“Forgive Me, Father, For I Am About To Sin…”
Of all the contemporary horror franchises currently still running, The Conjuring universe is one which although isn’t as groundbreaking as many believe it is within the horror genre, still manages to succeed in some regard, primarily because of how much fun they are, with there always being enough effective jump-scares and spooky children to please the most mediocre of horror fans even when the plot lines are so strikingly familiar to horror enthusiasts. Whilst the cattle-prod approach of jump scare cinema isn’t at all what I deem as ingredients for a decent horror movie, the trope is becoming so well-worn in the current cinematic climate that to see horror films take any other approach is somewhat of a miracle, and whilst Annabelle: Creation isn’t exactly breaking the mould of what we have come to expect from the James Wan-led staple, the addition of Lights Out director David F. Sandberg alongside some enjoyably camp set pieces, the prequel/sequel to 2014’s Annabelle is good enough to warrant its’ existence, even when the narrative swings and overall themes don’t hold the tension and fear factor you expect from a classic horror.
With Sandberg in charge after his high-profile success with Lights Out, Creation is a movie which focuses extensively on the quintessential notion that darkness and the absence of light results completely in absorbing the audience into a state of fear, and whilst the spooky factor begins well for the first half of the movie, as soon as the movie shows it’s hand and reveals the rather clunky demonic presence at the heart of the movie, the tension does inevitably fall apart. With endless shots of lightbulbs either exploding or magically decreasing in strength, Sandberg’s abnormal obsession with such basic horror tropes does become rather grating come the ramped-up final act, yet for the first hour or so, the haunted house formula and multiple usage of camera angles which focus on either ambiguous presences or the rounded, creepy face of the titular porcelain doll are solid enough to keep the interest held, even when questionable decisions from our leading characters puts such comforts at some sort of risk. Creation isn’t a masterpiece, but I can safely say I was never bored and for the time it was on screen, Sandberg’s big budget debut passed the time nicely.
Overall Score: 6/10
“You Wanna Make Money Like Vegas? You Gotta Look Like Vegas…”
Written and directed by Andrew J. Cohen. a filmmaker best known for his writing credits on both the Seth Rogen starring Bad Neighbours and its’ 2016 sequel, The House brings with it that sanctimonious air of contemporary American comedy which to myself and perhaps many others, just doesn’t tend to work whatsoever, with the formula tending to utilise a wide range of immature and cringe-worthy traits instead of a well calculated and set up comedic routine. On the other hand, these expectations sometimes result in slices of humble pie being handed out, with films such as Bad Moms proving that not every American comedy can be classed as complete and total trash, and whilst The House features Will Ferrell in a leading role, an actor who tends to be present in more bad films than good, I’m ready to be cautiously optimistic. Unfortunately for The House, the riveting sense of optimism was swiftly squandered approximately around the five minute mark when the film offered itself in its’ true form, with Cohen’s movie lacking not only an effective script or set pieces which feature within the realm of normality, but The House is most crucially a comedy which just isn’t funny. At. All.
Whilst the film wants you to believe that it does indeed have a narrative at its’ very core, slipping in a plot regarding tuition fees and a underground casino ran by Ferrell and Poehler’s idiotic parents, The House is obviously much more interested in attempting to reenact scenes from classic movies such as Scorsese’s Goodfellas and Casino, The Godfather and The Sopranos, all of which are turned up to eleven in terms of vulgarity and stupidity, whilst the tone and overall awfulness of the film really does not deserve to have the financial reasoning to jackhammer in a soundtrack which features tracks which are iconic in their usage within classic movies which are leagues above The House in terms of execution and longevity. As stated previously, the complete absence of comedy ultimately results in not only an eerie sense of silence from the film’s audience but scenes which tend to become cringe-worthy instead of the hoot the filmmakers really believed they would appear to the suckers who have paid to watch such a mess of a film. The House isn’t exactly the worst film of the year, just probably the worst comedy, proving that it really isn’t just me that needs to wise up to American comedy, it’s just plain awful.
Overall Score: 3/10
“You Have Been My Greatest Love. Be Careful, Diana. They Do Not Deserve You…”
Whilst many audiences could be forgiven for experiencing a somewhat turgid time at the cinema within the summer period, suffering from a duo hit of remakes and sequels amidst an air of superhero fatigue, particularly within a year in which the two major forces in the form of DC and Marvel Comics are warring face to face in a contest which rivals the Battle of Helms Deep for sheer epic eventfulness, with more films than ever being released which focus on big-screen adaptations of everyone’s favourite literary heroes. Whilst Marvel waits on hold for the time being, with Spider-Man: Homecoming set for release next month, the ball is currently in DC’s court this week with the release of Wonder Woman, the fourth entry in the so-far much maligned DC Universe, but more importantly, the first real big-screen adaptation of the Amazonian Queen and the first superhero film since Elektra to be solely focused on a leading female character. Adding to the winning formula, Patty Jenkins, director of the Oscar winning serial killer drama Monster, takes the lead of a movie which holds so much in attempting to add a sense of integrity into a franchise which has been slowly dwindling in the shadow of Marvel’s many successes. Thankfully, Wonder Woman is indeed a winning return to form for DC, taking a brilliantly cast leading star and working with a script which adds an element of fun and adventure back into a series which has been sinking into the shallow depths of despair.
Whilst her introduction within the mighty mess of Batman V. Superman was overly rushed and ineffective, Wonder Woman perfectly crafts a backstory for a character who to most audiences may be completely alien, with WW possibly being the first time understanding the nature and background of such an infamous leading comic character. With Gal Gadot in the leading role, the DC Universe has finally hit the first mark in terms of casting, putting to shame recent debacles such as Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luther and Jared Leto’s overly wasted Joker, with her physical ability and enviable natural screen presence adding organic depth to a character who is represented more than adequately in Gadot’s shoes. Pairing up with the always reliable Chris Pine, the narrative does reek somewhat of similarity at times however, using the first half of the movie to generate backstory whilst using the latter as a chance to once again conclude with a staggeringly dull CGI boss battle, yet the comedic element which rips throughout the dialogue is effective enough to combat a two hour plus running length, a decision perhaps primarily based upon Marvel’s successes in mixing action, drama and comedy within most of their many releases. If Wonder Woman is the direction in which the DC Universe is heading, sign me up for more, and whilst Jenkins doesn’t really offer anything particularly new to the superhero scene, the brilliance of Gadot in the leading role is the best thing DC has done since Nolan was around. No, it’s not The Dark Knight by a long shot, but Wonder Woman is still a success.
Overall Score: 7/10
“You Gave It All To Her, Right In Front of Me…”
Tackling the ridiculously difficult genre of the erotic thriller for a debut picture, new kid on the block, Denise Di Novi, seems to have gone full flow with the notion that to get somewhere quickly, the hardest options are sometimes the best to get out of the way. In regards to recent depictions of such a genre, within this year even, the widespread level of excellence ranges from the utter shoddy in the form of the Fifty Shades franchise to the interesting and brilliantly executed, with Elle and Park Chan Wook’s The Handmaiden being top-end depictions of eroticism upon the big-screen, helped primarily from scripts which attempt to shake up the format and offer something original instead of simply falling into the pot of generic silliness. Unfortunately for Di Novi, Unforgettable is the type of movie which you question how it actually managed to make it onto the big screen with it clearly being the type of erotic thriller that is destined for the clearance DVD bin in your local supermarket sometime in the near future, yet with star power in the form of Rosario Dawson and Katherine Heigl holding down the fort, Unforgettable is passable, generic popcorn nonsense which ticks all the boxes in a manner which is both swift and unoffensive.
Whilst the trailer for the movie conforms to the common issue of giving away not just the main bulk of the movie but indeed the entire bleeding plot, Unforgettable comes across as representing itself as the 21st century model of Basic Instinct, yet without the shore footing of Elle director Paul Verhoeven in its’ corner and without the iconic image of Sharon Stone as the film’s leading bunny boiler. Replacing Stone in such a role is Katherine Heigl, the plain faced barbie doll who takes the character of the kooky and wholly obsessive ex-wife and completely runs with it. demonstrating the idea that girls with slicked back hair and a penchant for cleaning silver utensils are without question a grade A psychopath. On the other side of the court is Rosario Dawson’s leading heroine, a character who through a wide range of questionable decisions ends up battered, bruised and completely ostracised from her newly found fiancee throughout the course of the movie in a manner in which is meant to exert a sense of tension from the audience, an audience which are way too clever and knowing to see where the entire plot is heading straight from the outset. The Handmaiden it ain’t, Unforgettable is ironically, quite forgettable and is saved primarily due to its’ two leading stars which prevent the film from disappearing into nonexistence forever.
Overall Score: 4/10
“Go Undercover Within The Department? That’s Awesome…!”
Burdening themselves with the prospect of attempting to distinguish themselves from simply being yet another terrible excuse of a film which classifies itself as a comedy, CHiPs, written, directed and starring Dax Shephard, is based primarily upon the American television drama series of the same name which aired on NBC between the years of 1977 and 1983, and within a week in which Power Rangers has surprisingly succeeded in whinging a modern-day adaptation too, the penultimate week of March can only be classed as the week in which two of the most pointless and utterly undesired methods of entertainment have somehow had the 21st century treatment and had the nerve to grace the big-screen. All negative preconceptions aside, CHiPs, co-starring the undeniably likeable Michael Peña, whose back catalogue includes End of Watch and Ant-Man, as well as the most recent incarnation of Wilson Fisk from Netflix’s Daredevil, Vincent D’Onofrio, CHiPs is indeed the type of movie in which you begin to wonder about the mindset of those who have played a part in creating it, with the main driving force in the form of Dax Shephard being primarily to blame in successfully creating one of the most vulgar, idiotic, mindless and utterly offensive movies in recent memory.
Featuring a supposed array of so-called jokes which offend everyone and everything from the professionalism of the police community to the LGBT community and the disabled, CHiPs is a textbook example of one man attempting to boost his egoistic capabilities by taking hold of a TV blueprint and throwing as much awfully constructed action and comedic set pieces at it as possible in order to overshadow how poor the movie actually is. Unfortunately for Shephard, the ridiculously unfunny narrative and sloppy direction only enhance the shoddiness of the overall finished picture, a picture which shares similar elements with the vile back catalogue of Adam Sandler in regards to how retrograde it comes across towards sex and the treatment of females in a “I can’t believe they actually made this” kind of fashion. Whilst the response from fans of the original show has reportedly been less than positive, I would go as far to say that everyone who goes to see CHiPs will come out smiting the air in a retrospective feeling of contempt towards a film which is just so, so awful from start to finish. AVOID.
Overall Score: 2/10
“It’s Time To Show Kong That Man Is King!”
As per the new craze of recent cinematic ventures, the newest big-screen franchising exploration comes in the form of classic Hollywood monsters being revamped and reissued in Legendary Entertainment’s so-called “MonsterVerse”, beginning of course with Rogue One director Gareth Edward’s excellent Godzilla in 2014 and continuing this week with Kong: Skull Island, a “re-imagining” of the infamous giant ape who graces the big-screen for the first time since Peter Jackson’s take on the character back in 2005. Helmed by The Kings of Summer director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, as well as featuring arguably one of the best casts of the year with Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John Goodman and Samuel L. Jackson all vying for screen time, Skull Island is the type of movie which justifies the existence of IMAX-infused mega screens, with the trailer alone being rife with a heightened sense of spectacle and splendour. As for the finished article, Skull Island is indeed the silly, OTT monster-mad movie I think many were expecting without ever pushing the boundaries of being anything more than such.
Light on characterisation yet heavy on the spectacular at times, Skull Island is inherently silly from beginning to end, with a runtime which feels almost half the length of Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation but too feels completely different in tone, relying on the effects-heavy production of giant spiders, murderous “skull-crawlers” and of course the titular Kong himself rather than any meaningful contribution to fleshing out its’ leading stars in a manner which took up the first hour of Jackson’s movie back in 2005. Helping the film along in its’ choppily edited fashion is the rip-roaring sound of the 70’s, with a soundtrack which ranges from Black Sabbath to David Bowie. evoking the shadow of a film like Apocalypse Now, an argument particularly obvious due to Skull Island’s Vietnam War setting, whilst the CGI-fuelled monster-battles feel almost too much like a Jurassic World rip-off at times to be put in the same league of jaw-dropping splendour as its’ predecessor within the same cinematic universe, Godzilla. Much likes its’ titular ape, Skull Island is a big and fluffy piece of escapism which knows what it wants to be and doesn’t attempt to be anything more. Yeah, that’s right, Kong is very fluffy. Well, sort of.
Overall Score: 7/10
“We’re Gonna Handle Our Differences Like Real Men…”
When reviewing a film such as Fist Fight, the first thing you have to realise is that the Ice Cube which is top-billed on such a movie is indeed the same Ice Cube famous for being the great wordsmith which invigorated the gangsta rap scene in the late 1980’s with N.W.A and indeed the same Ice Cube whose latter-day career choices include seemingly blundering into a continuous array of comedy-based cinematic projects, with only a few actually being of some notable success such as 21 Jump Street and erm, 22 Jump Street. It comes as no real shock therefore that Fist Fight is nothing more than a lazy, thoughtless and cringe-worthy attempt of a comedy, with awful dialogue, a dwindling, lacklustre narrative, and one of the most pain-inducing performances I have ever seen from Charlie Day in a leading role which consists of a character who is slated for being friendly and kind and instead finds redemption and a sense of purpose by resorting to drug dealing, swearing at minors and unreasonable levels of violence. You know, all those things which make you “cool” nowadays.
Although running for a reasonable length of 90 minutes, Fist Fight is one of those movies in which you absolutely feel every single second drag past until you reach a conclusion and final act which not only is generically mediocre, but smiles at you whilst it crackles at the thought of the money the audience has paid to watch such a dire attempt of a comedy. Although the blame doesn’t entirely lie at the feet of Ice Cube, it just baffles me why this is the kind of film in which he has settled for after a strong start to an acting career which started with the likes of Boyz in the Hood and the culty favourite Friday, yet the real loser of the show is indeed Charlie Day who screams his way into a leading role which laughs at the state of modern-day education, resulting in the first case of a fictional character this year who has actively driven me to a straightforward high level of hatred. Saddled with jokes about underage sex, statutory rape, drug use, casual racism and a clanger of a mis-step in the form of a incredibly young child relaying lyrics from Big Sean to an audience of similarly aged children, Fist Fight is just poop from beginning to end. That’s right, poop. I can be a child sometimes too.
Overall Score: 3/10
“I Signed Up To Fight In The War. I Went Away a Soldier, I Came Home An Outlaw…”
In order to really make a substantial wave in the genre of gangster movies, one has to stand up upon the shoulders of giants, classic movies which act as the linchpin of cinematic history and are unanimously regarded as plain and simple masterpieces. Whilst the ones that spring to mind include the likes of The Godfather, Goodfellas and Casino, all movies which arrive at the top-end of their respective genre, recent portrayals of the well-worn gangster theme have somewhat added to the notion that the best will indeed never be matched in terms of their overall impact on cinematic history, particularly when you take the likes of Black Mass and Legend in recent years, cases of films which are executed in an overly solid fashion yet are undeniably forgettable in the context of the genre in which they are placed. With Live By Night, the latest pet project from Ben Affleck who follows in the footsteps of movies such as Argo and The Town by writing, directing and starring in the lead role, Affleck takes on the esteemed gangster genre and whilst parts of the film are reasonably commendable, like many have already pointed out already, Affleck’s latest does feel like a quickly jumbled together release, due in part to Affleck’s high-profile role in the DC Universe, resulting in a movie which can only be regarded as a resounding disappointment.
Focusing primarily and wholly generically within the era of prohibition, Live By Night feels too much of a sweeping cinematic slog, attempting to cram in as many narrative swings as possible and subsequently suffering from a wide range of issues such as two-dimensional characters, a laughably stereotypical lead villain and a concluding act which verges on the edge of storytelling at its’ most basic and immature. Whilst Affleck tries to do his best in both a directorial capacity and in the leading role, the overtly familiar feel of the script doesn’t do the film any sense of justice whatsoever, a resounding shame when considering the book on which it was based on, written by Mystic River and Shutter Island author Dennis Lehane. Star of the show belongs entirely to Chris Cooper as the conflicted Sheriff Irving Figgis, whilst Elle Fanning follows on from her superb performance in The Neon Demon by producing a solid, believable performance as Figgis’s daughter with the time she manages to bag on-screen. With previous successes with both Argo and The Town, Affleck’s latest is unfortunately in a completely different ball park in terms of critical success, and whilst I enjoy a good gangster flick as much as the next guy, Live By Night makes Legend look like The Godfather.
Overall Score: 5/10
“No One Warned Us. No One Said “You’re Going To Lose Both Engines At A Lower Altitude Than Any Jet In History”…”
No guys, Clint Eastwood’s latest isn’t a continuation of the Monsters Inc. character but instead a biographical drama based upon the extraordinary events that took place on 15th January 2009 when US Airways Flight 1549 was miraculously landed upon the Hudson River by pilots Chelsey Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles after a bird strike had completely destroyed both the left and right engines, leaving them in the air with no thrust and little chance to return to ground safely. Such a remarkable and historical achievement was inevitably set to hit the big screens sooner rather than later and what Eastwood has accomplished with Sully is creating a gripping and intelligently played drama which tackles not only the experience of Captain Sully’s landing but the repercussions of it too. With Tom Hanks performing effortlessly in the lead role as the titular Sully, Eastwood’s latest is indeed a hit, albeit suffering from some minor issues which prevent it from being up there with his best work as a director.
Inevitably, the fundamental narrative that fluctuates throughout Sully is a gripping enough plot in itself to catch the eye of even the least cinematically viable audience with a good, uplifting heroic story being the mark of a bankable picture, particularly when you have the reliable hands of Hanks as your movies’ star, and whilst the movie skips between the past and the present of our titular hero, the most effective parts of the movie take place during the films’ big set pieces, primarily the landing itself as well as the discussions that take place afterwards where although the narrative is hyped up completely to function as the drama, still manages to work, even if Eastwood manages to make every single journalist and white collar worker look like the villains of the piece. What the film didn’t need however was the cringey CGI crash scenes which took place inside the traumatised mind of our hero which completely reverses the effect of the movie and removes it from the subtle and understated nature of a film like Spotlight and instead becomes more of a popcorn movie as a result. Of course, popcorn movie goodness is not entirely a bad thing and whilst Sully does manage to come away as an effective telling of an incredible achievement within recent history, it isn’t really anything more than that, but, as with anything with Tom Hanks in, Sully is still an enjoyable and well made drama.
Overall Score: 7/10
“This Is Mr. Scamander, He’s Lost Something, I’m Going To Help Him…”
Being of an age in which the two main film franchises entwined with my youth was Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, the knowledge of an extended glance into the land of the former was an interesting premise, albeit a premise which included zero of the franchises’ earlier cast members and a premise which undoubtedly was a huge risk after the success of the earlier movies. Stealing David Yates as director, the man responsible for the last few HP movies, and having J. K. Rowling herself as screenwriter, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, inspired by the book of the same name by Rowling back in 2001, is a completely new view of the Potterverse, one which takes place in 1920’s New York and follows the menacing tribulations of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) who, much like the title says, loses a substantial amount of his fantastical beasts en route to Arizona and is then tasked with locating such creatures alongside the “no-maj” baker-to-be Jacob (Dan Fogler) and former Aura, Tina (Katherine Waterston).
Being a solid fan of anything remotely Harry Potter, it comes as a deep disappointment that Fantastic Beasts for me was a resounding mess of a movie, a film which had very little engagement in terms of its characters alongside a strange sense of nonexistence in terms of any sort of narrative which made the film rather tedious at times, particularly during its’ sloggish first hour and the movie’s cop-out conclusion which seemed to have more endings than Return of the King. With the wasting of prestigious talent such as Jon Voight, Ezra Miller and Colin Farrell, the movie focuses most of its’ attention on Redmayne in the movies’ lead role, a performance which takes the fundamental kooky nature of Redmayne and ranks it up to eleven, resulting in a character which was actually rather boring to be with. Whilst the film does boast some creative digital effects and a cute loot-obsessed niffler, Fantastic Beasts can only be described as a mildly inconsequential addition to the lore of Harry Potter, a film which begins the cycle of FOUR more movies with a whimper rather than a bang, and a film which really nosedives with the most obvious twist since Inferno, in the addition of Johnny Depp as the real protagonist of the series. Shame really, as Colin Farrell was one of the film’s positives. For every cloud I suppose…