The summer is pretty much over! I’ve managed to see most of the films I wanted to this month, but so far I haven’t gotten around to watching Upgrade, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Action Point, Searching or Yardie yet – I’m seeing some of those next week though, so feel free to follow me on Twitter for more topical thoughts on what I’m watching. Anyway, now the admin is out of the way, here’s everything I saw in the cinema this month:
Alpha is a classic boy-and-his-dog tale, but it’s beautifully shot and Kodi Smit-McPhee does some sterling work playing against his canine co-star. It’s pure formula from beginning to end, but it’s an amiable, ably-assembled film nonetheless.
It was clear even before the credits came up that this film was a real Sundance darling. Written and directed by Bart Layton, who’d previously only directed documentaries, this is the ultimate combination of documentary and narrative feature filmmaking as Layton interweaves appearances by the perpetrators of the real-life heist (which I 100% recommend Googling, by the way) in fascinatingly brilliant ways. Sometimes it’s a style that verges on smug self-satisfaction, but it also highlights what an incredible job Layton and his casting director Ava Kaufman have done in bringing in the four main actors (Evan Peters and Barry Keoghan, in particular, are brilliant). In many ways, it’s a strong spiritual successor to I, Tonya, as Layton deftly navigates the subjectivity of the truth when it comes to basing a story on recollected events. Overall, it’s a soft recommend from me, but Layton could well be a director to watch in future.
Full review took a few weeks to go up on the Cherwell site but it’s finally up!
Christopher Robin is easily the biggest disappointment of the summer. After the critics were so kind to it, and considering the talent in front of and behind the camera, I went into this film hoping for a new favourite and it was a hopelessly maudlin mess. It’s clearly borrowing from too many other films to count – Hook, Bridge to Terabithia, Where The Wild Things Are, Goodbye Christopher Robin, Finding Neverland – and it’s not nearly as good as any of them.
The photography is very pretty and I appreciated Jon Brion’s influence on the score, and Ewan McGregor’s performance very nearly measures up to Jim Cummings’ delightful turn as the bear of little brain himself, but the whole film is oddly listless. There’s no real story or driving dramatic imperative to back up anything on screen for the first hour and a half, and it makes the film feel tired and lifeless where it should be colourful and vibrant. It also feels overly geared towards grownups, but unlike something as transcendently idiosyncratic as Where The Wild Things Are, Christopher Robin feels preachy and moralistic to the point of tedium as it tells grownups to spend more time with their kids and less time at work.
The Darkest Minds
The Darkest Minds is every YA film ever made thrown into a blender and it’s…resolutely fine. It is not good in any way, but it’s also not bad in any way either. The four young central cast members all commit themselves admirably, but the overall effect is so generic and blandly predictable that there’s very little to get worked up over.
The Equalizer 2
I think I may be in the minority in not liking the original Equalizer film, but I just found it so dire and joyless and weirdly Home Alone-esque (oh, I don’t think I’ve mentioned on the internet how much I hate Home Alone…sorry!). The follow-up isn’t bad – in fact, it’s almost enjoyably schlocky. The plot is as predictable as it could possibly be, and it’s hilarious to me that an Equalizer film had a go at being a political thriller, but Denzel Washington and Ashton Sanders were both stellar and I’d happily see them both in LITERALLY ANYTHING ELSE.
Full confession: I love gross-out humour when it’s done well, but I really dislike The Inbetweeners TV show, and the films are close to reprehensible for me. The Festival is not as bad as its forbears, but that probably means that in the minds of the target audience. it’s not as good. From a filmmaking perspective, it’s really amateurishly put together, and from a comedy perspective, it’s catastrophically unfunny – despite some really enjoyable performances from Hammed Animashaun and Claudia O’Doherty. Avoid.
The Happytime Murders
It’s a film comprised of one sole joke (“It’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but raunchy, with puppets!”), but that one joke worked reasonably well for me. It’s not deep in any way, it’s nowhere near as well-written as any of its cinematic forbears like Team America, and I certainly won’t remember it in two weeks time. But the Henson puppetry throughout is genuinely impressive on a technical level and I’m mostly just pleased it avoided being another Sausage Party.
Luis and the Aliens
Just look at the character designs on the poster for this film. Look how generic and uncanny they are, and then imagine spending 90 minutes with them. ARGHHHASDFGHJKL!!?$#!! This film is profoundly terrible. I mostly spent the film shaking my head in disbelief because there is nothing about the film that works on any level whatsoever. The animation would’ve looked dated and crass in 1996, the dialogue is somehow both cringeworthy and nonsensical, the characters and the storyline teach terrible morals to children, and the whole thing is so creepy and gross that it scared me more than any other film on this list.
Oh Meggy. I had such high hopes that you would be the ultimate dumb shark movie, but you just weren’t tongue-in-cheek enough. When you went for the joke, you missed, but at least when you tried to be serious you were hilarious. I appreciated how hyper-masculine Jason Statham was – so much so that it almost compensated for the sub-par visual effects work, terrible ADR and the constantly fluctuating size of the Meg herself. It’s also worth noting that the Meg also has the best cinematic timing of any shark in all of film history. The film itself is too mediocre to recommend, unfortunately, but when I make a friend who cross-stitches pillows, lines of dialogue from this film will be the first thing I request they make for me – starting with the line “Your ex-wife and her crew are trapped at 11,000 meters” (hilarious stakes-setting stuff) and working all the way up to “It’s [the Meg, obviously] already proved aggressive against boats.” GIVE THE SCREENWRITER 10,000 OSCARS.
Sony have flubbed the release of this film on purpose – they’ve made one poster, one trailer, and then dumped it in cinemas. I highly recommend Red Letter Media’s video on the film to find out why. As for the film itself, it’s so bad that I’ve pretty much blocked it from my mind. None of the stakes make sense, so you’re confused about what’s you’re supposed to be scared of; characters are introduced and dropped seemingly at random, the CGI effects are laughably bad, the whole film is ugly as sin to look at because it’s been colour-graded to within an inch of its life, and the dialogue is hilariously poor. I wish I hadn’t watched it alone, if only so that I could share the laughter with some mates. I suspect on a second viewing it may be even funnier, so I may give this one a revisit.
The Spy Who Dumped Me
At the risk of being overly controversial, I haven’t made up my mind on whether or not Kate McKinnon is a good actress. I love her work on SNL, but in her film projects she often seems to be overworking her gurning, weird schtick in a desperate attempt to conjure laughs from thin air. About half of her jokes land in TSWDM, but that fits in line pretty well with a film that only works half the time anyway. The action sequences are pretty deftly executed for the most part (whoever decided to stage a fight in a gymnasium deserves a small pay rise), and Mila Kunis is as likeable as ever, but the film is hampered by a predictable plot and shoots itself in the foot with a flashbacky narrative structure that seems only to remind you that you’ve seen this film 100 times before. Stay home and watch The Hitman’s Bodyguard or Knight and Day.
Teen Titans Go! To The Movies
Teen Titans Go! isn’t a TV show I’ve ever watched, but I’ll be damned if the movie isn’t one of the more pleasant surprises to hit a cinema screen this year. It’s consistently engaging, funny, and incisively good at poking fun at superhero movies, in particular those made by DC. Cameos by everyone from Stan Lee to Michael Bolton don’t hurt either, but the writing is so smart that the cameos never feel like a crutch. The animation is poppy and bright, and the voice cast acquit themselves admirably throughout – I guarantee it’ll keep both you and your hyperactive niece/nephew quiet for an hour and a half.
If you’ve gotten this far through, thank you for reading! Let me know if you’d like an extended review of any of these, and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and come back here in a month’s time for more film-related shenanigans!