half of Mill’s movie, just without venturing into alternative universes and apocalyptic doom. Whilst I am all for witnessing the sight of a drug-laden, hippie Nick Frost (Hot Fuzz) and violent, flesh hungry cave dwellers ripping endless hordes of cannon fodder to shreds within reason, Mills fails on a fundamental level to hold the shakey lines of genre crossing at a steady beat, resulting in a movie which not only feels way too long come the hour mark as the screenplay begins to run out of ideas good enough to hold the attention of its’ audience, but one which is neither scary or threatening, resulting in Slaughterhouse Rulez essentially being a feature length back-end episode of Torchwood with occasional slices of comedy gold and a Michael Sheen in his most camp and scenery chewing film role thus far.
Overall Score: 5/10
“Look In My Eyes, Eddie. The Way I See It, We Can Do Whatever We Want. Do We Have A Deal…?”
With Topher Grace’s long-awaited big screen portrayal of Eddie Brock/Venom in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 opening to a rather mixed response from critics and fans alike, eleven years later, Marvel aficionados finally have the chance to witness a “true” depiction of a character renowned for allowing a more darkened approach to the notion of what makes a “superhero” with the simply named, Venom, which sees Tom Hardy (Dunkirk) take the leading role of the investigative journalist who quickly becomes infested with an alien parasite with a knack for murder and a constant hunger for human flesh. Helmed behind the camera by Zombieland director, Ruben Fleischer, Venom is the latest 15-rated Marvel release after the likes of Deadpool, its’ recent, and better, sequel, and the ever-impressive and staggeringly violent Logan, and whilst not strictly under the bracket of the Marvel Cinematic Universe due to Sony Pictures still reserving the rights to the Venom character amongst others not yet hooked into Kevin Feige’s land of visceral wonder, Fleischer’s movie has been touted as the kickstarter to a fresh new comic franchise or “shared universe” which reportedly has enough love and support from the MCU to be green-lighted in a day and age when, let’s face it, comic-based movies are more constant than time itself.
In a similar way to the Tom Cruise led The Mummy however, a film which seemingly rendered the so-called “Dark Universe” dead in its’ tracks, Venom is equally as messy, convoluted and downright disappointing, a move so wildly inconsistent in tone you wonder if the BBFC were bribed in order to make the film seem darker than it actually is by slapping a 15 rating on top of it, and with all the discussion regarding the dark-natured antithesis of a character such as Venom alongside the success of more “adult” themed comic movies in recent times, Venom is thoroughly and fundamentally frustrating due to a obvious sense of indecision from the filmmakers to head in one tonal direction or the other. Because of this, Venom as a film simply cannot handle the constant switch of tone, ranging from trashy horror to comedy whilst remembering the need for woefully dull CGI action set pieces because of its’ place in the superhero genre, and with underdeveloped, indistinguishable characters, the waste of brilliant talent including Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler) and Michelle Williams (Manchester By The Sea) is filmic sacrilege of the highest order. With Hardy trying his best to inject some life into the character, it is the Brit’s performance which sort of makes parts of the movie worthwhile, with the constant bickering interchanges between himself and the growling voice of the infested symbiote sporadically entertaining, but upon leaving Venom, the previous hour and a half ultimately felt meaningless and forgettable, resulting in returning home to admire Netflix’s Daredevil, a comic adaptation with a much darker, much more complex and rewarding tone than anything within Venom, a movie with so much potential which has ended up just bland and cliched. Shame.
Overall Score: 4/10
“For Those Who Hear The Three Bell, Accept His Invitation…”
Based upon the infamous fictional, supernatural figure which began life as an internet meme created by Eric Knudsen back in 2009, Slender Man, directed by French filmmaker, Sylvain White, brings the character to life upon the big screen after time well spent within both the video game format and inspired-by low-budget movies including Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story in 2015 in which Doug Jones of Pan’s Labyrinth fame portrayed a character with familiar lanky body features. With a focus on attempting to mould the titular character into a somewhat cranky and generic storytelling facade with a staggeringly obvious point of reference being strangely aimed at Ringu and the subsequent American remake, The Ring, Slender Man is a complete and utter failure of horror cinema, a movie which seems to not bother at all in adding believable characters and instead uses the film’s youthful cast as cardboard cut-outs in order for the action to instead focus more so on baffling imagery and ridiculously over-cooked jump scares which all take place upon a colour palette which was so unbelievably dark that I had to check whether there was enough room in the film’s budget for the lighting department. As you may be able to tell, Slender Man is utter pants.
After a group of young friends decide to summon the mythical man himself, a character designed in the film as a somewhat CGI hybrid of The Silence from Doctor Who and a wooden artist manikin, it comes at no surprise whatsoever that the quartet of buzz-induced younglings begin to experience strange, nightmarish visions of the suit-wearing being of whom they attempted to contact in the first place. Cue meaningless cattle-prod scares, awful dialogue and wacky dream sequences, White’s movie tries to blend the youthful sensibility of a film such as It with a much darker, ice-cold tone, but with a complete absence of empathy for the leading cast who conform unsurprisingly to the a-typical horror movie cannon fodder, the audience spends ninety minutes anticipating the arrival of the titular villain but quickly become bored to death due to a complete lack of threat and belief in anything which happens on screen. With a concluding act which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, the film ends leaving an awfully scented taste in the mouth regarding what might have been for the film in the hands of better filmmakers, and even with the use of Funkadelic’s brilliant “Maggot Brain” on the soundtrack, Slender Man is the worst type of horror movie possible, a generic, wasteful, and utterly bland sludge-fest with very little redeeming features worthy of anyone’s time.
Overall Score: 3/10
“I Think I’ve Made A Terrible Mistake…”
Chosen as Russia’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming Academy Awards ceremony, director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s (Leviathon) stark and overly moody latest, Loveless, may be a particularly difficult picture to try and seek out thanks to an incredibly limited release, and whilst icy cold Russian mysteries aren’t exactly the type of movies audiences tend to rush and out and catch as quickly as humanly possible, Zvyagintsev’s latest is an interesting tale of extreme familial breakdowns and a depressing vista of Russia society, one which is helmed together by a central narrative regarding the disappearance of a young, seemingly unloved child and a movie that definitely deserves to be sought out. With a staggering plot pace and a claustrophobic overarching sensibility which not only takes its’ time setting the pieces of the narrative chess board in place but may seem too tough to handle for wandering minds, Loveless is an uncompromisingly depressive tragedy which fails to enforce even the smallest amount of redemption, but for those who can withstand the harshness of its’ winds, Zvyagintsev’s latest is an impressive, overly mysterious achievement.
With the first hour detailing in harsh detail the toxic relationship between Maryana Spivak’s Zhenya and Aleksey Rozin’s Boris as they both attempt to conclude an ongoing divorce and build fresh lives away from one another with new partners, Matvey Novikov’s Alexey is the isolated child in the middle, whose decision to abandon both mother and father sets up a second hour in which the picture switches from an uncompromising domesticated drama to a Scandi-esque thriller of ambiguous and uncertain temperament, bringing to mind in more ways than one the brilliance of The Killing (The Swedish one, not the American re-hash) and the ice-cold atmosphere of Let The Right One In. Portraying a society in which the birth of a child is met with disdain in favour of flavoursome trips of winding romance with new lovers and uninterested public services in which authorities are forced to act through procedure rather than through willingness, Zvyagintsev’s portrayal of modern Russia is unflinchingly negative, and with a conclusion which only serves as a reminder of the stark reality of consequence, Loveless is a sucker punch of a movie, one which leaves you gasping for the cheery horizons and one that even with obvious pacing flaws, keeps you thinking about it for days afterwards.
Overall Score: 7/10
“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
“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.