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

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

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

A Quiet Place

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. John Krasinski

Starring: John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Noah Jupe, and Millicent Simmonds.

From starring in the US version of The Office, to action star, to first time director, it’s seems there’s nothing that John Krasinski can’t do, as he makes directing one of the scariest movies in years look easy. It helps that he can enlist the help of his superstar wife, Emily Blunt to join his cast, but the credit for what has been crafted here should all go to Krasinski. In a character driven horror story with a sci-fi premise. There were rumours before it came out that it might be another surprise Cloverfield movie, it’s not. Cloverfield Paradox could only dream of being this good.

The film is set in a near, post-apocalyptic future. Most of the human race has seemingly been wiped out by what you assume is an alien species, but we’re never told where these monsters have come from. The catch is that the creatures are blind, but have super sensitive hearing which they use to hunt down the humans. John Krasinski plays Lee, a man trying to keep his family safe whilst preparing for the birth of another child with his wife Evelyn, played by Emily Blunt. The only way to stay truly safe though is by staying silent.

A Quiet Place is the most affecting horror movie in years. I have to admit, horror isn’t my favourite genre. I don’t get scared by films, and the modern day horror film is all about long periods of quiet leading to jump scares that I find myself bored. This was not the case with A Quiet Place. Tense, and taught throughout, it functions as a completely engaging thriller that had me on the edge of my seat the whole time. The sci-fi setting gave the film a level of intrigue, and the story itself had an emotional edge which helped elevate the movie above its horror trappings.

There’s a lot to be applauded within this movie, but the element that really makes it work is the sound design. It’s no surprise that a film which is about being as quiet as possible hinges on how well the sound works on the film. The diegetic sound, and its use is incredible. The score is non-intrusive, and Krasinski uses both as a tool to ratchet up the tension. An early scene between Millicent Simmonds Regan and her brother is a great example. Regan is deaf, and uses a hearing aid. During the sign language conversation, Krasinski Cuts between close ups of the two of them, the sound transitioning between what the two of them are hearing with the cuts. There’s a rhythm to this, starting slow, and getting faster, and as the rhythm builds so does the tension. It’s impressive stuff.

The film also works because of the emotional core. The film is crafted around an emotional story about a Dad and his little girl. It’s this story that is the real focus of the film. The investment I had in these characters meant that the more visceral moments really hit home. I physically winced and jumped during moments in this film, not something I normally do. This investment is down to both great story telling, and great acting. John Krasinski does well as the stoic father, and there’s a great soulfulness to his performance, his puppy dog eyes exuding pain and torment, but it’s the two females in the film who really wow. Emily Blunt is fantastic, and is given some of the meatier stuff, and Millicent Simmonds all but steals the film as Regan. It’s a performance which announces the introduction of a future star.

A Quiet Place is one of the best horror movies in recent times. It’s a thrill ride of a film, that will have you on the edge of your seat the whole time. It’s tight and taught, but every moment of the film counts. John Krasinski has hit a home run on his first try, with an intelligent and economic use of cinematic tools. There’s also a nice little message of female empowerment. It starts with Krasinski only taking his son to go get supplies and food, with the two women left at home to do the laundry, this is nicely switched at the end of the film. I’m not a huge horror fan, but I loved this.

9/10