Unhinged (2020)

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Revving past the rotating stop sign of COVID-19 theatrical releases is this breakneck thriller directed by Derrick Borte. The notion of angsty drivers and bad car etiquette is slammed to near breaking point in a film that definitely suits the big screen experience.

Rachel (Caren Pistorius) is frequently tardy to client bookings and her son’s school run and one such morning she winds up honking her horn at the wrong driver. The Man (Russell Crowe) behind the steering wheel has completely snapped and after an explosive opening, we see him seek revenge against Rachel no matter the cost.

If like me, anytime a movie character is driving and begins to look elsewhere or hold a conversation, you start fearing any and all imminent scrapes or deathly pile-ups, this film will set your heart rate to stratospheric levels. ‘Unhinged’ is certainly a loud blast to crash back into cinemas after a long time silent and the vehicle-heavy setting is enough to bring palpitations to anyone who expects the worst when scenes are on the road.

Screeching brakes and burning rubber ring out of the speakers and pelt into the audience’s bloodstream, creating a near 100% anxiety ridden wave of car-ography that will have some watching wishing cinema screens came with seatbelts included to buckle up and hold on for dear life with. And, well if you’re not on edge at any point in this flick then you’re someone likely to have experienced or started road rage of a far worse situation and others should worry about your bumper-crawling ways!

The Man is filled with a nasty beast of anger and like a beast he stalks his prey across a concrete savanna; mauling and ripping apart any grazing cars in his vicinity. Russell Crowe plays this character with gusto, of which some would say is hammy but I call a shlocky snarling, scowling figure of sweat and ferocity owning the freeways and side streets in any chance to wreak bloody vengeance. Caren Pistorius, like Lohman in ‘Drag me to Hell’ is firmly put through the ringer as she speeds desperately around New Orleans in a frenzied manner and the performance is one that really pulls you into the needed heart of a story that would otherwise be teeming with rage and testosterone.

‘Unhinged rarely takes its foot off the brake, with each skid of a car or thwack of a heavy punch leading right into the next nail-biting, teeth-grinding moment of brutality. The anticipation of something bad about to happen is thick, as if always on the sidelines waiting for its next chance to ram into the narrative. Granted this is not a stellar film and won’t win awards for subtlety but I’m positive it hits the green light for future cult B movie favourite.

If you want a big screen experience that ticks the boxes of spills, thrills and loud and proud tension then you can’t do any wrong by heading along to see this blast of a movie.

7/10

Bloodshot (2020)

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This film, based on a comic book of the same name, was one of the last newly released cinematic features before the big C-word closed down multiplexes and countries the world over. After a long spell of self-isolation and too much TV and baking, would ‘Bloodshot’ be a movie worth my venturing back to a cinema for?

U.S Marine man Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel) has received many scars from his line of duty but always fulfils his promise to come home to his wife. However a tragedy leads him on a destructive course of revenge led by cybernetic CEO Dr. Emil Harting (Guy Pearce), as his bloodstream has been turned into a hotbed of nanite technology making him super strong and quick to heal.

‘Bloodshot’ sure won’t win any prizes for originality or being smart enough to keep audiences on the wrong-foot but there just enough moments that assist a scraping of enjoyment to it all. Perhaps one half of the writing team being Jeff Wadlow provides reason for a shaky screenplay, but gladly it’s not worse than the likes of ‘Fantasy Island’ or ‘Truth or Dare’, what is worse however is the other half of the duo being Eric Heisserer who himself seems to be placed in some induced state and forced to do this. That’s the only excuse I can think of for someone who wrote the film screenplay for ‘Arrival’ and now this.

It’ll be no surprise to anyone that the movie comes from some producers of ‘The Fast and Furious’ franchise because this supposed comic-book superhero flick feels like a dud half-sibling of that speedy car/heist saga. Diesel shedding his Marine gear in the beginning to reveal his trusty white vest would leave plenty thinking Dom Toretto has become a fully-fledged super-fighter in his days off from racing souped up vehicles.

The character of Ray Garrison doesn’t need much in the way of acting so Vin is the right guy for the job; punching his way through problems and peppering the dialogue with his trademark gravelly voice. There’s only so much of this cliche you can take and the film pushes that to near breaking point but the likes of a slick ‘Iron Man 3‘-esque turn from Guy Pearce and a soft yet kicky presence from Eiza Gonzalez help distract from the brain-dead fast and furious nature this body-dropping movie becomes.

In terms of action, there are definitely highs and lows and not all of the sequences are tampered with the excessive CGI button. There is most definitely a good burst of adrenaline through the majority of the runtime and even if it’s all dumb, it is dumb fun. Lamorne Morris from ‘New Girl’ stardom brings the funny plus the Dick van Dyke approach of British accent work. The scenes are pacy and a barrage of extreme revenge seeking lights the way like some angry flare.

‘Bloodshot’ might not be the choice for you if you’re hoping for a fantastic fix of action but if, like me you haven’t been to a cinema for what feels like an entire year, then this is an acceptable feast of carnage that whets the post-lockdown appetite.

5/10

Scoob! (2020)

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Is this newly released VOD animated film a slavering Scooby snack or a meddling mess? Well it runs down a never changing corridor of both, with fast quips and cartoonish capers adding to the tasty joy but a hodge-podge of characters detracts from the very soul of Scooby Doo and company.

As a youngster, Norville “Shaggy” Rogers (Will Forte) can make no friends until one day on the beach he’s acquainted with a stray pup who he bonds with and names Scooby Dooby Doo. Flash forward ten years and the ever-hungry duo have grouped with Fred (Zac Efron), Daphne (Amanda Seyfried) and Velma (Gina Rodriguez) to create Mystery Incorporated. However their usual hijinks may be put to the test as a dastardly menace needs their prized pooch to claim treasure from the Underworld.

At first glance the visuals seem off and perhaps if, like me, you’ve grown up with the trademark hand-drawn styles of Mystery Inc, then the new blocky computer animation takes a while to warm to. Also, the general opening with seeing how the crew take shape is less than necessary, as three of them are already together anyway. This is a tale strongly following the core relationship of Shaggy and his first true mate and though it’s never resplendent with emotion there is a sense of heart to their developing and unravelling spark throughout the 94 minutes.

There are other positives along the way, the comedy of pop culture and buffoonish brilliance takes a golden stride in a cheaper but no less satisfying reflection of ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’ and little character quirks within the famous five are done nicely, even with hearing these well-loved, well-known characters’ voices not sounding the part. It all feels zippy and carries an energetic vigour to prevent any fidgeting boredom from kids watching and has enough buzz for the millennials and older who know the gang inside and out, plus Scrappy never rocks up so that’s a blessing also.

The main problem aside from Will Forte sounding like himself and not Shaggy is the jumble of Hanna-Barbera properties tied into some frenetic universe. The cinematic landscape has quite clearly shifted thanks to the likes of superhero movies and sadly this animated release takes on that formula by including heroes, big baddies and is complete with its very own sky-beam.

What makes the simple yet effective model of the original cartoon TV series work is the admittedly repetitive yet intriguing notion of friends uncovering mysteries. This film yanks out the soul of the show and replaces its unmasking and clue solving by revealing the villain and their plan; therefore you lose all sense of delicious self-involvement to guessing who might be hiding under the cowl/mask/costume. It’s also a story that ends without the smoke and mirrors act normally put on to try and thwart Mystery Inc and instead there’s a real hellish breakout which even for Hanna-Barbera seems a cartoonish step too far.

‘Scoob!’ has some cutesy moments and the trials of friendship are explored quite nicely, plus it all slides along with speed but the mystery is lost and you’re just left with an incorporated jumble from Warner Animation.

5/10

Misbehaviour (2020)

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Fighting the system and tackling the patriarchy are key themes in this drama based on the real events surrounding the 1970 Miss World competition. There are a few fiery moments which scorch a trail of sisters doing it for themselves but it’s not the revolutionary delight it could have been.

Struggling to have her voice heard in a male-dominated educational world is Sally Alexander (Keira Knightley) who winds up joining a no-nonsense, law-breaking group of women’s movement ladies. As the titillating and derogatory Miss World rolls into town, Sally and the others hope to enact a protest against the show; which might just be a hopeful vision of glory for Jennifer Hosten (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) as the first Grenadian and black contestant.

The Miss World contest is an event led and ruled mostly by white men, who gawk at women parading in evening gowns and swimwear. They’re seemingly there to be desirable and attractive with nothing else to offer and the film neatly parallels talk of them being in a cattle market with shots of them being herded like cows. The male gaze is utilised well in terms of breaking it down and highlighting the vapid, sexual nature of these shows, even if there are points when smashing the oppressors is over-egged.

Philippa Lowthorpe directs this film with a protesting surge of movement and on the most part it does indeed succeed, but you can’t shake the feeling that her background in shows like ‘The Crown’ and ‘Call the Midwife’ have this appearing like a TV movie that doesn’t ever feel comedic or dramatic enough. What does work well, alongside the performances, is the showcasing of cheesy glitz and concerning sexism of pageantry which froths into a whack of female anger come Sally and her new friends making a stand in the theatre.

There are glowing moments backstage due to the connection between Hosten and first black participant of South Africa Pearl Jansen striking up a bond in their situation. Their success in proving to young girls of colour that they can be a success, is at odds with the tearing down of the contest. It’s not like the film doesn’t know that you can have opposing views but they seem to rub against one another and come across like two different movies swirling into a blotchy mix.

At least the end has an empowering stance and seeing the real life figures works well as do the rostra of fine actors including the ever-fierce dynamics of Jessie Buckley. She plays Jo Robinson with wicked fire and adds a lot of energy to the movie. Greg Kinnear delivers the right amount of smarmy ‘can-do-no-wrong’ attitude to a privileged man ogling girls much his junior. Lesley Manville doesn’t get much screen time but in just a couple of seconds during the aftermath of the Miss World calamity she shows a satisfied grin which is pure perfection.

The cast are excellent and deserve a crown for their performances and there are pleasing moments both within the women’s movement and in the model’s line up but it’s nothing groundbreaking and feels like a short-lived wave of empowerment.

6.5/10

The Hunt (2020)

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There are movies that must like to bank on hype and the blaze of media; whether good or bad, and ‘The Hunt’ is unquestionably one of those examples. The poster above is evidence enough of the creators knowing what they’ve made has and will incite people. Slated for release last year but pushed back due to mass shootings and POTUS Wotsit-face; this movie is finally out but should the hunt be on?

A group of strangers wake up gagged and unaware of their location. It quickly becomes clear they are being hunted by a collective of liberal elitists who view these people as prey thanks to their standing in the world. The likes of Emma Roberts, Betty Gilpin and Justin Hartley face a nightmarish world as bullets and arrows go flying.

It begins like a ‘Battle Royale’ with cheese as a play-area zone is set up to best track and kill a pre-selected list of victims. Even though there are big problems with the film, there is an abundance of guilty fun to be had in watching this prolonged section of cat and mouse play out. It’s also an act that subverts expectations as body counts rise and you won’t be able to call what happens next.

The stakes are high and anyone is fair game…quite literally but as the numbers dwindle the movie grows into an uncomfortably weird spot of not knowing what tricks to pull and instead falls back on the controversial angle; of which it was most likely delayed for in the first place. The line between mocking down-and-outs who might support Trump and the elite company who are or desire to be crystal-clear upstanding citizens is firmly crossed and becomes a ridiculous battle of wits and punches that in the final sequence feels very ‘Mom and Dad’.

It’s a shame because the blood-heavy intrigue vanishes and a snap back in time hollers about freedom of speech and internet hysteria. It isn’t only this random scene which includes dialogue which is incredibly on the nose but a lot of moments have less than subtle social/political commentary which will no doubt be cause for rubbing many right or left wing keyboard warriors up the wrong way. Also, the less said about a dull lengthy take on the ‘Tortoise and the Hare’ story the better.

That said, there are gleeful moments of tension and manic gore and Betty Gilpin Glows as the GI Crystal with awareness, tenacity and strength to spare. So, if you can switch off and overlook the less than successful satirical elements and Orwellian culture then hunting season is a go and you’re ready for a dumb, yet mostly entertaining shock show.

6/10

 

Onward (2020)

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Pixar is an animation studio that almost never fails to stir up emotions in astounding worlds of creativity, and ‘Onward’ is a film that has even more to play with thanks to its fantasy-based setting. The themes of gaining confidence and brotherly acceptance are gloriously explored with sights and sounds that’ll make you rejoice.

Ian Lightfoot (Tom Holland) is an awkward teen who never met his dad, but upon his 16th birthday he’s gifted a supposedly magical staff and spell which could bring his father back for one day. The incantation goes awry but with the help of his magic-adoring brother Barley (Chris Pratt), they set off on a quest to find a rare gem that might let them see their dad.

You can feel the ‘Monsters University’ atmosphere dripping into this realm; director Dan Scanlon’s effort on that sequel helps inject a colourful, fantastical palette of monsters, pixies and elves to a story that is truly about family and bonding. The mixture of ye olde wonder and new-time gadgetry is a neat starting point for a story environment, so visuals like a plane gliding nicely through a clear sky over grassy hills which could have been lifted out of ‘Brave’, demonstrate the playful aspect of opposing imagery.

It’s rooted within these more fantasy-laden elements that the movie swirls with a stimulating shimmer of magic and sibling-building. As is often the case with the brilliance of Pixar, the emotion and sparkle of storytelling are a triumph and you will no doubt be transported into a dazzling example of animation thanks to simple yet effective writing, a bewitching score that never overwhelms and interesting dramatic stakes; some which can be predicted but others shall surprise and excite.

The story comes to a bold final decision and it’s one which showcases the strength and journey of Ian’s character. The quest changes him but it also alters people and the world around him for the better. The adventure-making of this plot is pure joy to watch and you feel connected to every step of their expedition. What makes you invest so well into their experience are the effective voice performances. Holland and Pratt convey a genuine connection of squabbles and kindness which glows like a phoenix gem; their acting is the beating heart which is jubilant and eye-watering.

‘Onward’ upends the fantasy genre with stray unicorns and managerial manticores which all boils together to produce a fun twist on the notion of magic. The modern world replacing the ancient traditions are a clever idea and everyone who worked on this film ensures there is spectacle and soul in every panel.

8.5/10

 

The Invisible Man (2020)

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This reboot of a movie series by the same name, is one which no longer stands as part of the swiftly assembled, then broken Dark Universe and thank goodness, because this individually-told story is immensely gripping and boasts a stellar performance with Elisabeth Moss demonstrating light and shade.

After believing she’s finally achieved freedom from a damaging relationship, Cecilia Kass (Moss) is distressed that her controlling husband is back from the dead and stalking her in a way that means he cannot be seen. As the fear takes hold of her, Cecilia begins losing the very people she needs in her life and may have to rely on some inner vigour to prove Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is invisible.

As a member of the audience you’ll worryingly share in Cecilia’s sense of being horrendously on edge. The filmmaking and storytelling from Leigh Whannell is incredibly slick and through the sleek visuals there feels a nasty coldness to the horror on show. The plot is certainly one that keeps you gripped and Whannell sure knows how to build and masterfully sustain tension throughout the film.

Never have empty corners and blank spaces carried such paranoia; but in ‘The Invisible Man’  there is dark wonder by filling these seemingly bare areas with a dread buried in your gut. This is a Blumhouse Production with a paranormal activity of a very different and much more troubling kind. The fear of an unseen force pierces the story better than a spooky ghost could; this is because the invisibility is owned by a life-wrecking power.

The idea of control and abuse is what lifts the film to disturbing heights and as Cecilia becomes more crazed in her determination to uncover the truth, Elisabeth Moss plays that part with gusto; you fully believe how she can be viewed from both sides. Either a strong woman with the reality of her dilemma making her look mad or erratic decisions having the ignorant view her as losing herself. The moments she has to deal with are haunting and when she needs to rise, she is a figure that may prove her worth and close a vicious chapter in her life.

Whannell incorporates the stylistic traits of ‘Upgrade’ in a few places which livens the alarming nature of this invisible menace. A ward-based sequence has the camera bounce around and truly show off the onslaught of the invisible man with a pulsating Benjamin Wallfisch score that vibrates through your skull like an anxiety-inducing anthem. The only weaknesses with this film are some self-gripes in plot conveniences; none more so than his means of hiding flicking on just when anyone else could see and off just for Cecilia to see. That and an early tussle between him and her looks shoddily like a mix of CG and stunt-work that ruined what could have been a nightmarish introduction to his violence.

There is definitely shock and apprehension to be had in watching ‘The Invisible Man’, the most powerful quality of it aside from Moss is Whannell’s hold on a dark and brooding tale of manipulation and power play.

7.5/10

Greed (2020)

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Money, money, money…must be funny. Well, in the case of Michael Winterbottom’s scathing stance on fat cat retailers, it often is. The humour hits more often than not, whilst also tying together an impressive cast and other shocking norms our society has come to face.

Owner of many fashion outlets and knighted for his work is Richard McCreadie (Steve Coogan); a man you come to realise is despicably greedy and cuts corners whenever he can to make himself richer. He’s turning 60 and is throwing a lavish celebration on the island of Mykonos where his wife Samantha (Isla Fisher) and hired biography writer Nick (David Mitchell) are just a few of the faces dealing with Richard’s antics.

For a long while ‘Greed’ harbours a sensation of watching a sketch show, albeit a prolonged one with great flecks of drama. Clearly having the comedians of Coogan and Mitchell as leads provides some of that but in the way it all looks and sounds, the tanned idiocy of McCreadie is sort of like Coogan doing a bit in Michael Winterbottom’s splendid ‘The Trip to….’ seasons. Gladly, the movie does know when to hit with necessary drama and come the latter portion of the story, there is a serviceable degree of pathos.

What Winterbottom has scripted is a brash film with filthy, brilliant insulting dialogue which also manages to sew together damning truths on cheap labour, reality television wealthy businessmen and the ongoing refugee crisis. The lurch from Coogan’s amusing caricature to cheating billionaires and tax evasion is further sickening thanks to shocking stats before the end credits roll. Other films might not handle the change from comically laughing at McCreadie to sitting back in disgust at what’s really happening in our world but this does on the most part.

There are a couple of occasions when it does feel like the film is attempting to cover a lot of ground in its commentary on topical events and his buffoonish nature as this orange-skinned money faker/maker can be too comical but somehow Coogan knows how to tread the line and ensure he’s not a persona to laugh at or with by the end. ‘Greed’ possesses the right level of human touch thanks to the awkwardness of journalist Nick and assistant Amanda played wonderfully by Dinita Gohil.

Steve Coogan is a sublime arrogant prat with pearly white teeth which will blind you. Isla Fisher is a glorious glamour-puss who can leave just as bad a taste in the mouth as McCreadie, because she knows what he’s up to and revels in beating the system and dwelling in the haven of Monaco. Asa Butterfield in the same vein carries a worrying streak of nastiness and that trait is no more evident than at a fashion catwalk near the end. The parasitic nature of cash-grabbers is a lifestyle people is one that will make you think twice about where you shop.

Never has the Greek notion of “hubris” worked so well in this comedy/drama with deserved arena-set climax and a sunny location serving throughout as a summery backdrop for excess, extremities and evil.

7.5/10

Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

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The zippy rodent from the Sega world, races onto cinema screens and somehow amidst all the usual so-so or lame video game adaptations, this family flick is a triumph. A switch off your brain triumph but one nonetheless.

After his powers ensure he has to leave his home-world, Sonic (Ben Schwartz) lands in Green Hills, Montana and strikes up an unexpected bond with sheriff Tom (James Marsden). However, his electrical extra-terrestrial side has caught the attention of evil genius Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) who will stop at nothing to track down the hedgehog and hopefully carry tests on him.

Intended to be released back in winter of last year but postponed due to much publicised disapproval of Sonic’s design, 2020 sees the revamped blue dude looking more the part even if it cost more to do it, he’s much less terrifying to witness than the leggy creation beforehand. There’s something in his furry look that is cutesy and though he can tread the line of being overly talkative and close to annoying, the animation and Schwartz’s vocals are a manic ride to sit back and get a kick out of.

Sonic is a zany streak of blue fuzziness and there’s an electric charge which pulsates through a safe and unoriginal family-friendly film to loopier heights and you somehow, without realising get swept up by the dashy pace of it all. ‘X-Men’s’ Quicksilver can take a load off and marvel at this space-hog who has his own slowed down sequences for showcasing super speed; this skill is entertainingly put into practice at a rodeo bar where his hijinks help to vanquish brawling men and women.

There’s a constant push of being fast and fun and with satisfying pop cultural references to line the path, this debut feature from Jeff Fowler is a giddy one that will no doubt hype up kids and entertain most adults too. It so easily could have been a movie that was a visual mess, a childish dumb show but somehow something clicks with it and even if you can predict every moment and the showboating voice-over element is done to death in family flicks, you cannot help but have fun watching this navy-quilled critter run riot.

Even if Sonic is the titled star of the movie, it goes without saying that the show truly belongs to Jim Carrey who laps up every minute of his screen time and looks to be revelling in his turn as the brainy, panto bad guy. Dr. Robotnik is dialled up to Carrey levels of battiness and a flashing light sequence of villain boogieing is all you need to use as an example of his odd yet dazzling turn as the adversary.

Lace up and sprint alongside this pacy family-friendly action film because if you don’t you’ll be left trailing in it’s zippy wake. ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ didn’t have any right to be this good but it is. Really.

7/10

Emma (2020)

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Adapted from Jane Austen’s novel about adolescent romance, which is over 200 years old, is this period drama/comedy which feels as timely as ever because the characters are so richly alluring.

Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) resides with her father and is a wealthy young woman who enjoys interfering in the romances of others around her. The expensive life she’s used to might not be enough to shield her from the very real fact, that even if she never desired getting married, a blossoming unexpected love could be on the cards.

Usually costumed dramas aren’t exactly my cup of tea but ‘Emma’ is made in such a way that seems to delight in sending up the frivolities of Woodhouse’s existence and providing tickles of humour at inflated egos. Like a Shakespearean comedy of errors, the mistakes in Emma setting up matches of her own design create strained scenarios but even if you laugh at her flaws, the movie never sets out to scold her and there’s enough redemption in her blue-blooded veins to like her.

This adaptation of the 1815 novel, features like a hotbed of gossip with lashings of sweetness and spice; the language of the script piercing through with enjoyable sass which elevates the usual slower measure of period dramas, however gorgeous a lot of them might be to gaze upon. Speaking of which, on top of the wicked words there is the fact that this film looks like an extravagant gallery; nearly every shot appears like a regal painting.

Taylor-Joy brings tremendous wit and bite to her turn as the lead character and no more is this evident than within a hilltop picnic scene which is a delicious yet harsh moment in her view of self and others. Emma might be arrogant at times and a figure who delights in matchmaking but thanks to the effortless charm of the ‘Split’ actor, you cannot help but adore her ups and downs. Josh O’Connor is a hoot as a pompous priest, his slimy grins and puffy costume sell the part as a foolish buffoon. Mia Goth is a beaming, happy-go-lucky presence and her soul shines through the story, and to round things off nicely there’s the British stalwart of these films in Bill Nighy who brings amusement just in his keenness for draught excluding screen dividers.

‘Emma’ might have a lullaby pace; a usual slow build to expected ends but through the lilting affairs there a sharp jabs, elegance and a joviality to make this a worthwhile watch and Anya Taylor-Joy is a dreamy vision as the classic literary handsome, clever, rich heroine.

6.5/10