Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)

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Adapted from a children’s book and helped along by a screen story from Oscar winning director Guillermo del Toro, is this horror that says “some stories hurt, some stories heal”, but does this one scare or bore you?

In the late 60’s on Halloween night, a trio of friends prank a local jock as payback, which has them bumping into a new town dweller. As a foursome they check out a haunted house supposedly stalked by the presence of Sarah Bellows; a spirit that told stories to children who eventually wound up dead. After Stella (Zoe Colletti) takes her book from the house, a new set of stories appear in blood and spell literal death for them all.

Andre Ovredal, director of ‘Trollhunter’ grapples with more larger than life beasties and does so in a way that keeps the level of misty-filled, Thriller-esque paranormal chills at a steady pace. The main issue is that the film with a UK 15 rating feels neither approachable enough to link it back to the 12-13 year old-focused audience of the source material nor terrifying enough to be a great horror.

Perhaps with a toned down treatment this movie could have been a more fun and friendly Gothic ghost story, akin to the wonder of a cartoon show I grew up watching called ‘Grizzly Tales for Gruesome Kids’, but it veers off into ‘The Conjuring’ territory with names like the Pale Lady and the Jangly Man, who are nowhere near as scary as the film possibly thinks they are.

There are good moments where the tension reaches a fever pitch and a general old school haunted house vibe works nicely as if this creepy collection of tales bound in a dusty book could be narrated to you at bedtime but the reliance on the dull jump-scare motif and a dependence on off putting CGI severely yanks you out of any possible immersion that is built up just before the monster rears its ugly head. None more so than a really nicely set up sequence in ‘The Red Spot’ which sees a gross pimple on someone swell and redden with a nasty surprise inside, the visceral yuck nature of it is nightmarish and unsettling but is ruined by a tumble of computer graphics that makes the shivers seem like a distant memory.

‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’ is a fine film with bonafide moments of horror and it does indeed hold your interest for the duration but like an author bursting with a golden idea to start, yet lacking a solid middle or end, this story begins sagging with characters devoid of major likeability and it cannot quite lift itself out of the slump.

5.5/10

 

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Good Boys (2019)

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From the minds that gave us ‘Superbad’ and ‘Sausage Party’ comes this equally expletive-laden misadventure. Only this time around, the supposed selling point is, that we’re not watching teens or animated food curse and cause calamity, but 12 year olds do it. Does having youngsters tread the staple route of trying to be cool and party pay off or is this plain bad?

Max (Jacob Tremblay) is invited to a kissing party where he hopes to finally make a move with the girl he crushes on. After getting his best pals AKA the Bean Bag Brothers along for the ride they realise they need to learn how to be more grown-up and understand how to kiss; this kicks off a series of events where they desperately hope to be cool, remain friends and not be grounded.

Let me start with the exceptionally low amount of positives. I’ll even list them for as there’s only four:

  1. The sight of the mates walking home slightly apart from one another after a bawl and break up is somewhat amusing.
  2. Tremblay reloading a fake gun and his weak-ass bedroom work out.
  3. A school initiative to prevent bullying called the SCAB squad.
  4. Will Forte

Aside from that bare rundown, this film is doggedly keen to force smut and adult humour onto the lips of tween stars. That is literally the idea of this movie. Any story is non-existent and barely serves to string moments of porn inspired stupidity or s and f-bombs together, which constantly plague the run-time.

There’s nothing you haven’t seen before within this insanely juvenile flick. Drones, crossing heavy traffic, parties, frat boys, drugs, developing strain on friendship before inevitably being all alright again. The only difference is that all these attributes are dispatched into the hands of prepubescent actors, who aren’t old enough to watch the film themselves, lucky devils.

‘Good Boys’ is ‘The Happytime Murders’ of 2019, even released very close to the same time of year. Where the latter coasted on the idea of having puppets swear, screw and swig booze, the former does the same swapping out fuzzy characters for youngsters. It’s a painful film to sit through, not even the try-hard antics of their comradery can save the ruthless desire to point and laugh at tweens say or do naughty things and the numerous usage of that age old American belief that slapstick is funny, only goes to further the fact that this is a terrible movie.

‘Good Boys’ thuds down like a badly piloted drone and scrapes its lame and tired premise through nearly 90 minutes of crud, that had me praying for a projection failure and an early exit.

3/10

 

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)

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Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino is back with his self-claimed 9th feature; a rejigging of a closing curtain to the golden age of cinema. ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ fuses together a host of proficient profiles over a selection of stories set in 1969, but does the director strike gold?

Told from February to August ’69, we follow the lives of TV and struggling movie actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), who happen to cross paths with the rising talent of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). As they all traverse the swinging summer of Los Angeles, they may wind up in the cross-hairs of Charles Manson and his family.

The name of this movie speaks volumes for the fairy-tale aspect of Tarantino’s story. In fact the title appears at the very end over a final shot as if posing a what if scenario in the history rewriting manner you come to expect from QT. You can clearly see the time and honour poured into the directors’ love letter to the cinematic and televisual era. It’s a bold movie with the sight and sounds of L.A show business and the hippy scene grooving with a doubtless richness.

The TV and movie landscape are framed like a commentary, with narration sweeping over the very beginning and then returning in the last third to have us grasp the changing career path of Rick Dalton; a man whose ups and downs are perfectly portrayed by DiCaprio. You can see the actor having a solidly good time playing the chain-smoking, semi-stuttering star; someone almost left behind by Hollywood as he hoped to break onto the silver screen.

As to be predicted with any Quentin billing, the dialogue is ever-constant and rife with zings and sensational cool. One moment in particular is when Dalton appears on a show called ”Lancer” opposite Timothy Olyphant’s James Stacy. This scene goes both in front and behind the camera with beautifully laden writing, yet it’s not only the speaking qualities of Tarantino’s screenplay that are glittering, the visual elements that make up the late 60s are glourious. The American pilot season is detailed with excellence, the adoration for classic film theatres and the happening parties jostling with famous faces are all wonderfully encapsulated throughout this picture.

It’s obvious that Tarantino is revelling in the idea of splicing Rick Dalton into real life shows and movies whilst coming up with his own concepts and because of this you cannot help but take pleasure in his accomplishment. Creativity isn’t just his Red Apple brand and new addition Wolf’s Tooth as sometimes he can go a smidge too far, so knowing the life of Sharon Tate and her cruel fate at the hands of drug-addled cult members were possible basis for part of the story was of course a worry, especially when Tarantino and his no-holds barred approach to making movies is concerned, but gladly he knows not to tread over the line and in regards to Tate and her friends the film is respectable and showcases her as a glowing ray of goodness, far removed from the sick ideals of the Manson group.

Speaking of, a scene right in the midst of the talkies magnificence provides sheer chills. Spahn Ranch is a dusty backdrop once utilised for movies now taken over by bare foot gals and from time to time, Charles Manson. The vibe that Cliff Booth and we walk into is immediately loaded with suspense, a truly unsettling sequence. The cult collective get their dues in typical QT fashion though, just when you think the auteur has forgotten about his violent overload, you’re bowled over by a final act that will divide some but had me gripped and grinning.

Even with all the glitzy L.A establishments, neon signs and movie sets, ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ is not Quentin’s best. Margot Robbie even with her infectious smile has little to do, the cinema making nature can often feel like it’s his most Academy baited outing and it doesn’t enrapture you at every single point. Weirdly, considering the extremity of the last moments, it comes across like a safe bet, one that I loved but still wasn’t swept away by.

A sprawling cast of actors, warmth in its recapturing of a heyday time and a class soundtrack curated by the extensive knowledge of Tarantino do combine to create a captivating film; one with more foot imagery than a chiropodist can match, but it just felt like it was missing that special something.

8/10

 

 

Blinded by the Light (2019)

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The streets of Luton become a playground and problem for a young man, in this drama-comedy set to the hits of singer/songwriter Bruce Springsteen. Inspired by a true story and directed by ‘Bend it like Beckham’ talent Gurinder Chadha, this is a feel-good movie with enough cheer to outweigh the negatives.

Javed (Viveik Kalra) enjoys music and writing poems but with his father Malik (Kulvinder Ghir) being a tight hold on values and so-called ‘proper’ job prospects, Javed finds it hard to believe his passion can go further. After schoolmate Roops (Aaron Phagura) gives him some Bruce Springsteen cassette tapes, Javed becomes fully swept away and finally sees a chance to follow his dream but at what cost to his family life?

‘Blinded by the Light’ is an uplifting musical tale about a Pakistani teenager developing a connection to the power of something other than synth. Javed most certainly gets blinded by the light and lyrics of Springsteen and there’s enjoyment to be had in seeing his unabashed exuberance but there does also come a time when he gets too selfish, he grows offish with his family and a new found girlfriend which jeopardises his character slightly but thanks to a spirited and runaway performance from Kalra, you cannot help but root for the lad.

What stands up strongest with this film is the heart. Chadha and scribes Sarfraz Manzoor and Paul Mayeda Berges safeguard the integrity of family and home over all things, so even if the tunes of Bruce have you merrily tapping a foot, you’ll always realise how much more powerful the values of the characters are. The core of the film is with Javed and his father and their rocky relationship, it serves as the rhythm of the piece and you do get fairly wrapped up into the developing nature of their back and forth.

The Boss has no doubt produced some absolute blinders and his music gilds the movie with a gravelly and soulful edge. A couple of songs rip out of the story, living it large like a semi-musical number, with bystanders dancing along, yet the vocals of the New Jersey artist take precedent, with the actors’ singing dialled down underneath the likes of “Born to Run”. The thing is, they have good voices and if you’re having them race across Luton, gleefully singing their hearts out, then it’d be nice to see the sequence as a full musical; their performances being the one and only after Bruce kicks them off.

Also their does come a sort of kitchen-sink melodrama to the film in places, perhaps a feeling of sentimentality going too far but if you can overlook this soapy nature then the film is joyous. The only real gripe is a segway out of the UK which is a little overboard and cringey, only because it removes the plight of Javed and his inner conflict in Thatcher’s depressing Britain, leading the way with silly postcards and then a sudden cutback to Luton living.

As the 16 year old Pakistani opens his eyes and mind to the rock and folk styles of Springsteen, lyrics appear on screen nicely signifying his awakening to a new world. As part of the audience you too shall have your eyes opened by an upbeat film. ‘Blinded by the Light’ bursts out of denim seams and walks in the sun of feel-good wonder.

7/10

Animals (2019)

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We’ve (maybe) all had those drunken, blackout nights with a hangover serving as the only memory of the fact you’d been on the tiles but what if you constantly carried on this trend of drugs and alcohol? ‘Animals’ is such a film to explore the riotous behaviour of two friends and it’s an expressive piece to say the least.

Laura (Holliday Grainger) cannot seem to get her story past ten pages as she leads a life of drink and tomfoolery with long-time pal Tyler (Alia Shawkat). Together they traverse the ups and downs of female friendship as Laura becomes enamoured by pianist Jim (Fra Fee); who happens to exist in a much more mannered world not ruled by liquor.

Sophie Hyde directs the words and wisdom of screenwriter Emma Jane Unsworth; who just happened to author the book that this 2019 Sundance premiered film is based on. They both manage to evoke a strength in the portrayal of the pair of women. Through the script and direction, the streets of Dublin come alive as the shenanigans of Laura and Tyler take hold. What works, isn’t just the believable haze of their alcohol-fuelled partnership but the fall outs and coming together; their past and present as friends being an unspoken bond through thick and thin.

‘Animals’ is a drama which focuses in on animal imagery, from cats and foxes to a spider weaving its home. This arachnid theme mirrors the progression of Laura, a 32 year old woman who is trapped in her very own web of forgetting a whole decade and struggling to complete a novel. It also works for the desire of the story for a woman to free the spider, as she too maybe hopes to escape the life she has lead.

Tyler and Laura are a tenacious twosome, they’re incredible examples of fun but also self-destructive personalities. They stalk the Irish pavements like midnight animals and it’d be fair to say they can often be viewed as a blurry mess but gladly the film isn’t. The movie swiftly has us thrown into their antics and see-sawing relationship and the idea of late 20’s/early 30’s striving to life every day as it could be your last is most definitely felt throughout the story.

The film may not be for everyone but if you’re of similar age to the women in this feature then the fear of missing out and the desire to live it up and not let life pass you by is a notion that hits home. Everyone wants to have a good time but there does come a point when the constant thirst to drink and go out can be looked at as a tragic state by those around you, which is what happens in this film. The pressurising way that Tyler holds on to Laura is where the conflict rises and it’s as the latter possibly finds a way into normal adulthood with Jim that the film becomes compelling.

Grainger is a dreamy choice as the writer facing a brick wall, but she doesn’t solely um and ah as a lacklustre producer of literature, she positively crackles as a fiery woman rooted to the ideals of youthful abandon yet pressed for a more normal, or civilian life as Tyler calls it. Plus her Irish accent is stunning. Shawkat has plenty of quips and brings comic touches but you’d be hard-pressed to connect to her. It’s hard to root for her because she’s so much of a party animal and enclosing grip on Laura’s life, that you’re practically screaming out for Laura to get away.

The only main weakness this vivid burst of conflict and crazy has is that it could have done with being trimmed slightly, the onset of feeling the run-time does occur but thanks to the charged performance of Shawkat and the mesmerising turn from Grainger, ‘Animals’ is a wild ride.

6.5/10

 

Hobbs & Shaw (2019)

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Rev up your engines blockbuster fans, because this summer sees the two breakout favourites from ‘The Fate of the Furious’ teaming up in their very own spin-off. Do The Rock and Stath make a dynamite duo or should this film have been stalled?

A virus called Snowflake is being hunted down by artificially altered Brixton (Idris Elba), but after it winds up in the hands of Hattie Shaw (Vanessa Kirby), America and Britain must unite by pairing agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and mercenary Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) together to prevent Brixton from letting Snowflake spread and kill millions.

Shaw and Hobbs were entertaining in their moments during the main event of the eighth ‘Fast and Furious’ feature but is this breakaway movie something that works? Well, in some way it does, but I guess you can have too much of a good thing because there does become a point that them constantly on screen together wears thin. This is never going to be a cinematic classic but even for the popcorn flick it is, the comic touches are just laid on way too thick and the silliness is loaded to melting point.

Obviously a suspension of disbelief is necessary with these sorts of movies but your disbelief will be left dangling like a distant memory, as bursts of well-timed atmospheric lighting enhance battles and The Rock cum Captain America tussles with a mid-flight helicopter. Though saying this; it’s all good fun because of how incredibly stupid and over the top it is.

There is one song in ‘Hobbs & Shaw’ with the lyric; all roads lead home and this mirrors the family-centred ideals of the main franchise. So, don’t fear that this spin-off goes on a detour because the typical family/home mantra stays ever present and is used like expositional glue, trying to squeeze some meaning alongside the manic action.

Talking of which, the action is 110% high octane thrill and balls to the wall dumb but epically fun to watch. It’s a movie having no pretence that it’s lapping up the chance to incorporate tech. Gone are the nos fuelled days as street racing cannot even be seen in the rear view mirror anymore, ‘Hobbs & Shaw’ shifts gears to the growing trend of superhero films and provides powered up villainy in Brixton, making this F and F spin-off less about cars and more about world saving in the biggest way possible.

Johnson is charismatic and stony eyed with flexing muscles and fluctuating brows; he’s an island of a man who packs a weighty punch whilst his potty mouthed equal in London crook Statham convinces as a cooler operator, taking down opposition in his less bulky style. Together they deliver mean kills and impressive K.Os but with that comes laughable dialogue, yet nothing is as extra as the carnage left in their wake. Elba is fantastic and formidable and ultra cool as Brixton and there’s no denying he IS black Superman. Eiza Gonzalez is criminally underused but at least there’s the skill and dominance of Kirby who gives the film one major kick-ass female character and further proves that Princess Margaret is boss; long live her reign as action hero.

As long as you ditch your brain at the door, then ‘Hobbs & Shaw’ is a fast and furiously entertaining movie to watch in the moment and possibly forget come the end of summer.

7/10

The Lion King (2019)

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1994 saw Disney release ‘The Lion King’; a hand drawn feature that is one of my favourite films. 25 years later and it seems everything the House of Mouse touches is theirs, the shadowlands being the last area of cinema they haven’t bought out, but will another remake of their own movie be fit for a king?

King of the Lions, Mufasa (James Earl Jones) has a new son who shall one day rule the Pride Lands, however young Simba is a mischievous scamp, easily swayed by the words of Mufasa’s brother Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor); a big cat with big plans to overthrow the kingdom and be leader. After a terrible stampede, Simba (Donald Glover) flees and has to learn who he is if he ever hopes to be the king his father expected him to be.

Jon Favreau, who directed the live-action retelling of ‘The Jungle Book’ is back to helm this modern update, but it’s a film with no human characters to warrant it’s live action title and it doesn’t stray far from the original plot, leading you to quickly realise that it’s a film severely relying on nostalgia to please the senses. That’s not to say he’s a bad director because Favreau certainly knows how to make this movie a family friendly flick full of fantasia, but it comes across as a shot for shot remake with no apparent desire to add a little something different to the recipe.

Elton John and Tim Rice were the masters behind the songs in 1994 and this time around the movie manages to make these iconic numbers things you’d rather drown out. “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” gets treated with the tiniest ounce of adoration and is subjected to a late afternoon glow instead of magical twilight romance. Then there’s a burst of Beyonce in the final stages, which is a jarring flash of Pharrell produced RnB, less subtle than her singing as Nala, and more an excuse to get the so-called Queen a chance to belt out and sell a record. Finally, the less said about Be Prepared the better. It’s honestly my favourite Disney track and now it’s hacked down to a short length and sounds more like a Scout meeting with no catchy doom to speak of at all.

I can’t be a total brute though as there are some astounding positives to be had. The cinematography is drop dead gorgeous though it has a distinct lack of playful colour but it is soaked with a stunning believable African backdrop, that could easily blend into a David Attenborough nature documentary. The live action brand still irks but as a photorealistic movie you cannot fault the design of the characters, even if their moving mouths and less than expressive emotions are weak, the textures of creatures from antelope to zebras are mightily impressive and the landscape is a marvel to behold. It goes without saying that baby Simba and his following cub days are aww-inducing and he’s a teeny ball of cute.

Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen who voice the outcast bug eating meerkat and warthog, Timon and Pumbaa are saving graces, as are a few moments with John Oliver’s take on the well intended but busy-body Zazu. This trio bring a good layer of comedy and manage to provide a variant style to the memorable work of Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella and Rowan Atkinson. Legendary James Earl Jones is back, as it seems he’s irreplaceable for the recording of Mufasa and rightly so because he does add a wise gravitas to the story.

So on the plains and in the jungles of Africa, this ‘The Lion King’ remake mainly has Disney fans sitting waiting for things to happen, seeing them said and done by visually impressive CGI instead of cartoon. It cannot shake the notion that the Circle of Life is a monetary scheme by Disney to rotate back on their catalogue and rake in sentimental audiences, myself included.

6/10