Hustlers Review

The past few years have been ones of great change in Hollywood and the film industry as a whole; the emergence of the #MeToo and #TimesUp exposed several unacceptable practices and people within the industry and, directly or indirectly, birthed a new age of female-led films.

Naturally, this has been met with backlash from a vocal minority, outraged that the norm is being challenged and that the stranglehold that was held over film was being loosened.

In case you haven’t gleamed from the past two paragraphs, I’m very much in favour of the emergence of new female-led films, stories are universal as a general rule, and I don’t naturally empathise with a character based in ether gender, but their individual struggle, no matter their gender, race or religion.

That being said, there are certain moral mazes to be found in films starring women too, and we’ll get more into that later, but for now, let’s get on with the review.

Story

Dorothy (Constance Wu) takes up ‘exotic dancing’ to support her family, and soon meets the more experienced Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) Who shows her the ropes of getting the most money from their clientele, unfortunately, the stock market crash lurks just around the corner.

Verdict

The broader narrative of Hustlers begins in 2007, just before the economic recession that hit in ’08, and this plays a part in the middle of the story, adding to the struggle as suddenly, the tidal wave of Wall Street investors begins to dwindle.

You could be forgiven for having seen the trailer and written Hustlers off as an easy comedy about a bunch of strippers who steal from their client base, but beneath that basic premise lies a larger heart, and more importantly, brain than you could have gleamed.

It mixes in the extravagance of life before recession for both the girls and the bankers and brokers with the inevitable crash. It doesn’t set the girls up a common thieves, but rather women with bills to pay just doing a job, and seeing how far they can push the boundaries.

Obviously, this leads to more unsavoury activities down the line, putting the viewer in an uncomfortable moral quandary, are we to sympathise or demonise these characters we may have grown to like? Well, that would entirely depend on your outlook, and knowing how much of a sewer online opinions could be, it’s an argument you could do well to steer away from. For what it’s worth, I don’t get the sense that the film is glamorising fraud, but it also never demonises those who work in the sex industry, a very fine line to walk I’m sure you’ll all agree.

Following on from my previous review, this is another film with a strong cast. It’s a great vehicle for Constance Wu, showing off her range, mirrored very well by Jenifer Lopez’s performance, both mix together a manipulative side with a sympathetic side, both for different reasons, and they make for an intriguing double-act.

Certain scenes are dripping in a neon stylishness that could have been made more use of I feel, there are certain glimpses of a higher intention of filmmaking, there are certain scenes that are rather pedestrian, but there’s also some lovely uses of tracking shots and close-ups to show us that there was an accomplished filmmaker behind this project.

I do have some complaints, the inclusion of Cardi B in the cast seems desperate for a larger exposure (as is the inclusion of a certain cameo early on), she adds very little besides base name recognition, her acting certainly wasn’t a great addition; and the timeline jumps can get a bit muddled and hard to follow.

But, besides these few quibbles, I had a great time with Hustlers. Some good performances as likeable characters with flashes of accomplished filmmaking flourish made it a very enjoyable watch and I’d highly recommend giving it a chance.

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It: Chapter Two Review

I’ll be the first to admit that the first IT film (the 2017 one that is not the first first one) took me by surprise. As someone who is often left cold by horror films and their often predictable tropes, it drew me in with its immersive setting and focus on a core nucleus of extremely likeable characters.

Of course, readers of the Stephen King Novel from which the film originated will know that the story didn’t end there, the novel itself was also in two parts and was well over 1000 pages long, so it was only going to be a matter of time before ‘the losers club’ battled Pennywise again.

So, here we are with a new cast of adult ‘losers’ ready to do battle with a demented, demonic clown, and we are all ready to see the result.

Story

27 years after first defeating Pennywise, The Losers Club is called back to Derry as the demonic entity rises again. As they arrive, their long-suppressed memories of their encounter resurface, as Pennywise sets his sights on them once more.

Verdict

It was always going to come with a sense of diminishing returns, this one. When the first was released p, it was such a breath of fresh air that a follow-up would struggle to have the same impact, nevertheless, it does its damnedest, and comes pretty damn close.

I stand by every sentiment I have stated in the past few years that Bill Skarsgård’s portrayal of Pennywise is leagues ahead of Tim Curry’s. As much as I like and respect Tim, he comes nowhere near the level of unsettling that Skarsgård achieves, even before the editing trickery, just the voice and the way he moves is enough to make him one of Horror cinemas most iconic characters.

Speaking of characters, that was, for me, the strongest aspect of the first film. It had a strong emphasising its ‘Losers Club’ group, and each of them got their moment to shine. Naturally, some were more memorable than others, Richie Tozier, for example is my personal favourite in both films, as a child played by Finn Wolfhard and here by Bill Hader, who gives a career best performance as an emotionally-suppressed Richie.

The performances are strong across the board, in fact. The always dependable James McAvoy doesn’t disappoint, and Jessica Chastain seems to really fully grasp the character of Beverley, in all her complexities, quite admirably.

Like many Stephen King stories, if you go in with the wrong mindset, the story will seem nonsensical and oblique, but he has this unique knack of making the supernatural work in a grounded environment, for all the talk of ‘Dead Lights’ and ‘Ritual of Chüd’ it still manages to maintain a grip on a twisted reality that some would struggle with. He’s not afraid of delving into the supernatural, no matter how far-fetched it may seem, and IT is particularly far-fetched, let me tell you.

It’s a long watch as a film, clocking in at close to three hours, but not a minute is wasted, each member of the Losers gets their own unique showdown with Pennywise and the final third of the film is as tightly scripted and executed as the JFK assassination, I’m tempted to say that the last half an hour alone is worth the price of admission.

The film doesn’t escape the trappings of horror cinema completely however, for as much as the focus on the characters and their interactions with the monster remain in tact, there is also a heavier emphasis on my pet peeve jump scares this time round, some of which were quite effective, to give the filmmakers credit, but others were entirely predictable, and taken straight from the cliché books.

For all its faults in that area, and the stretching of the formula, IT Chapter 2 is a perfectly acceptable conclusion to the story, complete with the same likeable characters, an iconic monster, performances ranging from accomplished to career-defining, and a superb third act which gives just the right amount of closure to send both long-time fans and newcomers alike happy. It might not seem as fresh as the first-time around, but it is still a very worthwhile watch indeed.

The Informer Review

Bit of an under the radar release this one. In fact it’s fair to say that it’s media profile wasn’t so much low as non-existent, I think I only saw one trailer in the run-up to release and it looked fairly generic and nondescript, but with us being in a release lull lately, I wasn’t spoiled for choice this week.

It’s release schedule also appears to be from opposite land, as it’s release here in the U.K. predates the USA release by almost half a year, as it won’t be released for our American cousins until January next year, which is odd for a U.S based film, although it was a U.K. production apparently, it just gets stranger with this film.

Anyways, let’s get in with the review.

Story

A convicted felon (Joel Kinnaman) working as an informer for the FBI, gets caught up in a drugs sting gone bad, which ends up with a police officer being killed, he then has to survive prison without being found out as a ‘snitch’.

Verdict

The Informant is a tough one to review, admittedly, and I can see why it didn’t have a big promotional push prior to release as it’s a tough film to sell.

On the surface, it has all the hallmarks of a straight-to-DVD action film that you’d find in the bargain bucket, except with maybe a fatter budget and more relevant talent.

It’s plot is a product of this comparison, very much a paint-by-numbers tail of an unlikely police informant and his dealings in organised crime, as a result, all of the characters seem like tired archetypes, especially our leading character, Joel Kinnaman seems to be doing his best, but there’s no reason to like his character. The film tries to make him sympathetic by giving him a wife and child, but this is a shallow attempt at characterisation that falls flat.

Direction and cinematography-wise, it’s also very pedestrian. It uses the dull colour palate that most dark and gritty crime dramas have that don’t help with the feeling that we’ve seen everything this film has to offer a million times before.

As a whole, it’s competent, but unexciting. Its plot makes sense and it’s put together well, so if that was the intention then those lofty ambitions have been realised, but I feel like it’s an u inspired film that even the studio didn’t have much faith in, and if they don’t believe in it, who are we to argue?

Angel Has Fallen Review

If you’d have told me back in 2013 that the generic action thriller Olympus Has Fallen would spawn not one, but two sequels, I probably wouldn’t have been that surprised and despaired anew at the creative bankruptcy of the film industry all over again.

I’m exaggerating slightly, of course, but the point I’m trying to make is that the first film was really nothing special and it’s first sequel even less so, surely there couldn’t have been much clamouring for a third instalment? I suppose there must have been somewhere as here we are, with the third instalment of this perplexing franchise.

Story

Secret service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is still reeling from the effects of the first two catastrophic events involving himself and the President (Morgan Freeman) when a new attack is launched and Mike finds himself framed and on the run.

Verdict

You know, I think this might just be a contender for ‘most generic film plot in history’ award. Seriously, it reads like a fill in the gaps adventure, what with a member of a hierarchy being framed for a crime they didn’t commit blah blah etc, it’s all so vestigial and token that it feels like it was merely there as a placeholder until the real plot was decided, but no one bothered so they just ran with it.

In fact that ‘can’t be arsed’ feeling is evident in a lot of the film, it’s direction is so dark and cut-happy that you can barely see what’s going on, the dialogue reads like something that would come free with screenwriting software, and the action and plot is about as shocking and surprising as the sun rising in the morning.

The film hinges on a few key intrigues that really couldn’t have been telegraphed harder if the characters were wearing sandwich boards. It’s so obvious what will happen from essentially the first scene, and if you didn’t see the plot twists coming I would check to see if you didn’t have a bicycle pump embedded in your skull.

That being said however, it wears its generic nature so earnestly that it’s hard to hate it. It knows that it’s nothing groundbreaking so it’s content to trundle along with its stereotypical stock characters and confusing, messy set pieces, it clearly isn’t something we’re supposed to think too much about, god knows the screenwriters didn’t seem to.

All this sounds fairly mean, in all honesty. Angel Has Fallen is a perfectly acceptable popcorn flick, sure it’s plot has more holes in it than a 1930’s police informant, yay it may be the case that Mike Banning is about as original as a One Direction song and about half as likeable, but by the end, it had assembled its loose ends competently, and had at least tried to inject a level of intrigue, no matter how banal.

In truth, I can’t bring myself to hate the film. It’s trying to catch up with films that have accomplished so much more so long ago that the fight seems pointless. Everyone at least seems to be having a good time making it, so that’s one positive at least.

When it comes to judging acting in these kind of films, you have to give a certain amount of slack, no one is expecting a towering performance from anyone, and we don’t get one. Gerard Butler is competent but bland, Nick Nolte seems to be in competition with him to see who can be the most grizzled, to the extent where it’s hard to understand their conversations, and Morgan Freeman appears to be on auto-pilot as he plays himself, again.

In conclusion, Angel Has Fallen is wobbly and shallow. It’s going about its business in its own little world of beige obliviousness. While it may be fun as a two-hour distraction, I’m fairly certain you’ll never think about it again once it’s over. It’s not quite as obnoxious as it first appears, but it is twice as unoriginal as you could ever imagine.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Review

Guillermo Del Toro has certainly had a good few years recently. On the back of winning his first Best Picture Oscar for Shape of Water, suddenly the outlook was very rosy for mr Del Toro.

This film is not one that is directed by Guillermo, instead he serves as the screenwriter an producer, basing his script on a children’s book series of the same name, although the film certainly isn’t one that’s suitable for children, instead the directing reigns are taken by André Øvredal, a Norwegian filmmaker who previously made the critically acclaimed Trollhunter in his own country.

So with Del Toro producing and scripting, and an exciting up-and-comer behind the camera, does Scary Stories live up to its promise.

Story

On Halloween night 1968, a group of four teenage friends stumble upon a book of Scar stories hidden in a house with a seemingly grisly past. It doesn’t take long for them to realise that whenever a new story appears, the same events occur in the real world.

Verdict

As always, I am not an expert at judging horror films. I do enjoy them more than I ever have in the past, and I’m eagerly awaiting It: Chapter 2 next month, but generally a lot of horror films fall into the same trappings, and I find that incredibly tedious.

Scary Stories is not above doing these things, the things in question include, but are not limited to, jump scares, fake-outs, and characters refusing to believe the blatantly obvious, oh and showing too much of the monsters, but we’ll get back to that.

That’s not to say that utilising any of these would instantly make a bad film, like anything it all depends on how you utilise them, sometimes what becomes a cliché becomes that way because it works, and films wouldn’t keep using them if they didn’t, but for me, a horror film lives and dies in atmosphere, I can take or leave something jumping out, but the atmosphere has to be just right to justify it.

For the most part, Scary Stories does a great job in building a thick atmosphere of imminent dread, told through the clever plot device of the story book, which predicts the exact events before they happen, sure, it might make the events a bit more predictable, but it succeeds in building up the suspense of how long this person has left, before the event actually happens.

I’ve also mentioned before my belief that what you can’t see is scarier, and I still believe that, in fact I think the creatures in this film could have done with a bit more mystery about them, after all, when you see the creature in all its glory within its first minute on screen, then you’ve pretty much already seen the worst it has to offer. It will always be scarier knowing there is something behind you, but not being able to look, than ogling your pursuer, in a film I mean, in real life you’d be quite entitled to know who or what was chasing you.

Having said that however, I feel I must praise the monster design in the film, as it is imaginative and creepy as hell. I get the impression that there was a certain influence from Japanese horror, which does the horrifying monster design the best, in a few characters. Although they lose a bit of their mystery, their sheer horrifying looks somewhat makes up for that.

In the character department, the four kids are nothing special, perhaps just a product of their time and genre. The film is set against a back drop of the 1968 election and the Vietnam war, both of which inject a little bit of extra characterisation into the film, but as is usual with horror, they don’t make a great effort to give personality to the people they’ll be killing off anyway, which is sad as it lessens the impact somewhat.

In conclusion then, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark isn’t the best film, but it does what it can with limited resources. It builds a very good atmosphere and combines it with some genuinely creepy monster design. With a bit more time spent on the characters, I may have been more enthused, but as it is, it’s an interesting film plagued with uninteresting characterisation.

One Hour Photo Review

The job of the critic is often a thankless one. What with many people regarding us as the bottom-feeders of the cinema world, whose very existence is pretentious, we’d have every right to feel a bit put out.

But, the reason a critic criticises in the first place is almost universally because of their love of cinema, we must love something to write incessantly about it and take all the hate the world throws at us. I’d like to say we sometimes make a positive difference by exposing bad films, but history has taught us that the average cinema-going crowd couldn’t give a toss what we think and just want to see big things exploding.

For me, one of the great thrills of being a film critic is casting a light on lesser known films while the big releases are eating up everyone’s pay-checks, which brings me nicely to One Hour Photo.

Robin Williams is unquestionably one of my favourite people of all time. Not only a phenomenally gifted comedic performer, he showed himself to be one of the best actors of his generation at frequent intervals, and while his performances in such films as Good Will Hunting and Good Morning, Vietnam are rightfully praised, there are also a lot of hidden gems in his back catalogue, and this one is a particular stand out for me.

Story

Sy Parrish (Williams) works at the photo development department of a big supermarket. An incredibly lonely man, he starts to fantasise about an ideal life with a family whose pictures he develops, but things soon take a dark turn as he discovers that they may not be as perfect as they seem.

Verdict

One of William’s greatest attributes was his ability to dis-arm an audience with a performance. To an entire generation, he was Mork, the quirky alien from the Happy Days spin-off, then he went to Hollywood and re- invented himself as somewhat of an under appreciated ‘chameleon’.

I’ve used the term chameleon before in my reviews, and it refers to a performer able to transform the self into a specific role, think of Christian Bale, and all the times he’s gained and lost weight in preparation for a role. Williams was not on that level, but his ability to blend into different cinematic backgrounds was uncanny.

There’s a kind of vulnerability to his character, Sy Parrish, that manages to make him sinister, yet sympathetic. You are creeped out by his obsessive stalking of the Yorkin family, but then you get a glimpse of his solitary home life and that momentarily melts away into pity. You come to realise that he may have problems, but his biggest problem is his loneliness.

For me, this performance ranks among Williams’ best turns, the ability for such an innately loveable performer to transform himself into a character who actively makes the audience uncomfortable is a rare talent. It shows a deeper range in his acting ability that maybe he was ever given credit for, and it takes you by surprise on first viewing.

It’s not just Robin Williams who steals the show however, but the writing and directing too, building Sy as a character was not solely on Williams but in the writing as well, the way that his life is a delusion built purely around photographs is built and paced spectacularly, building a mystery to him that we never fully unravel.

It’s also a film that never outstays it’s welcome, building a thick level of tension over just the right time period, and paying it off in a way that exposes Sy’s paranoia and obsession. It hits the sweet spot for tension in films in that it never feels over-long, or that too much time is spent on any one thing, and it peaks with an appropriate explosion of madness that serves both character and story.

I won’t say it’s a perfect film, there are perhaps a few moments of over-indulgence throughout the run time, and not as much time is given to exploring the Yorkin family to make us invest in their troubles, so their conflict kind of comes out of nowhere. But it does juxtapose nicely with Sy’s perfect vision of their life, so maybe that is in service of the story as a whole.

Unfortunately, this film is largely forgotten today, it wasn’t a massive hit at the time either, and rarely gets a mention in the conversation about Williams’ best performances, which I think is a real shame, given the layers and complexity that make Sy Parrish the intriguing character that he is. It represents a change of pace for him, and shows us that more than anything, he had the ability to surprise, as well as the ability to make us laugh.

Good Boys Review

A terrible comedy is many measures worse than a bad drama. There is simply nothing worse than comedy that falls flat, it is the simple measurement of raw despair, hence why the worst films I’ve reviewed in all the time I’ve been a critic have been comedies, and now we have a new contender.

Coming from producers Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg, whose signature brand of comedy can be hit-and-miss, and basically consists of people or things doing crass things that they shouldn’t be. It was food produce last time round, now it’s children.

Story

Three best friends, Max, Thor, and Lucas (Jacob Tremblay, Brady Noon and Kieth L. Williams, respectively) embark on a trip to purchase a new drone after Max destroys his fathers original. On the way they get sidetracked by drugs, alcohol and bad language.

Verdict

It is very rare that I swear on this site, there is no reason for this, besides the fact that I don’t need to most of the time, but I feel it appropriate here: Good Boys is fucking awful.

Not just awful; but embarrassing, tone deaf, and monumentally stupid. It really is the worst film I’ve seen in some time.

About half an hour in, I considered walking out of the cinema, which isn’t the best of starts, but my critical integrity made me stay. It just goes to show that I should probably listen to my instincts more often, as it didn’t get better, in fact, it got worse.

The plot is completely non-existent, a scrambled mish-mash of every high school comedy you’ve ever seen, complete with every possible cliché. It’s almost like the ‘writers’ (as much as they can be called writers) had a comprehensive checklist of every banality from school comedies, and seeing if they can squeeze every one of them in.

I have nothing against stupid comedy, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is one of my favourite films of all time after all, but there’s a certain nuance to making it work, having talented writers for a start, and the scribes of this are to writing what a parrot is to weightlifting.

In a few ways, it was everything I was expecting which is what makes it so much worse. Rogan and Goldberg haven’t changed their formula in the slightest to accommodate the changing tones and times of film. We’ve seen every joke they can make about booze and drugs, we don’t want to hear the same thing over and over again but in different settings.

If I were Seth Rogan, I would be embarrassed to see my name attached to this, someone with a career, and a certain degree of talent shouldn’t have entertained this pile of monkey droppings, hell, anyone with two working eyes should have seen how repulsive, and utterly ridiculous (and not in a good way) this film is.

I feel most sorry for the child actors here; put in front of a camera to swear and burn, while we laugh at them and not at them. They expected it simply to be funny because: ‘haha, look at the kids wearing and talking about drugs, kids aren’t supposed to do that, aren’t we wacky’. No, you’re not wacky, you’re idiots.

It’s very rare that a film is so bad that it actually makes me angry, but with each passing minute the more insulted I became. They expect people to pay for this drivel, what more they’re making it many times worse by having children say the stupid shit they come up with. People doing things they shouldn’t be doing is not funny on its own, it needs a reason, and there is no reason for these kids to be like they are.

So, in case you need a reminder, Good Boys is bad. No, not bad, abysmal, shocking, depressing, and mostly, and I’m using this word again because it’s the most apt, embarrassing. It’s embarrassing that anyone thought this script was funny, it’s embarrassing that anyone thought it looked good, and the creators should not just be embarrassed, they should be ashamed, yes, ashamed that they asked anyone to be in this garbage and even worse, to watch it.

If this isn’t the worst film of the year, then it’s a depressing four months ahead.