Men in Black: International (2019)

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There hasn’t been a ‘Men in Black’ movie since 2012 and now they’ve returned to protect us from the scum of the universe; though will you nod your head that the black suits are comin’ back or is it a film tailor-made for regret?

Hotshot Agent H (Chris Hemsworth) is paired up with newbie Agent M (Tessa Thompson), who managed to get on board with the MIB after many years of research and dedication. Their easy mission to sweet-talk an alien winds up becoming a deadly quest across the planet to prevent shape-shifting creatures called The Hive from causing massive devastation.

Honestly, this is an extremely forgettable flick, one which easily could have been breezy and fun but it is not. You’d think that the person/people in charge of coming up with the idea of casting Thompson and Hemsworth together again, after their sparkling team-up in ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ were onto a winner, but you would be mistaken. The zany edge boldly demonstrated in the most recent Thor outing is not repeated and is sorely missed, in fact however believable their squabbling double act is, it is never sizzling enough to warrant a new entry in the MIB franchise.

The script department is lacking of anything funny, there’s middling titbits of comedy but on the whole it is absent. Not even the few dabs of action can propel this movie to entertaining levels, the music video background of director F. Gary Gray is felt quite a lot, in the sense that it doesn’t feel like a big globe-trotting science fiction action, a lot of the time the gloss is there but it all looks pristine like Hemsworth and co. have stepped into what they think is a perfume commercial on set.

Few laughs aren’t the only thing to expect, you can also rely on a massively predictable, extremely run of the mill plot which does very little to hold court. The change up of bringing a woman on board and seeing the suited squad go international are not enough to inject much interest after the first 15 minutes.

The visuals are so-so, most of the alien tech or the space creatures themselves are cartoonish and fill up the background like a mad zoo and things like the shrimp characters or Frank the pug are shoe-horned in for cheap nostalgia. Picking up on the teeny-weeny positives; the high quality sheen and slick style of the organisation are present, the suits and shades are fresh, some cool car weapon modifications and a short lived bike chase in Marrakesh are all moments which stop the movie being an all out flop.

Summer blockbuster season so far isn’t doing well, they’re running on a trend of being boring, uninspired or cheaply iffy. So, after ‘Dark Phoenix’‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ and to some degree, ‘Aladdin’, chalk this latest as yet another inclusion in the 2019 miss list.

5/10

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Late Night (2019)

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Celebrities getting interviewed by men in suits is a huge part of both American and British TV programming; so it’s only fitting that this comedy shuffles the pack and puts a woman in the spotlight but does ‘Late Night’ drop the mic or drop the ball?

Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) has been leader of the late night pack for over 20 years and has scooped up numerous Emmy’s, but with online buzz non-existent and a threat of her removal, she realises things need to be shaken up. Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling) is hired who helps bring some new life into the show but is it too late?

The spoofing of late night TV is often comical throughout this film and Kaling, who writes the screenplay, brings an interesting and timely response to the white male system presently in place. This ruling of the roost where not a single woman hosts a late night gig is upturned by the wonderfully believable figure of Newbury; a character brimming with wit, teeming with intellect and somewhat Cruella like in her prim and offish stature.

‘Late Night’ can often be a script which goes all in on the topics of diversity, inclusion and the keeping-on-trend trend. The near constant commentary surrounding the #metoo atmosphere is understandable but Kaling runs away with it and the comedy suffers, leaving a solid brick wall of heavy handed Times Up building. It’s absolutely a necessary action to give women and people of colour more work but this plot does play that card at every turn, feeling more like a look-at-us-we’re-being-inclusive feature than a clever comedy which happens to revolve around diversity.

Some later scenes where we see the British presenter try and tackle more viral-inducing moments are dumb but brilliantly funny and on point with the likes of what we see entertaining millions online nowadays. The writing room scenes are a fairly hilarious collection of ideas, throwing in some lazy personalities spiced up by the arrival of Molly who helps but winds up by looking in from the outside, but I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed the film as a whole. ’30 Rock’ is a product lampooning the stuffy, masculine writers environment with a much better zap of hilarity.

Kaling brings a kindly and earnest quality to the chemical plant/factory persona and shares wonderful chemistry with Emma Thompson; who is the perfect straight-laced, well heeled host with a lack of compassion and a need/hope to change. She is an utterly convincing presence who you could easily picture as a real talk show presenter, the more profound and orderly chats mixed with sillier segments would rival the fame-hungry ideals of Fallon and Corden.

‘Late Night’ is a so-so film with a gentle layer of humour and specific SNL-esque humour broadened with the current empowering era, it has cliches and slathers on ideas too thickly but thanks to Thompson and her talent, the film does spark.

6/10

 

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)

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The seventh outing in the main X-Men franchise sees possibly the most zzz-inducing movie and if this really will be their curtain closer, then what a damp squib to bow out on.

After a space mission where Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) soaks up a massive solar flare, her gifts are amped up, leading her on a dangerous journey of discovery and a path to the side of darkness. Professor X (James McAvoy) desperately hopes to get her back but with a sinister space presence in the guise of Vuk (Jessica Chastain) influencing the psychic redhead, it could be difficult.

I never saw ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’ but apparently this latest feature is practically the same. Even though I haven’t watched it, ‘Dark Phoenix’ is still a movie which feels insanely familiar. Simon Kinberg’s first directorial gig is not a success and with writing work on a film like ‘Jumper’, you aren’t in for any new-found saving grace here. Reports are that Kinberg was sitting down with Turner to re-write and add in material whilst filming was in the stages of wrapping up; which goes a long way to demonstrate the unfocused car-crash this hugely delayed film is.

It is a film that had been pushed back more than once and after watching it, you kind of wish it had never seen the light of day. It’s extremely on the nose writing and none more so than a supernova forming the shape of a phoenix in the closing moments. It isn’t just this, the push and pull of right and wrong and the struggle of Jean’s plight could have been a well played and powerful study on grief, truth and goodness but everything feels so black and white that you cannot get involved with any aspect of the narrative. It’s a dull film in all honesty.

By the end of ‘Dark Phoenix’ all you’ll remember of it is a headache of noise and CGI. The DC and MCU worlds might utilise technical wizardry but a lot of the time, such as in ‘Shazam’ or ‘Endgame’, the heart remains because the characters are well served, there is not a fleeting chance of that within Kinberg’s script. The finale bloats itself with painful visual effects which are messy and instead of conjuring epic enjoyment it causes banality at how truly devoid of character the film is.

The entire film feels achingly repetitive, Jessica Chastain is wasted under a wig and is an emotionless alien persona whose name you won’t even remember unless the services of IMDb help you out. Nicholas Hoult, the mostly un-blue Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender must have had their mobiles in their pockets on set because they utterly phone in their performances. The latter has started some hippy commune and collects redundant mutants; none more stupid than Mr. I Whip-My-Hair-Back-and-Forth.

Not all is an abomination; Sophie Turner is alright and brings a serviceable amount of emotion to the table but she isn’t wholly dominant or fiery either, gladly her troubled young side of life burning on the fringes of evil are convincingly portrayed. A sequence earlier on when a group of mutants try and retrieve Jean from her home is nifty and gives us a chance to witness the cool style of Quicksilver. Hans Zimmer gifts us a wonderful score that will have you sinking into false comfort that you’re watching a better product and well, it’s not as bad as ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’…in my humble opinion.

‘Dark Phoenix’ is a tired end to the franchise and all we can hope for is the characters hide away for some time, before being inevitably bought back by the Avengers folk, who may breath necessary new life into the mutants.

4/10

Ma (2019)

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There’s ridiculous and then there’s ‘Ma’; a new feature from the Blumhouse brand. Sometimes loco is enjoyable but in the case of this horror, it never reaches the entertaining heights the premise deserves.

New to a town in Ohio is Maggie (Diana Silvers) who winds up with the popular gang. Due to their youthful age, they need an adult to buy them alcohol and in walks Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer) who is more than happy to help and way too eager to please by offering the school kids a party set-up in her basement but her obsession grows, leading Maggie down a dangerous path.

Tate Taylor who directs this barmy film has some thriller know-how in his back pocket as he was the man in charge of Emily Blunt-led ‘The Girl on the Train’. However, the good handling of thriller tones in the first two acts of ‘Ma’ are totally undone by an absolutely bonkers third act. Even though the plot and dialogue within the first hour can be dumb and less than engaging, there is a credible amount of taut tension but it speedily unravels by the finale.

The basement gatherings are frequent and are an excuse to load the cinema speakers with party tracks and ply the screen with typical teen drinking and revelry but they are fairly tiresome and the only celebratory aspect of these home parties is Octavia Spencer busting moves and cavorting with high school adolescents which suitably builds up the air of unease.

Spencer is a sensational actress and has won or been nominated for many supporting roles; so it’s great to see her stride out of the sidelines and be front and centre. She definitely doesn’t waste her spotlight moment, taking a gigantic bite of the role and slathering on layers of sinister chills to the character. The mumsy costume of Sue Ann; what with the animal patterned tops, her knitwear and then her veterinary position all do wonders in setting up a lovely, cosy American Mom which makes her descent into crazed anger all the more batty to watch.

The plot is silly which is sad, because if tackled well this could have been a dumb yet really creepy horror outing. Instead it doesn’t work as a so-bad-its-good film but feels rather hollow and shuttles into an insane third act. Not even the flashbacks help round out the story or justify Sue Ann’s choices, in fact all they do is provide a cliched attempt to deepen the lead character but it’s misplaced and does very little to have you sympathise with her.

‘Ma’ is very, very B-movie material featuring a crew of students that are neither interesting or quirky enough to like or root for. It’s a silly narrative with a fairly strong suspenseful start which crashes and burns into a fiery end. Only worth the watch for Spencer lapping up the screen-time and enjoying every second.

4.5/10

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

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The MonsterVerse is now a three-parter; after 2014’s ‘Godzilla’ and 2017’s ‘Kong: Skull Island’, comes this gigantic action monster movie, which sees the gears of change shift up a gear as the Monarch group have been teased and revealed previously, but should this humongous lizard have returned?

Godzilla’s San Francisco destruction tore a family apart and now, 5 years later Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) has further developed a bioacoustic machine to try and control, appease or rile up a multitude of monsters across the globe. Monarch, led by Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) needs Emma’s husband Mark (Kyle Chandler) to try and track the device and stop worldwide devastation.

Considering the scale of the numerous ancient beasts and the carnage on show, this movie feels rather empty and flat. It is almost as if director/writer Michael Dougherty cared more about causing smashy-smashy mayhem and filling the skies with thunderous doom than giving any actual interest or brooding moral compass to the plot. You could argue that the script tries to do that, but it’s a weak footnote to what is just an excuse to have monsters fight.

That wouldn’t be so bad if the action was silly and blockbuster ready but instead the footage of Godzilla taking on the other creatures is shaky and repetitive. If you enjoy scaled gods of death constantly crashing into each other and yelping to the heavens then this film will be right up your street, otherwise it is quickly fatiguing.

The film tries to scatter in humour yet the majority of jokes are lame or not funny but I guess they at least bring some lightness to a plodding and heavily chaotic melee of gunfire and monstrous battle. The entire story revolving around the tried and boringly tested problem of humankind and overpopulation serves as little interest and there’s only so many times that Godzilla can crop up to save the day at the last minute before it gets annoyingly convenient.

To be fair, there are some cool moments along the way and the movie houses a few amazing, grandiose shots of the monsters set against well lit backdrops; as if poster ready to adorn a film students bedroom wall. The colour tone is frustrating though, if Eiffel 65 have not had their paycheck after the constant blue palette used, then Tango will be calling because the rest of the picture is painted with a soaking wet orange brush. At times it works but this 50/50 of two strong colours does little else, other than wash or burn out the actors.

‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ has a talented rostra of actors but they serve as dull pawns on a chess board merely following the monstrous royal pieces around. There’s no investment to any of the characters which makes the film feel hollow. Farmiga and Chandler try and hold the film together and Charles Dance is fairly conniving, but his Lannister days from ‘Game of Thrones’ provide a good chunk of the evil we associate him with. Security within the story must know about Millie Bobby Brown’s telekinetic powers from ‘Stranger Things’, as her Madison character manages to roam Boston without being stopped, or even seen. Though she does provide a decent degree of emotion and youthful determination to a world falling apart.

This MonsterVerse is now three for three; in creating movies with bursts of exciting sequences in huge set-ups and huger monsters but none of them carry anything captivating. It’s all noise and no heart.

5/10

Booksmart (2019)

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Graduating from actor to director, with her first time debut feature is Olivia Wilde, for a joyful and transcendent entry to the coming-of-age genre. The combined efforts of Wilde, a unit of four superb writers and the leading ladies make for a feel good film with great diversity and some originality.

Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) are extremely intelligent seniors in high school and seem to have their whole adult lives mapped out. After they realise that their sole focus on studies might have been for nought, they decide to finally mix play with work at the last hurdle as they embark on a route to an end of year house party.

Olivia Wilde steps up to the plate and behind the camera with effortless ease, in such a way you’d believe she’d made multiple movies beforehand. The knack in which she creates such a comfortable atmosphere throughout the film and ensures the depth of the central females comes to the fore, is exquisite quality control. The narrative may tread familiar beats to other coming-of-age features but Wilde directs in a way that breaths new life into the world.

Unlike a lot of American comedies, which try too hard to cram in pop-culture references and lose themselves in smutty humour, ‘Booksmart’ banks on the friendship between the girls and is that ever a successful bet because the two leads are a sensation. Dever and Feldstein break the scales of chemistry and through hyped up facial expressions and wonderful timing they fill the film with perfect amounts of nighttime revelry, self-learning and awkwardness.

It is not just the gals who triumph, as this is a film which pools together an excellent array of electrically charged zany folk. The background cast are interesting to watch, funny and play a suitable part in the antics of Molly and Amy’s night. The diverse range of characters make you truly feel as if you’re immersed in a world of high school cliques.

A lit soundtrack punctuates the teen angst and laughter with a fire punch of soul-happy energy. The lighting and neon lights of their house party hopping gives ‘Booksmart’ a starry wash of shiny exploration which works in their actual physical journey but their own inner understanding of themselves, each other and the students around them. This is no more felt than in a third act which sees the hopeful party pair reach dramatic levels.

Granted, there are some predictable moments and not every joke lands but these are minuscule blips in an otherwise note-perfect comedy. ‘Booksmart’ is a breath of fresh air with Olivia Wilde, Feldstein, Dever and the writers doing wonderful things to have you instantly feeling in safe hands to sit back and wallow in the non-stop delight of their work.

8/10

Aladdin (2019)

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We’ve met a friend like Aladdin before; back in 1992 Disney released the two-time Oscar winning animation, and now in keeping with their recent trend of (money) spinning their back catalogue into live-action movies, we return to Agrabah to see the urchin fall in love again. Does this version reach majestic magic carpet heights or should it be bottled away for 10’000 years?

Adviser to the Sultan is Jafar (Marwen Kenzari) who seeks absolute power and the 3 wishes granted by a magic lamp in a faraway cave. Cue Aladdin (Mena Massoud); a market thief who might be the ideal candidate to enter and retrieve the item. However, it is Aladdin who winds up with the power of the Genie (Will Smith) within and his hopes of wooing Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) seem more powerful then their previous meeting.

No longer dealing with Cockney ruffians or Arthurian legend is Guy Ritchie, who directs this redo with some power in his corner, even if it’s apparent he doesn’t know how to capture musicals. The ammunition in his camp may mostly stem from the nostalgia of knowing and/or loving the original but he hasn’t majorly misstepped and, in fact the movie has plenty of punch, pizzazz and yahoo.

You can tell he’s behind the camera, with the update on the House of Mouse flick getting a few trick shots in, or at least moments that attempt a cool stylish flow; whether that be through slow motion or a mix of new and old. This doesn’t harm the film but never really adds a necessary spice either, though the blend of hip-hop and more traditional Asian influence is a flavourful dance delight after the main story wraps up.

The music of ‘Aladdin’ are favourites of mine so I was interested to see what new life and vocalists could bring to the table. Having composer Alan Menken and lyricists Tim Rice & Howard Ashman back on duty helps keep the Disney sparkle mostly in tact. ‘One Jump Ahead’ gets the toe tapping because the original music is a bop but the way the direction is handled is bizarre in the bazaar. The action on screen, for some reason is sped up in places which gives the entire scene an awkward, shoddy look.

‘A Whole New World’ is a serene thing of moonlit wonder; it doesn’t enhance the original but it doesn’t need to as the track is a classic. ‘Arabian Nights’ and ‘Friend Like Me’ both feature the former Fresh Prince combining singing and rapping to varying degrees of success. In terms of the latter and ‘Prince Ali’, the film has this hairography way of luring you into the joyful energy, colour and sound but it’s all a distraction to hide the fact the spins on the songs are less than special.

The costumes sometimes look cheap and the animal sidekicks are sadly left to the sidelines, none more than 1992 animated wise-cracker Iago. Aladdin himself is a dull lead, he has splashes of charisma and Massoud certainly gets the street rat hustle in his bones but he has more chemistry with monkey Abu than with the Sultan’s daughter. The biggest strength is in the politics, really the only change the script has seen in 27 years. The way Ritchie and John August ensure that Jasmine possesses a hungry desire to be more than a figure of beauty is awesome and no doubt empowering to many.

Will Smith has some golden moments and the CGI of his ‘Avatar’-esque appearance isn’t always ropy but he doesn’t burst out of Robin Williams shadow. Kenzari plays the sinister level well, it only notches to pantomime villainy near the end but he’s a good figure of evil. Naomi Scott is the one who steals the crown and is a royal gem to watch. There is passion, not only in her updated tale but within the very life of her eyes you can see and feel the drive and care she has for Agrabah, her father and the people. A new musical number is stunning with a pop ballad sound that you’d turn up if it came on the radio.

So, even if ‘Aladdin’ is less a diamond and more a rough copy of what’s been before, Jasmine and the heart of the main story are a wonder that do much better than the trailers would have you believe.

7/10