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

Rampage

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Brad Peyton

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jake Lacey, Joe Manganiello, and P.J. Byrne

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is a bonafide movie star. If you look at his CV, it’s pretty much standard action-adventure fare, with the odd dip into action-comedy. The roles that he plays don’t vary much, but still people flock to see the next movie from The Rock. It’s easy to see why, the man oozes charisma. You don’t go to see a Dwayne Johnson movie to see him get stuck into a character, you go to see him kicking ass whilst quipping witticisms. Rampage sees him teaming up with Brad Peyton, the pair having previously worked together on Journey 2 and San Andreas. The film doesn’t deal in subtleties, it knows it has two main attractions, and puts them both front and centre. Ones a giant albino gorilla, the other is a giant bald man.

Rampage is the story of Davis Okoye, played by Dwayne Johnson. A primatologist who works at a sanctuary. It’s here that he has formed a close bond with an albino gorilla named George. When a container falls out of a space shuttle and crash lands on earth, a pathogen inside infects George. The pathogen is a form of genetic editing, and George soon starts growing at an alarming rate, whilst his aggression levels shoot through the roof. He’s not the only animal to be infected though, there’s also a giant flying wolf, and a giant alligator. Throw into the mix a shady government agency which wants to take George for study, and a shady corporation who want to weaponise the pathogen, Davis will have his work cut out as he tries to return George to normal.

Big. Dumb. Fun. That’s exactly what this movie sets out to be, and boy, does it achieve it. It whips by at a frantic pace, barely leaving you time to catch your breath or think too much about it. Which is good because the plot would not stand up to any scrutiny, but there is enough charm here for you to not really care. It’s a bit of a mish mash of different movies, but they sorta work together. It’s bonkers in all the right ways. The prologue is a blend of Gravity and Alien, but instead of an alien it’s a giant rodent killing people off. It then morphs into Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, before settling on Godzilla. The action is fun, but it’s all held together by another charismatic performance from Dwayne Johnson.

It’s a proper popcorn movie, but does still have the marks of a film which has had major rewrites. It’s a plot where things just happen one after the other without much rhyme or reason. Any excuse to just move onto the next set piece. You’re also introduced to a group of colleagues who work with Davis for the first third of the movie, only to completely disappear and be replaced with characters which fit the plot better. A lot of these characters are given short shrift, although Jeffrey Dean Morgan is good fun. There are also duller moments, the whole sub plot of corporate espionage bores, and the brief introduction to a team of mercenaries which isn’t needed. The film excels when The Rock is on screen doing his thing. The film just needed to keep a tighter focus on his story.

Overall, this is hugely enjoyable romp. It’s pure fluff, but there is enough charm and charisma here to put it a step above similar movies. Gladly this is no Transformers, it’s a fun film which knows where it’s strengths lie.

7/10

Truth Or Dare

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Jeff Wadlow

Starring: Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violett Beane, Sophia Ali, Landon Liboiron, Hayden Szeto, Nolan Gerard Funk, and Sam Lerner.

2018 has been a fantastic year for horror movies. In the last month we’ve seen both A Quiet Place, and Ghost Stories released. Two incredibly different movies, both of which pushed the genre in exciting directions. Arriving hot on their heels is Truth Or Dare, the latest from Blumhouse Pictures, Jason Blum’s production house which specialises in making low budget horror movies which return huge box office, whilst also pushing the envelope with Whiplash and Get Out. Here he invests in director Jeff Wadlow, best known for directing the middling Kick-Ass sequel. If 2018 has been a great year for horror, Truth Or Dare feels like it should have come out in 2000.

Truth Or Dare follows Lucy Hale’s Amelia, a college student dragged along to Mexico by her friends for Spring Break. On their last night in Mexico she meets a guy called Carter at a bar. Carter invites Olivia and her friends to an abandoned Mission, where they start to play Truth Or Dare. When asked to tell a truth, Carter tells them that he tricked them to come up to the Mission so they would play the game. He tells them that the game is real, and if they don’t play they will die, if they don’t do the dare they will die, and if they don’t tell the truth they will die. They brush it off, but after one of their friends dies when chickening out on a dare, they realise Carter was telling the truth and that they will have to play.

Let’s make one thing clear. I’m probably not the target audience for this movie. This is a film which has got its sights set on 15-18 year olds. The casting alone makes this painfully obvious. Lucy Hale from Pretty Little Liars, Tyler Posey from Teen Wolf, these are some of the hottest stars in American television, all from shows aimed at an audience younger than me. If these are the kind of shows you enjoy, you might have some fun with this movie. If you’re a hardened horror fan, there’s nothing here for you. It moves at a good pace, and the cast do well, but at the end of the day it’s a stupid premise, and the execution is too sincere to have fun with it.

The direction is lacklustre at best. The look and feel of the film is far from cinematic. It’s like binge watching a whole season of The Vampire Diaries, although that comparison is unfair to The Vampire Diaries. There is next to no tension. There are no actual scares; Wadlow is more interested in framing and lighting his good looking cast than actually making the horror in this movie work. It’s laughable at times, but not intentionally. When the kids visit the police station for the third time in a day, you know the movie has no internal logic. I just used the word kids, which is ridiculous, because these actors are clearly much older than the parts they are playing. It’s like all of the bad horror tropes from the 90’s and early 00’s blended into one awful movie.

The biggest disappointment though, is that the film doesn’t embrace the ridiculousness of its premise. The easiest comparison for this movie is Final Destination, which had fun with the way in which it disposed of its cast in increasingly ingenious ways. The deaths in Truth Or Dare are terrible. It’s a strangely bloodless movies, and the deaths are staged so simply, you wish more thought had gone into them, that they’d been smarter. These aren’t characters you are supposed to care about. Most of them you don’t spend enough time with, and the ones you do are pretty terrible people, so their deaths aren’t supposed to hit on an emotional level. Which is fine, but they could have at least made the deaths fun. Alternatively, they could have approached it with a more knowing tone. Used the 90’s horror tropes in a way to make a pastiche of movies like Final Destination.

This film fails pretty much on every level. It’s not scary, it’s not smart, and it’s not funny, at least not intentionally. Save yourself the cost of a cinema ticket, and binge watch a young adult box set, you will get a lot more out of it. Alternatively shove a pen in your eye socket, it will be more fun.

 

3/10

Ghost Stories

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman

Starring: Andy Nyman, Paul Whitehorse, Alex Lawther, and Martin Freeman.

Based on their own stage play, directors and writers Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman bring their creation to the big screen. I’ve never seen the aforementioned play, in fact before the movie came out I hadn’t even heard of it. Dyson is best known for The League Of Gentlemen, whilst Nyman is best known for his work with Derren Brown. The influence of both is apparent on the screen. This is classic horror, with its roots in psychology.

Andy Nyman plays Professor Goodman, a tv personality who hosts a documentary series exposing psychic frauds. When his hero, Professor Charles Cameron, an older tv host who debunked the supernatural, invites him to look at three cases which have evaded explanation, Goldman sets out to find the logical explanation. What follows is an anthology of three different stories told through interview and flash back. Paul Whitehouse, and his tale of an abandoned asylum. Alex Lawther, and his late night drive through the woods; and Martin Freeman, and his experience with a poltergeist.

Ghost Stories is a genuinely scary movie. Scary in a way rarely seen these days. It’s creepy, it’s weird, and it’s superbly done. It’s very easy to describe this as a rollercoaster of a movie. It eases you into it, and then the tension starts to build, ratcheting up until the big scare, and then it sends you hurtling into the abyss, making you both grip the arm of your seat, and giving you a huge smile at the same time. There’s a pattern to it as well, with each story ending at its most horrific for a quick reset before we hurtle into the next story. There is an over arcing plot to the anthology style, clues which keen eyed viewers will pick up on early. It helps hold the film together, and allows for some genuine twists and turns, which are satisfyingly tied up.

The cast are superb. Alex Lawther is a rising British talent, after starring in an episode of Black Mirror, and The End Of The F**king World. He may be in danger of being type cast, but boy does he do creepy well. The whole of his segment is pretty much shown through close ups, and he sells the terror particularly well. Paul Whitehouse is great in more dramatic role for him, and Martin Freeman is reliably solid. It’s perhaps telling that all these actors can do comedy well, and though this film is certainly not a comedy, laughs are used in the same way as a jump scare, it’s a release of the tension the film has built up, and adds to the enjoyment of the experience. Director, writer, and star Andy Nyman more than holds his own against these better known names.

If the film does have any flaws it’s in the way it can’t quite escape it’s stage show origin. It’s a good looking film, but was obviously shot for a modest budget. Stylistically it reminded me of BBC’s Sherlock, but that may have been the Martin Freeman connection. The three story structure also felt designed for the stage, I haven’t seen the play, but I can imagine that where the film cuts out of the flashbacks is where there is a black out on stage. The resets also meant that there was no sense of escalation. I wanted each story to get scarier and scarier. Instead it built to the same crescendo and cut at the same volume at almost every story. I enjoyed the ending, I had clocked on to some of the stuff going on quite early, but was left satisfied with the explanation, even if it was slightly spoon fed.

Overall, this film is a great deal of fun. It’s a ride of a movie which will both scare and exhilarate in equal measure. Hopefully it will be bring about a new dawn of British horror nmovies. It does have a uniquely British sensibility to it. It’s not afraid to take risks, it’s got weird moments, the fact that these moments work is due to fantastic direction and a great cast. It perhaps wraps things up a bit to neatly though, which whilst satisfying from a story point of view, does mean that not many of the scares linger once the film has finished.

7/10