Review: Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

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Action movies in the 80s and 90s were a different breed compared to what has largely been the norm in more recent decades. Being much sillier than what we have grown accustomed to, the action blockbusters of yesteryear often relied on ridiculously convoluted plots and absurdly over-the-top action that was rooted in anything but reality. As such, many naysayers were undoubtedly happy to see the decline of these bloated blockbusters, but they nonetheless still have dedicated fans who appreciate them for their undeniable entertainment value.

One of the staples of 80s and 90s action cinema was the buddy cop comedy, a subgenre that is a rarity on contemporary release schedules, but it just so happens that Hobbs & Shaw fits into that subgenre quite neatly. Thanks to their individual charisma and excellent chemistry, The Rock and Statham have been some of the notable highlights in the later installments of the Fast & Furious franchise, and it was seemingly the positive reception of their characters and the enduring appeal of their quarrelling that laid the foundation for Hobbs & Shaw.

As ludicrous as it perhaps seems to the uninitiated, it does, in fact, make perfect sense to do a spin-off film created on the basis of two charismatic actors and their onscreen chemistry. Never taking themselves seriously, Johnson and Statham continuously poke fun at each other and themselves, not only in terms of their characters in the Fast & Furious franchise, but also in terms of the stereotypes associated with their careers and the type of characters they choose to play, and their banter is immensely entertaining to watch.

Vanessa Kirby ensures that Shaw’s sister Hattie is an enjoyable addition to the mix, her character feeling as capable as the two leads in the many entertaining action sequences. Idris Elba also delivers as he clearly has a great time playing the overpowered and caricatural super villain whose abilities are as absurd as the rest of the plot. Feeling like it was randomly selected from a catalogue of ridiculous vintage action blockbuster plots, the plot of Hobbs & Shaw is merely a regurgitation of something seen a myriad of times before, but then who actually watches these films for their plot?

While the film is automatically forgiven for its nonsensical plot because it fits the bill for the type of film you have come to expect from the Fast & Furious franchise, it does, however, struggle in other areas. Like most action films in recent years, Hobbs & Shaw is well over two hours long, and similar to so many other action films of late, this bloated runtime exacerbates the pacing issues the film has anytime it slows down in between the action set pieces.

The lack of narrative cohesion is particularly evident in the third act of the film, which seems tacked on after the hefty showdown at the end of the second act feels like a finale in itself. While there is still enjoyment to be found in the final third, the film is ultimately much too long at 2 hours and 15 minutes, resulting in a frequent loss of momentum that is only salvaged by the commanding charisma of the leads and director David Leitch’s understanding of how to piece a good action scene together.

After the hard-hitting but convoluted Atomic Blonde and giving his maximum effort with Deadpool 2, David Leitch is establishing himself as a filmmaker who can deliver entertaining popcorn flicks. Much like the classic cinema snack is of questionable nutritional value, Hobbs & Shaw is similarly insubstantial, but what Leitch’s first and third directorial efforts lack in substance, they make up for with surface level entertainment value, and sometimes that is all you need to leave the theater with a smile on your face.

Verdict: 7 out of 10.

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Review: Child’s Play

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The 1980s were undoubtedly the golden age of increasingly outlandish horror movie premises, and 1988’s Child’s Play started a franchise that certainly fits that bill. While the first installment placed heavy emphasis on the horror aspect and successfully managed to traumatize plenty of viewers by tapping into the common fear of creepy dolls, the possessed plaything named Chucky quickly became a horror fan favorite thanks to the character’s increasingly twisted sense of humor and the filmmakers being well and truly in on the joke in the increasingly ludicrous sequels.

With Brad Dourif’s voice acting being integral to the identity of Chucky, imagining anyone else voicing him is undeniably a strange concept for those familiar with the franchise. However, with Mark Hamill having delivered an iconic voice performance as The Joker in Batman: The Animated Series, if anyone would be fit for the task, it would definitely be him.

Nonetheless, many undoubtedly worry that Hamill would have been instructed to do a performance too similar to Dourif’s in terms of intensity and profanity. Thankfully, Hamill does his own thing as Chucky, making him almost sweet, and this results in a performance that is positively subdued in comparison to Dourif’s stabby, screeching lunatic of a demonic doll.

No longer possessed by the spirit of serial killer Charles Lee Ray, the 2019 of Chucky is a reboot – literally. While still creepy, the 2019 Chucky is not demonic as he is instead a piece of tech with a particularly malicious case of malfunction. As such, it is therefore easier to disconnect from what one associates with the Dourif Chucky, the Hamill Chucky is an entirely different personality type, albeit this incarnation of the deadly doll has only a smidgen of the personality that the original had.

As for the rest of the film surrounding Chucky, neither the plot nor the acting is anything worth writing home about. Fortunately, award-worthy filmmaking has never been the point of Chucky’s misadventures, and the film still has plenty of entertainment value, as the people behind the reboot fully understand that the Child’s Play franchise is synonymous with having as much fun as possible with a preposterous premise.

Much like the original film series took a turn towards blood-soaked comedy rather than the more traditional slasher formula other franchises usually stick to as they go on, the reboot in turn picks up the mantle of the later films and delivers an utterly silly piece of playful horror cinema.

Being the best kind of stupid, Child’s Play will not alienate fans of the original film series as the reboot has its tongue as firmly planted in its cheek as the later installments of Chucky’s original saga. Thus, while mainstream moviegoers will undoubtedly find that the film is incredibly stupid, connoisseurs of crap will recognize that Child’s Play is the kind of stupid that is completely self-aware and therefore perfectly enjoyable in all its disposable, ridiculous glory.

Verdict: 6 out of 10.

Review: Brightburn

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With superheroes currently dominating the world of audio-visual entertainment, we have already seen a wide array of different subgenres, be they bright and colourful or gritty and violent, but a dark horror film pertaining to the subject is, however, unusual.

With Superman being one of the most iconic and easily recognisable superheroes of all time, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who is completely unfamiliar with the Kryptonian’s origin story, and thus the groundwork for the setting of Brightburn has already been laid through decades of entertainment.

While having nothing as such to do with the properties of DC Comics or Warner Bros., Brightburn still relies on recognisable imagery from Kal-El’s lore, which the film then turns on its head to create a genuinely eerie narrative in this grim, super-powered horror.

Some may consider it a negative to essentially avoid telling anything about the origins of Brandon Breyer aside from what is implied by the visuals in the prologue at beginning of the film, but with the cardinal cinematic sin of exposition dumping still being committed on a regular basis, Brightburn’s minimal digging into the origins of this alien boy is a definite plus.

In terms of the acting, Elizabeth Banks is her usual, likeable self, and David Denman puts in a solid effort as the loving, yet sceptical dad who says everything the audience is thinking. With the parental unit being relatable thanks to grounded and warm performances, the film has more engaging lead characters than most horror films, however, the true star of the film is Jackson A. Dunn as Brandon Breyer. 

At times channelling Damien Thorn, Dunn’s presence is sufficiently menacing without becoming hammy, even during the moments where the story takes substantial liberties with the ways in which it is showcased just how twisted the main character is. As a result, the young actor is a believable threat in a part that could all too easily have descended into a derivative cheese fest about superheroes gone supervillain.

Instead of the superhero element overpowering the narrative, the emphasis is firmly kept on the horror from start to finish, and while Brightburn hardly reinvents the horror genre, it nonetheless goes against the conventions of said genre just enough to maintain being sufficiently interesting throughout.

Similarly in keeping with the horror genre, the film does not shy away from gore, but much like the classic superhero moments have an unusually unpleasant type of shock factor when viewed through this bleak lens, the gore is also impactful thanks to the mix of the degree of gruesomeness and the scarcity with which it is used.

While nowhere near the narrative heights or visual spectacle of the likes of the Guardians of the Galaxy films, Brightburn nonetheless fits in well with the more niche type of films associated with the Gunn clan and their associates. Additionally, the film establishes itself as one of the better horror films to be released so far this year, just as it also proves to be somewhat of an antidote to the type of superhero films we have become accustomed to in recent years.

Verdict: 8 out of 10.

Review: Rocketman

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The popularity of the biopic has hardly lessened in recent years, as films portraying the life story of a myriad of subjects with varying degrees of accuracy continue to be a fixture on cinematic release schedules. As such, it only seems to be a matter of time before just about any pop culture icon gets their own film, and Elton John is the latest to get the biopic treatment with Rocketman.

However, where most biopics largely follow the same narrative template, often making such films underwhelming and formulaic, Rocketman instead does what it says on the marketing tin by telling Elton John’s story as a musical fantasy, and the result is dazzlingly bold.

Suitably flamboyant, Rocketman is a musical explosion of color and spectacle, but that does not mean that the more traditional narrative elements are neglected. Telling the story of a boy who was never hugged by his father and grew up to be a man longing to be loved, the expertly choreographed musical numbers are sprinkled generously but meticulously throughout the film, resulting in a well-paced and entertaining feature that makes sure to maintain the humanity of its subject.

Taron Eggerton’s enthusiasm is evident throughout, and the choice to let him perform the songs instead of using someone who sounds completely identical to Elton John – or even using the original recordings with the man himself, for that matter – allows Eggerton to not only act with the use of dialogue and body language but also via dance and song, which increases the impact of his performance and by proxy the artistic integrity of film as a whole.

Much like Eggerton impresses as Elton John, Jamie Bell is also enjoyable in the role of songwriter Bernie Taupin. Sharing great chemistry with his co-star, their artistic relationship not only feels warm and sincere, it also lends new depth to the degree of emotion with which platonic relationships between men are portrayed on the big screen.

Naturally, with Bohemian Rhapsody being a very recent box success also concerning an exceptionally talented musician who is also considered a gay icon, many will inevitably compare the two films. Where Bohemian Rhapsody was rightfully critisized for failing to adequately portray Mercury’s homosexuality, Rocketman manages to include imagery of queer culture that fits the campiness of Elton John’s persona without becoming caricatural of queer culture in itself. Similarly, the love scenes between Eggerton and Richard Madden, who portrays the toxic John Reid, are passionate without becoming salacious.

By showing both the passionate highs and the abusive lows of their problematic relationship rather than censoring the truth to appease conservative markets, Rocketman feels more earnest than Bohemian Rhapsody, ensuring that the portrayal of Elton John feels multi-faceted, giving the audience a fleshed out narrative to sink their teeth into between the musical entertainment.

And that is what Rocketman first and foremost is – a musical. Obviously, this also means that some artistic liberties have been taken, but thanks to the film starting and continuously returning to the confessional setting of a group therapy session, the film ultimately feels grounded and sincere. As a result, Rocketman is engaging beyond the superficial appeal of the showmanship associated with the musical genre and the wide array of Elton John classics featured in the film, and it will be interesting to see what director Dexter Fletcher gets up to next.

Verdict: 9 out of 10.

Review: Hellboy

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Guillermo del Toro’s unadulterated love for monsters has always saturated his work, and it finally earned him an Oscar for the dark fairy tale The Shape of Water. This recognition was long overdue, especially if you ask anyone familiar with his work, as the Mexican filmmaker’s flair for storytelling in terms of both visuals and narrative has always set him apart from his peers.

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Review: Shazam!

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It has barely been a month since we were presented with the origin story of the character who is currently known as Captain Marvel, and has been known as such since Marvel Comics introduced that character’s first incarnation in the 1960s. With Shazam!, we get the origin story of the character formerly known as Captain Marvel during the golden age of comics, namely DC’s Shazam, the super-powered alter ego of teenager Billy Batson.

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Review: Pet Sematary

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Live action adaptations of Stephen King’s stories have always been plentiful, however, for many years they were hardly critically acclaimed blockbusters. That has all changed, however, after 2017’s It did exceptionally well with both critics and audiences alike, and we now have a remake of Pet Sematary on our hands 30 years after the creepy-but-campy adaptation from 1989.

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