“Welcome To A New World Of Gods And Monsters…”
Adding a new layer to the ongoing genre of Universal Horror, a cinematic legacy which began all the way back in the 1920’s. the newest blockbuster franchise comes in the form of the so-called “Dark Universe”, a directed step into another legion of remakes and re-imaginings which begins this week with The Mummy and is set to continue into the future with fresh interpretations of classic monster movies which are reported to include the likes of Van Helsing, Frankenstein’s Monster and of course, Dracula. Taking the time away from beating the heck out of people in Jack Reacher and flying super speedy jet planes in the upcoming Top Gun sequel, Tom Cruise leads the way as the flagship star of the franchise’s beginnings in the latest incarnation of The Mummy, a well-known and well-versed adventure tale, with arguably the most popular representation being the Stephen Sommers led take in 1999 which featured a clean shaven Brendan Fraser and a pre-Daniel Craig infused Rachel Weisz. With Alex Kurtzman on directorial duty, a filmmaker with a background in the likes of movies such as Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness and Mission: Impossible III, the latest incarnation of The Mummy is unfortunately a generic, overblown snooze-fest, ultimately resulting in a movie which begins the Dark Universe franchise in a rather mediocre manner to say the least.
With a narrative which is more than familiar in terms of the overall set-up of the titular bandaged antagonist, The Mummy suffers too from a wild scope in tonal bipolar, changing from B-Movie horror to cringe-inducing comedy in between an array of soulless set pieces which either consist of endless CGI hollowness or people wildly screaming whilst being shot at with both never actually managing to induce a sense of threat into the proceedings. At the heart of the action, the duo star power of both Tom Cruise and Russel Crowe never really have anything juicy to work with either, and although Crowe’s character reveal was quite charming in a in-joke, canon kind of way, Cruise’s overly cocky and quite annoying leading character is at its’ best a poor depiction of Brendan Fraser. Similarly, although Boutella has all the hallmarks of a beautifully seductive Egyptian princess, her campy leading villain is ultimately a dead rubber alongside a long list of supporting characters who are either there for cannon fodder or for cranking the creaky narrative into place. The Mummy isn’t exactly terrible, it just reeks of laziness, and for a movie which is meant to propel a new franchise into some sort of success, Kurtzman’s movie doesn’t do the job effectively enough to wonder where it ultimately goes next.
Overall Score: 5/10
“No Rules, No Punishments And No More Secrets…”
As proven by the release of Park Chan-Wook’s marvellous mystery thriller The Handmaiden and the return of Paul Verhoeven with Elle, the genre of erotica within contemporary cinema is still well and truly kicking, with each of these respective releases using elements of romance and explicit sexual imagery to a degree which is both interesting and original but more importantly used to a degree which makes sense within the overall narrative of the movie. In the case of the first Fifty Shades movie only two years previous, the fundamental issue was that not only the script unbelievably cliched and cringey, it was also so agonisingly dull, with the infamous tales of sexual naughtiness which was rife within the E. L. James novels not exactly transposing onto the big screen and coming off as something worth the time. Inevitably, with the ridiculous amount of money in which Fifty Shades of Grey managed to take, a sequel was never in doubt, but with a director as noteworthy as Glengarry Glen Ross director James Foley in charge, could Fifty Shades Darker be a sequel which surpasses its’ awfully defunct predecessor?
In a sentence; not really, with Fifty Shades Darker annoyingly continuing the utter dullness and dreariness which encompassed the original, whilst its’ snigger-inducing narrative and awful dialogue proves to its’ respective audiences that nothing at all was learnt from the criticism of first film except for going along with the notion that the cheap, uninteresting sex scenes are obviously only there as the true appeal of a movie which attempts to hammer in some sort of story around it in order for it to be considered something resembling a film. As for the movie’s other issues, the drama within the story is entirely anti-climactic, the romance is wooden and ridiculously unbelievable and with a supporting cast which includes Rita Ora and a cheque-swiping Kim Basinger, Fifty Shades Darker really doesn’t have much going for it except for arguably a much better leading performance from Jamie Dornan whose portrayal of the highly intense and weirdly paranoid billionaire playboy is at least not entirely woeful in the grander scheme of things. With one more Shades film in the pipeline, the time can not come soon enough to end the raspberry jam of erotica once and for all.
Overall Score: 3/10
“There Are Many Things Which You Have Not Seen…”
Rather annoyingly, yet undeniably avoidable, the amount of rabble surrounding the release of The Great Wall, the latest from Hero and The House of Flying Daggers director Zhang Yimou, seems to be one of a rather negative manner, focusing primarily on the notion of “whitewashing” which has encompassed the film’s production since its’ inception and the original announcement of Matt Damon in the lead role of a movie which consists of a primarily Chinese cast. Once again, cinematic history has been brought up to the floor in terms of the so-called “white saviour narrative”, a cinematic construction which has tarnished a selection of films ranging from To Kill A Mockingbird to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and whilst such an argument seems to be one in which I tend to extensively avoid, the case of Damon being front and centre of a film seeped in Chinese culture does seem particularly strange to say the least. After watching the movie however, the main concern regarding The Great Wall is how unbelievably boring and bone-shatteringly dull it actually is, with Yimou’s big budget project akin more to a Gods of Egypt-type disaster than as monumental and wondrous as the titular wall itself.
During a frivolous attempt into the heart of China to gather supplies of the precious “black powder”, Matt Damon and Game of Thrones star Pedro Pascal stumble across the famous Great Wall of China, helmed by a multitude of soldiers who are preparing for battle against the Taotie, a mythical alien race who rise every sixty years and attempt to destroy and kill anything and everything the other side of the wall of which has imprisoned them. Cue awful CGI and even worse dialogue, The Great Wall is the type of movie you can only scratch your head at in bemusement of the fact that such a film actually managed to pass through the first phase of development without someone having the balls to stand up and say, “this is a bit pants isn’t it?” Whilst Matt Damon’s involvement in the project at all is baffling, such a notion is completely forgotten five minutes into the movie when the whole audience in my particular screening realised what they had go themselves into. For a movie which cost 150 million dollars to make, The Great Wall is the biggest waste of a budget since Waterworld, a flop and a half of a so-called “epic” which highlights the argument that just because it’s bigger, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better.
Overall Score: 3/10
“Let Us Show Them What We Can Do. Let Us Show Them How Powerful We Can Be…”
If there is one thing to be said about M. Night Shyamalan’s career in the business of movie-making so far, to say it was one of the most diverse and critically haphazard back catalogues of all time wouldn’t exactly be a raging overstatement. Whilst films such as The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable continue to be Shyamalan’s support beam for his seemingly imperishable reputation, people tend to forget the cinematic bombs such as After Earth, The Last Airbender and Lady in the Water, films which not only are regarded as utter, utter stinkers but films of which Shyamalan tends not to remind people of their existence in fear of not actually being allowed to be behind the camera ever again in Hollywood. With Split, Shyamalan seems to be on similar and overtly familiar territory, with a creepy, psychological premise at the core of the film’s screenplay and a final twist which is both surprising and overtly on-the-nose in terms of its’ utter silliness but one which too will leave the lay cinematic audience scratching their heads.
Featuring a scenery chewing central performance from James McAvoy, one which echoes the full-blown madness of his role in the black-hole darkness of Filth, Shyamalan’s latest is undeniably a welcome return to some sort of form, with the obvious b-movie silliness actually resorting in a movie which is much more fun in terms of its’ exaggerated ripeness than one might have first expected, due mainly to the headline performance of McAvoy, whilst the go-to actress for creepy leading ladies in recent times, Anya Taylor-Joy, continues to impress after continuing on from her stand-out roles in both The Witch and Morgan. Of course, now the un-embargoed reveal of the very final act of Split is one of which will baffle those unaware of Shyamalan’s previous work, yet for those privy to a particular early Shyamalan picture, the concluding seconds bring with it a surprising sense of wanting to pat Shyamalan on the back for having the audacity to attempt it, let alone actually film it.
Overall Score: 7/10
“The Soul Of Our Country Is At Stake…”
With horror franchises seemingly being the norm of the recent cinematic climate, the release of The Purge: Election Year comes as no real surprise, particularly when looking at the success of its’ predecessors, yet it is the underlying satirical dark nature which helps to justify its’ very own existence in the battleground of the modern horror blockbuster which calls out for something different and something that may indeed stand out against the bulk of movies which ultimately are spoiled by common mediocrity. Although The Purge series is not exactly the Citizen Kane of horror, the fundamental premise of the series is one that is genuinely intriguing, if rather ludicrous, but also one that isn’t truly absorbed into anything more than just vicious slasher-filled craziness. With Election Year however, the politics and principle of the series’ original idea is met with some depth and discussion with Elizabeth Mitchell’s Senator Charlie Roan hell bent on ending the horror of the Purge overall if elected to power, a notion of which the New Founding Fathers, the creators of the Purge, are not exactly best pleased about. Cue murderous rampage.
When I mean some political discussion, I literally mean some. Maybe a piddling ten percent with the rest of Election Year simply acting as a canvas for creepy masks and ultra-violent death scenes, something of which should indeed be expected when observing the rest of the franchise yet the appeal of the movie isn’t in its’ politics at all, it is the sheer crazy nature of a film which isn’t exactly being cautious in its’ satire against the gun-ho nature of the US’s second amendment and the bewilderment at a situation which is so OTT it could indeed become a Trump-designed policy if such a nightmare does come to life in the near future. Is it groundbreaking? Not at all. Is it violently bonkers? Indeed. Election Year should indeed spring an end to the Purge series overall and it concludes such in an enjoyable if rather flawed fashion.
“Liberate Forever, Domesticated Never!”
Ever since the origin of those funky yellow guys who seem to speak a mix of drunken English and incomprehensible gibberish, Illumination Entertainment has hit the big time. With Minions taking an extraordinary amount of cash last year, The Secret Life of Pets is indeed the next big pet (no pun intended) project for Universal, a film which simply won everybody over with its’ short but sweet introduction to the movie in which we witness segments of different pets getting up to no good whilst their owners are away. Now with the full movie being released. the real question remained whether the 90 minute spectacle would live up to the promise billed in the films’ trailers and after watching the finished product, The Secret Life of Pets is indeed a film which is guaranteed to bring in the big bucks but ultimately a film, much like last years’ Minions, is fairly unsubstantial and one that although is good fun for the time spent with it, doesn’t exactly remain with you after it’s finished.
Featuring fundamentally likeable characters such as charismatic and fluffy dogs, crazy homicidal bunny rabbits and a lackadaisical overweight cat, The Secret Life of Pets is guaranteed to satisfy the younger generation with fantastic animation being present throughout the entirety of the film, but the problems come up to the surface when observing the rather unoriginal plot and continuous moments of sheer destruction caused by our beloved titular pets that seems to go completely unnoticed by the humans in this particular tale. I know guys, it isn’t meant to be the most fictional depiction of the world in which we live, but The Secret Life of Pets too often banishes the hope of a strong plot thread and substitutes it for loud, crashing car chases or James Bond esque villainous lair escapes. Maybe I’m looking too deep into it or maybe I’m right but whatever the result, The Secret Life of Pets is a solid addition to the Illumination canon but not much else.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Let’s Watch The Texas Chainsaw Massacre…”
Yes, we probably should have watched the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the original, not the remake, and a film which reminds me how thrilling and dramatic high quality cinema can become, something of which The Boss, directed by Ben Falcone and starring Melissa McCarthy, is most certainly not. However, in a week in which the human race has been subjugated to the horror show of Gods of Egypt, The Boss most certainly is a slight step up, however not the laugh-filled spectacular many would have thought when seeing McCarthy on the cast list, a comedic actress in which I can wholeheartedly state I am not the biggest fan of, with her latest cinematic venture being a reminder of what happens when comedy goes wrong, with The Boss being strapped full of face-palming plot points, dead-end jokes and one-liners that verge on the edge of profanity. At least one thing can be said for Gods of Egypt, it’s funnier than The Boss, regardless of how unintentional that may be.
Focusing on the exploits of the greed-inflicted Michelle Darnell, who after being incarcerated and losing her entire income and empire sets to rebuild her wealth by exploiting the work of minors by selling brownies, The Boss expects you to empathise with a woman who not only becomes a white-collar criminal within the first five minutes of the movie, but a woman who believes using children as pawns in her tactic to regain her strength in the economic world is indeed the most important thing to do now she is free in the outside world. Feel empathetic yet? No, me neither, and this alone is a fundamental flaw in the films’ genetic make-up. Add into the mix jokes that full flat on their face and a script so wayward it seems to have be written as a blind bet, The Boss is a comedic mess from beginning to end, a comedic mess which features the second awful Game of Thrones cameo in the space of a week with Peter Dinklage now having a pop at degrading his reputation. Oh well, at least Game of Thrones is on tomorrow.
Overall Score: 3/10
“Is War The Only Answer?”
When it comes to past live-action video game adaptations that have made it on to the big screen within the past, let’s say the record has not been the best so far. I mean look at Hitman: Agent 47 last year, what a load of rubbish that was and whilst others have trembled in the wake of mediocrity or downright awfulness, 2016 was tapped as the year for the reinvention of the genre with not only Assassins Creed hitting the big screen but Warcraft too, helmed by self-proclaimed fan Duncan Jones, director of sci-fi greats such as Moon and Source Code. Although I can admit to never playing a single second of Warcraft in the past, Jones’ behemoth of a summer blockbuster was a surprising popcorn romp, one that indeed has a wide range of flaws and weaknesses, but one that was never challenging or seemed to be verging on the edge of boredom throughout its’ questionable two-hour plus runtime. CGI galore and Flash Gordon esque costume design. What more does one want?
Amidst unpronounceable locations and names, Warcraft essentially focuses on the battle between Orcs and humans, coincided with some pretty funky CGI magic and featuring warlocks, wizards and flying eagle bird things within the realm of what is essentially a rip-off of Middle Earth. The Lord of the Rings comparisons do not stop there however, with similar themes and even similar characters resulting in a fundamental likeness on the surface but Warcraft falters on the scale of the latter’s depth where even though there were some characters worth caring about, others simply acted either as canon fodder for giant hammers or as a tent-pole for extraordinarily polished suits of armour. Warcraft is set to be the starter pistol for another heavy-hitter of a blockbuster series and although it is indeed not perfect, far off in fact, Warcraft does the job and does it solidly, smashing humans to pieces as it traverses the world of humans in the 21st century. Over to you Assassins Creed, let’s see if you can do better.
Overall Score: 6/10
“I Think Lily’s Thoughts, I Dream Her Dreams. She Was Always There…”
Beginning with The King’s Speech and continuing with Les Miserables, director Tom Hooper has now gained the rather envious typecast of being a filmmaker who is infatuated with the award season and the ultimate array of glory and praise that follows it at every turn. Add into the mix last year’s Oscar winner for Best Actor, Eddie Redmayne, and a story focusing on the tragedy of love, desire and ultimately, human identity, it would be easy to assume that The Danish Girl would be another success story for Hooper at this year’s incoming award season yet the reality is, superb acting aside, Hooper’s latest is unfortunately a rather plodding, shallow and cold adaptation of David Ebershoff’s 2000 novel of the same name which focuses upon the life of Danish painters Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener and the struggle of the former’s attempt at gender reassignment surgery, one of the first recorded persons to have done so back in the mid-1920’s.
It’s hard to examine The Danish Girl as anything other than a rather disappointing experience, with the hype of a emotional, compelling drama led by the brilliance of both Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander being completely overshadowed by the lack of distinct emotion within the plot resulting in there neither being a sense of sympathy or empathy for the character of Lili/Einar even when played flawlessly by Eddie Redmayne. It is certainly strange for the pedigree of an actor such as Redmayne to convey a character so well on-screen yet still failing at any attempt to convert similar emotions onto the viewer, showing that perhaps the weak script is the central problem is failing to resonate any true feelings towards the film. Furthermore, the film’s central performance arguably is not from Redmayne himself and instead, is that of Vikander, the ambiguous, titular Danish Girl perhaps, who seems to be the easier of the two to fully embrace and understand resulting in a conflicting battle between a love for the acting and disappointment at the script.
In a roundabout sort of way, The Danish Girl is a fine example of a movie that is solely saved by the pedigree of its’ cast rather than that of it’s script and emotional impact, showing that for all its’ weaknesses, Tom Hooper’s latest will indeed carry on his proud awards success but for it’s acting alone, with The Danish Girl saved from being a forgettable, drab biographical, built only on the reputation of Hooper thanks to both Vikander and Redmayne. Oscar wins? Maybe not, but nominations is a sure thing, evident by their recognition by the Golden Globes, yet if wins were secured by either actor, it would only be remembered as a win for “that film about gender reassignment”, not the legacy I’m sure Hooper intended.
Overall Score: 5/10
“We Will Know Soon Enough If You Are Leonardo da Vinci Or Just Think You Are…”
Let’s get this straight. I am seemingly one of the minority in the world where shopping in an Apple branded store for Apple branded products to me would be in similar vein to shopping at Waitrose. Sure everything looks nice and flashy, but it’s price tag and lack of distinction from the norm really makes me want to shop elsewhere. With this thought in mind, I ventured into my local world of cine and into a midday screening of Steve Jobs with rather mixed expectations. On the upside, I love Danny Boyle, with his entire filmography stretching all the way back to Shallow Grave being something I will always love and cherish, and I love Micheal Fassbender, with his recent performance in Macbeth being one of my favourites of the year so far. So all in all, the signs were mixed, was Steve Jobs set to be a success in my own point of view after hearing of possible award ceremony attention heading its’ way? Was Fassbender set to reel us in with his portrayal of Jobs and leave us wanting more by the end of it? After leaving the cinema my instant reaction to both questions was a sincere, yes, with Steve Jobs being one of the most entertainingly and highly engrossing written movies I have watched in recent memory.
Set in the form of three acts, each taking place before the launch of a major Jobs’-led product, Steve Jobs is a masterpiece in how, if written with extreme delicacy and understanding, a two-hour film set basically in one confined space, can become a work of art. Much like the Apple products themselves, Steve Jobs is a rife and intelligent beast, if rather fundamentally lacking in a sense of depth and scope, with Danny Boyles’ latest relying heavily on the influence of Aaron Sorkin’s script, a man best known for The West Wing and the simply brilliant The Social Network, a film which can draw a lot of similarities with Steve Jobs due to both having an extensive amount of the “walk and talk” nature of their scripts, a feat in which Sorkin is proudly famous for. Within the fundamental intelligence of Sorkin’s script, is a heavy sense of theater and stage, giving room for the cast that includes the likes of Jeff Daniels, Seth Rogen, and particularly the one-two of Fassbender and Kate Winslet, room to go completely full on, adapting scenes of dialogue from Sorkin’s script into a real sense of dramatic power and steel.
Of course, Steve Jobs is not set to be for everyone, with its’ heavy reliance on dialogue and concentration not entirely being set for mass appeal, whilst Fassbender’s inhuman and simply cold portrayal of Jobs himself may be rather too alienating for some of the more humane audiences out there, yet for me personally, Steve Jobs exceeded my rather mid-level expectations twice-fold with its’ flashy and intelligent script and rather brilliant performances of almost everyone involved, but with standout nods to particularly Fassbender, Winslet and Daniels, making Steve Jobs a real joyous surprise. Oscars, you may be right. Steve Jobs is a-coming.
Overall Score: 9/10