Found footage movies grew in popularity across the 2000's with films like The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield demonstrating a new style of filmmaking. With technology advancing video cameras have practically died out and this genre was forced to evolve. Taking place entirely on a computer screen, after his daughter Margot goes missing David Kim breaks into her MacBook in a desperate attempt to find her.
Told through iMessage, Face Time, Facebook and the rest of the Internet, Searching pulls off a very tricky filmmaking format, boasting a thrilling story full of twists and turns. Interlaced with a crafty, Hitchcockian premise - Searching has style in spades but ultimately can't find an efficient way to wrap itself up. Director Aneesh Chaganty leaves a subtle trail of breadcrumbs whilst throwing in various different red herrings along the way - assuring you'll never uncover the real truth until the very end.
The film opens on a family computer, moving through files of first days of school, holidays, birthdays and piano lessons - in that time we see Margot grow from a little girl into a sixteen year old. With no detail to spare, Searching throws you into the ups and downs of family life exclusively through the perspective of a computer screen. John Cho stars as the anxiously overprotective father David Kim, and though his performance doesn't go much further than frantically typing, clicking and searching through Margot's laptop - Cho makes convincing, above average dad who has the brains and the gumption to take the investigation into his own hands.
Searching's techno design is boosted by horrifyingly accurate social commentary. Director Chaganty highlights the dangers of social media and meeting strangers online - paying stylish homage to the craftsmanship behind Hitchcock's masterpiece Psycho, and it's influence on so many films since. In spite of all that good, everything about Searching is undercut by an unsatisfying ending. It's as if Chaganty created numerous different outcomes and stuck them all together, hence the big reveal drags on and the ending appears mediocre.
When all things are considered Searching is a thrilling and well crafted popcorn flick. Chaganty has a lot to say about the use of social media, the different lives people can live online, and how well a parent knows their child. Paying tribute to one of the greatest film makers in movie history, Searching really is - nearly is - a modern Hitchcock, but lacks the trademark hair-raising finale.
"Dis joint is based upon some fo' real, fo' real sh*t" proclaims the opening titles - or in other words this movie is based upon a true story. Spike Lee, one of the industry's most influential directors of colour, returns to the silver screen with yet another potent story concerning a black icon. Adapted from the pages of Ron Stallworth's gripping memoir, BlacKkKlansman tells the unlikely story of a black police officer who infiltrated the KKK during the 1970's.
Compelled by a powerful screenplay Lee's latest racial satire is slick, relevant and marvellously thought provoking. BlacKkKlansman pits the KKK against black civil rights activists in a captivating tale that examines American social prejudice, and how to achieve equality through passive methods in the face of violent provocation. Lee formulates some of this year's most shocking images - in particular a distressing scene that cuts between a KKK meeting and a black power conference. Contrasting the motives of the two organisations, Lee highlights the anguish of one community whilst simultaneously highlighting the evil means behind the executors of that pain.
Where Lee's dual oscar nominated work in Malcom X starred the exemplary Denzel Washington - BlacKkKlansman features his hugely talented son John David Washington as lead Ron Stallworth. Smooth talking, eager young rookie Ron is a courageous man who makes a string of bold decisions that somehow work perfectly in his favour. His character is involved with violent acts on both sides yet he rises above throughout - Ron is emblematic of the process we should take to overcome discrimination. Spiderman: Homecoming's Laura Harrier also makes a stunning turn as strong-willed student activist Patrice Dumas.
Notwithstanding Lee's riveting screenplay BlacKkKlansman is deliberately and painstakingly slow moving. Following Ron through his time at the Colorado Springs Police Department, the film takes an unhurried trip through every fine detail of the investigation. The downside is that scenes drag on a little too long and the flick becomes - at times - a tad difficult to sit through. Moreover BlacKkKlansman unfortunately doesn't use its 70's cop style to its full potential - there are some down right groovy split screen sequences but alas they are used too sparingly.
All being said, it's really the sucker punch dialog that drives BlacKkKlansman home. Lee balances a dark, sinister tone with a wickedly comical script that sickens you to your core in some moments but busts your ribs in others. Lee crafts many powerful images that ring true, and regardless of its challenging pacing and that it somewhat missed a trick in terms of style, dis Spike Lee joint concludes with an extremely haunting and suitably uncomfortable ending.
Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon have both had bad breaks in recent years, with Kunis appearing in the critically panned Jupiter Ascending and A Bad Mom's Christmas, as well as McKinnnon starring in the commercial flopping Ghostbusters re-boot. Despite hitting hard times the two actresses join forces in the action comedy The Spy Who Dumped Me. After learning that her boyfriend was a secret agent, Aubrey (Kunis) and her best friend Morgan (McKinnon) unwittingly stumble into a deadly plot that threatens the entire world.
Playing like a parody of previously spoofed spy flicks, The Spy Who Dumped Me is painfully unfunny as it is un-resourceful. Spy films are growing in popularity once again, with the release of Mission: Impossible - Fallout this summer, along with various other comedic takes on the world of secret agents to counter the more serious stuff. The problem with The Spy Who Dumped Me, however, is that there are not only better spy films out there but also better parodies than this awkward romp.
Whereas Kingsman: The Secret Service and Spy found new, inventive ways to mimic this action sub-genre, The Spy Who Dumped Me scrapes the very bottom of the barrel. Susanne Fogel and David Iserson's script is so extraordinarily lazy that practically every single joke misfires - whether it be slapstick, toilet humour or pop culture references - The Spy Who Dumped Me doesn't lift a finger when it comes to original joke telling. As a slight counterbalance, though she may be an acquired taste, McKinnon does all the comic heavy lifting - making even the worst moments just slightly more bearable.
Crucially you're so un-engaged by the film's premise you forget that it's supposed to be an action comedy. If The Spy Who Dumped Me spent more time and money on a better script and less on generic action sequences it might be an entirely different story. Moreover, the various different European locations make no impact on the film whatsoever - such a wasted opportunity - it could've been shot against a brick wall and be just as uninteresting as it already is.
Ultimately there are very little words that can summarise The Spy Who Dumped Me. Kunis and McKinnon have great chemistry together even if there is almost nothing to their characters. Boasting one of the worst scripts of the entire year, The Spy Who Dumped Me is incompetent, cringeworthy and entirely un-amusing. There is only one spy film you need to see this summer and it's light years away from this Austin Powers apology.
The Spy Who Dumped Me:
Disney's Christopher Robin releases less than a year after Fox Searchlight Pictures' Goodbye Christopher Robin - however Disney's interpretation sets to be more upbeat than last September's poignant war drama. From World War Z's Marc Foster - we follow an over-worked, grown up Christopher Robin who reunites with childhood best pal Winnie-the-Pooh, slowly but surely rediscovering the joys that have been long absent from his life.
Christopher Robin is a pleasant though superficial stroll through the Hundred Acre Wood. Disney have told hundreds of creative, thought provoking tales over the years but the studio frequently falls short when it comes to live action - with an exception to Jon Favreau's spectacular reimagining of The Jungle Book. Christopher Robin seamlessly follows this same trend, offering plenty of visual awe but lacking a captivating story.
We skim through an A.A Milne book whilst flicking through Christopher Robin's life, the scene transitions from pages to reality appear slightly messy as Foster aims for a nostalgic look. From the opening scene Christopher Robin feels like a rushed effort, there are clumsy continuity errors that can't go unnoticed, poorly written characters and a story that is simply beyond what Disney is capable of. Borrowing heavily from Toy Story 3 and the clichéd over-worked father ignoring his family story line - Ewan McGregor as Christopher Robin is inconsequential and the film becomes more interesting when it diverts the attention away from him.
On the other hand Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends from the Hundred Acre Wood are worth the price of admission alone. Despite Christopher Robin being a middling film, Jim Cummings brings heartwarming sentimentally as Pooh. Whether his paws are caught in a sticky pot of honey, talking to strangers in the streets of London or woefully reflecting on his rumbling stomach - Pooh steals every single moment on screen with his charming and compassionate manner.
Moreover, Foster blends the classic literary characters perfectly into post war London. Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore and more are all brought to life in gorgeous vintage cuddly toy form - fitting excellently into the early 50's setting. Deep in the Hundred Acre Wood Foster crafts plenty of beautiful exterior shots - flowers, long grass and crunchy autumn leaves are all reminiscent of childhood adventures.
Winnie-the-Pooh's tenderness and innocence is precisely what the world needs right now but unfortunately Christopher Robin is too mediocre for the cuddly characters it features. Ewan McGregor delivers an oddly one-note performance even if his rapport with Pooh is truly special. Though it all looks magnificent - this live action remake is by the numbers, wrapping up to a hurried and un-compelling conclusion. Disney should've waited to release Christopher Robin rather than rushing it out to make a quick buck.
Here in the UK the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institute) is as thrilling as it gets when it comes to nautical adventures. Our friends across the pond however have formed an annual celebration known as Shark Week - an entire seven days during which the Discovery Channel airs exclusively shark-based programmes. Originally Shark Week devoted "conservation efforts and correcting misconceptions about sharks" but ironically - and perhaps somewhat sadly - thousands of ridiculously over the top and low budget shark chomper flicks now dominate America's tv screens during the celebration.
Swimming into cinemas a few weeks after this year's celebration we have co-American and Chinese produced The Meg. Jason Statham stars as Jonas Taylor, a disgraced deep sea diver who must rescue his crew from a marine research facility after they release a 70 foot, prehistoric shark known as Megaladon.
It may come as no surprise that this uninspired, sloppy shark movie is a Megala-dud. Obviously The Meg knows that it isn't the next Jaws, but whatever it was thinking it ends up more of a seaside schlep then a prehistoric predator pursuit. The film is met by two clashing tones - one trying to keep it grounded and serious with the other dragging it into nonsensical Sharknado territory. The bottom line is that The Meg is a stupid and unfulfilling film but it takes around three quarters of the run time to realise so. Despite the trailers promoting this summer movie with the particularly punny caption "Chomp on this" - The Meg fails to acknowledge its sheer camp silliness in the way I thought it would.
Fundamentally The Meg lacks the thrills and suspense a decent self respecting shark movie should have. There is no tension or single standout moment - much like the shark it features - everything just fades away into the depths. With a mighty one-hundred and fifty million dollar budget it's astonishing how bland and un-frightening The Meg truly is. Critically, the shark is displayed far too often which detracts from its mystery as well as the terror of its presence. Contrasting to - say - Alien where the xenomorph brutally slaughters an entire crew but remains entirely hidden, deep within the shadows of the Nostromo. Now I don't expect that devastating subtlety from The Meg - but it proves it can be done effectively, however not so much in this film's case.
Statham - the expert diver and all round superhero grumbles and groans his way in and out of the water, playing a distinct characterture of himself (even more so than Spy). Similarly the supporting cast exert themselves no further than struck poses and solemn glances into each other's eyes. As a result The Meg really isn't worth the plunge. Cheesy in its serious moments but too afraid to breach the level of absurd fun - the two contrasting tones rip this movie to shreds. The Meg wastes time trying to make audiences care about typically expendable characters - therefore you soon zone out of the movie pretty fast. Megla-don't see this chum bucket of a movie.
Believe it or not the puppy dog eyed Teen Titans are a controversial topic in the otherwise gloomy DC fandom. Airing between 2003-2006 on the idiot-box, the titans were reincarnated seven years later into vibrant, wacky miniatures rather than the fully grown, anime style teenagers they once were. When DC announced they would be getting their own feature fans were euphoric, that was until they realised they meant the teeny titans not the original team. Here we follow the young superhero group who lose sight of their crime fighting duties as they desperately seek Hollywood stardom.
Teen Titans Go! To the Movies provides a silly rainbow rush adventure that makes Nicholas Cage as Superman a good casting choice. Bursting full of colour, the Teen Titans gallivant gleefully around the screen for a dazzling though brief eighty-eight minute adventure. Teen Titans Go! To The Movies re-energises the bleak DC template, taking a step back and finally nodding to the studios' past mistakes. From Green Lantern gags to a recreation of the ridiculous "Martha" climax in Batman V Superman - DC finally give in and take the Mickey out of themselves.
This brilliant and bubbly caper has wit and self awareness on a similar scale to the Lego Movie - directors Aaron Horvath and Peter Rida Michail magnificently replicate Lord and Miller's iconic references and razor sharp quips. In fact this is a mini revelation for DC, fantastically written and quick paced - Teen Titans Go! To The Movies betrays the forcefully dark and cumbersome style the studio have stubbornly stuck by for years since. If you thought they would never make a film with time travelling tricycles, A-ha and fake Shia LaBeouf then you'd be wrong.
Teen Titans Go! To The Movies is created using the same bright, 2-D animation as the current TV show. This offers a refreshing change of pace from the current 3-D visuals that are now the norm in modern Hollywood. The Teen Titans explode onto the screen with neon energy blasts, glittery black magic and a shapeshifting Beast Boy. What's more Will Arnett - so famous as Lego Batman - returns to DC as Slade, the Titan's often aggravated arch nemesis who spends most of the film hilariously explaining that he's not Deadpool.
As we see Robin determined to star in his own film - Teen Titans Go! To The Movies pokes fun at the recent volume of superhero movies as well as how superfluous so many of them are. In particular one gag sees all the DC heroes attend Batman's latest movie premier: Batman: Always - only to sit through a bunch of trailers advertising Alfred: The Movie, Batmobile: The Movie and Utility Belt: The Movie - coming next, next next and next next next summer. That in a nutshell is the zany humour to expect from Teen Titans Go! To The Movies.
As mad as a box of frogs and as colourful as a unicorn sneezing skittles - the often fourth wall breaking, remarkably well written Teen Titans Go! To The Movies is near impossible not to love. Completely juxtaposing Hotel Transylvania 3 - it's so jam-packed with references that adults as well as kids alike with have a Batman sized blast. Furthermore it makes a remarkable observation about superhero movies whilst being a superhero movie itself. The teenage team spend the whole film feeling inferior to the Justice League but ironically Teen Titans Go! To The Movies easily tops the seniors' film.
Teen Titans Go! To The Movies:
Adam Sandler - the marmite comedian - and his vulgar antics seemed to have been abandoned in the early 2010's. With superhero movies now all the range, Sandler comedies are a thing of the past, driving the Brooklyn born actor into the world of animation. Returning as Dracula for his third instalment - Sandler and company (Kevin James, David Spade and Steve Buscemi) vacate the hotel and hop on a monster friendly cruise liner for a summer getaway. However their relaxing vacation soon turns into a death trap when they discover the cruise has been commandeered by the monster hunting Van Helsing family.
Hotel Transylvania 3 escalates from mildly to immensely annoying in a Frankenstein flash. Whilst animation is definitely suited for Sandler and his friends - the latest monster outing plays like a string of tiresome slapstick shorts as oppose to a progressive storyline. Director Genndy Tartakovsky's portfolio to date consists mainly of cartoon TV shows - notably Samurai Jack and Dexter's Laboratory - explaining the film's un-cinematic and frantic quality, trying to cram Cartoon Network material into a ninety seven minute feature film. As a result Hotel Transylvania 3 is too goofy and over simplistic for its own good, proving there are far better animated films to see this summer.
As Pixar consistently remind us - the key to animated films is their ability to engage and offer something to every member of the family, otherwise it's just a wasted ticket. We throw around the phrase "it's just a kids film" far too often, even though the U certificate stands for universal viewing meaning anyone can watch. Despite its tagged on kid friendly message about looking beyond our different appearances - Hotel Transylvania 3 isn't aiming to be the next Up or Incredibles but doesn't attempt to be the slightest bit challenging either. With ghoulish gags and vomiting blobby monsters there is enough to entertain very young kids but for older viewers Tartakovsky's latest work is profoundly intelligence insulting.
Flaunting sharp fangs and a black cape - Sandler is easily the film's strongest asset, his return as the delightfully diligent Count Dracula finds charm I never knew the actor had. The franchise's latest addition Kathryn Hahn relishes as the misguidedly evil Erika Van Helsing who exposes Dracula's shy nature in an endearing, disarming way. The unlikely couple stand out amongst the other, lesser developed monsters.
Sadly Dracula's third adventure is two farting vampire jokes too many. Animation has progressed so significantly over the past decade but there are very few films remaining to oppose the house of mouse. As Dracula sports multiple Hawaiian shirts - Hotel Transylvania 3: A Monster Vacation is the most colourful film of the series, but it's far from a relaxing holiday.
Hotel Transylvania 3: A Monster Vacation:
Post Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man returns with new partner The Wasp hoping to leave their mark in the summer movie season, cheering up those suffering from severe PTSD - Post Thanos Stress Disorder. In this light and breezy sequel we join Scott Lang during his last few days under house arrest following the events of Captain America: Civil War. On the run and a fugitive from the FBI, a desperate Hank Pym - trying to rescue his wife from the Quantum Realm - presents Scott with a deadly new mission to help save her.
Chock-full of pint-sized delights Ant-Man and The Wasp is simple and straight forward but that's perfectly alright. Finding success in its smaller moments - this is arguably the first movie of the recent batch to disregard the seemingly exhausted Marvel formula, zooming in on a story that for once doesn't involve saving the world. With sights set smaller it's extremely refreshing to see not one but two family relationships as the focus of a Marvel feature. In the grand scheme of things Ant-Man and The Wasp isn't the biggest nor the best Marvel movie, but then again it's not trying to be. Stripping back to basics it offers a more meaningful and personal touch, one very much needed to bring the current superhero world back down to earth a little.
Looking at the bigger picture Superhero films these days are currently all burdened by existing in the same universe, knocking uncomfortably against each other - with very little elbow room to exist as artistic ventures in their own light. Collectively we expect them to be grander in scale than the previous feature every time and compare each episode with the other, as if we now exist in a virtual action packed soap opera. Much to its credit Ant-Man and The Wasp is an undemanding silly science romp that couldn't care less about anything happening surrounding it.
Paul Rudd once again steals the show as Ant-Man but outshines Evangeline Lilly's introduction as The Wasp. Continuing to be the most charming hero in the Avengers line up, his heartwarming relationship with daughter Cassie further emphasises his commitment as a father and establishes him as a different, more mature and understated hero despite his goofy personality. Lilly's no nonsense Wasp is sharp, driven and focused but the couple are rarely seen teaming up together in action - consequently she seems more like a sidekick rather than a partner in crime. Regardless of her eye catching kitchen fight - it's deeply disappointing that Lilly couldn't leave her sting in the criminally male dominated MCU, but with that flashy yellow and blue suit The Wasp's wings aren't clipped just yet.
As with its predecessor, Ant-Man and The Wasp offers plenty of inventive Alice in Wonderland like moments. A suitcase laboratory, a gigantic PEZ dispenser, human sized Hot-Wheel cars and a seven foot salt shaker - there is endless fun to be had with Hank Pym's shrinking and expanding technology. Not to mention the creative design behind Hannah John-Kamen's wall phasing Ghost: a visually perplexing character who really pops.
Ant-Man and the Wasp is worth all the buzz, being laid back, uncomplicated and care free like most of the earlier Marvel films. Recently the studio have forced silly and perhaps uncomfortable humour on their previously straight faced heroes - in contrast Ant-Man and The Wasp excels as a hilarious belly laugh adventure, with the humour used to reinforce Scott Lang as a character. Free from all of the current complex and constraining inter character plots, it improves upon the charming and funny original outing through clever writing and fun characterisation. With the help of Michael Douglas' scene steeling performance as the obstinate Hank Pym - this insect feature explores the natural human dynamic of the Van Dyne's and the Lang family. Though it may not be a tier one Marvel offering Ant-Man and the Wasp is charmingly well aware of its itsy-bitsy scale.
Ant-Man and The Wasp:
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Hi I’m James - a huge welcome to my film blog! I started this site just after my 14th birthday and have been bringing you my own take on the hottest box office arrivals and many art house triumphs ever since.