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

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