The Spy Who Dumped Me

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Susanna Fogel

Starring: Mila Kunis, Kate McKinnon, Justin Theroux, Sam Heughan, Hasan Minhaj, and Gillian Anderson.

The Spy Who Dumped Me is a spy caper with edge. Not afraid to lean into the more violent tropes of espionage movies, whilst also mining them for comedic gold. It doesn’t always hit its target, and it overstays its welcome by about twenty minutes, but once it gets into its flow, it has some fantastic belly-laughs, and a wicked feminist streak.

The film centres around Mila Kunis’ Audrey, a depressed thirty year old, who has just been dumped, by text, by her boyfriend Justin Theroux. She soon finds out that Theroux is actually an international spy, who has left her in possession of an item of great importance. So important, people will kill to get hold of it. This sets her and her best friend Morgan, played by Kate McKinnon off on a globe trotting trip in an effort to stay alive.

It’s a classic spy movie set up which leans into the tone of the Bourne and Mission Impossible franchise, the surprise here is how violent the film goes for a comedy. Necks are snapped, blood goes everywhere, and it riffs on torture/interrogation scenes. Justin Theroux excels as a super spy, and you have to wonder why he hasn’t taken on more parts like this. The action beats are surprisingly good too, with fantastic use of practical effects and stunts. Its testament to director Susanna Fogel, that this film would work as a solid action film if all the jokes were taking out.

Thankfully though, the jokes haven’t been taken out. The formula here is simple, take a generic action movie and drop Kate McKinnon into the middle of it. She squeezes every scene, every line, for comedic potential. Her blend of surreal, weird humour contrasting incredibly well against the darker more serious moments of the plot. She has great chemistry with Mila Kunis too, and together they create a relationship which is wholly believable. As the film goes on, the women become more empowered, and get to kick some ass themselves, but it’s great to see them empowering each other. They lift each other up constantly, and show true solidarity.

To sum up, The Spy Who Dumped Me was an unexpected joy. It was darker then I expected, and leant into the violent aspects of the genre way more. It was also funnier than I expected, with some real laugh out loud moments. The star turn here is Kate McKinnon who all but steals every scene of the film. There’s a great cameo by Gillian Anderson too, which again McKinnon milks for all that it’s worth. Stay for the end credits though, you won’t regret it.

7/10

Mission: Impossible – Fallout

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Christopher McQuarrie

Starring: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Vanessa Kirby, Angela Bassett, Alec Baldwin, and Sean Harris.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it is to try and watch Mission: Impossible – Fallout without your draw hitting the floor. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Mission films, I loved the first one when I was young, and even though it’s not as good, M:I 2 was one of he first films I owned on VHS. That film almost sank the franchise, until JJ Abrams reimagined it, and since then the franchise has gone from strength to strength, even if the press around Tom Cruise’s stunt work sometimes overshadows the actual movies. In a series first, Christopher McQuarrie returns to direct Fallout after adding his own flavour of old school espionage to Rouge Nation.

Fallout follows Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and his rag tag team of IMF agents. After, sacrificing 3 balls of plutonium in order to save the lives of his team, Cruise is forced by CIA head Angela Bassett to team up with CIA thug Henry Cavill to go and retrieve it. Cavil is there to babysit Cruise, and to make sure the mission goes off without a hitch. This proves to be difficult as differing motivations come into play, and the ghosts of Ethan Hunt’s past come back to haunt him.

Sometimes a band will release a couple of albums that are good, but don’t quite work. Each album exploring different musical styles and approaches. Then they will create an album where all of these experimentations coalesce in a way that makes complete sense of what came before. Fallout is that album. It plays like a greatest hits of all that came before, whilst tying everything together in an engaging story. It’s the best Mission Impossible film to date. McQuarrie blends the tension of the first film, the emotional characterisation of the third, and the outrageous stunts of the fourth and fifth film together to create a more than satisfying whole. It’s an adrenaline rush that I haven’t experienced since Mad Max: Fury Road.

Usually with Mission Impossible films you have to talk about the showstopper. The stunt which is getting all the press. In Fallout there are at least four showstoppers. Action set pieces so well put together, you can’t believe what you’re seeing, and made all the more unbelievable by the fact that most of them are done in camera, not against a green screen. Each showstopper offers something different as well, they aren’t just variations on the same stunt. We get skydiving, bike chases, helicopter chases, and the usual M:I special effect of Tom Cruise running. They are all mind blowing. Tom Cruise’s commitment to getting the shot is outstanding, and you’d have to argue that he is now the greatest ever action star to have graced our screens. McQuarrie stages his set pieces against back drops of Paris, London, and mountain ranges to glorious effect. The film looks amazing, and is a complete joy to behold.

McQuarrie had talked about approaching this film in a different way to how he approached Rouge Nation, aware of the fact that each film before had a different director, and a different flavour, he wanted to continue that trend even though he was returning to direct. He succeeds here by blending the jaw-dropping action with the most character driven story to date. Fallout delves into the heart of who Ethan Hunt is, and by pairing him with Henry Cavill, described as the CIA’s hammer compared to Hunt as the scalpel, we see what makes Hunt tick, and that is his desire to save the world with as little civilian casualties as possible. Cruise and McQuarrie play with the idea that Hunt is haunted by every life he thinks he could have saved, and is prepared to sacrifice his own happiness and own life to save just one more person. It’s a great personal battle that plays out on an epic scope; it’s not coincidence that Hunt receives his mission this time in a copy of Homer’s Odyssey.

The best Mission: Impossible film so far, in a series which keeps going from strength to strength. The combination of Cruise and McQuarrie continues to be a potent one, and with great supporting turns from Henry Cavill and Rebecca Ferguson, this may just turn out to be the blockbuster of the summer. The action is spectacular and the story more than keeps up with it. For me this cements Cruises place as the greatest action star ever.

10/10

Hotel Artemis

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Drew Pearce

Starring: Jodie Foster, Dave Bautista, Sterling K. Brown, Charlie Day, Zachary Quinto, Sofia Boutella, Jeff Goldblum, Brian Tyree Henry, Jenny Slate, and Kenneth Choi

The elephant in the room with Hotel Artemis, is that you spend the movie waiting for it to tie into the John Wick universe. It doesn’t happen. It’s an original story, but,it’s setting is awfully familiar to those Keanu films, which can rob the film of some thrills. Director/writer Drew Pearce had this idea in mind before John Wick came out, but timing is everything. Drew Pearce is a writer best known for his work on Iron Man 3 and Mission: Impossible – Rouge Nation, and is stepping behind the camera here to direct his first feature. He’s assembled a fantastic cast, and directs from a script he has written himself.

Hotel Artemis is hotel for criminals. In a future L.A. Two brothers, Sterling K. Brown and Brian Tyree Henry, retreat to the hotel after a robbery gone wrong during a riot. They are both injured, and the hotel acts as a hospital for criminals. Somewhere where they can get patched up without worrying about cops, or other criminals due to the Hotel’s strict rules. On duty are the unlikely pairing of Jodie Foster’s Nurse, and Dave Bautista’s Orderly. Their job is to patch people up and make sure no one breaks the rules, but with the discovery of an injured cop, and the imminent arrival of the hotels owner, they may have to break some of the rules themselves.

Criminal underworld with its own mythology, a hotel filled with assassins who have to obey rules not to kill anyone, and some fantastic hand to hand combat fight scenes. It’s easy to see where those John Wick comparisons lie. There are plenty of interesting and fun ideas to explore here, but they’ve all been bought up in the John Wick films. It’s a shame, because otherwise we would be talking about an incredibly original new film. That aside though, this film is a real blast from start to finish, and that’s mainly down to a fantastic script from Drew Pearce. It’s fast paced, and funny. Subverting the genre in interesting ways, whilst leaning on tropes in others. It’s by far the coolest movie of the year; the film looks fantastic, a decaying hotel filled with well dressed cons, the dialogue is sharp, and the soundtrack is fantastic.

The cast are uniformly great, and it’s awesome to see Jodie a Foster take on this role, something we’re not used to seeing her do. Dave Bautista is amazing fun, proving again that there’s a lot more to him than Drax from Guardians Of The Galaxy, and Sterling K. Brown fills the leading man role nicely. It’s also nice to see Sofia Boutella bouncing back after the disaster that was The Mummy. Pearce fits a lot of story into a relatively short run time, and makes efficient use of his one location. If the dialogue is the centrepiece for most of the movie, the bulk of the action is saved for the climax, and it doesn’t disappoint.

Pearce has crafted a uniquely cool picture, it’s just a shame that the most fascinating aspect of his script has already been done in other movies. It’s still a really fun film, but you can’t help but wonder if you’d have enjoyed it more if it was the first time you’d been introduced to the main concept.

7/10

Skyscraper

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Rawson Marshall Thurber

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Roland Møller, Noah Taylor, Byron Mann, Pablo Schrieber, McKenna Roberts, and Noah Cottrell.

 

It’s the summer, and that means The Rock has got to get to work. Starring in his third big budget movie of the year after Jumanji (released late last year in some territories), and Rampage, we now have Skyscraper. Teaming up with his Central Intelligence director Rawson Marshall Thurber. Thurber is venturing into unknown territory here, after whetting his action appetite on Central Intelligence he has throw himself head first into the genre here.

Business man Zhao Long Ji, played by Chin Han, has built the worlds largest Skyscraper. It dwarfs every other building in the world housing shops, living quarters, a multi-storey park, and topped off with a mysterious pearl that acts as the penthouse. Dwayne Johnson’s Will Sawyer is the paraplegic security assessor bought in to assess the building and sing off for the insurers. He is given remote access to all the security features via a tablet device, which is soon stolen from him as mobsters attack the building in an attempt to get access to the pearl. They set fire to the building with Sawyers family inside, leaving him to mount a rescue attempt.

Skyscraper aims for a mix of Jurassic Park and Die Hard, and fails to come close to either. The tone is off from the start. The stakes never feeling real enough to be classed as a full on action movie, and the jokes not funny enough to make the film an action comedy. It doesn’t parody the tropes of disaster movies, more lazily follows them. In fact that’s what sums the film up the most; it’s lazy. It goes through its generic plot, with its generic villains, and its generic set pieces competently enough, but never anything more than competent.

I saw this film in 2D, and whilst I have heard that the 3D version is more vertical inducing, the version I saw looked awful. The look of the film is bright and cheap. The special effects look under cooked. It carries on the theme of this film of things being lazy. They’ve given The Rock a prosthetic leg, and besides using it in a couple of set pieces, little mention is made of it. Where some would have used his accident at the beginning of the film as a psychological block for him to overcome, in Skyscraper it doesn’t matter, because Will Sawyer isn’t a character, he is just The Rock; an all star action hero, a walking bottle of charisma.

Dwayne Johnson is probably the saving grace of the movie, although you kind of feel that they missed what made Die Hard such a classic when he was cast. Bruce Willis is the every man, and the jokes work because he’s actively pissed off at the situation he’s in. Here, Johnson just gets on with the action. He’s charisma pulls him through, but it’s also a lazy performance from him. The Rock is currently the most bankable film stars around, but he needs to stop making this type of disposable action trash.

Neither a great action movie, or a funny comedy. Well, at least not intentionally funny. It’s worth a watch for fans of Dwayne Johnson, who is never less than watchable, but is also one of the laziest, by the numbers movies of the summer.

5/10

Ocean’s Eight

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Gary Ross

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Rihanna, Helena Bonham-Carter, Sarah Paulson, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Awkwafina

Ocean’s 8 is a spin-off/side-quel to Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s trilogy, which itself was a remake of the rat pack starring Ocean’s 11. The twist here though is that the format is given a feminine spin with an all female cast. Oddly this didn’t receive the same amount of backlash as the all female Ghostbusters, which either shows that fans have finally grown up, or that they just don’t care. There’s an argument to be made that a female director would have also bought a new eye to the franchise, but Gary Ross is a fitting enough choice after shepherding the first Hunger Games movie, and turning Katniss Everdeen into an icon of female empowerment. Here he has assembled a starry enough cast to rival the Clooney/Pitt era, as he mounts a new heist.

Debbie Ocean, sister of George Clooney’s Danny Ocean and played by Sandra Bullock, has just gotten out of prison. She’s spent her time there planning the heist of the century: to steal one of the most expensive necklaces in the world. She assembles a crack team of females to help her pull it off, including her best friend (Cate Blanchett), clothes designer (Helena Bonham-Carter), Fence (Sarah Paulson), hacker (Rihanna), pick-pocket (Awkwafina), jewellery expert (Mindy Kaling) and… I’ll leave the eighth member of the team as a surprise. Their plan is to infiltrate the MET Gala and steal the jewels off of movie star Daphne Kluger’s (Anne Hathaway) neck.

In a summer full of moon hurling titans, and exploding Skyscrapers, Ocean’s Eight is a breath of fresh air, a throw back to the time when the biggest draw to the cinema was the star wattage, and the chemistry between those stars, and these stars definitely have chemistry. You buy from minute one that Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett are friends, they play well off each other, they’re effortlessly cool, and they have charm to spare. It’s the kind of film where you could pick any actress and say they stole the film, and that’s because they’re all served well by the script, they are all given something to do, and they are all given their moment to shine, without overpowering the rest. Helena Bonham-Carter steals the show as an Irish fashion designer, Rihanna steals the show as a no nonsense hacker, Sarah Paulson steals the show by being her usual fabulous self, Awkwafina steals the show whilst providing plenty of laughs, Mindy Kaling is hilarious and steals the show with her screentime, and Anne Hathaway steals the show as the self-absorbed diva. They’re all fantastic.

Gary Ross marshals them with confidence, but apart from the revolutionary act of casting women, he does little else to reinvent the wheel. This is a heist movie, pure and simple, and it leans into all the familiar tropes. The craziest things is that it works. The movie is a breezy piece of summer fun, it’s so cute easy to get caught up in the charm and swagger that you forget to look for the numerous plot holes. The biggest being the reveal of the eighth member of the team. It’s a little too convenient, and a lot too implausible. Oceans 8 portrays itself as a feminist movie through and through, which would be fine if the plot didn’t revolve around getting revenge on a man. It’s great as a sisters doing it for themselves movie without this added piece of baggage.

We also need to talk about the James Corden in the room. I like James Corden, and I found him really entertaining in this film, but his appearance almost took me out of the film completely. I couldn’t help but feel that it was almost a sketch of him parodying a heist movie, although it did get me thinking of a Pink Panther remake with Corden as the star. He is fine, but incredibly distracting.

Ocean’s 8 is a perfect summer film. Cruising along delightfully on the charisma and charm of its stars, this is the kind of film that audiences used to flock to. A proper summer blockbuster powered by star wattage. It had the remit to be something more, the #metoo movie, but it sidesteps gender politics to deliver pure popcorn entertainment, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

7/10

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