Review – A Simple Favour

Writer and director Paul Feig’s films are generally good or bad, or love or hate. There doesn’t tend to be much in the way of an inbetween on any of them. For example, I loved The Heat and Spy, but really couldn’t have liked Bridesmaids more if you paid me.

So, when it came to his latest project, A Simple Favour, things were set to go either way. Admittedly, after having the trailer thrust on upon me during a cinema visit, I wasn’t bathing in anticipation. On the surface, it just looked like a Gone Girl knock-off, so I’d kind of half wrote it off. However, when some very celebratory reviews tied in with a dead weekend for me, I threw caution to the wind and went to see it. Whilst the Gone Girl vibes are definitely present, A Simple Favour does manage to avoid becoming the cheaper version it originally threatened to be. The only question surrounding the film now is whether it’s worth the time and money needed to go and see it at the cinema.

The film centres around two mothers who meet through their kids having a play date. Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) is a stay-at-home mum who loves nothing more than motherhood, whilst Emily (Blake Lively) has a high profile job in PR which doesn’t mix brilliantly with having a kid. The performances put in by both actresses were super entertaining. They played polar opposites who brought out the best (or worst) in each other, and it is in creating these kinds of characters where I think Paul Feig’s strengths lie. Kendrick seemed to be right at home as quirky vlogger Stephanie, and Lively was the perfect accompaniment as too-cool-for-school Emily. When the two of them shared the screen together, there were some magical moments to be had, and these definitely made for some of the film’s highest points.

The storyline here was pretty strong too. I liked the little twists thrown in here and there, and the ending involved a particularly impressive sequence as well. Although, as I’ve mentioned already, the film did manage to steer away from being a budget version of Gone Girl, the vibes that remained acted as more of a curse than a blessing. Some moments felt like they’d been lifted straight from that film and bastardised a bit. There were also a few things that happened throughout the story that seemed as though they’d skipped a beat. For example, why did Stephanie make the assumption that, if Emily was still alive, she’d be stalking her blog everyday? How exactly did she come to that conclusion? Why, of all things, would she be doing that? It was little things like this that didn’t quite add up for me and made it feel like too much had been attempted that couldn’t be pulled off.

One thing that no-one can take away from this film is how excellent the style is. Everyone and everything looked fantastic! Special shoutout to Blake Lively’s suit game whilst we’re on this subject – they were all very impressive, and will now be how I model my own image every day i go to work from now on.

Despite my initial reluctancy to watch it, A Simple Favour turned out to be a fairly decent film. It’s not perfect, but it’s strengths carry it through nicely. Kendrick and Lively are terrific to watch and I don’t think you could’ve found a better combination of actresses to play the two characters they did here. I love the look of the film, but unfortunately it wasn’t quite enough to detract from the points where it did occasionally lose itself through either trying to pay tribute to other thrillers of a similar nature or attempting to pull off twists that it couldn’t quite manage. Still, it’s far from a terrible film, so give it a go when you get the chance.

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Review – The Game

Every so often, I’ll watch a film that will well and truly make my brain go numb.

Not in the sense that it is so amazing that I can’t begin to comprehend it, but more so the fact that I have no idea what is going on, nor do I have any desire to find out.

That’s how I felt when it came to watching The Game. David Fincher seems to love a mystery revolving around a treasure hunt. Unfortunately this isn’t one of his best efforts. The film plods along and never once gave me much to grab onto in order to stick around for the duration. There’s no mesmerising female antagonist such as that handed to us by Gone Girl, and there is most certainly not a prolific serial killer waiting at the end of the saga as was the case in Se7en. Instead, what we get here is a rich guy who is one hell of a dick, and bad things happen to him. I mean, excuse me for struggling to get with the programme here but why exactly would anyone want over two hours of that?

I’m pretty indifferent to Michael Douglas’ acting – perhaps I’ve not seen his best films yet. I didn’t find his performance as Nicholas Van Orton to be anything special, but it wasn’t terrible either. Average is the word I’m searching for here, I believe. I was, however, excited to see Sean Penn’s name attached to this film, then I felt a wave of disappointment crash into me when it turned out he was playing a character who would appear for all of three scenes.

Everywhere this film turned, it just offered up something that fell massively below my expectations. I bet for the entire first two-thirds of the film there was nothing that got the heart racing for me. In fact, I almost reached a point where I didn’t finish it. I haven’t felt more disengaged with a film for a long. The Game really did not float my boat at all.

All that being said though, I can’t really drag it through the mud because it wasn’t terrible. Nothing extraordinary, but certainly not bad. Shall we just say that I experienced some creative differences with the people who helmed this project and move on?

One thing I absolutely cannot fault is the score. It did an excellent job of creating mystery and tension throughout the film, regardless of whether either of those two things ever amounted to anything. At least it hinted at what the film was trying to do, even if it never managed to execute any of the plans the the music seemingly laid out.

Needless to say, I was left severely underwhelmed by The Game. On paper, it did all the right things – intriguing premise, decent cast and a director who is bit of a dab-hand when it comes to the mystery genre. But it just fell flat. At no point did it ever really start to get going, and as a result, I found it very hard to actually stick with the film until the bitter end. And when I did finish The Game, the final outcome was not worth it. Overall, I must admit that I should’ve admitted defeat far earlier.

Review – The Meg

I don’t remember the last time I went to the cinema to watch a film with no expectation other than the fact that I was going to have about two hours of mindless fun.

Or at least I couldn’t until it came to The Meg.

I’m not going to lie to you – I got very excited when I found out Jason Statham was going to be taking on a big-ass shark this summer. What better calling was there for this guy? He lives to make films like this. He’s not fussed about Oscars, he just wants to make action flicks that entertain people, and with The Meg, he’s achieved that goal once again.

The first half hour gives you all the background and sets the scene. Admittedly, you do find yourself thinking at this point, “Hurry up and show me what I came to see.” Patience, however, is a virtue, and you do very quickly start to get rewarded once that initial phase of the film is over.

What comes next is everything you could ever have hoped this Statham vs shark movie would deliver and more. You get the big-ass shark. You get the even bigger-ass shark eating that shark, up-ending a boat in the process. Ridiculous action movie heroics and near-misses that are way too convenient for the sake of a paper thin plot that you just willingly accept because you, some way, somehow, have allowed yourself to fall hook, line and sinker for this film. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Personally I felt it could have been improved with the addition of a lot more truly terrible one-liners, however I’ll forgive the writers this mis-step due to them allowing Statham the greatest line of the whole film. Tell me one person who the words “CHOMP ON THIS YOU UGLY BASTARD”, were better suited to. The reason that man was put on this earth was to deliver that line to us.

Now, it could be argued that the only reason The Meg hasn’t been ripped a new one is because of who the lead star is. When Jason Statham is involved in a film, suddenly people become more accepting of the fact that the film isn’t, and was never destined to win Oscars; that it will not represent art in the traditional way we know it. As a result, audiences are a lot more open-minded about what the film may contain, and The Meg gets away with murder.

However, let’s take Statham out of the mix for a second and give the film some serious credit where it’s due. This film has got one of the most diverse casts that I have seen in a while in what is a now a big summer blockbuster. Regardless of how well-received it is at the box office (which has been very well so far by the looks of things), no one can deny that there is a real mixed bunch of actors from all kinds of different background involved, and that was great to see.

If you want a couple of hours to just switch your brain off and enjoy a tonne of madness then it’d be worth popping in to your local cinema and feasting your eyes on The Meg. Very little mental capacity is required to enjoy this one – in fact, the less you go in with, the more fun this will be for you. It’s a film that know exactly what it is, and doesn’t once shy away from it. It’s probably going to be one of the best cinema trips I’ll have this year, and I am completely okay with that, and I really hope that we get to see some kind of a franchise come from this because I’m all ready to do the same thing all over again this time next year.

Thursday Thoughts – How much power do TV audiences have?

Fox has been on something of a killing spree of late. After cancelling 5 shows in as little as 2 days, you have to question whether channel bosses will still have anything to run by the time they’re finished.

Amongst the massacred was Brooklyn Nine Nine. The decision to call time on this much-loved cop show was met with shock and outrage from fans (myself included). Cries of disbelief rang out across social media and soon these turned into campaigns to get the show back. In the space of just 36 hours, the show has died, been buried, and then was resurrected by Fox rival, NBC.

This reinstatement of the Nine Nine raises the question of how much power audiences actually possess, especially when it comes to TV shows. With films, it’s all fairly clear cut – if the film makes enough money, you tend to get a sequel, whether you asked for it or not. With TV, it’s not quite the same kettle of fish, however there is obviously a correlation between audience numbers and show survival rates as one of the most common reasons for cancelling a show is low ratings. Quality doesn’t seem to be a real deciding factor here either, which means this selection process is quite unfair. Shows that are actual works of art are take from us far too soon, while others that are tripe at best go on forever purely because there’s a larger audience watching it.

However, it would seem that there is hope for those good shows that come to an untimely end. Resurrections do happen – they have now saved two shows that I hold very close to my heart (one being B99, the other being Ripper Street). And on both occasions, these decisions have been brought about by the actions their audiences have taken, mainly in the form of kicking up one hell of a fuss about some idiot’s momentary (but HUGE) lapse in judgement.

So, TV audiences have power, but exactly how much do they have? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what the answer is, but we definitely have a decent say in what makes the cut and what doesn’t. I don’t have the statistics for the Brooklyn Nine Nine revival handy, but I know that in the case of Ripper Street it took only 12,000 signatures on a petition to get Amazon to take the show on. In the grand scheme of things, 12,000 really isn’t a massive number either when you think about the 3.38million people that watched the show on average.

But here’s the thing – we are very spoilt for choice when it comes to what we watch on TV now. More so than ever before. There’s a lot of things to watch, but the actual audience size hasn’t increased as quickly, which in theory means that each new show and channel added stretches that audience thinner. Suddenly, 12,000 is a significant number of viewers for a channel to lose if it displeases them, and it’s also a significant number of viewers for a newer kid on the block to think about winning over. These two things coming together were ultimately what saved Ripper Street’s ass, and they will create similar dynamics in future that will save other shows. Why? Because in this world where everyone’s attention is being fought for constantly by at least 10 different entities, it’ll be the ones that give audiences what they want that come out on top. We as an audience must remember that we are the most important people to these TV stations, and also streaming platforms too. Without us, they have no purpose and therefore would cease to exist. NBC are giving the people what they want by saving Brooklyn Nine Nine, just as Amazon did when they saved Ripper Street. I do not doubt for a second that they will benefit from their decision, but regardless of however it turns out, they will be known to millions as the people who saved B99, and that kind of testimony packs a punch. And the only people who can provide that testimony are the audience, which is why they wield so much power.

Review – Justice League

So I saw Justice League a while ago around the time it came out. If I’m completely honest, I had never held out a huge amount of hope for it – besides Wonder Woman, none of the films part of the DCEU had amounted to much, and given the nature of this film, I didn’t expect it to be any different.

Justice League centres around Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) as they try to get a few other superheroes together in order to save the world from something or other. However, and I’ll warn you now that this is the first grumble coming up, I think they should’ve been more concerned with saving audiences from that godawful CGI that was literally everywhere. I’ll leave Moustache-gate alone for the moment, though it will get what’s coming to it, don’t worry. My biggest question is, did the outdoors get used at all during filming? Honestly I don’t think there wasn’t a scene where special effects weren’t used in the whole film. I wouldn’t have minded so much if they’d have been good but… they were shite. And as for that feckin’ moustache – let’s just say that it was that bad it resulted in me spending the longest amount of time I ever have in my life staring at other people’s top lips. That’s all I’ll say on the matter.

Do you ever feel that a film has been so rushed that you walk away from it struggling to catch your breath? When is DC going to learn not to do this? I think the only film this hasn’t happened with is Wonder Woman. Beyond that, they just don’t take the time to develop stories and characters. As well as that, there seems to be very little congruence between characters in the origin films and when they appear in these ensembles. I thought there was a huge difference between the Wonder Woman here and the one in the origin film, and this was not something that sat right with me.

I think that’s it for the general moan… oh wait, sorry – Ben Affleck as Batman, I really don’t want to sounds as though I’m going out of my way to hate on the man because I’m not. I just feel the need to point out that for me, he ain’t Batman. I’m not saying he does a bad job or anything like that – just that somebody else owns that role in my eyes and there’s very little he can do about it.

Now, believe it or believe it not, i do have some positives that I can share with you. Please bare in mind, however, that one of these isn’t exactly something that is wholly essential to the film for all audiences, but it certainly made the film less insufferable for me. I am of course talking about Jason Mamoa’s part in the film, and I doubt anybody needs much imagination to figure out why I enjoyed his role so much. Now for a serious highlight though – Ezra Miller as The Flash/Barry Allen. This is probably the only part of the film that I couldn’t find any fault with. The character was funny, and it didn’t feel like Miller took himself too seriously in the role. The two of these things married together and meant that he was actually a joy to watch – more than can be said about much of the rest of the film.

So those are my less than brief thoughts on Justice League. All you needed to know really was that it’s probably the most poorly spent $300million of recent times, but I decided to give you all the gory details anyway. You’re welcome.

Review – A Quiet Place

It’s very easy to underestimate the power of sound.

In a lot of good films where it is used well, noises and music can become almost like an extra character. The people behind A Quiet Place knew this, and decided to go one step further by making sound the focus of the entire film.

Let me tell you, it worked. I mean, it really worked, very well indeed.

The film takes place in, presumably, the not-too-distant future, and depicts a world that we quickly find out has been overrun by monsters that hunt their prey via sound (and which we get to see plenty of throughout the film which made a massive change for once). In order to stay alive, all living things have to make as little noise as possible, as once these creatures find you, they generally don’t leave until they’ve killed you.

A Quiet Place sets the scene in a way similar to 28 Days Later. You’re introduced to a world that has been almost entirely abandoned by everyone. Straightaway you know that something major has happened, but exactly what that is only begins to be revealed a few moments later. In one fast, and very early, change of pace, the film shows that it isn’t messing about. I was surprised because I didn’t think it would deliver on what it was dangling in front of me. I was wrong. It was a horrifically intense start to a film, and I loved it.

In terms of intensity, the film starts just as it intends to go on. I don’t think it’s entirely inaccurate to say that I lost the ability to breathe properly for the duration of the film. I’ve seen many a film and TV show that has mastered building tension in numerous scenes, but I honestly cannot say that I have been as on edge for a whole 90 minutes as I was watching this. And this is all because of sound. If we tallied it up, I reckon there was only about five minutes worth of dialogue in the whole film. The rest of it was noise and music, both of which were ALWAYS put to their best use to achieve the effects intended by director John Krasinski, who also starred in the film.

The main performances in the film allow you to really jump onboard with the high stakes that even the moments of less tension point towards. A massive battle for survival is endured by everyone, and after you see the extremes that this family has gone to in order to survive, you are completely behind them in everything they do. Emily Blunt is a talent no matter where you put her, and obviously things are no different here. Her character Evelyn has a few different layers that are added to as the film progresses, and she does a fantastic job of showing a woman who is trying her best to survive, but also a mother who would do whatever it takes in order to protect her children. Krasinski provides us with a performance that portrays similar objectives, but of course we see a more paternal approach from him in terms of this. We know that both these actors are good at what they do as we’ve had the chance to see their work on multiple occasions, however the two younger stars of this film, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe, are simply wonderful, and I think both have their moments where they do, in fact, outshine their on-screen parents. There’s an overwhelming sense of maturity displayed in both of their performances, and this whole idea that the circumstances under which they are living has robbed them of their childhood is another reason why you want them to beat the odds. Both are smart and know what they need to do so that they don’t get killed – there’s no whining despite the constant fear that they both inevitably have. They just get on with it, which is more than can be said for a lot of the characters that have appeared in every other horror/thriller type film that I’ve seen.

I think another key thing to point out in relation to the performances is the use of sign language within them. It just brings another dimension to the film where you have to give people credit for what they’ve done. As well as this, it massively boosts the accessibility of the film too. Recently there’s been a lot of talk deafness and cinema following the success of short film, The Silent Child, and this film shows that sign language can be a massive part of film and be successful, and that a film doesn’t necessarily have to be about deafness in order to contain sign language. As film, this has a lot to shout about, but in terms of creating cinematic experiences for all, it has broken down barriers and shown that it is possible to create great films that everybody can watch.

It’s important to point out the all-consuming nature of A Quiet Place. I’ve never known a film like it if I’m completely honest (granted, I’m not that old, so it’s not the most impressive statement, but just go with it for a second). I saw this film with decent sized audience, and because I booked quite late, I had been forced to take a seat in the centre of the auditorium. Now, if I had have had my usual seat (back and centre, widely regarded to be one of the best seats in the house), I wouldn’t have been as aware of the people around me, which would’ve meant that I wouldn’t have experienced the atmosphere that that auditorium held for more or less the entirety of the film. It was almost as if we were all in sync. We’d all jump together. We’d all hold our breath together. Most notably, however, everybody was as silent as they could be for the whole time. The film had us all in such a vice-like grip that none of us felt able to make a sound either, much like the characters in the film. The writing and the ways and means by which it translated onto the screen have produced something that is a phenomenal example of how a film can move mass groups of people, and restores my faith in the fact that people will go out of their way to watch good films that don’t necessarily fit into the mainstream.

A Quiet Place is a fantastic film, and I really do think it’s going to be one of the most talked about this year. It confirms how important sound is in film, and also offers a masterclass in building suspense, keeping you on edge throughout. The characters are the kinds of people that you can actually vouch for, and as a result you are even more invested in a film that has already refused to loosen it’s grip on you. I love the fact that we get to see plenty of the monsters that are the cause of everything (unlike a recent monster movie sequel we’ve had unleashed upon us), but the fact that sign language plays such a key part in the film too is something that I think will create something of a legacy as I can’t think of another film that has featured signing so heavily that hasn’t been Oscar-bait nor has featured deafness as main part of the story.

Review – Tomb Raider

I get excited about some films – who doesn’t? However there are some that I get more excited about than others, even if critical acclaim isn’t guaranteed. Tomb Raider was absolutely one of those films.

Anyone who has been paying attention to my Twitter activities recently will know that I was buzzing for the release of this film. I was also desperately hoping that it would succeed where more or less every other mainstream video game movie had failed before. The odds were stacked against it, but I still kept the faith.

What we have here is a film that rises, I believe, head and shoulders above all others that we’ve seen within the video game genre. I honestly do think that the bar has been raised here. Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means saying that Tomb Raider is perfect because it certainly is not. It won’t win Oscars and it won’t be remembered as one of the greats, but it is a damn site better than anything we’ve been offered before.

The film is based on the 2013 reboot of the game franchise that showed us the character of Lara Croft before she really became the Tomb Raider we all know now. Alicia Vikander takes on the role of a 21 year-old Lara who is working as a bike messenger to avoid going broke as she refuses to accept her inheritance following her father’s disappearance seven years before. Just as she is about to bite the bullet and sign his death certificate, she becomes aware of the circumstances under which he disappeared, and decides to pursue the mystery herself. Before long, she’s on a mysterious island, and it is there that she embarks upon the journey that sees her blossom into the character that everyone the world over is aware of.

I’ll do what I always do and talk about the performances first. I really think Alicia Vikander has done a good job as Lara here. I know her casting was met with a lot of criticism, especially when the first looks at the character came out, but she has brought a far more relatable character to the table than we’ve seen with any other version in the past, in both the films and the games. What I liked about Vikander’s performance is the journey she took the character on. You start off with someone who is very naïve and essentially still a child, something that is captured at it’s best in the scene where Lara arrives in Japan and almost falls foul of a group of pick-pocketers when looking for Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), who is her companion throughout this film. By the end of the film, you’re presented with someone who has matured immensely because of their experiences, and the character you see in the very final scene of the film is almost a completely different person.

As far as the cast goes, Vikander is definitely the main star of the film. There are a few notable names involved, but they all play roles that sort of make up the scenery around Lara. Dominic West plays Richard Croft and I think it’s a role he was dead suited to to be completely honest. It would have been nicer to have possibly seen slightly more of him because he has a lot of talent to put to use, however, where we did get to see him, he and Vikander really captured the father/daughter dynamic that is so important to this franchise, and that’s the main thing.

Walton Goggins looks like he has fun playing Mathias Vogel. Rather like a James Bond villain, we’re first introduced to him around the halfway point of the film, and straightaway you know that he’s absolutely one of the bad guys. As much as Goggins lavishes playing this character and his form in playing some other unsavoury guys in a couple of other well-known films, I must admit that Vogel is quite forgettable. I’m someone who can name a lot of villains from a lot of the films I’ve, but when pitched against a hero as iconic as Lara Croft, the people creating the bad guy and the person gifted the task of playing that character really has to go above and beyond to stand out and be remembered. Goggins put in a good effort, but it didn’t quite stand up for me.

One of the main reasons this film is better than many others before it is that it has a story that is actually isn’t completely nonsense. The adaptation from video game to big screen has happened a lot more smoothly here than it has in the past, perhaps because the source material, as far as I’m aware, was acknowledged a hell of a lot more with this film. There are scenes that have been lifted straight from the game, and there are a lot of nods to the game – both the 2013 reboot which this is largely based upon, but also the games that came before it – with a number of moments throughout the film. For example, there is a point here where Lara pulls a massive splinter out of her side, and this is something that is clearly inspired by a sequence right at the start of the 2013 game. There are a few plot holes here and there, and definitely some things didn’t quite add up for me, such as the ‘reveal’ at the end of the film, but when it comes to comparing what we have here with what we’ve been given in the past, I really shouldn’t be complaining too much because this really is on another level to what we’ve seen previously.

I also just want to add that I really like the fact that nobody tried to sexualise Lara in any way here. She is purely an action hero in this film. She gets hurt, she gets dirty, she gets scared, and she doesn’t get romantically involved with any of the men in the film, which I think has always been one of the (many) downfalls with the Angelina Jolie films. Dare I say it, she’s been portrayed in a way nobody would think twice about if she was a bloke?

So, while it does have it’s faults, I am honestly so happy to say that they’re finally gone and done it – Tomb Raider is the video game movie that we’ve been waiting for, and is 100% the adaptation that this beloved character deserves. Vikander brings us a realistic Lara Croft and maintains focus on the qualities that made her such treasured character in my eyes. The many tips of the hat to the games are also very welcome here. Yes, there may be some terrible dialogue buried in here, and some of the finer details don’t come together quite as neatly as I’d like, but this has triumphed in many places and we truly should celebrate that.