The Tomorrow War

Available on Amazon Prime Video.

Directed by Chris McKay, written by Zach Dean is this sci-fi action adventure. Chris Pratt is Dan Forester an army veteran now a frustrated science teacher. In December 2022 the Qatar World Cup final is interrupted when a brigade of soldiers from the future materialise in the middle of the game to share with the global audience that in 2051 humanity is under attack from an alien race and on the verge of extinction. Now they need conscripts from the past to be transported to the future and help save humanity. Dan, desperate for more meaning in his life, takes his conscription call as a chance to do his part to make sure there is a world for his daughter to inherit.

Firstly, I’d be lying to say there isn’t fun to be had here, Chris Pratt is an enjoyable screen presence doing the humorous action hero that he does so well. There’s some especially great scenes with the always fantastic JK Simmons as his estranged father. Sam Richardson (Charlie) and Yvonne Strahovski (Muri) also offer good support.

It also more than delivers on the blockbuster bangy crashy action sequences and some edge of your seat stuff as the small remaining band of humanity try to survive the relentless “white spikes”.

But, when you watch sci-fi, especially with time-travel, you need to be able to suspend your disbelief. To do that it needs the plot holes to be small enough to overlook. Sadly that is not what happened here. This is partly due to its overly long 138 minutes running time. It feels like the writers found a workable end and then decided, “what if we just did this other thing” and it’s that other thing that was just too ridiculous and banging head against wall inducing to ignore.

The Tomorrow War is a big crashy bangy sci-fi blockbuster and there is enjoyment to be had for 2/3rds of it, but the nonsense plot holes in the final act are very hard to ignore and spoilt the enjoyable work that had gone before it. You may enjoy it but beware the holes.

Supernova

Written and directed by Harry Macqueen is this story of love and fear of loss. Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci) are a loving couple travelling around England in an old camper van, visiting family and friends and looking to find ways to deal with Tusker’s worsening dementia. Tusker a writer and sanguine about his fate, Sam a pianist trying to come to terms with it and be strong. Their trip an attempt to make the best of the time they have before Tuskers health deteriorates to far.

This is not a film to make you happy, it is dealing with a difficult subject and the impact of a horrible disease that leaves a shadow of the person the sufferer once was. It is patient and thoughtful in its exploration and doesn’t look to grandstand. As Tusker says it’s the little things he finds hard and that subtlety is captured throughout.

Supernova is about Sam and Tusker, while a host of other characters turn up and play a part they are very much secondary to its stars. And that’s OK, because Firth and Tucci are two very fine performers who deliver very fine performances. They portray a loving relationship beautifully through the bickering humour and tenderness of the opening act. But that makes the second half of the film such a tough watch as we see with increasing sadness the realisation of Tuskers fate.

If it has a downside it is its predictability you always know where they are heading but you don’t overly mind as as the characters are a pleasure to spend time with which makes watching their story unfold so much harder.

Supernova is a tender caring look at love and loss, carried by two beautiful central performances. While not the most original film, you enjoy spending time with the characters, caring about them and sharing their pain. And that’s all you ever want from a film, to care, and it gets that right.

The Water Man

The Water Man is David Oyelowo’s directorial debut, written by Emma Needell and also starring Oyelowo.

Gunner Boone (Lonnie Chavis) is a young boy who has just moved to a new town with his father (Oyelowo) and his sick mother Mary (Rosario Dawson). Gunner is smart and creative, his relationship with his father strained, due in no small part to worries over Mary’s health. When Gunner discovers a local legend, the Water Man, a shadowy figure who lives in rhe forest and has supposedly discovered eternal life and the ability to “reanimate” the dead. Gunner thinks if he can find him and learn his secrets he can cure his mother. To help him on his adventure he engages the services of Jo (Amiah Miller) a local girl, living in a tent and claiming to know the Water Man’s location.

The film is heavily influenced by those 1980’s teenage coming of age adventures, The Goonies particularly springs to mind, as Oyelowo uses those influences to deliver an enjoyable adventure. The film uses its forest location well, its density, darkness, mysterious sounds and movements build decent tension and also presents our young adventurers with challenges to keep the audience on edge.

Performances are solid especially the two young leads Chavis and Miller who are watchable and believable. Oyelowo and Dawson support them well as you’d expect.

This is a heartfelt story about family and the hope and belief that you can always be with those you love. But doesn’t shy from the realisation that it doesn’t work that way.

It’s not perfect, the final act feels a bit clunky and some of the dialogue a little on the nose, but that’s only a minor quibble.

The Water Man is an old school adventure, it uses its settings to great effect and has a good hearted story at its core. While it isn’t perfect it is an enjoyable 91 minutes of storytelling and a strong directorial debut.

Freaky

From Christopher London the writer director behind the Happy Death Day films, we get another entry in the comedy horror genre, Freaky. It’s Thursday 12th in Blissfield a day before homecoming and the town wakes to the shocking news of the murder of four high-school kids, reminiscent of the historic Blissfield Butcher murders. Later that night we find Millie (Kathryn Newton) an unpopular and low on confidence schoolgirl, waiting outside the school football game for her Mum, who is passed out drunk at home. While waiting she encounters the Butcher (Vince Vaughn) after a chase and a run in with a mystic knife, Millie and the Butcher find themselves having swapped bodies and time is short to reverse the change.

The title and the setup tell you all you need to know. It intertwines the Freaky Friday (or more closely Hot Chick) body swap idea with a homage to classic 70’s and 80’s slasher films. What I really enjoyed about this is how it uses, what for me is the inherent silliness of horror and embraces it. Like its predecessors Happy Death Day, Freaky has lots of fun mixing its genres into a horror comedy romp.

All the slasher characters are there, the jocks, the popular bitchy girls, the harsh teacher and new characters the best friends Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) the culturally sensitive “word police” and gay friend Josh (Misha Osherovich). Freaky makes use of them all. There are fun setups as they make decisions that only get made in slasher films leading to a suitable mix of fun and gore in a range of creative murders.

The film thrives on its two leads ability to transform their physical performances so well. Vaughn is well cast as the killer, with his size particularly helpful in channelling classic slashers like Myers and Voorhees, he even has an appropriate mask. While that make him easily believable as a serial killer, he uses it to great effect as he channels the mannerisms and language of a teenage girl. Newton is equally good turning her timid wallflower Millie into a overly confident, seemingly large menacing figure that hides a serial killer.

Freaky is a super balance between comedy and horror, using its premise to great comedic effect while balancing this with an affectionate homage to 1980’s slashers. It’s fun and gory in equal measure and was a fun Friday night cinema treat.

Black Widow

Directed by Cate Shortland is this standalone adventure from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It takes place just after Captain America Civil War and, via a brief flashback introduction to the young Natasha and her early life with her sister Yelena and family, we find Natasha Romanov (Scarlett Johannson) on the run to Norway. When there she is hunted down by mysterious assailant after which she decides it’s time to be reunited with her sister (Florence Pugh) a highly trained assassin who is also on the run after discovering her own dark secret. Together they decide to embark on a sisterly adventure to exploit Yelena’s secret and correct what she has discovered. Hopefully that’s a spoiler free enough synopsis!

Let’s get straight to it, I really enjoyed Black Widow. It works well as a self contained film and delivers the kind of things Marvel get so right, full speed action adventure with enough of a light touch to allow its 2hr15 run time to be pretty much drag free.

It is perhaps more Bond/Bourne than classic Superhero fare, packed full of mystery, breathtaking action set pieces, overly powerful villains and of course globetrotting across dramatic locations. It particularly shines in an almost non stop set of action sequences for the first 40 or so minutes.

Johannsson brings her Black Widow A-game but it’s fair to say she is upstaged on more than one occasion by Pugh who steals much of the movie with her dry wit and putdowns of her sisters Avenger stardom. While David Harbour’s Alexie probably helps to steal the other bits. Alongside that, Rachel Wiesz’s Melina offers the redemption story.

Within all the action there is a story about empowerment of women and their manipulation by those in power, which is done sometimes subtly, sometimes not so much. But this isn’t a film grandstanding a message, it is delivering exactly what is expected from Marvel, a well written, well directed, well performed action film.

Blockbusters are going to be significant in the return of cinema and what we need them to be is an enjoyable spectacle. For me Black Widow hits that mark perfectly and feels like a great sign off for Johannson and hopefully a beginning for Pugh. Because let’s face it Florence Pugh’s Yelena feels like a character we need more of!

America:The Motion Picture

New on Netflix.

It’s 4th July in the US so seems appropriate that Netflix release an animated version of the countries founding. Directed by Matt Thompson and written by Dave Callaham, Channing Tatum voices a buffed up super hero sized George Washington, who must avenge the murder of his friend George Washington (Will Forte) betrayed and killed by Benedict Arnold (Andy Samberg) who it seems also happens to be a Werewolf. Encouraged by Martha (Judy Greer) he pulls together his group of avengers including Samuel Adams (Jason Mantzoukas), Thomas Edison (Olivia Nunn) and Paul Revere (Bobby Moynihan) to fight back and overthrow the British rule of Simon Pegg’s James I.

I am neither an American or history scholar, but I think it is fair to say this is not an accurate depiction of American history! What it is, in reality, is an excuse to make an adult cartoon that takes an occasional questioning look at America, its history and the country it has become. But mostly it tells jokes, blows things up and has fun using some subtle and not so subtle, references to other films.

This is a long way from a classic, but there is some fun to be had, the story telling has some very loose historic basis and ticks off the things that a non-American like me understood and I’m sure there are plenty of more “subtle” jokes for its American audience.

Vocal performances are solid, Tatum and Mantzoukas particularly carry it along and Raoul Max Trujillo as an increasingly exasperated Geronimo. The animation is well done and fits the storytelling perfectly. But it also too long and while I did laugh it isn’t quite as funny as it needed to be for 100 minutes.

This is a film that has not been met with critical acclaim, but it would be a lie to say I didn’t find some fun in it. It’s probably in its natural home on Netflix and if you are looking for some crude jokes, explosions (and sometimes you are) and an occasional look at history then this may work.

Fatherhood

On Netflix.

Directed by Paul Weitz, Fatherhood stars Kevin Hart as Matt, a new father, grieving the tragic loss of his wife and trying to cope as a single dad to his newborn daughter Maddy. Alone in Boston, away from his Minnesota relatives, Matt has the help of some close Boston friends while trying to balance dealing with grief, raising a new daughter and holding down his job.

The synopsis of the film probably gives you an idea of the story you are getting and it does tick the boxes you may expect. However, if you are expecting a “Daddy Day Care” comedy of fish out of water, men raising kids, you’ll be, hopefully, pleasantly surprised, as Fatherhood is more subtle than that. While there is an element of jokes around baby bathroom trips and dad’s doing girls hair, there is plenty of thoughtful looks at grief, loss and the dilemma of trying to move forward past guilt.

Hart is likebale in the main role, balancing his natural comedic performance with some emotional depth when needed. The always reliable Alfre Woodward supports well as a grieving mother, trying not to hit out at the world and her son-in-law in particular and Melody Hurd as the more grown up Maddy steals the show whenever she is on screen.

As a parent there is lots here to identify with both comedic and emotional.

While it is predictable and won’t be remembered as a classic, it certainly comes from the right place. It is warm and heartfelt staying on the right side of saccharine with a delivery that is more than engaging enough to sweep you a long.

Good on Paper

New on Netflix.

Directed by Kimmy Gatewood, written and starring Iliza Shlesinger is this based on a true story film. Shlesinger is stand up comic and jobbing actress Andrea Singer, who we find at another frustrating audition before heading back to the airport. On the flight home she meets Dennis (Ryan Hansen) who takes her up on an offer to come see her stand up show that same night. As they see each other more and against Andrea’s instincts they become a couple. It doesn’t take long for the relationship to come apart as Andrea’s suspicions about Dennis grow, is he really who he seems to be?

Regardless of some sniffy reviews I really enjoyed this rather original comedy. It’s an interesting mix of “anti romcom”, dark comedy and psychological drama (Although a light hearted one), all of this interspersed with clips of Andrea sharing the story as part of her standup, all of which worked for me.

Shlesinger is fun as the title character, and Nelson a fine balance of believable and creepy. The supporting cast is equally entertaining, especially Margaret Cho as cynical bar owner Margot and Rebecca Rittenhouse as Andrea’s acting nemesis Serrena.

The humour is pretty constant and is well balanced with the light hearted but still tense drama. There is also some social commentary around dating, gender politics and entitlement all without been preachy.

A well written, pretty smart, humorous and original comedy that at 92 minutes whizzes by and while it’s had some sniffy reviews, ignore them, you may just enjoy it as much as I did.

In The Heights

Jon M. Chu and Quiara Alegria Hudes, bring Lin-Manuel Miranda’s stage musical to the screen. Set in a Latino community in New York we find a mix of dreamers and realists, at its heart are the stories of Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), Nina (Leslie Grace), Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) and Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV) each with a dream, each with a struggle. Usnavi dreams of a return back to the Dominican Republic, Nina carrying the hopes of the community as she heads to Stanford, but finds it’s not what she hoped. Vanessa wants to better herself and pursue her fashion dreams, while Sonny is young and wants to make his place in the world. All built around the colour, music and dance of Miranda’s musical.

What this is a great example of is how the final act can change your whole view of a film. That certainly happened here, as it beautifully pulled together the narrative, delivering a satisfying emotional punch of an ending, winning me over completely.

Before that you get a lot of what you expect, a story of a community struggling to survive and retain its identity, while at the same time its residents see their only opportunities elsewhere. It occasionally explores topics of racism,  the treatment of immigrants, gentrification, financial struggle and loss. All in the framework of some wonderfully choreographed musical moments.

Unlike something like La La Land, this often betrays its stage musical roots, but that doesn’t matter, performances are enjoyable and engaging, with the leads well supported by the likes of Corey Hawkins, Jimmy Smits and especially Olga Merediz as the matriarch figure Abuela. There are also plenty of enjoyable song and dance numbers.

While it doesn’t feel like a classic of a musical adaptation and did run a little long, its wonderfully judged final act gives it a warm emotional centre that should put a smile on anyone’s face and Miranda’s piragua song an ear worm to take home.

The Comeback Trail

New on Sky Cinema.

Directed by George Gallo is this remake of Harry Hurwitz 1982 film. Set in 1974 Hollywood, Robert De Niro is Max Barber a small time movie producer whose latest classic “Killer Nuns”, made with his nephew Walter (Zach Braff), is tanking at the box office, in no small part due to picketing by the Catholic Church. The problem is Max borrowed the money for it from Morgan Freeman’s gangster Reggie Fontaine and now finds he has no way to pay it back. That’s until he sees a way out, which includes a scam to make a film and kill off its leading man, Duke Montana (Tommy Lee Jones) and old time star pulled out of retirement for the job, and claim the insurance money.

Right at the start of this film, Max and Walter are reading a review of Killer Nuns, which ends with the line, “the best thing about it, is at 90 minutes it ends” that should have been a warning, apart from at 104 minutes this doesn’t even have that going for it. You’d think with the acting chops of De Niro, Jones and Freeman this has to be worth a watch hasn’t it? Well sadly no, not in any way.

This a comedy based on one joke that never really works. The film seems to throw together a series of unfunny set piece attempts to kill off Duke, which fail as miserably as the gags fail to land. The three leads phone in their performances and while I’m sure they had a lovely time together, we don’t get to share that.

In reality, they are let down by the dreadfully unfunny, poorly structured script, which bounces around aimlessly, occasionally introducing characters who are quickly forgotten or offer nothing to the story. It attempts to do some kind of Blazing Saddles, behind the scenes making of a western that just makes you think, I wish I was watching Blazing Saddles. And It tells you all you need to know when the best performance is from a horse.

The original “The Comeback Trail” was only 75 minutes and that is probably the staying power of its one gag, extending it another 30 minutes breaks it completely. The reality though is its not the length of it that’s the problem, it just isn’t funny enough or good enough and its three leads really should know better. To quote the film back to itself “The best thing about it, is at 104 minutes, it ends.”

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