FILM: Men in Black: International (2019, F. Gary Gray)

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Men in Black: International is the fourth and (sort of reboot) of Sony Picture Releasing’s science-fiction franchise. Probationer Agent M (Tessa Thompson) is sent to the London branch for her first assignment, where she is paired up with the legendary Agent H (Chris Hemsworth). Their mission takes them across the globe, and it becomes clear that there is not just an intergalactic threat to Earth that these must deal with, but also that the London branch has been infiltrated.

CONS

  • An appalling screenplay which is very convoluted with no real sense of stakes, a lot of poorly realised new characters and no funny jokes. Speaking of the jokes, there is an entire scene which makes jokes at the expense of suicide and, later, there is a very subtle joke about sexual assault. These are never topics to joke about in a film, let alone in one which children can (and will) watch in cinemas.
  • The narrative is a real bore to watch, not just because it is unfunny, but because there is no energy to it. The film feels so dragged out and the cast (bar one exception) have no energy or enthusiasm, made even more obvious by the lack of chemistry between Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson.
  • While the poor pacing could easily be attributed to F. Gary Gray’s direction, it feels so disjointed that you cannot help but wonder if this film was a victim of studio interference, a la Fantastic Four.
  • An altogether appalling cast, with Tessa Thompson coming across as quite bored, while Rafe Spall, Rebecca Ferguson and Laurent and Larry Bourgeois being just four of the cast members to give wooden turns (the former two also being quite cringy to watch as well).

PROS

  • Chris Hemsworth is actually rather charismatic as H, despite the appalling dialogue and narrative.

VERDICT: 1/10

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FILM: Late Night (2019, Nisha Ganatra)

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Comedy-drama Late Night is distributed by Amazon Studios, following its premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Looking for a career change, chemical plant efficiency expert Molly (Mindy Kaling) cannot believe her luck when she gets her dream job as a writer for legendary talk show host Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson). However, this new role has a lot of pressure as the writing department need to make material popular enough to save Katherine from firing/cancellation, while Molly must also prove that she has value as a writer and is more than just a “diversity hire”.

PROS

  • A sharply written screenplay, with the dialogue (both dramatic and witty) being fast-paced, snappy and really requiring the viewer to maintain their full attention.
  • There are some moments of genuine warmth as various characters come to appreciate each other and undergo a learning process over the narrative’s run.
  • An excellent cast who bring real energy and panache to the dialogue-heavy narrative, with Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling giving two excellent leading performances.

CONS

  • The film would ultimately work better as a miniseries as there are several plots and subplots going on, with the final product lacking focus as a result.
  • Misjudged attempts at social commentary, with the feminist aspects of the film feeling quite generic and shoehorned in, and jokes about racism and sexism going down like a lead balloon.

VERDICT: 6/10

FILM: X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019, Simon Kinberg)

Note: Yes, I know that the word ‘X-Men’ is not part of the title in most countries, but it is in the UK, ergo that is how I know it.

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X-Men: Dark Phoenix is the seventh and final film in the main series, and the twelfth and penultimate in the wider superhero franchise (assuming that The New Mutants does actually get released next year). It is 1992, and the X-Men are doing missions for the US Government. During a rescue mission in space, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) absorbs the energy from a solar flare but miraculously survives. However, back on Earth she begins to lose control of her newfound powers, while also having an emotional breakdown after learning that Charles (James McAvoy) has been lying to her for 17 years. Now it is up to Charles, Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) and Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) to lead the X-Men in stopping her to save both her life and numerous others’.

PROS

  • Good performances from Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Nicholas Hoult in particular.
  • Very good visual effects, particularly the scenes set in space which boast good detail, a crisp visual quality and a beautiful colour palette.

CONS

  • A rushed narrative, the stakes of which are never fully realised, with an overwhelming sense that director/screenwriter Simon Kinberg wanted to pen a 15/R-Rated film and enter darker, grittier territory (a la Logan) but was unwilling to take a ‘risk’, opting for 12A/PG-13-Rated content instead.
  • Some very convoluted fight scenes, particularly in the climax, which are frankly a mess where editing is concerned.
  • An incredibly underwhelming antagonist in Vuk (Jessica Chastain in a restrained role that prevents her from being able to show her acting chops), while multiple cast members are very underused, despite being key characters in the franchise.

VERDICT: 4/10

FILM: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019, Joe Berlinger)

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Following its premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, biopic Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile was distributed in the UK by Sky Cinema. The film tells the true story of Ted Bundy (Zac Efron), a Law student who was arrested on multiple charges of kidnap and murder in 1974. With even his partner, Liz (Lily Collins), doubting his innocence, Ted becomes determined to win his court battles and avoid the electric chair, even if that means he be his own defence attorney.

PROS

  • Zac Efron gives his best performance to date as Ted Bundy, proving himself to be an actor with real dramatic chops, giving a passionate, multilayered turn which is rich in raw emotion.
  • Director Joe Berlinger and screenwriter Michael Werwie wisely show sensitivity to those who were affected by Bundy’s crimes, by showing scarcely any gruesome detail, instead leaving us with the facts, leaving the vivid horror of it all to our imaginations.

CONS

  • By focusing so much on Zac Efron’s Ted Bundy, the supporting cast simply end up playing unmemorable stock characters, meaning that the talents of actors such as Lily Collins, John Malkovich and Jim Parsons are wasted here.
  • Ted’s final trial is recreated in painstaking, word-perfect, shot-perfect detail, to the point where it becomes bland, with a sense of being staged and the feeling of a misjudged documentary. This is one of a number of parts of the film which is frankly dull to sit through.
  • It becomes even harder to suspend disbelief when you reflect on the fact that the narrative covers a 20 year period, yet the make-up department make scarcely any effort to age Zac Efron or Lily Collins.

VERDICT: 4/10

FILM: Ma (2019, Tate Taylor)

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Psychological-horror Ma is distributed by Universal. Having recently moved to a small town in Ohio, teenager Maggie (Diana Silvers) and her new group of friends are trying to find somewhere to do underage drinking. They befriend a woman called Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer), whom they convince to buy them alcohol, and she later offers them the use of her basement as a safe place to drink. Telling them to call her ‘Ma’, the group cannot believe their luck in having befriended her. However, before long Maggie and Haley (McKaley Miller) find grounds to believe that Ma is too good to be true and may have sinister intentions towards them.

PROS

  • Good performances, with the young actors playing Maggie and her friends all giving quite naturalistic and believable performances. The show is stolen most, however, by Octavia Spencer, who gives a brilliantly unhinged turn as ‘Ma’, which is captivating to watch.
  • Gritty injury detail with good use of fake blood, particularly in close-up shots, while a couple of scenes have a good sense of underlying tension as we wait to see what the characters will discover.

CONS

  • A good premise for a horror film is ultimately wasted on a script which feels a little too upbeat for its own good at times and, bar a couple of scenes, lacks any real tension, the only real scares being a couple of cheap jump scares.
  • This is Tate Taylor’s first time directing a horror film, and it shows in his direction, which comes across as quite unconfident as he really is playing it safe for the first two-thirds of the film, before seemingly trying to compensate for it in the final third (and not very well, to be frank).
  • The teenagers are cardboard cut-out characters, as are the respective parents of Maggie and her boyfriend Andy (Corey Fogelmanis), while the backstory to establish Ma’s motivation is flimsy and nothing worth investing in.
  • An underwhelming supporting cast, with talents such as Allison Janney, Missi Pyle, Luke Evans and Juliette Lewis having, if we are to be real here, little to work with.

VERDICT: 4/10

FILM: Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019, Michael Dougherty)

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Monster film Godzilla: King of the Monsters is the third film in Legendary’s MonsterVerse, distributed by Warner Bros. Five years after Godzilla’s destruction of San Francisco in the original, crypto-zoological organisation Monarch are tracking down and studying monsters, or Titans as they are known (which does therefore raise the question of why this franchise is not called Legendary’s TitanVerse). Anyway, paleobiologist Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) uses a device called the “Orca”, which emits frequencies that only Titans can hear. However, when she and her daughter (Millie Bobby Brown) are kidnapped by a group of eco-terrorists led by Alan Jorah (Charles Dance), she is forced to use it to awaken all manner of Titans, who engage in a war with each other that threatens the future of the world. Only Godzilla, their King, can bring peace, so it is up to Emma’s ex-husband Mark (Kyle Chandler) and the staff of Monarch to orchestrate this.

CONS

  • An overly convoluted narrative which has misjudged humour, lots of expositional dialogue, and too many ideas for its own good, boasting at least three films worth of basic premises and monster fights, plus a subplot about Mark trying to find and save his daughter.
  • Very bland, underdeveloped and underwhelming human characters, whose motivations are explored at a surface-level through cheesy dialogue, which is a real problem seeing as most of the film is meant to be seen from their perspective.
  • The fact that the film villainizes environmentalists is not only a ludicrous notion in this day and age, but is ultimately a middle-finger to what Godzilla films have meant to stand for since 1954.
  • A very underwhelming and forgettable cast, which is a real shame given that it includes Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins and O’Shea Jackson Jr. Although, in their defence, they had nothing of quality to work with.

PROS

  • The visual effects are very good – the Titans have real texture to them, there is a lot of smaller details in the CGI in most scenes and there is vibrant colour as well, while the battles between Titans are epic in scale and at times fun to watch.

VERDICT: 2/10

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