Reviewer: Philip Price
Director: Tony Leondis
Stars: Anna Faris, Christina Aguilera, Jake T. Austin, James Corden, Jeffrey Ross, Jennifer Coolidge, Maya Rudolph, Patrick Stewart, Rachael Ray, Sean Hayes, Sofia Vergara, Steven Wright, T.J. Miller
Released: August 4th, 2017
This may come as a shock to many of you, but The Emoji Movie is not good. In fact, it’s really bad. Bad in the way that it doesn’t even try much of the time. Bad in the way that it is intended to be a funny children’s film with a message about championing individuality and being yourself, but even that tried and true formula falls flat. Did I say it was supposed to be funny? It’s not funny. It tries, it has obvious attempts at humor, but it’s not funny. Worse, it has a talented and typically hilarious group of people providing the voices for much of these humanoid expressions that exist in a world that doesn’t make much sense in the first place. Let’s start over as this would be the initial issue that only leads to more of these problems that spawn from the fact this is a movie based on emoji’s. It would probably be big of me to say that this movie isn’t bad simply because it is a movie based on emoji’s, but it is. It represents everything wrong with the studio system from the perspective of attempting a cash grab without any measure of creativity or thought put into the actual work. There are no signs of life within this thing other than our protagonist going through the motions of feeling like an outcast, being brave enough to break out of his shell, and discover that it’s okay to be different. That’s all well and good, but you as well as your kids have seen this countless times before and The Emoji Movie brings nothing new to it with the fact it’s emoji’s going through these (e)motions only making it that much more grating. Worse even, it’s beyond transparent that writer/director Tony Leondis (2008’s terrible Igor as well as a few other animated shorts) and his two co-writers Eric Siegel (a TV veteran) and Mike White (Mike White!) could care less about the movie they are working on. No doubt receiving an assignment from head honcho’s at Sony Animation that they needed something aimed at the kids after their one-two punch for teens and adults with Spider-Man: Homecoming and Baby Driver the studio latched on to current trends via The LEGO Movie and Wreck-it Ralph and demanded a movie based on those faces kids were using to communicate with on their phones. Leondis, Siegel, and White mix in a little Toy Story as well with hopes of no one noticing and yet The Emoji Movie is so distractingly bad that it doesn’t become an issue of the movie being based around characters who are emoticons, but more the fact the whole thing never breaks through that barrier of convincing us why it’s necessary.
To describe what happens in The Emoji Movie or to try and attempt to describe how the world that exists in The Emoji Movieactually functions would be to try and make sense out of it, but that’s kind of impossible. Still, here we go…the story centers around Gene (T.J. Miller) who was born a “Meh” emoji (so many questions already!) to his parents Mel and Mary Meh (Steven Wright and Jennifer Coolidge who produce some of the only inspired moments in the movie) who, like all emoji’s, is destined to work on the board of emoji’s where they provide the faces they were born with to whoever their assigned “user” is; “user” meaning human with a cell phone (but not an iPhone, this is a Sony movie after all). So, essentially, these emoji’s live to stand in a cubicle all day only to *maybe” be picked by the big guy upstairs every once in a while and when they are they are scanned making their pre-determined face that is then sent through their user’s phone. See the biggest flaw in this premise already? There is no need for the world to exist in the first place. Why don’t they just scan all the emoji’s once, store them on the phones hard drive and upload them when necessary to good ole Alex (Jake T. Austin) who has a crush on a girl who he apparently can’t talk to without the help of emoji’s. Had the writers have gone this route they might have created a more interesting and original conflict where something happens with the stored emoji’s on Alex’s phone and Gene comes to be the only one who can fix it given he has the power to make multiple expressions due to the fact some of the emoji’s haven’t made their “faces” in such a long time that they’re becoming less and less like their original state. I literally made that up as I was typing it and I would much rather see that movie than the one I saw about Gene where he flips out his first day on the job because he can’t make his “meh” face properly and is then chased through a handful of different apps on the phone because the mayor of text town or whatever it’s called, Smiler (Maya Rudolph turned up to eleven), wants to delete Gene after labeling him a defect. Of course, Gene needs friends to go on this journey of self-discovery with and so enter Hi-5 (James Corden) as a once popular emoji who has since been relegated to the loser’s lounge and Jailbreak (Anna Faris) a rogue emoji looking to escape to the cloud and who Gene believes might be able to help fix his defectiveness; cue the awkward emoji love story (so many questions!).
Part of me really wanted to give this movie a shot despite every particle of my being telling me it was going to be a waste of time and money (it is, don’t take your children to this). Part of me was hoping, even though I knew deep down in my soul it wouldn’t, that The Emoji Movie might surprise me if not to the extent that The LEGO Movie did maybe at least in a similar fashion where the creators put enough imagination and were invested in trying to make something slightly original that I’d be compelled to forgive the fact this was a movie based around modern day hieroglyphics, but no-nothing. As I sat watching the movie unfold I couldn’t help but to think if this might actually appeal to children. Trying to gauge the audience reactions around me at a five o’clock showing on the Thursday evening before the Friday the movie actually opened and very rarely did laughs come from even the smallest children in the audience. I mean, even The Angry Birds Movie had its moments and was pleasing on a visual level to the extent that it could be. The Emoji Movie rarely gets a laugh sans the too few moments when Wright and Coolidge’s characters are on screen and on top of that it’s a rather flat film to look at. Despite having an expansive voice cast that also includes Patrick Stewart as Poop, Sofi Vergara as the salsa dancer, Rachael Ray as a piece of spam mail, Sean Hayes as the Devil, Jeff Ross as an internet troll, and even Christina Aguilera as the dance instructor, Akiko Glitter, in the “Just Dance!” app. the film gains nothing from as much because it gives them nothing to do. They’ve piled on the big names as well as probably spending a fair amount of money on those names and these side emoji characters come to be little more than punch lines for their own jokes. Sir Patrick Stewart only slightly tarnishes his name by making jokes about “not being too soft,” while the rest of the cast has maybe two lines a piece with neither of them being memorable enough to justify their cost or trip to the recording session. Moral of the story being, don’t do this. Don’t put anyone through this who doesn’t have to experience it because it deserves no attention as it has not an original beam in its construct or an original idea in its thought bubble. It is a cash grab if there ever was one, it promotes words being uncool for kids to use (which I’m obviously very against), and it features more product placement than Michael Bay could even dream of. Supporting something like The Emoji Movie only feeds the idea to those head honchos at Sony that the general public want more things like The Emoji Movie and we don’t. We really don’t.
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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