It’s time once more to batter through a diverse batch of recent films, including The Meg, Mission: Impossible: Fallout, Mom and Dad, The Spy Who Dumped Me, Hereditary, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, and The Predator. Get with the program, you square!
It’s strange to think that The Meg, a bio-pic of the “psychic” who was a substantial part of the early years of the BBC’s National Lottery broadcasts, would gross over $500 million worldwide, but it has done just that.
OK, well half of that is true. The Meg is a shark film, probably the most successful since the seminal Jaws, and takes its truly stupid name from the megalodon, the giant, prehistoric shark that many of us are, alas, familiar with in movie form thanks to the considerably less-than-seminal The Asylum work, Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus. (No airliners are downed by a shark in this film, and the jury is still out as to whether this is a good or bad thing).
Marine biologists working in billionaire Rainn Wilson’s underwater laboratory are attempting to prove that the ocean bottom isn’t, in fact, the bottom of the ocean, and that it is, in fact, a “thermocline” of hydrogen sulphide, a discrete layer of super-cold liquid below which there is a whole other ecosystem, unseen and unimagined by humans. Not quite as far-fetched as it might sound, in fact: thermoclines are real, and even underwater lakes are actually a thing. A hidden home for 25m + prehistoric fish with bad tempers may be pushing it a bit, but, hey, let’s go with it.
When the research submarine is attacked by the “meg” (incidentally, this, like Jaws, is a literary adaptation, but I’m going to stick my neck out here and suggest that Steve Alten’s Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror is very much of airport thriller stock) and left stranded, only one man can save them: Jason Statham’s Jonas Taylor, a deep sea rescue expert who, of course, was seen in the opening of the film having had to choose to leave behind colleagues in order to save the rest, and is now retired from diving.
Persuaded to return, not least due to the fact his ex-wife is one of the stranded crew, Taylor successfully rescues most of the crew from the stricken submarine, but their rapid ascent through the thermocline opens a hole of warm water allowing the huge bitey beasties to follow them through. Said toothy fellows then proceed to grumpily eat everything. This aggression will not stand.
I certainly didn’t have high hopes for The Meg, and numerous reviews have firmly stuck it in the “not good enough to be good, but also not bad enough to be good” bracket, but I like Jason Statham so I thought I’d give it a go. And you know what? It’s alright. Really, it’s not too bad at all. It’s not doing anything particularly original or special, but it is doing it fairly competently, and director Jon Turteltaub has the restraint to not overuse the shark, especially in the first half of the film.
The characters are, for the most part, likeable, if cookie-cutter, and it has Jason Statham. This is more of the Stath of a Transporter or Mechanic than a Snatch, Crank or even Hummingbird, but charisma and personality go a long way.
It could, easily, have been a big budget The Asylum picture, rather than just a big budget B-movie (a very big budget B-movie: Wikipedia lists its budget as being between $130 – $180 million), and it’s certainly the type of film that it pays to not think too much about, but it’s perfectly serviceable Saturday afternoon fare that I’m pleasantly surprised to discover I enjoyed. (But, really, more Chev Chelios, please).
Also: at no point does anyone attempt to kill a shark with an oven. This makes it either considerably better, or considerably worse, than Deep Blue Sea. I can’t decide.
If you’d told me back in 1996 that the then just-released Mission: Impossible would spawn an intermittent franchise running strong twenty-two years later, I, well, I probably wouldn’t have had much of a basis for judging as I didn’t see it until a few years after its release. But, to be honest, once you’d told me that a third film would be made after John Woo’s honking second outing, all bets are off.
So, then, Fallout comes hot on the heels of Rogue Nation, for certain three year definitions of the term, with Thomas Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and his team on the lookout for stolen plutonium, with the returning cast of Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg in support. Said plutonium is said to be passing through the shadowy network of the Apostles, a shadowy successor organisation to the shadowy Syndicate of Rogue Nation, and they’re going to sell it to the shadowy John Lark, an a shadowy extremist lurking in extreme shadow.
Hunt’s team is being antagonistically babysat by Henry Cavil’s CIA thug August Walker, who immediately goes full-on moustache-twirling to the point that I assumed there must be some sort of double-bluff going on as to whether he turned out to be a bad guy, but it was in fact a triple-bluff, which is functionally identical to a single-bluff. So begins a series of action scenes, chases and punching and kicking from point to point with the thinnest possible layer of connective ligaments.
Look, I’m generally a staunch defender of action movies concentrating on action over intricate plotting, particularly when this film, in common with all other spy capers, is high concept nonsense. Same with most character work. Great to have, but don’t let it get in the way of the high adrenalin onslaught. MIF, as I suppose I’ll abbreviate it, just goes a little too extreme in this regard, and it feels like a video game where you’re frantically hammering the x button through the cutscenes to skid to the next action segment. There’s fast paced, and then there’s too fast paced.
Maybe it’s just because I saw this while still jet-lagged, but I didn’t get much of a sense of character motivation from the bad guys, and the inter-action scene exposition was either rushed or forgettable, inasmuch as I can’t remember why half of what happened happened. And the correct amount of returning Sean Harris’ Solomon Lane in this film is zero Solomon Lane, so this is well over the RDA.
It’s been frequently called the best action film of the year, and for what it’s worth I think it probably is, at least of the slender subset I’ve been able to see. It’s a good old fashioned high octane thrill ride, benefitting from Cruise’s Jackie Chan-esque passion for murdering himself through stuntwork that’s commendable in an absolutely insane way, although for legal reasons I must point out that no employee of Fuds On Film Incorporated has makes any assertions, positive or negative, on the state the mental health or Mr. Thomas Fotheringham Cruise Esq., or his stupid religion.
However it’s occasionally followed up by claims that it’s the best action film ever, which makes me think that I have either started to take or ran out of crystal meth. It’s got some great action setpieces, sure, but not much else, and the final act is a bit of a drag, and as good as the fight choreography in the lauded toilet fight scene is, neither Cruise nor Cavil can magically turn into Bruce Lee and Tony Jaa, so let’s have some perspective on this, please.
Not, I suppose, that “best action film of the year” is a title to be ashamed of – I suppose I prefer Ant-man and the Wasp, if you’re counting that as an action film, but it’s more than worth considering if action cinema is your bag, or bag-adjacent.
Brian Taylor, one half of the Neveldine/Taylor partnership that brought us the hugely entertaining Crank films, writes and directs Mom and Dad, a comedy horror film that feels in many ways like you might imagine Shaun of the Dead would be after being passed through a Chev Chelios filter. (Talking of which, can we begin a petition for the return of Mr. Chelios, please?)
The action begins with a mother parking her car on a level crossing, then abandoning the car with her baby inside just before an oncoming train destroys the vehicle. A tragic story of post-partum depression, perhaps? Well, we’ll see.
We then visit the Ryan household, where Brent (Mr Nicolas Cage, thank you very much) and his wife, Kendall (Selma Blair) are getting ready before school with their 15 year old daughter Carly (played, because of course she is, by a 23-year old) and pre-school (I guess, but he’s played by an 11-year old, so your guess is as good as mine) son Josh.
There’s some tension here, but nothing seems too out of the ordinary. In fact, it all seems pretty cliché: bratty teenage daughter, resentful parents longing for lost youth, innocent younger child, airheaded friends… It’s an American suburbia we’ve seen a thousand times. But in the background we see and hear snippets of events that show that something really weird is going on. Some mysterious phenomenon is having an effect on people not dissimilar to that seen in many zombie films, but it is a very particular one: parents are turning on, and attempting to murder, their own children. And only their own children. They’re perfectly friendly and normal towards everyone else.
After seeing a child keyed to death by his own mother at her school, Carly races home to find her brother, followed shortly thereafter by her parents, who try many brutal and inventive methods of filicide.
And that’s it, really. Dizzying editing and flashbacks that will be familiar to anyone who’s seen other Neveldine/Taylor joints; gore; over the top action; a small but great role for Lance Henriksen and a wisely-deployed Nicolas Cage, who the director has gradually turned up to “All the Nic Cage” by the film’s climax. Glorious.
A masterpiece it is not, but what it is is 83 minutes of thoroughly decent entertainment.
Mila Kunis’ store clerk Audrey Stockton spends her birthday upset as she’s just been dumped, via text message, by her now ex-boyfriend, Justin Theroux’s Drew. Consoled by free-spirited best friend, Kate McKinnon’s Morgan, things take a turn for the unexpected when Audrey finds out that Drew is a spy, and for reasons I don’t think are worth getting into in the context of a review, she must deliver secret information to a contact in Vienna, to thwart an internal threat in the US and British Governments. So off Audrey and Morgan pop to the old world, pursued by various ne’erdowells, and, as with any spy caper, things are not what they first appear.
This film is resoundingly, triumphantly okay. It screams okayness from every frame, boldly proclaiming itself as just about funny enough to not complain much about. It entreats you to think of it as adequate, and if at all possible, not think at all about Spy from a few years back which ploughed a very similar path but was much, much better in every regards.
It’s trying to mine a bit of situational humour from its action scenes, and the surprisingly Deadpool-esque moments of graphic violence that ensue, no doubt meant as a counterpoint to the surprisingly warm relationship between the leads. It does make it a little discordant at times, but also contributes just enough to the average laugh quotient that it’s not worth getting annoyed about, particularly in a film this daft.
It’s a film that’s spending a lot of time coasting on Kate McKinnon’s brand of off-kilter comedy, so do a degree it’s her doing her thing again, with Kunis as a capable… whatever the appropriate non-gendered, non-hetronormative terminology is for “straight man”. In a decade perhaps that’ll be a criticism, but McKinnon is as yet far from being overexposed, so I’m on-board with off-kilter. To a degree it’s a film with a much better cast than the script deserves, which helps keeps things ticking along.
I could go on, but I’d be repeating myself. It’s exactly average, and so is not worth going out of your way to either see or avoid, meaning, I suppose that it’s a film your inevitably crash into, perhaps on your streaming service of choice, and you’ll have an okay old time with. I award this film average/10.
So, another entry into the “Drew Tries Horror Again” series. But before I go further I’d like to ask a question. It will no doubt sound like I’m being facetious (and, to be honest, I probably am a little), but: are horror films meant to be scary? I know that being straight-up frightening isn’t the be-all and end-all of a horror film; atmosphere and tension can play a large part, too, but aren’t they supposed to be, y’know, horrifying? I ask because I wonder if somewhere along the line I’ve fundamentally misunderstood them, given how few have made me even a little scared. (So few, I suspect, that even those that have in some way unsettled me can be dismissed as a statistical anomaly). Maybe the problem is me expecting them to be frightening?
This I doubt, however, given that some videogames and plenty of books over the years have been able to exert that response in me. And a misunderstanding of purpose certainly doesn’t excuse the typically piss-poor acting, writing and direction most of the genre seems to exhibit. I do still try, on occasion, though, hoping that I will find that elusive film that will shit me right up.
Which (while I suspect you can all guess where this is heading) brings me to Hereditary, the latest “horror” film to pique my interest and persuade me to test its wares. Certainly the trailer looked interesting, and the idea of the link between the happenings in the house and the detailed miniatures created by Toni Collette’s character had the potential to be creepy.
Sadly, the miniatures more or less have bugger all to do with anything that happens in the film, and seem to mostly have been added to create stylish trailers and posters. (OK, you could argue that the framing of the shots matches those little dioramas, but the visuals, like everything else, are empty and dull). “The miniatures match Collette’s character’s preoccupations!” Mind. Blowing.
There has been so much breathless hyperbole associated with Hereditary, with newspapers and other websites carrying ridiculous headlines like ”Hereditary ‘scientifically proven’ to be scariest movie of the year”, “People Are Calling This New Movie The “Scariest Horror Film Ever Made” And It’s Leaving Them Terrified” and ”‘Scariest Horror Film In Years’ Is So Terrifying People Are Crying At Cinema”. These reports, like this film, are absolute, grade-A, horseshit.
Toni Collette plays Annie Graham, an artist from a family with an almost comically extensive history of mental illness, married to Gabriel Byrne’s Steve, and mother to Peter and Charlie, who are definitely… human. The film begins with the funeral of Annie’s mother, an apparently unpleasant woman, whose influence persists in Annie’s life after her death, and seems to be affecting her family, particularly her daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro); a creepy idiot child who chops the head off of dead birds with scissors and has to be constantly reminded not to eat nuts, despite having a potentially fatal nut allergy. Her son Peter (Alex Wolff) seems less affected at first, at least until further tragedy strikes, but maybe that’s because his entire character motivation seems to be “cannabis”.
As things get worse for Annie, she starts visiting a bereavement support group, where she meets Joan (Ann Dowd), an on the surface friendly woman who begins to exert her own influence over the family. Mysteries are uncovered because, of course, everything is not as it seems (most notably that this seemed like an interesting and creepy film).
Hereditary doesn’t even have the good grace to be the sort of really bad horror film whose plot and story you can ridicule and enjoy tearing apart. If only it could rise to such a basic level of interest, but this is just astonishingly, almost maliciously, dull. It lacks jump scares. Excellent. The positives end there. There is no atmosphere. There is no tension. There aren’t even characters, nor, and I’d have accepted this due to the utter absence of anything else, are there stereotypes, archetypes nor even ciphers. There are just some people who are there.
The acting is… well, something that happens in other films. Saving for Gabriel Byrne, who doesn’t appear to have given this even minimal effort and wishes he was in another film, the acting is terrible, especially a spectacularly awful turn from the normally dependable Toni Collette.
I’m aware as I say this that I am, in fact, turning this into the sort of terrible horror film whose plot and story you can tear apart and, honestly, it’s too dull to deserve it, so I’ll stop now. I will just add, though, that this film has made me wonder if I’m a psychopath, because two related scenes, scenes that are supposed to be utterly horrifying, made me laugh. Like, a lot. Like, tears in my eyes laughing.
Also, in this film’s world corpses don’t smell? Screw this film.
Who’s got two thumbs, isn’t a huge fan of musicals or ABBA, and is using an idiom that doesn’t make sense in an audio-only format? This guy. That’s not to say I’m anti-musical, or anti-ABBA, but I don’t seek either out. Not my cup of tea, and I’m okay with that. Which I gather is unusual for a white male with a social media account.
Following on from the phenomenally successful original, which of course I haven’t seen, apart from a clip of poor Pierce Brosnan being coerced into singing, Wikipedia informs me that this is both a sequel and a prequel to the first, with two main strands. In the present, on the idyllic, fictional Greek island of Val Verde, or something like that, Amanda Seyfried’s Sophie Sheridan is on the cusp of completing the dreams of her deceased mother Meryl Streep’s Donna, prepping frantically for a grand opening of a swish yet homely hotel.
It’s made harder by her fiancé, Dominic Cooper’s Sky, being away on business, as are two of her three fathers, Stellan Skarsgård’s Bill Anderson and Colin Firth’s Harry Bright. Pierce Brosnan’s Sam Carmichael is around, however, and offers support, thankfully mainly through words rather than song, as are her mother’s friends and former bandmates, Christine Baranski’s Tanya and Julie Walters’ Rosie. Of course, things go awry, but though the power of family and song, it all comes together in the end. Apologies for the spoilers.
Interweaved with this, we get flashbacks to a young Donna, Lily James, graduating from university alongside young versions of Tanya and Rosie, Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies, and resolving to go on a tour of Europe before heading back to her family. Of course, during this, she bumps into the young versions of Harry, Bill, and Sam, Hugh Skinner, Josh Dylan, and Jeremy Irvine, and vignettes play out of their respective romance and breakups, with musical setpieces of various degrees of shoehornedness. That’s a perfectly cromulent word.
Now, great cinema this is not, and it is as cheesy as a slab of cheddar, but it’s so relentlessly good natured that you’d have to be deliberately curmudgeonly, or diametrically opposed to the design goals of the film to get no entertainment at all from it. As a non-combatant in this particular war, I’ll say in general the young cast do better with the ol’ singing and dancing, and the classic cast are quite the inverse, but there’s no bad turn in here. Indeed, given how broadly it’s played, I’m not sure a bad performance is possible.
There is, as you’d expect from a loosely strung together series of musical vignettes, no depth of plot or character. It’s more of a variety performance series of entertaining cameos, particularly from Omid Djalili and Andy García. Even if García’s sort-of duet with Cher implies they met during the Mexican–American War. Cher looks great for her age, but that’s a bit of a stretch. The double act of Christine Baranski and Julie Walters also delivers well.
Sadly, as modern day Richard Curtis is involved, there’s an element of cloying sentimentality woven clumsily amongst some almost surrealistic plot developments and comic turns more befitting Blackadder-era Richard Curtis, but not enough to spoil the overall up-beat tone and nature.
So, the point, if any, of this review is to say that I agree with the general consensus that even if you’ve no interest in what this film is nominally serving up, it’s still enough to be enjoyable, and I presume if you enjoyed the first film there’s nothing here that would stop you enjoying this just as much. Not going to make my film of the year list, by a long chalk, but I liked this a great deal more than other highly regarded films we have spoken of today.
Since appearing in a small role in John McTiernan’s classic Predator in 1987, Shane Black has gone on to make a great name for himself both as a screenwriter (Lethal Weapon 1 & 2, Last Action Hero) and as a director (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3, The Nice Guys), so seeing his name attached to The Predator, the latest instalment in Fox’s Predator franchise (naming has not been the series’ strong suit, along with, frankly, most other things) filled me, and many others, with considerable hope.
Rather than bury the lede, though, I’ll just get this out of the way right now: The Predator is a worse film than Predator 2. Anyone who heard my thoughts on that first sequel in our Predators episode last year will understand quite how scathing a comment I intend that to be. It may even be worse than AvP: Alien vs. Predator, though that’s not a discussion I care to get into. (It isn’t as bad as Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, but then most things shy of being repeatedly poked in the eye aren’t as bad as Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem.)
Army sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) is on a mission in Mexico when he is attacked by a Predator, whose ship has crash-landed on Earth after some far too uninteresting to care about internecine Predator conflict. McKenna’s squadmates are killed, but he manages to injure the Predator and make off with some of its nifty space tech, which he mails to himself to keep it out of the hands of the military’s men in black he somehow knows will be coming for him.
The Predator itself is captured and brought to a military laboratory that is kitted out with magical technology, tranquiliser rifles created by Nerf and/or Nintendo, by way of early 2000s Apple, and a Jake Busey, because even this film’s Busey is worse than Predator 2. Olivia Munn’s evolutionary biologist, Dr. Casey Bracket, is brought in as an expert, and of course immediately begins asking to interview McKenna and espousing theories on the modus operandi of extra-terrestrial game hunters and the purpose and design of advanced alien technology, just like evolutionary biologists don’t.
The alien beastie wakes up and escapes (who’d’ve thought Earth sedatives would be less than entirely effective on a creature from space, right?), and Dr. Bracket is one of the few humans who manages to escape, so Sterling K. Brown’s man-in-black-in-chief, Will Traeger, orders her to be killed, because this film was written by a twelve year old. Bracket is saved, however, by McKenna and a bus load of imprisoned military veterans who suffer from a variety of mental health disorders and were, it seems, incarcerated in the US Government’s “cartoon crazy person” prison.
This ragtag group of caricatures then heads off to the house of McKenna’s estranged wife Emily (Yvonne Strahovski), because the alien technology everyone (including other Predators) wants to get their hands on has ended up there, due to a hilarious mix-up with an unpaid PO box bill. More specifically, it has ended up in the hands of McKenna’s son Rory (Jacob Tremblay), a child with Asperger’s Syndrome who is, naturally, a genius who can decipher advanced alien technology in one night (presumably this character is modelled after the same twelve year who wrote the script).
Action proceeds to happen, naturally, but it’s pretty damn hard to care about it, and even harder to give a crap about the overly large, sub-par CGI “Mega Predator” that becomes the main antagonist.
Really, it’s very difficult to believe that this film was written and directed by Shane Black. He’s known for his funny writing, and I laughed a fair few times, certainly, but those scenes absolutely did not fit into the rest of the film. The tone is woefully misjudged; it’s comedy, not humour, and it feels so out of place. The script is risible: I’m really not joking about it feeling like it was written by an adolescent. For example, at one point someone says to Olivia Munn “I hear you wrote the book on evolutionary biology”. Now, that structure is a cliché for sure, but it can serve as a useful shorthand to explain to an audience that someone is really, really good at what they do, especially in a particularly niche, esoteric or in some way hard to quantify capacity. It however resolutely does NOT work when referring to a field in which many, many people have, in fact, written many, many books.
And then there’s the acting; save for Boyd Holbrook, who manages to bring a little charisma to his role, it is insipid at best and downright bad at worst (Olivia Munn in particular giving a notably poor performance).
Black showed in Iron Man 3 that he could take an established world and inject humour and inventive action into it, but not here. The most galling thing, especially given that he was in the original Predator, is that he seems to have missed the whole point. The alien was just that: alien. Unknowable. Dangerous. In this film the damn things are subtitled! It was also seen, until the film’s climax, exceedingly sparingly. In The Predator the creatures are on full display from the get-go, and rather than a tense game of cat and mouse with horror and slasher elements, it’s a bog standard action film. And boy is that dull.
I have a whole list of complaints with this film (yes, more), like the fact that, though the film begins somewhere in Mexico, the majority of it, prison, house and spaceship, seems to take place within a convenient hour’s drive radius somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. I may also have sworn very loudly in the cinema in response to the embarrassingly bad reference to one of the original film’s most famous lines. But I won’t take any more of your time, I’ll just say: this is a poor, poor film. Quelle déception. Don’t waste your time with it.
Thanks to everyone who has got in touch with us on this, or said kind words about the show – it’s all very much appreciated.
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