Released: 22nd November 2017
Directed By: Sean Anders
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Will Ferrell
Reviewed By: Van Connor
Since so much of a hit comedy is ultimately lightning in a bottle, the idea of ever recapturing that inherently stands as a fool’s errand. For a rather distinct example of that, you need look no further back than the recent A Bad Moms Christmas – a parentally-centric seasonal sequel that failed to recapture any of the charm of its predecessor and makes for a strangely laughless affair. Alas, now it’s the dads’ turn, and they’re back with a parentally-centric seasonal sequel of their own that – though still a pretty heavy-hitter on the laugh count – doesn’t come without problems of its own.
At least two Christmasses have come and gone since the events of Daddy’s Home, and the blended Whittaker-Mayron family are all growing tired of having to divvy up the festive celebrations. Enter Brad (the returning Will Ferrell) and Dusty’s (Mark Wahlberg) fathers Don and Kurt (John Lithgow and Mel Gibson, respectively), whose sudden arrival for the holidays sees the clan set off for a remote holiday cabin in pursuit of their first “together Christmas”. Chaos quickly looms however, as the grizzled and hyper-masculine Kurt sets about poking holes in the relationship between his son and his “co-dad”, while Brad finds himself picking up the pieces of an emerging domestic crisis with his own over-sensitive father.
Its interesting to observe the manner in which this above-average sequel quickly jettisons the previous film’s more well-received elements (namely Hannibal Buress and Thomas Haden Church) in favour of adding new and strangely misjudged ones instead. Gibson, primarily, is a startlingly questionable addition to the canon – Kurt a seriously ill-advised character under ordinary circumstance, but made doubly so with the casting of Gibson in what’s being weirdly pitched as a film suitable for children. In a move alarmingly devoid of any kind of topicality, Daddy’s Home 2 is a movie that inspires young boys to ostensibly force themselves upon the object of their affections, then sign it off with an ass-slap and a “thanks sweetheart.” Appalling – yes, but a billion times more appalling when its delivered by the grinning face of the man who coined the term “sugartits”. Perhaps that’s the point though, and, in the Trump-era, why, really, should anyone bother to put up a struggle anymore? Oh yeah, decency.
Lithgow, meanwhile, tries to heap the heart on his rather nauseating role, but Don’s really only as thinly drawn as his rival grandparent, spared only the need to be as crass as humanly possible with each passing line of dialogue. The returning dads fare marginally better, though Wahlberg’s Dusty is severely short-changed by a reshuffled character arc that sees him as now really nothing more or less alpha-male than the previously beta Brad. It’s shoddy writing that strips away the character work that made Daddy’s Home such an unexpected joy in the first place, and it’s particularly evident in a reversal-of-fortune arc that sees Wahlberg rather ineptly attempt to navigate being a stepdad himself.
Outside of Gibson and Lithgow, though, it has to be said that the majority of Daddy’s Home 2’s gags do land with relative – though substance-free – success, even if the bulk of those gags really only amount to repeating those from the first movie with an adjustment of scale. Oh, you liked the shocking motorcycle set piece? Well, this one’s got a snowblower. Lather, rinse, repeat. It’s more successful on just about every front than the Bad Moms’ effort, but it’s still a pretty basic affair, being held together with desperate strain by Ferrell and fighting against itself to hold off on the John Cena cameo that resulted in you getting excited about a potential sequel in the first place. Cena’s return, incidentally, yields only one significant laugh, and its of such flimsy worth that to even mention its content would sap it of nearly all comedic effect.
There’s the offhand establishment of a potential spin-off by the film’s close, a set-up anyone who sat through Bad Moms Christmas [sic] has already seen threatened once this month, and, frankly, holds about as much promise. Yet it’s the set-up for a potential third Daddy’s Home that seems the most daunting. The law of diminishing returns strikes hard here, and it hits hardest in the moments that require Daddy’s Home 2 to be about anything of real substance or worth. Given, then, that this (supposedly) family-friendly film builds itself on the need to build to a denouement of pure unadulterated love, those diminishing returns leave you with little to take home at the end of it all. Save for the memory of John Cena – doing something that becomes less funny the more you think about it. Actually, that’s the perfect description of Daddy’s Home 2 – see it, laugh at it, forget about it.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again ★★★★
Released: 20th July 2018
Directed By: Ol Parker
Starring: Lily James, Meryl Streep, Cher, Christine Baranski, Amanda Seyfried, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard
Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths
The iconic Swedish pop group said ‘Thank You For The Music!’. An overjoyed studio said ‘Thank You For The Box Office!’.
Sure. Pierce Brosnan singing ABBA’s SOS had a hint of the Borat (Sorry Sacha!) about it. But the summer of 2008 bared witness to a cinematic juggernaut in ‘Mamma Mia’, a jubilant jukebox musical whose sense of joy and fun proved irresistible for audiences. Considering life’s too short. Ten years on we return to the sumptuous setting of Kalokairi Greece with ‘Here We Go Again’, as the sequel fleshes out the timeline, remaining keen to create more cinematic memories.
Content with her unorthodox triple father situation in Harry (Colin Firth), Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) and Sam (Pierce Brosnan). Sophie’s (Amanda Seyfried) fierce determination to honour her mother Donna’s (Meryl Streep) dream of renovating her surroundings into a lavish hotel, coincides with the severe turbulence she’s enduring in her ongoing relationship with Sky (Dominic Cooper).
Increasingly doubtful of her own capabilities. The dynamo duo of Christine Baranski’s Tanya and Julie Walters’ Rosie look to bolster her confidence by delving into Donna’s past, as Lily James’ enthused younger incarnation of the character guides us through her eventful youth with the dungarees intact, reliving her initial encounters in 1979 with Sophie’s dads (Hugh Skinner/Jeremy Irvine/Josh Dylan).
Previously unapologetic in its ramshackle charm and high camp. Director Ol Parker to much relief resists applying restraint to its energetic, big-hearted song and dance numbers, whilst technically and narratively tightening up the deficiencies that perhaps plagued its 2008 counterpart for the purists, with a sharper focus on emotional engagement. As a result, it may not be as quick to overwhelm us with its blindingly sunny disposition like its predecessor, occasionally labouring in its first half with its time-hopping.
Yet when those glorious highs arrive like a new take on ‘Dancing Queen’ and Cher’s stellar firework-heavy rendition of ‘Fernando’, whose cameo evoked hearty cheers in the screening i was in. They are now armed with a poignant and reflective slant, reinforcing the ingenuity in how these timeless songs are integrated into the framework, in order to offer fresh interpretations.
Lighting up the screen as a young Donna Sheridan. Lily James captures the carefree spirit and mannerisms of the character superbly, proving a solid counterpart to Meryl Streep’s original performance and Amanda Seyfried’s Sophie in the singing stakes. Speaking of Streep, much has been made about her (lack of?) involvement in this follow-up. Without slipping into spoiler territory, her gorgeous screen moments this time around epitomise why many fans deemed her an instant hit in the first film. Elsewhere, Christine Baranski and Julie Walters continue to provide fantastic farce, stealing much of the script’s zingy dialogue whilst Andy Garcia’s enigmatic hotel manager is a disarming and dashing addition.
It may not have been a sequel we were warming up the vocal chords for. Yet in striking a killer balance between emotive and euphoric. ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ is a truly wonderful follow-up that brims with sincerity and show-stopping splendour.
Dig out the spandex and unleash your inner ‘Super Trouper’…
Hotel Artemis ★★★
Released: 20th July 2018
Directed By: Drew Pearce
Starring: Jodie Foster, Charlie Day, Sofia Boutella
Reviewed By: Van Connor
Iron Man 3 alum Drew Pearce makes his feature directorial debut with this slick future-set actioner – evoking the neon-tinged hyperbolic aesthetic of John Wick and applying it to a more stripped-down set-up akin to Joe Carnahan’s strangely forgotten Smoking Aces. Hotel Artemis sees the eponymous underworld hospital of the future come under siege by forces both outside and in, with a who’s-who of “hey – it’s….!” figures to bring its gleefully vitriolic war well and truly to life.
On Pearce’s part, Hotel Artemis knows its own playbook pretty well – tense action beats are played with coherence but don’t skimp on imagination, and the staging of it all is first rate. Jodie Foster, meanwhile, leads an engaging cast that includes a wonderfully sleazy Charlie Day, the brilliantly deadpan Sterling K. Brown, and an amusingly in-her-comfort-zone Sofia Boutella. It’s best to keep as much of its casting a surprise as possible, but there’s tons of fun to be had via mere cast reveals to keep proceedings engaging.
On the action front, though, it is strange that Hotel Artemis feels as subdued as it does as regards its own sense of internal rage. Whilst far from a bloodless PG-13, Pearce’s film never quite embeds itself as much in the hyperviolence of its world as you’d expect, or, rather, hope. It’s certainly no John Wick in that sense, and, though there is a decent share of world-building to kick things off, it’s quickly evident that this element of restraint is self-imposed by Pearce’s writing, rather than a by-product of now requisite franchise-creation. Hotel Artemis, incidentally, could easily garner itself a cheap and cheerful sequel or two, were there somehow a demand.
On the back of this pretty solid ninety minute actioner, that’s absolutely a consideration. The world it builds is fleshed out enough to intrigue, the cast are game for an intriguing balance of quirk and creepiness, and Pearce steps up to the director’s chair with unbroken confidence and a comic book sensibility that takes him deftly to the finish line. Stoker cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung astonishes as ever, and, while not his showiest work to date, Cliff Martinez’s score fleshes out the bonkers world of Hotel Artemis nicely.
Best aimed at those looking for another round of Smoking Aces-grade action – though, without quite the same singular ferocity – Hotel Artemis is a nice bit of bullet-laden fun with a lively cast and some slick visuals. It’ll never be one of the iconic points on the timeline of action cinema, but it’s a worthy stop-off on the way between the ones that are.
Released: 12th July 2018
Directed By: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell
Reviewed By: Van Connor
Be honest. Sooner or later, you knew The Rock was going to make Die Hard. It was inevitable. As he ascends higher and higher thought the upper echelons of the – increasingly spartan – Hollywood star system, this was always going to be coming. The only question really, was going to be whether or not it was going to be either any good, or even welcome in a world in which even a bonafide Die Hardsequel now typically ranks among the worst of whichever year it’s released in.
Alas, Dwayne Johnson is no Bruce Willis, and that quality control barrier could not be any clearer as Die Hard meets The Towering Inferno – with a dash of The Fugitive – for Skyscraper. Rawson Marshall Thurber’s adrenaline-fuelled ride takes DJ to China as amputee and former FBI tactical agent Will Sawyer, an American tasked with signing off on the security of The Pearl – the tallest building in the world. When terrorists seize The Pearl, however, Sawyer finds himself the subject of a Chinese manhunt and forced to find a way back into the building in order to save his wife and children from not only the terrorists seeking to fulfil their own agenda, but also to the out-of-control blaze that threatens to consume them all.
Johnson’s played in the sort of arena on more than a few occasions now, with Skyscraper arguably skewing closest to San Andreas as regards the sort of tone and polished spectacle you’re in for. There are some offhand nods to more classical genre archetypes – hell, it makes more Die Hard references than Jake Peralta – and there’s the requisite degree of fistbumping and utilisation of the term “brother”, but those still unsure of what to expect can rest easy on the promise of what’s essentially an Irwin Allen movie with a Neal Moritz sensibility. It ain’t clever, it doesn’t want to be, it just wants you to sit on the edge of your seat and then cheer afterwards. Which you will. A lot.
Neve Campbell brings an impressive amount to what’s an already impressively sketched out female supporting character in Sawyer’s wife (take notes, Bedelia – that’s how you handle hostage takers), and Pablo Schreiber (Orange is the New Black) continues to make for an engaging added value element. Roland Møller, meanwhile, makes for a decent enough villain, but lacks the charisma needed to really sell the ludicrously named Kores Botha as much of an evil mastermind. Sure, he was never going to rival Hans Gruber on the scale of action movie villains, but Botha’s so thinly devised as a villain that he’s not up to the grade of Tommy Lee Jones’ Under Siege villain either. And that’s a real detriment when your action hero lead is someone as genuinely charismatic as Dwayne Johnson. Both Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Joe Manganiello took the wrong Rock movie, would be a decent takeaway.
In lieu of a captivating villain, Thurber nonetheless ensures value for money is had with a barrage of spectacle-fuelled set-pieces the likes of which will have you squirming in your seat biting your fist for dear life – IMAX could well inspire a sense of vertigo with this one. It’s a glossy-looking actioner – thanks to some smooth production design and slick visuals from cinematographer and Mission: Impossible alum Robert Elswit – and fight choreographer Allan Poppleton goes above and beyond to stage Johnson’s antics not as the all-powerful action commando, but a credible fighter dwarfed by the spectacle of what’s up against him.
It’s a good time for all. Sure, it’s in no way destined to become an enduring classic of the action genre – though, the spoilerific marketing campaign does well and truly show off what will become one of this summer’s more memorable movie moments – but it’s Die Hard on fire. With The Rock. In 2018. And if there’s an easier sell for a good time at the movies than that, it just means Dwayne Johnson has another movie out. In which case, still see Skyscraper first.
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