Reviewer: Philip Price
Director: Rob Letterman
Stars: Amanda Lund, Amy Ryan, Dylan Minnette, Ella Wahlestedt, Halston Sage, Jack Black,Jillian Bell, Ken Marino, Kumail Nanjiani, Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee, Timothy Simons
Released: February 5th, 2016
As a child of the nineties, as someone who was in fourth and fifth grade at the dead center of the decade I was completely immersed in the Goosebumps books. I can easily recall going to Wal-Mart with my mom every month and constantly checking to see if the new book was on the shelves yet. I would devour these books to the point of ridiculousness and their popularity was such that at this point in time even my fourth grade teacher decided to read one of author R.L. Stine’s works of adolescent horror to the class so as to appeal to those who weren’t on board with Tuck Everlasting. While the books meant a great deal to me and I was a big fan of the Fox Kids Saturday morning line-up at the time I was unfortunately never able to get into their live-action adaptations of Stine’s stories in the TV series that ran from 1995 to 1998. There was all the excitement in the world for such a series, but once it premiered there was never enough to keep me coming back-unlike the books. And so, how would a live-action movie version of such stories be any different? Given I was also twenty years removed from the source material, would I even care if aGoosebumps movie did honorable service to the literature or was it time to move on and accept that whatever it was that made these books so captivating to so many kids on the brink of their teenage years in the mid-nineties was just an elusive quality never to be contained on celluloid? It turns out, all the material needed was a dash of meta-comedy that allowed the story to not only incorporate several of Stine’s most popular characters, but Stine himself. With this opportunity to tell a brand new story rather than simply rehashing one of Stine’s more popular titles the film is given a fresh idea that combines the likes of something akin to Jumanji or Zathura with the perfect balance of slightly off-kilter comedy and scary scenarios with over-the-top monsters that made the books so engaging. In short, this new Goosebumps film exceeded all expectations by delivering a fun and charming horror flick for kids that will undoubtedly be brought out every year around Halloween for a long time to come.
Written by Darren Lemke (Turbo, Jack the Giant Slayer) this new story tells of high schooler Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette) who is forced to move to the fictional town of Madison, Delaware when his mom, Gale (Amy Ryan), gets a job as assistant principal at a new school. Zach is still reeling from the death of his father a year before and his mother hopes a change of scenery might help to heal such wounds. Zach and his mother’s new neighbors are the mysterious “Mr. Shivers” and his daughter Hannah (Odeya Rush), but when Zach tries to make nice and introduce himself, Mr. Shivers warns him to stay away from his house and his daughter. Hannah has other ideas though as being both home schooled as well as cut off from the world in every way imaginable has led to a rebellious spirit that is immediately attracted to the new neighbor. At school, Zach befriends a fellow student named Champ (Ryan Lee) who sports an endearing dorkiness and social awkwardness that keeps the comedic pacing of the film up to task. On the night of a school dance Zach overhears Mr. Shivers and Hannah arguing, followed by Hannah screaming. He instinctively calls the police, but Mr. Shivers is able to deflect any suspicion of any wrongdoing only further confirming to Zach that Hannah is in trouble. After calling up his new friend and devising a plan to get Mr. Shivers out of the house Zach and Champ break in next door with the intent of rescuing Hannah. What they actually do is unlock one of the many Goosebumps manuscripts they come across inside Hannah’s house that unleashes a multitude of monsters from the series. Concluding that Mr. Shivers is actually R.L. Stine (Jack Black) and that Stine’s creations all have the capability to come to life it is up to our trio of new friends and Stine himself how to figure out how to get all of these characters back in their books before they completely destroy the town of Madison.
Beginning with Black, who doesn’t remotely look like the actual Stine, the cast appear to all be having a great time here as well. Taking on something of a more restrained demeanor and a dialect that impresses immediately upon the audience that of a snooty writer mentality Black plays Stine as an uptight adult in a world where childlike curiosity is king. While the film doesn’t go so far as to place the adults in the position of the ignorant authority while the children are the only ones privy to the actual facts of the situation like many a Amblin produced children films, Black is still the authoritative figure that keeps our heroes in line while serving as their guide through this uncharted territory. As the leader of the trio, Minnette (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) is a capable lead and most impressively is able to pull off the balance of being effortlessly cool while unafraid of being portrayed as a dork which in turn only makes his character more appealing. I tend to get Minnette confused with Logan Lerman from time to time, but over his last few roles Minnette has proved to have something of a knack for solid comedic timing and proves himself again here by being able to hang with Black throughout. As what is more or less the co-lead of the film, Rush’s Hannah is both the object of Zach’s affections and a fully fleshed out character in her own right. It’s not only appealing that Lemke gave dual leading duties to a male and female so as to give the crowds of kiddies each a surrogate, but that both are competent, hip and slightly mature for their age speaks well to the role models they’ll be looked to as. Rush (The Giver) is a soothing presence on screen and so we feel the anxiety of her tense situation with her father as a genuine strain. Minnette and Rush are a formidable pair on screen as well despite the inherent awkwardness of their obvious fondness for one another. Present to smooth that awkwardness over is Lee’s (Super 8) comic relief that, when paired with the hilarious Jillian Bell and a couple of goofy small town cops played to perfection by Amanda Lund and Timothy Simons, give the film a great sense of humor that effectively balances the scary character designs of some of Stine’s most famous creations.
As the film began and the camera panned over a large body of water it was immediately reminiscent of that other nineties piece of Halloween nostalgia that is Hocus Pocus. There was a sense of scope to it, while the score from Danny Elfman really reinforces the tone of that time period by giving the film a sense of adventure with enough character thrown in to make both the charming, comfortable moments shine and the creepy ones extra-creepy. In essence, watching Goosebumps was something like being transported back to my childhood. It was a quality production of a Saturday morning TV show with top tier talent and special effects making the bigness of it all the more exciting and the wholesomeness of it all the more endearing. These qualities did nothing but leave me with a smile on my face the entire runtime. In writing all of those pleasantly descriptive words without giving any real explanation as to why I was made to feel this way I’m finding it difficult to pinpoint what exactly the movie did to make me react this way. More than saying this simply feels like a real movie, something people put actual time, effort and care into, there is no one detail that was so glaringly great that it stands above the rest. Maybe that is the magic of it. Everything was so well balanced, each element given it’s rightful due that by the time we came to the end of the journey and were able to reflect it all melded together to form nothing more than good memories. What I enjoyed most about the experience though, was seeing it in a theater full with it’s target audience (though the fact this will appeal to several generations is a real plus for Columbia) who reacted with such excitement to a movie that seemingly elicited such genuine thrills and scares that it was all the more validating this was as good a movie as I thought it was. In all honesty, this movie had no right to be any good and could have turned out to be little more than a cash grab on a familiar property, but director Rob Letterman (Monsters Vs. Aliens, Gulliver’s Travels) clearly took great care with the material and as a result has delivered a legitimate crowd-pleaser for what could potentially be a very broad crowd.
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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