PREVIEW: August 2018

So I did not get quite as many reviews done this month as I had hoped to, and not quite had as many cinema trips as I had hoped to. It ended up being a slightly busier month than anticipated, but I am content with what I did manage to get done. Later this week I will be seeing Mamma Mia! Here We Go AgainHotel Transylvania 3: A Monster Vacation and Ant-Man and the Wasp (which is finally getting its UK release), so not a bad start to August. I also plan to see some other new releases, including: Teen Titans Go! To the MoviesThe MegThe Darkest MindsChristopher RobinThe Spy who Dumped MeAlphaBlackkklansman (a new Spike Lee film always merits my curiosity), The Equalizer 2 and The Children Act. I will endeavour to get up reviews for all of these films, but as ever time may not necessarily be on my side.

It was recently my birthday, and as ever my parents expanded my film collection, this time by nineteen titles, which are as follows:

  1. All the Money in the World (2017, Ridley Scott)
  2. Brigsby Bear (2017, Dave McCary)
  3. City of Ghosts (2017, Matthew Heineman)
  4. Darkest Hour (2017, Joe Wright)
  5. The Death of Stalin (2017, Armando Iannucci)
  6. Dracula (1958, Terence Fisher)
  7. Happy End (2017, Michael Haneke)
  8. I Am Not a Witch (2017, Rungano Nyoni)
  9. Journey’s End (2017, Saul Dibb)
  10. Lady Bird (2017, Greta Gerwig)
  11. Loving Vincent (2017, Dorota Kobiela/Hugh Welchman)
  12. Molly’s Game (2017, Aaron Sorkin)
  13. Phantom Thread (2017, Paul Thomas Anderson)
  14. The Post (2017, Steven Spielberg)
  15. Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017, Dan Gilroy)
  16. The Square (2017, Ruben Ostlund)
  17. Stronger (2017, David Gordon Green)
  18. Thelma (2017, Joachim Trier)
  19. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017, Martin McDonagh)

I was also pleasantly surprised when two classic films which I had ordered at the weekend arrived in the post – The Wages of Fear (1953) and Giant (1956).

You now know what to expect in the coming month, so as ever I wish you a good month, and Happy Reading!

FILM: Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018, Christopher McQuarrie)

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Fallout is the sixth instalment in Paramount’s spy-action franchise Mission: Impossible. When a mission goes awry, terrorist group The Apostles get their hands on plutonium cores. Now Ethan (Tom Cruise), Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg) must stop them from using it, thereby making up for their previous mistake. However, matters are further complicated when the CIA assign Agent Walker (Henry Cavill) to work with and monitor them.

PROS

  • A very clever screenplay, which is well paced and takes several well executed twists and turns. It also does a great job of linking Fallout to previous instalments.
  • Very exciting action sequences, which not only are well choreographed, but are terrifically filmed and edited.
  • Outstanding use of practical effects and stunt work, which (when coupled with the previous point) make Fallout the best action film since Mad Max: Fury Road.
  • A solid leading turn from Tom Cruise, who once again throws himself into the action, and very good supporting turns from Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson and Sean Harris (among others).

CONS

  • A less memorable score than previous instalments.
  • The occasional predictable moment, particularly in the climax.

VERDICT: 9/10

FILM: Hotel Artemis (2018, Drew Pearce)

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Hotel Artemis is a dystopian-thriller, distributed by Global Road Entertainment. It is 2028 and Los Angeles has a hospital/hotel for criminals called Hotel Artemis, which is run by nurse Jean Thomas (Jodie Foster). On the night of the biggest riots in the history of Los Angeles, an eclectic mix of people come to the Artemis, each of whom will impact Jean and her work in some way.

PROS

  • Good production design for the Artemis, while cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon makes good use of red lighting and shadows.
  • Well edited, gritty fight scenes, into which Sofia Boutella and Dave Bautista throw huge amounts of energy.

CONS

  • While there are no performances which are genuinely bad, there is not a single memorable one, which is quite disappointing when you take into account the fact that the cast includes Jodie Foster and Jeff Goldblum.
  • A very clunky narrative, which does feel quite dragged out and has some rather predictable moments, and poor handled moments of emotional character drama.
  • Very thinly drawn characters, who are not developed at all well,  and several of whom feel very much shoehorned into the wider narrative.

VERDICT: 4/10

SHORT FILM: Creature Companion (2018, Melika Bass)

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Creature Companion is an American short film that competed at the 2018 Oberhausen Film Festival. In an American suburb, two women (Selma Banich and Penelope Hearne) mysteriously intertwine.

PROS

  • Meticulous cinematography and good sound design make this a technically proficient film.
  • Explores human desire to be physically expressive, and also captures how nice the tranquillity of a suburb can be.

CONS

  • The film feels altogether very rehearsed, and as such so do the performances from Selma Banich and Penelope Hearne.
  • A highly repetitive narrative, which (for lack of a better term) overdoes it with the exploration of physical expressiveness.
  • Melika Bass’s attempts to go for a slow-burn backfire, as the film just ends up being a bit of a drag, with nothing altogether that intriguing about it.

VERDICT: 4/10

FILM: Skyscraper (2018, Rawson Marshall Thurber)

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Skyscraper is an action film that is distributed by Universal. Security consultant Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) is doing a contract for Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han) who has created the world’s tallest skyscraper. However, when a group of terrorists set the building ablaze, Will must break into the building to rescue his family, who are trapped inside.

CONS

  • Almost everything that this film does has been done by older, better films, including Die HardThe Towering Inferno and even Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.  The rip-offs, however, are blatant and stupid – so much so that the scene that rips-off Ghost Protocol starts with Will saying “This is stupid”.
  • There is nothing that good about the film’s CGI, but worse still it is very heavy-handed and as such ruins some potentially vertigo-inducing moments.
  • A rather convoluted narrative, which has some incredibly predictable twists and turns, and some truly generic moments of action.
  • Thinly drawn characters, character relationships that are not at all well realised, and an altogether poor cast, with frankly bad supporting turns from (among others) Noah Taylor, Roland Møller, Pablo Schreiber and Hannah Quinlivan.

PROS

  • Some of the action sequences are quite well edited.
  • Dwayne Johnson once again proves a dependable leading man, bringing authority and charisma to Will, yet at the same time playing against type and bringing moments of vulnerability to screen.

VERDICT: 2/10

FILM: Incredibles 2 (2018, Brad Bird)

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Computer animation Incredibles 2 is Pixar’s twentieth feature-length film. Picking up exactly where the first film ended, superheroes remain illegal, which means that Bob (Craig T. Nelson), Helen (Holly Hunter) and Lucius (Samuel L. Jackson) cannot resume duties as Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl and Frozone. However, siblings Winston (Bob Odenkirk) and Evelyn (Catherine Keener) approach them, as they want to prove that superheroes can benefit society and have them made legal again. They ask Helen to be the face of their campaign, which means that Bob is left at home with the kids, a job made especially challenging as Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) is discovering his powers. Helen’s job, however, is made more challenging by the arrival of supervillain Screenslaver (Bill Wise).

PROS

  • It should go without saying with Pixar films, but the animation is absolutely fantastic, and in it we see some of the most detailed and brilliantly executed pieces of superhero action of all time (no easy feat in the Marvel Cinematic Universe era).
  • An excellent screenplay, which looks at politics and morality (even making a couple of cheap digs at incompetent politicians, which merited a chuckle), but also looks at the family unit, at the challenges that face parents who try to juggle work and family, and often step outside their comfort zone in order to do so.
  • Very well realised characters, whose relationships with each other are crafted meticulously, and all of whom have a good reason for being in the narrative, their presences never once feeling shoehorned in.
  • There is great drama and action to this film, but there is also great comedy, in particular brilliant slapstick gags that centre on Jack-Jack as he shows his powers, which will have the viewer roaring with laughter.

CONS

  • Screenslaver is a quite underwhelming antagonist, while the twist reveal about him is quite predictable, due to a certain character appearing too good to be true.
  • While Jack-Jack is a highly entertaining character, the over-reliance on humour about his powers becomes a little much, and the climax at times just becomes Jack-Jack ex Machina.

VERDICT: 8/10

SHORT FILM: Bao (2018, Domee Shi)

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Bao is a computer-animated short film by Pixar, released in cinemas with Incredibles 2. A Chinese-Canadian woman makes a Baozi which comes to life. As it grows up she raises it as her son, but as he gets older she finds it hard to accept that she will have to let him go and be his own person.

PROS

  • A heartfelt, often charming tale about the importance of family, which explores empty nest syndrome.
  • The Baozi is very quirky in design and animation style, and is a wonderfully unique character.
  • A beautiful musical score by Toby Chu.

CONS

  • The character design of the Chinese-Canadians is very stereotypical, and would not have been out of place 70 years ago.
  • While the narrative’s metaphor is a clever one, it will go over the heads of the younger viewers.

VERDICT: 6/10

FILM: Uncle Drew (2018, Charles Stone III)

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Uncle Drew is a sports comedy that is distributed by Lionsgate. Dax (Little Rel Howery) has his basketball team stolen from under his nose, not very long before a local tournament. Determined to get a new team together and win the tournament, he locates retired player Uncle Drew (Kyrie Irving), history’s greatest NBA player. Drew recruits his old teammates, but can these elderly men prove that experience trumps youth on a basketball court?

CONS

  • A very, very formulaic narrative, the like of which has been done to a much better standard in many other sports comedies – prime example being Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. As such it is very predictable and nothing comes as a surprise.
  • There are a few moments where it feels like director Charles Stone III and screenwriter Jay Longino are trying to make nods towards Blaxploitation and Hood films, but they never commit, and the film is a little too bittersweet for such nods.
  • Gary Oldman once said that athletes becoming actors without any training annoyed him, and you can see why in a film like this, as the five NBA stars (current and retired) who play Drew and his team are quite wooden, and are clearly lacking in range.
  • A number of very thinly drawn supporting characters, including an infuriating antagonist in the form of Dax’s enemy Mookie (Nick Kroll).
  • Absolutely appalling makeup that does not for one second convince us that any of these NBA players (all under aged 50) are elderly.

PROS

  • Lil Rel Howery is once again on top comic form as Dax, bringing real energy and perfect comic delivery to the role, plus he makes a nice reference to his role in Get Out.
  • While these professional basketball players may not be good at acting, in the scenes where the characters speak about basketball you can feel their love and passion for the sport shining through.

VERDICT: 2/10

FILM: Whitney (2018, Kevin Macdonald)

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Whitney is a documentary that premiered at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, before being distributed to UK cinemas by Altitude Film Distribution. The documentary looks at the life of iconic singer Whitney Houston, from her upbringing to her big break, from her rocky marriage to Bobby Brown to her struggles with drug addiction, from her attempts to turn her life around to her tragic death at aged 48.

PROS

  • The range of people from Whitney Houston’s life interviewed gives an altogether well-rounded view of her upbringing, her personal life and her career.
  • Kevin Macdonald’s direction is sensitive and very tight, as is the editing by Sam Rice-Edwards, making a coherent tale which really hits the emotional beats.
  • The film emphasises how long-lasting the effects of sexual abuse can be, as well as the dangers of fame and fortune, and how those things can never provide lasting satisfaction.

CONS

  • It is not clear whether Kevin Macdonald has a clear area of interest to set his Whitney Houston documentary apart from the others released in the wake of her death.
  • Several of the people interviewed either lie or contradict themselves, which is somewhat vexing when watching a documentary.

VERDICT: 7/10

FILM: Leave No Trace (2018, Debra Granik)

Drama film Leave No Trace premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, before being distributed cinematically by Bleecker Street. Widower Will (Ben Foster) and his teenage daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) have lived an isolated existence in a huge park in Portland. However, after Tom is spotted, their lives are changed forever, as it soon becomes clear that they cannot continue to live the way of life that they are used to.

PROS

  • The screenplay is a sensitive portrayal of the importance of familial relationships and community, which explores well also man’s relationship with nature (both its pros and cons).
  • Meticulous cinematography by Michael McDonough captures the beauty of nature, but also how scary and dangerous it can be.
  • Sensitive, nuanced turns from Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie, who carry the film well and have a great on-screen rapport, thanks also in part to a well penned relationship by Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini.

CONS

  • Several supporting characters could do with a little more screen time.
  • Will’s reasons for being unable to be part of a community are never really explained, while his struggles with PTSD are never touched upon at any more than a surface level depth.

VERDICT: 8/10