Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

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Ugh, here we go again! A sequel/prequel to the fifth highest grossing film of 2008 is on our shores and with the success of the first ABBA inspired musical, I imagine this follow up will stay in those successful footsteps even if it is a lame rom-com story and does very little to dispel the notion that it’s a stonking great cash grab.

It’s been five years since Sophie’s (Amanda Seyfried) wedding and she’s now busy planning the reopening of her mum’s hotel. As the final preparations are under way, the story cuts back and forth between this and Donna (Lily James) back in 1979; just graduated and wanting to see the world. The film then follows her meeting Sophie’s trio of fathers and how her stay in Greece came to be.

Firstly, it’s not a major issue that the songs are relentless throughout but this musical almost shoehorns songs in that vaguely fit in with what’s going on during the narrative. I was listening to lyrics and some just don’t coincide with what’s been or is happening at all. Secondly, the film only just kicks off and we’re right into a song, I know it’s a musical but there’s something about the ‘Mamma Mia’ landscape that serves up a cringe aspect alongside the jovial antics, extremely evident in the graduation sequence and the Waterloo themed restaurant.

This film feels like it was battering me over the head with song after Swedish created song, that by the end I was involved and part of the music. It’s as if I was bombarded to say Thank You for the Music because it was incessant. It may have been the broken will but I have to say that the glittery disco themed Super Trouper number was an enjoyable blast, Mamma Mia itself is a fun listen/watch and Angel Eyes is sold nicely thanks to the power of the actors behind the song.

Ol Parker’s screenplay from a story by him, Catherine Johnson and Richard Curtis is a loosely veiled attempt at tying two stories together. The plot doesn’t do much to really make you care for Donna, she just seems like a young gal gallivanting and exploring what our planet has to offer, though she seems to know she belongs in Greece after only going to visit Paris. The hotel re-opening is a flimsy excuse to get the sprawling cast back together but amongst the less than inspired writing there are some funny moments. A sassy Greek lady, a goat chase and the terrific double act of Julie Walters and Christine Baranski are great highlights.

Lily James is superb, she gives the background of Meryl Streep’s character such radiating presence. She may fall in and out of beds but she has such a bubbly performance throughout this film that you can’t help but like her and James’ infectious smile even made this cynical chap less so. Seyfried is a class act, she’s always reliable for musical features and her talented vocals do this film wonders amongst the likes of some less than gifted singers elsewhere in the cast. She manages to be expressive and likable in a role that sees her bridging gaps between the past and present. The ‘singing’ and dad-dancing of Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan and Stellan Skarsgard is awkward but highly amusing. Cher rocks up like this wicked west persona; the helicopter and her introductory music add to this oncoming doom but she does little in the film and reveals a name before singing that song which is an eye roll AND sigh if ever there was one but it’s Cher, I can’t say anything bad, can I!?

This sun-drenched film arriving 10 years after the original didn’t need to arrive at all, it’s not a fascinating story and the cringe is most certainly real but it’s a carefree bop that knows what it is; a summery feel good distraction that will have die-hard ABBA fans singing in the cinemas and calling out for the inevitable singalong versions.

5.5/10

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Hotel Artemis (2018)

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It pays to get care in this directorial debut from ‘Iron Man 3’ writer Drew Pearce, but did I really care that much about the film? Well, it certainly boasts a talented line up and story potential but it doesn’t break free from being a generic and an almost online streaming kind of movie.

After a botched robbery, the criminals led by Sherman (Sterling K. Brown) head to a members only location in Los Angeles. Hotel Artemis is a hotel and hospital establishment run by Jean (Jodie Foster), that is specifically designed to cater only the crooks of society, to keep them away from police attention. However, LA kingpin The Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum) is on route and one of the members have something that belongs to him.

For a start, that aspect of the story also featured in the trailer never seems to come to anything, the King of Wolves never really gets to grips with that missing item because he has his own problems to deal with. The plot itself also from Drew Pearce finds itself located at a cool starting point, what with a dystopian LA of 2028 providing futuristic visuals and an underground means of operation that’s quite interesting. Sadly, the film doesn’t become as engrossing as it could have been and feels like a fun watch, but a forgettable one.

There’s dialogue within this movie that sounds like it’s come straight out of the Roger Moore era of Bond, with sign off lines that are cheesier than a cheddar block. Thanks to the designated rules listed by the Artemis, any promise of action is left til the dying moments, which does make the film somewhat less exciting to get through. Thanks to the cast though and some blasts of poppy music and a thankfully engaging score from Cliff Martinez, this film doesn’t fail too badly.

Jodie Foster is on top form as the nurse of the joint, she totters around and as the main centrepiece she’s a brilliant presence. She brings her character a sweet anxiety and a nice homely if not shady level of care. Sterling K. Brown is a fine actor and a charismatic chap but he doesn’t get much to do in this and he’s just an uninteresting character to follow. Dave Bautista destroys any rule breakers with great ease but shows he’s more than muscle, acting nicely opposite Foster and providing his orderly character touches of compassion. Charlie Day does more of his usual shouty stuff and Goldblum is underused. Sofia Boutella plays Nice, a for hire killer and she’s seriously bad ass, showcasing awesome skills of chopping bad guys down and cloaked in her thigh high sliced dress she looks like an Electra or Red Sonja and she’s a talented, fierce actor that deserves a leading role like that.

If anything, ‘Hotel Artemis’ tries throwing a bit too much of everything into the mix and becomes overcooked. There’s flashes of something special but it never checks in to those heights.

6/10

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

Beast (2018)

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Stalking the screen with effective tension is this beastly feature. It certainly has bark and bite, as we see this dark thriller take hold and swallow you up, in a dangerously palpable mystery.

Celebrating her birthday is Moll (Jessie Buckley), who ends up dancing the night away before crossing paths with the possibly shady Pascal (Johnny Flynn), the next morning. There have been a series of grim murders plaguing the island and it isn’t long until people suspect Moll’s new connection, as the man behind the disappearances.

This is a debut work from Michael Pearce; who unarguably knows how to layer on the tension. The film almost sweats out a deep and engaging psychological tale, as if Pearce is allowing us to peer through a magnifying glass at all the worrying little details possessed by Moll and Pascal, details that keep us questioning their relationship and the trail of murders.

Coinciding with Pearce’s fantastically hypnotic visuals is a score from Jim Williams that drips with almost spine-chilling strength. The entire look of this movie is that of a frightening British drama, with a cold dirtiness and a somewhat fun immersion into thriller territory that is enhanced by the plot. The narrative is one that definitely kept me guessing and the end is one I could talk about for some time yet, it’s visceral, unexpected and almost reaches the realm of being powerful.

Saying all of this, I don’t know whether it’s a film I’d watch again and it’s a story that I was a little disappointed didn’t end up being darker or more twisted. The film also slightly suffers from feeling like a slow tick-tock aspect, which does make it feel a little bit long. I’d definitely say the film is strongest in the first two thirds.

The acting is blindingly great, some of the most captivating performances I’ve ever seen. Flynn excels at playing this secretive, maybe dodgy character that turns up in Moll’s life. There’s a great balance of masculinity and softer love he portrays as he gets wrapped up in the whirlwind of the flame haired Buckley. She is incredible, the emotions she goes through are numerous and each one is carefully performed, drawing you into her as a character. It’s almost a tour de force show that she puts on and Moll comes to vivid and horrific life thanks to this.

This could be bad or good but I still don’t really know how I feel with ‘Beast’ and perhaps that’s testament to how fearless and different it is. The movie is rife with tension and I can at least safely say that it’s two leading stars ensure you cannot look away.

7/10

Ready Player One (2018)

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Screeching into cinemas this weekend at 88 mph, is the latest feature from Steven Spielberg. It’s fast, fun and enjoyable but that doesn’t completely override the shortcomings of the plot.

Set in 2045, the population are avid fans and players within the OASIS; a virtual reality world where they can be who they want and try to find an Easter egg, only obtained by finding 3 keys placed by creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance). Trying to lead the pack is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) who soon learns from fellow gamer Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) that there’s more at stake, than just a sprawling game.

I’ll kick off by saying, this is an energetic and pacy film that certainly, for the first two thirds at least, manages to speedily put across a massive virtual landscape of endless possibilities. The immersive quality isn’t fully felt but it comes and goes nicely, as if we’re window shoppers to this electrically charged Easter egg hunt. It’s only within the last third that this movie begins to trail and slightly feel like a slog, as the story it’s thinly been telling, takes over from the nostalgia trip and descends into a predictable and less than exciting mode.

There may indeed be problems but I can’t review this Spielberg outing without spouting fanboy praise for a sequence at the Overlook. I wasn’t expecting that at all, it’s at once hilarious and effectively spooky to see the hexagon carpeted floors of Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece, in a film that families will watch! The entire sequence was done brilliantly and I enjoyed it further, knowing what would happen in rooms etc.

Nostalgia is clearly what is selling this film and I have no issues with that, it’s a seat filler. People love being reminded of fun flashes to their past and this movie sees games and pop cultural figures storm the cinematic screen with giddy abandon. Marvin the Martian, The Iron Giant and Halo Spartans are just a few of the brilliant visual tie-ins Spielberg and the effects team have gifted us, but there should be more to it down to the main narrative, yet at points it does feel like this is a film solely riding on the cool delight of spotting characters from games, film and TV dotted around.

Music also forms a huge factor of the feel-good fuzzy feeling as Hall and Oates, The Bee Gees and Van Halen all riff on this film’s clear course to Nostalgia-ville. There’s a general fun vibe to had with this film and even though there are problems with the story being devoid of heart or much emotion, a side-lined female character who becomes not much more than a love interest and a show of characters that don’t really develop and therefore never grabbed my attention, it’s a movie of wonder and bright colour, zippy visual treats and a technological feat that should be admired.

Sheridan plays the guy out in the sticks aspiring to win and the lead with a lesson in love, in a way that’s alright enough but I’d never say he was someone I rooted for, he’s kind of just there amongst a world bursting with other avatars. Cooke sprinkles some cool chick moves to her turn as the helpful love sidekick and I found her more interesting to watch than Sheridan, as I did with the hench figure of Aech and their subsequent reveal. Ben Mendelsohn is always an effective presence but his role as the villainous Nolan Sorrento is hot and cold, there’s flickers of chilling menace and then it dissipates. Rylance comes and goes but is a fun addition, with a kind of Wayne’s World/Bill and Ted gamer geek, stoner attribute to his character.

The story isn’t as strong or as engaging as it deserves to be but I have to applaud Steven Spielberg and the visual effects crew, for creating a film that is a lively rush for the senses.

7/10

 

Call Me By Your Name (2017)

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After missing out upon it’s initial release, awards hopeful ‘Call Me by Your Name’ returned to a cinema near me and though I liked the sun-drenched aesthetic, music and performances, I didn’t find myself captivated by the plot in any way.

In 1983, an American grad student called Oliver (Armie Hammer), spends 6 weeks of his summer at the Perlman residence to help with his paperwork. Seventeen year old Elio (Timothee Chalamet) begins seeing this outside figure as a nuisance but it moves forward to secretive hang outs and a blossoming first love for him to ride the highs and lows of.

Luca Guadagnino’s directive stamp on this is pretty stunning, The Great Beauty of an undisclosed Italian location is as ripe as a peach for beautiful moments. Sayombhu Mudkeeprom works with the director to create shots that are filled with yellow rays and highlight the glory of both Italy and this summer love. Closing Guadagnino’s ‘Desire’ trilogy, this is definitely a glorious and interesting melancholic yarn being spun; it’s without a doubt a much more engaging movie than ‘A Bigger Splash’, but again it’s a release that suffers with length.

I must admit I did in fact get quite bored during the late stages of the second half. In the first part, the setting, characters and music all get introduced very well but as the private romance begins, the film started waning and stretched almost into boredom for me, where I was just waiting for the obvious moment when the two would go their separate ways.

The main reason I feel like the later scenes distanced me, is because I never ever bought into their relationship. It’s meant to be this beautiful spark of mutual attraction but I didn’t once believe they loved each other. It felt like Elio was a kid infatuated and Oliver was taking on a summer fling; which makes the consequent second half and their sad parting…well not very sad at all. The story didn’t resonate with me in the way I expected it would, considering all the astounding reviews it’s been collecting recently. I in no way disliked the film, I just started tiring by the end and wouldn’t recommend it outright.

I did thoroughly enjoy the score, almost wrapping me up into the lush scenery of the film. A piano heavy backdrop of music works well in both providing a nice lullaby tone and mirroring the pianist skills of Elio himself. Sufjan Stevens gifts the movie three songs and Mystery of Love; which is in contention for an Academy Award, is like some calm water gently soaking over you as you listen. The song perfectly compliments the look and tone of the film.

Chalamet is a wonderful presence, at times presenting himself wrapped round Oliver, like the curved statues spoken of as displaying desire. He brings this quiet teen intellect to the character but you can see there’s a nervous unknowing to how his narrative plays out, which is quite fascinating to watch. Hammer possesses this goofy charm throughout the picture, a serene confidence to his character and the eventual relationship. It’s definitely one of his finer turns and I’m sold on his dance moves which are care free and delightful. Michael Stuhlbarg is in this and it’s a wonder, no, a crying shame that he hasn’t been up for a major award yet, because he most often is the best quality in a production, and in this he provides good touches of humour, believable dad advice and a calming aspect to run with the general calmness of the story.

‘Call Me by Your Name’ is an assured sweet film about the ride of first love and it’s summer tinged backdrop is a wonderful look to bolster the vivid exploration of Elio’s crush. I just wasn’t as taken by the story itself that’s all.

7/10

The Shape of Water (2018)

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The masterful and visionary Guillermo del Toro is back; with one of this seasons huge awards contenders, and frankly it isn’t too difficult to see why people have fallen for it. There’s a beautiful twisted charm throughout what can only be described as an odd Hollywood fairy-tale.

A mute janitor by the name of Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), ends up cleaning a secretive room in a government facility. In here she discovers and learns more about this amphibian asset (Doug Jones) who she quickly connects to and falls for. It’s soon clear that this water-dwelling creature is in the midst of Cold War tactics and Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) is laser-focused on doing no good to this being.

I never expected to see a film featuring an upright fish man and a non-speaking lead to incorporate elements of such love, engaging humour and aspects of classy glitz a la ‘The Artist’ and ‘La La Land’. Director del Toro has very nearly struck a fascinating gold mine with this film, one that certainly feels like his greatest storytelling achievement since ‘Pans Labyrinth’. I say very nearly because perhaps down to my own over-hyping of this feature, I found the movie to not always keep me immersed and the obscure romance/will they, won’t they element isn’t anything majorly refreshing, even if the romantic partner is green and scaly.

Aside from those points, I found myself enjoying almost the entire run. The cast of characters are believably written and wonderfully acted. There is a healthy mix of fairly absurd comedy to be found considering the subject of this film and what people say is cleverly scripted to elicit humour. The swelling score helps this film feel like a piece of stunning movie-making from a bygone era of classic Hollywood, this can further be realised with the production design of Elisa’s neighbours’ apartment and the numerous visuals of black and white reels on screens. As you might expect with a del Toro picture, there are moments of wincing gore that definitely do their part to make you squeam.

What I think is the best quality in this Cold War set romantic fantasy, is the enchanting rapture of the world we’re presented with; the people within it, the places and the central heart shaped pairing, all mesh together to create inspiring choreography of adoration for movie monsters and Hollywood of old. I don’t know about everyone because this film has been picking up some negative jabs , but for me at least, without any real doubt I can say I was won over by the stylish spin on a love story…and by the glorious amount of key lime pie!

Hawkins gives such a lovely presence throughout, practically saying nothing she manages to tell the story through a spellbinding emotive performance. There’s almost something other-worldly about her and I think she’s the perfect fit for this role. Richard Jenkins is a gem of an actor and character within this movie; he brings great levity, kindness and a loneliness too. Shannon is always someone I enjoy watching and here he has perfect menace in his eyes and a hell bent drive to his narrative, that pretty much only Shannon could muster. Jones is del Toro’s go to guy for making beasts come to life and though it may be no epic Pale Man creation, this amphibian figure splashes with an enamouring touch. Michael Stuhlbarg and Octavia Spencer are incredible supporting players who have their own moments to shine; in both aiding Elisa’s plot and within their own great scenes.
It may not be the winningly dazzling film I hoped it would be, but it’s certainly a film with visual flair, a film I’d re-watch and a film with classical romance flipped upside down and submerged in the wondrous waters of Guillermo del Toro’s mind.
7.5/10