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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Friday, 20 September 2019

Second Act ★★★☆☆


Living in a sleepy little seaside town, I don’t often get the opportunity to visit a multiplex – so, when I do, I make a day of it. I’ll usually try and catch a few films back-to-back. A few months back, I had a few hours to kill between films I actively wanted to see, and I found myself in a screening of Second Act. I had no idea how I got there. It was the sort of film I usually wouldn’t be caught dead watching. And yet, there I was. I took it like a man and stayed for the duration, which in itself was a surprise. But the biggest surprise of all? It wasn’t that bad.


Convincing you of that fact is going to be near impossible, but I’ll try and put into words how this charming little film actually entertained me and left me with big ol’ feeling of “don’t judge a book by its cover”. 

Jennifer Lopez stars as Maya, a 40-year-old woman struggling with frustrations from unfulfilled dreams. Until that is, she gets the chance to prove to Madison Avenue that street smarts are as valuable as book smarts and that it is never too late for a – wait for it – SECOND ACT. Still reading? Wow. I respect your patience with me on this one. So basically, Maya’s best friend’s young son makes a Facebook page for Maya which is just riddled with bullshit about her supposed endless qualifications and general perfection. Off the strength of that, she bags an incredible job – but of course, it’s only a matter of time until all the lies come tumbling down and she’s out on her iconic arse. Refreshingly, this is NOT a rom-com! There is some romance to be had, but it’s with Milo Ventimiglia, so it’s pretty understandable. The man-crush is real.

Anyway, this is just a charming and fun little film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Most of the jokes genuinely land and the ridiculously simple plot is so unchallenging that you can totally switch off your brain. This is cinematic comfort food of the highest order, snuggling the viewer up like a warm sweater and gently whispering that everything’s going to be ok. There’s no violence or cynicism and certainly no reminders of how bloody awful the world is right now. This is just Jennifer Lopez doing her thang in New York City for 90 minutes, and I’m here to tell you that I think that’s what you need right now. I can see you shaking your head and hovering over the x on this tab, muttering to yourself “I’ve read enough of this shit”, and hey, I don’t blame you. If anybody else had told me all of this about Second Act I’d probably tell them to fuck off.


But, dear reader, trust me. Second Act is just what you need right now. There is absolutely nothing remotely intellectual or high-brow about this film. One of the film’s biggest laughs comes from Jennifer Lopez unintentionally telling a powerful Chinese businessman that one of his colleagues’ anal glands need milking. Yeah. This one’s not going to win any awards (except maybe Razzies) and it’s certainly not going to be remembered this time next year. Hell, this time next week the world will have forgotten about Second Act. But today, right now, give it a chance. Switch off your mind and admit to yourself that we all need a shit film every now and then. It relaxes the mind better than any drink or drug could. 

★★★☆☆
Sam Love

Second Act at CeX


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Wednesday, 18 September 2019

VICE ★★★★☆


If there was one crime at this year’s Academy Awards, it was the choice for Best Actor. Don’t get me wrong, Rami Malek’s Freddie Mercury performance was great – he totally nailed the role and did his absolute best with what the film’s pretty abysmal script allowed. Any other year, I’d applaud the Academy’s decision and agree wholeheartedly with his win. But in 2019, the decision was way off. You see, Christian Bale was also nominated for his mind-blowingly good and surely future career-defining role performance as Dick Cheney.


Adam McKay’s Vice explores the epic story of how Cheney, a bureaucratic Washington insider, quietly became the most powerful man in the world as Vice President to George W. Bush, reshaping the country and the globe in ways that we still feel today. But while most filmmakers would deal with Cheney’s dark rise to power in a tedious, slow and over-stuffed jargon-filled epic, McKay does the unthinkable. He takes the story of one of US politics’ most dangerous and controversial figures and turns it into a hilarious, albeit dark, comedy romp. 

However, the film hasn’t exactly won this praise across the board. One of the most polarising films of recent memory and certainly as controversial as its subject himself, Vice split critical reception down the middle with some finding it to be “a clumsy display of political hatred” and others finding it to be an “entertaining nihilist biopic”. When you’re dealing with a political figure and leaning so heavily in one direction – Cheney is portrayed as something of a pantomime villain here, with Christian Bale thanking Satan for inspiration for the performance when picking up his Golden Globe – you’re bound to rub people the wrong way. It is, like Thanos, inevitable. 

But without getting into the murky waters of politics and remaining totally neutral on that side of things, I still applaud the film wholeheartedly for a number of reasons. Firstly, there is absolutely no doubting the balls on Adam McKay to make a film like this when his subject is still alive and kicking, not to mention the fact that Cheney still has many supporters. Taking such a controversial and infamous figure and turning his life into a dark comedy is a ballsy move. We can agree on that, surely? Furthermore, the concept of making what any other filmmaker would make as a straight-faced drama into such a blackly comic ride is such an innovative and ambitious take on the genre that it warrants respect. Sure, some parts don’t exactly hit the landing – some of the more meta-jokes (such as the early ending credits sequence and the Shakespearean bed scene) do come off as a little forced – there’s still a lot that works.

Some have also criticised the film for being too patronising. The film’s narrator often reduces the political lobbying and backstabbing into more accessible and simplified explanations, making movie-goers with an interest in politics feel a little pandered to. But hey, I say go for it – there’s enough complicated and for lack of a better word “serious” political movies out there, I’m all for a simplified and easy-to-watch romp. That being said, while the political manoeuvrings may be easy to watch, the darkness certainly isn’t. 

Vice does occasionally drop the comedic delivery in some of the film’s darker moments and is all the more powerful for it. Naturally, there are no jokes to be made around 9/11 or the war in Iraq, and these sequences are dealt with maturely. They are, in fact, all the more frightening as a result – a montage of real photos from the aftermath of terrorist attacks are harrowing and uncomfortable to view, with this sensation heightened by the preceding scenes’ sense of humour.


But as I said at the beginning of this review, the film just belongs to Christian Bale. A supporting cast of Amy Adams, Sam Rockwell and Steve Carell all shine, but Bale’s transformative performance as the intimidating and complex titular vice president is nothing short of phenomenal. This is a performance for the ages that will surely go down in history as Bale’s finest, and one that was far more deserving of the Best Actor Oscar than Rami Malek. But hey, what do I know, I’m not part of the Academy. They’re just not returning my calls…

On the whole, Vice is sure to go down as one of the most controversial and divisive films of the decade, but it’s certainly up there with the best. The staggering ambition and innovative nature of the film - and the lead performance from Bale – make this one an absolute belter. You may not agree with the film’s political leanings, but you can’t fault the craft. 

★★★★☆
Sam Love



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Monday, 16 September 2019

The Wedding Guest ★★☆☆☆


Ever since his breakthrough role in the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire, Dev Patel has been climbing ever since with roles in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Chappie, The Man Who Knew Infinity, Lion and more. He is a truly terrific actor and has elevated every film he has been into a higher level – Lion, in particular, was a bit pants really, but he was terrific. In any case, his performances have often been supporting, and he’s rarely had a lead that he can really sink his teeth into. Enter The Wedding Guest. But while that title might suggest a romantic comedy, this is anything but…


Before we get into the plot, this review does contain some minor spoilers so tread lightly! We begin the film as Patel’s enigmatic character prepares for a mysterious trip: packing, renting a car, buying guns. Upon reaching his destination – a wedding in Pakistan - he breaks into the compound, kidnaps the bride-to-be, and gets the hell out of there. We learn that the man has been hired by the woman's other lover, a gangster, to give her one more chance to choose the man she wants to be with. But one thing leads to another and the kidnapper and the woman hit the road together on the hunt for somewhere to hide together…forever?

Honestly, The Wedding Guest stinks of a missed opportunity. One recurring critical comment across almost all of the reviews I’ve seen for the film make the argument that it is a romantic comedy without the romance or the comedy. Feels about right. If this film starred, I don’t know, Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Lopez, you can imagine it making a pretty slick romcom. A hired gun kidnaps a bride-to-be from a loveless marriage and the two form a hilarious romance while on the run from armed goons and cops. Sounds charming, right? The Wedding Guest, however, is totally devoid of any humour or even romance in a lifeless and gritty thriller that does not make the characters’ decision to run away together feel even remotely earned or believable. There is so little spark in their relationship as it is portrayed that it feels like we, the audience, have missed something crucial in their blossoming romance. Maybe some vital scenes ended up on the cutting room floor…This is the feeling that remains when the film is over – did I miss something?

Frustratingly, the whole thing just feels lifeless and without any real point. The thriller elements aren’t really particularly thrilling, the romance isn’t particularly romantic. One cannot fault the lead performances of Dev Patel and Radhika Apte, who plays the bride-to-be. They’re both terrific, with Patel especially giving us his most mature, brooding and mysterious role yet. The faults evidently lie in the screenplay and the direction, which both fall at the feet of the usually incredible Michael Winterbottom – the man behind an eclectic resumé including The Killer Inside Me, 24 Hour Party People and the Steve Coogan/Rob Brydon Trip series.


The Wedding Guest is a totally underwhelming, hollow and lifeless thriller that does absolutely nothing particularly interesting or exciting with a genuinely quite promising premise. An unfortunate misstep from an otherwise astounding filmmaker and writer. 

★★☆☆☆
Sam Love


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Sunday, 15 September 2019

Yoshi's Crafted World ★★★★☆


While Yoshi may now exist primarily as a meme in the heads of the kids of today – admit it, you’ve chuckled at one of the Yoshi’s Island memes,  this delightful little platformer acts as a reminder of what Yoshi was, and is, in the eyes of gamers. He is an icon, an old friend, and I was sure glad to spend some time with him again in his Crafted World. Yoshi’s Crafted World is an extremely straight-forward and often deceptively simplistic little game, that is formulaic to the point of being wholly unoriginal, and yet still easily one of the most enjoyable games of the year.


First off, Yoshi’s Crafted World is one of the easiest games you’ll probably ever play. Being accessible to all ages means there is very little challenge here for younger gamers and almost no challenge for us grown-ups. Enemies are almost entirely passive, just wandering around the level without paying much attention to the dinosaur strolling around killing their friends and shitting them out as eggs. That’s totally normal in the Crafted World so they’re not concerned until you twat an egg at them and give them something to think about. Anyway, the game isn’t challenging. You can blitz through the 40+ stages without breaking a sweat and without dying once, but that’s not the point of the game. This isn’t a game that aims to challenge you and push you to your limits like Dark Souls. This is a game to be enjoyed and savoured as the colourful scenery takes you back to a simpler time.

The stages are all rammed full of collectables, incentivising repeat playthroughs to find every single one and discover the hidden secrets in each level – of which there are plenty. There is plenty tucked away in each stage to enjoy time and time again, which creates a wonderful feeling of value and replayability. The game's visuals are an utter delight too, continuing the ever-popular theme of games existing in worlds that have been made up of fabrics and cardboard. Think Little Big Planet, and you’re somewhere close. I guess the clue is in the name of this one, but the arts and craft feel is what stands the game out from its contemporaries and gives it such a charming aesthetic. The sound design is equally delightful, with Yoshi’s nostalgic sounds delivered in great abundance.


Yoshi handles really well too, moving around flawlessly and also giving you the option to aim his weaponised eggs not only ahead and behind you, but also into the background and foreground of the layered stages. A delightful little touch. Yoshi’s never handled better than this, and it sure is a delight to play – making the game’s total lack of any sort of challenge feel all the more prevalent.

Yoshi’s Crafted World is a delightfully simple and easy game to play, which sometimes is just what the doctor ordered. This one doesn’t require mental power or quick reflexes, hell, you could probably 100% it in your sleep. But it’s a charming and nostalgic escape into a colourful and charming land – which sounds pretty good right about now. 

★★★★☆
Sam Love

Yoshi's Crafted World at CeX


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Saturday, 14 September 2019

Alita: Battle Angel ★★★☆☆


Alita: Battle Angel, the latest film from Robert Rodriguez, is based on the original manga Battle Angel Alita by Yukito Kishiro in the ‘90s and is a sci-fi and action mash-up which will appeal to cyberpunk fans. Set in a futuristic reality after an epic war that destroyed all but one of the precious sky cities, Zalem, society is now heavily split into two peoples – the elite, that live upon Zalem enjoying life, and the ones that got left behind in Iron City, desperately trying to make it up there whilst living (quite literally) on the scraps thrown away by the superior city.


Whilst searching for spare parts, Dr Dyson Ido (Christoph WChay Clarkaltz) comes across the live remains of a cyborg, which he takes back and restores. He names her Alita (Rosa Salazar) as she has no recollection of her past life, however, she cannot stop thinking about who she might have been, especially with bad-boy-but-also-good-boy Hugo’s (Keean Johnson) intrigue and Ido’s overprotective nature playing a part. Her quest for identity comes at a price though, and she soon finds herself tangled up in far bigger things.

The premise of ‘Alita: Battle Angel’ is not outstanding but it’s intriguing enough to draw one in. Unfortunately, the storytelling cannot be described as the highlight of the film – it’s tangible enough in the first half, albeit cliché, but once you get to the second half it’s hard not to notice that it’s really all just a set-up for the sequel, as a nicely wrapped-up ending just isn’t possible in two hours. This is something I’ve seen with quite a few manga-based films set in wildly different realities such as this, as there’s just so much for the audience to take in and learn and one standalone film won’t cut it. 

Despite the storyline not being as exciting as one had hoped the characters, whilst generic and again clichéd at points (in particular the evil ones) are interesting enough to follow, and Alita, in particular, is fascinating – she’s CGI, but given the warmth and emotion of a real human being which is not always seen in CGI-heavy films. It’s hard not to root for her, especially after one scene where one particularly arrogant bad guy gets proven to be an idiot (something I will always enjoy watching). 

Whilst the other characters are likeable and have plausible backstories, it really was Alita herself that had me gripped. Waltz does a very good job as Ido, as expected, and Hugo was a relatable character but highly predictable and his involvement with Alita made it all feel very YA (I’m also convinced he’s the younger version of Joseph Gordon-Levitt). The film didn’t quite seem to know who it was targeting, switching very quickly between lovestruck teenagers defying the rules and brutal cyborg battles with more than one head separating from its body.


That’s the thing that I really enjoyed about ‘Alita: Battle Angel’ though. The action is excellently done, with breath-taking CGI battles that really showcase the talent of the team behind it. Some shots were absolutely memorable – Alita swirling her way through a dozen spiked metal tentacles mid-air is one that won’t leave my mind anytime soon. It’s little touches as well, like a three-armed man at the start playing a 12-string guitar, where the use of CGI really enhances the world and creates a believable and mesmerising visual experience.

The storytelling certainly isn’t the selling point of ‘Alita: Battle Angel’, but I’m hoping that the sequel will be the remedy to that. The action and worldbuilding is a real feat though, so if those are your priorities then this one is still worth watching.

★★★☆☆
Hannah Read

Alita: Battle Angel at CeX


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