Sicario 2: Soldado

2018, Uncategorized

Dir: Stefano Sollima

Starring: Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Isabela Moner, Jeffrey Donovan, Catherine Keener, Matthew Modine, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and Elijah Rodriguez

Sicario came out of nowhere and announced two blistering new talents. Denis Villeneuve, the director who went on to make Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, and Taylor Sheridan, the actor turned screen writer who has since penned Hell or High Water, and Wind River. Villeneuve doesn’t return for this sequel, too busy with a new version of Dune, but Sheridan is once again behind the script. Also returning are stars Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro. Sicario wasn’t a film that I thought required a sequel, but nonetheless I was excited to see where Sheridan would take us next, and to spend some more time with these morally complex characters.

Sicario 2: Soldado starts with a terrorist attack. Perpetrated on US soil by 4 extremists. When it turns out that the first attacker to be identified had made his way to the US via the Mexico border, smuggled in by the drug cartel, the US government classifies the cartels as a terrorist organisation, changing the rules of engagement. The US bring in Josh Brolin, a black ops operative. His job is to start a war between the cartels, getting them to destroy each other, using the same techniques he used in Iraq. To do this he will need his Mexican Sicario, or hitman, played by Benicio Del Toro.

The film sets out its stall early on. Opening with a shot of helicopters patrolling the border in complete darkness, with only flashes of light revealing what’s happening on the ground. It works as a metaphor for how the film uses truth, and for our characters souls, operating in morally bankrupt spaces, only now and again finding the way to do what is right. Sicario 2 was always going to have to justify itself as a sequel, if it isn’t as good as the first one than what is the point of it? Yet here we are. It’s not as good as the first film, but it does expand upon it, and still feels like a worthy sequel. Smartly, Sheridan has shifted his tough world view away from the war on drugs, and onto the war on terrror. Using a new theme to again cynically explore the relationship between the US and Mexico.

If Emily Blunt’s character in Sicario represented the loss of innocence, here it’s about finding a slice of redemption. Brolin and Del Toro do terrific work as characters who have committed despicable acts, who are faced with decisions between morals and survival. Brolin may be the man of the moment right now, but Del Toro is the real heartbeat of this movie. His darkly, tragic hit-man is given just the right amount of soul by Sheridan. The film might not live up to Villeneuve’s direction, but Sheridan marks himself out here as the natural successor to Cormac McCarthy. The film may not hit quite as hard as the original, but it is still an emotionally charged, tense piece of cinema.

That’s not to say that Stefan Sollima, the incoming director, does poorly. He mounts set pieces incredibly well, whilst I enjoyed the way the action moved from a detached view during the opening terrorist attack to a more immediate feel during the climax. The villain of the piece is handled well too. In another story the Cartel leader would be a moustache twirling villain, here he isn’t even shown. In fact, nothing he does effects the plot of the film at all, what we are left with is characters in a tragic situation, where they start to become the villains. There is no good and bad here, just people stuck in a continuous cycle to survive.

It may lack some of the verve and bite of the original Sicario, but make no mistake, this is a worthy sequel. Brolin and Del Toro both do fantastic work, but the real star here is Sheridan, who continues his fantastic writing streak, in a film which marks him out as the next Cormac McCarthy.

7/10

Hereditary

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Ari Aster

Starring: Toni Collette, Milly Shapiro, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, and Ann Dowd.

It’s a hard badge to wear, being touted as the scariest horror movie in years. It builds up a certain expectation in the audience. The problem is each audience member will have a different expectation. They’ll each have a different definition of scary and what they expect from a horror movie. Some horror movies grab you by the throat and don’t let go, some take you on a ghost train of a ride, others take their time, seeping into your sub-conscious, unsettling you for days. Some scare you with jump scares, others scare you with ideas. Hereditary is the latter. Ari Aster’s debut feature is a deeply disturbing slow burn of a movie.

The film opens with the Graham family attending the funeral for the family matriarch. Annie, played here by Toni Collette, had a strained relationship with her mother, and is struggling to realise how she feels about her passing. She’s plagued with guilt and grief which seeps into the rest of the family. When another tragedy strikes, things really start to unravel.

To give anything more away would be to spoil the joy of the film. It’s not that there are so many twists and turns, in fact if you’re keyed into the narrative you could easily guess where this story is going, but it is a film that you experience. The less you know about it going in, the more the film can work it’s magic, and there is plenty of magic here. It’s a dysfunctional family drama, that is shot like a horror film. The scares for the most part are all character driven. It cleaves so close to real, everyday emotions, that it manages to unsettle you by allowing you to stare into the characters eyes, trying to figure out what’s going on with them. The film works on a very literal level, but also works as an exploration of grief and guilt, and as a metaphor for mental illness.

The reason this film works as well as it does is down to two factors: pace and acting. The cinematography and editing of this film is sublime. As I said earlier it’s a slow burn, but it works so effectively. The camera lingers on actors faces just long enough for it to feel uncomfortable. It creates images which over the course of the film become more significant, and more terrifying with that significance. It may be slow, but it never feels too long. The acting from all involved is superb, but Toni Collete and Alex Wolff are the standouts as mother and son. Watching both their characters unwind is heartbreaking and disturbing, often at the same time.

Their performances are masterfully directed by Aster, who makes us question them as reliable narrators enough to wrong foot the audience. You don’t know whether what your seeing is a dream, actually happening, or the manifestation of a mental illness. It makes their scenes all the more terrifying. One scene in particular where Alex Wolff is lying in bed, only to have his head grabbed by hands coming from underneath it showcases this. Is it scarier that it was a spirit from the other side grabbing him, or that it was his Mum who now has no recollection of it. It’s these questions, and then not knowing that stays with you past the initial jump scare. This is all bolstered by a fantastic score, a throbbing beat that underlines the whole film, bringing with it a sense of urgency and dread.

If you enjoy the movie for the first hour and a half, then it’s the last half an hour which might lose you. I really enjoyed it, but it’s at this point where the film cuts loose and allows itself to unravel. You’re either going to go with it or hate it. For me, it made sense both in the films internal logic and narratively. It’s an ending which didn’t squash or justify any of my theories I had about what was really going on, but one that worked for all my theories. It has a definite answer, but allows itself to still be open to analysis, due to the unreliableness of the characters we see the events through.

This is not a jump a minute white knuckle thrill ride, but a slow burn, emotionally engaging horror movie. It will stay with you long after the credits role, and you will come away with your own opinion on what you actually just saw. I can’t wait to see it again, just to spot some more puzzle pieces. It’s well directed, well acted, well shot, and well edited. It may not be the scariest horror film ever made, but it’s one of the years best films.

9/10

Incredibles 2

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Brad Bird

Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Helen Hunt, Sarah Vowell, Samuel L. Jackson, Huck Milner, Catherine Keener, Bob Odenkirk, Eli Fucile, and Sophia Bush.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 14 years since the first incredibles film was released back in 2004. Considered by many one of the best super hero movies ever made, the exploits of the Parr family were an instant classic, so it’s a surprise that in a world where we’ve had 3 Cars movies, 3 Toy Story movies, a sequel to Monsters Inc. and a sequel to Finding Nemo, that it’s taken this long. That’s mainly down to writer and director Brad Bird, who has been spending his time in live action, having directed Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Tomorrowland in the years between. He returns here, bringing his retro-futuristic style back to the big screen. A cynic would say that it’s a safe move after the box office failure of Tomorrowland, but I’d like to believe he felt he had a good enough idea to warrant going back.

Incredibles 2 starts exactly where the first film left off. With Underminer attacking the city, and the Parr family suiting up to stop him. It doesn’t go perfectly, and the Parrs’ get a wrap on the knuckles as they are reminded that superheroes are illegal. Dejected, the Parr family go back to motel living whilst Bob contemplates taking back his old job. This is when Winston and Evelyn Deavor show up. The brother and sister duo behind a huge tech company who want to help legalise heroes again. To do this they require Elastigirl to be the new face of supers. She wreaks the least amount of havoc during her heroics. So whilst Helen Parr is off fighting crime as Elastigirl, it’s up to Bob to look after the kids, including baby Jack-Jack whose powers are just starting to emerge.

Structurally, Incredibles 2 follows the same format as the first movie. The premise here though is the role reversal between Bob and Helen. This time it’s Bob left at home, and Helen is the one who gets to shine as a superhero. Bird deftly cuts between the two, finding a sweet balance between huge action sequences and domestic comedy. If the structure is familiar, it does allows for new avenues to be explored. In the first movie Helen’s domestic story revolved around believing Bob was having an affair, here though Bob has to learn to set aside his own pride to allow his wife to shine, and work out that sometimes a subtler approach to parenting is needed. Helen’s action beats could be considered as more of the same superhero antics, but Bird changes the tone here from the first film. Elastigirl is a different kind of hero from Mr Incredible, and the tone reflects that. She uses her brain as much as her powers, and her action beats have more of a Batman influence to them, especially a night time scene which combines the best of The Dark Knight and Batman: The Animated Series.

If the action sequences thrill, the thing that holds the film together is the comedy. The film really soars when the super heroics are combined with everyday family life. This is best summed up when Jack-Jack meets a raccoon. It’s action packed and hilarious, by far the stand out scene in the movie. In a way though it showcases the fact that Incredibles 2 doesn’t quite hit the very high watermark of the first film. Helen is on her own doing the super heroics, and Bob’s parenting, especially of Dash and Violet, is rarely informed by their powers. The scenes with Jack-Jack stand out so much because they flawlessly combine domestic life with super powers.

As we’ve come to expect from sequels the roster of heroes is expanded. We get to meet the new superheroes at a dinner party, which is reminiscent of Watchmen. The disappointment is that they don’t really add much to the film. The only one that stands out is Voyd, who seems to have been modelled on Kristen Stewart. It feels like a slightly wasted opportunity. The villain is suitably different enough from the first film, coming across as a mix between Bane and The Riddler, but is let down by a telegraphed end of second act twist, which is almost identical to the first film.

Incredibles 2 is a fantastic super hero movie. The action is fun, and the jokes are hilarious. It’s flaws are only exposed by the fact it has to measure up to The Incredibles, one of the best super hero movies ever made. If the structure feels slightly tired, it does add plenty of new ideas and tones, some work, and some don’t. It doesn’t plum the emotional depths that we’ve come to expect from Pixar, but is nonetheless a thoroughly entertaining ride.

7/10

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. J.A. Bayona

Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Jeff Goldblum, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Rafe Spall, Ted Levine, Justice Smith, Toby Jones, BD Wong, and Isabella Sermon.

I have a huge amount of reverence for Jurassic Park. It was easily one of my favourite movies growing up. I had it recorded on VHS from a television broadcast, and I watched it constantly. I wore that tape out. That being said, when I saw the two sequels at the same age, I instantly forgot them. These were not movies that I had on repeat. When Jurassic World came out, I did really enjoy it. It played on the nostalgia I had for that first movie. Yes, it took me down a well trodden path, but one that I was happy to stroll down. Going into Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, I was worried that we would just get a re-tread of The Lost World, a film I have no reverence for. Smartly they’ve decided to take the franchise down a different path, but with all the possibilities available it’s surprising that this is the story they have chosen to tell.

We pick up six months down the road from Jurassic World. The dinosaurs are free, and have been left alone on Isla Nublar. Problems have arisen though when a dormant volcano on the island suddenly becomes active. Bryce Dallas Howard returns as Claire, who is heading a charity campaigning to save the dinosaurs from certain death. When government officials decide to leave the dinosaurs to their fate, Claire is approached by Benjamin Lockwood, John Hammond’s business partner who helped usher in the cloning technology. He has a plan to save the dinosaurs, and get them to a sanctuary. He needs Claire’s help to locate the creatures on the island. To rescue Blue, the last raptor, they will need to enlist the help of Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady.

The trailer for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was perhaps the worst cut trailer I have seen all year. It seemed that it showed too much, but in fact it only showed footage from the first 50 minutes. It’s a shame though because this is defiantly a film of two halves, and for me the first half was more interesting, but I knew every beat before I went in. The second half of the film is baffling. It’s clear that they were keen not to repeat what has come before, and it’s commendable that they have laid the track for future entries, but I just can’t understand why they have chosen this particularly story to tell. The film changes tracks so abruptly from huge summer blockbuster to episode of Primeval, you’d think that the production had ran out of money. This all adds up to a soul crushingly dull cinematic experience.

I enjoyed the first half of the movie. It’s a logical extension, even if it’s the same plot as The Lost World. The set pieces are all excellently executed, the combination of animatronics and cgi are far superior from those in the first Jurassic World. There is some gorgeous imagery here, both awe inspiring and heart breaking. It’s all fun stuff, and Chris Pratt excels doing his best Indiana Jones routine. It’s a shame that all this, although enjoyable, felt so boring. If you had seen the trailers then there are no surprises for the first hour of the movie. The film pretty much climaxes at the end of this half. To the point that there is a clear moment for an intermission to be inserted. When the film resumes, the stakes have been reset. The scale is smaller. The tone of the film has changed, shifting from high octane action to small scale horror. It’s a bold move. It’s a move that doesn’t work. The elements of horror at the end of Jurassic Park worked because Spielberg had spent the whole movie teasing the raptors, but never showing them. Here we’ve already seen the raptors, we’ve already seen hundreds of dinosaurs, all with the ability to kill our protagonists. It’s all so predictable, even the film’s biggest twist is telegraphed from early on.

It’s by no means a poorly directed film. I think Bayona stages the set pieces well, and manages to draw tension from the settings. Where the film really fails is with its lead characters. Gamely played by Pratt and Howard, their return to the franchise largely feels unnecessary. There is no character development, and their scenes together are largely unforgettable. Toby Jones, Rafe Spall, and Ted Levine flesh out the cast, but they are caricatures of film villains. This is fine during the blockbuster spectacle, but when the film shifts to something more intimate the character work needed to be more nuanced. The repetitiveness of the beats of this film, and in fact, the entire franchise is starting to tire. There are too many scenes where our characters are faced with a snarling dinosaur, only for a bigger snarling dinosaur to save their lives by attacking it. The writers may have been trying to branch the story out in new directions, but they have created something which is both predictable and dull.

Fallen Kingdom is more like two separate episodes of the Jurassic World series stuck together. They are both so different in scale and scope. There are some well staged action sequences, and the film has to be admired on a visual level, it looks beautiful. They’ve looked to branch out in a new direction, but the surprise is that this is where they decided to go with it. The ending promises more to come, but it was a dull and predictable slog to get there.

4/10

Solo: A Star Wars Story

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Ron Howard

Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Joonas Suotamo, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Paul Bettany, and Jon Favreau

Solo: A Star Wars Story comes out to muted expectations, which is odd when you consider it’s a Star Wars movie. They’ve been a Christmas event movie since The Force Awakens. I’d drive an hour to see them every year on an IMAX screen, making a day of it with dinner at a restaurant afterwards. For Solo, I went to the local multiplex after work. It may have been rumours of the troubled production, or the fact that it’s not been long since The Last Jedi, but this one just didn’t feel as special going in. Star Wars has lost some of its shine. Which is a shame because Solo is a whole heap of fun.

Solo follows Alden Ehrenreich’s young Han Solo, before we knew him as the smuggling scoundrel in the first Star Wars movie. He starts off as a street rat, doing cons for a small crime ring. He finally finds a way out, but leaves behind the woman he loves. He vows to return to rescue her. That journey takes him from being a troop for the empire to falling into organised crime when he meets Woody Harelson’s Beckett. Along the way we meet familiar faces from the Star Wars universe, such as Chewbacca, and Lando Calrissian.

I probably had the lowest expectations I’ve ever had for a Star Wars movie going into Solo. The rumours of on-set dysfunction, with Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller being fired, and Ron Howard being bought into replace them near the end of initial production. Howard gets the directing credit here, and whilst it’s rumoured that they re-shot 70% of the movie, it’s almost impossible to tell which bits were directed by Lord and Miller. It’s a film that, against the odds, works. I found it a fun, action packed adventure movie. Removed from everything that surrounds it, it’s just a pure, good time at the movie. Which is what you want from Star Wars, right?

Howard does well at creating a tone that blends different genres. Mixing elements of Westerns, heist movies, and film noir together to create an engaging look at the underbelly of the Star Wars universe. It also gives us our best look, away from the animated shows, of how the Empire operates in the galaxy. The action is all well done, but it’s the smaller moments that Howard excels at. Han’s first meeting with Chewie is tense, funny, and a little scary. It’s incredibly well directed. Howard was seen as a safe pair of hands when he came aboard, but I think that does him a disservice. He’s a director who knows how to make a film, and story work. He knows how to hit all the right beats, at the right time, in the right way. It’s a skill that’s often overlooked, but is essential in creating a satisfying time at the movies.

The other point of conversation going in was the casting. Could anybody replace Harrison Ford as Han Solo. Alden Ehrenreich bares slight resemblance to Ford, and sounds nothing like him. It doesn’t matter. He smashes this performance. In a smart move by him and the writers, this isn’t the Han Solo from Star Wars. This is the story of how he becomes that Han Solo. There are fan service moments like seeing him get his gun, and finding out, maybe a little too on the nose, how he got his name, but these moments are few and far between, they aren’t really the point of the movie. Ehrenreich plays Solo with the same swagger and cockiness as Ford, but undercuts it with an unsureness. He has the charm, but lacks the cynicism of Ford. He’s naive, and enthusiastic. The fun is in finding out what made him the pessimist. The iconic Star Wars line “I have a bad feeling about this” is turned on its head when Han says “I have a good feeling about this” and that is the key to this Han Solo.

The rest of the cast all do fantastic work too. Woody Harrelson is great. Donald Glover is terrific, and Emilia Clarke shines in a role reminiscent of 40s/50s femme fatales. Paul Bettany’s villain was the only role which felt like it was under-written. Bettany does his best to imbue him with a manic menace, but the villain here is the biggest disappointment. It stems from the biggest problem with the film, and that’s the fact that the stakes never feel high enough. We know how it’s going to end. We know what happens next. The momentum of the film carries it swiftly to the finale, but it’s a subdued, anti-climax to what has come before. The film comes to a halt right when it should be going into hyperspace. It does have a last act reveal, but rather than being a shocking revelation, it felt like fan pandering. Similar to Rouge One, it’s as if the studio are too scared to branch out into the unknown, and are keeping their anthology movies as close to the main saga as possible.

Solo is just a great time at the cinema. A refreshing side adventure to the main Star Wars story, which is filled with fun action, iconic characters, and a fantastic cast. It’s a space craft that has been deftly steered away from the asteroid field by Howard, and is thrown into hyper speed by Alden Ehrenreich’s performance. It stumbles at the finish line, but what has come before is more than worth the trip.

7/10

 

Deadpool 2

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. David Leitch

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Zazie Beetz, Brianna Hildebrand, Julian Dennison, Terry Crews, Bill Skarsgård, Rob Delaney, Lewis Tan, Eddie Marsan, Shioli Kutsuna, Karan Soni, and Stefan Kapicic.

Deadpool was something of a surprise hit when it came out in 2016. The foul mouthed comic book hero was an unknown entity, and the film was considered a risk by the studio. It took a campaign from star Ryan Reynolds, and some leaked test footage to convince Fox to green light the movie, of course with a limited budget, and even more limited access to the x-men franchise of which Deadpool is closely associated with. Now, the merc with the mouth is back. Original director Tim Miller is gone, creative differences were cited, and is replaced with one half of the John Wick team, David Leitch. Deadpool 2 is also released with a different weight of expectation , the first one was an unprecedented hit, and Deadpool is now more eagerly anticipated than actual X-Men movies.

Deadpool 2 follows on where the first movie left off. Wade Wilson is now living happily with his long term girlfriend Vanessa, whilst also being a successful gun for hire, only going after the bad guys. Soon tragedy hits, and Deadpool finds himself in a depressive slump. He finds new purpose though when he meets Julian Dennison’s troubled teen, mutant Russell. Deadpool sets about trying to connect with, and help Russell, even if that means standing up to Josh Brolin’s time travelling, half cyborg assassin, Cable. Who is hell bent on killing Russell for a future wrong.

If you liked Deadpool, you’re going to love Deadpool 2. It’s laugh out loud funny throughout. Continuing the meta commentary of the first, Ryan Reynolds is allowed to skewer comic book movies, pop culture, the movie industry, and his own career. There are also great moments of physical and visual comedy. One beat, which showcases Wade Wilson’s regenerative powers, is a particular stand out. The introduction of the X-Force too, which involves some skydiving in high winds is also hilarious, showcasing that it isn’t just Ryan Reynolds commentary that makes Deadpool so funny. Deadpool 2 is as funny, if not funnier, than its predecessor, it also ups the action stakes too.

The bigger budget for the sequel is, thankfully, evident on screen. The film certainly looks a lot better than the first one, if some of the CGI is still under par. Director David Leitch brings new ideas to the action sequences. This isn’t to say that Deadpool now fights like John Wick, he still retains his own style of fighting, and Leitch adds an inventiveness to the way he uses his powers. Broken limbs and spare body parts are incorporated into the fights. The big action sequences look better too, being a sequel they are much bigger, but Leitch nails them. It’s not just the action that’s expanded, the cast have too. In all, the new cast members are well incorporated, although they are still only using d-list X-Men. Zazie Beetz is the most impressive, with new character Domino, and Rob Delaney all but steals the show as Peter, an ordinary civilian who joins X-Force just because he saw the ad and thought it looked like fun. There are also some blink and you’ll miss them cameos, which are a great laugh.

I couldn’t help but leave feeling slightly disappointed. I have to admit I felt this way with the first one. The plot is much more complex than the first film, which does add more emotional resonance, but at the end of the day it’s just used as the line to hang the jokes on. It’s a hard balance with Deadpool jokes, they have to be relevant enough to comment on what’s happening today, but at the same time this makes the whole film more disposable. In five years time jokes about Logan and the DCEU will be outdated, and the references that are a bit more aged seem a little weird, there’s an extended monologue about Interview With A Vampire, which whilst funny, is only going to connect with certain cinema goers. It would have also been nice to see them reflect current issues in the movie industry more. There’s a whole line of commentary about women in film, and how the industry treats them, which could have been used, but Deadpool never goes there. It’s especially jarring when you have TJ Miller in a main role, who is dealing with historic accusations, and some behaviour problems which have led him to be cut from future Deadpool movies. Josh Brolin was a great Cable, but the character was severely underused, both in terms of action, and jokes, which may have been the biggest disappointment.

I had a good time watching Deadpool 2. It’s at least as good as the first film, if not slightly better in the action department. There’s a disposability to these movies though, that can leave them feeling slightly shallow. It has a punk rock feel to things, but this is now a studio tentpole, and that means certain things are off the table, and things are played a little safe.

7/10

 

The Strangers: Prey At Night

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Johannes Roberts

Starring: Christina Hendricks, Bailee Madison, Martin Henderson, and Lewis Pullman.

Whilst the beginning of the film professes that the following movie is based on a true story, if you do a bit of digging the true story bit relates to someone knocking on a door to see if anyone’s home in order to burgle empty houses. The Strangers: Prey At Night is a sequel to The Strangers, although the connective tissue is that the same killers are used, there’s no real story through line, and you could watch this without ever having heard of the original. Original director Bryan Bertino is gone, and incoming director Johannes Roberts directs from a script based on Bertino’s original screenplay. Roberts is best known for low budget flick 47 Metres Down which became a break out hit.

The Strangers: Prey At Night follows a family of four, as they make a journey across America to drop their young, troubled daughter, Bailee Madison, off at boarding school. They have arranged to stay at Christina Hendricks’ Uncles holiday trailer park along the way. They arrive at night to find the park deserted, but with keys left on the office desk. As family tensions build, they are soon interrupted by a team of three masked killers, who without motivation want to toy with and then kill the family. What transpires is a fight to survive the night.

I have to admit, I had one of the most unsettling cinema experiences whilst watching this film. I went to an early morning screening, and sat dead centre, four rows from the front. I was the only person in the screening. About half way I through I found myself looking behind my shoulder, checking there was no one behind me. I guess this shows that if nothing else the film was working, it was unnerving me. If the first film was a tense home invasion thriller, than Prey At Night is a homage to the slasher films of the 80’s. Think Friday 13th mixed with The Purge and you’ll have some idea of the tone of this film.

There is nothing new here. It’s a deeply unoriginal film, but it also manages to be quite fun. The use of 80’s pop ballads is as toe-tapping as it is chilling. The cast all do really well with the material they are given. Especially the youngsters Bailee Madison and Lewis Pullman. They give you just enough to root for them, even if their characters are thinly drawn. Madison, in particular, does well. Her characters back story is hinted at, but it’s never really explained. There’s an inciting incident that sent the family on the trip, that we are told she’s responsible for, but we are never told what it was.

At 86 minutes, this is a fast thrill of a movie, and the short length is a real benefit. Parts of the film reminded me of director Adam Wingard, and his writing partner Simon Barrett. There films You’re Next, and The Guest, are similar as they both take a lot of inspiration from John Carpenter and Wes Craven, but they also smartly subvert some of the tropes, and it would have been nice to have seen that level of intelligence on display here.

What we get is an effective homage to 80’s slashers, that adds nothing new to the genre. It’s well enough put together, and there is fun to be had, but it’s unoriginality leaves it lacking.

5/10

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Mike Newell

Starring: Lily James, Michiel Huisman, Matthew Goode, Jessica Brown Findlay, Katherine Parkinson, Glen Powell, Penelope Wilton, and Tom Courtenay

It may have one of the most off putting titles in cinema at the moment, but The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is an unexpected delight. Based upon the novel of the same name, this is a fictional story based upon the real life occupation of Guernsey by the Nazis. Directors Mike Newell, best known for Four Weddings and a Funeral, and the fourth Harry Potter film, puts together a familiar cast for anyone who has seen Downton Abbey, and mounts a handsome, quintessentially British film. You just have to look past that title.

The film follows Juliet Ashton, played by Lily James. A successful writer in Post-War London, about to embark on a book tour, and in a serious relationship with an American solider stationed in London. When she receives a letter from a book club in Guernsey, she feels an immediate attachment to the letter’s writer. His story of how the book club galvanised the group during Guernsey’s occupation by Nazis is so compelling she decides to visit the club to write an article about them. What she finds on the island is both a story and a mystery that has her digging into the book clubs past.

This is perhaps one of the most British films I have ever seen. There’s farm yards, London just after the blitz, pints of beer, gin, and plenty of tea. If this sounds too twee, don’t worry, because the story it’s attached to, and the way the film has been put together has more than enough charm. It’s a film that is gently moving, and manages to infuse themes of class and gender with great subtlety. When Lily James is asked why she decided to write under a mans name, she says it’s because that was the voice which best suited the story, but the delivery holds an underlying feminism. At its heart it’s almost a feminist love story, whilst also being a love letter to the written word, and the transformative powers of stories.

It’s a gorgeous looking movie too. There was an advert for Guernsey’s tourism board before the film, and the film does a great job of making you want to visit. What really holds it altogether though is the performances. Veterans such as Penelope Wilton, and Tom Courtenay do well, but it’s Lily James and Michiel Huisman who sparkle. James is fast becoming one of the great leading ladies, and she’s fantastic here. She may be in danger of being type cast in period pieces, but she is a mesmerising and charming screen presence.
Matthew Goode is also strong, though he isn’t required to stretch himself too much. The structure of the film is clever too, acting as both a mystery film, and an ode to the process of writing. James leads us through the narrative and it’s down to her that the film never drags, or overstays it’s welcome.

If the gentleness of the film is appealing, it’s perhaps the films biggest flaw as well. It’s a film that recounts some of the most heinous acts of the last century, but pulls its punches. We are told that slaves were used on the island and starved, but we don’t see it. It didn’t have to be a graphic film, but this is perhaps a bit to cosy. It’s the gentlest War movie that I’ve ever seen. It also brushes on some heavier themes, but never delves into them. The actors do great at portraying a lot more subtext, but it would have nice for the film to dive a little deeper into themes of guilt and loss. There’s also an annoying trait of telling and not showing. Lines of dialogue which weren’t needed, like when Lily James looks into a half bombed room and goes to rescue a paper weight. She says it’s her fathers paperweight, to no one in particular. This is just one example, but it happens a couple of times in the movie, and I think it may have been more affective to let the audience connect the dots themselves.

This is a charming, gorgeous movie, with some great performances. It does well to add subtext to what could have been a very twee, afternoon television film, but I would have liked it to have delved a little deeper into its themes. It’s a warm hug of a film which is part of its charm, but it could have benefitted from some sharper edges.

7/10

Life Of The Party

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Ben Falcone

Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Gillian Jacobs, Debby Ryan, Adria Arjona, Julie Bowen, Maya Rudolph, Matt Walsh, Jessie Ennis, and Molly Gordon

Melissa McCarthy’s filmography can be split into two parts. To put it simply there’s the good, where she really shines, and then there’s the bad, where she becomes increasingly annoying. Two of the worst culprits that fall into the bad category are Tammy and The Boss. Which isn’t great news as Ben Falcone who directs here, also directed those. McCarthy and Falcone are also married, and they populate this film with their friends and members of their old improv group, which makes you wonder if they see these films as a working holiday. What they’ve produced here is non-sensical at best, and at its worst is one of the most terrible comedies of the year.

McCarthy plays Deanna, a married, middle aged mum, whose life is turned upside down when her husband announces he wants a divorce as they drop their daughter off for her last year at college. In an effort to come to turns with this loss, and her new found freedom, Deanna decides to go back to college with her daughter, and finish her degree. She ends up attending sorority parties, sleeping with other students, and facing her fear of public speaking. All whilst… I can’t go on with this. The film is ludicrous, there’s no point in trying to get to the bottom of what it’s about.

The film just doesn’t work. It’s not funny, it’s not charming, and it doesn’t have a strong central message. It’s all over the show. To call it a complete mess is an understatement. There are points in the film which are so bizarre you start to question if you’re actually in the theatre, or if you’re asleep, having a fever dream. The actors themselves don’t seem to know what movie they are in, and the performances are pitched at different tones. Maya Rudolph is particularly grating, in an over the top performance that would only feel at home in an SNL sketch.

The big problem here is in the directing and editing. It feels like they had a rough outline for the film, and then just let the actors riff off the situations. This can work. Films like Anchorman thrived because of this style, but that film had a surrealist setting which suited it. Here the surrealism feels off. McCarthy plays Deanna sympathetically, and for her, she is pretty grounded. She’s mourning the break up of her marriage, and these two tones clash awkwardly. There are some good jokes, but each scene felt like it went on too long, with jokes being over-explained. It’s like a film that’s comprised of five minute sketches, none of which fully gel together. Falcone also tones down the physical comedy that McCarthy does so well, but the few brief moments of slapstick garnered the biggest laughs.

It’s not a good film. It’s an increasingly odd film, but it’s not a horrible film. There are some nice messages of finding independence, girls sticking together, and not letting she get in your way. It’s just poorly made and not very funny. A tighter focus, and a tighter edit could have really improved it.

3/10

Avengers: Infinity War

2018, Uncategorized

*I have tried my best to avoid spoilers In is review, but would recommend seeing the film first before reading if you want to go in knowing nothing*

Dir. Anthony and Joe Russo

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Chris Pratt, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson, Zoe Saldana, Mark Ruffalo, Don Cheadle, Chadwick Boseman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Benedict Wong, Anthony Mackie, Karen Gillan, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Dave Bautista, and Pom Klementief.

Well, this is it. The beginning of the end. It’s a journey that started 10 years ago with Iron Man, and has since grown into the box office behemoth that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We’ve seen Earth’s mightiest heroes team up in Avengers, we’ve been to space for some cosmic adventures in Guardians Of The Galaxy and Thor, and most recently we’ve been invited into the amazing world of Wakanda in Black Panther. Here, they all combine to take on their biggest foe to date, Thanos. The big bad that has been drip fed through the whole series. We know that we still have Ant-Man and The Wasp, and Captain Marvel to come before Avengers 4 brings phase three of the MCU to a close, but this feels monumental nonetheless. Going into the movie it felt like the stakes had never been higher, as there was a real sense that anything could happen. We had entered the end game.

Infinity War follows Thanos. An 8ft, ripped, purple alien born on Titan. Thanos is hell bent on balancing the universe. To him, this means invading planets and killing half of the population residing on them. His ultimate goal is to kill half the universe, and to do this he needs to collect together the infinity stones. 6 stones from the beginning of the universe which when united together give the holder unlimited power. Two of these Infinity stones are on Earth. One is the time stone which is in the possession of a Doctor Strange, and the other is the mind stone which is nestled in Vision’s forehead. Thanos sends his most trusted minions to Earth to retrieve these two stones, whilst he sets out in the universe to find the others. Standing in Thanos’ way are the Avengers, last seen fighting each other in Captain America: Civil War, the Guardians of The Galaxy, Spider-man, Doctor Strange, and the people of Wakanda.

The scale of this movie is huge. It’s ambition is unmatched in the modern day blockbuster. Just looking at the cast list alone is enough to make the jaw drop. Fittingly the Russo brothers decided to film Infinity War entirely on IMAX cameras, and I was lucky enough to see it on an IMAX screen. It truly is mesmerising. Thanos looks huge on screen, and the size adds an extra bit of weight to the action unfolding in front of you. This is event cinema, and considering we get about three MCU movies a year, that is quite a feat. For the film to work, the stakes had to feel real, and for the stakes to feel real the audience had to believe in Thanos. We’ve seen glimpses of him before in Post-credit scenes and GOTG, but these fleeting appearances never gave across the sense that this was a villain to be reckoned with, so it was a bold move when writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely declared that he was to be the main character for Infinity War, even bolder considering that he is entirely CGI. The character is so richly written though, and Josh Brolin plays him so brilliantly, he easily owns the movie. From the opening sequence he is imbued with a sense of weight and gravitas which has previously been lacking, setting up the darkest MCU movie thus far.

Infinity War could have ended up as a complete mess, or just a collection of five minute scenes that give each character their due, but doesn’t hold together as a film. The fact that the fine balance has been expertly walked between story and character is testament to the skills of both the writers and directors. It’s a far from simple plot, with many strands, but it all works, and every character is given their moment to shine. The character interaction is spot on too. It’s rumoured that James Gunn came on to write all the dialogue for the Guardians, and if that’s true, it’s a smart decision and works fantastically. These characters feel like the characters you know and love from their separate movies, and finds joy in watching them interact. If this is the darkest MCU movie, it still remains laugh out loud funny. It’s smart as well that the original avengers get their own little teams to lead, without spoiling it, Thor, Cap, and Iron Man are mostly kept separate, each leading their own story thread. It means that we aren’t watching a rerun of what’s come before, they are mostly with characters they’ve not met before which keeps it fresh. Best is watching Chris Pratt’s Star Lord, trying to macho it up against Thor.

If this is the biggest MCU movie in terms of characters, it’s all the biggest I terms of spectacle. The action is stunning. It’s worth the extra to see it in IMAX, or the biggest screen you can find. The Russo’s continue to manage to make the action dynamic, funny, and ingenious whilst including some great character beats. They get the escalation right too, for a film which breaks into fights almost every 20 minutes, by the time you get to the climatic battle, it still feels big, and manages to hit the emotional beats hard. I felt like the climax of Black Panther was a little underwhelming, and it seems they may have been holding it back a little for the climax of this film. If the film does go in directions that you don’t always expect, and it’s a long watch, it is also completely satisfying. I walked out of the screening numb, I’m going to have to see it again just to completely absorb it.

Infinity War delivers in spades. If this is part one of the end. I can’t wait for Part Two. There are so many ways in which this film could have been rubbish, but it’s just not. If you don’t like previous MCU movies this isn’t for you, if you like the MCU you’re going to love it. There are more spoilerific discussions to come, but for now, it’s a towering achievement. I loved it.

10/10