Released: 6th April 2018
Directors: Jeremy Dyson, Andy Nyman
Starring: Andy Nyman, Martin Freeman, Alex Lawther, Daniel Hill, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Nicholas Burns, Jill Halfpenny, Emily Carding, Derren Brown
Reviewed by Ren Zelen
It’s a while since we’ve seen a cinematic anthology of horror tales, but Ghost Stories revives that tradition with a trio of supernatural stories in the style of English portmanteau movies of the 1960s and the Ealing classic Dead of Night.
The film’s writer-directors Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson have adapted Ghost Stories from their successful stage show. (Nyman is an actor, writer and magician who has devised productions for Derren Brown; Jeremy Dyson is actor, writer and co-creator of The League of Gentlemen). Their film offers a tribute to an array of old-school horror tropes.
In the encompassing story, Nyman plays Professor Philip Goodman, an atheist, rationalist lecturer and TV celebrity who exposes paranormal hoaxes and frauds. Goodman’s mistrust of the ‘spiritual’ derives from an unhappy childhood with a fanatically religious father – uncompromising, strict, and unforgiving of any unorthodox behaviour from Philip and his older sister.
Philip himself grew up hero-worshipping a 1970s TV personality, Charles Cameron, who was likewise a debunker of the ‘paranormal’, but who disappeared at the height of his fame and was assumed to be dead.
Philip is astonished when, out of the blue, he receives a communication from his supposedly dead hero, which informs him that his disappearance was simply the result of a personal crisis. They arrange a meeting in the dilapidated caravan in which the man now lives.
Rather than congratulating Philip on continuing his work, Cameron insists that he reopen the file on three of his cases that would not submit to rational explanation. Philip grudgingly agrees to investigate and uncover the prosaic truth.
In the first case, Tony Matthews (Paul Whitehouse), a sour night-watchman with a tragic family history, is plagued by terrifying visions while guarding a deserted and semi-derelict building once used as an asylum.
Philip arranges to interview him in a gloomy and deserted pub. Tony is prickly, defensive and often on the verge of hostility. He sees Philip as a presumptuous academic who wants to dredge up distressing aspects of the past for a sensationalist TV show.
In the second story, Simon Rifkind (an impressive turn from the talented young Alex Lawther) is a jittery young student with a dysfunctional home-life. Whilst illegally driving home one night on a foggy, woodland road, he is involved in a surreal, nightmarish hit-and-run accident.
Since then he seems to be living in self-inflicted imprisonment in a state of near-nervous breakdown, in a house full of unsettling phenomena. When asked in, Philip gets a glimpse of the back of Simon’s parents, standing stiffly inert at the kitchen sink, in front of a uselessly running tap. When upstairs in the boy’s bedroom, someone raps loudly on the door, Simon answers, yet adamantly maintains they are alone in the house.
The third story concerns a wealthy ex-banker called Mike Priddle (Martin Freeman), whose ultra-modern house on his country estate is bedevilled by a poltergeist, just as his heavily pregnant wife enters the final stage of a difficult labour and traumatically gives birth.
Freeman’s Mike is a stereotypical rich, city-boy snob, whose casual anti-Semitism leads Philip to flashback to his schooldays, reviving the memory of a harrowing event which he has tried hard to forget.
Philip himself begins to fear that perhaps all these ‘ghost’ stories have a collective significance pertaining to him personally. Writers Nyman and Dyson imbue the whole with cumulative clues that eventually reveal the protagonists as unreliable narrators. The final explanatory mind-bending trip is somewhat absurd – a familiar narrative trick – but still manages to be unsettling.
Shot mostly in Yorkshire, Ghost Stories offers a form of modern Gothic – taking place in derelict warehouse basements, grimy, nicotine-stained pubs and grim, deserted winter caravan parks. Everything seems overcast, dilapidated, vacant and off-kilter, making the shocks all the more startling.
Nyman and Dyson adapted Ghost Stories for the screen and apparently added subplots and layers, but made little effort to be innovative (there is not a single proper female speaking role in the film – the ‘female’ is almost entirely a source of terror), so the film would appear to be more of a tribute to film and TV shows of past times, rather than intending to break new ground.
Old-school frights and jump scares may have been more startling as cleverly-managed stage illusions in a live-theatre setting, but on the big screen they tend to lose much of their shock value. Nevertheless, the denouement offers a decent twist.
Copyright R.H. Zelen – ©RenZelen 2017 All rights reserved.
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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