“The Game Is Real. Wherever You Go, Whatever You Do It Will Find You…”
With Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Productions obtaining worldwide popularity after the critical success of Jordan Peele’s Oscar winning horror, Get Out, last year, it very much seems that the company are willing to tackle anything and everything with a slight horror genre infliction, no matter how weak the subject matter, with a penchant for prioritising quantity over quality as well as gaining a reputation for being the physical manifestation of a paint-by-numbers horror conveyor belt. With Truth or Dare therefore, directed by Jeff Wadlow of Kick-Ass 2 fame after apparently “spitballing” an opening idea with the hierarchy at Blumhouse, it’s fair to say that Oscar success is not exactly on the horizon any time soon, with the movie akin more to the likes of Blumhouse disasters such as The Gallows and Sinister 2, and even with a somewhat interesting premise in which our leading horny, social-media addicted and majestically beautiful college “teens” are sucked into a murderous entity’s sick game, Truth or Dare fails entirely as a work of horror to the extent that if sold as a comedy, it perhaps would have been much more successful.
Predictable from the outset, Wadlow’s movie begins in terrible and perfunctory fashion, following Lucy Hale’s (Pretty Little Liars) Olivia and her merry band of followers including Tyler Poser’s (Teen Wolf) Lucas and Violett Beane’s (The Flash) Markie as they make there way across the Mexican border in order to experience their final spring break. Cue visit to creepy dwelling, the discovery of satanic rituals and exposition galore, the next sixty minutes moves into a Final Destination territory as we witness each of the friendship group take their turn in the titular game which is forced upon them by an evil entity who breaks free in the form of whacking great smiles, a laughably awful effect which is even coined as “the worst snapchat filter ever” by one of the victims and forces them to adhere to the rules with a punishment of death if anyone rejects to playing. With the jump scares weak, the sense of threat non-existent and one of the biggest cop-out resolutions ever seen on the big-screen, Truth or Dare is unsurprisingly terrible, even with a somewhat likeable leading lady in the form of Hale, but with tacky genre tropes, a rafter of cliches and a dull, overly repetitive narrative, Wadlow’s movie is a game really not worth playing.
Overall Score: 3/10
“Our Girls Are Not Thinking Things Through. I’m Going To Stop Them…”
Directed by cinematic first-timer Kay Cannon, whose previous credits lie solely on each of the screenplays for the highly successful Pitch Perfect trilogy, Blockers is a ripe, rude and well-meaning coming of age American comedy which features Leslie Mann (How To Be Single), Ike Barinholtz (Snatched) and John Cena (Daddy’s Home 2) as three out-of-touch parents who attempt to thwart their respective daughter’s plans for prom night after discovering a “sex pact” between them whilst generously snooping on their online, social media based conversation. With Bad Moms showcasing that preconceptions regarding American comedies sometimes shouldn’t be entirely faithfully adhered to at all times, Blockers is yet another fairly successful U.S based romp which not only manages to mix a heartwarming soul with well-worked elements of ludicrous comedy, but also develops its’ characters of both generations to a telling degree that each works as an individual rather than a two-dimensional caricature, and even if at times, the narrative dwindles into a wacky mix of saccharin sweetness and silliness with a runtime which overplays its’ hand for at least twenty minutes longer than necessary, Cannon’s movie is a solid and enjoyable directorial debut.
With Cena’s Mitchell playing hilariously against type, with his imposing, muscular demeanour being offset with a personality which cries at the first flicker of emotional weakness and favours tucked-in chequered shirts and easily mocked crew cut haircuts, and Leslie Mann’s Lisa Decker ferociously abstaining against anything to do with her daughter’s ascent into adulthood, it is left to Barinholtz’s Hunter to steady the ship, with his character heeding the warning of the consequences of his fellow parents’ actions, even when his own strange, sometimes excruciatingly awkward personality promotes him as the worst father figure type imaginable. With big-screen newcomers, Gideon Adlon, Geraldine Viswanathan and Kathryn Newton (Lady Bird) as the troublesome trio of teenagers eager to rid themselves of their sexual innocence, their superb chemistry also aids the film’s sense of appeal, particularly in regards to their familiar and overly contemporary use of youthful language and prom night experiences, and with the movie balancing all of its’ characters with empathetic ease, Blockers is the type of movie which yes, is of course not the most original or entirely captivating in history, but for a hundred minutes swing, is wickedly enjoyable and earns kudos for featuring the best naked BDSM game scene in comedy history. Yeah, that’s the selling point if ever there was one.
Overall Score: 6/10
“This Is The Way The World Ends…”
With Guillermo del Toro joyously arriving home earlier this month with a couple of Academy Awards in his back pocket for The Shape of Water, his latest rousing critical success is brought somewhat back down to earth with the release of Pacific Rim Uprising, a sequel to del Toro’s 2013 ridiculously silly action gargantuan which in all fairness, is more painfully cheesy than entertaining, and a film which brings to mind the middling rough patch the Mexican seemingly went through before this year’s resounding return to form. Swapping the director’s chair for a producing role however, the job of taking hold of the unnecessary sequel falls to Steven S. DeKnight of Daredevil Season One fame, undeniably the strongest Marvel/Netflix release to date, whose big-screen debut features John Boyega (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) as Jake Pentecost, son of the legendary General Stacker Pentecost as portrayed by Idris Elba (Thor: Ragnarok) in the first film, who swaps his life of thieving and black market dealings for a return to the fold in line with the Jaeger program after a fresh threat arises from the destructive, otherworldly Kaiju. With awful dialogue, a woeful lack of emotional investment and endless, mind-numbing overblown action set pieces, Uprising is unsurprisingly utter tosh, and even when some of the characters at times threaten to make the film more interesting than it should be, it’s plain to see that the main function of DeKnight’s cinematic debut is of course, solely monetary.
Whilst the first feature was just straightforward, unadulterated nonsense with an added layer of awfulness due to Charlie Hunnam’s vacuous leading character, the performances of both Idris Elba and Rinko Kikuchi meant that the film was at least likeable to a certain degree, and with the latter one of the more interesting returning characters added to the fold once again, her particular narrative strand within Uprising is systemic to the problems of the film. Far too many times are new and returning characters given so little to do in terms of engaging character development that when the film does eventually heed to the wishes of its’ true and fundamental natures in the form of CGI-engulfed action sequences, not one audience member actually really cares who does what and who makes it out alive. With it becoming patently clear that any movie touched by the woeful “talent” of both Charlie Day (Fist Fight) and Scott Eastwood (Suicide Squad) is destined to be labelled as god-awful, Uprising does at least benefit from a committed, cockney-fuelled performance from the ever-charismatic Boyega and a runtime which improves on the staggeringly long length of its’ predecessor, but with a concluding act which makes Man of Steel look like a Woody Allen movie and a jarring post-credits sequence which makes you roll your eyes in utter condemnation of the movie’s future possibilities, Uprising doesn’t totally suck, it’s just the type of movie you watch with a blank expression and let it leave your consciousness as soon as its’ over. If you stay awake that is.
Overall Score: 4/10
“Reynolds Has Made My Dreams Come True. And I Had Given Him What He Desires Most In Return…”
Of all historic collaborations which have resulted in works of acclaimed artistic brilliance, the combination of director, Paul Thomas Anderson, and acting aficionado, Daniel Day-Lewis, deservedly unearths a mouthwatering level of anticipation, particularly after their rousing success together on 2007’s There Will Be Blood, a movie which not only garnered Academy Award success for the English screen legend but remains my personal favourite Anderson release within a career blossoming with quality examples of modern cinema ranging from the intertwining character study of Magnolia to the drug infused oddity of Inherent Vice. Returning together with Phantom Thread, a beautifully twisted romantic drama with a self-proclaimed final performance from Daniel Day-Lewis as the fictional renowned fashion designer, Reynolds Woodcock, Anderson’s latest is a flawlessly designed work of art which mirrors its’ leading character’s penchant for exactness and measured perfection with a swooning, subversive portrayal of a household bursting with colourful and beautifully constructed characters which are brought to fruition in ways larger than life by a cast which under the wing of Anderson, are truly magnificent.
Focusing on the blossoming relationship between Day-Lewis’s Woodcock and the foreign, quaint muse figure of Vicky Krieps’ (A Most Wanted Man) Alma Elson, Anderson’s script moves in an unpredictable and sometimes quirky fashion, switching from a romantic tale of wonder to a character study of indecision and power, one which utilises minor incidents of subverted gothic tragedy and a heavy dose of laugh out loud comedy to create a combination of elements which only a filmmaker with the pedigree of Anderson could have successfully pulled off. With Lesley Manville’s (Hampstead) eagle eyed and priggish Cyril Woodcock equally as fascinating as her on-screen sibling, Phantom Thread’s triage of leading performers all work in equal symmetry in bringing to life an absorbing, sometimes jaw-droppingly beautiful piece of cinema, and with a well orchestrated accompanying score from Radiohead’s stupidly talented, Jonny Greenwood, whose Academy Award nomination slightly makes up for the ludicrous decision to prevent him from being nominated for There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest is really something, and if we are indeed witnessing the final performance of the truly magnanimous Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread sure is an outstanding way to bow out.
Overall Score: 9/10
“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.