Sunday, 29 September 2019

Killers Anonymous ★★☆☆☆


Killers Anonymous, directed by Martin Owen, has an interesting premise – a group of killers meet regularly at Killers Anonymous to share their stories and work on, well, not killing. On the night of an attempted assassination of a U.S. senator, touted to be the next President, things suddenly aren’t as they seem and the group try to unravel who in the group is responsible for the attack.


It’s certainly possible to over-do a film, and sadly ‘Killers Anonymous’ has done just that. You’ll notice immediately how stylised it is… While I’m usually a fan of stylised films (‘Baby Driver’ springs to mind, which I loved), there’s a difference between those that I love and this one, and that difference is that the other ones are done well. Some of the shots in ‘Killers Anonymous’ are executed perfectly and are pleasing to the eye, however, the majority come across as clunky and overused. Take a conversation at the start of the film between characters The Man (Gary Oldman) and Jade (Jessica Alba), for example… a distant overarching view combines with wildly close-up face shots that seem to serve only to disorientate the viewer. I loved the colours and the mood of the style that Martin Owen went for, but the movement and sometimes puzzling set-up within certain frames was detracting and made it feel gimmicky, perhaps more like something you might see during an A level Media Studies project.

Talking of puzzling, the plot was what really got me. It sounds like it’s going to be a classic whodunnit but it’s not, and if I’m honest I’m not really sure what the point of the plot was, or what the writers were trying to prove. It feels like it’s attempting to be really clever, but it didn’t come together like it should have done, and by the end, I didn’t really feel like I cared. It’s a shame really because some parts I was really engrossed in – especially the first half, where some of the killers stepped back into the past to describe their first kill. This was the only part of the film where I felt like I connect with the characters – once it got into the actual plot the development didn’t impact me as much and it felt like I was watching a bunch of strangers involved in something I wasn’t overly bothered about.

Saying that I can’t fault the acting of the film, which I felt was very good and the connection between the characters felt believable. I particularly liked MyAnna Buring as Joanna, the leader of the support group, and Tim McInnerny made an excellent creepy doctor that just loves to watch his patients die. Leandro, played by Michael Socha, was my favourite character, especially after his backstory was revealed, and Elliot James Langridge and Tommy Flanagan were also good as Ben and Markus respectively. I wish there had been a lot more Gary Oldman though – what he did he did very well, but his character seemed to spend most of the time looking through a pair of binoculars, and I feel like Oldman should be utilised for more than that. It was the fact that he was starring in it that made me think it might be worth a watch, so I was disappointed, to say the least when he turned out to have such a small amount of screen time.


You can probably tell I wasn’t overly impressed with ‘Killers Anonymous’ – while the actors did what they could, it fell short on plot and editing. There may be something there for people that love hyper-stylised films, but if you’re hoping for a strong, memorable plot then this probably isn’t for you.

★★☆☆☆
Hannah Read



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Saturday, 28 September 2019

Shaft ★★★★☆


Everyone knows ‘Shaft’ from the ‘70s – originally played by Richard Roundtree, John Shaft was a three-movie hero that all the kids wanted to be. In 2000 came a sequel in which the John Shaft we focus on is now the original Shaft’s nephew, played by Samuel L. Jackson, and now we’ve got an even more modern ‘Shaft’ film… Not exactly a sequel or a reboot, but rather a spin on the original concept of the film. 

This time around its Shaft Jr.’s turn, played by Jesse T. Jr., who is the abandoned son of Jackson’s Shaft, now the son of Roundtree’s Shaft (thankfully the confusion stops there). Shaft Jr. is a caricature of the modern-day male millennial, an FBI data analyst with a strong stance on guns and a love of coconut water. After his friend Karim (Avan Jogia) dies of a heroin overdose that Shaft Jr. and childhood friend Sasha (Alexandra Shipp) suspect is down to something more sinister, Shaft Jr. finds himself now in a world of drug deals and violence, and reluctantly gets back in contact with his Dad as he may be the only one able to help.
You may have already read reviews of ‘Shaft’ to find them filled with claims that it is homophobic, racist, and all sorts of other things down to Samuel L. Jackson’s old-school character. Shaft, again rather caricature-like, is your classic old-fashioned man with the belief that masculinity is down to how many fists you’ve sparred with and women you’ve refused to apologise to. He’s not quite with the times like Shaft Jr. is, seeing homosexuality as perhaps a bit of a weakness and men who aren’t hyper-masculine as slightly defective. This is where many of the jokes come into play, with the two men struggling to see eye-to-eye on a variety of things. I’d hardly call it homophobic though… More highlighting how ridiculous these sorts of beliefs are and showing that are not, in fact, correct like Shaft thinks. 
I’m glad I ignored the reviews and watched the film anyway, as it’s well-written and full of some high-octane scenes that make for great entertainment. Whilst, not all acting is excellent, Samuel L. Jackson makes Shaft his own, getting so into character that it’s hard not to be convinced. It’s classic Jackson, and he sparkles as always. Usher also makes a great Shaft Jr., not overplaying his considered weaknesses and instead embracing his personality and standing strong with his beliefs. Again, I’m not seeing why everyone is so wound up when our protagonist is actually such a positive and modern character. 

The humour, albeit not very politically correct at times, made a refreshing change from some of the films of late, taking me back to those iconic films of the ‘70s and ‘80s that really didn’t hold back. It’s got a sort of ‘Starsky and Hutch’ vibe to it – it’s silly and probably not all that likely in a real-life situation, but each scene is entertaining and a good set of casting helps to bring the story to life and excuse some perhaps unlikely scenarios that film-realists might not gel with so much. 
If you like a good action/comedy film then I’d recommend this one for lots of laughs and some good old-fashioned conflict, too. If you’re easily offended then maybe steer clear… No film will please everyone.
★★★★☆
Hannah Read

Yoshi's Crafted World at CeX


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Friday, 27 September 2019

Child's Play ★★☆☆☆


In the great pantheon of pop culture villains, there are some that will just live forever. You’ve got your Michael Myers, and your Jason Vorhees, and your Freddy Krueger. And you’ve got your Chucky. Everyone’s favourite homicidal ‘friend till the end’ doll has been around since 1988 and has gone through quite a development. From his humble beginnings as a straight horror character, through the film’s first sequels as a wise-cracking slasher, into the film’s later campy sequels where he became a comedy character and back out the other end into horror again. Much like Krueger, he’s done it all.


But now, some buffoon in Hollywood has decided to reboot the franchise and start fresh with a new creative team, voice actor and feel – despite the fact the original franchise is still ongoing. That’s pretty rare, huh? Rebooting a franchise that is still very much alive? Original creator Don Mancini has totally disowned this reboot while he continues to work on the next level of the OG Chucky franchise. Rightly so…because this one reeks of desperation. 

Straight out of the gate, this new Child’s Play goes in a different direction to the original/ongoing franchise by changing up what makes Chucky tick. While in the originals, Chucky was a host for the soul of serial killer Charles Lee Ray, this time he is simply a malfunctioning smart-device, after having all his safety features switched off by a disgruntled sweatshop worker who was fired while putting the doll together. Very much a modern horror for our times, this is clearly aimed at the techno-fear generation and puts our homicidal doll into the “internet of things” – he is synced up to all home appliances and even electric smart-cars, so of course, he can cause a lot of shit.

Narratively, the film follows a similar path to the 1988 original – Chucky falls into the hands of Andy Barclay, a lonely young boy from a broken home who becomes best friends with the innocent-seeming doll before things go tits-up. Despite everything wrong with this film, I cannot fault the narrative structure – it is a respectful retelling of the original plot. Sure, there are some minor changes, but the characters are faithfully reconstructed for the most part. The biggest issue is Chucky himself. Apart from looking bloody ridiculous and totally not scary (although I am glad they kept the effects largely practical) – his voice is wrong. Brad Dourif is, and always will be, Chucky. Here, he is recast with Mark Hamill – a terrific voice actor, sure, but not Chucky.

But the film’s main downfall is that once we get into the killing, it just becomes a bog-standard torture porn schlockfest with very little creativity or effectiveness in the attempted scares. The film does not frighten as the original did, and nor is it funny like the later sequels – it is somewhere in between; not scary, and funny for all the wrong reasons. It is humorous just how much this new Child’s Play gets wrong, primarily the design of the psycho doll himself. If your Chucky looks (and sounds) wrong, then your whole film is destined to fail.


I was disappointed in this Child’s Play – not just as a Chucky fan, but as a horror fan. This is a needless and soulless reboot that doesn’t get anywhere near justifying its own existence and only serves as a reminder of how good the original franchise is in comparison – which is saying something, because, and even as a Chucky fan, I can admit that the originals are a bit shit. 
Steer clear of this totally unnecessary reboot and stick with Don Mancini’s originals. They’re flawed, but at least their twisted heart is in the right place. 

★★☆☆☆
Sam Love

Child's Play at CeX


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Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Green Book ★★★☆☆


Another year, another Best Picture winner. But as with every year, a few months since the win, does anyone care anymore? Is anybody still talking about Green Book? Easily one of the most controversial wins in the history of the Academy Awards – a win that caused Spike Lee to jump out of his seat and attempt to leave the ceremony in disgust – this one is certainly infamous. Let’s take one last look at Green Book before it is lost forever in the annals of cinema history, destined for a lifetime of being a pub quiz trivia answer that absolutely bloody nobody will be able to remember.


The film follows Tony ‘Lip’, a bouncer from an Italian-American neighbourhood in the Bronx, and the time when he was hired to drive Dr Don Shirley, a world-class Black pianist, on a concert tour from Manhattan to the Deep South. On their journey, they must rely on "The Green Book" to guide them to the few establishments that were then safe for African-Americans. Confronted with racism and danger - as well as unexpected humanity and humour - they are forced to set aside differences to survive and thrive on the journey of a lifetime. So, yeah, on the surface, it’s already not exactly original. But the lack of originality here is not the issue.

The issue with Green Book is just how much it perpetuates the white saviour narrative trope to a point that almost feels like a parody. The film makes a hero with a heart of gold out of Tony ‘Lip’, and it’s no surprise whatsoever that this film is written by the real-life Tony’s son. This is a “Look how amazing my dad was” film through-and-through, despite many reports to the contrary that in actual fact, a friendship between him and Don never blossomed and he remained a racist. I don’t know if that’s true – I wasn’t there – but a lot of people, including Don’s family, came forward to confirm this. It doesn’t surprise me. This is Hollywood, after all. Never let the facts get in the way of a good, heart-warming white story! 

One thing that cannot be argued with is the acting power of the two lead actors. Both Viggo Mortensen (Tony) and Mahershala Ali (Don) put in powerhouse performances and have a chemistry between them that cannot be denied. Scenes between the two characters as they bicker in the car over food, music, history and other subjects are great – mixing comedy and drama wonderfully. It’s just a shame they never bloody happened. The whole film around these performances reeks of a missed opportunity – with such incredible work from the cast, it’s such a shame that a better final product was not crafted around them. Instead, we are left with a frustratingly underwhelming, overly sanitised and downright predictable ‘true’ story that continues an upsetting trend of the white saviour.


In a year that also gave us BlacKkKlansman, it’s simply criminal that this film won all the accolades and public appreciation – I guess that’s down to the fact it’s a much more easily digestible, dumbed down and accessible portrayal of the period to be spoon-fed to the masses. But crucially, it is offensively sanitised and downright inaccurate, shitting all over what was a very harrowing period and turning it into a feel-good comedy. But again, I haven’t a bad word to say about the two leads. As such, Green Book hits the road with a very generous.

★★★☆☆
Sam Love

Green Book at CeX


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Monday, 23 September 2019

Holmes & Watson ☆☆☆☆☆


Oh my. Holmes and Watson has achieved a very impressive feat. It has managed to be even worse than the critical and audience panning had led me to believe. I’d heard the horror stories about this absolute cinematic disaster but I was sure they couldn’t all be right. Nothing is that bad. But my goodness, the legends are true. Holmes and Watson is just an abomination of writing, acting, directing, editing…everything. There are no positives here whatsoever. But let’s talk about Holmes and Watson, the winner of four of 2019’s Razzie Awards – including Worst Picture.


For those of you who have avoided all knowledge of this disgrace even existing, do yourself a favour and get out of here. Save yourself. Knowing this exists will only make your life worse. Nothing good can come of knowing Holmes and Watson is out there. Run.

Still here? OK. Well, the film follows Detective Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson as they join forces to investigate a mysterious murder at Buckingham Palace. It seems like an open-and-shut case as all signs point to Professor James Moriarty, the criminal mastermind and longtime nemesis of the crime-solving duo. When new twists and clues begin to emerge, the world's greatest sleuth and his trusted assistant must now use their legendary wits and ingenious methods to catch the killer before the Queen becomes the next victim.

Reading that now gives me hope. Forgetting that it’s a comedy, I look at that synopsis and think “hey, a new Holmes film, that could be good”. The Robert Downey Jr/Jude Law ones were great. But this is not great. This is not even remotely good. Despite reuniting the Step Brothers themselves and former Talladega Nights teammates, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, this is not fit to lick the shit off those former films’ boots. 

So just what about Holmes and Watson is so bad. Well, it’s difficult to put into words. First of all, for a comedy, it is painfully unfunny to a point of agony. Whether the jokes are puerile and juvenile to a point that even schoolboys would cringe, or they’re considerably dated, or just downright offensive, there are absolutely no laughs to be had. The performances from our leads are just bizarre in how shockingly awful they are – Ferrell’s English accent, in particular, is almost impossible to listen to without feeling sick and angry in equal measure that a whole film has been built around it. John C. Reilly, the far superior actor in the pair, fares slightly better but still doesn’t come out smelling of anything other than shit. A shame, as Reilly had otherwise a brilliant year – The Sisters Brothers, Stan & Ollie and Ralph Breaks The Internet were all terrific.


A supporting cast of Ralph Fiennes, Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Rebecca Hall, Kelly Macdonald and Hugh Laurie are all completely phoning it in and making a remarkably tiny effort that it would take a microscope to see. The direction and structure of the film are abysmally amateur, the screenplay from Etah Cohen (not Ethan Coen) is an absolute travesty and the whole thing just looks and feels cheap. 

This whole review has actually been pretty generous because to tell you how I really feel about Holmes and Watson would be a much angrier and inappropriate rant. Instead, I am trying to be civil. As such, I will end by discussing a good point of Holmes and Watson so that my review hasn’t been entirely negative. There’s a really good bit in the film when it ends. That’s all I’ve got. Steer clear of Holmes and Watson, you owe it to yourself to not put yourself such a cinematic disgrace.

☆☆☆☆☆
Sam Love


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Sunday, 22 September 2019

Late Night ★★★★☆


Here in the UK, the late-night talk show circuit isn’t exactly a cut-throat world. We have Graham Norton and we have Jonathan Ross. That’s pretty much it. Over in the states, however, they have Kimmel and Fallon and Conan and Corden and countless others. It’s an enormous business, with the hosts themselves being the stars. Thus, for UK viewers, Late Night might be a little lost on viewers – we simply cannot relate to the late-night talk show world, and with the entire narrative built around it, will the film find a UK audience?


Late Night follows Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), a legendary late-night talk show host, as her world is turned upside down when she hires her first and only female staff writer (Mindy Kaling, who also writes the film). Originally intended to smooth over diversity concerns, her decision brings about unexpectedly hilarious consequences as the two women who are separated by culture and generation become united by their love of a biting punchline. The film is refreshing in its narrative; while there is a minor romance in the film, it is so subtle and understated that it is barely worth mentioning. The film is a bromance between two women and is all the more charming and heartwarming for it. 

As with every single film she stars in, the film just belongs to the fabulous Emma Thompson. As the cold, biting Katherine, she slowly reveals a heart below the tough exterior and turns what some actors would make a pretty one-note character into a deep, complex and layered woman. Mindy Kaling is on fine form as always too, doing the Mindy Kaling shtick she’s become known and loved for. A supporting cast includes the ever-brilliant John Lithgow, Veep’s Reid Scott and Hannibal’s Hugh Dancy. A stellar cast – which, in itself, is always a pretty huge make-or-breaker for this kind of character-driven comedy.

But it’s Kaling’s script that is the main attraction here, tackling vital and timely themes in a light-hearted and digestible manner that does not detract from their importance, but rather makes them more accessible and understandable to a mainstream audience. The film deals with issues of workplace equality – particularly sexism and racism – in such a confident and assured manner, without shoving them down our throats and choking us with sentimental political correctness. Under the fluffy comedic surface though, the film is a very sharp and thought-provoking social satire and commentary on modern workplace culture.


Late Night probably isn’t going to be a future classic. I don’t think people will really be talking about it an hour after they’ve seen it, but it’s a warm and pleasing little film that confidently deals with some very important and complex themes in a way that feels fresh and confident. I enjoyed the film immensely thanks to the typically fantastic work from Emma Thompson and both Mindy Kaling’s performance and a sharp script. But whether I will remember any of it in a few weeks remains to be seen. If you’re a fan of any of the cast members or the heartwarming comedy genre, there’s a lot to like in this charming and understated little film of friendship and acceptance.

★★★★☆
Sam Love

Late Night at CeX


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Saturday, 21 September 2019

Replicas ☆☆☆☆☆


We are living in the Golden Age of Keanu Reeves. This year has brought us a third John Wick film, his voice in Toy Story 4, the announcement that he will be appearing in Cyberpunk 2077, and all manner of Keanu memes. What a time to be alive. But despite all that, Keanu has still been finding time to make some pretty abysmal films for our viewing pleasure. The last Keanu film I reviewed was Exposed, which – shockingly, time flies – was released in 2016. It was awful. And today’s film, Replicas, isn’t much better…In fact, it’s probably worse, and that is saying something.


William Foster (Reeves) is a brilliant neuroscientist who loses his wife, son and two daughters in a tragic car accident. Utilising cutting-edge technology, William comes up with a daring and unprecedented plan to download their memories and clone their bodies. As the experiment begins to spiral out of control, Foster soon finds himself at odds with his dubious boss, a reluctant accomplice, a police task force and the physical laws of science. Critically panned, and making an estimated loss of $22 million dollars, Replicas isn’t exactly going to win any praise…from anyone. Even Keanu’s most loyal fans will cringe.

The premise itself is interesting. That is probably the only positive I can say about this film. The concept of attempting to remake dead family members from memories and cloning is interesting, and with the right writers and director behind it, could make a stunning little sci-fi film. But with The Day After Tomorrow writer Jeffrey Nachmanoff behind the camera and a screenplay written by the amusingly named Chad St. John, this is a lame duck, totally dead in the water within the first 20 minutes. Not so much an exciting sci-fi and more of a dull and complex study of the bureaucratic side of cloning one’s dead family in a basement, Replicas reeks of a missed opportunity throughout. In my head, I can see a much better version of this film existing – maybe somewhere in a parallel universe – but it certainly doesn’t exist here.

Overly convoluted, boring and muddled; Replicas is not a fun or remotely entertaining viewing experience. Like so many bad films these days, it isn’t bad to a degree that is fun to watch with friends and ruthlessly mock – instead, it’s just upsetting to see talent wasted and money thrown away on something that is just so needlessly bad and instantly forgettable. After riding 2019’s high of Keanuness, I hope Reeves will never succumb to making shite like this again. He’s better than this. 


I just want to finish up by sharing a laugh with you at this delightful little excerpt from Replicas’ press release. “Cinema is a medium of the imagination so it’s always been the perfect format for portraying bold new concepts. Replicas twin themes of robotics and cloning have been seen in many classic films over the years, showing that if you combine a daring sci-fi story with thrilling action it often leads to on-screen success.” There is nothing bold or new about Replicas, and on-screen success is certainly nowhere to be seen. Everything about Replicas is wrong – from casting Keanu Reeves as a scientist, come on, he’s an action hero, to the plot-hole filled narrative and cliché abundance – and it all adds up to make this one to avoid at all costs.

☆☆☆☆☆
Sam Love

Replicas at CeX


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