PREVIEW: August 2021

Hello!

Another month has come and gone. Three films from July came out in cinemas yesterday – Jungle Cruise, Spirit Untamed and The Suicide Squad. Due to me spending yesterday being knocked for six by the side effects of my second COVID jab – SO happy to have had it done! – I did not see any of those films, and I have a full-on schedule today before I head off tomorrow morning for nine days. So I will see those films on August 10th or later. Other new releases that I intend to see in August are Candyman, Censor, Don’t Breathe 2, Free Guy, Last Letter from Your Lover, Minamata, The Night House, Reminiscence and Stillwater. I will get reviews for all of these films up – time permitting, of course!

In other news, I recently had my birthday! As ever, my parents expanded my film collection with an additional 14 titles for now. There are more on order, but a problem at Amazon’s end means that they haven’t been dispatched yet. Oh well. Anyway, these are those films:

  • Ace in the Hole (1951, Billy Wilder)
  • All the President’s Men (1976, Alan J. Pakula)
  • The Conversation (1974, Francis Ford Coppola)
  • The Defiant Ones (1958, Stanley Kramer)
  • The Dirty Dozen (1967, Robert Aldrich)
  • Dog Day Afternoon (1975, Sidney Lumet)
  • Faces (1968, John Cassavetes)
  • The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976, John Cassavetes)
  • Network (1976, Sidney Lumet)
  • One-Eyed Jacks (1961, Marlon Brando)
  • Opening Night (1977, John Cassavetes)
  • Stalag 17 (1953, Billy Wilder)
  • The Wild Bunch (1969, Sam Peckinpah)
  • A Woman Under the Influence (1974, John Cassavetes)

Thank you as always for visiting this blog, and for the month ahead I wish you Happy Reading, and most of all that you and the people in your lives remain healthy and safe!

FILM: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016, Dave Green)

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is the sequel to the 2014 reboot of the iconic superhero franchise. The heroes in a half-shell (Pete Ploszek, Alan Ritchson, Jeremy Howard and Noel Fisher) face a new challenge when Shredder (Brian Tee) escapes from prison and teams up with mad scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry), who plans to use a serum to take over the world, with Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Stephen Farrelly) as the dim-witted henchmen who will fight off the turtles. However, as the coolest turtles imaginable prepare for battle, a greater threat becomes apparent – Krang (Brad Garrett).

CONS

  • A messy narrative with too many underdeveloped ideas and poor handling of multiple antagonists.
  • Very clunky dialogue and verbal gags which simply miss the mark.
  • Inconsistently paced action scenes – some are fast and intense, others are clunky and dragged out.
  • The abundance of CGI draws greater attention to a) the fact that this film would work better as a cartoon, and b) just how uninspired the climax is.
  • Poor performances from Tyler Perry and Brittany Ishibashi, among others, while Laura Linney is poorly utilised.

PROS

  • The turtles bring good energy and are fun protagonists, while the dynamic is much more interesting than it was in the previous film.
  • Perfectly fine performances from the central human cast members of Megan Fox, Will Arnett and Stephen Amell.

VERDICT: 2/10

LITERATURE: Divergent (Veronica Roth, 2011)

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American dystopian novel Divergent was originally published by Katherine Tegen Books. In post-apocalyptic Chicago, society is divided into five factions, with people becoming part of one based on their characteristics and personalities. People choose which one they want to become a part of as teenagers after undertaking some tests. Tris Prior, however, belongs to too many and is therefore a “Divergent” – a type of person whom the government see as a threat and have removed. Desperate to have a faction to call home, she joins the Dauntless and begins their intensive training/initiation process. Before long, she starts to develop feelings for her instructor Four, but for how much longer will she able to conceal the truth about who she really is?

PROS

  • Having Tris as the first-person narrator works well as we not only get a good understanding of her experiences and perspective, but because she is a well-realised and likeable character, a big part of which comes down to a) her development, and b) the flaws and struggles she has, which make her relatable as they are the sort of thing which many teens and 20-somethings go through.
  • Tris is a likeable and well-developed character, and through her author Veronica Roth engages well with concepts of identity and a young person’s coming-of-age, in which she shows that personalities may differ and that it is important for young people to understand themselves and not judge or make assumptions about those who are different.
  • Veronica Roth crafts tension well through very good descriptions of dangerous situations, some of which become increasingly so as the narrative progresses, while also leaving us unsure as to how long Tris can conceal her secret for. Furthermore, Roth crafts very shocking and vivid descriptions of injuries and some more violent moments.

CONS

  • Similarly to Suzanne Collins with The Hunger Games, Veronica Roth uses very short sentences and paragraphs, which can be quite jarring at times. Furthermore, the chapter lengths range from 3 pages to over 30, making for a read which does not flow that well.
  • Certain aspects of the narrative feel a little too derivative at times of The Hunger Games and/or The Maze Runner, while there are also some moments that feel a tad contrived and the climax as a whole feels rather rushed and lacks the emotional weight that Veronica Roth clearly hoped for.
  • Some of the characters are quite underdeveloped with minimal characterisation, which is especially noticeable with antagonistic figures whose motivations are poorly-realised and actions at times feel rather contrived.

VERDICT: 6/10

FILM: Off the Rails (2021, Jules Williamson)

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Comedy-drama Off the Rails is distributed by Screen Media Films. Following the death of their friend Anna (Andrea Corr), 50-somethings Cassie (Kelly Preston), Kate (Jenny Seagrove) and Liz (Sally Phillips) do an interrailing journey across Europe, having been left the train tickets by Anne, on condition they take her daughter Maddie (Elizabeth Dormer-Phillips) with them. As they travel, the three friends (who have not all been together in a long time) reflect upon their lives and how differently things have turned out to how they expected.

PROS

  • There are some moments of genuine warmth and some enjoyable moments, which stem from the fact that the film celebrates the importance of long-lasting friendships and the bonds that stem from those.
  • Decent performances from the four central actresses, who have good chemistry with each other in several scenes and are visibly enjoying themselves. Plus it is rather poignant to see Kelly Preston in her final role.

CONS

  • Inconsistent pacing, with some scenes being overly long and others being quite rushed, which all stems from how unfocused Jules Williamson’s direction and how unclear his vision ultimately are.
  • An incredibly saccharine film, thanks mainly to the screenplay, which is highly predictable and replete with clunky dialogue and weak characterisation, while the gags raise no more than the occasional weak chuckle.
  • There are some attempts at drama in brightly lit scenes with very cheerful tones, which therefore simply do not work, and (like much of the rest of the film) feel like a direct-to-DVD spin-off of a soap opera.
  • Some wooden performances from the supporting cast, while the talents of Judi Dench, Ben Miller and Franco Nero are all woefully underused.

VERDICT: 3/10

FILM: Old (2021, M. Night Shyamalan)

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Supernatural horror film Old is inspired by the Swedish graphic novel Sandcastle and distributed by Universal. On a tropical island, a group of holiday-makers – several of whom have underlying medical conditions – go to a secluded beach at the suggestion of a resort manager (Gustaf Hammarsten). However, on that beach they all start to age rapidly – approximately one year every half-hour, which they first become aware of when the children age five years in two and a half hours. Faced with their own mortality far earlier than they could ever have imagined, the group are horrified to find that they cannot get off the beach the way they came, so they start working together to find a way to escape before the effects of the beach cause them all to die. However, there may just also be a more sinister reason behind why the resort manager sent them there than they could have ever imagined.

PROS

  • Director/screenwriter M. Night Shyamalan does a good job of crafting tension as the true effects of the beach are gradually revealed, and the horrifying impact and consequences that this will have on individual characters becomes increasingly apparent as the puzzle pieces which he reveals early on gradually come together.
  • Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis helps us the viewer feel the sense of disorientation and confusion that the characters do with some off-centre and slightly unsteady shots, and he also makes good use of point-of-view shots.
  • Some truly shocking and vivid imagery in the film, some of which in the late night scenes being down to Mike Gioulakis’s haunting shots, but many of which are down primarily to the excellent use of practical effects and make-up. The make-up department also do an excellent job of gradually aging the adult characters.
  • An altogether good cast, with emotionally tender and raw performances from Gael GarcĂ­a Bernal and Vicky Krieps, and genuinely intense and powerful turns from Alex Wolff, Eliza Scanlen, Nikki Amuka-Bird and Abbey Lee.

CONS

  • This film would honestly have worked better as a miniseries due to the number of (rather excellent) concepts within it that are dealt with in a rushed and frankly sloppy manner, while some of the jokes miss the mark entirely.
  • Due to the sheer number of concepts mentioned above, M. Night Shyamalan ultimately ends up trying to spin too many plates and his direction at times becomes unfocused.
  • At times Mike Gioulakis does not frame characters properly, often without any clear reason or his decision to do so adding to the senses of atmosphere or disorientation.

VERDICT: 6/10

FILM: Escape Room: Tournament of Champions (2021, Adam Robitel)

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Psychological-horror sequel Escape Room: Tournament of Champions is distributed by Sony. Still traumatised from the Minos Corporation’s “sole survivor” escape rooms, Zoey (Taylor Russell) and Ben (Logan Miller) track down the organisation’s headquarters in New York and head there to confront them. However, there they are tricked into entering another series of elaborate and deadly escape rooms, along with four other survivors of Minos’s rooms – a Tournament of Champions. Now Zoey and Ben must work together with four strangers (Thomas Cocquerel, Holland Roden, Indya Moore and Carlito Olivero), who are all also traumatised by their past escape room experiences, if they are to have any hope of surviving.

CONS

  • Adam Robitel’s direction is quite uncertain, lacking focus at points and he also cuts corners at various points. Furthermore, his vision is unclear as he obviously is trying for some truly shocking content at various points but then plays it incredibly safe.
  • A muddled and rather rushed narrative which cuts corners at a number of points and features a number of rather contrived moments (including and especially the beginning set-up and final conclusion).
  • The cast generally ham it up quite a lot and over-act – their performances lack any naturalism, they have minimal characterisation to work with and there is a sense that they lack clear direction.
  • There is some very poor CGI utilised in the puzzle scenes, while the use of make-up effects is absolutely minimal, with what there is being of low quality and being an example of the filmmakers playing it safe.

PROS

  • The escape rooms themselves feature very elaborate production designs that are rich in smaller details, with the puzzles themselves resultantly being rather intricate and very clever, whilst also utilising good practical effects, which will be especially appealing to escape room enthusiasts and, well, any viewer who wants to solve the puzzles.

VERDICT: 2/10

FILM: The Croods 2: A New Age (2020, Joel Crawford)

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The Croods 2: A New Age is the 39th theatrically-released film from DreamWorks Animation. As romance begins to blossom between Eep Crood (Emma Stone) and the more advanced Guy (Ryan Reynolds), much to her father Grug’s (Nicolas Cage) frustration, the Croods reach a lush paradise that is replete with advanced technology. This is owned by the Bettermans – the closest thing that the orphaned Guy has to a family. The families as wholes have mixed feelings (to say the least) towards spending time together due to being so different, with matters further complicated by the fact that Phil (Peter Dinklage) and Hope Betterman (Leslie Mann) want Guy to marry their daughter Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran). However, as the two families spend more time together they start to understand different perspectives on life, and their mutual love for Guy may be just what is needed for them to bring them together.

PROS

  • A brilliantly animated piece of cinema that boasts a rich colour palette and lots of (often rather clever) smaller details, as well as some wonderfully creative and charmingly absurd designs for the prehistorical creatures and landscapes.
  • A fast-paced narrative that has really high energy levels and boasts a lot of slapstick and general absurdity (much of which is very fun), making for generally engaging viewing.
  • An excellent voice cast, all of whom throw themselves into their roles with bags of energy and enthusiasm, the most memorable turns coming from Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds and Cloris Leachman.

CONS

  • The narrative does not take any risks, proving rather formulaic and only differing from other films of a similar premise (usually of the romantic-comedy or teen-drama genres) by being set in prehistorical times, even relying too much on character types of those genres (including the most tiresome and irritating).
  • While the slapstick is good, the verbal gags are not due to being uninspired and missing their target demographic. Most gratingly of all are a lot of jokes about drugs and addiction – they go over the heads of children and will not be found funny by parents.

VERDICT: 6/10

FILM: The Forever Purge (2021, Everardo Gout)

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The Forever Purge is the fifth film in Universal’s dystopian action/horror franchise. By 2048 the NFFA have reclaimed control of the US government and reinstated the annual Purge. The morning after the 2049 Purge ends, all over the country millions of violent sociopaths declare the start of “Forever Purge”. Martial law is enforced nationwide, and Mexico and Canada open their borders to non-purging civilians for six hours only. Mexican immigrants Juan (Tenoch Huerta), Adela (Ana de la Reguera) and T.T. (Alejandro Edda) head for the border, along with their boss Dylan (Josh Lucas) and his family. But with so many Forever Purgers also being white supremacists who believe that they are purifying America, will Juan, Adela and T.T. survive long enough to make it home?

PROS

  • A few intense action scenes here and there, which boast decent practical effects, some vivid make-up and injury details, good use of low lighting, and actor and extra alike throwing themselves into the scenes.
  • While it is a bit heavy-handed at times, one has to commend the film for emphasising the importance of embracing other cultures and taking a stand against racism.

CONS

  • While there are no bad performances from the central cast, there are no good or memorable ones, and there are some very weak performances from the supporting cast.
  • The narrative is quite the mess due to some serious pacing issues and some real predictability, as well as very clunky dialogue, over-reliance on cheap jump scares and a premise that makes it impossible to not feel that the franchise is simply the flogging of a dead horse now.
  • Incredibly heavy-handed screenwriting and direction means that there is zero nuance whatsoever in the satire of and tapping into modern-day American race relations.
  • While there are some decent practical effects, there are a lot of scenes which boast genuinely awful CGI that stands out like a sore thumb, as well as some costumes and make-up for the Forever Purgers that makes them look incredibly goofy.

VERDICT: 3/10

ON ANOTHER NOTE: all of the films in the franchise have satirised or commented upon the present-day American socio-political landscape, and this is no exception. It holds up an unrelentingly brutal and somewhat off-kilter mirror to Trump-era America (the film was due to come out in July 2020 originally, but did not because of COVID-19), that is replete with anti-Trump sentiment and also shows an (arguably exaggerated) vision of what the country could be like if Trump were re-elected (when filming wrapped in early-2020 that looked a lot more likely).

FILM: Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021, Malcolm D. Lee)

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A standalone sequel to Space Jam, somehow the original film is known to be a film in the world of Space Jam: A New Legacy. Starring as a fictionalised version of himself, LeBron James and his son Dom (Cedric Joe) are sucked into a shared Warner Bros. virtual space multiverse by rogue A.I. Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle) – I’m not kidding that is the villain’s name. Al-G kidnaps Dom, and if LeBron is to get himself and his son back to the real world then he must beat Al-G’s team of digitised champions at a game of basketball. LeBron teams up with Bugs Bunny (Jeff Bergman) and the Looney Tunes to win the match, but he must learn not to be so obsessive about a precise game in a world where cartoon logic reigns supreme.

Look, I grew up with Space Jam, but I am not one of those who refuses to admit that it is a flawed film…because it is. But it is a very fun film that is absolutely worth watching…but sadly this incredibly belated sequel is not. Now do not get me wrong, there is some real fun to be had with the typical Looney Tunes slapstick and cartoon violence, which provides some amusing moments and sets the pacing for the scenes in the virtual multiverse – fast and energetic. It is just a shame that scenes in the real world and when Al-G is tricking Dom into thinking they are friends lack this energy – some of them are a real drag by comparison. As for Al-G, he is a key issue with the narrative as his motivations and goals are simultaneously convoluted and poorly-realised, in a narrative that is very muddled and messy. Furthermore, Al-G’s scenes are replete with poor quality CGI, but not as bad as the computer-animation used on the Looney Tunes and a number of other animated or CGI characters from Warner’s various intellectual properties.

Cheadle is also poor here – it kind of always feels like he is wondering how he went from Avengers: Endgame to this, and he is just one of a number of weak performances. The only genuinely good one is from Cedric Joe, who is energetic and has some moments of good chemistry with LeBron. Speaking of whom, he is a basketball legend but no actor, but in fairness to him he is likeable, down-to-Earth and does his best with weak material, to the point where you feel bad for him that he had to declare his acting skills to be poor in a moment of unfunny self-aware humour, with which the six (groans) screenwriters manage to insult all athletes-turned-actors. And actually, insult is the most apt word for this film. Not only does this film insult athletes-turned-actors and the original Space Jam, but it also somehow manages to insult LeBron, basketball, video games, tech geeks and just about every I.P. which Warner Bros. had the copyrights for?

How does the film insult so many I.P.s? By cramming them all into the multiverse in highly contrived manners – and when countless live-action characters turn from said I.P.s turn up for the climactic basketball match, they simply looks like cheap cosplay. Some of the most prominently featured I.P.s include Game of Thrones, Austin Powers and Mad Max: Fury Road – none of which are age-appropriate for children and all of which the parents will be aware of. It is simply cheap and shameless marketing of numerous I.P.s, which feels like a half-hearted and far less stylish and clever rip-off of Ralph Breaks the Internet. It has a few fun moments but, for all of the reasons that I have just vented about, I am confident that Space Jam: A New Legacy will leave zero legacy. In 25 years time people will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Space Jam, but they probably will not care to mark the 25th anniversary of this sequel.

VERDICT: 2/10

FILM: Horizon Line (2020, Mikael Marcimain)

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Survival-thriller Horizon Line is distributed by STXfilms. Wyman (Keith David) is flying friends Sara (Allison Williams) and Jackson (Alexander Dreymon) between Mauritian islands when he has a heart attack. Using what little she can remember of the two flying lessons Wyman had given her two years ago, Sara takes over the plane’s controls, but with limited ability and a storm on the horizon that she will have no choice but to fly through, things look bleak for her and Jackson.

PROS

  • There are some genuinely intense moments here and there throughout the narrative, while the small cockpit setting adds an extra layer of claustrophobia to the film.
  • Said intense moments are well shot and edited and, along with some other scenes, make good use of practical effects (which are also used for a quite vivid injury detail).

CONS

  • With the opening 20 minutes being a bit of a slog and the ending quite abrupt, clunky dialogue and several rushed scenes lacking intensity, the screenplay is altogether weak.
  • Allison Williams and Alexander Dreymon give wooden performances and have poor chemistry with each other. The only good performance in the whole film is from Keith David, and he has barely five minutes of screen-time.
  • Poor quality CGI that stand out like a sore thumb and shows that the excessive use of interiors was also a means of hiding the budget constraints.

VERDICT: 4/10