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

 

Anna (2019)

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‘Leon: The Professional’ director Luc Besson hasn’t come up with something good since the first 20 minutes of ‘Lucy’, will another film with a four lettered name in the title be the return to form he needs or should ‘Anna’ be sent to the gulag?

At a Moscow market, Anna (Sasha Luss) is picked up by a model scout and jets off to Paris. Though it soon becomes clear she’s working for the KGB and under tutorage from Olga (Helen Mirren) she racks up the kills, but this grabs the attention of CIA agent Leonard (Cillian Murphy) and Anna is stuck in the middle of two opposing sides.

A film with a strong female lead is thankfully becoming more the norm but there’s something about this film; which stars a strong and combat ready woman, that doesn’t feel like it would be empowering. Luc Besson instead hands his film a near constant male gaze with Anna serving kicks and spills but also serving as a figure to be gawped at. The skills of this Russian pro are evident but you can’t help but feel they’re overshadowed by the fact she’s dressed up and mostly down to flaunt flesh and look sexy whilst dispatching numerous henchmen.

If ‘Anna’ had been released 15 years ago, then 2004 audiences would likely be more receptive. It would be a better, more explosive spy flick but as it is, here in 2019, the movie sits like off-brand vodka. It’s a film with nothing original; there’s nothing in her take-downs or style that we haven’t seen before, even with the sleek Vogue gloss mirroring her modelling looks, this story is less than fresh.

An early restaurant brawl does neatly showcase Sasha Luss as a capable and kick-ass lead and it is the point in the film where you sort of feel the narrative and action is getting into its groove. That thought is short lived however, as it soon reverts back to fairly lame spy thriller tropes and generally it screams like Besson thinks his script is cleverer than it is; the annoying time jumps and twists are not anything to write home about. Only an INXS song injects a lively section of energy and their bop punctuates through a ridiculous but enjoyable montage.

Luss does grace the screen with a believable strength and she proves to be a model, not just with killer heels but killer moves too. The coldness to her expression is very Russian and there’s no denying she’s cool and hot but not even her convincing whip-smart assassin tricks, proven further in an embassy escape, can save this film from being cheesy and only mildly entertaining.

Dodgy Russian accents, overly sexualised visuals and a run of the mill screenplay make this a tepid watch, one that keeps Besson on trend of producing poor movies and at this point his EuropaCorp brand should be re-titled You’reOverCorp.

4.5/10

 

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

 

Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)

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Jon Watts returns to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and proves he still has a Peter Tingle for knowing how best to capture the youthful verve and escalating responsibilities for Spider-Man. ‘Far From Home’ is a joyous ride from start to finish that feels like the ideal tonic to drink up after what went down in ‘Avengers: Endgame’.

Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and his science study classmates are off on an educational tour around Europe, but with gigantic element monsters causing havoc and only a figure named Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) to help, it isn’t long until Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) calls on the assistance of Parker to try and prevent city-wide carnage.

What stands out as the finest component of ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ is the chemistry between the science group and teachers. ‘Homecoming’ did deliver comic touches mostly thanks to Ned, but this time around the laughs are amped up and all the school teens get more to do and say. During their globe-trotting adventure the comedy is almost consistently perfect and Peter gets chances to try and be a kid, after the heavy toil of losing Tony Stark.

Spider-Man develops more heart and more growth due to the Iron Man shaped hole in his life and though we see the web-slinger doing more nifty flips and leaps, his drive to keep his friends safe and also just be Peter and tell MJ (Zendaya) how he feels are wonderfully balanced. It could be a lot for him to have on his shoulders but Holland juggles the emotions well and you can’t help but connect to him; he’s super but human and awkward through and through which has you rooting for him.

As we zoom from Venice to London with spots in between, the film racks up impressive action sequences but you never lose character. There’s enough breathing room to let the superhero antics play out but also and more importantly it gives necessary space to have the likes of Peter, MJ, Mysterio, Ned and Betty get fleshed out. It’s a film with a whistle-stop feel outlined further by Michael Giacchino’s marvellous score; that fills the ears with a roaring sound of playful dramatics and whip fast cool.

As the film enters its last third there comes some exciting visuals; sequences stitched into the fabric of the plot like some trippy drug leaking into the drama. Mysterio’s abilities make for some flashy moments, almost like a live-action burst of the Spider-Verse. It’s rooted within this unknown character that the idea of our modern day culture and how we’re so susceptible to trickery and fake news is cleverly written and enthusiastically played by Gyllenhaal. The actor has great presence and he steps into the MCU with confidence and electrically charged vigour like an engrossing loose wire.

‘Far From Home’ could easily be viewed as zany filler to close Phase 3 with little to zero impact after the Thanos narrative in ‘Endgame’ but even if it can feel like this at times, there is plenty to progress the characteristics of Parker, the folk around him and best of all it’s an energetic film that has you sitting up and taking interest more than the likes of ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ did after ‘Infinity War’. 

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

Child’s Play (2019)

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Leaving the dispatch pile and fresh out of new packaging, is ‘Child’s Play’, a reboot to the original from over 30 years ago. The day and age we are now in does mean there are changes for the killer doll but do the films’ upgrades flourish or malfunction?

Single mother Karen (Aubrey Plaza) finds it tough working and bringing up her teenage son Andy (Gabriel Bateman), who isn’t coping with their recent move well. In the lead up to his birthday, Karen gives Andy a returned Buddi toy; a doll equipped with a multitude of home and play features, but this specific model fosters a worrying connection to his owner and soon his system is replaced with a thirst for murder.

No longer part of the cult franchise begun in 1988, this redo has the red haired Chucky no longer possessed by a serial killer which is a shame and it goes some way in making the film feel like a ridiculous ‘Black Mirror’ episode. The screenwriter Tyler Burton Smith was clearly angling for a link to the current climate of new-fangled gadgets people are so accustomed to and along the way there are bumpy patches in the tone, either veering from dumb comedic aspects to more stalk-filled nightmare visions that wouldn’t be amiss in ‘Annabelle’. 

However, this is not a defect movie, on the most part the silly humour is wired finely to the mainframe alongside bloody horror coding and chips of tension. At times, the deaths caused by a faulty Buddi are reminiscent of the ‘Final Destination’ films, the fairly outlandish and gory kills racking up and providing 50/50 hilarity and squeamish fright. It goes without saying that this film won’t be for everyone but if you want to view something with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek and you enjoy madcap terror, then you cannot do wrong by watching ‘Child’s Play’.

Sure the plot is predictable from beat to beat but there is a nostalgic atmosphere throughout; the growth of a lonely child rising with new friends helps make this update on a late 80’s flick work well. Smoke, blue tinged back-lit sets and a playful score make this movie feel like it’s from the past in the best possible way, which is all the more surprising considering how much of a part technology has to play through the narrative.

There are a couple of great scenes gift-wrapped with tension and one driverless joyride will drive you to the brink of unease, a point where you’ll almost finish rooting for the sadistic toy and stop finding him oddly adorable. This weird response is down to the fun puppetry on display but also thanks to the wonder of Mark Hamill who provides a sharp knifes edge of murderous intent with soft pricks of amusement and unsettling cutesy vocals. Bateman is a delightful modern spin on the typical 80’s kid, he even looks the part in his red ‘E.T’ Elliott inspired top whilst Plaza impresses by stepping away from her trademark deadpan persona and playing a concerned mother with flexes of sarcasm.

Chucky is spiced up with a powerful checklist of AI infused aspects and his serious attachment problem make for a gleeful, enjoyable horror romp. It may not be the golden item to recommend at a Black Friday sale but it’s great, great fun.

7/10