Back from hiatus, entertainment editor John Turnbull brings you a grab-bag of movie reviews and ponders how far your standards drop when you’re at 38,000 feet.
I RECENTLY HAD the good fortune to travel to Europe with my family, which by necessity involves a lot of time sitting on a plane. Since sleep is an uncomfortable and transient relief, what better to do than watch a few movies?
You’re not going to get the latest in new releases, of course, and if you’re flying certain airlines you’ll probably run into movies censored for religious reasons. While this works for some flicks, trying watching Martin Scorsese’s The Departed with all of the swearing removed. It’s like a ******* silent film.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Directed by Guy Ritchie
This much-maligned reimagining of the Arthurian legend seemed an easy first choice — it’s always good to start out with a bad movie so everything else looks good by comparison. And a bad movie this is, despite the earnest performance given by Sons of Anarchy star Charlie Hunnam.
Director Guy Ritchie (Snatch, Sherlock Holmes) throws every historical anachronism he can think of at the screen – from giant elephants to mixed martial arts – and the result is entirely incoherent but occasionally fun. Joining Hunnam in this mess are Djimon Hounsou, Eric Bana and Aiden Gillen (Littlefinger from Game of Thrones), all of whom look vaguely embarrassed to be there and Jude Law, who appears to think he is doing Shakespeare.
There’s a drinking game somewhere in this movie, I’m sure.
Silver Linings Playbook
Directed by David O. Russell
This is one of those movies that won a bunch of awards and I’d heard a lot of good things about, but just never got around to seeing.
With a talented supporting cast, including Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Julia Styles and Chris Tucker, the standout players are co-leads Jennifer Lawrence (excellent as ever) and Bradley Cooper, playing the best role I’ve seen him in.
The fact that this was an audio-censored cut meant that some scenes didn’t make a lot of sense, particularly when Jennifer Lawrence’s Tiffany is detailing her sex-as-therapy approach following her husband’s death, but it didn’t detract from the film’s ultimate impact.
Directed by Andy Muschietti
Based on the Stephen King novel, It tells the story of a group of young outcasts who band together to battle an ancient evil in the small town of Derry, Maine.
Originally made as a mini-series back in 1990, starring Tim Curry as evil clown Pennywise, the 2017 version removes any hint of camp and replaces it with a slow building dread.
Starring a bunch of talented (and essentially unknown) child actors, the breakout star of this movie is Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise — a genuinely malevolent presence with a penchant for biting kids arms off. Part Two is scheduled for release in 2019.
The Dark Tower
Directed by Nikolaj Arcel
Continuing the Stephen King theme, The Dark Tower is based on the novel series of the same name, telling the story of aging gunslinger Roland (Idris Elba) and his quest to stop supernatural bad guy known as the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey).
Released over a period of 22 years, the complexity of the novel series could never hope to be captured in a single movie, so director Arcel seems to have given up and told a different story entirely. Totally omitting the key characters of Eddie and Detta, the movie is seen through the eyes of young boy Jake (Tom Taylor), almost treating Idris Elba’s Gunslinger as a supporting character.
Elba was a great choice to play Roland, but he deserved a far better movie than this to do so.
Directed by Andrew Jay Cohen
The trailers for The House made it look pretty stupid and, to be fair, they weren’t wrong.
Starring Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler, this comedy is based on an odd premise – that parents would lie, break the law and convince an entire town to collaborate – simply to send their daughter to university cost-free. Are student loans not a thing in this universe?
Premise aside, The House is basically an excuse for Ferrell and Poehler to riff on gangster movies like Goodfellas and Casino, wringing comedy out of the fact that there are few humans less threatening than Will Ferrell in women’s sunglasses.
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
After the outright silliness of The House, I was in the mood for something a little more serious, so I gave Oscar winner Room a try.
Not to be confused with the Tommy Wiseau "classic" The Room, Room tells the story of a kidnap victim and her young son who are forced to live their entire lives inside a single room.
Starring Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay (both of whom are excellent), Room is emotionally heavy going but ultimately a rewarding viewing experience. Possibly best not the best choice of viewing when you’re trapped in a metal tube about the same size as the titular Room with even less chance to move around, but there you go.
Directed by Jon Watts
This was the only movie I watched that I’d seen before and was just as entertaining as I remember.
Starring Tom Holland as Peter Parker, Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man and Michael Keaton as the bad guy, Homecoming is the first Spider-man movie that felt genuine, in that the actor playing teenaged Parker wasn’t in his early 30s (I’m looking at you, Tobey McGuire, you middle-aged emo weirdo).
Amongst the talented cast, it’s newcomer Jacob Batalon, as Peter’s best friend Ned, who really shines — the Hawaiian actor bring a breezy charm to a potentially clichéd role. Without a doubt, the best Spider-man movie to date.
Directed by Clint Eastwood
I must admit, I skipped American Sniper at the theatre because it looked like flag waving propaganda, directed by a once-great who now spent his time talking to empty chairs. And while there certainly are elements of flag-waving and hyper-patriotism, there’s a lot more emotional depth to American Sniper than you may expect.
Bradley Cooper proves once again that there is more to him "the guy from the Hangover", embodying the impact of PTSD and the challenges that returning servicemen face.
Note: the high level realistic violence in this film may put some viewers off, but for the less squeamish, it’s definitely worth a look.
Books by John Turnbull are available on Amazon and Kindle, including supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame; action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: Europe. Damnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in paperback in the IA store HERE (free postage).
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