“I Know This Is Not How You Wanted To Spend Your Weekend…”
Directed by James McTeigue, a filmmaker who has never really eclipsed the success of his debut big-screen feature in the form of the rather excellent V for Vendetta, Breaking In, starring Gabrielle Union (Sleepless) in the leading role as mother of two, Shaun Russell, is essentially a hybrid crossover of a wide range of famous, historic movies, one which sees Russell attempt to save her children after they are locked inside a ultra-secure familial home with violent burglars who have come to claim a large monetary stash for their own. With a strange shadow of Panic Room airing over it, McTeigue’s movie is undeniably wrapped in B-Movie sensibility, and as the action moves from paranoid thriller to Die Hard territory and arguably even more so onto Hostage territory, a movie which in itself was a rather perfunctory rip-off of Die Hard anyhow and a film which too featured Bruce Willis, Breaking In is a movie which ultimately knows its boundaries, its’ flaws and complete lack of substance but runs with it anyway, and with a kick-ass leading heroine in the form of Union undeniably audience winning, McTeigue’s movie surprisingly falls into the category of enjoyable silliness.
With dialogue so exposition heavy throughout it seems to have been churned out in a cliched text machine, the first twenty minutes highlights the rather extreme security capabilities of the household in which Union’s Shaun has been tasked with selling after the sudden and unexpected death of her powerful father. With drones, bulletproof wall coverings and more CCTV coverage than the city of London, the stage is set for the action to unfold, and whilst the movie does fall rather heavily into generic conventions in regards to its’ typeface leading villain, lack of real tangible peril and an overly predictable Hollywood ending, the real interest resides in Union’s portrayal of a mother figure who will do absolutely anything in order to be re-united with her children, no matter what the consequences and how violent they may be. With laughable editing of obvious foul language and a mixed degree to which on-screen violence is approached, it seems obvious the filmmakers opted for a Taken 3 sensibility by aiming for the 12A threshold which ultimately was rejected, but with a classy eighty minute runtime and enough twisting, narrative turns in order to get to the film’s inevitable conclusion, Breaking In isn’t exactly groundbreaking but it does the job comfortably enough and for that I’m more than happy with.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Sweetheart, You Just Can’t Change The Rules Because Someone’s Showed An Interest…”
Appearing onto the cinematic fold with his first big-screen offering after a number of independent shorts, Michael Pearce writes and directs Beast, a spine-tingling, nihilistic and paranoid psychological thriller which sees Jessie Buckley’s (Taboo) Moll break free of her critical and controlling family as she comes into contact with Johnny Flynn’s (Clouds of Sils Maria) bohemian and free-spirited Pascal within the confines of an unnamed, rural and isolated community paralysed with fear after a number of young women are found brutally raped and murdered. With the ghost of Twin Peaks springing to mind each and every time there is a narrative crossover regarding the impact of death on a close-knit community, Pearce’s movie does impressively share a tonal similarity with David Lynch’s sprawling and surrealist masterpiece, with the film holding a relentless ominous tone up until its’ final, haunting shot, and whilst Beast decides to stay strictly within the realms of linear storytelling, with its’ feet planted heavily on the ground rather than conforming to the surrealist temperaments found in most Lynch works, its’ the shadow of the uncertain which brilliantly pushes the drama and undoubtedly leaves the audience in a contemplative mood regarding what has unfolded upon them.
Shot primarily on the island of Jersey, Pearce’s movie follows Buckley’s Moll, a reclusive, distant and dissatisfied daughter who resides at her home alongside the intrusive, demanding and judgemental figure of her mother, Hilary, brilliantly played by Geraldine James (Rogue One) who demands familial perfection. After stumbling across Flynn’s Pascal, a relationship between the two begins to blossom, much to the distaste of the rest of Moll’s family, resulting in a heavy sense of alienation as Moll begins to suspect that Pascal has much more to his questionable and overly murky history than it originally seems. Although Pearce’s movie features beautiful, sweeping landscapes and that particularly familiar British independent feel around it, akin to the melancholic temperament of Calvary and the uncertain sensibility of Ben Wheatley’s Kill List, the film is not entirely cinematic throughout its’ 110 minute runtime, with dialogue set pieces heavily reminiscent of an ITV crime drama at times, but with a clear Hitchcock influence, particularly Shadow of a Doubt, acting as a thorough through line from start to finish, Pearce’s feature debut is a dark, twisted and enjoyably startling success.
Overall Score: 8/10
“How Did Faith Work Out For Those People..?”
Acting as a more than unnecessary reboot of the Michael Winner 1974 film of the same name, torture porn aficionado, Eli Roth (Hostel, Knock Knock) takes control of Death Wish, a ridiculously mainstream B-Movie attempt which swaps Charles Bronson for Bruce Willis as Dr. Paul Kersey who wreaks havoc on the criminal fraternities of Chicago after his wife and daughter are caught up in a robbery gone violently wrong. Forged around a screenplay by Joe Carnahan (Smokin’ Aces, The Grey), Roth’s latest is a strangely inert and viciously edited piece of nonsense which although fails to live up to perhaps the levels of incompetence many would suspect, is still a cliched and generously predictable ninety minutes with a Bruce Willis on hilarious form with arguably his worst on-screen performance in his entire career thus far. With vigilante justice a mainstay of cinema and television alike, with John Wick: Chapter Two and Netflix’s thoroughly entertaining The Punisher released in the past year, albeit one delayed due to questionable murmurings regarding its’ violent tendencies, the argument for whether yet another film depicting the horrors of U.S gun control in a day and age ripe with high profile massacres and murders is simply one I tend to stay away from, with instead focus directed primarily on the film as a work of cinema, rather its’ place in the overriding social stratosphere.
Unfortunately for Roth however, his decision to focus wholly on the power of violence and delights of retribution without any flip-side or depth to the film’s leading character is where the movie ultimately fails, with Death Wish oh so quickly falling into a pattern of an on-screen violent murder followed by minimalist discussion through random radio off-cuts and then quickly back to yet another violent death without any real sense of purpose or character development other than just Willis’ Kersey simply acting as cannon fodder for the film’s plodding progression. For example, in a remarkably misjudged scene, Willis’ Kersey enters a gun store with a busty, flirty female sales assistant happily flouting the power of the many weapons on show with Kersey questioning how easy it is for him to purchase such weapons, a question which I, and perhaps the entire audience, assumed would then proceed to satire the sordid state of affairs American gun control is currently in. Shockingly however, this discussion then leads to a scene later in the movie when Kersey returns hand in glove with a desire to purchase everything and anything in order to violently massacre whom he sees fit, showing that in fact, Roth’s view of the American weapon fascination is only for the greater good. With the film so obviously edited to fit under the umbrella of the 15 certificate that at times the picture jumps frames so violently you feel as if you’ve been shot yourself, Death Wish is still not exactly terrible and at just over ninety minutes, is sort of bearable to some degree, but with lazy decisions and a god-awful Willis, Roth’s movie is still utter nonsense.
Overall Score: 4/10
“Who Are We If We Can’t Protect Them? We Must Protect Them…”
Utilising arguably the most basic and fundamental element of horror cinema since the inception of the genre at the turn of the twentieth century, John Krasinski (Detroit) stars, writes and directs A Quiet Place, a thrilling and genuinely unnerving apocalyptic creature feature which mixes survivalist adventure with threatening terror and one which is held together by a key and tightly held plot point regarding the use of silence and the deadly consequences that arise whenever the rules of such an element are broken. Transferring their relationship in the real world into the landscape of the film, Krasinski is joined by Emily Blunt (Sicario) as two grief stricken parents, Lee and Evelyn Abbott, who attempt to survive in the treacherous, ambiguous world that now homes vicious, unrelenting and seemingly indestructible alien creatures who hunt primarily by responding to sound, no matter how small the disturbance may be. Beginning with a gripping opening act which sees the Abbott family scour the dredges of a The Walking Dead inspired future wasteland for resources and goods, the ground-rules for the drama is delicately set, with silence the overarching soundtrack and communication limited to close-quartered whispers and sign language whilst movement too limited to bare foot expeditions and a handy stock of sound reducing sand.
Whilst Krasinski himself has declared a complete rejection at horror movies in the past, the co-written screenplay from himself, Bryan Woods and Scott Beck is undeniably inspired by classic examples of not only the genre of horror but classic monster thrillers too, and with an opening act concluding in a manner which bears similarities to Stephen King’s famous opening tragedy in his magnum opus It, the thrills and spills throughout A Quiet Place are indeed recognisable but still highly effective in to an alarming degree. With post apocalyptic landscapes a common theme in contemporary cinema with the likes of Mad Max: Fury Road and The Road two very different movies at either end of the spectrum in terms of what the genre can offer, the survivalist tendencies shown in A Quiet Place are never lingered upon in attempt to shove the notion of desolation completely in your face, with the narrative instead brilliantly glossing over such in a blasé fashion which makes the audience accept the surroundings in which our heroic family are based without getting solid answers on the cause or what the murderous monsters at the centre of the peril really are. With Noah Jupe (Wonder) and Millicent Simmonds (Wonderstruck) as the Abbott children, the former’s deafness (something of which Simmonds has in real life) offers in itself a brooding sense of peril, with the soundtrack switching from the background noise of the wild to complete and utter silence whenever Simmonds is on-screen, something of which works particularly well later in the action when her character is somewhat unaware of the power of her unfortunate infliction.
With Blunt undeniably the standout performer of the piece, her own attempts to balance the preservation of her family with the upcoming arrival of a new life results in a standout set piece involving a wince-inducing injury and the worst period of child labour in the history of cinema. With Blunt originally suggesting to partner Krasinski that someone else should take the part, her decision to be involved continues her ability to convey superb performances in a wide range of differing genres ranging from comedy (The Devil Wears Prada) to action thrillers (Edge of Tomorrow, Sicario) and now creature feature horror. Clocking in at a healthy ninety minutes, the pacing of the movie is brilliantly measured, with a hearty, white-knuckle build-up leading to a concluding act which mixes Jurassic Park style set pieces with 28 Days Later inspired terror all happening at a lighting fast paced that come the final credits, you can’t help but feel an extra course would be lapped up more than generously. For a movie which relies on the element of silence and resorts to having dialogue reduced to an absolute minimum, A Quiet Place could be praised on its’ own for just being a superbly brave mainstream exercise, but with top-notch performances all around, a wondrously creepy premise and come the end, a strangely heartwarming familial tale, Krasinski’s movie is a resounding and genuinely unnerving success.
Overall Score: 9/10
“He’s Here. Or Maybe, It’s All In My Head…”
Returning from a self-imposed early retirement last year with the rather entertaining Logan Lucky after a four year hiatus, director Steven Soderbergh returns once again to the cinematic fold with Unsane, a delightfully kooky psychological thriller starring The Crown’s Claire Foy as the equally wacky named Sawyer Valentini who is forced into mental despair from a stalker whom she believes has followed her into the confines of a mental institution which is seen to be holding her illegally against her will. Whilst comparisons to the standout genre examples when it comes to the notion of asylums and the mentally ill are wholly inevitable, Soderbergh’s latest undoubtedly revels in a familiar B-movie sensibility prevalent in films of a similar ilk, with the likes of The Ninth Configuration, Shutter Island and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest the main ball-park areas the film can be aligned against, but with the added hysteria caused by the threat of Valentini’s stalker figure, Unsane is closer to Patrick Brice’s 2014 independent chiller, Creep, more than anything else, with the narrative’s uncertain ambiguity resulting in a sense of not truly foreseeing where the film ultimately is heading.
Shot from start to finish by use of an Apple iPhone 7 Plus and the FiLMiC Pro application which allows video to be stored in 4K, Unsane bears more of a tonal similarity to that of a found footage horror, and whilst at times the cinematography is radically subversive and riotously unconventional, the wider ratio aspect and grainy image does aid the claustrophobic nature felt by Foy’s Valentini, particularly with continuous Sergio Leone style close-ups and the jolty movement of the picture whenever the camera follows her character in a deliberate attempt to mimic the continuous threat of being watched. With Side Effects in Soderbergh’s back catalogue, the Hitchcock-esque thriller type is something in which the American is more than capable at portraying, and whilst Unsane does conform to the more wacky end of the genre spectrum, there is no denying that Soderbergh is arguably at his best when offering more of a challenging, unconventional set-up. Whilst at times the many ludicrous plot holes and questionable narrative choices do weaken the final product as a whole, Unsane is a thoroughly enjoyably and viciously wild cult piece which is gelled together by a Claire Foy on cracking form, and with a concluding act which is genuinely freakish and oddly unsettling, Soderbergh’s second return is another rousing, off-beat success.
Overall Score: 8/10
“You Are Not Yakuza. You Are A Gaijin. An Outsider…”
With Bright, Mute and The Cloverfield Paradox a trio of big budget movies which have used Netflix as the chosen platform for their respective release over the course of the past six months or so, it’s fair to say that so far, critical consensus has been, let’s just say, less than positive for anything with the Netflix branding tainted on it, aside from the likes of Okja and Annihilation which have seemingly broken the bog awful standard set so thus far. Another week, another small screen offering however, with Netflix turning to Jared Leto this time in The Outsider, a generic, yet overly functional, crime thriller which utilises the much commentated approach of placing the American in the heart of post-war Japan as he rises up the ranks of the Yakuza after saving the life of Tadanobu Asano’s (Silence) long-serving crime boss, Kiyoshi, in prison. With a nihilistic, unnerving tone and both underwritten characters and subplots, director Martin Zandvliet’s approach to handling the inclusion of Leto’s wandering military ghost figure, Nick Lowell, is not exactly justified, with the narrative more focused on handling a whistle stop tour of violent deeds and double crossing than ever coming up with a valid reason for his inclusion in a primarily Japanese cast, but with enough style to at least hold your attention whilst it works its’ way from A to B, The Outsider is just about good enough to warrant two hours of your in-home small screen.
With attention obviously centred around the fundamental plot hole regarding whether a titular “outsider”, or in the words of the Japanese themselves, a “gaijin”, would ever be allowed into the strict ruling of the Yakuza traditions, the idea itself is one of interesting possibilities, but with a narrative starved of substance and an overripe, unnecessary violent streak, The Outsider is strangely unimaginative, utilising generic tropes of in-house familial power struggles to carve out a strangely tacked-on ending after we witness Leto’s Nick progress from messy haired prisoner to sharply dressed gangster with added cheekbones. Whilst the performance of Leto himself is similar to attempting Ryan Gosling’s performance in Drive without half the acting ability or talent, his fundamental dullness is entirely down to the writing, where although the primary focus of the movie is seemingly meant to infiltrate the ways of the Yakuza through the eyes of a Westernised psychopath, the audience is instead left with an empty vessel which violently acts out whenever he feels the audience may be starting to lose patience. Whilst The Outsider is undeniably messy therefore and full of ludicrous implausibilities, Martin Zandvliet’s latest still managed to keep me interested however, and for a film which manages to have so many weaknesses and still hold me until the end, something somewhere ultimately worked.
Overall Score: 6/10
“I Love You So Much Leo, But You Don’t Know Me…”
Engaging with and including myself within the small minority who can actually stand up proudly and state that 2016’s Warcraft was actually better than most critics gave the movie credit for, Duncan Jones’ career has drifted from contemplative low-budget success story (Moon) to big budget science fiction spectacular (Source Code) in a reasonably swift amount of time, and with the release of Mute this week as the latest Netflix original after years of development hell, Jones’ long-term project, one deemed as the “spiritual sequel” to 2009’s Moon, is finally brought to life, if only on the small screen. Following Alexander Skarsgård’s (The Legend of Tarzan) Leo, the titular mute barkeep who attempts to solve the mystery of Seyneb Saleh’s Naadirah’s sudden disapearance within the heart of a future-world Berlin, Jones’ latest is unfortunately a cliched and utterly soulless Blade Runner rip-off, one which attempts to sew together a noir-esque primary plot thread amidst stereotypical Russian gangsters, The Fifth Element style campness and eerily ill-judged set pieces which are as ridiculous as they are jaw-droppingly stupid, resulting in Mute conforming to the fate of The Cloverfield Paradox by being yet another Netflix funded let down.
With Sally Hawkins managing to convey both rigorous emotion and heartwarming depth to a character of similar ilk in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, the inclusion of Skarsgård’s Leo, the speech-free central character of the piece, is somewhat gimmicky and undeniably underwritten, with Hawkins’ character necessary in furthering the audience’s understanding of the relationship between herself and Doug Jones’ aquatic monster, a level of narrative depth which is completely absent from the entirety of Jones’ screenplay, resulting in Skarsgård’s performance coming off as nothing more than a growling, angst-ridden puppet which is used to facilitate the furthering of plot when necessary. Whilst the opening forty five minutes of the piece is somewhat interesting, even with a heavy handed dose of exposition which explains absolutely everything in a excruciatingly painful paint-by-numbers fashion, the film really turns after a showdown between Leo and Dominic Monaghan’s sex facilitator on a bed next to a staggeringly imaginative pleasure doll which resulted in one of the biggest unintentional laughs I will have this year, and with the emergence of the similarly awful Paul Rudd (Ant Man) as the least threatening villain of the year so far and Justin Theroux’s (Mulholland Drive) overly misjudged paedophilic sidekick, Mute turns overly wacky and staggeringly dull rather quickly and with a conclusion which doesn’t entirely make up for the wait, Jones’ latest is annoyingly his weakest work to date, and for a project which took more than a decade to bring to the screen, one could have argued it should have stayed on the cutting room floor.
Overall Score: 4/10
“Do You Ever Feel Life Is Pushing Us Towards A Greater Purpose…?”
Renowned for a distrust in the works of finesse and instead obeying the rule of one take, one hit when it comes to his particular brand of film-making, Hollywood stalwart, Clint Eastwood, returns after 2016’s Sully, with The 15:17 to Paris, a somewhat similar tale of heroism and the remarkable workings of the human spirit, and a movie which features as its’ seat-selling trump card, a trio of leading stars who each portray themselves in attempting to re-tell the widely covered events which occurred upon the titular train on 21 August, 2015. Whilst not exactly the type of character movie executives would tend to disagree with when it comes to the creation of a particular cinematic vision, Eastwood’s bold and brave decision to allow the real heroes of the story to re-enact their own history is one of interesting possibilities, and whilst the tale at the heart of the movie is one of staggering bravery in the face of mindless destruction, The 15:17 to Paris is unfortunately a wildly misjudged mess, a movie which attempts to landfill its’ runtime with elements of backstory and cliched character arcs without any degree of success, and even with a concluding set piece which is undeniably well executed, Eastwood’s latest is a strange case which begs the question whether it was really needed in the first place.
Based on The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Soldiers, a true account of events by each of the famous heroes and Jeffrey E. Stern, the movie begins with a somewhat swift and overly jarring diversion into Boyhood-esque territory in which we see the childhood lives of Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler intertwine through tales of school-time shenanigans and dreams of joining the US Military. Whilst the narrative decision to give backstory to each of the heroes may have seemed crucial in understanding at a deeper level the events which take place, the first hour is instead utterly pointless, with the acting abilities and on-screen charisma of both Skarlatos and Sadler completely devoid of any positivity whatsoever, a outcome rather unsurprising when considering the lack of acting experience between them. With this in mind, the obvious decision to allow Stone to be the leading figure of the film does allow some form of success, with his likeable and openly flawed demeanour the main access point for audience involvement, but when the movie does eventually come to its’ taut and tense concluding set piece which brings together each strands of the story set in place, it is unfortunately too late, and for a movie to have only ten minutes of greatness within a runtime of just over ninety minutes, the wait really isn’t worth it at all.
Overall Score: 3/10
“Someone On This Train Does Not Belong. All You Have To Do Is Find Them…”
Whilst many took to the idea that Liam Neeson had adhered to his word of refusing to star in any future action movies, something of which which he stated profoundly across media lines last year, it comes at no surprise that this week audiences are treated to The Commuter, the latest from Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra, whose reunion with Neeson follows on from their previous work together on Non-Stop and Run All Night, with the word of the Irish actor much more uncertain and dishonest since he laughed off the possibility of Taken 3 in 2013, a sequel which was then swiftly released only two years later. Whilst the obvious similarities to previous action movies are inevitable for a movie starring an actor recently renowned for jumped-up, high octane nonsense, Neeson’s latest is a movie both ridiculous and enjoyable in equal measure, a laughably absurd ideas thriller which although suffers from a wide range of clearly defined issues, is indeed up there with the better Neeson action movies to be released since his turn as the revenge seeking killer in Pierre Morel’s 2008 cult classic, Taken, a movie which launched a latter-stage chapter of the actor’s career to ridiculous levels of newly found action hero fame.
Approached by the mysterious Vera Farmiga during his daily commute, Neeson’s Michael MacCauley is tasked with attempting to hunt down a particular unknown fellow passenger without truly understanding the reasoning behind such, aside from the offer of excessive monetary reward. Jumping in and out of the shadow of previous film ideas as swift as the film’s chaotic editing, The Commuter is the type of movie which evokes so many previous stories that the film almost becomes a entertaining ferris wheel of bingo in which you tick off every film that comes to mind as the carnage unravels in the loudest and silliest way possible. Switching from Red Eye to Source Code to Under Siege 2 as quickly as possible within a completely manic first act which does manage to contain a rigid element of threat and mystery rather entertainingly, The Commuter then concludes with a amalgamation of Unstoppable and 16 Blocks with added predictability and cheesiness, and whilst Neeson’s latest is obviously not as smart or original as it may think it is, the action is decent enough and the tone is welcoming and undeniably crowd pleasing, and for a man who may have given up on action movies for good, you can’t deny Neeson does look like he’s enjoying himself. As are we.
Overall Score: 6/10
“I Hired You To Do Things That Other People Can’t Or Won’t Do…”
Whilst last year’s Alien: Covenant offered up a pretty solid attempt at dragging the reputation of its’ respective franchise through the gutter, the return of director Ridley Scott still manages to incite a cool sense of fangirl-esque anticipation, particularly when Alien and Blade Runner still remain undisputed masterpieces of cinema, and even though the American still hasn’t hit the high notes his reputation is built on since perhaps American Gangster, the residual feeling of hope for his next classic still remains. Hampered in post production due to the widely publicised sexual harassment claims made against leading star at the time, Kevin Spacey, Scott’s latest, All The Money In The World adds an extra layer of interest to its’ release due to Scott’s decision to recast Spacey’s role as oil magnate, Jean Paul Getty, weeks before its’ slated release. With Christopher Plummer willingly taking up the mantle left by the departed Spacey, Scott’s nine day reshoots with the actor offers up fundamental questions of the quality of the final product, and whilst there is no doubting the manner in which Scott manages to carve out some decent performances from his trio of leading stars, All The Money In The World is a staggeringly underwhelming and mediocre affair, one which suffers from a wildly paced opening first half and a movie which once again reignites the issue of Scott’s dedication of quantity over quality.
With the movie assuming the audience has previous knowledge of the key players involved in the drama which occurs on-screen, David Scarpa’s screenplay, based upon John Pearson’s 1995 book, “Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty”, essentially offers no fitting backstory or character development for any of the movie’s leading players, with the first hour of the film a jaw-droppingly dull affair, unaided by amateurish editing which moves the action back and forth between a rafter of time settings in a manner both nauseating and convoluted that you begin to lose track and interest almost immediately on what the overall message and narrative endgame the film is attempting to convey. When the movie does finally settle down heading into the second hour however, the emergence of Plummer’s brilliantly cold and inhumane performance as Getty and the back and forth presentation of hostage and hostage negotiator does becoming an interesting affair, but with the sloggish journey it takes you on to get there, Scott’s movie doesn’t have the sharpness or the nuance to be any more than just a mediocre examination of a story which in other hands may have been much more rewarding, and when a movie utilises the cliched usage of The Zombies’ “Time of the Season” to represent the hippy free feel of the 1970’s, you know it’s going to be a rather laborious affair.