FILM: Booksmart (2019, Olivia Wilde)

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Following its premiere at South by Southwest 2019, comedy Booksmart is distributed by United Artists Releasing. Only one day away from graduating high school, Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) are content that their focus on school work instead of partying has paid off where university places are concerned. However, they are shocked to learn that their more irresponsible party-going kids are going to good universities too. Realising that they have one last chance to let their hair down and prove that they are fun, Molly persuades Amy that they need to go to the great big end of high school house party.

PROS

  • Olivia Wilde proves to be an outstanding talent behind the camera in her directorial debut, her vision clear throughout the film and her direction nuanced and sharply executed.
  • A smart, mature and (with a couple of exceptions, see the CONS section) consistently funny screenplay which presents a fresh and very honest take on the high school experience, examining enduring friendship and a person’s need to understand and be confident in their own identity at what is a confusing period of life.
  • What works very well is that there are no high schoolers here who are protagonists or antagonists, as they are all multilayered individuals, whose motivations behind their behaviour is understandable.
  • An outstanding ensemble cast, with all of the young actors proving themselves to be talents to watch out for, but none more so than Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever.
  • Intimate use of close-ups, and well-executed use of both handheld cameras and point-of-view shots during the party scenes by cinematographer Jason McCormick.

CONS

  • There are a couple of gross-out gags which miss the mark and feel shoehorned in, while the film’s final ending does feel quite abrupt.

VERDICT: 9/10

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PREVIEW: June 2019

Well, we are almost at the end of May, which feels absolutely crazy. It has been a decent month for content on this blog, despite a slow start, and some good films and television series have been reviewed here.

As ever, I have a fair number of cinema trips lined up for June, although June will have less new releases in UK cinemas than May did or July will. I currently plan to go and see Dark PhoenixLate NightMen in Black: InternationalShaftAnnabelle Comes HomeToy Story 4Child’s Play and Yesterday. I will endeavour to get reviews for all of these films up on the blog, as well as (time permitting) some other content.

So, thank you as ever for checking out this blog and, as ever, for the month ahead I wish you Happy Reading!

FILM: Aladdin (2019, Guy Ritchie)

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Aladdin is Disney’s live-action remake of their own animated classic from 1992. After entering a Cave of Wonders (Frank Welker), peasant Aladdin (Mena Massoud) finds a magic lamp and unleashes a Genie (Will Smith). The Genie can grant Aladdin three wishes and helps Aladdin in his quest to win the heart of Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott), who herself wants to break away from being defined by her title. However, when Aladdin arrives at the palace under the guise of Prince Ali, he draws the attention of Grand Vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), who has his own sinister plans for the royal family.

PROS

  • Against expectations everywhere, Will Smith as the Genie proved to be the best thing about this film as he brings real energy and charisma to the role, making it his own. Genie’s blossoming romance with Jasmine’s handmaiden Dalia (Nasim Pedrad) also provides a fun subplot.
  • Naomi Scott is terrific as Jasmine, who is a much more multilayered, self-confident and independent character from that of the original animated film.

CONS

  • Despite showing glimpses of originality in Genie and Dalia’s relationship, director and co-screenwriter Guy Ritchie recycles so much from the original animation, a lot of which simply does not translate to live-action.
  • Despite Will Smith’s charismatic turn as Genie and Naomi Scott’s passionate performance as Jasmine, this is quite a bland and often dull film, which regularly lacks energy and feels overly rehearsed. Heck, nothing emphasises that more than Genie and Dalia’s romance subplot being the most interesting aspect of it.
  • With an overly pristine quality to the production and costume design, this film often looks and feels like it was shot on a Hollywood sound stage, while a considerable amount of the CGI stands out like a sore thumb.
  • Some weak performances – notably Mena Massoud’s turn as Aladdin at times feels rather rehearsed, while there is nothing threatening or anything that can be taken seriously about Marwan Kenzari’s take on Jafar.

VERDICT: 3/10

FILM: The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019, Chris Renaud)

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The Secret Life of Pets 2 is the ninth fully computer-animated film from Illumination. Set several years after the first film, Max (Patton Oswalt) and Duke (Eric Stonestreet) now dote on their owners’ toddler Liam (Henry Lynch). Max, however, is overly protective and, on a family trip to the countryside, befriends Rooster (Harrison Ford), a sheepdog who decides to help Max overcome his fears. Meanwhile, back in New York, Snowball (Kevin Hart) is approached by Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) for help in freeing a white Siberian tiger cub from an abusive circus master (Nick Kroll).

PROS

  • Bright and colourful animation, which is particularly good in the details of the animals (whose fur has a very good sense of texture to it), while the character animation is very expressive.
  • A fun narrative which has a good sense of adventure, more originality than the first film (which was a very blatant Toy Story rip-off), and (for the most part) an inescapable energy to it.
  • Good voice performances, with Patton Oswalt being the perfect choice to replace Louie C.K. as Max, Kevin Hart bringing real energy to his role as Snowball, and Harrison Ford bringing a curmudgeonly sense of wisdom to Rooster.

CONS

  • The gags are very hit-and-miss, with some pretty cheap shots at laughs in the form of toilet and gross-out gags, and also some very poorly executed slapstick that is frankly inappropriate for younger viewers.
  • Having two parallel plots does lead to some rather noticeable tonal and pacing issues, while the two parallel plots meeting together for the climax is done in a rushed and somewhat haphazard manner.
  • Several supporting characters whose screen time just feels like an unnecessary drag, their presence ultimately feeling shoehorned in to pad out the runtime.

VERDICT: 5/10

FILM: Rocketman (2019, Dexter Fletcher)

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Musical-biopic Rocketman is distributed by Paramount, following its premiere at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. Checking into rehab for his drugs and alcohol addiction, music sensation Elton John (Taron Egerton) reflects back on his life, on the events that led to him becoming a music sensation, and on how finding fame and fortune led to him struggling with depression and addiction.

PROS

  • The film values big scale musical sequences equally to tender moments of character-driven drama, with Lee Hall’s screenplay having an infectious sense of energy, but equally being unafraid to say straight that fame and fortune do not equal happiness or meaning.
  • Dexter Fletcher does a very good job as director, helming brilliantly choreographed musical numbers, while also being unafraid to take the film into bleak territory.
  • Taron Egerton gives a brilliantly multilayered turn as Elton John, bringing a blend of great energy and raw emotion. He is backed by a very good supporting cast, the standouts of which are Jamie Bell, Richard Madden and Stephen Graham.
  • The brilliantly choreographed musical numbers are visually stunning, with fantastic costume and production design, excellent cinematography and passionate recreations of some of Elton John’s biggest hits.

CONS

  • Elton’s descent into addiction and an ever-deeper depression does at times feel a bit rushed, as does a heartbreaking aspect of his childhood in the first 20 minutes or so.
  • Several of Elton’s relationships have quite a surface-level depth, despite their playing an important part in his life and, to varying degrees, his struggles with depression and addiction – namely his relationships with his estranged father (Steven Mackintosh) and Renate Blauel (Celinde Schoenmaker).

VERDICT: 8/10

FILM: John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019, Chad Stahelski)

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Neo-noir action-thriller John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is distributed by Summit Entertainment. Picking up immediately where John Wick: Chapter 2 left off, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) goes on the run, after being declared “excommunicado” by his handlers at the High Table. A $14 million bounty is placed on his head and everyone wants a piece of it, so John heads to Morocco in a last-ditch effort to find help and see if there is a way to have his “excommunicado” status revoked.

PROS

  • Where the action is concerned, this is the most imaginative John Wick film to date, with John not just using weapons, but also using horses and a motorcycle to his advantage, culminating in a brilliantly surreal sequence in a glass room.
  • The action is absolutely brutal and very intense, which is no small part down to the long takes, tracking shots and close-ups by cinematographer Dan Laustsen (whose cinematography is consistently magnificent throughout the film). It is meticulously directed by Chad Stahelski and well edited by Evan Schiff.
  • A stoic and authoritative leading turn from Keanu Reeves, while the stand-out supporting performances from a large ensemble come from Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Laurence Fishburne and Asia Kate Dillon.
  • Vivid use of gore and quite shocking injury detail, the latter of which is at its best in the moments that depict the aftermath of fights and action sequences.

CONS

  • Odd moments here and there that are style over substance, while the film’s conclusion ultimately serves to set up a fourth film (which, to be fair, would not be a bad thing if they can keep up this solid standard).
  • Several supporting characters serve solely as plot devices, with Jerome Flynn and Angelica Huston both being feeling quite shortchanged in terms of screen time.

VERDICT: 8/10

FILM: Long Shot (2019, Jonathan Levine)

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Following its premiere at South by Southwest 2019, comedy film Long Shot is distributed by Lionsgate. After resigning from his job, Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) bumps into his first crush Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) for the first time in years. Charlotte is now Secretary of State and about to embark on a global political tour to unite countries behind a new environmental protection policy. After reading some of Fred’s work, she hires him as her speechwriter, but on their global tour it becomes apparent that the romantic spark between them is being rekindled.

PROS

  • A solid screenplay, which gives both main characters (who are nuanced and multi-layered) enjoyable and believable narrative arcs, has good energy and a decent balance between more intimate, character-driven moments and laugh-out-loud brilliant comedy, while also having some witty political satire.
  • Two passionate and engaging lead performances in Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron, who have excellent chemistry with each other and carry the film very well.
  • A good supporting cast, the most memorable performances coming from O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Seth Rogen’s best friend, and Bob Odenkirk as the President of the United States.

CONS

  • The narrative does get a bit predictable at times, with a slightly rushed conclusion and, despite enjoying them as nerd, the regular pop culture references do at times feel like they are there for the sake of it.
  • Several underdeveloped supporting characters who do not really add that much to the film and who pad out the screenplay more than anything else.

VERDICT: 7/10