November 13, 2019

Review Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (2015)

#ScoutsGuideToTheZombieApocalypse (2015): 7/10

Scouts Guide stars Tye Sheridan (‘Ready Player One’), Logan Miller (‘Love, Simon’) and newcomer Joey Morgan as three long-time school friends who are also part of a scouts club, a club two of the friends wish to distance themselves from in order to appeal to the opposite sex. It’s a plot idea that is very relatable to any school kid of a similar age, or anyone who has been through school, complete with those awkward conversations with the girls you really desire the most.

The opening scene of the film really sets the tone for the film, with a really quite hilarious rendition of ‘Black Widow’ by the school janitor, played by Blake Anderson (‘Game Over, Man’). In fact, the film has a spring in its step throughout, and doesn’t get bogged down in intricate details of where the zombie virus originated from or how it has made its way into a local laboratory. It just gets stuck in with some good old fashioned fun. Think ‘Superbad’ meets ‘Shaun Of The Dead’.

All three of the friends bring something to the table, with the chemistry working well as a collective unit; they really feel like friends. A side story develops involving one of the gang looking to muster up the courage to speak to a girl he’s liked for some time. Unfortunately on this occasion, that girl is also his friend’s sister! Much like ‘Shaun Of The Dead’, Scouts Guide also boasts a bangin’ soundtrack. Add some outrageous tongue-in-cheek guts and gore to boot, and you’ve got yourself a very entertaining zombie flick with a slight twist on previous efforts.

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November 11, 2019

Review Fighting with My Family (2019)

#FightingWithMyFamily (2019): 6/10

Fighting With My Family dramatises the true story of Saraya Bevis aka WWE’s Paige, a girl from a wrestling family and modest background whose early life consists of entertaining the local people of Norwich in the family-run wrestling business World Association of Wrestling along with dad Ricky (Nick Frost, ‘Shaun Of The Dead’), mum Julia (Lena Headey, ‘Game Of Thrones’), and brother Zak (Jack Lowden, ‘Dunkirk’).

Merchant’s collaborations with Ricky Gervais such as ‘The Office’ and ‘Extras’ were nothing short of brilliant; and yet, for the most part, Fighting With My Family feels puzzlingly underwhelming. Perhaps it’s down to the rather formulaic story and overall plot, as Saraya gets her shot at the WWE and struggles on a gruelling NXT training programme with next-to-no support around her. This is a dramatisation of true events, so it was inevitable that the story would take this route in one form or another.

The film is still an enjoyable and thought-provoking watch though, from intriguing developments at home as Saraya’s brother Zak tries to cope with his rejection from the WWE, to inspirational support given to local kids by Zak down at the World Association of Wrestling base. For wrestling fans, there are sequences of real grappling entertainment from both WAW and WWE events, and we get a taster of a full-blown “Rock” monologue which will deliver more than a thrill for avid WWE fans of the “Attitude” era. And of course, it’s Stephen Merchant, so there are plenty of laughs to be had, in particular from funny man Nick Frost.

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November 09, 2019

Review Captain Marvel (2019)

#CaptainMarvel (2019): 7/10

Brie Larson (‘Room’, ‘The Glass Castle’) stars as Carol Denvers alongside a younger Nick Fury, once again played by Samuel L Jackson, with the film delving into Captain Marvel’s origins, her intergalactic rise among powerful alien race the Kree, and the war between the Kree and shapeshifting enemy the Skrulls.

There is a lot to like about Captain Marvel. Larson and Jackson’s “buddy cop” relationship blossoms from the get-go and only becomes more enjoyable when complimented by the introduction of Goose the cat, who proves to be a real scene-stealer. Fury looks splendidly young thanks to some neat CGI tweaks, with both eyes intact. There are even attempts to rekindle fond memories of the 90’s with some playful nods to Blockbuster Video and CD-ROM’s, although efforts to go some way to replicating the success of the ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’ soundtrack don’t quite have the desired impact.

The film does take some time to really get going, with the main focus in the early stages on the backgrounds of the warring Kree and Skrulls, the Skrulls in particular showing glimpses of what they could potentially offer the MCU going forward (for further reading, see Marvel’s “Secret Invasion” Comic), Ben Mendelsohn proving an excellent foil in the leading Skrull role. The real meat of the action comes on and around Earth, although some of the scenes are difficult to follow at times.

Captain Marvel is an enjoyable watch, of that there is no doubt, but almost feels like a backwards step when compared with other recent MCU entries, and more on the level of an earlier Phase. An origin story this late in the day between two of the biggest films in the MCU so far also makes it feel like a setup for ‘Endgame’. Still, it’ll be interesting to see what Brie Larson brings to the table and how she interacts with the rest of the team as the concluding part of Phase Three plays out.

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November 06, 2019

Review Widows (2018)

#Widows (2018): 8/10

Based on the novel of the same name by Lynda La Plante, who also wrote the excellent ‘Gone Girl’, Widows follows four recently widowed women and the fallout as a result of a heist by their husbands gone wrong. Steve McQueen (‘12 Years A Slave’, ‘Shame’) utilises an impressive array of big names and talent, with some top performances on show.

Unlike ‘Ocean’s Eight’, which just felt like a playful heist with no serious repercussions, Widows is gripping and feels gritty and real right from the off, despite its lengthy running time and slow plot development, which may discourage some. Daniel Kaluuya is menacingly unnerving as sinister gangster Jatemme Manning, one half of the Manning brothers, who intimates with just a look; a surprise but welcome departure from previous roles. Viola Davis is Veronica, a widow who looks to her fellow widows for help carrying out her late husband’s next job for a final pay-off after being tracked down by the people her husband stole from. Perhaps the most satisfying performance comes from Elizabeth Debicki, who really takes us on her journey of self-discovery.

Widows really draws you in and keeps hold with great drama and some well executed set pieces and uniquely shot scenes. A film that is emotionally intense, dark and violent throughout.

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November 05, 2019

Review Ben Is Back (2018)

#BenIsBack (2019): 7/10

Ben Is Back was written and directed by Peter Hedges (‘About A Boy’, ‘Dan In Real Life’), a stars real life son Lucas Hedges (‘Lady Bird’, ‘Manchester By The Sea’) as Ben, a recovering drug addict who returns to his family home unannounced, and given a 24 hour period to prove claims he is ready to rediscover the outside world.

Ben’s young step siblings are just as overjoyed as their mum to see him return on the eve of Christmas. On the other side though are the sceptical stepfather (Courtney B Vance) and sister (Kathryn Newton), who aren’t convinced Ben is there for the right reasons, and has left rehab too early, which only makes us the viewer scrutinise his actions throughout the film even more.

Julia Roberts sells the piece; a sparkling performance of a mother’s unconditional love in the face of almost unwinnable circumstances. Despite her reservations and measures she takes to ensure Ben doesn’t relapse, Holly is never ready to give up on him, even when he appears a lost cause. Hedges gives a brilliantly subtle performance also, remorseful of past actions which have hurt his family but struggling with the unbearable itch bubbling under the surface in the present. Ben also makes it clear to his mother that addicts aren’t to be trusted, a statement that only fuels our suspicions. All in all, it’s a bleak insight into the devastating effects of drug addiction on the user and their family.

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Review Us (2019)

#Us (2019): 7/10

Us sees Jordan Peele return to the horror genre for his second directional outing, as a family are terrorised by deranged doppelgängers whilst on a family holiday in Santa Cruz. After the breakaway success of Peele’s ‘Get Out’, all eyes were on Us to really deliver.

And deliver it does. It’s a slow-burning opening as we get great insight into the day-to-day lives of the family, and experience the shocking 1980’s flashback that sets the events of Us in motion. Michael Abels’ devilishly unsettling score keeps nerves on a knife edge throughout the home invasion and subsequent chase scenes, as the family are subjected to attacks by their “tethered” counterparts.

Most impressive of all though are the performances, as each actor plays both “tethered” and civilised family member, so good in fact that you forget they are the same actor. Lupita Nyong’o is undoubtedly the standout as terrified but strong mother Adelaide, and hungry for revenge doppelgänger Red. The amount of feeling and emotion she manages to convey from facial expressions and movement alone is astonishing, and will surely now be in the running for an Oscar nomination come January next year. Winston Duke also delivers a solid performance as father Gabe and provides much of the subtle humour, subtle enough that it doesn’t feel forced or out of place.

Some may point to the film’s reluctance to give a lot of answers and the underwhelming big reveal as weak points, but overall Us is an unrelenting thrill ride that encourages repeat viewings thanks to its intricately woven layers of symbolism and social commentary.

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November 04, 2019

Review Dumbo (2019)

#Dumbo (2019): 6/10

Dumbo is the 2019 reimagining of the 1940’s Disney classic, the story of a young elephant born into a circus with oversized ears. Tim Burton opts to replace Dumbo’s rodent acquaintance in the original with two young children, played by Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins, who certainly bring a charm to the story. Danny DeVito (‘It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’) and Colin Farrell (‘In Bruges’) attempt to keep the wheels turning on the circus as Max Medici and Holt Farrier respectively.

The film pays homage to many of the major sequences in the animated original, which in turn brings back flashes of joyful childhood memories, such as the pink elephants scene. Where Burton’s take on the story lacks a bit of spark though is in the real emotional touches. The Disney magic littered throughout the animated films of a bygone era appears lost amongst the mechanical plot devices of the live action version. It certainly looks the part, vibrant and circus-like throughout, but carries no real emotional weight.

That said, there is still plenty to enjoy; Michael Keaton is particularly entertaining as the power-hungry Vandevere, and the sight of Dumbo flying delivers a real sense of awe. A film that has its moments, including a rather explosive finale, but that loses its magic somewhere along the way.

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Review Shazam! (2019)

#Shazam (2019): 6/10

Shazam! is DC’s latest attempt to break the mould and try something a bit different and new. Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is chosen as champion and entrusted with god-like powers and must stop Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), who has taken the Eye Of Envy containing the power and spirits of the Seven Deadly Sins, but in truth Billy is more concerned with finding his estranged mother whom he lost as a child.

Anyone who has seen the trailer will already know what to expect from Zachary Levi (‘Chuck’) as the film’s more adult Billy Batson. He provides most of the film’s energy and wit, and is impressive in the role. There are a plethora of neat pop culture references too, with many aimed at other DC icons, although at times the tone of these scenes does teeter on the edge of silliness.

It’s the story of “young” Billy finding himself and his relationship with his foster family that proves the real charm of the film. Asher Angel (‘Andi Mack’) is endearing as the younger Billy, fed up of the foster system as he continues to be thrown from one family to the other, and untrusting of those around him. Billy warms to his new foster family, just as we do. All play their part and are great throughout, in particular foster brother Freddy, played by Jack Dylan Grazer, who has great on-screen chemistry with both Billy actors. When looking to cast a worthy villain though, Mark Strong probably wouldn’t be at the top of your wish list. After roles in comedy films such as ‘Grimsby’ and ‘Kingsman’ where he really brought something to the film, his performance here feels largely underwhelming and generic.

Overall, it’s a mixed bag. A film that is charming when it wants to be, quick-witted in some places, silly in others. It’s a refreshing change from the relentless Marvel production line though, which can only be a good thing. Be sure to stick around for a double helping of post credit scenes.

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November 03, 2019

Review The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (2019)

'The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part' (2019) Review:

Despite being a big fan of the first Lego Movie, the trailers for this one didn't excite me all that much. That being said, I was still excited to see what this sequel had to offer.

And I have to say, this movie was pretty good. First of, I love how aware this movie is of itself. When a more knows what it is, and plays off its jokes and humor based on that, the result is genius humor that keeps you entertained the entire time. The next best aspect of the film is its great third act, which carries plenty of emotion, characterization, and a deep lesson that works for all audiences. Emmet's character journey was spectacular, it takes you on this deep coming of age story that kids and adults are sure to connect with.
And there we get to one of the problems of the movie. While it is all around very entertaining, the main plotline, especially during the second act, is extremely weak. The characters go to this place and right there I felt like the movie kind of died for a while. We're introduced to new characters who certainly entertain us, but are ultimately weak additions compared to the original characters who also felt robbed of screentime and development in this film.
In the end, 'The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part' is an entertaining, self aware movie that offers plenty of laughs and enjoyment, in addition to a great final act. Despite a slow second act and a less-than-interesting main storyline, this movie is the right way to spend a couple of hours if you're looking for enjoyment.

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Review Pet Sematary (2019)

#PetSematary (2019): 6/10

Based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, Pet Sematary follows a young family as they relocate to a property situated in the vicinity of an eerie cemetery in the woods. The 2019 film has been changed in places when compared with the 1989 original film but the basic premise of the story remains the same.

Jason Clarke (‘Mudbound’) plays Louis the husband, who quickly befriends neighbour Jud on arrival at their new home, played by the brilliant John Lithgow (‘3rd Rock From The Sun’), whom also has a soft spot for Louis’s daughter Ellie (Jeté Laurence). The film sets the scene at a good pace and allows us to get to know the family in a little more depth. Amy Seimetz (‘Stranger Things’) does a great job of portraying Louis’s wife Rachel, who is constantly tormented by thoughts surrounding the death of her sister, and as such, is not so keen to talk about death around her kids. Jeté Laurence (‘The Americans’) also lays on a very assured and mature performance for such a young age as daughter Ellie.

And yet the film as a whole still feels rather unremarkable. Not in a bad way, just rather generic. Pet Sematary sometimes relies on jump-scares for its kicks when it doesn’t really need to, although it does make for an intense few minutes, particularly during Rachel’s freakish flashbacks. 2017’s ‘IT’, based on another famous Stephen King novel, set the bar high and gave us something a bit different in the horror genre. Unfortunately Pet Sematary never reaches those same heights. Overall though, it’s still a decent chiller, is wickedly creepy in places with some good performances, and for horror enthusiasts will do enough to please.

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November 01, 2019

Review Hellboy (2019)

#Hellboy (2019): 5/10

Directed by Neil Marshall (‘Dog Soldiers’, ‘The Descent’), Hellboy is the 2019 retelling of the Dark Horse comics character’s origins, having already appeared on the big screen twice before in 2004 and 2008 in films helmed by visionary director Guillermo del Toro.

David Harbour, fresh off the back of success as Jim Hopper in ‘Stranger Things’, attempts to fill the entertaining boots of Ron Perlman, and for the most part plays a likeable version of Hellboy, even if he doesn’t appear to like himself. Milla Jovovich (the ‘Resident Evil’ film series) though, who is on board as the Blood Queen Nimue, rarely features in what feels like more of a cameo, and a throwaway and generic one at that. Even Ian McShane (‘Deadwood’), who plays 2019’s Professor Broom appears to go through the motions for large parts of the film.

Marshall decides to go down the route of over-the-top and in-your-face gore for Hellboy which is fun to begin with but quickly feels tacky and unwarranted, this also coupled with an excess amount of swearing which begins even in the opening monologue; ‘Deadpool’ is clearly an influence here but Hellboy does not house the same quick-snap wit. Perhaps the majority of the budget was spent on this then, as other CGI sequences are so glaringly green screen, in particular the scene involving the giants, it’s hard to simply gloss over them.

The film may entertain in patches, but overall Hellboy is another prime example of an unnecessary and frustrating reboot that in no way betters original offerings, a film that rushes toward its conclusion and grinds to a halt in a flash. In short, it’s poor.

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Review Mid90s (2018)

#Mid90s (2018): 7/10

Mid90s follows Stevie (Sunny Suljic), a thirteen-year-old boy growing up in Los Angeles who befriends a group of skateboarders during the summer break, much to the displeasure of his mother, played by Katherine Waterston (‘Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them’). This is a coming-of-age comedy drama from first time director Jonah Hill, who draws on his own experiences of growing up in the same era.

The film is shot entirely on 16mm film which, coupled with the effects over the film’s picture, makes for an intimate 90’s feel. Stevie quickly befriends the skateboarding crew and is introduced to a whole host of life’s “pleasures”, including alcohol and the opposite sex, experiences that his brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) and overprotective mother look to shield him from, an occurrence many of us will have had as youngsters.

Mid90s is edgy, cool. It really captures the essence of the 90’s with its laid back and minimalistic approach to hang-out’s at the shop and house parties. It feels less like a film and more like real life with each passing minute. Each of the skateboarding crew members plays their part well, with a great central performance from Suljic. The musical numbers come thick and fast, each Hill’s own choices, which really compliment the film itself. Overall, an encouraging debut feature.

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