The Darkest Minds (2018)

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Just when you thought it was safe to think Young Adult tales of togetherness, political angst and romance were over, this film powers up and hits the big screen. ‘The Darkest Minds’ does little to feel any fresher than what we’ve seen countless times before and the script is muddled and tiresome.

A lethal disease has taken the lives of 90% of children under 18; the ones that survived developed powers from telekinesis to more dangerous enhancements. 16 year old Ruby (Amandla Stenberg) is trying to hide the fact she possesses one of the more extreme powers and goes on the run with three other super-teens to try and find a place where everyone is equal and safe from children’s camps.

Of course this film proudly screams it’s producing credits of ‘Arrival’ and ‘Stranger Things’, pretending this will be a film of similar genre and calibre and it definitely misses the latter desire. There are clear echoes of the hit Netflix show and in turn ‘E.T’ here; with the group of kids walking deserted train tracks, evading vehicles on empty streets with their powers and trying to stick together against the violent motives held by government figures but none of the acting, dialogue or visuals are as exciting or tensely dramatic as in ST or E.T.

Chad Hodge’s screenplay becomes a messy shambles and seems to just repeat ideas, most likely explained better in the novel but to no climactic gain here. Conversations about factions of authorities like Tracers or League cohorts become more infuriating to listen to and Ruby just floats between running away and coming back again in what is a highly yawn inducing watch. Ruby’s powers also seem to develop and change depending on the plot needing a way out, the villain is introduced too late and is a weak adversary, it’s not even a surprising turn of events to counter balance the feeble storytelling.

Every now and then, there are some neat uses of effects; be it practical or computer generated. There’s also a short-lived but cool moment of entrapment set up in an abandoned mall. Aside from those examples and the talents of the lead female actor, this is one of those tween sci-fi dramas that thinks its premise is way more captivating and smart than it really is.

Stenberg is good I have to admit, it’s almost like she’s trying to keep her head above the water of this sinking, stinking ship and she just about manages to do so. Skylan Brooks is probably the only other performing highlight of this movie, playing the intelligent and cool Chubs. Liam, played by Harris Dickinson looks too old to be a romantic interest for Ruby and uses his forceful power to somehow make us believe these two are in love. The pairing is hugely jarring and there’s no chemistry to speak of. Lastly, Gwendoline Christie gets the Captain Phasma treatment, by being severely underused in a role that could have been more interesting and corrupt.

‘The Darkest Minds’ is boring and nothing we haven’t already seen, it even comes complete with ‘Hunger Games’ inspired hands-up-into-the-air-in-unison moment. The film seems to think they’re kicking off another YA franchise but all I can hope is that never happens.

3.5/10

 

 

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The Incredibles 2 (2018)

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After almost 14 years, the supers are back! It’s the one Pixar movie that everyone (well definitely I) thought deserved a sequel but was it worth the mega-wait or should they hang up their masks for good?

Kicking off where the last film ended, we see the Parr family aka The Incredibles try and put a halt to the fiendish plans of the Underminer. The consequences of their actions put more strain on the legal battle of super-powered individuals but Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) who works in telecommunications, is keen to get heroes back in the spotlight for good and starts this idea by getting Helen aka Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) to prove that supers shouldn’t be hiding in the shadows.

It was always going to be interesting to see how the animation heads of Pixar would fare creating a follow-up to their beloved 2004 feature, more so because of the comic-book movie saturation that is filling up cinemas. Brad Bird does a spectacular job in directing an animated superhero adventure that feels fresh. It’s a hugely exciting film to watch and it zips along with such breakneck speed as if you’re taking an adrenaline shot.

Bird also writes the story for the next phase in the Incredibles ongoing journey and though they’re still at the same age, the family has certainly got plenty on its plate to keep the film from feeling repetitive. Admittedly the progression of the plot is fairly predictable, in terms of the big baddie reveal being no surprise but that does little to put a dampener on a truly colourful and enjoyable movie.

Elements of how the world is today; our obsession with technology becomes ripe for the picking and the plot plays with this screen-happy culture very well. The constant tug of war with the legality of the superheroes’ presence is explored further and makes for a deeper thread running in and out of the family dramas and Elastigirl led antics. It’s refreshing to see Helen be front and centre and show off her skills in the field. The house bound tribulations of Bob trying to juggle stresses of homework, an adolescent girl and a baby developing jittery powers are a perfect balancing act with the awesome action set pieces featuring their mum.

Michael Giacchino’s score is a triumph and hands every sequence a perfectly energetic buzz or sounds trickling with notes of spy intrigue. That theme tune of his is as glorious as ever and gave me goosebumps, it’s like some jazzy fanfare that makes you feel indestructible. I have to comment on the lighting within this film also, gorgeous scenery with orange/red skies are stunning to look at, a literally flashy fight sequence in an electric cage is dazzling and generally the movie is an impressive work of art.

It’s no surprise that has the prize of having the best debut for an animation film because this is a supremely fantastic, fun, engaging and super superhero family movie. Here’s hoping the Parr family come back a bit sooner next time.

8.5/10

The Secret of Marrowbone (2018)

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Produced by J.A. Bayona; this ghostly tale sees the writer of ‘The Orphanage’ step forward as a first time director and on the most part, Sergio G. Sanchez does a good job in bringing a level of intrigue to the forefront, but the characters and any horror scares get slightly pushed aside.

At a house in the middle of nowhere live a family called the Marrowbone’s. There’s some dangerous past that they’ve run away from and Jack (George MacKay), the eldest does his best to protect his sister and two brothers. After becoming friends with Allie (Anya Taylor-Joy), the children think life is just grand but a tragedy swiftly arrives and their home seems to harbour a menacing spirit.

It would be a disservice to call this film a horror because in terms of that genre this is not a very scary movie in the slightest. It’s way more effective as a paranormal thriller, one of those almost alarming psychological yarns that spin around in your mind and get you reeling. It takes a while to get there but when the events of what happened six months ago are shown, this story comes crackling alive. It’s also one of those films that once the secret is revealed I kicked myself for not realising the truth earlier. ‘The Secret of Marrowbone’ progresses in a clever way, drip-feeding clippings of the past to distract you from what every minute detail of the secret could be.

The house of Marrowbone itself is a neat character, the blackened ceilings, covered mirrors and locked doors all combine to make the building feel like a foreboding presence throughout the movie. Though there weren’t many times that the film provides scares and if it did they were through the cliche of jump-scares, I must admit that the most frightening points involve shadowy nooks and crannies.

I’m still thinking on the aftermath of the movie now and I probably still shall be in a couple of days time. It definitely is a ghoulish mind-f**k of an ending and I would compare the narrative and twist to another film but I won’t because that will spoil the drama. It’s a story from Sanchez that I’m not sure if I fully liked, it’s mysterious but also confusing and with deep thought would likely sway to the side of negativity because the melodramatic family angle feels like it doesn’t make sense as to what the ending shows.

The cast of home-dwelling siblings are good on the most part. Mia Goth has elements of the screaming Shelley Duvall about her but in the quieter moments her performance is quite stunted but gets better. Matthew Stagg plays the young lad and as all horrors utilise, he captures that creepy kid aspect well. Charlie Heaton possesses a lonely angst but doesn’t get to explore his turn as Billy that much. The true star is MacKay who deals with a lot as the leader of the pack and his acting progresses in more ways than one.

‘The Secret of Marrowbone’ will sit with me for a while and for now I can say I liked what it was going for, the characters may not be as interesting as the curvature of the narrative but for the last 20-30 minutes alone, this is a chilling feature that plays on shocks and family connections.

6.5/10

Skyscraper (2018)

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Juggernaut action star Dwayne Johnson is back for his second blockbuster of the year, after ‘Rampage’. This time around he’s tackling terrorists, Hong Kong cops and a star-piercing blaze.

Former FBI Hostage Rescuer Will Sawyer (Johnson) now assesses security, which has landed him and his family a stay in the new residential section of the worlds tallest building. The Pearl is meant to be perfectly safe but whilst Will is out and about, a group of terrorists storm the skyscraper and start a fire in the hope of smoking out something valuable and Will’s children and wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) are also trapped inside.

Director of ‘We’re the Millers’ and writer/director for ‘Dodgeball’, Rawson Marshall Thurber is in charge of this summer action movie. He’s clearly handled comedies well before but this film feels like a strange combination of trying to be serious and gritty yet also self aware of it’s ridiculousness. Saying that, he manages to ensure the film which clearly echoes ‘Die Hard’ has some of it’s own cool set pieces to sell.

In terms of spectacle, ‘Skyscraper’ has a good couple of stand out examples. The crane sequence is finely executed if not totally unrealistic, a makeshift bridge within The Pearl racks up some fiery suspense and the inner workings of the spherical top to the building itself provides us a Truman Show-esque shot of Sawyer over a city skyline and this same venue becomes the backdrop for a genuinely great sense-meddling final act battle.

All the visual effects team deserve mention because they’ve made this humongous skyscraper feel somewhat believable, plus the cinematic quality of The Pearl’s design are massively sleek and hands the film an awesome visual flair. Even with this futuristic, gleaming quality I felt that the movie wasn’t anywhere near as exciting as I’d expected, it’s not overly fun or silly like it should have been. The attempts of tension and strained family drama never hooked me in. It’s almost like they were shooting for a genuine disaster movie with tongue in cheek aspects duct taped on, which feels a bit off for me.

The rocky mountain himself provides that expected charm that he’s proven over and over. It’s also nice to see Mr. Johnson playing a character with a physical flaw and being someone that can actually get hurt and pushed around instead of the usual indestructible roles he’s become the poster boy for.

Some flashy visuals and a handful of action don’t do enough to stop the film suffering from not being as heart poundingly engaging as it deserved to be. Turn your brain off and don’t turn it back on again to enjoy ‘Skyscraper’ to the fullest.

6/10

Hereditary (2018)

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The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. In this film, the apple is definitely not ripe for consumption with the family aspect whirled together with secrets and spirits, which makes for a truly alarming nightmarish vision.

Annie’s (Toni Collette) mother has recently passed and whilst trying to hit a deadline with her miniature artwork, she becomes struck with grief. This isn’t helped by a post-party event where Annie’s son, Peter (Alex Wolff) brings more devastation onto the family and things escalate from there.

That’s as much I’ll comment about the plot because it’s definitely best going into this experience with next to no information about what may or may not happen. I call ‘Hereditary’ an experience because it may be labelled as a horror but it’s more than that, it’s a deeply affecting story which immersed me into a troubling world of fraught family ties and emotional over-spill. The horror isn’t from cheap jump scares of which there are like a couple, but instead it’s rooted in the unflinching portrayal of a mother, father, brother and sister facing distressing events.

I tip my virtual hat to director Ari Aster, because for a debut feature length film this is absolutely phenomenal. The directing and writing chops he demonstrates are practically exquisite. He really knows how to hold a microscope over the family and set up a chilling and almost torturous patience in watching the film cleverly build up. A24 and their releases are ones I always eagerly await. Their back catalogue is exceptional and this is no different, they seem to understand fresh talent and provide unique stories in a cinematic landscape often filled with less than original material.

Sound production within this feature is superb, from some almost constant and never calm heartbeat sounding noises over scenes to the tongue clicking which is used in an effectively creepy way. The score itself by Colin Stetson swells in all the right places, which raised the hairs on my arm and made the film that much startling. The design itself and the way the camera moves throughout the house is brilliant. The tracking shots mirror the dolls house worlds Annie creates and the family as characters therefore come across like figures, manipulated by a sinister exterior force.

There are points when it goes a little bit far and odd but aside from this and a couple of slow-ish scenes I think the film is great. I think because it’s 100% something that will stick in my mind and I’ll need to mull it over to work out exactly what my final thoughts are, but I did like it, yes.

Collette is sensational in this movie and hopefully she won’t be overlooked come awards season because her performance is explosive. There’s times when she’s worrying, times when she gives subtle looks of care or something darker and her bursts of grief gripped me like hooks in my flesh. Milly Shapiro carries with her a quiet, haunted and evil feeling which works well. Wolff is so good, the tears, the stares, the frantic screams and concern for where he finds Peter are played perfectly.

It’s very close to being a mind bomb of a movie, leaving me internally screaming WTF but it works so well because of this and the smart way it plays on fear. The film is disturbing and is one I want to experience again.

8/10

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

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Roaring into cinemas comes the follow up to ‘Jurassic World’; which decimated competition with a dominating box office weekend and currently stands in the top 5 highest grossing movies ever. There’s no sure way to know if this will topple that but I can safely say that it’s a well and truly flogged horse that does little to break new ground.

3 years after the disastrous events at the Jurassic World theme park, an active volcano on the island threatens to wipe out the dinosaurs once again. Now part of a protective group, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is called to return to the scene and rescue the creatures, with the help of former raptor wrangler Owen (Chris Pratt). As the volcano reaches literal boiling point, it becomes clear another tactic hidden from the two of them is at play.

After the amazingly effective original from Steven Spielberg, it’s overwhelmingly clear that these new films have no real idea what to do with the dinosaurs and are throwing them at the screen with CGI aplenty and little to no engaging plot. The narrative strand of weaponising the beasties is picked up again and it tries to expand on that but doesn’t do a great job, the shift in setting is the only marked difference. This is another issue because as soon as the action moves off of Isla Nublar, I found the film to become dreary.

There are so many stupid character decisions made, which can be amusing and when it’s made by a bad guy you don’t mind but there’s also lots of eye rolling moments that happen, when a character we’re meant to root for is in need of an escape that was impossible before. Another problem, is I don’t feel there’s a character to care about, that is obviously a flaw and when intelligent raptor Blue is the only one I side with, that’s not great.

It’s not all doom though. An opening sequence harks back to the neat prehistoric chills from the 1993 movie. There is a nice threat from a looming dinosaur backed by atmospheric lightning flashes. This playing around with light is used quite a bit throughout the feature and is done well I must admit; even with a vaguely amusing Nosferatu-esque dino stalking its prey. I also liked a small claustrophobic scene based in a T-Rex cage, which provided both a shot of tension and a warming inclusion of animatronics. This film does also feel darker in tone to 2015’s outing and a trapped brachiosaurus was a heartbreaking sight that stood out.

One of the reasons I didn’t really connect to or care for the films’ characters is because headliner Chris Pratt is slowly beginning to grate on me. He’s everywhere almost and plays the same kind of roles which are smarmy, wise-cracking, macho heroes. Bryce Dallas Howard injects the film the emotional heart as we see her caring for the dinosaurs even after she helped create the monster problem three years prior. Somehow the script makes this the most boring I’ve ever seen Jeff Goldblum in anything, whilst he picks up an easy paycheck.

If you turn your mind off, then this is a perfectly acceptable and vaguely fun movie but it’s so dumb and loud that I found a lot of it testing my patience and only enjoyed small fractions of a blatant cash grab.

5.5/10

 

 

The Breadwinner (2018)

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From the studios that gifted us the stunning fantasy feature ‘Song of the Sea’, comes this equally stunning film. There’s a smart combination of visual wonder and coming of age material, but it’s also a story not scared to tackle the troubling setting of a Taliban controlled city.

On the streets of Kabul, a young girl called Parvana (Saara Chaudry) helps her father sell wares to passersby. A heated argument causes a furious Taliban member to arrest him and he’s taken to prison. Parvana has a mother, sister and little brother back at home, who are running out of food and because women aren’t allowed to roam free by themselves, she decides to change her identity in the hope of helping her family and finding her dad again.

This story based off a book by Deborah Ellis is such an honest, textured look on a world far away from the luxuries of Western living. Ellis and Anita Doron have mastered a screenplay that wonderfully juggles the main narrative with a magical story within a story. What works so flawlessly for this film, is the way they aren’t afraid to show how brutal the place can be and how chained women are; by the words of men and society in general. When the film illustrates these times of powerful masculinity beating down on innocents, it’s a significant weight that bears down on you watching and really makes you think.

The animation is gorgeous and there’s two styles on show. The prominent one is a standard but immersive, grounded and dusty drawing of Afghanistan’s capital, one that’s filled with squared off imagery, browns, whites and muted yellows with the odd pop of candy colour. Then there’s the tale narrated within the story, this like ‘Song of the Sea’, is mystical and bursting with a vivid fantasy set-up. The characters that walk this world look like paper puppetry and the flat visuals roll sideways like a bewitching sideshow act.

There might be some that think a character stepping stone reflects a Disney heroine, but Parvana cutting off her hair is where the ‘Mulan’ similarities start and end. Women are deemed fine to walk the city only if they’re covered up and led by a man, otherwise they best be inside. This stifling way of things leads the well-read and smart young girl to bravely make a change and step out into a place dominated by men. A developing friendship with a fellow child on the streets of Kabul is great to watch and important too, it’s her escape, they can share an innocence and much needed play-about antics, but what’s so well presented is their maturity. Where they’ve grown up has made them wise beyond their years, so they know how to try and avoid the dangerous environment that is presented throughout the film.

‘The Breadwinner’ is a film I won’t forget anytime soon, women live in a world of rules, no breathing room and incoming Western threats which aren’t shied away from. I am devastated to see that on a $10 million budget, the film hasn’t even broken $500’000, because this is a film that deserves to be seen and applauded for it’s beautiful story of culture, humour, war, loss, oppression and transformation.

9/10