FILM: Tom & Jerry: The Movie (2021, Tim Story)

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Tom & Jerry: The Movie features the iconic cartoon characters in a live-action comedy from Warner Bros. Jerry takes refuge in a high-end New York hotel in which Kayla (Chloë Grace Moretz) has deceived her way on to the events team. Determined not to let Jerry’s presence ruin a celebrity wedding due to take place in the hotel, she teams up with Tom to get rid of him, but will the iconic frenemies prove a good team when they need to?

CONS

  • A genuinely dreadful narrative about incredibly narcissistic human characters whose narrative arcs are highly contrived, and whose character development are incredibly bare-boned, with not a single amusing verbal gag and attempts to come across as cool and/or clever that are just an insult to the viewers’ intelligence.
  • The slapstick simply is not funny, and it pains me to say that as a lifelong Tom & Jerry fan. Not only are the types of slapstick gags they use repetitive, but the cartoon violence does not work well with the live-action settings and props.
  • It is bad enough that Tom and Jerry’s scenes are not funny, but what is worse is that they are very much supporting players to the human characters, all of whom are highly unlikeable and impossible to care about. An enormous insult to an iconic and beloved Intellectual Property indeed!
  • A unanimously poor human cast – a career-worst performance from Chloë Grace Moretz, incredibly wooden turns from Colin Jost and Pallavi Sharda, and the comedic talents of Michael Peña, Rob Delaney and Ken Jeong are totally wasted (all three look like they would much rather be on a different comedy set).
  • All of the animals are animated (as are the animal tornadoes they create when fighting), but they stand out like sore thumbs against the live-action backdrops, and the humans do a terrible job of interacting with them. Plus some of them have a truly pointless presence – namely those highly irritating announcer pigeons (Tim Story).

PROS

  • There is undeniable energy to this film, particularly in Tom and Jerry’s scenes together, which will make it engaging for younger viewers.

VERDICT: 1/10

PREVIEW: June 2021

UK CINEMAS HAVE REOPENED!!!

That alone is enough for me to remember May 2021 with a big smile on my face. I have made a fair few trips since cinemas reopened on May 17th, including 5 in the last 3 days – reviews coming soon for A Quiet Place: Part II, Cruella, Earwig and the Witch, Tom & Jerry: The Movie and Granada Nights.

I will of course continue visiting the cinema in June, with trips planned including The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, Fast & Furious 9, The Father, The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, In the Heights, Monster Hunter, Nobody and Supernova. I shall endeavour to get reviews for these and any other films I see in the cinema published as soon as possible (time permitting of course).

Thank you as always for visiting this blog, and for the month ahead I wish you Happy Reading and hope that you and your loved ones stay healthy and safe!

FILM: The Little Things (2021, John Lee Hancock)

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Crime-thriller The Little Things is distributed by Warner Bros. In 1990, Los Angeles sees a series of murders. Joe Deacon (Denzel Washington) and Jim Baxter (Rami Malek) are the two detectives leading the investigation, with Deacon especially being emotionally involved. Their work leads them to Albert Sparma (Jared Leto), a strange loner obsessed knowing about crimes, who becomes the prime suspect.

CONS

  • An exercise in style over substance, except there really is not much style as the film boasts a(n out-of-place) sleek, glossy, neo-noir look over the grit and intensity which would be more fitting for a film like this.
  • John Lee Hancock’s direction comes across as uncertain and unfocused as he dabbles with neo-noir crime thriller, horrifying murder-mystery, comedy and frenemy(?) cop sub-genres, but never commits to any one.
  • John Lee Hancock’s screenplay is a mess, not just because of his dabbling in sub-genres, but also because he plays it safe by not showing the murders and never gives the (at best illogical) narrative a resolution.
  • The talents of Denzel Washington and Rami Malek are criminally wasted here as they are not utilised at all, while the supporting cast give poor turns and seem totally uninvested in the project.

PROS

  • Jared Leto gives a unique and very surreal performance as Sparma that is weirdly captivating to watch and perfectly captures the sense of someone who is isolated from the world and has an innate ability to unnerve others.

VERDICT: 2/10

FILM: Those Who Wish Me Dead (2021, Taylor Sheridan)

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Neo-Western thriller Those Who Wish Me Dead is adapted from Michael Koryta’s novel and distributed by Warner Bros. Connor (Finn Little) witnesses the brutal murder of his father (Jake Weber) and flees into the Montana wilderness to escape the assassins (Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult). The assassins are tasked with silencing Connor once and for all, but the boy is found by smokejumper Hannah (Angelina Jolie), who helps him in his efforts to reach civilisation and safety; while Connor’s uncle Ethan (Jon Bernthal), a Deputy Sheriff starts pursuing the killers. However, what none of them can predict is just how far the killers will go to complete their task and ensure that any witness to their crimes never gets to share their testimony.

PROS

  • Taylor Sheridan excels in the director’s chair, helming the project with an undeniable raw energy and a clear vision, and crafting an altogether gritty and intense thriller with brilliantly choreographed and wholly engrossing action.
  • A generally good cast, with particularly intense turns from Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult, although the true star of the film is Angelina Jolie, who brings a lot of nuance and raw emotion to her turn as Hannah.
  • Cinematographer Ben Richardson captures the stunning natural beauty of the Montana wilderness in wide shots, and also uses close-ups very well during the action scenes to bring their grit and intensity to the forefront.
  • Spectacular visual effects are used to create the terrifying and intense forest fires, while the practical make-up effects used to create the injury details are nothing short of excellent.

CONS

  • The narrative does feel quite rushed at times, and there are several scenes which would genuinely benefit from a bit more time to give them more emotional weight and flesh out the characters.
  • The noticeably rushed opening 20-30 minutes establishes all of the characters before their paths begin to cross, and it does feel somewhat disjointed, while some are given less characterisation than others.

VERDICT: 7/10

FILM: Spiral: From the Book of Saw (2021, Darren Lynn Bousman)

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Horror film Spiral: From the Book of Saw is the ninth film in the Saw franchise and distributed by Lionsgate. A mysterious killer whose sign is a spiral starts killing Police officers in horrific ways by putting them in traps from which escape is nearly impossible. Seeing that the killer’s methods are eerily similar to those of the late Jigsaw killer, Detective Zeke Banks (Chris Rock) leads the investigation. However, he may be just a little too emotionally invested in this investigation, and matters are made worse by the fact that he has long-since lost the respect of his department after blowing the whistle on a corrupt former colleague (Patrick McManus).

PROS

  • With a $20million budget, the production design of the interior locations and the intricate (and horrifying) traps are solid, while the deaths are vivid, gruesome gorefests that boast a lot of intensity and shock value due to this, plus the intense editing and effective use of low lighting.
  • While there are no outstanding performances, all of the actors throw themselves into this film with genuine intensity and tangible raw emotions that make some scenes more engaging than they otherwise would have been.

CONS

  • Darren Lynn Bousman directs with an intensity that is cranked all the way up to eleven throughout the film, which makes this a bit of a tiring viewing after a while, and also makes several scenes that require far less intensity tonally illogical viewing, and the pacing just a little too rushed at times.
  • Screenwriters Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger refuse to take any risks, as they do not try anything inventive or even that different (which they should have, given that they are trying to revive a franchise), and things get even more problematic when they try to set up some sequels. Huh…I guess we may be getting a Saw Cinematic Universe then!?!
  • There are multiple attempts to give the film emotional stakes and comedy. However, the emotional stakes and their weight are non-existent as they simply cannot be executed properly in a piece directed with this much unrelenting intensity, which (along with the fact they are quite contrived) is why the jokes mostly miss the mark.

VERDICT: 4/10

FILM: Mortal Kombat (2021, Simon McQuoid)

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Martial arts fantasy film Mortal Kombat is based on the long-running video game franchise and distributed by Warner Bros. Cole Young (Lewis Tan), a floundering MMA fighter, is chosen to fight for Earth in the Mortal Kombat – a once-per-generation tournament – against evil hopeful conquerors from other realms. As he gets ever closer to discovering his true powers, Young and Earth’s greatest warriors must fend off attacks from Outworld sorcerer Shang Tsung (Chin Han) and his minions, which include Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim)

PROS

  • An intense and gritty opening 10 minutes which really get you into the film, and establish that the filmmakers appreciate the franchise’s lore.
  • The film is fast-paced, with well-choreographed fight scenes that boast some real energy and good visual effects in some scenes.

CONS

  • Given that they want to show love and appreciation for the franchise lore, it is highly illogical that they went for such a generic and bland narrative arc, and used an newly-created character rather than one from the games, plus we never even get to the Mortal Kombat tournament.
  • Some noticeable pacing issues, plus there is an over-reliance on humour in a number of scenes.
  • While the action scenes are well-choreographed and fast-paced, bar those of the opening 10 minutes, they are not especially intense and there is never really a sense that the characters are in genuine danger.
  • While some of the visual effects are good, for the most part there is a lot of poor quality CGI, with the purely CGI characters standing out like sore thumbs – $55million has not been much of a blockbuster budget for many a year now.
  • Several rather bland performances from within the supporting cast members, and while none of the main cast members give bad turns, none of them are memorable (bar Josh Lawson as Kano).

VERDICT: 4/10

FILM: Judas and the Black Messiah (2021, Shaka King)

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Following its premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, biopic Judas and the Black Messiah is distributed by Warner Bros. The film tells the true story of how, in 1968, William O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) reluctantly agreed to become an FBI informant to avoid prison time. Under their orders, he joins the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, and gets in with its leader Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), whom FBI director J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen) wants off the streets for good…and prison may not be the only way to ensure that.

PROS

  • Director/co-writer Shaka King brings a raw energy and intense passion to the project which comes through in his work, and makes for engaging viewing.
  • The narrative is an altogether gritty and intense piece which does not pull any punches in its recreation of the horrors and devastation caused by racial unrest and tension over fifty years ago, which has undeniable relevance to the present-day.
  • A solid cast with not a single poor performance, but the standouts are co-leads Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield, the former being an intense and commanding presence, the latter bringing good emotion and wholly plausible nervous energy to screen.
  • Period authenticity is aided by a good recreation of the late-1960s by the production and costume design teams.
  • A grit and intensity to most of the more action-oriented scenes, which are slickly edited and make good use of practical effects.

CONS

  • The first twenty minutes or so feel somewhat rushed compared to the rest of the film, while some of the efforts at humour are awkwardly crafted and miss the mark.
  • Incorporating recreations of the real-life William O’Neal’s interviews about the events from 1989 throughout the film, only to then use the actual real interview footage as an epilogue was an unnecessary and illogical creative decision.

VERDICT: 8/10

FILM: The Unholy (2021, Evan Spiliotopoulos)

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Supernatural horror The Unholy is based on James Herbert’s novel Shrine and distributed by Sony. In 1845, the spirit of Mary Elnor (Marina Mazepa) – a woman executed for witchcraft – was contained in a doll. In the present day, the doll is found and broken by Gerry Fenn (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), and soon a deaf-mute girl named Alice (Cricket Brown) begins hearing, talking and (even more surprisingly) performing miracles and claiming that she is being visited by the Virgin Mary. However, something sinister is afoot, and the miracles that are happening may not be the wonderful things which they seem to be.

CONS

  • Evan Spiliotopoulos’s direction is very unfocused and comes across as being highly uncertain also, the tone and execution of scenes being inconsistent to say the least.
  • Evan Spiliotopoulos’s screenwriting is bland and generic with no risks taken, forced, contrived dialogue and an over-reliance on cheap jump scares.
  • A unanimously poor cast that is replete with wooden performances, while Jeffrey Dean Morgan looks like he wants nothing more than to return to the set of The Walking Dead.
  • The film cost $10million, but quite frankly the laughably bad efforts to hide supposed budgetary constraints and the additional challenges of filming during a pandemic make it look like a made-for-TV film made for one-twentieth of the budget.
  • Awful visual effects (a mixture of poor quality CGI and badly executed practical effects), while the make-up and production design are also of a very poor standard. How on Earth did this film cost $10million?

PROS

  • Good use of low lighting and shadows by cinematographer Craig Wrobleski in a number of scenes.

VERDICT: 1/10

FILM: Minari (2020, Lee Isaac Chung)

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Drama film Minari is distributed by A24, following its premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. In 1983, Korean immigrant Yi family set up a farm in rural Arkansas, where father Jacob (Steven Yeun) hopes to grow Korean produce to sell in Dallas. It takes time for the family to settle, and an unhealthy work-life balance starts to put a strain on his marriage to Monica (Han Ye-ri). However, the familial dynamic is further challenged when Monica’s mother Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung) moves over from Korea and comes to live with them – a new addition to the household which will require some adjustment on the parts of David (Alan Kim) and Anne (Noel Kate Cho), the grandchildren whom Soon-ja barely knows.

PROS

  • Lee Isaac Chung directs this film with real nuance, often implementing a slow-burn, consistently knowing where to draw a scene to a close and giving his vision a wholly naturalistic pacing. As he ultimately makes a film about the American Dream, his direction aids in bringing a real sense of natural gravitas but most to the (many) dramatic scenes, while none of the comedic moments ever feel out of place or the slightest bit implausible.
  • Lee Isaac Chung’s screenplay is not just an American Dream story, but also one about the complexities which differences of culture, class and generation have upon a familial dynamic, and finally it is one about identity as the members of the Yi family all question their’s to varying degrees with the arrival of Soon-ja. Chung writes with real nuance and sensitivity, keeping the narrative (which is inspired by his own life) wholly grounded and realistic, giving each of the characters a distinct and beautiful arc, and ensuring that the film is more of a reflective piece than anything else.
  • In his nuanced direction and sensitive screenwriting, the fact that this film is of a truly personal nature to Lee Isaac Chung comes through absolutely beautifully.
  • A unanimously outstanding cast, with Steven Yeun giving one of the best performances of his career (the only one which could top it being Burning), a sensitive performance Han Ye-ri, and Youn Yuh-jung excelling wonderfully as Soon-ja in the dramatic and comedic moments alike in a really nuanced performance. Noel Kate Cho and Alan Kim are both excellent too, with 7-year-old Kim especially standing out, acting with a maturity well beyond his years and proving himself to be a natural talent to watch out for.
  • Cinematographer Lachlan Milne frames the landscapes and captures the beauty of nature wonderfully, with real embellishment of some truly sumptuous colours, and also aids the sense of intimacy with his close-ups of the Yi family and Soon-ja.
  • An absolutely beautiful score by Emile Mosseri, which compliments every single frame of the film note-perfectly.

NITPICKS

  • It felt unrealistic that (in a very brief scene) the children on the church bus could use swear words and insult Paul (Will Patton) as the bus drives past him without any repercussions or fear of them.

VERDICT: 10/10

FILM: Godzilla vs. Kong (2021, Adam Wingard)

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Monster film Godzilla vs. Kong is the fourth instalment in the MonsterVerse and distributed by Warner Bros. When Kong breaks his containment facility, Godzilla goes on the rampage, and it becomes apparent that there can only be one Titan. Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir) hires a team of scientists to lure Kong into the Titans’ homeworld of Hollow Earth, so that they retrieve a power source for a weapon to stop Godzilla’s rampages. However, the scientists do not realise just how genuinely sinister Simmons’s intentions are.

PROS

  • The fight scenes are intense, exciting popcorn entertainment which are very fun and quite gripping to watch. There are also some other fun moments here and there, while the bond between Kong and the deaf-mute child Jia (Kaylee Hottle) is genuinely warm and touching.
  • Excellent visual effects bring a wonderful sense of scale and spectacle to the film as a whole, while also making the two Titans very commanding and authoritative presences who are rendered with an excellent level of detail.

CONS

  • Screenwriters Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein had far too many ideas for their own good, pretty well all of which are very underdeveloped and just make for a film which regularly feels unfocused and rushed, and the narrative arc is more Batman v Superman than Captain America: Civil War in terms of content and quality.
  • Much of the film focuses on the human characters who have been caught up in this Clash of the Titans one way or another, but their characterisation (with the exception is Jia) is so minimal and their dialogue is often clunky, making for often unengaging viewing.
  • The actors and actresses here are a versatile cast of proven talents and a wealth of experience, yet none of their talents are utilised at all well, partly thanks to the screenwriting, but also thanks to sloppy and uncertain direction from Adam Wingard.

VERDICT: 4/10

RANDOM ASIDE: this was the first film I saw in the newly reopened UK cinemas following their five month closure due to COVID. It was not a great first film back in the cinema, but by Jove did being back in front of the big screen make me smile.