“Tonight Is Our First Middle School Party. There’s Going To Be Girls There. You Know What That Means..?”
With 2019 undoubtedly the year where the coming of age movie has become the weekly norm, this week sees the release of Good Boys, an American teen comedy brought to the big screen by both Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg through their production company, Point Grey Pictures, a film studio responsible most recently for the rather excellent, The Disaster Artist, and the mildly entertaining, Long Shot, from earlier on this year. Directed by Ukrainian-born filmmaker, Gene Stupnitsky, in his big-screen debut, Good Boys sees Stupnitsky team up with long-term writing collaborator, Lee Eisenberg, after their extensive work together on the American, and much much better, version of The Office, for a movie which takes the very well-worn and cliched tale of youth and young manhood and spices it up with a impressively hilarious comedic script which results in one of the most surprising and rewarding American comedies in recent history.
Wholly focusing on the trials and tribulations of the self-proclaimed “bean bag boys”, Good Boys sees Brady Noon, Keith L. Williams and the ever improving, Jacob Tremblay (Room, Wonder) as Thor, Lucas and Max respectively, three awkward inbetweeners who upon taking the big step from fifth to sixth grade, are invited to a house party ran by their school’s most popular kid, one who promises the chance for our leading lads to partake in the horrifying encounter they all aren’t prepared for; kissing a girl. As per the difficulty when it comes to this type of story, the tale of teens angst and rife anti-social behaviour isn’t exactly anything original, with the likes of Booksmart this year alone offering a very similar plot, if being a tad more adult and certainly better made on an aesthetic level, but where Good Boys falls down on a basis of freshness and a slight cheap sensibility, it more than makes up for in terms of comedic output, with the razor sharp script offering numerous hilarious set piece, one of which actually made me giggle so much, tears began streaming from my eyes, an effect of which I haven’t experienced from an American comedy in donkeys, and when a comedy works its’ magic to the extent that bodily fluids extract themselves from your body, it’s fair to say that such a movie does its’ job pretty damn well.
Overall Score: 7/10
“I’m Dealing With The Future Of The Planet. I’m The Necessary Shock To The System. I Am Human Evolutionary Change…”
After a rather petulant, if supposed, high-profile, on-set fall out, the hotly reported, rather extended and overly silly “feud” between the muscle-headed duo of both Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Vin Diesel results in the release of Hobbs and Shaw this week, a similarly stupid, bloated and mind-numbingly dull spin-off from the jaw-droppingly successful Fast and Furious franchise, a blockbuster series which staggeringly continues to make shed loads of money even when the quality chops and changes more often than the leader of the Conservative party. Whilst the Furious franchise has become less about fast cars and more about fuel-injected explosions over the course of nearly two decades, Hobbs and Shaw is the first to overtly discount any notion of similarity from the set up of the series’ first couple of movies and fall more into the bracket of full-on, high-octane, science fiction oriented action, one which sees The Rock and Jason Statham pretty much play themselves as they happily accept bundles of cash in order to reprise the titular roles of Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw respectively in order to prevent a catastrophic, world-ending, overly cliched bad thing from occurring. Whilst I am all for silly, hot-headed nonsense from time to time, Hobbs and Shaw is the type of action movie which is so painfully sterile and cheap, you long for the craftsmanship of 1990’s era Michael Bay to come in and at least churn out a decent level of enjoyment, but with excess for the sake of excess and an annoying scent of self-congratulating sprayed upon it, the Furious franchise’s first spin-off makes you long for the return of Vin Diesel.
Let’s start with the stars of the movie themselves. Take The Rock for instance, a dramatically effective action superstar with enormous physicality to boot who when placed in semi-decent, B-movie esque action romps in the ilk of Skyscraper can be thoroughly enjoyable to observe, but for too long now seems to be continually placed in simply awful works of cinema including the likes of San Andreas, Rampage and Jumanji, all of which unsurprisingly then proceed to take millions upon millions of dollars resulting in the cycle of bang-average movies continuing forevermore. In the case of Hobbs and Shaw, the addition of the always likeable Statham and Idris Elba should indeed be a trio made in heaven, but thanks to a quite awful screenplay, one full of genre-literate cliches and dodgy accents, eclectic editing which literally made me cheer inside once a shot held still for more than thirty seconds, and digital effects which take you completely out of the action due to their sheer cheap and tacky sensibility, Hobbs and Shaw is a real cause for concern regarding the way in which summer blockbusters seem to be heading, particularly when you look at the other examples this year alone in the ilk of Godzilla and Men in Black, but with the movie guaranteed to be a box office marvel as it provides certain types of audiences with enough to keep them coming, I for one can only speak the truth, and in the case of Hobbs and Shaw, it really is quite crap.
Overall Score: 3/10
“See, We Pay And You Write Songs, And Then You Make A Ton Of Money. And Then We Take Most Of It…”
With Danny Boyle being the subject of a very big hoo-hah after departing the much troubled project which is Bond 25, his latest venture in the form of Yesterday couldn’t be further from a tale about a cold-blooded British spy with a penchant for the ladies. Based around a screenplay from Richard Curtis, the acclaimed writing mind behind stalwart Christmas movies including Love Actually and Notting Hill, Boyle’s latest challenges you to hold back all levels of sanctimonious sniffing and imagine a world in which the iconic voice of The Beatles never existed, a movie which features Himesh Patel (Eastenders) in the lead role of Jack Malik, a passionate and wholly unsuccessful singer-songwriter whose only long-term dedicated fan is his manager and close friend, Ellie, as played by Lily James (Baby Driver). After a worldwide blackout, Jack is the victim of a nasty traffic collision and awakens to discover that neither “The White Album” or “Abbey Road” ever existed, resulting in him deciding to rip off the famous words of Lennon and co. in order to stake a claim of fame for himself.
With a central idea which is in itself slightly ludicrous, Boyle has managed to deal with particularly out-there screenplays throughout his career, whether it be the mind-bendingly confused state of a film like Trance or the more down-to-Earth, family friendly Millions, a film with a central idea which in this political climate seems a million miles away, and with a first act which joyously announces all the lead characters, including Jack’s oblivious parents and Joel Fry’s (Game of Thrones) maniacal roadie, Yesterday begins in interesting and heartwarming fashion, particularly when the first chords of famous Beatles tracks are seemingly heard for the very first time by Jack’s close family and friends. As soon as Ed Sheeran turns up however, the film moves from low-key niceties to schlocky, sentimental nonsense, taking the worst parts of Love Actually and turning them up to eleven as the film evolves into a Beatles inspired love-in with added saccharin sweetness whilst seemingly forgetting the greatness of a first act which in all its’ absurdity still managed to feel real, and with a final curtain which made me nearly gag at the sheer audacity of attempting to make everyone grab the nearest tissue, Boyle’s movie is a messy, violently polished work of tosh which just happens to have a great first act which saves the piece from being a total disaster. Plus, they didn’t even mention the best Beatles song; HELTER SKELTER, COMING DOWN FAST!
Overall Score: 6/10
“They Look Exactly Like Us. They Think Like Us. They Know Where We Are. We Need To Move And Keep Moving. They Won’t Stop Until They Kill Us…”
With the past two years boosting Jordan Peele into the cinematic stratosphere, the success of his 2017 excellent directorial debut, Get Out, a subsequent Academy Award win, and having a major hand in Spike Lee’s equally superb, BlackKklansman, last year means that the American is on what’s commonly referred to as a freakin’ good roll. With a reinvention of The Twilight Zone set to arrive on the small screen at the beginning of April, first comes Us, Peele’s second venture into the world of horror which very much like his critically acclaimed debut, takes the bold decision to weave in and out of varying genres, this time ranging from home invasion thrillers to paranoid conspiracies with a touch of the dark humour which made Get Out so frivolously entertaining. Reuniting both Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke after their success together on Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, Peele’s movie sees the Wilson family head to a secluded beach house on the coastline of Santa Cruz, California, a trip which brings back haunting memories to Nyong’o’s Adelaide after a horrifying incident during her youth. With Adelaide making her concerns known to Duke’s Gabriel during the first night of their stay, the family suddenly fall under siege by four intruders who, in typical horror movie fashion, seem to have more in common with them then first meets the eye, and after discovering the life and death situation they now find themselves in, the Wilson family spend the rest of their interrupted holiday attempting to make it out alive.
With Peele undoubtedly both healthily cineliterate and more importantly, a gigantic horror movie geek, the many successes of Us depend on you actively registering yourself accordingly into the film’s tone, one which sort of crosses the boundary between horror and thriller but in a similar vein to Get Out, isn’t terrifying in the way of say, Hereditary or The Witch, and instead is more an actively action packed popcorn movie in the same way that A Quiet Place falls more into the monster movie bracket than a straightforward horror. With this in mind, once the relatively straightforward set-up in which the background, key characters and beautiful setting are all aligned into place, the moment we are introduced to the overly ripe doppelgänger version of the Wilson family is when the action truly heats up, providing the audience with a home invasion set piece which rides a fine line between absurdist silliness and creepy psychological horror like a jumped-up hybrid of The Strangers and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with the latter clearly being referenced due to the uncanny resemblance between the screams made within Peele’s movie and the alien duplicates from Philip Kaufman’s 1978 remake starring Donald Sutherland. With Peele not afraid in any shape or form whatsoever to bludgeon the audience with overly graphic levels of violence, Us also benefits from the slasher type, B-movie esque traditions of people being killed in very nasty ways indeed, and with a middle act full with clear nods to The Shining and a hint of Adam Wingard’s You’re Next, the opening hour is undoubtedly a horror movie fan’s wet dream.
With the doppelgänger equivalents of the main cast offering the chance for everyone to have oodles of fun as they attempt to outshine each other in the kooky department, it’s fair to say that each of the core members of the Wilson family all have moments to show off their talents, resulting in side characters such as Elizabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale) sort of being left aside for the role of easily pruned cannon fodder without any real element of depth. With Nyong’o given the most work to as she walks away winning the award for the year’s best hair, her completely twisted performance is superbly entertaining, where even with a rather jarring choice to play her doppelgänger equivalent with a similar oxygen starved tone to that of Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending, still manages to convince you entirely that although both characters may indeed look the same, they are different entities entirely. Supported by a soon-to-be iconic horror genre score by long term Peele partner, Michael Abels, the soundtrack blends jukebox hits with strange, hypnotic remixes including a hauntingly effective version of “I Got 5 on It” by American hip hop duo, Luniz, and whilst at times the central narrative seems to be putting together almost too many ideas and themes regarding race, religion and identity, Peele’s latest is a movie which is still rattling around my brain, and for a movie which is made with this much perfection and care, it’s fair to say that Jordan Peele is quickly becoming the most interesting horror auteur of the modern age.
Overall Score: 8/10
“The First Step Is To Get Her Tied Up And Gagged. She’ll Probably Try To Run…”
Presenting itself as one of the more difficult releases this month to try and seek out amidst flying, glowing superheroes and wide-eared elephants, Nicolas Pesce, director of both The Eyes of My Mother and the upcoming remake of The Grudge, returns for his second big screen feature in the form of Piercing, a scathingly dark adaptation of the 1994 novel of the same name from Ryū Murakami, the Japanese author most famous in the world of cinema for his 1997 novel, Audition, which formed the basis for the unforgettable Takashi Miike directed horror of the same name from 1999. Featuring a joint leading role between Christopher Abbott (First Man) and Mia Wasikowska (Crimson Peak), Piercing sees Abbott take on the role of Reed, a seemingly successful white collar family man with a newborn baby to boot, who after feeling a sudden urge to inflict pain on his ever-crying child with an ice pick, decides to take his murderous impulses elsewhere away from the family home. Cue the introduction of the blonde infused Wasikowska as Jackie, an anxiety ridden but sure footed prostitute who quickly takes up the opportunity for work and makes her way over to the stylish high rise in which Reed awaits for a night with messy consequences.
Whilst any story stamped with the Murakami name upon it is guaranteed from the offset to get you ready for a narrative which won’t exactly be for everyone, let alone mainstream audiences, Pesce’s movie at least attempts to startle and amaze in all its’ B-movie charm as it works its’ way through a splendid eighty minute runtime in which a high proportion of the action is simply Reed and Jackie together in various hotel suites. With strange animated backdrops which look like outtakes from the Anime section in Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Volume 1 and a wicked blend of jet black humour and stomach twisting violence, Piercing is indeed effectively flashy and features an abundance of art-deco inspired style but is also a movie which strangely suffers primarily from being hesitant in its’ depiction of exploitation, resulting in a endpoint which doesn’t seem to go far enough. Whilst there is no denying that the movie features an underlying and unnerving sensibility as you watch two people of similar strangeness come together, the final credits certainly left me gasping for more of a killer, no pun intended, instinct, but with two superb central performances which manage to effectively balance the gap between comedy and horror, Piercing is good enough but by no means on a par with previous adaptations of Murakami.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Sixty Minutes Is All It Took To Bring Humanity To The Very Brink Of Extinction. Mankind Mobilized, A New Age Arose…”
Executively produced and partially written by the mastermind of fantasy cinema, Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings), Mortal Engines, the debut big screen release from long-time Jackson collaborator, Christian Rivers, acts as a live-action adaptation of the 2001 book of the same name from the series of novels, The Mortal Engines Quartet, from English author Philip Reeve. With Jackson purchasing the rights to Reeve’s award winning novels all the way back in 2009, the nine year production process finally pays dividends this week, offering the chance for audiences both privy to the novels and those completely unaware of Reeve’s written world to breathe in the supposed beginning of yet another groundbreaking science fiction franchise, and with the added incentive of Jackson’s central involvement in the project something to particularly savour after his successes in the decade plus Middle Earth based filmography, what seriously could go wrong? Shockingly, pretty much everything, with Rivers’ debut unfortunately an overly messy, unnecessary complicated and spectacularly dull adventure spectacle which substitutes basic and effective storytelling for a plethora of digital effects within a movie which once again proves how difficult it can be to transfer particular stories from paper onto the big screen.
Suffering from the infamous Dune complex, which in other news is set to be once again revisited by the second best director working at the moment, Denis Villeneuve, very. very soon, Mortal Engines opens by describing a seemingly post-apocalyptic futureworld in which societies are now based upon huge, mechanical mobile machines, and even when the reasoning for such a dramatic shift isn’t really explained to an effective extent to fully latch on aboard with straight away, such an opening is only the start of the varying issues at the heart of a movie which dreams big but ultimately falls into a two hours plus cinematic nightmare. With a central storyline which does manage to feel like a blended hybrid between the works of Frank Herbert, Tolkien and Star Wars, Rivers attempts to bring the Mad Max sensibility of the central landscape at the heart of the novels from paper to screen doesn’t work whatsoever, with an over-reliance on CGI rather distracting and painfully bland to view upon the big screen, a particularly strange weakness when the technology has worked so well on previous ventures of a similar nature. With the always reliable Hugo Weaving (Lord of the Rings) well and truly chewing the scenery in the eyebrow raising central antagonist role, the film’s best element is undoubtedly Hera Hilmar (The Fifth Estate) as the film’s primary hero, a scarred, vengeful wasteland dweller who is unfortunately completely let down by her Han Solo rip-off of a love interest as played by Robert Sheehan (Mute) who seems to have fallen off the set of Gods of Egypt thanks to some truly awful, cringe-laden acting abilities which threatens to derail the movie as soon as he appears on screen. With a final act so obviously yet another contemporary take on the attack on the Death Star, one particular narrative twist did indeed make me bark out loud in laughter due to its’ sheer absurdity, and with another three books potentially in place to be developed, the opening chapter of Jackson’s latest adventure franchise begins in completely the wrong gear.
Overall Score: 3/10
“The Country Is In A State Of Complete Chaos And The Universe Sends Me You…”
Winning the award for least anticipated sequel of the year, Johnny English Strikes Again sees the return of Rowan Atkinson’s bumbling British secret agent following on from his first appearance on screen in 2003 and its’ sequel, Johnny English Reborn in 2011. Directed by Northern Irish big-screen debutante, David Kerr, the third installment of the spy spoof franchise is ninety minutes of pretty much what you would expect from a Johnny English movie, offering PG friendly slapstick comedy within a selection of sketches which are marginally worked around the thinnest of narratives which sees English hooked back into the payroll of MI7 after every single serving secret agent’s identity across the globe is revealed by an unknown, tech savvy hacker. Whilst most critics will undeniably head into Strikes Again fully aware of the certainty that the next Citizen Kane won’t exactly be waiting for them inside, the real litmus test for Kerr’s movie resides in the way in which it manages to work to its’ strengths, and whilst Strikes Again fails to offer anything fresh or interesting to the catalogue of spy-spoof comedies, Atkinson’s undeniable smirk-inducing talent results in a movie preferably best watched when either drunk or with highly energetic friends. Or even both.
With a high proportion of the funniest set pieces readily available within the movie’s trailer, ranging from a diabolical attempt at utilising cutting edge virtual reality to the complete and utter destruction of a classy, world renowned yacht, Strikes Again does manage to capatalise on Atkinson’s hilarious slapstick persona to a somewhat effective degree, and with the film’s best gag undeniably an elongated riff on a similar comedic routine seen in Jon S. Baird’s 2013 black comedy, Filth, in which English feels the effect of adrenaline enhancing drugs, it’s hard to prevent smiles being cracked even when you know the film as whole is absolute tosh. With the enigmatic presence of Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) chewing the scenery as the opinionated, wine-dependant British Prime Minister, the more the movie remembers it has to at least follow some sort of plot is when it ultimately crumbles to pieces, with Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace) and Jake Lacy (Rampage) managing to supply performances both instantly forgettable and agonisingly dull, and whilst it’s quite sanctimonious to hate on a film not exactly aiming for anyone other than a child-friendly audience, Strikes Again manages to be neither good nor bad, just ridiculous nonsense.
Overall Score: 5/10
“My Suspicions Were Correct. You’re Clinically Dumb…”
Directed by American filmmaker, Malcolm D. Lee, director of the surprisingly well received Girls Trip from 2017, Night School sees Lee team up with Kevin Hart, the high pitched, knowingly “pint-sized” comedian whose venture from the stage into cinema has been somewhat, how can I put this, exhausting, with the likes of Jumanji and Get Hard not exactly prime examples of a performer putting his talent to best use thus far. Based on a screenplay seemingly dissected by a committee of writers, including Hart himself, Night School sees Hart in the lead role as Teddy Walker, a high school dropout who constantly feels the need to impress his fiancee amidst wallowing under the pressure of proving other people wrong by driving fancy cars and renting flash apartments in order to disguise his career as a low-level BBQ salesman. After the complete and utter destruction of said BBQ sales space however, Walker is given the opportunity to work alongside Ben Schwartz’s (The Walk) financial analyst in a bid to recover his own career, but after discovering the only obstacle preventing him from doing so is his complete lack of GED’s (Sort of a GCSE hybrid qualification), Walker heads to night school under the watchful eye of Tiffany Haddish’s (Girls Trip) enthusiastic teacher, Miss Carrie.
Whilst the overall tone of the movie is surprisingly buoyant and pleasant, offering surface scratching comments on the notions of learning disabilities and the effect it can have on one person’s foray into the real world, and performances all around are undeniably dedicated, particularly from Haddish, whose cocky, streetwise power-house levels of sass allows her character to be both the most believable and relatable, Night School primarily suffers from the age-old problem of American comedies by not managing to balance its’ wildly inconsistent tone, with rather silly and embarrassing slapstick comedy being intercut with awfully designed set pieces which just make certain parts of the movie a real nightmare to sit through. However, where the film does manage to succeed is in the contained elements of the piece, particularly in our leading character’s relationships with each other, ranging from within the confines of the classroom in a The Breakfast Club inspired set-up to congratulating each other at results day in a way which did manage to slightly win me over, and whilst the film’s runtime seemed to miss the hand of a strong-willed editor willing to shed at least half an hour, Night School is mind-numbing, fluffy fun which doesn’t injure, maim or last long in the memory either.
Overall Score: 5/10
“At Last, We’ve Found The Place Where We Can Be Safe…”
Written and directed by Spanish filmmaker, Sergio G. Sánchez, whose previous credits include screenplays for the likes of The Orphanage and The Impossible, interesting and successful movies directed by fellow compatriot, J. A. Bayona, who is currently making waves in the box office with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, The Secret of Marrowbone is a equally fascinating thriller chiller which merges ghostly horror with secretive deceptions as the movie follows the Marrowbone family after the untimely death of their loving mother in 1960’s America. Led by George MacKay’s (Pride) Jack Marrowbone, the reclusive family soon become haunted by a seemingly supernatural entity buried high within the household, adding to the perils of the local lawyer, as played by Kyle Soller (The Fifth Estate), who attempts to derail the family’s ownership of their one safe haven, and whilst Marrowbone is a movie bursting with splendid performances, subtle creepy asides and beautiful set designs, Sánchez’s movie ultimately doesn’t hold a candle to his previous works, but still remains a solid, if overly predictable, gothic floor-creaker.
With supporting performances from the likes of young, genre aficionados such as Charlie Heaton and Mia Goth, with the latter rising to fame in Netflix’s Stranger Things and the former starring in the likes of A Cure for Wellness and the upcoming remake of Dario Argento’s Suspiria, Marrowbone’s leading performances are all effectively finely tuned for the overall mood of the piece, particularly that of MacKay, whose transition throughout the course of the movie works primarily to the actor’s commitment and belief in the role. With the ever-splendid Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) taking a slightly different path to what fans of her work are used to, her character helps channel the absurdity of the plot come the final, overly predictable twist, a narrative jump which not only does not work as hauntingly effective as Sánchez’s work on The Orphanage, but one which opens up a spectacular can of worms regarding the meteor-sized plot holes it leaves behind in its’ wake. Featuring, but not relying on, a couple of well-timed jump scares and spooky set pieces, Marrowbone isn’t your straightforward haunted house piece as it weaves through to more of a Gothic-infused, Shutter Island esque psychological conclusion, and whilst Sánchez manages to prove himself as a director in his big screen debut, its’ surprisingly the script which doesn’t exactly hold together, resulting in a movie which begins in puzzling fashion yet ends on a slight bum note.
Overall Score: 6/10
“The Pearl Is The Tallest, Most Advanced Building In The World…”
With Rampage up there with one of the most tedious examples of over-inflated, digitally enhanced works of blockbuster trash so far this year, following on from the similarly painful endurance test which was last year’s Jumanji remake, it’s fair to say my opinion of Dwayne Johnson’s acting pedigree has somewhat deteriorated recently, but with the release of Skyscraper, the latest movie from Rawson Marshall Thurber who reunites with Johnson after their work together on Central Intelligence, Johnson returns to the bombastic, B-Movie-centric blockbuster hero many have come to love in a movie which revels in its’ utmost absurdity and succeeds in being nothing more than one heck of a fun ride. Based on a screenplay written by Thurber, Skyscraper is the type of disaster movie unashamed to scream out its’ influences as it swerves between a mix of Die Hard, The Towering Inferno and Panic Room, with Johnson’s former FBI agent turned amputee security adviser, Will Sawyer, forced into a perilous situation as he attempts to save his family who have been trapped within the titular structure coined “The Pearl” and a terrorist plot helmed by Roland Møller’s (Atomic Blonde) muscular if underwritten Kores Botha.
With the movie taking no time out of its’ harmless ninety minute runtime at all for meaningful characterisation, with even Sawyer’s opening catastrophic life-changing injury flashed through without cliff-notes, Thurber’s screenplay is much more interested in using Johnson’s physicality to influence the story in a fashion which was gratingly absent from the actor’s previous endeavours on screen, particularly in the likes of Rampage when Johnson’s natural charisma was wasted in favour of over-inflated digital pixels and explosions. Whether it be a bruising and practical one-on-one fist fight, holding up crumbling bridges with just his hands or taking a leap of faith with the movie’s most bananas moment as his character evades certain death when jumping from a crane into the heart of the fire ridden tower in order to save his family, Skyscraper is indeed ridiculous, but the type of movie which manages to phase through its’ cheesiness and leave you with an almighty grin, even with the inclusion of corny plot exposition and character deceptions which are so obvious there really wasn’t any need to attempt to hide them in the first place. Whilst offering nothing new whatsoever to the genre in which it sits, Skyscraper is a ninety minute guilty pleasure which reinforces the love for Johnson that was once lost, proving that when placed in the right scenario, The Rock is the man you need to save you from certain death.