dir. Dave Wilson. Based on the comic books of the same name. Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel) and his wife were killed, he is brought back to life as a techno-super solder by scientist Dr. Emil Harting (Guy Pearce). Wacky over the top sci-fi action, with quick cut un-emotive CG mayhem. The narrative feels too much like a re-hash of ROBOCOP (1987), but quickly gets much more interesting. The style of the film is cheesy pop action, but I could see the same concept being explored in a much more sophisticated sci-fi thriller. It’s always great to see Guy Pearce, such a fun screen presence. The film doesn’t take itself very seriously, and there are a few laughs in the final act. I still don’t get the appeal of Vin Diesel as an action star, there is not much physicality, and he always seems too humourless to deliver action hero banter. I’ve not read the comics, but just from watching the movie, I think the producers should write a cheque to Hideo Kojima, as so much of the tech seems right out of his video game series ‘Metal Gear Solid’.
dir. Sung-hyun Yoon. In a near future dystopian Korea, Jun-seok (Lee Je-hoon) is released from prison. Discovering his stash of money is spent, he convinces his friends to help him rob an illegal gambling house. An epic, incredibly suspenseful crime action thriller. It’s a clever idea to make the movie more about about the aftermath of the robbery, than the robbery itself. The film looks stunning, with the colours becoming more neon and lurid as the film progresses. The mysterious killer, ‘Han’ feels very inspired by Javier Bardem’s character in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2017). The film aspires to the epic nature of Michael Mann’s HEAT (1995), but is let down by some of the performances, and an unnecessary occasional voice-over. The dystopian setting provides some incredible abandoned building locations, very reminiscent of the 2013 video game ‘The Last of Us’, or the Will Smith film I AM LEGEND (2007). A great example of a film that would be much better in the cinema, than on a TV streaming service, the soundscape and visuals are extraordinary, clearly inspired by both BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017) and MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015).
dir. Nicolas Pesce. A strange sequel/remake of the creepy and atmospheric Japanese horror film JU-ON: THE GRUDGE (2002). The central concept being, that gruesome murders in a house will conjure vengeful ghosts that curse anyone who enters that house. It’s a simple horror idea, that only really works when the film is able to sustain a spooky atmosphere, letting you enjoy the creepy detective story unravel. The 2020 story is told non-linearly, for apparently no reason at all, there are no surprises or revelations that come from this structure, and its only effect is to prevent any one character from being developed to a level where you may connect with them. The spooky riff on the original Japanese style is completely abandoned towards the end of film, which is disappointingly the least tense or spooky segment of the entire film. The dialogue is never good, and has some truly bad moments. The wonderful John Cho is completely wasted. Very disappointing.
dir. Chris Sanders. Based on the 1903 Jack London novel of the same name. The story of a large, good hearted dog named Buck, and his adventures escaping his tormentors, working as part of a pack of sled dogs delivering mail, to being a friend to hard drinking, near hermit, John Thornton (Harrison Ford). Buck is a CGI creation, as are most of the animals in the film. The animation is not quite good enough, landing in the uncanny valley area. The story is proudly sentimental, and is often very sweet. It’s a pleasure watching Harrison Ford with a full beard, in a moth-eaten woollen sweater, panning for gold. The dog, Buck never really develops a personality, which is a shame, especially since the director’s previous films had some wonderful animated creatures, full of personality – ‘Toothless’ in HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (2010), and ‘Stitch’ in LILO & STITCH (2002).
dir. Miguel Arteta. Lifelong friends (Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne) run their own small makeup company, which they try and save by partnering with makeup mogul, Claire Luna (Salma Hayek). Almost entirely unfunny, save a few good lines from the brilliant Jennifer Coolidge (frequent star of Christopher Guest films, and Stifler’s Mom in the American Pie films). I really was hoping for a Nancy Meyers style women in the workplace dramatic-comedy, but it just doesn’t work. The business plot line does not make any sense, so there is no plot tension. The main bright spot is watching Salma Hayek glam up as a ruthless corporate shark. The movie could have been an update on THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA (2006), with Hayek playing the Miranda Priestly role, but fails. I wish Nancy Meyers would make another movie in this genre, I loved THE INTERN (2015), especially when you fast forward the scenes between Jules and Matt. Watch that instead of LIKE A BOSS!
dir. Gavin O’Connor. The film starts out as a fairly simple, and honest story about an alcoholic former student basketball star (Ben Affleck), who is saved by his old high school through coaching a team of underperforming student athletes – a serious take on THE BAD NEWS BEARS (1976). Unfortunately the story is quickly complicated by more tragic backstory, that distracts from the coach’s relationship with the students. The performances are also not really strong enough for the serious subject matter. I enjoyed seeing some great comic actors in a dramatic film, particularly the assistant coach played Al Madrigal (The Daily Show), and Matthew Glave (Drew Barrymore’s sleazy fiancé in THE WEDDING SINGER (1998)) as the smarmy coach of the opposing team. The film looks super stylish, I assume thanks to Spanish cinematographer Eduard Grau, who was Director of Photography on Tom Ford’s A SINGLE MAN (2009), and Joel Edgerton’s BOY ERASED (2018)
dir. Floria Sigismondi. Another retelling of the Henry James story ‘The Turn of the Screw’, where a young teacher (Mackenzie Davis, recently in TERMINATOR: DARK FATE (2019)) is engaged to educate the orphan girl (the brilliant child actor Brooklynn Prince, from THE FLORIDA PROJECT (2017)) of a wealthy family, with a dark past. It’s intentionally unclear wether the teacher is beset by phantoms, or is losing her mind. Very weak haunted house movie, sloppy special effects, with an inexplicably clumsy ending. The movie is for some reason set in 1994, which we know from a news clip at the beginning, covering the tragic death of Kurt Cobain. This is made even more irritating when there is no Nirvana, or any 1990s music in the film. Instead, the choice was made to commission contemporary artists to record new songs in a 1990s style, which to me seems to defeat the purpose of setting the film in 1994. Time would be better spent watching Jack Clayton’s version version of the same story, THE INNOCENTS (1961), starring Deborah Kerr.
dir Nat Faxon, Jim Rash. Remake of the superior FORCE MAJEURE (2014) from Ruben Östlund, about a married couple fighting after a near-death experience during a skiing holiday. While not nearly the same level as Östlund’s film, I really enjoyed this. Miranda Otto is hilarious as the sexual adventurous Austrian hotel concierge, she gets most of the laughs. It’s great to see Julia Louis-Dreyfus in a new feature film, she does drama very well, I’d move to see her in more features. Will Ferrell as the neglectful husband is for the most part suitably understated and naturalistic. The fights between them as a married couple I thought felt very real, sometimes too real. The ending is not super satisfying, I enjoyed the experience. If this was not being compared to the original, I think it would have been much better received.
dir. William Eubank. Very uneven film, filled with movie cliche’s, that prevent you being emotionally involved in the characters. Some beautiful design work, especially on the futuristic diving suits, they look like something out of Warhammer 40k. Curious that even 41 years after ALIEN (1979), the filmmakers still find a way to get young female engineers into a bra and undies: “Lose your pants. They won’t fit in the suit!” C’mon.
dir. Craig Zobel. Very glad I didn’t see this in the cinema. Scattered with unfunny political “humor”, giving it a veneer of political satire, but doesn’t seem to be satirizing anything. I had high hopes for this after the initial teaser trailer, which promised more of a dystopian satire, with elements of 1980s Schwarzenegger film, THE RUNNING MAN (1987), but it fails miserably. Even the blood and gore is uninspired and routine.