The Darkest Minds (2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.5/10

 

 

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Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

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He’s scaled the world’s tallest building in Dubai, climbed a rock face in Utah and broken his ankle during the shoot of the latest instalment for the ever fun and always stunt heavy Mission: Impossible franchise, Tom Cruise is an action messiah and ‘Fallout‘ further proves this statement of mine.

Ethan Hunt (Cruise) receives a message that a terrorist ring have their hands on 3 plutonium cores which they intend to use in creating maximum destruction for ‘peace’. He teams up with Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames), but after an unexpected dilemma, Hunt is shadowed by CIA operative Walker (Henry Cavill) as their mission takes them to Paris and an old adversary.

Christopher McQuarrie is back in the directors chair and with his fantastically engrossing screenplay, he ensures to keep quality control on a narrative that essentially boils down to a seek and locate motivated globe-trot and a heart palpitating countdown themed finale. The M:I series has always been a fun one and this is no exception but they’ve definitely been getting better and more finely written.

Obviously the set-pieces are as amazingly coordinated as ever, each and every insane stunt moment making you take a breath and fear you won’t regain it by the end of the sequence. This sixth outing rockets from a HALO jump over France to a phenomenal helicopter chase, with everything from motorbike collisions and a London run in between. This film boasts such an impressive cinematic run of stunts with the optimum motivation to boost adrenaline into you, I certainly sat back, mouth agape loving it all. Side note: stunt teams and performers truly deserve more recognition and the Academy should step up and honour films that put great care and work into creating high-octane thrills like this movie offers.

This isn’t to say the stunts overshadow the film. There’s a meaty story that ticks away with great waves of tension, the usual shadiness of who can be trusted is utilised nicely and along rests of humour there’s some welcome light shed on Hunt and his back story with Michelle Monaghan’s Julia, who gets some crucial screen-time, showcasing her skills as an actor and also being a vital character that makes Ethan more than an unbreakable force but an emotional human too.

The ever reliable, action movie star credentials of Cruise are back in full swing and he’s supported by a returning cast. The light-hearted quips from Pegg’s gadget savvy character are always well delivered but he’s on the field more and becomes caught up amongst the threats and action. Rhames is as great as usual and shows a touch of real softness when speaking about his longtime buddy Hunt. It’s great to see Rebecca Ferguson back too, she makes Ilsa a complicated and strong individual to stand toe to toe with Cruise. They’re joined by franchise newbie Cavill who sports ‘that’ moustache and pumps his arms as ferociously as his character is, also fresh to the scene is Vanessa Kirby who is a riveting complex character, that could have had more screen time but eats up the screen with a femme fatale like edge.

What this movie is to watch is nothing short of spectacular. You thought it’d be impossible to top the last one but again the crew and stars have succeeded in their mission to provide us with fast paced excitement and tension like no other. One of the best action films I’ve seen. You can choose to accept that or not, it’s a fact.

9/10

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 Secret of Marrowbone (2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6.5/10

Cargo (2018)

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In the dusty outback of Australia, ‘Sherlock’ star Martin Freeman tries desperately to survive, in what could only be described as bleak conditions. Adapted from a short film idea by the same creators, ‘Cargo’ does feel like it a little weighed down by a full length run-time but it doesn’t stop it being a gritty portrayal of fighting against the odds.

A virus has swept over the world and anyone infected has just 48 hours of human life left, before they turn into flesh seeking zombies. Andy (Martin Freeman) treks the countryside Down Under carrying his baby girl Rosie, trying to find a hospital to combat the effects he carries with him.

What stands out strongest within this post apocalyptic plot, is the character studying. Yolande Ramke writes a powerfully subtle zombie flick by focusing on the behaviours of its characters, also directing with Ben Howling they ensure the movie doesn’t fill us with easy-to-do blood splattered gore or adrenaline pumped tension. They work nicely together in really making you feel for Andy and understand not just him but the people he interacts with from start to finish. Good zombie films are always showing us the true monsters are found in us when people do the nastiest things to stay alive and this feature is no exception.

I must admit that there are times when a little shot more of tension would have been welcome. The 1 hour 40ish length does have a few points where it feels stretched out and having a couple of scenes whittled down would have kept the dramatic punch alive; as if mirroring the narrow time frame Andy has to survive. Also, aside from the clever and well written/acted character work, this isn’t exactly a film that demolishes the genre, if you’ve seen one or two then you’ve seen this one as well.

Aboriginal life gets a spotlight and there’s a good moment when a trapped Aborigine comments on the sickness but relays it back to how their people, their way of living is all but destroyed by white people, Australia has indeed left this tribe of rich culture to struggle in the background. It’s important that this film highlights them and moments including an Aborigine girl are soft, mystical ones that give the film an original spark.

‘Cargo’ may be a film that would be more tense as a thirty minute outing but there’s no denying that Freeman, newcomer Simone Landers and the writing/directing masters have provided Netflix and us a bold social commentary laced with the gnash of zombie thrills.

7/10

Revenge (2018)

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Women are not to be messed with and ‘Revenge’ surely shows this, in an exploitation thriller bursting with female power.

Richard (Kevin Janssens) is a married man but has a young and attractive mistress called Jen (Matilda Lutz), who are both enjoying some time in Richard’s secret desert home. That is until two of his hunting buddies show up and drool over Jen, one thing to leads to another and then she’s out for revenge.

This is director Coralie Fargeat’s debut full length feature and if this anything to go by, then she’s someone I look forward to directing again. It easily could have been a schlock fest and gory sexplotation for the sake of it but the film rises above that simple route and provides an action thriller, led by a woman that messes with the genre and takes you on a sprint, almost making me need to catch my breath once the film was over.

There’s a brilliantly directed sequence where Jen suffers hallucinogenic nightmares which rivals ‘Dumbo’ for weirdness and it’s so perfectly edited that it becomes a frightening moment that worms into your very own head and plays tricks on you. It isn’t just that scene that’s scary, the blokes are obviously nasty too. The majority of the movie chooses to have close-ups which do a great job in adding engaging tension but also showing what disgusting creatures men can be; proved further by shots of a lizard cut after a shot of one of the men. Plus an extreme close up of a man eating a chocolate snack is a case in point of the ugly side of masculinity, that enhances the movie’s feminist spirit.

Colours pop with sharpness throughout this movie, but the saturation is truly turned up to the max in the house bound opening, with pinks, blues, reds and yellows searing the screen with vivid intensity. That bold play with colour comes back with attack come the latter stages of the film, with rivers of crimson red enhancing the revenge experience.

I was thinking, perhaps twice during the run-time, that it could have been a little punchier. It doesn’t ever feel long but it doesn’t zip along in the same vein as the zany ‘Mom and Dad’ did. I feel it could have been more energetic if ten or so minutes had been shaved off. There’s also a great example of needing to suspend disbelief at a crucial part in the story, that’s very far-fetched and I couldn’t shake it, but it doesn’t ruin what is a tense and explosive visceral flick that makes you squirm with imaginable pain at many points.

Lutz certainly goes through the ringer and has a tougher time of it than Alison Lohman in ‘Drag Me to Hell’, which is randomly what came to mind when I watched this Italian actress fight for her survival. She’s an incredible presence and does a mighty job in being believable, bad ass, vulnerable, motivated and someone to root for.

‘Revenge’ is a rip-roaring outing that’s soaked with so much blood, that the opening elevator doors in ‘The Shining’ look like a mere leaky tap.

8.5/10

 

Entebbe (2018)

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Inspired by a true moment in history, this biographical thriller from Jose Padilha has some nicely executed tension in places and a bold choice of book-ended dancing but isn’t as thrilling as you’d expect it to be.

Set over one week in 1976, we see the planning and execution of Palestine ‘freedom fighters’ hijacking a plane and keeping the passengers hostage at an airport terminal in Entebbe, Uganda. Hoping to lead and show they’re not radicals or dangerous is Wilfried Bose (Daniel Bruhl) who doesn’t reckon on the Israeli government strategising a combat response to their demands.

Considering the events being shown to us are based on real life ones, the film never really lifts off and becomes as deeply tense as it would have been in that scenario for the captives. There are some brief elevations of tension that help keep some interest alive, but these are at the beginning and end of the film, which leaves a hefty middle portion to sit almost stale-like.

For a film that’s tackling events previously shown in other TV films, this one bravely includes a sequence to differentiate itself and stand apart. This is the opening dance number that then returns nearing the end and becomes a unique bookend for the movie, that I did find to work well. It mirrors the alarming nature of what is happening in Uganda and is exceptionally edited, giving the film a much needed sheen of atmospheric style.

More than anything, this is a movie that doesn’t just slow burn like great thrillers do, but just feels slow. Come day four and five, ‘Entebbe’ begins to lull and dare I say ache with boredom but does pick up its pace and as day six and seven roll around, the film had me more attuned and awake. There wasn’t much emotional attachment within the film and that’s maybe why the film feels slow, they try showing us a dancer and her soldier boyfriend but it comes to late to capture any connection to them and generally, there’s no one really to root for.

Bruhl is interesting in his role as someone wanting to fight against the powers of Israel and free his people, it also lets him briefly shine as he desperately hopes to step away from the expectations of society viewing the fact he’s German and taking prisoners, as the unfortunate parallels it has to WW2 Nazism, but it’s not his best performance by any stretch. Rosamund Pike is great in this, she has such expressive eyes which are full of guilt, sadness and ultimately, a realisation of the situation she’s ended up in. A scene with Pike at a payphone rings with softly powerful words and a simple yet effective static shot over this scene really hits home the problem Brigitte Kulhmann has gotten into.

The issue of the film is that there are no sides to take and the complexity of the still ongoing Palestine and Israel conflict; sees this film mired with frustrating emptiness, only briefly saved by some snippets of style and tension.

5.5/10