Stuber Review

The summer blockbuster release slate is often varied. You can expect a few by-the-numbers action flicks (soon to be served up by the Fast and Furious franchise) and more often than not you’ll get a mainstream buddy comedy led by a few a-listers, or up and comers, this year this is brought to us by this film.

Dave Bautista leads the cast as it’s star. A very unexpected breakout star over the last few years, as the number of ex-wrestlers who’ve made a successful film career can be counted on one hand, the two stand-outs are Dave, and Dwayne Johnson, and at least Bautista does different things from time to time.

It’s not a particularly high-concept film, the unlikely duo buddy comedy is as well-worn a trope as any, especially in the department of ‘big-guy cop, and small-guy partner’ its setup is anything but fresh, but what’s it like in execution?

Story

Ric Manning (Dave Bautista) is a veteran cop who loses his partner while chasing a drug dealer, causing him to obsess over the case, while fighting his own failing sight. He is taken off the case but soon commandeers an Über, driven by Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) and jumps back on the case.

Verdict

As a film, Stuber is somewhat of a mess. Cobbled together from aspects of other films and held together by cliches. It redeems itself somewhat in the performance department, however, as the Buddy comedy lives and dies on its central duo’s chemistry, Bautista and Nanjiani are a very watchable pair, who seemingly force joy into the film at every opportunity, even if the film runs out of steam in the end.

There’s very little wit and subtlety about the film as a whole, not that we expected much subtlety, but the failing eyesight angle is an unexpected, yet underused aspect of the character, it is used fleetingly when the film remembers that it needs to make it seem like he’s under threat, but takes a back seat through most of the run time.

A comedy film lives and dies on the amount of laughs that can be derived from it, and it does fairly well, helped by the performances of its leading duo, Bautista has immaculate comedic timing, as seen in the MCU, and Nanjiani gets a few funny one-liners. The main problem is it all seems so inconsequential as a film.

Sure, nobody expected this film to be groundbreaking, but there are times when it feels like it’s not even really trying. The action sequences are lazy and unimaginative, the side characters are paper-thin, and the token twist is completely nonsensical in delivery.

In conclusion then, aside from a dynamite leading duo, this film has very little to offer apart from that besides a few throwaway laughs. It isn’t an experience that will stick with you, at best it’s merely forgettable, at worst it’s insufferably flat film that’s overly pleased with itself, regardless of its laziness, and overall lack of imagination.

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Thunder Road Review

Another day, another film named after a Bruce Springsteen song…

Apart from sharing that aspect, there are very few things that link the last film I reviewed (Blinded by the Light) and this film, so there won’t be much comparison drawn in that department.

This film started life as a fifteen-minute short film of the same name, written and directed by Jim Cummings, who also stars, he reprises those roles in this feature-length effort, which still isn’t an epic by run-time standards, but being short means that it doesn’t have any space wasted, and has pillar from which to build of its early iteration, which is cleverly worked back into this film.

Story

Jim Arnaud (Cummings) is a man whose life is falling apart. He’s just buried his mother, and his wife is divorcing him, sending his metal state into a nose-dive.

Verdict

It’s an intriguing little film, this.

The summary I gave there is shorter than usual, but that isn’t because of my lack of understanding, it’s merely because if I said anymore I’d risk giving away a lot of the plots major points, and it really is a film that’s fascinating to merely watch unfold, as well as having interesting characters and plot developments.

Mainly, this film is a vehicle for its star/director, and Cummings delivers a towering and affecting performance, and establishes himself as a modern master of the cinematic monologue, the film is punctuated by numerous long-take, rambling monologues delivered emotionally and believably by Cummings, all that is great in the film revolves around him.

Unfortunately, that means that less time is afforded to fleshing out any other character, thus making them seem very shallow, but for a plot that revolves mainly around Cummings’ character, this is not too much of a fault.

As far as I can tell, this is Cummings’ feature-length debut as a director (his IMDb lists a few other short films, but no features) and he shows flashes of brilliance throughout the film. The aforementioned monologues are among the highlights from a directing stand-point as well as from a performance perspective.

It’s an enormous task to direct yourself to a performance like Cummings gave, and he has my admiration for this. The story might not seem like anything new, but it’s in the execution that Thunder Road stands out, it’s independent origins are worn on its sleeve, with no big stars connected and next to no fanfare, it’s a deep cut of a film that only the most determined film fan would know about, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth talking about far from it.

It has a lot to offer that many bigger films don’t. It sounds pretentious to wax lyrical about the merits of independent film-making, but this is a great example of a film that makes the most of what it has, not a moment of it is wasted.

The script is another area where the film excels, its slick dialogue is almost Tarantino-esque in its delivery and writing, effortlessly flicking between emotional breakdown and hilarious one-line asides, all without feeling over-written, it shows the range of Cummings’ talent.

It’s also incredibly surprising in how quickly it turns from comedy to drama, such a change can derail a films narrative if not handled correctly, and Thunder Road suddenly takes a sharp left that it had been building too over its ninety minute run-time, subtly building the anxiety behind Jim, and pays off in one bittersweet, uncomfortable ending which will really stick with you.

In conclusion, a towering performance from its central character, paired with focused direction and a really sharp, frankly outstanding script makes Thunder Road one of this years most unexpected triumphs.

Blinded By the Light Review

I’ve never really listened to Bruce Springsteen. His music reminds me of the kind of chest-beating, over-patriotic Americana that really grinds on my nerves. But after watching this and hearing more of his songs than I’d previously heard, I realise that I may have presumed too much about Mr Springsteen.

This is a film from Gurinder Chadha, the director behind Bend it Like Beckham, the 2002 film about an Asian-British teenage outsider exploring a world in which their family disapproves of. Conversely, Blinded by the Light is a film about an Asian-British teenage outsider exploring a world which their parents disapprove of.

Although that may be mostly sarcasm in my lovably facetious way, there are several similarities to be drawn between the filmmaker’s previous output and his latest effort. Not that this is automatically a bad thing, every filmmaker has a voice, and if Chadha is giving a voice to the Asian-British community, then more power to her, but does this celebration as Springsteen connect well with her themes of Asian identity?

Story

Javed (Viveik Kalra) is a 16-year-old Pakistani-British boy living in the tail-end of Thatcher’s Britain, a time of great Social and Economic upheaval, contending with the rise of the ultra far-right National Front, and the prospect of a life of unemployment, he dreams of escaping for a better life as a writer, and discovering the music of a certain American singer, opens his eyes to new forms of expression.

Verdict

If we are forced to seriously draw comparisons between this film and Bend it Like Beckham, then we have several similarities in which we can start, and be very justified in drawing attention to this, however, for all its similarities, Blinded by the Light manages to break away from the shadow left by BILB and forge its own identity in doing so.

At a glance, Springsteen might seem like an odd choice to base a story ostensibly about Pakistani-British life around, the film finds clever ways of making his words apply to the situations Javed finds himself in, making use of visually showing the words on screen to drive home the point that what Bruce is singing about is what Javed is thinking, while this could have seemed invasive, it is used just enough to establish a point, without being overly relied on in a way that seems like an exposition dump.

There’s a fine line to walk between representation and stereotype, one that becomes narrower the more you focus on one specific identity, of course, when it is handled by someone of a the same, or similar, race the blow is softened somewhat and we allow for more wiggle room than if a white person were to be directing the film. The plot thread of over-bearing ethnic parents was also explored in BILB, and I’d say is pushed even further here, almost to the point where Javed’s father becomes unlikable, where the aim seemed to be to make him sympathetic.

Character-wise, the film is an exploration of Britain at that time, some characters gain depth as the story progresses, others remain slightly one-dimensional, for instance, time is given to flesh out Javed’s sister into a more complex character, while his best friend, Matt, remains a stereotype of the fashion-chasers who inhabited the late-80’s. In the films defence, it did have a lot of characters to juggle, but it could be argued that if that’s the case, then maybe not all of the characters should have made the final cut.

On the story front, it takes a while to properly get going, and the first 45 minutes were almost entirely disposable, and while I’ve never bought ‘it gets better later’ as a valid excuse for a film, it does eventually pick up towards the end of the film, its final act in particular executes its story ideas very nicely, and the final ten minutes left me with a big smile on my face.

There can also be comparisons drawn with another recent release, Yesterday (review here: Yesterday Review) in that the story heavily features the songs of one particular artist without ever being about them, and Blinded tackles a lot more heftier issues than Yesterday does, and ultimately left me more satisfied. I enjoyed the few musical set-pieces and sympathised with its lead characters. It can be clunky and at times wasteful, but there’s a big heart lying underneath all of that, one that shines through in the final act.

In conclusion, this is a hard film to summarise, as I say by the end I left with a smile on my face, but I wouldn’t blame anyone for losing interest about an hour in, such is the time it takes the plot to finally get going, but for what its worth, when it does get going it has a lot to offer, a film with a big heart, and important messages of identity and belonging is in here, and sometimes shines through, but it is brought down by its sluggish first act and some shallow characters.

Spider-Man: Far From Home Review

The next film after Endgame was always going to have a mountain to climb wasn’t it?

I can’t help being reminded of last years release of Ant-Man and the Wasp, having the enormous job of both having to follow Infinity War, and being largely inconsequential to the franchise at large, apart from slotting in the reason why Ant-Man wasn’t in Infinity War.

I feel like the task is somewhat larger for Spider-Man however, Endgame was somehow more amorphous than Infinity War was, and seemed like a perfect time to close the Third Phase of the MCU, instead this film is the closing chapter of that Phase, seems strange at first glance, but starts to make sense as the film unfolds.

This film also has the distinction of being the first live-action appearance of classic Spider-Man villain Mysterio, portrayed here by Jake Hyllenhaal, fans have long wondered what a film version of the character would be like, and now we know, so let’s take a look at the new Spider-Man.

Story

Following the events of Avengers: Endgame, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is taking a well-deserved vacation with his school friends. Unfortunately, fate, and Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), have other plans and his vacation soon turns into a fight against the very elements of the Earth.

Verdict

I thought going in that this might be more like Ant-Man than it seemed at first glance. In that it had to follow the large event film, and was just filler to occupy space until the next big release, but it turns out I was wrong.

Far From Home is surprisingly layered for a film in its position, it would have been easy to make a by-the-numbers superhero film as a palate-cleanser between Phases, instead this is a fairly substantial entry in the series as a whole, more so as the intrigue of the main narrative unfolds.

It is a film that is trying to spin many plates at once, some more successfully than others, admittedly, there’s the MJ aspect of the plot, wherein Peter devises an overly-complicated plan to tell her about his feelings, and this is drawn-out and predictable, however, it is carried well by all parties involved, Tom Holland was his usual excellent self, and I find that the more I see of Zendaya, the more I like her. Her character in this is very against the grain for a typical love-interest and works well with Peter’s character.

There are also some clunky scene’s involving the teachers of the class who are supposed to be chaperoning the trip that I could have done without. A few exchanges raise a few chuckles, but by-and-large they don’t really have a lot to offer the plot.

Speaking of the plot, it gains a lot more depth as it goes on, and has surprisingly far-reaching consequences in the universe as a whole. It takes aspects dating back all the way to 2008’s Iron Man, the very beginning of the franchise. While the eventual reveals in its plots might seem contrived to a casual onlooker, there are a few rewards for the long-term viewer.

Like many MCU films, this is a very solid film, and a very strong entrant into the over-arching narrative as a whole, it certainly more than serves its purpose in moving the series on from Endgame, all the while adding to the events of the previous two Avengers films, by addressing some potential plot holes early on it establishes a firm timeline.

The performances are also strong all around, Tom Holland remains to me the best on-screen iteration of Spider-Man, and his assorted friends are all charming in their own ways. Jake Gyllenhaal also adds some colour to the films cheeks in his performance as Mysterio, adding layers of intrigue to the character, long-time fans will get a very satisfying pay-off to his inclusion, I feel.

In conclusion then, this film is a visual treat that has more than enough narrative weight to justify its existence, that gets over its early clunkiness quickly and ends up being a welcome addition to the franchise as a whole, with enjoyable performances and a rousing score, Far From Home is another triumph for Marvel Studios.

Yesterday Review

In terms of artistic output and continuing popularity, no group really comes close to The Beatles. Even though they were only recording artists for ten years, they produced thirteen albums of quality material, among which are some of the greatest albums ever released, so I’m surprised it’s taken this long for a film containing their music to surface in the cinema.

Coming to us from seasoned veterans Richard Curtis (writer) and Danny Boyle (Director) we have Yesterday, a film, which, on the surface may seem like a platform to sell more Beatles records, but also contains a fantastical and further-reaching element.

An interesting and somewhat original premise lies deep within here, surrounded by the weight of a triumphant musical catalogue that is beloved around the world, what could possibly go wrong?

Story

A world-wide power outage causes The Beatles to be completely wiped from peoples memories, all besides Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) a struggling Singer-songwriter who happened to be hit by a bus as the power outage struck. Jack realises that if he can re-create the music he rememberers, that he can be a world wide star, but is it all worth it?

Verdict

It’s worth pointing out that the premise of The Beatles being wiped from history is a little further reaching in the film than perhaps expected, it isn’t the only thing the world forgets, indeed many things disappear from the face of the earth, but they’re weirdly never focused on.

For the unique original idea, the film soon quickly goes off the rails. It has a fairly generic message at its heart, the old ‘fame is never what you want of it’ chestnut that is a lesson in almost every film of its ilk, for such a fantastical premise, the payoff seems lazy.

As central as The Beatles are to the story, they never truly feel connected to it. Of all the imagery the group left behind, almost none of it is taken advantage of here, only the music, which is a real shame, given the amount of creativity that the band as a whole left behind, without the amnesia angle, the film would just be a bog-standard rags-to-riches story about a musician, and we’ve seen that a million times.

Sure, the film has its charms, the soundtrack is an array of Beatles classics, and the cast are for the most part stellar, if a little hackneyed. Himesh Patel and Lily James make for a lovely on-screen couple, even if the annoying ‘will they, won’t they?’ Dynamic is stretched to breaking point, they share some genuinely nice scenes together, their characters seem much more interesting before the seismic life-changing event, if anything.

I wouldn’t say there is no fun to be had here, but there is something about Yesterday that makes it seem cloyingly desperate. Not only roping in the Beatles back-catalogue for name recognition, but casting the likes of Ed Sheeran in a supporting role, just smacks of a screenwriter desperate to remain relevant to a world that has long since passed him by.

So, that’s Yesterday. A nice idea, with a good cast, brought down by its own attempts to look relevant and cool, that it forgets to have any more original ideas besides the first one. A generic, overdone moral conclusion, coupled with tedious, overplayed awkward romance. Redeemable mainly for its game cast and legendary soundtrack, Yesterday has very little more to offer than blind nostalgia, and predictable narrative beats.

Child’s Play Review

I must say it was smart of this films marketing department to make the most of it’s shared release window with Toy Story 4.

In case you haven’t seen the darkly hilarious teaser posters for Child’s Play, they include multiple toys from the Toy Story universe after being brutally killed by Chucky, this series’ murderous doll.

I must state at the beginning that I am a newcomer to this series, therefore I have no nostalgia for the films or the character. I know of the series by reputation, but it sounds like the kind of thing I’d hate, broadly speaking an ageing horror series that never knows when to stop producing sequels, I don’t think Chucky ended up going to space though, so Jason Voorhees still holds the dubious honour of ‘most ridiculous sequel trajectory’.

Story

Andy Barclay (Gabriel Bateman) is a friendless 13-year-old from a single parent family, feeling isolated from kids of his age given the fact he is hard of hearing. His well-meaning mother (Aubrey Plaza) buys him the popular Buddi AI Doll (voiced by Mark Hamill, but the play-thing soon turns deadly.

Verdict

If there was ever an exhaustive list of horror film cliches, I’d say Child’s Play uses most of them. Jump scares, music building tension, comedy black character, an almost indestructible villain, the list goes on and on.

Yet, I find it very difficult to hold any of this against the film. Yes it is the stick I usually beat horror films with, but Child’s Play has a certain playful charm that is lacking in most typical horror films.

Whereas a film such as Brightburn merely wallows in its use of cliche, Child’s Play jumps off from them, and sees how far it can push the boundaries of its cliches. Yes, you can always spot which characters are going to die from a mile off, but you happily keep watching to see in what creative way they’re going to die, and that’s a sentence I never thought I’d type.

The film is helped immensely by the portrayal of Chucky. Mark Hamill, while mostly known in the mainstream for playing Luke Skywalker, is a decorated and well-respected voice actor, perhaps best regarded for his role as The Joker, in several animated Batman vehicles, and here he toes the line of cute and creepy extremely well, giving a dynamic performance that leads you wanting more.

The rest of the cast is fairly varied, if unspectacular, too. Aubrey Plaza does a decent job as the hard-working single mother, and Gabriel Bateman is one of the better child actors I’ve seen, which isn’t saying a lot really, given the hit-and-miss quality of child actors.

As I understand it, the Chucky franchise has always had an undercurrent of dark comedy, an undercurrent it retains in this re-imagining. Off the back of IT’s success, the fact that the films share producers was always going to be trumpeted. For what it’s worth, Child’s Play relies more heavily on the comedic tone, and there are a fair few funny moments mixed in with the creative violence.

As I say though, even if a film does do something different with a cliche, it does stop it from being one, and Child’s Play is littered with often-used horror devices, with mixed results. It has a few creative kills, but relies too heavily on shock-value body horror for my liking, and it starts to lose some of its logic towards the end.

In conclusion though, while hardly being anything new or exciting, this new iteration of Child’s Play is fun enough for what it is, containing enough laughs for the comedy crowd and violence for the horror ones to keep both happy, while keeping a brisk enough pace as to not turn off newcomers. I’d say it has given this stagnating toy of a franchise a fresh set of batteries.

Diego Maradona Review

You may be looking at that title and thinking: ‘I didn’t know he reviewed football players too?’ Well, rest easy, I don’t review football, but I will review films about football.

There are few more divisive figures in world football than Diego Maradona. Revered in his home country, and reviled everywhere else, he was a truly gifted footballer whose crash back down to Earth was equal to that of Icarus, he who flew too close to the sun, that was Maradona.

What drew me to this was that the film comes to us from Asif Kapadia, the highly-regarded Director behind both the Senna and Amy documentaries, and this being a very interesting figure to document on the big screen, you would have to walk a long mile to find someone who tastes the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows quite like Maradona.

Story

After a few disappointing years playing for Barcalona, we focus on Maradona’s days playing for Napoli, in Italy. As he rises to be regarded as one of the greatest footballers of all time, and later to be regarded as one of the games biggest villains.

Verdict

I found myself bowled-over completely by how well this film was put together. Constructed from over five-hundred hours of never released film footage, yet the film makes it look like a scene that was directly shot for a film, like Maradona was being played by someone else, and to achieve that level of authenticity is a huge achievement.

I also appreciated the tight narrative focus of the film. Rather than being a simple retrospective of the man’s career, it instead focuses on his most successful, and most turbulent, period, while also cleverly juxtaposing this with the geo-political climate surrounding Naples, the city he moved too. All of these assets tie together nicely into an engaging, self-contained narrative that can be enjoyed from a non-fan’s perspective.

As he is such a divisive figure, the film faced a challenge to portray him even-handedly, a job I think it achieves fairly well. Yes, it definitely acknowledges that his downfall was mostly his own fault, but it also goes out of its way to show you the man behind the persona, the scared little boy from the Buenos Aires slum, fighting his way through throngs of people, and looking utterly terrified, is the complete opposite image of Maradona as what exists in many peoples heads.

The portrayal of his down-fall is one that is also handled very carefully. It cannot be under-states how much he sabotaged his own career, but there were also other forces at play, which this film delves into. I never like a documentary that is made as a love-letter to a certain person, to me, a good documentary explores a person’s flaws (Being Frank is a good example of this), and there have been fewer footballers more flawed than Diego Maradona.

Another thing the film does really well is building a picture of what Naples was like when Maradona was there, it was one of Europe’s poorest cities, but like many cities around the world, it worshipped football, and Maradona was beloved there, before his own hubris brought him crashing down.

All in all then, I thoroughly enjoyed this film. Even as someone who is admittedly not the biggest football fan, Maradona’s story is engaging, and the final product is so well put together with footage that looks as though it was shot especially for this film, it’s a tremendous achievement in what can be done with archived footage, as well as telling an engaging story of rags-to-riches, and of a devastating crash to Earth, with a tight narrative focus and complete absence of the cliched ‘talking heads’ you would usually see in documentaries.

I would recommend this as good viewing for the documentary connoisseur, as well as football fans of all walks, as no matter who you support, you’ll always have an opinion on Maradona.