Stuber (2019)

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There’s standard fare American comedy; a lot of which is lowest common denominator humour and then there’s ‘Stuber’. This is a limp film needing to be put out of its misery that bears no laughter in both its premise and execution.

After laser-eye surgery prevents cop Victor (Dave Bautista) being as capable on the job as he wishes, he has to grab an Uber. The car that arrives is captained by sap Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) and together they’re forced into a hunt across L.A for drug trafficker Teijo (Iko Uwais).

There have been good recent comedies that swirl well choreographed action into the hijinks, such as, ‘Game Night’ and ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ but this movie is not one of those. Just from the opening sequence which tries to convey sizzling police-fuelled combat you’ll zone out because it’s horrendously edited. Perhaps the editor also had laser-eye surgery and couldn’t focus on cutting the scene properly as nor will you, trying to watch the frustrating melee of chops. It’s not even sliced erratically in a way that could heighten energy, all it does is bring on an early headache.

Tripper Clancy’s screenplay is painfully predictable; the villainy turns of corruption and the consequential reveal of Stu at Christmas is not a surprise in the slightest, even if the plot thinks it’s a funny zinger to end on. The entire friend zone subplot of Uber driver Stu is more sour than sweet and feels like the thinnest spread of romance lain on top of the worst excuse of comedy and action seen in a while. The film does try changing lanes with this B story at one point but it’s way too little way too late.

‘Stuber’ would be alright if there was a chemistry between Bautista and Nanjiani but that too is missing. It’s like the latter is over-compensating with his desperate pluck to counter-balance the dud actor within the hulking presence of Bautista; a former wrestler who is perfect as Drax but anything else is glaringly noticeable as not good acting. Victor as a character is a towering douchebag with zero to redeem himself whilst Stu is an irritant who serves as the annoying sidekick, his constant desire to please is more boring than funny.

As personal attacks on me as well I have to dislike the film further because it’s a story that does both Karen Gillan and Iko Uwais dirty. Their characters are as two-dimensional as everyone else in the narrative and they have such small, wasted screen time that I cannot help but feel victimised by that.

‘Stuber’ never raises a chuckle, it feels like a rushed action-comedy that you’d watch in 2002 after renting it from a nearby Blockbusters. Absolute drivel that is miles away from a 5 star rating; instead take a walk, enjoy the summer and avoid at all costs.

2.5/10

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Pulp Fiction (1994)

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So last night I got the chance to see one of my all time favourite movies on the big screen, and this cinematic experience just illustrated further why I love ‘Pulp Fiction’ a hella lot.

Weaving together a collection of stories set in L.A, sees us flit forward and back in time with hit-men Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta) claiming a briefcase with mysterious contents for crime boss Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames), a less than ideal date night with Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman), a restaurant robbery with Pumpkin (Tim Roth) and Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer) and a scramble for a watch with boxer Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis).

The title ‘Pulp Fiction’ derives from pulpy magazines and crime novels that were prone to violence and electric language. Quentin Tarantino’s script perfectly reflects that style, as all the way through his film there smacks a sense of crackling, dynamic dialogue and flashes of blood-soaked drama. The line-up of plots that criss cross and jump in time are exercises in vivid crime story-telling and hilarity, Tarantino sure knows how to juggle all these characters and each one of them through their plot progression, jump off the pulpy pages and cement themselves in film history.

As is commonplace knowledge nowadays, director and writer Tarantino has a handle on character and dialogue and his second feature, after the diamond heist focus of ‘Reservoir Dogs’, sees him step up from a singular location and really break forward with figures that deliver zing after zing, hit after hit and even though this is a movie that owns very little action, you are utterly entranced because the script possesses such animated language.

The very opening is a masterclass in two-way conversing leading to an aggressive slap of credits and fiery music; from this point onward you should know to expect a film that won’t hold back and will utilise on expletives, whip-smart talking, pop-cultural references and an energetic soundtrack. Some will say this 1994 outing is overrated and I get that it is the typical frat-boy movie to drool over, one that has film students plastering the iconic poster on their walls, one that I have in my room to this very day, because depending on your first watch, it is an awakening. The zip and crackle which speeds through the narrative is highly entertaining; it’s just one of those treats which is fresh and riveting from start to finish.

The stellar cast really bury into their roles and it saw a resurgence for Travolta who became cool again thanks to the suited, slick hair styling of Vega, a gangster who may not be intimidating, but in his down to earth delight of discussing Amsterdam and milkshakes there is a man who can hold his own, just as long as he doesn’t head to the toilet, an opportunity for something to go wrong every time. It’s with Vincent on his initially awkward night out with Mia that one of the most seminal scenes in cinema history occurs. Jack Rabbit Slims; a retro diner and location of the coolest, quirkiest twist off between Thurman and Travolta, the Chuck Berry vocals punctuate their movements and seeing the dance on a big screen was like a divine dream come true.

‘Pulp Fiction’ may be simple when broken down; it’s just 3-4 stories that get broken up and shuffled about, but it’s thanks to this non-chronological structure that you feel drawn into seeing how each character gets to each place or how they may join the same path. It’s true to say that a Tarantino product; with it’s sublime songs and own branded product placement is like an event but it’s fair to comment also that his films could always do with a little refinement, a snip here and an edit there but even though this is a long film, it never feels it and there was never a moment upon this re-watch where I felt something could be dropped.

I know I’m biased and definitely a fan boy but ‘Pulp Fiction’ is as close to perfection as humanely possible. The film holds up, it screams cool and is a movie absolutely rammed with quotable delights. Tarantino’s follow up feature is not the difficult second album, it’s his platinum picture.

9.5/10

 

Midsommar (2019)

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Ari Aster made tongue clicking a sound to shiver at in ‘Hereditary’ and now, a year on, he’s back with ‘hoohah’ sounds and a folk horror which trickles with apprehension throughoutIt’s an astonishingly well-crafted film but not one the Swedish tourist board will be advertising I’m sure.

After a family tragedy, Dani (Florence Pugh) tags along with her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his mates to a festival in Sweden. Every year they celebrate, but every 90 years the white-clad commune take part in their ancestral rites for 9 long days and all manner of oddities begin bearing down on Dani and co.

Flower power and the hippy culture has never looked so shocking, forget the free love message and buckle in for a truly barmy yet glorious horror. The white linen clothes, the old school wooden buildings and lush green pastures north of Stockholm present this film like some fresh haven of hell. ‘Midsommar’ enraptured me so much so that I never wanted it to end, there’s this pleasing detail in the shots and a halo of sunshine cast over the movie which bathes you in an otherworldly glow, albeit one that slowly racks up in gore and unease but you cannot look away.

Aster just fringed the surfaces of cult-like madness in the final stages of the brilliantly chilling ‘Hereditary’, but this time he goes all out, in building a world of dread which shouldn’t but does draw you in. The antics of the Swedish elders, the rules and the celebrations are bonkers but stuffed with an unsettling nastiness. Aster directs in a way with devilish delight that won’t be for everyones tastes but he concocts one of the strangest and sinister horrors and weirdly it’s a fun thing to watch.

It’s entrenched in the soundscape of the movie that the real disturbing factor lies. The sound design for this horror is pure class. The terror elevates like a prickling feel of discomfort on the back of your neck as you watch. Heavy breathing, wails, laughter and an orgy of panting are just some of the aural elements which fill the story with an unrelenting atmosphere of dread.

Florence Pugh is sheer brilliance in the film, she brings a lot to the table by reigning in with more reserved, quiet emotion; this sense of her troubled life and shaky romantic connection spilling over from time to time and when she does let rip or when matters do become alarming, you’re pelted over the head with her stunningly engrossing performance. Reynor is class at making you feel hypnotised, sucked into a landscape of crazy and his descent into exhaustion and induced terror are well played; as is the necessary lighter tone put into effect by the great Will Poulter.

‘Midsommar’ possesses this hazy, rippled feel and you will feel like you’re having a bad trip in the best possible way whilst watching the horror and comedy unfold. This is a distressing film swaddled in a warm glow which wraps around you like a vine and won’t let go.

8/10

 

Yesterday (2019)

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It goes without saying that The Beatles are music legends known the world over, but what would life be like without the Fab Four in it? ‘Yesterday’ is the answer to that question and with director Danny Boyle and writer Richard Curtis behind it, could we expect a sweet treat or is it meh, actually?

Suffolk lad Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) struggles to pick up any attention playing his own songs in pubs and on the streets, the only real interest he’s always had is from maths teacher and manager Ellie Appleton (Lily James). After a cycle accident, he wakes up to discover that no-one knows who The Beatles are; leading him to recapture the British Invasion magic and pass their songs off as his own.

Whether you’re a fan of Paul, John, George and Ringo or not, the Liverpool band have a great number of songs that get you humming along and in that sense this film is a wonder. The vocals of Patel as he strums along to Yesterday or Here Comes the Sun are soothing and help create a feel-good atmosphere to the story but whenever the film steps off the Abbey Road crossing and away from the music then you really cannot Help! but see the many flaws in the story.

Richard Curtis’ script is predictable to the nth degree and not even a few funny flashes of what ifs, to the likes of other well known brands disappearing, can save the familiar territory of a film that has a simple premise, and an even simpler love story attached. The whole sequence that sees Jack crash and emerge into a Beatle-less world is laughably silly and throws up questions that shouldn’t be asked because it’s a fluff film but you cannot help but ask anyway. For example, having him sing a Beatles track at the flashback school scene would at least show he’s a fan of them, because up until the point of his hospital awakening, The Beatles aren’t ever mentioned as an influence for Jack and yet he knows every single lyric to a whole rostra of their hits.

On top of the more mainstream look at The Beatles and exceptionally obvious storytelling comes a cringe cameo-cum-main part from Ed Sheeran, in the same dragged out way that Elton John had in ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’. Whoever helped effects in post production seem like they had a blast discovering a free trial of title FX as we see graphics spin and whoosh on screen for every single location. Worse than any of these gripes though, is the lazily drawn character of Ellie which has Lily James desperately trying to inject charm into. The romance side of the plot is bland, expected and more of a staggering issue than a beach-side meet-up with a face from the past; if you could Imagine that.

There are traces of fun along the way but the tone is so light that it blows away in the wind, and not even Danny Boyle, James or the pleasing sounds of Patel can pull it back down to Earth. ‘Yesterday’ is a film that should have been left be, it’s easy-going but nothing to Twist and Shout about.

5/10

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

 

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

Long Shot (2019)

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From slasher to giggler, director Jonathan Levine has moved into the comedy zone and with his work on ’50/50′, this latest release fits with the balance of drama and laughter. It might have been love in new romantic comedy ‘Long Shot’, but is it over before it begins?

Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) is Secretary of State but hopes to run for U.S Presidency. The numbers in most categories look good for her but humour lacks the public appeal and so her staff decide she needs a new speechwriter. Recently unemployed Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) winds up grabbing the gig and with his angry brand of humour and observation they make a great team; though their developing feelings could spell trouble for Charlotte’s campaign.

The combination of writer backgrounds do help this screenplay nicely traverse the world of American politics and stoner comedy; that you come to know from a Rogen picture. Liz Hannah who helped write Oscar contender ‘The Post’ adds the wordy and believable scope of stressful President campaigns, with ‘The Interview’ scribe Dan Sterling ensuring the lightness and chuckle-factor are ever present. Together it kind of works. though it sometimes overruns with a feeling that two thirds of every joke miss.

One of the biggest issues is the script travels down a route of shovelling Trumpish asides or pop culture gags down our throat, hoping the majority will stick. The likes of Li’l Yachty, Ariana Grande, George Clooney, J-Law, Game of Thrones’, Taylor Swift and ‘Black Panther’ and more are all flung in. It’s this barrage of topical jabs and the fact that almost every character cracks a joke like this which causes everyone to share the same voice; in turn making the whole film carry a samey vibe where nobody is different enough to truly care about.

During Charlotte and Fred’s world-travelling duties there comes an explosive moment in Manila, which to me came across as extremely jarring and distractingly off-brand for the tone so far utilised up until that point. Perhaps the film just didn’t click with me because I’m not a massive advocate for rom-coms, but there is a laziness and shrug-the-shoulders attitude with Fred’s character which never shifts a gear and makes the ending less than believable or satisfactory.

There are some great zings though; either the Ratner, Brown and Piven burn delivered in a spoof of the idiocy and sexism frequently demonstrated by Fox News. A growing tattoo or a Swedish costume are very funny. There’s a gross and chimpish cameo from someone who provides a good touch of gammon-faced evil and Alexander Skarsgard is fascinatingly hilarious in the small doses of the handsome yet creepy Canadian Prime Minister.

‘Long Shot’ is flawlessly played by Theron and the tenuous nature of politics and sacrifice are well scripted but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t overstay its welcome with the inevitable conclusion doing little to keep you interested or laughing.

6/10