“I’m Sorry To Differ With You Sir, But You Are The Caretaker. You’ve Always Been The Caretaker…”
In a year where the works of Stephen King have seemed to have taken siege upon both the big screen and the small, the re-release of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining ironically seeks out to remind how much the horror masterpiece differs from its’ ghostly source material, and whilst King himself has famously distanced himself from the 1980 classic on a moral level, the haunting ambiguity and off-kilter tonal essence of Kubrick’s classic once again reminds why such a movie is always part of the conversation when discussing the greatest and most influential horror movies of all time. Published in January of 1977, King’s third novel quickly followed the breakout successes of Carrie and Salem’s Lot, and whilst the story on the surface primarily focuses on the horrors of the Overlook Hotel and the toll it takes on the Torrance family, the underlying notions of alcoholism and regret mirrored the struggles of the novel’s own during that period of time, resulting in The Shining being arguably King’s most personal work up to that date, creating an understandable air of indifference from King to a movie released only three years later which decided to focus primarily on the supernatural elements of the novel rather than the subplots regarding familial tensions and the conflicted leading character of Jack Torrance to a larger extent portrayed on film. Thankfully for Kubrick, his version of The Shining is arguably more terrifying than one could have envisioned when adapting King’s story from page to screen, thanks primarily to a typically maddened performance from Jack Nicholson whose portrayal of the writer’s block inflicted father will arguably go down as his most iconic and memorable role within a career which goes down with arguably one of the greatest ever.
Whilst the casting of Nicholson seemed to many at the time to be one of ease over exploration, with Nicholson’s Oscar winning performance as Randle McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest already showcasing Nicholson’s penchant for portraying the slightly insane, the guidance of Kubrick as the film’s master of puppets resulted in a live-action Jack Torrance which seeped with uncertainty and ferocious ingrained rage from beginning to end. With Shelley Duvall as the repressed, doe-eyed Wendy Torrance on Nicholson’s arm and the youthful appearance of Danny Lloyd as son, Danny, a child afflicted with the titular mysterious power as coined by Scatman Crothers’ Dick O’Halloran, Kubrick’s take on the already well established horror genre is arguably his most auteurist within a filmography which puts most recent filmmakers to shame, and whilst the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Dr Strangelove proved the widening spectrum of Kubrick’s work, his OCD-esque tendency for frame-by-frame perfection and famously subverted workings of actors, sets and camera usage is no more apparent than in The Shining, a film, which not unlike the book, has a surface narrative regarding one man’s descent into darkness but underneath is filled with famously hidden notions which ranged from everything from Kubrick’s stance on the moon landing to a comment regarding the massacring of native American indians.
Of course, the discussion regarding the hidden elements of Kubrick’s masterpiece is not exactly hot topic for most, and when reviewing the movie on just cinematic grounds, The Shining is near flawless, a ice-cold spook-a-thon which although was aware of previous examples of the genre such as The Haunting and more obviously, The Amytiville Horror, broke new ground in its’ ghostly balance between psychological horror and flat out slasher, one which is all helmed together by the performance of Nicholson and arguably the most impressive batch of iconic set pieces to ever grace the genre of horror. Whether it be Danny’s meeting with the mysterious visitor in Room 237, the image of two deceased twins or of course, the legendary, improvised line of “here’s Johnny”, The Shining is a rare case of a movie which although is a shadow of the source material of which I am undoubtedly a huge fan, is undoubtedly a masterwork in its’ own way, and with the chance to see Kubrick’s movie on the big screen for the very first time this week, such an opportunity is one which film fans in general cannot pass by.
Overall Score: 10/10
“We Were Warned And We Did Not Listen…”
Although hailed as some form of guaranteed audience grabber, Gerard Butler’s most recent backlog of film appearances isn’t exactly the greatest run from the growling, wide-chinned Scot, with the likes of Gods of Egypt and London Has Fallen being two of the worst cinema releases in recent history, and whilst there is always hope for redemption, the release of the CGI-fuelled Geostorm brings with it a heavy sense of, “here we go again!”, particularly after months and months of trailers hyping up a movie which on the face of it, might give Independance Day: Resurgence a run for its’ money as worst big-budget science-fiction disaster movie of the past few years. Directed by American debutant Dean Devlin, whose past producing credits ironically include the likes of Resurgence and erm, Eight Legged Freaks, the latest movie to showcase how much destruction can be created from the screen of a computer in the form of Geostorm is unsurprisingly a gag-inducing barrel of garbage, one which takes the cliched notion of leaving your brain at the foyer to a whole new level of unparalleled literalness and too a movie which just makes you question why and how it ever made it past the cutting room floor.
With Butler showcasing the limited amount of range he has as an actor, portraying a supposed super intelligent science engineer with all the efficiency of a leather based raincoat, Geostorm is the type of movie which doesn’t even begin to offer credible reasons for making the audience believe any events which depict on screen are even capable of actually occurring, and whilst end of the world, disaster movies fundamentally require a minimal level of audience open-minded participation, the mind-boggling and headache inducingly bad narrative at the heart of Geostorm leads to a movie which although features scenes of tidal waves, gigantic laser beams and gargantuan explosions, is undeniably boring from beginning to end. With plot turns aplenty all resulting in a synchronised round of sighs from the audience and a tacky, saccharin sweet family narrative thread acting as the film’s through line, Geostorm is trash unrefined, and whilst Devlin’s CGI-based load of hogwash isn’t exactly the worst film of the year, it is undeniably the stupidest.
Overall Score: 3/10
“I Always Told You. You’re Special. Your History Isn’t Over Yet. There’s Still A Page Left…”
Reissued to the big screen last year, Ridley Scott’s 1982 cult, science fiction classic Blade Runner is one of the greatest films of all time, period. Directed by a Scott on form of which has never been topped and beautifully designed through soaring cinematography and a world class Vangelis soundtrack, the cinematic adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is likely never to be topped within the genre of forward-thinking futuristic fiction. Treading with an air of trepidatious caution therefore, the release of Blade Runner 2049 is shackled with a the undeniable questioning of why a sequel was ever needed to a film laced with ambiguity and uncertainty twenty-five years ago, but with Scott being reduced to a production role only, a factor most fortunate considering the lack of mediocre releases from the American lately, and arguably the best filmmaker working at this moment in the form of Sicario and Arrival director Denis Villeneuve in charge, 2049 manages to create a heavy sense of confliction regarding its’ existence inside my cinematic mind. With a returning Harrison Ford, a grit-infused Ryan Gosling and the who’s who team of top class filmmakers, featuring the likes of Hans Zimmer and cinematographer Roger Deakins, 2049 holds the ace card for complete success, and what Villeneuve has managed to create is fundamentally a multi-million dollar art house inflicted masterpiece, one which expands the Blade Runner universe into expansive, lurid territory whilst simultaneously paying complete tribute to an original so beloved by many by coming oh so close to toppling the foundations of its’ predecessors unwavered supremacy as the masterwork of nightmarish, dystopian science fiction.
Whilst dissecting the details of the plot would be utter sacrilege, 2049 works as both a worthy continuation of the plot threads left over from the 1982 original and an organic beast in its’ own right, using the underlying narrative regarding the existence of replicants to a more than effective degree in attempting to piece together a story which both points to the past and propels into the future, with Ryan Gosling’s Agent K central to a narrative which combats its’ high-profile cast by giving each star a sharply defined character of notable distinction and interest, with Jared Leto’s Tyrell inflicted Wallace and Sylvia Hoeks’ Luv the standout characters of the piece. Concluding with all the ambiguity and uncertainty of the original, opportunity ultimately remains open for yet another sequel in the Blade Runner canon, yet with the care and delicate approach clearly given to its’ creation, 2049 seems more beneficial to remain solely as a chance to explore deeper the world originally created by Scott as a one-off, and whilst Villeneuve has the American to thank for handing him the chance to mould the Blade Runner world to his liking, the touch of a man who directed the woozy tranquility of Arrival is all over Blade Runner 2049, a film which revels in handing its’ audience a sense of exploration in attempting to piece out the satirical, sociological and thematic notions which are laid out on the screen, a screen which attempts to hold together images which evoke a sense of jaw-dropping awe when attempting to conclude how any living human could create such art. With amber-infused radioactive plains of a destroyed Las Vegas, the surrealist, art deco interior of Wallace enterprises, and the polluted airs of downtown Los Angeles, cinematographer and long awaited Oscar recipient, Roger Deakins, is at the top of his game, creating eye-widening spectacle after spectacle in helping Villeneuve establish the world in which the darkness and despair of the plot ultimately relies on, and whilst beauty has never been absent from the work of such a talented DP (the descent into darkness from Sicario and the sniper scene in Skyfall to name a few memorable shots), 2049 is undoubtedly the picture which will make the world stand up and proclaim Deakins as the undeniable master of his respective art form.
With Gosling’s Agent K on Drive territory, the brooding, bloodied body of his character is essential to the picture’s overt sense of dread which is played straight from beginning to end, and whilst the deliciously packed two hours and forty five minutes may seem a tad of a stretch to some, the film’s excesses never bothered me and even could have gone on further without a hint of objection or disdain. With a eye-watering budget at his disposal, it is quite remarkable how Villeneuve’s approach to 2049 is to completely follow the essence of the original in terms of both tone and feel, using long, sometimes drawn out sequences to enforce the eerie sense of isolation felt by the film’s leading characters, with the best moments sometimes utilising no dialogue or musical accompaniments at all, with the camera focused instead on how a particular character moves, feels or reacts to a particular scenario or plot development, with even Ford managing to be so much more than just a cast-off cameo in his return as Deckard, with a tense and almost Lynchian scene involving him and Leto’s Wallace a breathtaking example of each of the respective actors at the top of their game. With Hans Zimmer supplying the honking, synthy, Vangelis inspired soundtrack to completely encompass the film’s heart of darkness, the resulting chemical equation of putting together so many skilled filmmakers in the same room is rather quite staggering, with Villeneuve’s film managing to not only topple the lofty expectations set upon it, but also managing to portray science fiction cinema at its’ most beautiful and imaginative. Handed with the chance of the lifetime, Blade Runner 2049 is undoubtedly Villeneuve’s film, and with the Avengers style team of movie makers around him all working in complete synchronisation, the world can now finally see what it truly means to be a true sequel to film that never thought needed to be continued in the first place.
Overall Score: 10/10
“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.