“We Fight New Wars. The Old Options, Military, Diplomacy. They Don’t Always Succeed…”
Acting as the fourth collaboration between Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg after Lone Survivor and the excellent one-two of Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day, Mile 22, based upon a screenplay written by American writer, Lea Carpenter, sees Wahlberg as James Silva, the ferociously agitated, quip-laden sociopathic leader of Overwatch, an elite, CIA-led special ops division who are tasked with traversing the destructive roads of Indonesia as they attempt to extract a prize asset from the country into the United States in return for the location of missing weapons grade plutonium. With Berg’s previous releases successfully managing to balance the re-telling of horrific true events with strong storytelling and well orchestrated action set pieces, Mile 22 manages to bat in completely the opposite direction, with Berg’s latest a film which can only be described as a crazed frenzy of a movie, a ninety minute, action packed head rush which is as violent as it is overly ridiculous, and a movie which results in you leaving the cinema with a guaranteed headache and a high chance of tinnitus as you feel your body become overcome with exhaustion from the events that have occurred before your eyes on screen.
Whilst strictly based on some form of “true story” regarding the existence of the Overwatch programme within contemporary wars across the globe, Mile 22 clearly wavers towards fictionalised events in which Wahlberg’s Silva and his team of cold-hearted killers have free reign to blow up, violently execute and cause as much general havoc as they desire. With paper thin characterisation which mainly focuses on our “heroes'” penchant for killing as effortlessly as possible, this only results in there being no sympathy whatsoever for events which unfold throughout the movie, particularly towards Wahlberg’s Silva, a foul-mouthed, utterly despicable smart-ass, a leading performance which made me wonder whether Wahlberg had actually been incredibly mis-cast due to Wahlberg not at all managing to balance the OTT nature of his character and ends up coming across more annoying than heroic. However, with a heart-stopping editing pace, crunchy action scenes with gunfire aplenty and a rousing, physical performance from arguably the greatest action star of the past decade in the form of Iko Uwais (The Raid, The Raid 2, Headshot), Mile 22 was a film in which I was never bored, and for a film in which its’ mistakes are blindingly obvious, Berg’s latest is a confusing, often manic, all action speed rush which sort of won me over the more it ventured into the realms of complete and utter ridiculousness.
Overall Score: 6/10
“There Is A Hokkien Phrase ‘Kaki Lang’. It Means: Our Own Kind Of People, And You’re Not Our Own Kind…”
Based upon the 2013 novel of the same name by Singaporean–American writer, Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians takes the familiar tale and narrative path of romantic comedies from the past and places it slap bang in the middle of Southeast Asia as we follow Constance Wu’s (Torchwood) Rachel Chu, a successful professor of economics at New York University who travels with her secretive boyfriend, Henry Golding’s (A Simple Favour) Nick Young, to Singapore in order to finally meet his family and friends. Directed by Jon M. Chu, a filmmaker whose previous credits haven’t exactly been rewarded with critical admiration thanks to the likes of Now You See Me 2 and, shiver incoming, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, Crazy Rich Asians manages to be the director’s first outstanding success, with his latest release a frothy, uplifting and thoroughly enjoyable rom-com which manages to balance a catalogue of underlying themes and ideas whilst offering stellar development of its’ many leading and supporting characters who each come across identifiable and wholly individual, and whilst at times the narrative may feel overly familiar and cliched, the sheer sense of wonder the movie emits showers over its’ creases with expert levels of delight.
Whilst the big and most important headline regarding the film’s release is the fact that Chu’s latest is shockingly the first film since the 1993 drama, The Joy Luck Club, to simultaneously feature a predominantly Asian cast and be financed, backed and released by a major Hollywood studio, Crazy Rich Asians is much more than just a kick-starter for filmic equality, with committed performances, laugh-out loud levels of comedy and a warm beating heart at its’ core all congealing around a central duo of lovers whose chemistry is so convincing, the fact the film only ever has one outcome doesn’t matter whatsoever and only serves to improve the good-hearted nature of the tale. With comments on the global class system and the potential cost of being an outsider, the film’s screenplay takes the appeal up a level from just being yet another bog-standard romance re-hash, and with pain-staking levels of detail and admiration for the movie’s location setting, the eye-watering levels of excess, ranging from deluxe style houses to ridiculous bachelor parties, never feels annoying or sickening, with the depiction of the culture’s food in particular guaranteed to make the stomach rumble. Leaving all audiences undoubtedly with a spring in their step and a tear in their eye, Crazy Rich Asians is a traditional love story which manages to feel both fresh and fantastical without ever feeling to need to be manipulative in order to win over its’ audience. Superb entertainment.
Overall Score: 8/10
“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
“Some Bad People Are After Me And Now They’re After You…”
Mixing together the comedic talents of Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters) and Mila Kunis (Bad Moms), an actress whose sensual, dramatic performance in Black Swan feels strangely historic considering her own personal penchant for the genre of American comedy since, The Spy Who Dumped Me, directed by Susanna Fogel, a returning filmmaker with her first release since 2014’s Life Partners, sees the duo as best friend partnership, Audrey and Morgan, who become embroiled in a murderous terrorist plot after being “dumped” by Justin Theroux’s (Mulholland Drive) suave super spy, Drew Thayer. With McKinnon unfortunately being the type of actress who so far in her career seems to have been handed a selection of raw deals when it comes to getting the best out of her natural flair for comedy, with Ghostbusters and Office Christmas Party being no more than solid examples of the genre, the same annoyingly can be said for The Spy Who Dumped Me, a surprisingly violent and tonally manic action comedy which falls much too heavy on a reliance for gunshots and action over genuine laughs within a screenplay which makes Rampage look like the most intelligent film of the year by an elongated mile.
With ineffective time jumps utilised at various points of the movie as an attempt to establish some form of characterisation, albeit in its’ most restricted format, the movie takes no time in establishing the layout of the narrative, using awfully constructed moments of naff dialogue to exercise the inevitable exposition before resorting back to endless action set pieces which begin in enjoyable fashion but then end up becoming tedious after the cycle of the movie becomes increasingly obvious come the sixty minute mark. With the film’s two hour running time overstretched by at least forty five minutes, the saving grace of the movie is ultimately its’ leading female stars, with McKinnon and Kunis working expertly well as a kooky double act caught in the cross-hairs of government conspiracy and double crossing international secret agents, and with the added involvement of the always magnanimous Gillian Anderson (The X-Files), girl power at least stops the movie from falling into the black hole of awfulness it may have gone without them. With a few chuckles but no full laughs, The Spy Who Dumped Me is full-on flash without any residue of substance or memorability, but with committed performances and likeable leading stars, the end result is messy but not exactly intolerable.
Overall Score: 5/10
“That Thing’s Out There. We Need To Find It And Kill It…”
Rushing onto the big screen and breaking the rules of conventional cinematic rules by managing to swerve away from straight-to-video bargain bucket where it undeniably belongs, everyone’s favourite bald-headed Brit, Jason Statham (The Fate of the Furious) leads the cast of The Meg, a horrendously dire, B-Movie nightmare which sees Statham as Jonas Taylor, a seemingly invincible and overly irresistible rescue diver who is tasked alongside a team of awfully inane scientists to defeat the titular Megalodon, a seventy foot long murderous shark thought extinct which is released upon the world to chew upon the cannon fodder of citizens which lay in its’ wake. Based upon the 1997 book “Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror” by American science fiction author, Steve Alten, The Meg fails on a comprehensive level of failing to be the type of movie which can be typecast as “so bad its’ good”, with the film’s dire script, awful dialogue and shambolic acting performances all managing to co-exist together in a finished product which ranks up there with the worst cinema has offered up this year so far, a turgid release which makes you yearn for the sheer absurdity of Sharknado.
Whilst Jason Statham is the sort of actor whose presence is always welcome in any type of movie, his particular individual performance within The Meg is Oscar worthy in comparison to the carnival of awful side-notes which encompass the supporting cast, with the likes of Rainn Wilson (The Office), Ruby Rose (John Wick: Chapter Two) and the horrendously accented Li Bingbing (Transformers: Age of Extinction) all being handed woefully two-dimensional characters whose chemistry and comedic timing comes across utterly cringe-worthy at a range of different points during the action. With a screenplay which includes the type of dialogue where each character takes it in turn to shout obvious warnings and entirely lazy portions of tiresome exposition, The Meg seems to know the genre basis it attempts to sink its’ teeth into quite clearly, but thanks to the staggeringly inadequate direction of Jon Turteltaub, a filmmaker renowned for the likes of The Sorcerers Apprentice and erm, Cool Runnings, the finished product is downright stale and unworthy of viewership, and whilst it’s easy to poke fun at movies which try to be just good old fun instead of attempting to come across as the new Citizen Kane, The Meg just doesn’t work at any level at all, and for a movie which happens to include the brooding baldness of Jason Statham, that’s quite a startling feat in itself.
Overall Score: 3/10
“I Didn’t Know Her. I Didn’t Know My Own Daughter…”
With 2015’s Unfriended offering a subversive and original spin on the found footage genre of horror with great success, the same cinematic platform used within that movie returns once again in Searching, a Hitchcockian cyber-space psychological thriller which takes place completely upon the wide range of technological platforms belonging to leading star John Cho’s (Star Trek Beyond) David Kim, a single father still mourning the death of his wife who attempts to solve the mystery of his daughter’s recent disappearance via any means possible. Whilst many audiences may feel alienated by the claustrophobic nature of viewing events of a movie from a screen most people now continuously glare at on a daily basis, myself included, debut writer and director, Aneesh Chaganty, successfully manages to build the tension and unravel the central mystery at the heart of the drama with great aplomb, utilising well-known technological formats which not only conveys the hunt for Michelle La’s Margot Kim, but also finds the time to joyfully poke fun at and satirically comment on the emptiness and shallowness of social media, and whilst Chaganty’s debut does suffer slightly from a strangely artificial sensibility and a couple of hokey performances, Searching is an interesting and fun slice of cinematic guess-who.
Beginning with historical exposition which explores the heartbreak of the Kim family and their sudden matriarchal loss brilliantly set to the backdrop of the evolution of computer systems over the past few years, Searching takes no time whatsoever in getting to the crux of the drama, with John Cho’s large, selfie-style head looking continuously distraught as his daughter’s disappearance brings to light hidden secrets regarding her infidelity and uneven social life in the real world when on the virtual side, everything previously seemed fine. Whilst the central mystery of Searching does contain some effective and clever narrative twists, the best parts of the movie is undoubtedly the social commentary it makes in reference to social media culture, with one scene in which a previous uncaring acquaintance of Kim’s suddenly breaks down in tears in front of the media after her prolonged absence in an attempt to gain a few minutes airtime both comedic and downright depressing, a telling image of contemporary society in which physical interaction is slowly being replaced with emoji’s and gifs, and whilst the movie does ultimately end in the a-typical Hollywood cheese-fest audience’s have come to expect, the journey before the film’s conclusion was an impressive debut from a director we should be seeing much more of in the future.
Overall Score: 7/10
“I Just Don’t Want To Put Any More Stress On My Family…”
Within the pantheon of modern-day horror cinema releases, only a few since the turn of the twenty first century have truly managed to encompass the sense of true terror that only the best examples of the genre always create, and with the overly worn out “cattle-prod” franchises still continuing to be admired by particular audiences who believe horror cinema simply relies on cheap jump scares, the rare chance a particular filmmaker comes along and offers something fresh to the genre is one that should always be admired and supported. Step forward director Ari Aster, a young American filmmaker whose debut feature, Hereditary, conforms to a style of horror cinema which is as tantalising to see explored within a mainstream setting as it is genuinely unsettling and and down-right evil, a film which wears its’ obvious inspirations on its’ sleeve but still manages to feel both unique and original, and one with a particular ominous and uncomfortable tone which for some, may seem just too much to handle. With superb performances from its’ central familial quartet, staggeringly unsettling imagery and set pieces which verge on the edge of full-throttle nightmare, Aster’s big-screen breakthrough is not only a perfectly constructed movie but a masterful example of the horror genre at its’ most inventive and gut-wrenching.
Beginning in a familiar, ghost story-esque setting, the death of the Graham family matriarch brings with it supernatural stirrings, unravelled secrets and a claustrophobic sense of death’s presence remaining within the confines of an Amytiville-inspired household, complete with creaky doors, unkempt attic’s and tree house which emits a seething, blood-red shadow whenever occupied. With Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense) as Annie, the grieving mother of two whose skills as a miniaturist artist seem to help her cope with the sudden loss of her secretive mother, her newly found role as head of the family brings with it startling realisations about the previous pastimes of her mother as she finds solace in the hands of Ann Dowd’s Joan, a similarly grieving mother figure who attempts to aid Annie through her struggles. With the screenplay beginning with a contemplation on the effect of death and the psychological power it can evoke within the human spirit in a very Don’t Look Now thematic sensibility, the early ghostly imagery lays a solid foundation of skin-crawling creepiness which echoes the oddity of Personal Shopper and the horror-realism of Robert Eggers’ The Witch, and with the first act fixed on developing the destructive nature of a family teetering on the edge of collapse, the cold and brooding tone of the first hour is well executed, even when at times the editing pace holds particular camera shots for just a few seconds too long.
After a powerful and stunningly played midway twist, one which leaves you in a gasping and spell-binding state of shock for pretty much the remainder of the movie, the increasing sense of dread which occurs as the direction of the action switches from ghostly chiller to full-on, teeth-rattling nightmare is simply unbearable at times in the best way horror-movie way possible, and with a staggeringly uncertain plot direction, the tension which transpires from a culmination of eerie soundtrack and imagery leaves you constantly on edge as you attempt to piece together and understand where the plot is ultimately heading. Whilst the movie does cave in at times to generic conventions which weaken its’ claim as “The Exorcist of the twentieth century”, particularly in its’ use of the tried and tested depiction of seances, the final act of Hereditary offers one of the most genuinely unnerving and oppressive works of cinema I have ever seen, and with a final twisty resolution which obviously picks at the likes of The Wicker Man and Ben Wheatley’s Kill List, Ari Aster’s stunning and deliciously twisted debut is a dark and twisted assault on the senses, a horror movie for genuine horror fans and a movie which features one of the most iconic leading genre performances by Toni Collette in years. Dread it, run from it, Hereditary still arrives and stamps its’ mark as the horror movie to experience this year.
Overall Score: 9/10
“Downsizing Is About Saving Yourself. We Live Like Kings…”
Although, rather ashamedly, awareness of Alexander Payne’s previous work is limited to absolute zilch, resulting in a complete bypass of the likes of Nebraska, Sideways and The Descendants, the Academy Award winning American’s latest, Downsizing, is ironically somewhat unavoidable thanks to an early hurricane of hype regarding its’ quality and the decision for distributors to plaster its’ trailer on every release for at least the past three months. Starring Matt Damon as Paul Safranek, a downbeat, struggling occupational therapist, who along with wife, Audrey, played by Kristen Wiig, decides to agree to the titular, groundbreaking operation in order to reap the individual and world wide rewards which are offered, Payne’s latest is a particularly wild oddity, one which revels in a concoction of varying ideas and yet fails to clutch at a single straw and stay strictly on course. Sold as a comedic social satire, Downsizing begins in entertaining fashion, focusing primarily on Damon’s Safranek and his decision to undergo the procedure which reduces his mass to a fraction of his normal size, and with particular attention to detail and a number of cute, size related chuckles, the movie’s first hour is a real triumph, with the pace and script effectively managing to hold the balance between hypothetical science fiction and rib-tickling comedy.
Unfortunately for Payne however, once the movie moves into territory which can only be regarded as mindless, sanctimonious preaching, the film begins to test your patience, and with a final act which discusses notions of apocalyptic foreboding and the survival of the entire human race, Downsizing almost becomes two completely different movies, with the second so wrapped up in a narrative so conflicting with its’ first, the size of our leading characters is somewhat normalised and loses its’ the sense of purpose it ultimately and successfully began with. With Damon on solid form and the likes of Christoph Waltz and Brawl In Cell Block 99′s, Udo Kier, doing the best they can with the little time they have on screen, Payne’s wild card in the form of Hong Chau’s Vietnamese political freedom fighter, Ngoc Lan Tran is also a troublesome element within the film, a broken English speaking Asian with a prosthetic leg whose appearance in the narrative seems only to be there in attempt to widen the comic relief. Whilst not exactly ever resorting to the level of Mickey Rooney’s overtly troubled portrayal of I. Y. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Tran is indeed a misjudged caricature, who although is portrayed as somewhat brazen and overwhelmingly commanding, is still a completely off-kilter inclusion within a movie which rightly can be lauded for its’ ideas but too can be criticised for its’ execution, and whilst Payne’s latest may seem impressive on the surface, underneath it bears a more than a few staggering issues at the heart of it.
Overall Score: 5/10
“You’re Fifty Years Old And You Still Think The World Was Made For You…”
Tackling notions of the mid-life crisis and looking back on a lifetime gone swiftly by, School of Rock writer, Mike White, directs and provides the screenplay for Brad’s Status, a low-key and pleasantly thoughtful comedy which utilises the leading star skills of Ben Stiller who returns to the big screen after a somewhat nonexistent cinematic footprint over the course of the past few years or so. Whilst Stiller’s comedy can somewhat not exactly hit the mark, take the likes of Zoolander 2 for instance, the emergence of White’s script and a wide range of lovely supporting performances from an extravagantly well-versed cast, proves to be a solid winning return for the comedic stalwart, and although the underlying narrative point of the movie is one which has been tackled before in a wide range of differing movies ranging from American Beauty to last year’s Ingrid Goes West, Brad’s Status is a cool, sombre and sometimes heartwarming drama which doesn’t ever feel the need to raise up from its’ subtle examination of its’ titular leading character.
Accompanying his son, Troy (Austin Abrams, Paper Towns) along the East Coast whilst they seek out potential future colleges, Brad Sloane (Stiller) reminisces about the success of his out of touch school friends whilst he contemplates his own life’s middling mediocrity, one which is full with seething regret and unwarranted shame in comparison to his long lost forgotten acquaintances. With the narrative primarily explained through the use of Stiller’s voiceover and some rather excessive yet undeniably comedic dream sequences which convey’s Sloane’s belief of his friend’s individual successes, White’s movie works primarily thanks to a brilliantly conflicted leading performance from Stiller alongside the grounding of its’ youthful cast, with the likes of Abrams and Shazi Raja counteracting Sloane’s contempt for the world by explaining its’ true riches in a It’s a Wonderful Life style monologue. Whilst the movie falls at times for swaying too much from the central narrative and limiting its’ actual comedic zingers to a minimal amount, White’s movie is still an interesting social drama which reinforces the idea that when put to good use, Stiller is still an important and welcome leading star.
Overall Score: 6/10
“We Do What We Can To Endure…”
Fresh from an inevitable and well deserved Oscar win for his performance in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea, Casey Affleck returns to the big screen alongside Carol and The Social Network star Rooney Mara in A Ghost Story, a supernatural drama written and directed by David Lowery who reunites with the duo after previously working together on the 2013 drama Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. With an eerie, off-kilter sensibility, a staggeringly ambitious ideas narrative and one of the most affecting musical accompaniments of the year in film, Lowery’s latest is unlike anything seen on-screen this year, a film which utilises the basic horror trope of a common haunted house movie but then manages to expand its’ horizons into something which resembles closer an allegorical mix of themes which evoke everything from Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life to Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival. With little dialogue and a raging art-house aesthetic, A Ghost Story is a film undoubtedly not for everyone, but for those with the patience and willingness to embrace its existence, Lowery’s movie is an exquisite work of art.
Shot in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1, or in televisual and layman’s terms, 4:3, A Ghost Story follows a sheet cladded Casey Affleck who after passing away due to the events of a traffic collision, follows his unnamed wife, portrayed by Rooney Mara, throughout her life after his death, all within the confines of the dated home in which they both shared. With directory David Lowery utilising the retro and “boxiness” nature of the aspect ratio to ensure the audience understands the claustrophobic nature of the film from the point of view of Casey’s spectral presence, the film utilises endless long shots and unbroken edits for the first half of the movie, including the now infamous one-shot “pie scene” and a chilly, uncertain introduction to Affleck’s transition from life to death, and whilst at times the pace of the movie does begin to falter, the second half of the movie in which Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar seemed to be a obvious blueprint for the direction of the narrative, concludes the film in a stunning and ambitious fashion. A Ghost Story isn’t a movie which belongs on the big screen, instead, Lowery’s latest is more akin to a museum piece where examination and steadiness is key to admiring its’ beauty, and whilst the film doesn’t hold together everything it intends to accomplish within such a short amount of time, A Ghost Story is undoubtedly an unforgettable and bold moviegoing experience.