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The Greasy Strangler (2016)
Directed by Jim Hosking • Written by Jim Hosking & Toby Harvard
With Michael St. Michaels, Sky Elobar and Elizabeth De Razzo
Jim Hosking’s The Greasy Strangler is like one of David Lynch’s more surreal nightmares – a bizarre cross between Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste and The League of Gentleman, designed to pique disgust levels and turn stomachs. Though billed as a horror-comedy, it’s actually far less of a laugh-scare balancing act than that, working as straight-up gross-out material with an unrelenting barrage of strangeness.
Michael St. Michaels and Sky Elobar are father and son, both attracted to Janet, a woman they meet whilst doing the rounds as street guides to old disco haunts in Los Angeles. So begins a rivalry to win her affections. Also, there’s a bloke dripping in grease stalking the streets at night, strangling random people for no apparent reason.
With notable production credits behind it (Elijah Wood and Ben Wheatley) Hosking appears to be targeting niche status with a sustained level of weirdness loaded into every frame. The chuckles (if you can find them) come mainly from scenes in which characters repeat the same things over and over – laughs by way of exasperation, if you like. Then there’s the gross-out reaction, which, depending on how sheltered you’ve been, could play as the best-worst thing you’ve seen in a while, or simply the worst full stop.
What can’t be denied is the level of commitment/lack of embarrassment demonstrated by all the principal players. Whether it’s simulating cunnilingus on a greasy grapefruit or walking around bollock-naked with prosthetic penis’on full show for the majority of the running time, Michael St. Michael and Sky Elobar wholly immerse themselves in the goo of a script that asks them to humiliate themselves at nearly every turn.
More eye-openly revolting than outright funny, The Greasy Strangler’s cult aspirations might be a little over prescribed, but that shouldn’t take away from being able to admire the downright fearlessness of its existence, which doesn’t spare your feelings for a fleeting second, and does so with a symmetrically unsemytrical electronic soundtrack. Be warned – it’s likely to put you off frying bacon or sausages…ever again.
Bad Moms (2016)
Directed by Jon Lucas & Scott Moore • Written by Jon Lucas & Scott Moore
With Mila Kunis, Kathryn Hahn, Kristen Bell, Christina Applegate, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Annie Mumolo and Jay Hernandez
The writing-directing duo of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore re-team for their second feature together, Bad Moms, a larger than life US comedy about an overburdened, under-appreciated ‘mom’, Amy (Mila Kunis), struggling to live up to the model of the perfect mother and housewife. Try as she might, her ruined kids accuse her of hating them, while her slacker husband prefers the company of online porn. After a dramatic blow out at a prissy school PTA meeting, Amy gets drunk in a bar with Carla (Kathyrn Hahn) and Kiki (Kristen Bell) – together they trash a supermarket, agreeing to rebel and enjoy some freedom.
After a breezy introduction and a few early laughs, Lucas & Moore establish an adolescent tone somewhere between The Hangover and Bridesmaids, as dick jokes abound. So at home in the acerbic world of Seth MacFarlane, Mila Kunis is a competent lead, though she surrenders all the funniest lines to Kathryn Hahn, whose aggressive, straight-talking acid tongue comes at us like a cross between Caitlyn Jenner and Samantha from Sex and the City.
After around 40-mins, the central joke begins to dissolve as the movie creaks towards its final act, by which point it opts to ditch any early glimmers of subversion in favour of becoming a hackneyed regurgitation of formulaic production line comedies. While the co-penned script has a smattering of laughs and the talented cast make a decent fist of it, the underlying narrartive grows ever more tedious as the running time clocks up.
The Shallows (2016)
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra • Written by Anthony Jaswinski
With Blake Lively and Óscar Jaenada
When it comes to the movies, sharks might argue they’ve been given a bad rap. Ever since John Williams saddled them with the ultimate soundtrack of danger (dur-dum), they’ve been tossed around in tornadoes, invaded SeaWorld and eaten helicopters. It seems that no matter how ridiculous things get, we’ll never get tired of being scared of sharks.
Looking like a model in an exotic holiday commercial, Blake Lively is Nancy, a medical student visiting a remote island enjoyed by her recently deceased mother. Not only that, Nancy is here to surf, only, there’s something in the water. Directed with panache by Juame Collet-Serra, The Shallows shares more DNA with Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours than it does Jaws.
There was a time when I’d gladly watch a shark feasting on the entire cast of Gossip Girl, so it’s testament to Blake Lively that I found myself perched on the edge of my seat, willing her to survive this battle of the apex predators. As much as the camera adores her, in only her second feature, Lively has an easy presence, demonstrating a notable onscreen maturity. It’s all the more impressive that she succeeds, given her main acting partners are a seagull and a dead whale.
Clocking in at a sensible 86-mins, Collet-Serra opts to establish and sustain tension early in the first act. As Nancy tests the water, we’re treated to sumptuous visuals of her out in the surf, duck diving and paddling. It’d be quite serene, were it not for the knot in your stomach, brought about by the gnawing threat of giant shark appearing at any given moment.
Once things take an inevitable nose dive, the film locks in as an effective survival thriller, as Nancy struggles not just against the hunger pangs of a great white shark, but also the hazards of the surrounding environment. Much the same as 127 Hours, Collet-Serra does a fine job of applying that sense of so-close-but-so-far, as Nancy finds herself taunted by the tantilising hope of freedom, stranded so close to the safety of dry land.
Towards the end, it can’t resist the temptation to become a theme-park ride of a movie, with a side order of daftness, however, the special effects retain a good sense of heft and for the most part, it’s fun to go along with. While it does little to undo the lobotomisation of shark-based movies, The Shallows is comfortably the best one since 1975.
Suicide Squad (2016)
Directed by David Ayer • Written by David Ayer
With Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jay Hernandez, Viola Davis, Cara Delevigne, Joel Kinnaman and Jared Leto
In terms of roll out, it’s felt like the DC cinematic series has been playing catch-up with those pesky do-gooders over at Marvel for a few too many years. Though it performed well at the box office, the disappointing critical response to Zack Snyder’s Batman Vs Superman didn’t help, causing heated fan division and an underlying lack of confidence for the studio’s slowly unraveling universe of goodies vs baddies, which, brings me neatly to Suicide Squad.
Written in just six weeks by David Ayer, Suicide Squad was DC’s opportunity to gain some genuine traction for its wavering franchise. Everyone knows the bad guys are the most interesting characters in the comic book sphere, so to tell a story in which they all get to run riot sounds like the best idea since ideas began. Or maybe not.
Picking up after the events of Batman Vs Superman, we find the government in a bit of a pickle. They have a problem that can only be solved by bad metahumans doing good things – which is a simplified way of setting up the ‘plot’ for this loud, attention seeking adventure into the all-too familiar.
With a large ensemble cast in tow, David Ayer fails to service most of the characters. What’s worse, is that Jared Leto’s much-anticipated depiction of the Joker is relegated to the role of substitute, showing up for a few scenes (mostly flashbacks) while the main plot lumbers forward in the most achingly predictable way. Meanwhile, half-baked backstories abound, as Ayer overpacks his film with thinly-sketched characters like Katana, Captain Boomerang and Killer Croc.
Thankfully, not everything misfires. With all the best one-liners and eye-catching hot pants, Margot Robbie is all three of crazy-sexy-cool, embracing the role of Harley Quinn to give a performance of great effervescence that temporarily boosts the quality of the overall film each time the camera finds her…even if it’s just for a naughty wink or a sideways glance. It’s no surprise the call is loud for a Harley solo movie.
Sharing the spoils of screen time with Robbie is Will Smith, who is sturdily charismatic as Deadshot, though his back-story is clunky and recycled, robbing the character of enigmatic intrigue. Viola Davis fares better as Amanda Waller, bringing some weight to proceedings as a hard-nosed government agent tasked with keeping the squad in check.
During the film’s promotional tour, Jared Leto spoke in tones of veiled disappointment at the amount of Joker footage left out of the finished film. It’s a shared disappointment, as whenever he and Robbie are allowed to express themselves, the movie wakes up.
Though it pines for cult status, Suicide Squad is like a film for the crowd who thinks Avril Lavigne is genuine punk rock. Margot Robbie captures some vital edge, but she’s marooned in a movie that feels like it’s been made by committee for pre-teens, even though its non-stop soundtrack is peppered with dad-rock anthems. Ironically, a story about an incongruous team of anarchists that plays it safe to the point of tedium.
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg • Written by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken & Damien Chazelle
With Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman and John Gallagher Jr.
It’s been 8-years since the surprise attack of Cloverfield, Matt Reeves’s monster-on-the-loose-in-Manhattan horror-thriller – a film built on the foundations of a cleverly clandestine marketing campaign that wielded the element of surprise as a means for its primary pulling power. Ditching the found-footage style of its predecessor, Dan Trachtenberg’s loose sequel, 10 Cloverfield Lane, changes more than just aesthetics, finding its home in a different genre altogether.
More of a distant cousin than a straight-up follow on (producer J.J. Abrams calls it a “blood relative”), what we have is a smartly effective thriller that adds breadth and depth to intrigue, intentionally swerving exposition and in doing so, teases the kind of franchise curiosity that ignites endless theories on internet message boards.
The opening strains of Bear McCarthy’s score describe a mournful danger afoot, as we’re introduced to Michelle (Winstead), a young woman fleeing personal problems who manages to find a whole set of new ones. After her car is bumped off the road, she finds herself in an underground fallout bunker, at the mercy of Howard (Goodman), an unnervingly peculiar man with dubious motivations. Goodman’s performance shares kinship with Kathy Bates in Misery, impressing his own neurotic misery on others. It’s an effective reversal of his reputation as the agreeable comic-relief. The intensity in Goodman’s eyes, coupled with violent quirks and a growing suspicion about skeletons in his closet, contribute to a thick layer of tension as he aggressively micromanages every corner of his underground sanctuary/prison.
Winstead is excellent, channelling her own take on Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, as her fight for survival takes a series of horrific twists and turns. Joining Winstead down under, is Emmett, played by an amiable John Gallagher Jr. Together, they tiptoe around eggshells as Goodman’s overbearing ways become increasingly threatening.
The influence of Alfred Hitchcock oozes from every pore of 10 Cloverfield Lane. Trachtenberg’s self-assured direction is bolstered by Jeff Cutter’s tidy photography and an effectively foreboding use of sound. There’s a stifling claustrophobia, brought about by the tight confines of the queasily homely bunker, further heightened by the uncertainty of circumstances outside of the protagonist’s control. That same uncertainty underpins a suspense that simmers throughout, even if much of what occurs is straight out of the handbook. 4/5
X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
Directed by Bryan Singer • Written by Simon Kinberg, Bryan Singer, Dan Harris & Michael Dougherty
With Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters and Sophie Turner
After the time-hopping fun of X-Men: Days of Future Past, writer-director, Bryan Singer, returns to the series to serve up a comparatively underwhelming fourth helping of mutant fun. The thrust of the plot centres on a barely recognisable Oscar Isaac as En Sabah Nur , a demigod mutant awoken from an ancient sleep to bring terror to the modern world. On paper, it sounds quite exciting, and sometimes it is. Sometimes.
These multi-team-up comic book movies have become a tricky juggling act that even the best writers and directors can have difficulty keeping a grasp of. Joss Whedon toiled with Ultron, as did Zack Snyder and David Ayer with BvS and Suicide Squad respectively. Until now, Bryan Singer had proven himself one of the better overseers of this kind of fare, but he’s overburdened by characters and crisscrossing narratives to the point that his latest X offering begins to feel like an old, fatigued heavyweight boxer hanging on for the final few rounds. What is designed to feel like the end of the world, slowly feels like the beginning of the end of the series.
Jennifer Lawrence, so effective in previous X adventures, is semi-redundant as her plot imperative is veiled as important, yet her contribution to the drama is little more than token – a lot like Han Solo’s there-but-not-there turn in Return of the Jedi – ironically, a film that is invoked and dismissed for its inferiority to Empire. Moreover, Lawrence looks mostly disinterested. To a lesser extent, the same can be said of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, as the epic over-ambition of the structurally unsound narrative robs their characters of space to be suitably evolved.
A symptom of the overcrowded cast, is a nagging feeling of important things being skimmed over, as the screenplay is forced to spread itself too thinly in what should be weighty areas of drama. What results is a hollow epic that possesses all the dazzle and sparkle, but virtually no emotional resonance.
As Jean Grey, Sophie Turner carries Sansa Stark with a shallow performance that can’t hide a seemingly inherent level of petulance. Her American accent wobbles alongside her limitations as an actress, which appear ever more pronounced given her central importance to the plot. Turner can’t find that wry sex appeal, or concealed sense of burning danger brought so effectively by Famke Jansen.
It would, however, be remiss to pin the blame on Turner for the things askew with Apocalypse. With Singer at the helm, it’s surprising to find such a muddled film. Yes, there are plenty of spectacular moments to feast upon, but given the overall strength of the series (X-Men: The Last Stand notwithstanding) high hopes are largely dashed by a movie that plays out like an easily discarded comic book, begging to be taken seriously as a meaty graphic novel. 3/5