“I’ve Faced Many Evil’s In My Life. This One Is Different Though…”
Acting as the latest entry within the ongoing Blumhouse Production line of horror releases, Insidious: The Last Key, the fourth and supposedly final picture within the rather drawn out Insidious franchise, is the first big screen jump-fest to hit multiplexes this year, and whilst there is a lack of consideration, particularly from myself, in regards to why yet another sequel is necessary to a franchise which suffers from a bruising sense of unmemorability, aside from its’ rather creepy first entry back in 2010, The Last Key is a somewhat acceptable, time-passing affair. Directed by horror stalwart Adam Robitel, whose previous releases in the form of The Taking of Deborah Logan and Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension acts as confident evidence for his directorial appointment, The Last Key primarily focuses on Lin Shaye’s psychic ghost hunter, Elise Rainier, as she returns to face the fears of her childhood in order to help Kirk Acevedo’s Ted Garza who calls for aid after experiencing strange hauntings within the house Rainier and her long lost brother grew up in under the watchful eye of their monstrous father.
Suffering in a way which most contemporary horror sequels, prequels and spin-offs ultimately do by feeling just a little bit worse for wear in terms of the freshness of the narrative and overall surprise factor, Robitel’s movie ironically begins in impressive fashion, heading further back in time to explore Rainier’s childhood in order to lay the groundwork for the story ahead, and with two mightily timed jump scares to start off proceedings, The Last Key was in danger of becoming much better than one might have expected. Unfortunately, yet not exactly surprisingly, however, the swift move back to the somewhat present day then brings about the middling return to a horror blueprint which covers everything from screaming dead entities to an overkill sensibility regarding the use of cliched horror tropes, tropes which become tiring as they finalise by simply resorting each and every time to the cattle prod horror cinema audiences seem to lap up. With comedy which doesn’t always work coming from the Chuckle Brothers of horror in the form of Rainier’s bumbling assistants and a concluding reveal which is unsurprising and hokey, The Last Key is pretty much your substandard horror sequel, but for the impressive first ten minutes, a committed performance from Shaye and a sense that finally the series has been put to bed, Robitel’s movie isn’t a classic but it at least works in a audience pleasing kind of fashion which for many, is all that you need.
Overall Score: 5/10
“I’ve Already Lived Through This Day. Someone Is Going To Kill Me Tonight…”
For a film which even come the concluding act references Groundhog Day, Happy Death Day, the latest from the indie-horror sensation filmmakers at Blumhouse Productions, at least doesn’t attempt to shy away from the fundamental similarities between it’s own narrative and the Bill Murray comedy classic, and whilst this time the titular groundhog is replaced with an ice cold, rampaging murderer with a penchant for baby-faced, plastic masks in the ilk of famous slashers of the past, Happy Death Day is still a highly entertaining black comedy which although undeniably lacks completely in originality, makes up for in pristine execution. Helmed by the rather unknown low-key figure of Jessica Rothe as the stuck-up, air-headed student, Theresa, Happy Death Day follows a narrative in which although is overly predictable in a paint-by-numbers kind of fashion, mixes together well a blackly comic violent streak with a life-affirming redemption tale without seeping too far into overkill or saccharin silliness, and with the chance to witness again and again the death of the movie’s leading character, director Christopher B. Landon plays around with the comical elements almost too much at times that if it weren’t for moments of shock-inducing violence, Happy Death Day could pass itself as a late-turn edition of Scooby-Doo, and whilst such a notion sounds fundamentally ridiculous, the turnaround of the film’s leading character results in the movie ultimately coming across too charming to dismiss as just overly ripe silliness.
With moments which include nicely orchestrated jump scares and a brilliant supporting performance from Israel Broussard as the non stereotypical stereotypical fresher student and exposition handler, Carter, Happy Death Day understands the joyous nature of films which on the one hand balance traditional horror tropes and on the other, light hearted comedy, and whilst a few scenes throughout the course of the film’s 90 minutes don’t entirely work, including a compilation of our heroine’s attempts to locate her own killer and a final twist which is the definition of obviousness, Landon’s movie works on a level of popcorn-fuelled escapism of which I went into the screening particularly yearning for. Whilst Blumhouse Productions have undoubtedly crafted much more impressive and long-lasting horror releases, Happy Death Day passess the time effectively enough to warrant its’ existence, even when half way through I couldn’t get the image of Bill Murray out of my mind.
Overall Score: 7/10
“You Could Save Them You Know. I Gave You All The Clues And Everything…”
Tackling a subject matter light years apart from the similarly titled Raymond Briggs written animation, The Snowman, a cinematic adaptation of Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbø’s best selling novel, marks the highly anticipated return of Swedish director Tomas Alfredson, whose decision to adapt his fellow Scandinavians’ work from page to screen makes some sort of sense considering the dark, twisty tones of his previous work, and whilst Nesbø’s novel is the seventh in a series based around the trials and tribulations of Michael Fassbender’s leading character, Harry Hole, Alfredson’s movie is the first attempt in bringing the author’s famous detective to some sort of cinematic fruition. With good omens behind it therefore, it comes at a complete surprise to report that Alfredson’s latest is unfortunately nothing more than a shockingly dire and unintentionally woeful, manufactured work of disillusioned trash, one which seems to have faltered primarily at a pre-production stage and ultimately released just for the sake of it, and when considering the talent behind it, with a cast which mirrors the impressive ensemble within Alfredson’s previous, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Snowman is undoubtedly one of the most infuriatingly contrived let downs in recent Hollywood history.
Suffering from a handful of flaws which range from sloppy unprofessionalism to sinful laziness, The Snowman seems to be the spawn of awful judgement primarily from a production standpoint, with the film’s narrative lacking any meaningful level of threat, coherence or substance in complete contrast to previous Scandinavian thrillers such as The Killing and the Millennium franchise, and whilst the absence of threat results in the bulk of the movie being replaced with utter tedium, the film is worsened by the bizarre comedic tendency it seems to evoke each and every time the movie slips into supposed dark territory, with awfully designed murder clips and the scene of a snowman’s head being planted on the top of a deceased body resulting in a combination of sniggers rather than the nail-biting thrills I believe the novels were famous for. With editing which verges on the point of insanity and scenes which move from one to another without any sort of meaningful connectivity, The Snowman is a incomprehensible mess of a movie, and whilst the likes of Fassbender and even Alfredson to some extent can’t be entirely to blame, the first entry of a supposed Jo Nesbø based franchise is a complete and utter stinker.
Overall Score: 3/10
“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.