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Featured Review

Final Score ★★

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Released: 7th September 2018

Directed By: Scott Mann

Starring: Dave Bautista, Pierce Brosnan

Reviewed By: Van Connor

If you’ve ever surfed the wasteland that is the home platform-centric side of post-nineties action – that void off to the side of where the mainstream were being distracted by Bourne movies and Michael Bay – you might have caught the faint whiff of a particularly nasty little actioner back in 2009 by the name of The Tournament. Essentially a Playstation-plotted Contest of Champions romp, the tight-and-tidy beat ‘em up made director Scott Mann a fleeting name to watch out for; fleeting only because his rather forgettable sophomore effort, Heist – which starred Robert de Niro and Dave Bautista – came and went with none of the same fanfare. Now he’s back, and (to put it in genre terms)  he’s out to make Die Hard. Unfortunately, he’s landed closer to Sudden Death.

OK, that’s unfair. Call it two-thirds of the way between Sudden Death and Under Siege 2 (remember how that was subtitled Dark Territory? That got lost to history) with all the individual plot mechanics of Die Hard. Mann reunites with Bautistae, with the WWE-star-turned-surprisingly-loveable-actor starring, of course, as Navy SEAL Uncle Mike,   who’s suffering from one of those failed missions that’s left him minus his best friend, but plus a fallen bro’s widow and daughter, who he visits in London on a regular basis. 

Uncle Mike’s  ‘niece’ is one of those fun Kim Bauer types who seem sharp as a tack in conversation, but then merrily wander into danger at the most inconvenient moments. She’s probably the wrong person for Uncle Mike to take to see West Ham play on a regular day, let alone one on which there happens to be a group of terrorists stealthily laying siege to the grounds in search of an amnesty-exiled former warlord. There’s a frankly hilarious pandemic-style simulation displaying “Projected Civil Unrest” if the terrorists get ahold of their quarry, but it mostly just plays like the whole General Radek element of Air Force One, without the sense of dread.

The intentions behind Final Score appear to have been, in their entirety: “they’re demolishing West Ham, let’s make Die Hard there”, but even there this rather overlong and startlingly uninteresting effort falls vastly far off the mark. Bautista is back on WWE Studios autopilot (we all ironically like 12 Rounds, calm down), and nobody else involved seems in the faintest bit interested in being there either. To pick far from the lowest hanging fruit, Pierce Brosnan – star of I.T. – has never been so visibly bored, and, in a movie featuring such wince-inducing penmanship as “why did my dad have to do it? Die…” it’s hard to begrudge him the right.

Meanwhile, a bevy of genre clichés litter a pretty uneventful go around the action wheel, featuring stops to pick up everything from Token Hot Girl Terrorist: Kink Edition to a panicky Argyle-like sidekick  that the script (boasting the talents of no fewer than three writers) uses entirely for the purposes of eyebrow-raising racially-driven humour. 

As far as the laugh factor goes, it’s here that Final Score actually gets one in the net, though  that depends on how alluring you find it to mock a feature this unironically silly. On that front, it’s no Geostorm, by any means – it’s not even a Gamer, certainly no Shoot ‘Em Up – but there are arguably enough mechanically-derived set pieces and plot beats in there to appease the baser wants of genre die-hards (sic). The final score’s not a great one, but if you’re game for Sudden Death all over again, it’ll scrape through for you on penalties.

Keeper of Lola M. Bear. Film critic for Movie Marker, TalkRADIO, and others. Producer of podcasts. Skechers enthusiast and blazer aficionado. All opinions my own.

Featured Review

Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween ★★★

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Directors: Ari Sandel

Starring: Jeremy Ray Taylor, Caleel Harris, Madison Iseman

Released: Friday, October 19th (UK)

Considering how brilliantly 2016’s Goosebumps positioned itself as Jumanji for a new generation, you have to admire the hilarity that it’d then take less than a year for the same studio to revive the latter brand actually utilising the name star of Goosebumps. With that in mind, then, continuing the Goosebumps brand with a second instalment featuring not only its shared Jumanji alum but also adding a second one seems an extremely knowing wink to their shared audience, a wink that sets the tone nicely for the fun to come in this riotous Halloween family adventure.

Skewing marginally younger in demographic than its predecessor, Haunted Halloween sees tweens Sonny and Sam attempting to set up a junk removal business in their small town, a business that takes them to the abandoned childhood home of one Mr. R.L. Stine (Jack Black). Discovering a previous forgotten Goosebumps manuscript hidden in the fireplace, the pair accidentally unleash the villainous dummy Slappy back into the world – but Slappy’s agenda has changed. This time Slappy wants nothing more than to be embraced as part of his saviours’ family, and it’s a desire he’ll wreak all sorts of havoc to indulge.

IT alum Jeremy Ray Taylor and Castle Rock’s Caleel Harris – intriguingly, both Stephen King vets – make for a fine pair of Stranger Thingsish leads; but, of course, none of the usually horror-tinged adventure could be complete without the presence of a requisite adult stand-in, here provided by Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’s Madison Iseman (consider who she played and wait for the ensuing chuckle) in a role that arguably works better than that of previous figurehead Dylan Minette purely by virtue of being introduced a more rounded character. On the adult side, meanwhile, there’s a bevvy of comedic worth to be found – Ken Joeng, Chris Parnell, and Wendi McLendon-Covey all make it look effortless – and incoming DUFF director Ari Sandel knows how to capture the comedy with just as much investible zaniness as he does the Scooby Doo-esque antics taking place around them.

Not quite as refreshing a prospect as the first movie was in 2016 (an unavoidable drawback of time, admittedly), Haunted Halloween serves delightfully as its own standalone tale, yet does surprisingly serve as a pretty great sequel in much the same way as… well, guess what in 2017? Chock full of side-splitting gags, an enduringly fun villain in Slappy, and even a sequel gag to what was already the first movie’s best gut-buster, Goosebumps returns with nary a step skipped – even going so far as to show itself off as what could so easily become the more family-friendly answer to the Conjuring cinematic universe. It’s the ultimate All Hallow’s treat – a wacky wild romp through the delightful scares of youthful trick ‘r treat mayhem that takes its family-targeted hijinks seriously enough to make for a gleeful ride for all. Roll on Goosebumps 3!

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Featured Review

Halloween ★★★

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Directors: David Gordon Green

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Will Patton

Released: Friday, October 19th (UK)

Beaten in its number of reboots only by Eleanor Shellstrop, the original slasher returns to our screens in… well, Halloween. Yes, that trend of naming your rebootquel shows about as much chance of dying as the ghostly faced central figure of the genre-defining series, with David Gordon Green and co-writer Danny McBride (no, really, that Danny McBride) reviving the now-forty year-old franchise for this erstwhile fourth attempt at a revival.

This time around, all bets are off as the series reverts to a sort of “Part 2B” and everything in the aftermath of director John Carpenter’s iconic 1978 trendsetter is washed away in favour of a new timeline. Here, Michael Myers was caught moments after the close of the first movie, his days since spent in total silence as the resident of a psychiatric hospital. Not to be outdone, however, Myers’ only surviving victim, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, the queen of scream returning to that which made her so), has become a prisoner entirely of her own trauma. Holed up in her isolated rural home, Strode’s gone a bit Sarah Connor in the years since her ordeal – becoming a self-styled mistress of self-defence, and forsaking her relationships with her own family as a result. That sacrifice won’t be for nought though, when, forty years to the day since his infamous killing spree, a prisoner transfer gone awry sees Myers unleashed once more.

As reverential rebootquels go, Halloween’s probably best compared to the likes of Bryan Singer’s rather polarising Superman Returns – at least by virtue of its concept. In execution, Halloween instead fares better in contrast to its own prior reboot, H20, by way of serving as a continuation of an established classic aimed squarely at another audience entirely. This time around that audience may well be a fanbase more than primed for what’s to come, but with a more generational sensibility in mind (again, see H20’s pursuit of the post-Scream crowd). As such, the return of Curtis comes with a brilliantly unspoken on-screen fanfare, her every line as (the wonderfully broken) Strode a sharply chiselled slice of cynicism crafted that way for maximum brutality. Imagine Ripley never got to meet that xenomorph queen, but spent four decades preparing instead – that’s the level of trauma we’re talking, and Jamie Lee Curtis sells the hell out of it.

Behind the camera, the game’s played as proudly. With Green’s direction never beholden to Carpenter’s seminal progenitor, but knowing just enough of the cues to borrow to make a decent go at a bit of fan service without inducing the usual level of eye-rolling. There’s some great stuff in here, with a tracking shot even Carpenter’s jaw would hit the pavement for, and some truly inventive sequences that could easily rank among the series’ best. What it’s not though is in any way particularly original, with a storyline unlikely to keep anyone – newcomer or series mainstay – guessing, and serving largely as a “they don’t make ‘em like this anymore” run around a gentrified block. It looks great, it plays well, it just… isn’t that new.

For everything that works about Halloween (Judy Greer getting a decent role, for a change, easily ranks among them), there’s something that just doesn’t work quite as well (a largely phoned-in Loomis stand-in more than deserves to be greeted by Curtis with “so you’re the new Loomis…”). On balance though, Green and McBride bring enough fun and a couple of solid chills to Halloween to wring a solidly good time out of a largely average revival flick, doubled down by a deliciously nostalgic score by none other than Carpenter, among others. It’ll delight, engage, and captivate anybody looking for a good ol’ fashioned slasher at the movies, and, as rebootquels go, it more than tops Superman Returns. But, to be fair, Busta Rhymes never drop-kicked Superman between his reboots. 

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Featured Review

First Man ★★★★

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Damien Chazelle’s follow-up feature to the famously almost Best Picture winner La La Land is, it’s fair to say, immensely anticipated in cinephile circles. A character-focused exploration of Neil Armstrong’s journey to become the first man to ever walk on the surface of Earth’s moon; the feature seems, to the outside eye, tailor-made not simply for the awards season, but to be the ultimate, undeniable, crowd-pleasing all-kill success story of the year. So why in the hell doesn’t it work as well as it should?

Chazelle has proven time and again that he can take characters who perhaps aren’t the most inherently likeable (Whiplash’s Andrew/Miles Teller, and Fletcher/JK Simmons spring instantly to mind) and imbue them with a sense of emotional weight and connection to the audience that supersedes their less desirable qualities to create uniquely captivating performances. And it’s that proven, visible quality of Chazelle’s work that is made all the more vividly glaring in its absence from First Man.


Starring frequent collaborator Ryan Gosling as Armstrong, alongside The Crown’s Claire Foy as his long suffering wife Janet, Jason Clarke as Edward Higgins White, and Corey Stoll as (a bizarrely balding) Buzz Aldrin; the cast list reads like a veritable who’s who of character actors in modern American filmmaking. The pieces are all here, but for some reason the production is overwhelmed by a palpable hole in its core, a gap in its soul that never allows the actors to really run with their portrayals in a way that feels conceivably human.

The film follows Armstrong’s career from his early days as a flight test pilot for the US Air Force, through the death of his young daughter Karen, to his time in NASA’s space program and their race to put a man on the moon before the Soviets. First Man fails to find a hook in Armstrong’s character, however, and instead ends up feeling detached from its proceedings. To be clear, Gosling is absolutely on-point, and his performance is naturalistic and raw, a genuine, measured, studied portrayal that never shoots for impressionism, but captures the core being of a singularly fascinating figure in mankind’s history. The problem, unfortunately, is that Armstrong simply isn’t the lead character type. He’s awkward, devoted to the cause, emotionally-stunted, reserved, and seems to be borderline on the spectrum. None of this disqualifies him from being the focus of a motion picture, but the film is in drastic need of a hook to hang its hat on, and Armstrong just isn’t it. The occasional moments in which the film threatens to become a jingoistic America vs. The Commies race to the stars is at least interesting – something less ethereal for the audience to latch to – but the film never follows through. Like Armstrong himself, First Man is only interested in the facts of the mission, not how it makes you feel.

Claire Foy is, to put it bluntly, utterly wasted. A stupendous talent, and one who will undoubtedly garner awards in her future, but who is saddled here with a script that appears to actively dislike the real-world Janet – painting her as an alternately quivering or shouting maternal figure who never endears herself to the audience and serves only as a distraction from the actual meat of the flick: the mission itself.


That meat though is, in a word, enrapturing. No filmmaker has ever captured the visceral, heart-in-your-throat experience of being in a creaking metal pod and flung by thermodynamics and sheer force of will into outer space quite like Damien Chazelle with First Man. Claustrophobic, intense, and masterful; Chazelle’s sequences are those rare theatrical experiences that demand to be seen on the largest screen possible, with the most magnificent Dolby Atmos speakers you can find. For all of the film’s emotional hollowness, it’s when First Man drops all pretence of character and narrative and lets the film speak for itself that it elevates toward becoming something truly magical. It is utterly baffling that a motion picture which struggles and flubs so basically with what should be so simple (making the audience like and care about Neil Armstrong and his family) can pull off such moments of pulse-pounding, nerve-shredding thrill and excitement. Everything in First Man – as relates to NASA – works. Hell, it doesn’t just work, it sings; a gorgeous symphony of moviemaking that builds and builds, until it finally crescendos to that line of dialogue, and a series of moments on the moon’s surface so beautiful that you damn near forgive every third scene beating you over the head with the daily-sufferings of beleaguered housewife Janet Armstrong.

Justin Hurwitz’s score, and Phil Barrie’s incredible sound department, are of particular note. The score is everything you want it to be – equal parts subtle melancholy and sweeping theatricality. But it’s Barrie’s foley design that is First Man’s secret weapon. He’s given the unenviable task of grounding the film’s trips to space, and ends up making it look (or, rather, sound) effortless.

First Man is an ultimately frustrating work. It’s by no means bad, not by a long shot, but it’s frustrating in its missed opportunities. It had all of the ingredients to become one of the defining features of the decade, with the raw talent both in front of and behind the camera with which to pull it off. It’s still a good film (and threatens to become a great one on more than one occasion), but it’s not the mainstream, emotional gut-punch celebration of humanity that it by rights should be. It’ll likely clean-up at the Oscars and continue Chazelle’s hot-streak, but it’s not his definitive work; merely one small step in a giant career.

First Man is in UK cinemas from this Friday, rated 12A.

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