Jacob Tremblay

The Predator

14/09/18

First, a bit of history.

The crab-faced, dreadlocked super hunter from another planet first stalked Arnold Schwarzenegger through a rain forest in 1987. There was an iffy sequel starring Danny Glover in 1991, before the franchise sank dismally into the wretched nadir of the Alien versus Predator films in the mid-noughties. In 2010, director Nimrod Antal made a valiant attempt to revive its fortunes with Predators, but the results were, to say the very least, so-so. Which brings us to 2018 and yet another reboot, desperately seeking to inject new DNA into the format.

I’ll be honest and admit the only thing that tempts me to give this one a try is the name Shane Black, attached as director and co-writer. Surely, I think, if anybody can pull this off, he’s the one.

Well, to be fair to him, he gives it his best shot. Here, the action is split between three main stories. On a special mission in the Mexican jungle, sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) witnesses the crashing of a stricken extra-terrestrial craft. He salvages some alien technology from the wreckage, and promptly posts it back to his home in the USA for safekeeping. It is soon discovered by his son, Rory (Jacob Tremblay), who has Asperger’s Syndrome and is, like most Asperger’s kids in movies, some kind of super genius who manages to figure out how it all works. Meanwhile, University lecturer, Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn), is collected by special forces and taken to a secret laboratory where a captive predator is currently being experimented on. She is asked to put in her four pen’orth, as she is the ‘foremost authority on genetic hybridisation.’

Almost before you can mutter, ‘Really?’ said Predator is on the loose and despatching laboratory technicians in a decidedly visceral manner – whereupon Ms Bracket, like all university lecturers in such situations, grabs a machine gun and morphs into some kind of action woman. But it’s all to no avail, because the creature has decided to take young Rory back to his home planet in order to make use of the boy’s special skills and has headed off to track him down.

Okay, maybe there always needs to be some suspension of disbelief in these films, but at times I struggle. Suffice to say that Black’s best addition to the franchise are the wisecracking  special forces misfits, who team up with McKenna and Munn in an attempt to retrieve Rory from his alien kidnapper. If the wisecracking isn’t quite as assured as Black’s previous efforts, well, let’s put that down to the fact that he has never worked in this genre before. He also throws in some extra-terrestrial hunting ‘dogs’ and (perhaps inevitably) a super-sized, hybrid Predator, bigger and more powerful than its predecessors. Because bigger is always better, right?

What else? Well, there are plenty of action set pieces, which are decent enough, but not really top-notch, and the film’s finale is so ridiculously OTT I find myself shaking my head at the sheer ridiculousness of some of the stunts. A coda that appears to set the film up for a sequel may just be wishful thinking on Black’s part. I really can’t see this nonsense setting the box office alight, but hey, who knows? At the heart of the problem, in my humble opinion, is the simple fact that the Predator films really want to be the Alien films, but are never in the same league. (Hell, the Alien films haven’t been in their own league for a very long time now, so what chance is there?)

And I just wish Hollywood would accept that there are some dead horses that have been flogged quite enough, and it might be time to try coming up with some new ideas.

Come on, how hard can it be?

3 stars

Philip Caveney 

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Wonder

 

 

04/12/17

In the golden age of Hollywood, some films were often described as ‘four-handkerchief-weepies.’ Wonder may qualify as an ‘economy-sized-kleenex-weepie.’ From about fifteen minutes in to its running time I am in a hopeless state, tears pouring copiously down my face and having to make a conscious effort not to sob out loud – and this is a condition  that stays with me pretty much throughout proceedings. Stephen Chbosky’s adaptation of R.J. Palacio’s best-selling novel launches an all-out attack on the heart strings with devastating results. It’s not that the film is over-manipulative, either. This is just a genuinely sad story, told with great skill, and one that never allows itself to wander too far into the land of mawkishness.

Auggie (Jacob Tremblay, who made such an impact in Room), was born with severe facial deformities. His parents, Isabel (Julia Roberts) and Nate (Owen Wilson) have been naturally protective of their son, home-schooling him for years, but as he approaches the age to enter fifth grade, Isabel comes to a momentous decision. Auggie needs to go to a proper middle-school, where he at least has a chance to meet new people. He is naturally anxious about this, but eventually accepts his fate and does his best to fit in, painfully aware of the appalled stares of his classmates whenever he enters a room. His life takes a turn for the better when he makes friends with classmate Jack Will (Noah Jupe), but he soon learns that the path of friendship is not always an easy one to negotiate…

Meanwhile, Auggie’s older sister, Via (Isabela Vidovic) goes through some problems of her own, when she loses touch with her long-time best friend, Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell). Via’s problems simply don’t get the attention that Auggie’s do, but since the death of her closest ally, her much-beloved Grandmother, she has learned that her best option is just to quietly get on with things. Her parents’ attentions are always focused on her brother and she has nobody else to turn to…

Critics could argue that Wonder is a bit of a misery fest – Auggie’s family seems to lurch from one heartbreaking disaster to the next – but it’s done with such warmth and skill, that it’s easy to forgive its occasional excesses and the film’s conclusion is uplifting enough to make you forget the agony that you’ve just been put through. The performances, meanwhile, are uniformly good. Tremblay manages to emote brilliantly despite having to act under layers of latex and Jupe (who was one of the best things in George Clooney’s Suburbicon), clearly has a bright future ahead of him. Lovely too, to see Mandy Patinkin in a small but memorable role as the schools’ head, Mr Tushman. At the end of the day, if weepies are not your thing, then this may not be the film for you. If on the other hand, you’re partial to shedding the occasional tear in the stalls, fill your pockets with tissues and get along to see this at your earliest convenience.

I leave the cinema feeling absolutely destroyed but as anyone will tell you, I’m a proper softie when it comes to this kind of thing. See it and weep.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Film Bouquets 2016

 

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It was an interesting year for film. Here, in order of release, rather than stature – and with the benefit of hindsight – are our favourite movies of 2016.

Room

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This superb adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s novel got 2016 off to a cracking start. There were powerful performances from Brie Larson and young Jacob Tremblay as the central characters in a tragic yet oddly inspirational story.

The Revenant

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Alejandro Gonzalez Inaritu delivered another dazzling movie, this one as savage and untamed as the grizzly bear that mauled Leonardo Di Caprio half to death – but made up for it by helping him win his first Oscar.

Anomalisa

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Writer/director Charlie Kaufman gave us a quirky (and deeply disturbing) animation that was a Kafkaesque meditation on identity and the bleak nature of the human condition.

Dheepan

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Jacques Audiard’s fascinating study of the lives of refugees never fell into cliche. There was violence here, but it felt horribly real and totally devastating. There were affecting performances from a cast of newcomers.

Victoria

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Sebastian Schipper’s film really shouldn’t have worked. Delivered in one continuous take, the fact that it hooked us in so brilliantly was just the icing on the cake – a real ensemble piece but plaudits must go to Laia Costa as the eponymous heroine.

Sing Street

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John Carney may have only one plot but when it was delivered as beautifully as it was in Sing Street, we were happy to indulge him. This was a beautiful, heartwarming film with appeal to anybody who has ever dreamed about pop stardom.

The Neon Demon

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The fashion industry as seen by Nicolas Winding Refn is a hell hole and here, Elle Fanning as Jesse, was the latest recruit. A weird mash-up of sex, violence and extreme voyeurism, this was the director’s most assured effort yet.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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New Zealand director Taika Waititi offered up this delightfully quirky story about a troubled teenager (Julian Dennison) and his friendship with crusty curmudgeon, Hec (Sam Neill). This film reeled us in and kept us hooked to the end credits.

The Girl with all the Gifts

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Just when we thought the zombie movie had stumbled as far as it could go, Colm McCarthy’s film gave the genre a hefty kick up the backside – and there was a star-making performance from young Senna Nanua in the lead role.

Under the Shadow

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Babek Abvari’s film had all the tropes of the contemporary horror movie and a powerful political message as well. Set in post war Tehran, young mother Shideh (Narges Rashidi) struggled to keep her daughter safe from the forces of darkness.

I, Daniel Blake

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Ken Loach’s return to the screen resulted in one of the most powerful and affecting films of the year – a searing look at ‘benefits Britain’ that would have the most stony-hearted viewer in floods of tears. Should be required viewing for Tory politicians.

Train to Busan

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Another day, another zombie movie – but what a zombie movie! Korean director Sang ho Yeon gave us a galloping ‘zombies on a train’ thriller that nearly left us breathless. There were some incredible set pieces here and a nerve-shredding conclusion.

Paterson

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Jim Jarmusch presented a charming and quirky tale about a would-be poet living in a town that had the same name as him. Not very much happened, but it didn’t happen in an entirely watchable way. A delightful celebration of the creative spirit.

Life, Animated

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This compelling documentary squeaked in right at the end of the year – the true life tale of Owen Suskind, an autistic boy, initially unable to speak a word, but rescued by his love of Disney movies. It was funny, uplifting and educational – and our final pick of 2016.

Room

11/01/16

Emma Donoghue’s Room is one of my favourite books of recent times: a terrifying tale of kidnap and abuse, rendered somehow hopeful and life-affirming by its young narrator, Jack. The boy has no idea that the tiny, locked room he lives in is a prison; he thinks it is the world. And the world, as he knows it, is small but full of love. After all, Ma is with him all the time, and she is always good to him.

But it’s a worry – isn’t it ? – when a favourite novel is adapted for the screen. There’s no way a director can ever realise every reader’s vision and, when you’ve constructed clear and absolute impressions of the characters and their environs,  disappointment seems almost inevitable.

Almost. But not quite. Because Emma Donoghue is a bona fide artiste, and she did not merely sell the rights to Room to the highest bidder. Instead, she waited for an offer that allowed her to write the screenplay herself and, oh, am I glad she did. Because Room the movie is just as heartbreaking and affecting as its source material and, although there are of course changes made to suit the form, it seems that very little is compromised. ‘Room’ is just as weirdly claustrophobic, joyous, repellant and homely on film as it is on the page.

Jacob Tremblay, as Jack, is a revelation. He’s expressive and appealing and extremely natural; hats off to director Lenny Abrahamson for eliciting this performance from such a  young actor. And Brie Larson is marvellous too, delivering a subtle but curiously intense and credible portrayal of Joy, a young woman who has, against such overwhelming odds, managed to create a happy childhood for her beloved little boy.

OK, so maybe there are a couple of scenes that could have teased out some more tension (when Old Nick drops Jack, for example), and it would have been nice to have seen William H. Macy’s part developed into something more, but these are minor quibbles in the face of an affecting and engaging film.

4.6 stars

Susan Singfield