A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

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Universe travelling and diverse storytelling are on show in Ava DuVernay’s big budget Disney film, but the grand visual pleasantries to look at don’t override the ambitious scope and its ineffectual handling of the subtext.

Distracted and struggling student Meg Murry (Storm Reid) misses her father, after he randomly disappeared four years ago. Dr. Murry (Chris Pine) was a brilliant scientist and had possibly cracked the notion of teleportation and our existence. One day, three powerful travellers of the universe appear and take Meg, her brother and a school friend to Uriel in the hope of finding Dr. Murry.

I’ll begin with the positives because there’s a lot of negatives I wish to cover. Firstly, the visuals are splendidly colourful and some of the landscapes the characters visit, are lush and rife with stunning cinematography that looks great on the big screen. I liked or perhaps appreciate the bold ideas stemming from the 1962 novel; these themes of family, spreading love and ridding hate are nice enough and espicially with the state of things currently, I found those ideals hold up well but they did feel forced and/or twee. A sequence on a beach with Michael Pena was pretty good with the most tension I absorbed but, alas it was short-lived.

The main issue, I feel, is that the movie never seems sure of what it’s projecting and it heavily flits between moments of science mumbo jumbo that most children wouldn’t grasp and saccharine annoyance that adults will tire of. It’s as if the writers and director were trying to mix childhood fantasy with profound statements on life and love together, which never succeeds, sadly.

Attempts at humour fall massively flat and again feel forced, costume and make up on display from the three astral beings are impressive but they change without reason anytime they shift location, like the movie is shooting for an Oscar nod for Costume Design and Make Up and Hairstyling next year. Meg’s adoptive brother Charles Wallace is mega annoying plus the fact they can’t ever just say Charles becomes grating. CGI in places is less than inspired and wholly distracting in a cheap way, which is odd considering the nine figure budget behind this production.

Generally, I was never by hooked any of the film. Scenes that were obviously going for tension never felt like they were raising stakes. Even with the dramatic altering of the sibling relationship, I still felt bored with the story. I for sure lost my patience fairly early on with this movie which is a shame because there could have been something very special and triumphant about it all, instead of the restrained, sickly sweet and messy feature it turns out to be.

Reid is by and large another one of the only other positives I got from this film, she’s a powerful performer with an evident understanding of this hard subject material and how to portray Meg as a difficult, somewhat stubborn but loving and brave character. Oprah Winfrey delivers messages of hope, light and typical Disney fortune cookie tid-bits in a way that stirs quite nicely. Reese Witherspoon plays Mrs Whatsit, someone without much tact and still learning, she showcases that well but is another annoying factor, as is the performance from Deric McCabe as Charles. Just Charles. Mindy Kaling plays Mrs Who, but is all but pointless in a turn that mainly has her spouting quotes from scholars, playwrights and Chris Rock. Levi Miller is Meg’s friend Calvin who is extremely pointless and I never understood why he was there.

This is a Disney dud that I’ll try and forget in a hurry. There’s only tiny wrinkles in the run-time that kept me engaged but the majority is frustratingly bad.

4.5/10

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

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The saga returns and the 2nd of the new Star Wars trilogy whams into the cinema with director Rian Johnson ensuring he gives fans a lot to be pleased about whilst gifting the starry sci-fi blockbuster some neat stylish additions of his own.

Continuing on from Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) island meet up with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), she hopes to learn the ways of the Jedi. Meanwhile Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) is desperately trying to evacuate the Rebel base as the First Order try and diminish hope from the galaxy and wipe out the chance of Luke’s return. As they keep trying to escape, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is at odds with his place in all this, not helped by visions that unwillingly connect him to someone else.

Rian Johnson ensures the Star Wars aficionados can enjoy seeing certain characters, screen wipes and the charm of space opera good versus bad as the ever central theme. Hope and the notion of crushing that ideal is what drives the franchise and this is no exception but gladly the director after J.J. Abrams hands this outing some stylistic moments; ones that almost step out of the comfortable SW bubble, that I thoroughly enjoyed. These choices keep the film fresh and help it look exciting but more brooding than ‘The Force Awakens’. A sequence with endlessly mirroring a character, the salted planet of red surface and crystal critters and an extremely amazing breathtaking snappy edit of a soundless explosion are some examples of the visual splendour Johnson and his huge crew have created, which keep the galaxy alive with big screen wonder.

There are some points, mostly that lay within the story, that can feel utterly safe and predictable. Obviously I’m not wanting to spoil anything in this review so I’ll keep hush on the negatives I had but sufficed to say there are space filled deus ex machinas abounds and little character events that I expected straight away which sort of took me out of the immersive thrill. Also, some writing choices they give the action and/or characters felt cheap or not wholly unnecessary and without spoilers I really felt no need for a kiss that comes at one time.

Luke’s island hideout is rife with creatures and one species is the well advertised and product placed Porgs that clearly strike for the kids and the cute factor. Granted they can be quite fun but the clear merchandise cash in that they are and their constant gaping mouth wide eyed shtick becomes less amusing and ever tiring. Aside from a couple of story gripes and these puffin-esque beasties this movie has a good amount of twists and turns that keep the narrative interesting, a mission on a casino centred Canto Bight is rich with wealth, class differences and a couple of fun cameos. Another positive is John Williams returning with a score that’s safe but swells and simmers with the fan buzz of familiar sounds to satisfy all. I also love that a lot of the creatures you see are handled with animatronics which look much better and charming than the sheen of CGI.

Mark Hamill gets his teeth into much more screen time and it’s nice to see Luke Skywalker back, though he’s getting to play well with the bitter side of things. Hamill delivers enough emotion into his journey of who he is now and why he’s left the Jedi Master qualities behind with a tinge of will he/won’t he be a bad egg. Both Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher lift the film with an explainable grace that probably stems from the nostalgia of their presence amongst the whirlwind of desperate escape tactics. Fisher herself still carries Leia as a beacon of hope and strength, she’s good and efficient and Fisher performs this effortlessly filling the General shoes with ease. Adam Driver gets to slowly break away from his angsty teen fits and dramatics and the conflict in his path is nicely evident in the performance. Daisy Ridley manages to keep up the brave and strong qualities of Rey, a hero through and through but one where Ridley nicely plays with the pressure of balancing her place in the Force and the pull of the dark side. Domhnall Gleeson amps up the villainous panto switch with sneers aplenty. Supreme Leader Snoke gets more screen time and has more depth and a constant creepy shadowy presence thanks to the mo-cap work from Andy Serkis.

It’s definitely a long film and this is a long review to almost reflect that. It’s the longest one yet but luckily it never feels a slog; it may not zip on by but it’s a well handled and well paced space adventure that feels like a grand step up from Episode 7 and one that has humour and stakes around every corner.

8/10

A Bad Moms Christmas (2017)

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I was relatively lukewarm but fine with the first film back in…oh, only last year. Yes, the moms are back and this time they’re cashing in early for the Christmas season in a so called comedy that is definitely not warranted and does more of the same with extra dirty jokes and baubles thrown in for good measure.

The nightmare of Christmas is around the corner and so comes the stress of being a perfect mother for Amy (Mila Kunis) who tries to make everything perfect for her children and keep this time of year under wraps and not go crazy. Alas her perfectionist mum is arriving and Ruth (Christine Baranski) won’t let her daughters’ wishes satisfy her. Amy can only break free with fellow stressed mums Kiki (Kristen Bell) and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) who also happen to be reunited with their maternal guardians in time for December 25th.

Just the convenience alone of all three mums coming home for Christmas was crazy stupid to suit the screenplay but topping off this with this trio also attending midnight mass because the script demands some redemption and forgiveness is insanely stupid. That is one issue with the writing, another huge one is the characters just aren’t likable; aside from maybe Hank, all of them feel like crudely drawn stereotypes and you can’t connect to them because they steal and lie. The only way the writers feel like they’re redeeming these factors is by constantly going on about how they’re tired mums who deserve fun. First time around though, there’s an interesting social aspect in them going against the grain of being so called super mums but this time they’re just kicking it against their own mums without any joy or clever storytelling.

Calling this a comedy film doesn’t feel right either as I didn’t laugh or even smile once throughout this boring ordeal. There’s aspects like having a character called Isis, nothing clever about it, just heck, call her that because it’s funny to have a name linked to terror. A young child also swears very near the beginning not to be cute or apt to her behaviour or anything intelligent, just to laugh at the fact they have a child swearing. This movie literally revels in ‘dicking around’ as they say umpteen times, with excessive swearing, sexual dirtiness and mums sticking it to the man/their mums in more of that 2016 slow mo chaos where they go to town on booze and profanity.

It’s a film with more of the same and further enforces my reasoning that this film really never needed to be thrust upon us. It being churned out so quickly really makes it clear this a desperate cash grab for the jolly holiday period. This and ‘Daddy’s Home’ swiping at the Christmas box office season is ridiculous as they’re both frankly unnecessary sequels. I guess I’ll try and be nice somewhere and say that the dodgeball scene at a trampoline park is quite good and squares off characters nicely but aside from this the film does nothing to dispel predictability and tedium.

Mila Kunis is more of the same as the capable yet quite plain lead, who has her mother to contend with. I was kind to Kathryn Hahn with my previous review but this time her rudeness and blindly drunken sexual naughtiness is dreary and too much. Kristen Bell is a likable presence again as the slightly kooky Kiki with an even kookier parent. Cheryl Hines is weirdly deranged and they wring this idea dry constantly leaving only her customised Kiki pyjamas as an amusing quality. It’s Christine Baranski who walks away as the almost saving grace, her brilliant sharp tongue and no nonsense rich granny attitude is perfectly played.

In all honesty, I zoned out of this film more than once. It’s a needless and unfunny sequel wrapped up in tinsel and it left me icy cold instead of festively fuzzy.

3.5/10

Ten from the Bottom ’16

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Well thank goodness 2016 is nearly over. What an eventful year, iconic celebrities passing away, politics around the world going crazy, Stranger Things deservedly soaring, Trump undeservedly soaring and movies of the past 12 months missing the mark more than usual. It truly was a disappointing year for film with a lot of the feature’s I’d seen scoring average marks at best.

This easily could have been a Top 20 list…I’ve even had to be cheeky enough to tie a couple of films just to squeeze them into the running order. I’m also sick of this year and looking forward to a joyful experience of 2017 that here’s the bad movies that just missed out from pride of place in the final countdown:

Ghostbusters….The Legend of Tarzan….A Bigger Splash….Bad Neighbors 2….X-Men: Apocalypse….Office Christmas Party….Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children….The Big Short….Bad Moms….Keeping up with the Joneses….The Girl on the Train….Finding Dory….Passengers….The BFG and The Huntsman: Winters War. 

On with the main show then —

10) SUICIDE SQUAD…AND SAUSAGE PARTY

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Yes it’s cheating the system slightly but just call it the Troy Review Electoral College and this is why they both win (or lose by being in the list). Firstly with Suicide Squad, an eagerly awaiting fun looking film with a punchy trailer that actually had a poor script, poorer execution, a soundtrack like an epileptic record player and a bad Joker. Squad review.

Sausage Party had a good if not great premise but is such a film catered to guffawing teenagers with smut layered on every scene that eventually the sex jokes wear thin and there’s nothing left to offer…that food orgy scene is OTT, a lame sequel set up comes about and well…read more in my full review —> SP

9) ME BEFORE YOU

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Not my type of film anyway but on top of this is the near constant cheesiness involved. It’s also a film pushing into trying to be that sad movie that girls wipe away stains of mascara after watching it. More than this, the problem lies with the main disability and how forced it becomes. Me B4 U review

8) ALLIED

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The so-called passion between Cotillard and Pitt is more wet than a Christmassy brussel sprout fart, the story-line is absurdly dull with no clever turn and the boredom factor reaches near Spinal Tap levels of 11. Don’t be a traitor, read the full review here.

7) ZOOLANDER 2

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Fashion is danger! So is this ‘comedy’ sequel sprawling with celebrity cameos, a very shaky script and an overwhelming disappointing feeling you get by seeing it. It tries too hard and fails harder…check out how hot my review is right now.

6) FRIEND REQUEST…AND THE 5TH WAVE

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Let’s begin with Friend Request which is like an unwanted invite you get after seeing Unfriended. This sort of follow up/remake film is terrible. There’s lame jump scares, things become unintentionally funny and it feels similar but badly so to the visual flair of Unfriended. Delete now.

Chloe Grace Moretz in this shocking young adult science fiction attempt is okay but stares into the distance a lot, like I did trying to watch this film. Cheap effects and a terrible twist don’t help the movie along. Review.

Into the Top 5 we go –

5) AMERICAN PASTORAL

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The directorial debut from Ewan McGregor but not one to remember. The one word that would describe this movie is boring. It could have been way more interesting and powerful but it’s overly sentimental and hard to get through. American Bore

4) WARCRAFT

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So much going on and none if it really any good is this mostly boring fantasy flick from the brilliant director Duncan Jones…though you wouldn’t think it watching this. Long, silly and a titled beginning which hopefully has no middle or end to come. Borecraft.

3) BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE

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Long. A ridiculous plot. Lex Luthor’s more ridiculous plan. Jesse Eisenberg’s even more ridiculous acting. Boring Cavill. Boring generally. MARTHA! Thank goodness for Batfleck. BvS review

2) WIENER-DOG

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A couple of laughs really really really don’t save this film. It’s dreary, striving to be artistic and/or pretentious. The comedy it does have becomes annoying as it gets drawn out to breaking point. The movie is disjointed and the ending of it all is so horrendous and of bad taste that it leaves the film with such a sour note making you hate it further. Wiener of a film

Well…after taking that depressing trip down movie memory lane, I’ve come to the end of the line. Numero uno, the big kahuna of bad…a film so utterly terrible, unfunny and disgraceful that I knew it would be the first placed worst movie as soon as I’d finished watching it, almost a year ago.

1) DIRTY GRANDPA

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What do you want?? Read my review. I don’t wish to waste time writing more about this film. Go away…see you (hopefully) in 2017!

Bad Moms (2016)

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Mildly funny but a movie I feel caters more for the female spectator, with plenty of lady laughs in my screening backing up that point. It has humour, solid cast performances but it feels long and nothing special.

Frantically running errands day in and day out hardly backed by her childish husband is Amy Mitchell (Mila Kunis). Her kids school is pretty much run by obsessive PTA mom Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate), so when Amy decides to say no to her rules and become a bad mom along with wild Carla (Kathryn Hahn) and home-bound Kiki (Kristen Bell) it causes major friction.

It’s a pretty obvious rom-com, as soon as the clearly hunky male comes into the picture who just happens to be a manly widow then you know Amy will end up with him. The characters are all types we’ve seen before, the awkward one, the overly sexual one and the typical lead who needs a boost in morale to be her true self. Though everything is predictable, the movie chugs along nicely.

Well, actually on the most part it does, there are some times when it feels long. It’s an odd one as there’s points where the film doesn’t appear smooth like each scene feels tacked on and not wholly part of what we’ve seen before. At least the struggles of female parenting are handled well and there’s nice poignant moments about how hard it is for mums, single or otherwise, to raise children and work and live.

The laughs themselves seem to land more appreciated with the women watchers, as a mid twenties male I did chuckle from time to time. There’s humour with a tacky glossy PowerPoint presentation about a bake sale, the cattiness of Gwendolyn is great and the house party with Martha Stewart is comedic for a while but mostly it’s average. They run crazily past the comedy rule of three as at least six mums get up and say why they’re bad, concluding in a poorly added ‘Mean Girls’-esque quip from a lonely parent.

Change wise, you know the characters have to progress but the transformation the three go through feels odd and rushed, Kiki gets control and a sultry black dress, Hahn covers up and makes her son lunch and Gwendolyn de-ices herself for the gals as if all it took for them to alter their personalities were a couple of samey speeches from Amy. On the plus side the opening madness of Amy’s duties is well done, the hipster world of her workplace is on point and to their credit the credits are interesting as we see the actors real mothers discuss their lives.

Mila Kunis is a capable lead and shows she can be funny, smart and affable. She bounces off the other two bad moms and they make for an engaging believable posse of trouble. Kristen Bell is fun to watch as she looks on panicked often, espicially as they play with her pink hoodie. So when she lets loose and drinks it’s amusing to see her shift character. Hahn excels in this role, the mad electric wire frayed with energy and sexual confidence gives the film the copious amounts of cursing. Applegate is the best to watch, lapping up her role as the steel faced bitch.

It has comedy in places and balances the serious side of parental issues but it never feels like it goes anywhere or knows where to take itself. At least it’s backed by a healthy group of exciting and watchable actresses who give the movie drive.

5.5/10

Wiener-Dog (2016)

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I don’t want to write about this movie, it had some promising moments, a few nice laughs but by the end of it all, everything has moped along to such a dreary and try-hard artsy encompassing view of the world, that it’s actually the opposite and rather a soulless and absurd product.

Coming home with a pet dog is Danny (Tracy Letts) who hopes the sausage dog will help their son’s progress. After a granola induced accident, Wiener-Dog is taken to the vets where veterinarian Dawn (Greta Gerwig) smuggles him away. She goes on a trip with Brandon (Kieran Culkin) and soon the pooch is into story number 3 with film school teacher Dave (Danny DeVito) before finding himself with the elderly Nana (Ellen Burstyn) who gets a visit from her granddaughter.

So, to start with the positives, of which there are just a small amount. Story #1 with the family trio has some funny points, for example the mother making up numerous stories about dogs, pregnancies and cremation to her son. Um…I guess the odd intermission starring the pup strolling in front of backdrops whilst music plays was quite strangely funny. Story #3 starts with a hope of the most interest, a New York based film school, comments on students, screenwriting and the industry are scripted well but then it’s over with a dog wearing a yellow dress and something else…which I won’t spoil for you if you do happen to waste your time seeing it.

What this movie and director Todd Solondz does frequently is take something either brimming with humour or life important and drag it out to an inch of it’s life so it’s neither funny or affirming anymore. Either that or he twists it so much with a weirdly wired black sense of comedy that you question what this movie is even trying to do or say. A case in point comes after Miss Wiener-Dog gets explosive diarrhoea which is amusing at the start but then a long tracking shot over pools of the liquid swiftly loses that initial comedic spark.

Another reason, for me at least why this film didn’t sit well is because there’s no connection. Aside from the first 2 stories, the characters don’t feel in any strong way linked. Solondz is probably making a statement that they’re connected by loss, despair or some other dejected emotion but we just skip from one short movie tale to another thanks to the dog and that’s that. Also, after watching the whole feature, there feels like there’s been absolutely zero point to any of what’s happened. It’s eccentric yet empty and the conclusion of the dog’s journey is cause of great and distasteful alarm.

Danny DeVito plays the grumbling professor well, his long time placement as a teacher wearing on his face as he hopes to get a new screenplay green-lit but knowing it’s never likely to happen is always felt as DeVito shuffles through his portion. Greta Gerwig gladly brings an element of sunshine into the world of the movie but is still quite muted on a random trip she takes with the similarly shuffling and muted Kieran Culkin. Ellen Burstyn and Zosia Mamet share a scene that has a more emotional and awkward family aura about it but by this point I felt void of interest like the movie feels void of direction.

I can safely say this is a film I will hopefully forget and never recommend but for fans of Todd Solondz’s work then this may be a movie you’ll enjoy, if that’s the word to use…which it isn’t.

4.5/10

Bad Neighbours 2 (2016)

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After the surprisingly funny and very agreeable box office takings of ‘Bad Neighbours‘, it probably isn’t any shock that this movie came about. Though having said this it’s not like it was overly called for and upon seeing this sequel I have to say it feels deadly lacking of good laughs.

Now full time parents to little Stella, Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen & Rose Byrne) are moving on. They think they’ve sold their house but due to an escrow deal, they have 30 days to keep the buyers sweet to finish the agreement. Unluckily for them, the once empty frat house next door is being overtaken by a headstrong lass called Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz) who starts her own partying sorority there and a new war begins.

Just looking at the writing team sparks trouble for this film, as there are five guys tackling this script making the finished product less than light and cohesive. It does make a difference truly as the 2014 movie only had two screenwriters. The saying of too many cooks spoiling the broth certainly rings true with most films I’ve seen with an over-abundance of writers. It’s like the quintet are teaming up for the bigger picture but want all their own touches involved too, amazingly the film doesn’t appear messy, it’s more hollow.

Nicholas Stoller is back to direct this feature and it certainly is a mad foray into the world of female partying and girl empowerment this time around. Though one negative is that this movie isn’t as over the top as last time, the interaction between the oldies and young blood isn’t anywhere near as cool, exciting and funnily tense and another negative is the whole gender scope the film runs with.

A lot of the time during the plot, it brings up issues of what girls can and cannot do, what Shelby believes a growing woman is entitled to and ultimately how the parents view it all considering their daughter. It’s a fine enough topic to shoot for but when scripted b 5 guys the whole thing feels forced and generally the film looks and sounds like it’s trying to be as funny as the first movie.

The soundtrack doesn’t live up to the hands in the air party vibe like the last time around. A blessed relief of Kanye West pumps up the cool and helps the film out but the songs aren’t as catchy or electric for this movie which doesn’t help the pacing a great deal. Also, I remember the first one being out there with sex, drugs and the like but this seems to go too far, a very open labour and foot scream of desperate clawing for OTT comedy…which no-one laughed at in my screening.

There are good moments though, there is still the same laughable chemistry between Byrne and Rogen, a frankly excellent confused spelling of sorority, the air bag idea is back with brilliant vengeance, the continuing void of parenting and dildo holding children is amusing and the little screen time of Dave Franco with Zac Efron is top notch. It’s a shame these positives feel mostly drowned out by a couple of needless gross out gags, a less exciting battle of the ages and emptiness of direction.

Seth Rogen is no good actor but his gurgled laugh and stoner like way he appears in every movie is what he does best and it’s no different here. He plays off the twin girls playing Stella very well and likewise with Rose Byrne he builds a believable bond. Chloe Grace Moretz doesn’t lift the film much at all sadly, she’s trying with a character of hoping to aspire to be a stronger girl but her breaking out against the ‘sexist’ world isn’t that compelling like Zac Efron who feels stitched on just to get the cast back together, him debating his life and choices is a dull part of the runtime. Rose Byrne has great comedic timing and shows she can be gross and less than perfect, though everyone provides a smile they don’t feel connected as with ‘Bad Neighbours’.

Sorority Rising feels more like it’s sinking as a small amount of laughs is gravely felt in all places, making us realise what is wrong with the film, music, direction, writing and the fact it’s trying to crackle in the surprise way the first did.

5.5/10