It’s been a busy month! I’ve read a couple of books, climbed a couple of hills, written a few bits and pieces, and watched somewhere in the region of 60 movies, which isn’t too bad.
I’ve been trying to work out how to make sure I keep writing about the movies I’m watching without overlapping too much with the pieces I’m writing for Cherwell, so I thought I’d try out this format and see how well it works. As always, this blog will focus on recent releases, but if you want to see what old movies I’m watching then head on over to SummerOfCinema on Instagram (and while I’m shamelessly plugging things, follow me on Twitter!)
Anywho, here are the 10 new releases I’ve seen this month, in alphabetical order:
Ant-Man and the Wasp
I’m actually in the middle of writing up my review for this right now, and it’s only on this list on a technicality because I caught an advance preview last night. Short review: it’s good! Long review: only a hop, click and a jump away.
The First Purge
Full disclosure: the only Purge film I’ve seen aside from this one is the original. They share a lot of the same basic problems – namely, disappointing execution of an initially intriguing premise – but the execution of The First Purge is even worse than the original. Terrible ADR, some of the worst green screen I’ve seen since The Room, shaky cam that ensures you can’t even see the murders that I assume most of the audience are turning up for, and a script riddled with issues from overworn clichés (exposition via news broadcast? ouch) to splitting the narrative into three underdeveloped plot lines where two would have sufficed nicely.
But The First Purge has deeper problems; it actually shines a big searchlight into the creaky foundations of the entire premise of the franchise by zeroing in on the origins of the Purge as an concept, and shows how ludicrous and unfeasible it would be to implement.
IF YOU DON’T WANT ANY SPOILERS, SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH: In the film, the Purge is trialled on Staten Island, in a move that the film strongly telegraphs is a measure to eradicate a poor and ethnically diverse community, and broadcast live to the nation. The Purge dictates that all crimes, including murder, are legal for the 12 hour period of the Purge – but given that the Purge has never occurred before, the film doesn’t provide any justification for the characters to believe that the Purge isn’t anything but a set-up to make lots of people commit crimes and get arrested by the cops, which kind of undoes the whole premise. This is worsened by the authorities’ provision of contact-lens-cameras that record the purgers’ every action.
The problems with this series stem from a systemic lack of imagination; at one point, the newscasters watching the broadcast complain that not enough people are murdering each other, and that seems to reflect the views of the filmmakers. It’s kind of a waste of an interesting premise – if all crimes are legal, imagine a heist film set during the Purge, or body-swap comedy! But the filmmakers only want to see people get mown down, and as long as Michael Bay’s production company is involved, I’m sure they won’t care about attracting interesting, intelligent filmmakers who could bring something new to the material.
Drew Pearce, the writer behind Iron Man 3, finally gets to write and direct his own film, and what a spectacular debut feature he’s cooked up.
The premise is fantastic, easily fitting into the “Take a plot from a Western and slap some sci-fi garnish over it” school of filmmaking (see also Firefly, Avatar, It Comes At Night etc etc) I guarantee it’ll be a cult classic within 10 years if it finds its audience. The eclectic cast, including Jodie Foster, Dave Bautista, Charlie Day, Sofia Boutella, Sterling K. Brown and Zachary Quinto, do a lot of great work across the board, though Jeff Goldblum is miscast as the biggest, baddest mob boss in the West.
From the scrappy production design to the no-holds-barred tone, this is some lean, mean, intelligent filmmaking, with a cracking first hour that’s only a little undone by a rushed third act containing more than a few instances of clunky dialogue and expedited character development. Most of the film’s problems could be solved by recasting Goldblum (Tom Hanks or Dustin Hoffman could’ve KILLED in the role), and making the film roughly an hour longer. If Pearce slowed down the reveals and spent some more time establishing the world and the characters, so that we feel the weight of consequence when things really start to turn crazy, this would genuinely be one of the better films to come out this year. As it is, it’s a solid, loveable misfire that I can’t wait to be released on Blu-ray.
Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation
The filmmakers didn’t really bother themselves with any aspect of this film, so why should I bother to review it? The script is lousy and unfunny, the vocal performances are almost as flat as the lazy animation style, and everything about it is as lowest-common-denominator as possible. It’s barely a movie, so it gets barely a review – I didn’t hate it, because there is nothing about it to hate, just as there is nothing about it to like.
The best Pixar sequel since Toy Story 3! It’s not as funny as the first film, but the character development and astonishing action sequences more than make up for that – seriously, the climax is genuinely breathtaking, as huge-scale set pieces are rendered with a visual fluidity and grace that belies their complexity.
The leaps and bounds in computer animation between the original Incredibles in 2004 and its sequel are staggering, as is the jaw-droopingly gorgeous production design. Michael Giacchino’s score is excellent as always, and the voice actors are all committed and engaging in their performances. My main complaint is the way-too-obvious villain reveal. I’m not normally a huge predictor of plots, but 15 seconds after the character was introduced it was clear they’d be the primary antagonist, which made their reveal pretty unsatisfying, especially as their plan didn’t make a huge amount of sense. Still, it was a worthy sequel, and I’d love to see a third entry in the series – hopefully sooner than in 14 years time though, please!
Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again
Speaking of long-awaited sequels, I’m not sure I’ll ever know why it took 10 years to crank out an unnecessary, uninspired, drab sequel to the original campy 2008 adaptation of the jukebox musical we all know and…love? Anywho, this is very much the Godfather: Part II of the Mamma Mia series, simultaneously a prequel and sequel that shows how Donna and the gang ended up on their Greek island in the 1970s while everyone in the present tries to hold a party. See if you can guess which of those plot lines is the more interesting one…
Oli Parker takes the directorial reins this time around and attempts to make the film visually interesting, which I appreciated. However, the joys of the film, as always, come from its cast, though surprisingly not from any of the returning cast members.
Lily James, as the young Donna, is a luminescent screen presence. She commits even harder than Meryl Streep did in the original, and has a genuinely gorgeous singing voice (as she’d already proved in Baby Driver). The casting for the young iterations of the characters is the strongest element of the film by far, and the film would have been a lot more fun if it had committed to being a straight-up prequel. As it is, Donna has passed away in the present-day storyline, which bogs the film down in a surprisingly maudlin mood that robs the film of the only currency it should have had: fun. (Not that it isn’t supremely fun to hear a rendition of Waterloo that is so terrible I genuinely wanted to hide…)
Mission: Impossible – Fallout
My full review is up on the Cherwell site now, but short version: I really really liked it!
The Secret of Marrowbone
I’m sad to see audiences aren’t particularly responding to this film because I LOVED it. Helmed by the screenwriter behind The Orphanage, the film features a grab-bag of the best young actors including Anya-Taylor Joy, George MacKay, Mia Goth and Charlie Heaton in the lead roles, and grips you with an oppressive, elemental sense of dread from the first frame that doesn’t let up throughout the runtime.
It has a fascinatingly constructed screenplay, substantive production design and great performances and direction across the board. The film has an inescapable problem wherein the malevolent force at the heart of the film is a lot scarier when it’s not been fully explained, which threatens to make the final five or ten minutes tip straight into silliness, but the fantastic final shot does a great deal to neuter that. I’m going to see it again this week because I’m fascinated to see how the film functions when you know all its secrets, but this is currently one of my very favourite films of the year so far.
It’s hilarious. It’s terrible. It’s hilariously terrible. None of it really makes any sense – after about the 5th time Dwayne Johnson’s character would’ve (and should’ve) died, I just started laughing uncontrollably and didn’t stop until the end. I laughed uncontrollably when a British villain tried and failed to say the line “Listen to your mummy” in a threatening manner. My sides split every time The Rock’s had to do something physically impossible in order to advance the plot. I cried laughing each time they introduced a room in the skyscraper whose only purpose was to facilitate a future action sequence, and then rolled on the floor as it came true. I think a part of me actually died laughing when the main baddie (SPOILERS) both fell to his death from the 200th floor AND exploded as he did so. Easily one of the top 5 funniest films of the year – fantastically, brilliantly stupid, and totally hilarious in the way that only dumb, self-serious films can be.
Aaaand Uncle Drew was significantly less funny than Skyscraper. I don’t think it’s a comedy that translates particularly well for British audiences anyway, given how rooted in the NBA it is, but it’s also as lacking in jokes as the Pepsi commercials that inspired it. Couple that with a formulaic plot that holds precisely zero surprises or original flourishes, and you’ve got the second most forgettable film on this list. (I’ve forgotten what the most forgettable one was…)
Let me know if this format works for you, or how I could improve it! Comment below or tweet me – and thanks for reading!