“You’re Not Leaving, Are You, Stan? The Show Must Go On…”
Directed by Scottish filmmaker, Jon S. Baird, perhaps most famous for bringing Irvine Welsh’s scorchingly jet black comedy, Filth, to the big screen back in 2013, Stan and Ollie very much steps in the complete opposite direction, with Baird’s latest a surprisingly low key and slightly muted biographical drama focusing on the later lives of both Stanley Laurel and Oliver Hardy as played by Steve Coogan (Alan Partridge) and John C. Reilly (We Need To Talk About Kevin) respectively. Based on a screenplay from Jeff Pope who reunites with Coogan after their work together on the Bafta winning, Philomena, Baird’s latest primarily drops the audience into the tail end of the legendary comedy duos’ career, one previously stuffed with fame, fortune and rapturous critical plaudits but which has now seemingly fizzled out, resulting in the middle aged stars returning to the shores of the UK in order to secure the finances for a potential big screen project. With a central screenplay which chooses to rely primarily on the central relationship between the two stars, Stan and Ollie is a charming yet frustrating movie, one which works on the strength of its’ leading performers but ultimately feels significantly flat in its’ storytelling approach, resulting in a movie which fails to ever feel cinematic and would probably be better served on the small screen rather than in a multiplex where it may fail to garner significant audience interest.
With Pope’s screenplay relatively straightforward and simple, to the extent that the movie almost felt as if it could have been made in the era of its’ leading characters, the neutral sensibility of the movie does ultimately lack any real push, flash or energy to propel the movie into another gear, and in comparison to the likes of other biographical dramas which focus on central historical figures much less charismatic and well known than the likes of Laurel and Hardy, Baird’s movie does ultimately feel somewhat of a missed opportunity when examining the piece as a whole. Where the film does ultimately work however is in the strengths of particular building blocks which make up the final piece, with none more so than the central superbly cast pairing of Coogan and Reilly who embrace the sweaty, exhausting lifestyles of men attempting to revamp their careers after decades of excessive levels of fame. With Coogan slightly more reserved in his comedic output in comparison to his previous on-screen roles, the tender balance between himself and the prosthetics heavy Reilly relies on a level of substance and depth which is completely absent from any other character relationships within the movie, particularly that of the criminally wasted female characters including the wonderful Shirley Henderson. With the best parts of the movie undoubtedly the pair’s reenactment of particular famous Laurel and Hardy sketches, it goes without saying that when a film seems stretched even with a ninety minute runtime, something seems to have been lost in translation, but with the beaming smiles of Coogan and Reilly to help you through to the end, Stan and Ollie is good enough, just not as spectacular and memorable as its’ central iconic subjects.
Overall Score: 6/10
“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
“When I Come Back Through That Door I’m Still Gonna Be Champion Of The World…”
With boxing continuing to be the most visceral and cinematic sport to be successfully transferred onto the big screen in favour of others who have valiantly tried and failed, sometimes rather woefully in fact, that’s right Goal!, I’m looking at you, Paddy Considine’s second swing at directing after the critically acclaimed Tyrannosaur in 2011 in the form of Journeyman takes a rather well-worn format within the tradition of boxing movies whilst attempting to add a sense of genuine realism to proceedings which can be somewhat absent from the bigger, flashier Hollywood examples that audiences have been treated to in the past. Mixing together the cruel, life-changing risk of the sport seen in the likes of Bleed For This and Million Dollar Baby with an independent, Ken Loach-esque sensibility, Journeyman works best when the film pulls on the heartstrings in a way which fails to feel either saccharin sweet or cheap, and whilst the pacing and drawn-out nature of the movie does ultimately weaken the film as a whole even with a ninety minute runtime, Considine’s second feature is a solid example of character acting at its’ most dedicated.
With Considine himself taking the lead role of Matty Burton, the recently titled middleweight champion of the world, a victory secured via default after his opponent was forced to back out of the fight, a chance for redemption and a true shot at retaining the title comes in the form of Anthony Welsh’s (Black Mirror) youthful yet arrogant Andre Bryte. With the first twenty or so minutes wonderfully low-key and engaging as we our embraced in the film’s attempt to juggle the relationship between Burton’s relationship with his job and the personal life he has with the brilliant Jodie Whittaker (Doctor Who) as wife Emma and their newborn baby, the horrifying result of Burton’s fight with Bryte sets up the remaining hour in which we see Burton’s transformation from joyous, caring husband and father to the unrecognisable shell which has been put in his place. With outbursts of violence, mental incapacity and a terrifying “hide and seek” game within its’ brightest points, Journeyman does include the raw, realistic sensibility you’d expect from a British independent film, but with not enough push and a lack of real development come the crucial change half way through, Considine’s movie is a likeable but flawed second feature.
Overall Score: 6/10
“I Just Want To Go Home, Have A Proper Shower And A Poo…”
Whilst the huge success of The Inbetweeners television series brought national fame in abundance to the show’s leading four stars and is undoubtedly still a show which can be watched time and time again without wearing out, the transition from small screen to the cinema in the two feature length movies which followed ultimately failed to adhere to the same level of consistency which was evident in the series. Returning to similar roots once again, director Iain Morris, one of the co-creators of The Inbetweeners, re-unites with Joe Thomas in The Festival, a similarly crude, coming-of-age and undeniably British comedy which utilises the backdrop of the UK’s muddy festival scene for rampart teenage mischievousness and absurd cringe-laden set pieces, and whilst Morris’ latest does indeed suffer at times from a similar effect to The Inbetweeners movies by being a feature length film which stretches its’ central idea a little too far and may have benefited more by remaining on the small screen, is still a thoroughly charming and exceedingly funny one hundred minutes spent in the company of talented actors who know how to present the trials and tribulations of youth in the best way possible.
With Thomas essentially playing a lesser gelled incarnation of his character from The Inbetweeners in the form of Nick, a recently dumped, awkward graduate whose path to redemption comes in the form of a trip to an un-named festival alongside best friend, Hammed Animashaun’s (Black Mirror) in an attempt to cure him of his newly found romantic blues, the opening exchanges of the movie play in a very familiar fashion, evidenced with the added inclusion of Hannah Tointon (The Inbetweeners) as Nick’s love interest, with rather inappropriate sexual and bodily fluid gags all resulting in the sense of embarrassment audiences felt watching similar events on The Inbetweeners the first time around. As soon as the action begins to unfold in the titular wasteland of illegal drugs, annoying kooky campers and bass-drive music however, the scenario slightly changes for the better, adding in familiar feelings of bohemian peril for those privy to the ways and means of like-minded festivals which result in a wide range of laugh-out loud situations which are boosted by the natural chemistry between the fictional friendship between Thomas and Animashaun. When the movie does eventually begin to falter around the hour mark, resulting in a concluding forty minutes which lessen on the hit-rate of jokes and focus instead on more of a redemptive arc for the leading duo, the narrative weaknesses do unfortunately rear their heads, but thanks to the willingness of the film’s leading stars to show their private parts and be thrown in mud when asked on cue, The Festival is the ideal partner to kick off the annual summer delights of warm cider and sweaty teenagers.
Overall Score: 6/10
“The Age Of Stone Is Over. Long Live The Age Of Bronze…”
Best known for his work on the many forms of Wallace & Gromit and the ever-charming Shaun the Sheep franchise, Nick Park is undoubtedly the first name which springs to mind whenever the art form of stop-motion animation comes into discussion, and his return to the big-screen this week in the form of Early Man is one which reminds how much of a delicate and impressive pastime such a particular form of expressive freedom actually is, and with the likes of Chicken Run and 2015’s rather surreal Shaun the Sheep Movie both proving financially and critically successful, the cinematic appeal of stop-motion still applies more than ever. Utilising an equally impressive voice cast featuring the likes of Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything), Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones) and Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers), Park’s movie centres around a rather straightforward and overly predictable heroic narrative focusing on Redmayne’s ambitious caveman, Dug, who challenges the rule of Hiddleston’s green-eyed, wealth obsessed and questionably accented Lord Nooth to a game of football in order to claim back their quaint and idyllic homeland of which was stolen in order to mine out its quantity of ore.
Whilst the feature includes a wide range of chuckle-inducing, zippy one-liners, ranging from cute, animated asides to comments about the state of modern-day football, Park’s movie unfortunately never feels expressive or varied enough to warrant its’ big-screen release, with a ninety minute runtime attempting to squeeze as much out as possible of an incredibly basic plot and failing, resulting in a sense of a one-note joke being somewhat stretched to the widest extent possible and creating a staggering pace which begins the terrible feat of time checking curiosity. Thankfully for Park however, the stop-motion animation is flawless and beautiful enough to somewhat paper over the cracks, and with a concluding act which although confines to the plot’s heavy predictability, is impressive in its’ charming demeanour and positive sensibility, resulting in Early Man managing to succeed in being a solid, if overly throwaway, ninety minutes of animated escapism in which will undoubtedly work for kids more than it may work for us picky, somewhat legged, coffee consuming adults.
Overall Score: 6/10
“You Cannot Reason With A Tiger When Your Head Is In Its’ Mouth…”
Proclaimed by many as history’s greatest Briton, the enigmatic presence of Winston Churchill has been the focus of much filmic and televisual escapades ever since the conclusion of the Second World War, and whilst there has been a continued succession of recent releases over the past few years or so detailing similar events, Joe Wright’s (Atonement) latest, Darkest Hour, is a much welcome, audience pleasing history lesson which details the rise of Churchill’s ascent into the role of Prime Minister during the early years of the Second World War. Propelled by a staggeringly dramatic and joyously brilliant career defining performance by Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Wright’s movie covers similar ground obtainable in the likes of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk in it’s detailing of Operation Dynamo, Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest in regards to the period detail of war-torn Britain, and of course, Jonathan Teplitzky’s own depiction of the great man in last year’s Churchill in which Brian Cox’s (Manhunter) own portrayal was similarly well received, and whilst the overall picture doesn’t succeed in attempting to offer something new to the already overcrowded war drama genre, Wright’s direction and management of Oldman’s performance results in undoubtedly the definitive portrayal of Britain’s most iconic and favoured wartime leader.
Filled with wit, solid dramatic timing and an uncanny usage of famous characteristics and mannerisms, Oldman’s performance is one of immense proportions, an awards touting tour de force which of course utilises to full extent a generous helping of makeup and costume design, but crucially one which doesn’t come across as something of a caricature in its’ depiction of the more obvious Churchill behavioural patterns. Managing to fit in everything from the mumbling, slobber fuelled and sometimes completely incomprehensible dialogue to the constant yet important prop of the infamous cigar, to which Oldman’s own admission caused a touch of nicotine poisoning, the performance is the reason many will flock to the cinema to see the movie, and whilst Oldman’s transformation is remarkable, the change isn’t so dramatic that the actor inside is weighed down too much for his original talents to be indistinguishable. Concluding in a similar manner to Dunkirk with the show stopping “We shall fight on the beaches” speech, this time presented within the grandiose halls of the House of Commons, Darkest Hour is the sort of Oscar bait drama which although seems primarily to be a showcase for the brilliance of its’ leading actor, still manages to be a well played and thoroughly enjoyable piece of cinema, and with Bruno Delbonnel’s (Inside Llewyn Davis) smokey cinematography and a well measured orchestral soundtrack to move it along, Wright’s latest is the kind of awards pushover that’s not trying too hard to make you enjoy your stay and for that alone, Darkest Hour is a solid thumbs up.
Overall Score: 7/10
“I Am Choosing Between Trials and Tribulations. Do Stop Adding To Them…”
Sandwiched rather effectively between the likes of Their Finest and Christopher Nolan’s upcoming blockbuster, Dunkirk, Brian Cox takes on the challenge of portraying the iconic image of Winston Churchill this week in yet another 2017 release which focuses on a particular element and point of view regarding the historical and wholly barbaric events of the Second World War. Directed by Australian filmmaker Jonathan Teplitzky, perhaps best known for his work on the Colin Firth starring 2013 war drama, The Railway Man, Churchill attempts to bring to life the infamous story of the United Kingdom’s “greatest Briton”, a title unashamedly handed out upon the film’s pre-release trailer, and with the astute reputation of an actor such as Brian Cox in the leading role, stakes couldn’t be set higher for a cinematic interpretation of one of the most instantly recognisable faces of recent history. Whilst Churchill does feature some stellar acting form many of its leading stars, Teplitzky’s movie is unfortunately let down by a shallow and wholly uninteresting narrative, one which believes shouting and screaming is the best way to evoke a sense of drama, whilst the cinematic scale of such a film is so minimal, it really questions whether such a character exercise belongs on the big screen in the first place.
Taking place in 1944, on the eve of the infamous D-Day operations, Churchill unsurprisingly places Brian Cox’s titular conflicted Prime Minister at the heart of every single scene throughout the course of the movie, and whilst Cox seemingly manages to hit the nail on the head in terms of famous Churchill mannerisms, the dialogue and script too often let him down, with Teplitzky choosing to allow every line to be bellowed and screamed, akin to some awful teenage sitcom which just happens to be focused primarily during wartime. Subsequently, the decision to set most of proceedings within the confines of smokey, alcohol ridden low-key environments results in wondering why on earth Churchill belongs in the cinema in the first place, with it most likely to find success upon the medium of television not only due to its’ low-budge sensibility, but because on the face of it, there are a wide range of TV programmes that offer more reasons to be cinematic than that of Churchill. Although a sliding plot at the heart of it threatens to ruin the film entirely, Brian Cox does manage to pull you in and keep you entertained despite moments of utter silliness in terms of dialogue delivery, and whilst many will find a lack of action incredibly dull, ironically Churchill was a film at least I was never bored whilst watching, it just quite baffled me at times.
Overall Score: 5/10
“On The Road Is Where I Really Come Alive…”
Hands up who has seen The Office? No, me neither, and although the critically acclaimed BBC comedy drama has been on the mental watch-list for some time now, it just happens to be one of those programmes that I have never got around to watching along with countless others that I’ll probably get around to when I’m retired or out of work for any prolonged period of time within the near future. Not watching The Office however hasn’t swayed anticipation for David Brent: Life On The Road, mainly due to the reputation of Gervais as a comedian but also down to the succession of trailers over the past few months, of which have been smirk-inducingly cringey, in a good way, to say the least. Whilst the finished article isn’t exactly in the same league as classic mockumentaries such as This Is Spinal Tap and Borat, Life On The Road is a solid and somewhat heartwarming comedy that although may not be for everyone, hits the right notes for at least two thirds of the films’ run-time yet struggles for the one third in which it begins to lose its’ comedic appeal.
How would you categorise the comedic appeal of David Brent’s character? Cringe-inducing? Most definitely. Awkward. Definitely. Hysterically disengaged from social interaction almost altogether? Even more so, and it is these traits that Gervais plays upon throughout the film’s modest 90 minute run-time, a run-time which for the most part allows Brent’s character to grow and make its’ mark upon the new arrivals to the character’s behaviour even if sometimes the film seems to seep into a rather repetitive nature, particularly when we are taken from one musical venue to the next only to be treated to a repeat of almost the same gags. Although this particular weakness suggests a gag running out of steam half way through the movie, being in the company of Brent is welcoming enough to battle through and save the movie from perhaps being a slight drag. Amidst a few jokes that come and go with a sense of being completely unresponsive, Life On The Road is a solid cinematic debut for the character of David Brent, and although it may not find a wide enough audience to become the huge success the character of Brent wants to become within the film, it may indeed push new recruits to seek out Gervais’ earlier incarnations of the same character. If I get time that is.
Overall Score: 6/10
“This Is My Home. Get Out Now…”
When it comes to originality and genre-bending ideas within the realm of horror cinema, perhaps such a genre is the hardest in which to grasp a concept of freshness with cliches and tropes alike being ever present within recent examples of what makes a 21st century horror movie. With The Conjuring, the unbelievably successful 2013 horror directed by Saw creator James Wan, the genre of horror was never more boosted into the spotlight, where although the film suffers from a sense of rehashing ideas from other, better and more influential movies from the past, there was indeed a sense of enjoyment that the horror genre has not completely vanished into nonexistence. As per the norm in the land of Hollywood, the success of the original has now sprouted a sequel, once again led by director James Wan whilst switching from the rural environment of Rhode Island to the working class locale of Ponders End, Enfield. Much like its’ predecessor, The Conjuring 2 is a cliche ridden blockbuster, the horror equivalent of the Marvel franchise where the same blueprint is laid down to satisfy the masses but ultimately something of non-importance and irrelevance but also something that is inherently good fun with some major jump scares thrown in for good measure.
After being criticised for their involvement in the Amityville murders, Ed and Lorraine Warren are left to wonder whether their occupation as demonologists are becoming subject to irrelevance in a time where science has overtaken the beliefs of the supernatural and the unknown. Reluctant to carry on their duties, Lorraine becomes transfixed with the notion that if they continue, Ed may indeed die at the hands of the insidious entity that has been stalking her within her visions. Against all warnings however, the Warrens are asked by the church to travel to London to investigate supposed paranormal activity in the home of the Hodgson’s, one of the most notorious real-life cases in the history of paranormal research, yet they soon realise their involvement within the case may be part of a larger picture, one that threatens the lives of both Ed and Lorraine. Creaky doors and windows? Check. Huge spine-tingling jump scares? Check. Creepy children and spooky entities? Oh yeah. Of course The Conjuring 2 is not exactly the most original horror movie, with nods to The Exorcist, The Evil Dead and a severe likeliness to films such as Insidious and Sinister from recent years, but what it is is entertaining, entertainment that although is way too long, with a ridiculous two hour plus run-time, is guaranteed for success. There’s one thing you can rely on from the general public; they love their creepy movies. Good on them.
Overall Score: 7/10
With one of the worst taglines in movie history accompanying it (Check the poster above), the sequel not one person particularly wanted to Olympus Has Fallen has finally decided to embrace our screens in a time of the cinematic year in which, let’s face it, most of the crap tends to descend upon us in a vain attempt to dislodge the award season by letting us know that aside from brilliance of films like Spotlight and Room there is always going to be a gap in the market for absolutely tripe. Following in the footsteps of last weeks’ horror abortion The Forest therefore is Babak Najafi’s London Has Fallen, a cash-grabbing attempt to carry on the murderous rampage of one Gerard Butler during his duties to protect the least believable on-screen President ever in the form of Aaron Eckhart, perhaps best known for portraying Harvey Dent/Two-Face in The Dark Knight, whilst eyeing up the chance to blow up some of the UK’s most valuable and iconic works of art in a metaphorical and very American two fingers up to the people of the UK. As you can tell, it’s a complete turkey.
Although perhaps not worthy of extreme critical examination by any stretch of the imagination, I believe it is the interest of editorial affairs that I point you in the direction of Adam Sherwin’s article in The Independent (Link Below) whereby he gathers the rafter of hatred that has been directed towards London Has Fallen with many proclaiming it a “dumpster of xenophobia” and a film which would “inevitably end up on Donald Trump’s DVD shelf”. Can I argue with any of these statements? Not at all, particularly when regarding the extreme stereotypes and highly racist prejudices which encompass the entirety of the movie whilst the inclusion of complicated and controversial tactics of war such as drone usage is simply lauded within the first ten minutes of the film in which we witness an entire generation of a middle-eastern family get blown up. Is this really entertainment? No. Not only is the film morally bankrupt to the extreme, it is also a shoddy piece of cinema with awful dialogue, ridiculously violent set pieces and awful CGI which wouldn’t go amiss in a straight-to-DVD B-Movie. Don’t take the time out of your day to fuel America’s willingness to enlighten the world regarding the evil nature of the East, London Has Fallen is a Goebbels’ level of war propaganda and something that should be left alone in hope it disappears completely.