Little Evil

Year: 2017
Director: Eli Craig
Starring: Evangeline Lilly, Adam Scott, Sally Field

Written by Sasha Hornby

Horror is one of the most polarising genres – some people are staunch horror fans, watching even the most bargain basement of offerings; others will write off any film with even a whisper of horror.  Horror, when done well, reminds us of our greatest fears and has a mileage well beyond release.  Be it demonically possessed children (‘The Exorcist’, 1973), quirky strangers in backwoods hotels (‘Psycho’, 1960), big-ass sharks (‘Jaws’, 1975), or the un-dead returning from the grave (‘Night of the Living Dead’, 1968), there is a flavour of horror to tap into every phobia.  

‘Little Evil’, the latest Netflix Original release, taps into some very specific fears – those of a man finding his feet in the new role of ‘step-dad’ and those of any parent who worries their child may be the antichrist.  Written and directed by Eli Craig, the writer and director of underrated redneck slasher spoof, ‘Tucker & Dale vs. Evil’ (2010), ‘Little Evil’ falls directly into the ‘horror-comedy’ sub-genre.  It stars comedy favourite Adam Scott as Gary, a man who has just married his perfect woman following a whirlwind romance, Samantha (Evangeline Lilly).  Not all is hunky-dory though, as Gary must now forge a relationship with his creepy step-son, Lucas (Owen Atlas).  

‘Little Evil’ wears it’s influences proudly on it’s sleeve, directly spoofing classics such as ‘Poltergeist’ (1982), ‘The Shining’ (1980), and most notably, ‘The Omen’ (1976).  Lucas wears the same instantly recognisable flat cap and little short suit that Damien wears in Richard Donner’s tale of an antichrist child.  And ‘strange things’ keep happening in his presence (such as his teacher throwing herself out of a window, or his birthday clown setting himself on fire).  And lets not even go there with the sock goat he uses to communicate in a growling voice to those around him.  

In a film that is clearly more about the comedy than the horror, Adam Scott is predictably reliable.  He plays the part of concerned step-parent well, exhasperated by his new wife’s apparent obliviousness to her son’s menace.  He attends a step-dad support group in an attempt to burn his anxieties and doubts, instead only feeding them.  The support group includes Donald Faison, Chris D’Elia and Kyle Bornheimer, who are mostly fine, if a little disappointing.

Bridget Everett is the true stand-out here as AL, Gary’s work friend and member of the step-dad support group.  She is loyal, supportive, and truly funny to boot.  The fact she is a lesbian is never made the butt of a joke, and she is often the voice of action.  I’ve never seen Everett in anything prior to this, but looking at her IMDb, with roles in ‘Trainwreck’ (2015) and the recent ‘Patti Cake$‘ (2017), she is clearly and up-and-coming actress on the comedy circuit, and I, for one, am stoked about this.

The other stand-outs, though scarcely used, are Clancy Brown as the Reverend Gospel and Tyler Labine as videographer Karl.  Brown is a prolific voice and genre actor, who relishes the role of cult leader, fervishly working to open the gates of Hell and bring about the end of the world.  Labine is extraordinarily funny as the wedding videographer who fancies himself as an auteur, delivering some home truths to Gary.

Eli Craig knows his way around a horror-comedy script.  Between ‘Little Evil’ and the aforementioned ‘Tucker & Dale vs. Evil’, he is in control of his references versus originality.  At 95 minutes, ‘Little Evil’ is about the right length, though I find myself wishing there had been more set-pieces.  The final act is completely ludicrous, but so saccharine, even the coldest of hearts will be warmed.

For ardent horror fans, or those who would recognise the ‘classics’, ‘Little Evil’ will at least raise a smile as it lovingly pokes fun at, whilst simultaneously paying homage to, the icons of the ‘creepy child’ sub-genre.  Distinctly lacking in horror though, and not really as clever or subversive as some of the great spoofs before it, it never quite hits the mark.  There’s a lot to like, but don’t watch for the scares or the ‘laugh out loud’ moments; watch for the pastiche.

Sasha’s Rating – 6.0/10
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Logan Lucky

Year: 2017
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes

Written by Corey Hughes

From time to time directors need to take a break, and I get it. Filmmaking must be an exhausting and difficult process. Even the great Stanley Kubrick took a well-deserved 12-year break between ‘Full Metal Jacket’ (1987) and ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ (1999). So when Oscar-winning Steven Soderbergh announced his ‘retirement’ from directing, it came as a surprise to see him back just four years later from his last feature.

He left on a high note with the critically acclaimed biopic ‘Behind The Candelabra’ being a film that defied expectations and met some sturdy opposition from audiences across the globe, due to its somewhat ‘controversial’ subject matter.

But an eagerly anticipated return to our screens means a return to a genre that is close to Soderbergh’s heart: the heist movie. The heist movie for Soderbergh is what I imagine the Sci-fi genre is for Spielberg.  Whilst both directors have ventured into unfamiliar territory, they both have their best films (arguably) in these particular genres. Although Soderbergh has made other interesting films (look no further than ‘Traffic’ and ‘Magic Mike’) it’s the ‘Ocean’ trilogy that puts his name on the movie-map.

His return to the heist genre has brought us ‘Logan Lucky’. The movie begins in West Virginia, where Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) is fixing a car with the adorable assistance of his daughter (Farrah Mackenzie, write it down). After being laid-off from his job due to being a liability to the company, Jimmy encourages his younger brother Clyde (Adam Driver) to assist him in his criminal adventure.

The seemingly simple-minded Logan brothers are both disabled, Jimmy having trouble with his knee and Clyde being an amputee (“it’s like the two of you add up to one whole person”), but the limit of such similarities end with Tatum and Driver’s contrasting performances. Whilst Tatum’s character is often cheerful and light-hearted in his approach to the unfortunate circumstances he finds himself in, Driver’s Clyde is much more solemn and serious. Put them both together, and Soderbergh has managed to bring forth a pair of interesting and empathetic characters.

Cauliflower. To you and me, an awful tasting vegetable. To the Logan brothers, a code word that acts as a trigger to a life of crime. Jimmy’s utterance of the word to the unfavourable ears of his younger brother means that they must work together to pull off a complex robbery that will be later known as the ‘Hillbilly Heist’ during a NASCAR race in North Carolina. But they can’t do it alone…

In comes Joe Bang and his two highly uneducated and unsophisticated (but utterly hilarious) hillbilly brothers. Joe Bang is a fitting name for Daniel Craig’s character, a name that emphasises his expertise in the explosive-making business. Craig’s unrecognisable performance couldn’t be further away from the debonair persona that he has become known for, playing James Bond over recent years; expect no sexy British ambience or sophisticated suave here!

As the opening scene reaches your eyes there’s an undeniable neo-Western vibe to Soderbergh’s return, from the Creedance Clearwater Revival soundtrack to the ‘tang’ of the West Virginian accent, there’s something truly appealing about modernising the somewhat out-dated Western genre. When it’s done right, it feels nostalgic and has a sense of resonation that can be enjoyed.

That’s not to say that the modern aspects of the film aren’t to be enjoyed, either. Most of the humour throughout the film, written by mysterious first-timer Rebecca Blunt (perhaps one of Soderbergh’s many pseudonyms?), is both fresh and effective. There are some truly hilarious moments, particularly the shots being fired at George R.R. Martin for his rather slow writing style. They’ve got a point, George…

Where ‘Logan Lucky’ really shines, is through Soderbergh’s trademarking caper-movie style. The heist plan montage explained methodically via non-diegetic narration, or even the final revelation explaining how the heist really panned out, is smartly executed; yet I do still have issues with the final third of the movie.

The main reason Soderbergh’s ‘Ocean’ trilogy succeeded, for me, was because it was exhilarating; it had an edge of excitement to the way in which the action unraveled on screen. Whilst those films had people on the edge of their seats, ‘Logan Lucky’ will have you firmly laid back against the backrest. This time round, Soderbergh guides you along an A-Z heist with no bumps in the road, nothing that feels detrimental to the gang’s success. Was this a perfectly planned crime, or perhaps a victim of plot convenience?

Find out for yourselves. Of all the films to be enjoyed this month, Logan Lucky is up there with them. It’s definitely worth your hard earned cash.

Corey’s rating: 7.5 out of 10

The Hitman’s Bodyguard

Year: 2017
Director: Patrick Hughes
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Elodie Yung, Salma Hayek

Written by Tom Sheffield

From the first trailer, I knew ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ had potential to be one of the funniest films to be released this year, and the lack of comedic competition to hit our cinema screens in 2017 has certainly improved its chances. I’m happy to say that I did not leave the cinema disappointed!  

As a once-rated ‘Triple A Rated’ bodyguard, Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) is tasked to protect Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), a hit-man he shares a long history with, which mostly involves Kincaid trying to kill Bryce on multiple occasions. Bryce has to ensure his nemesis makes it to the International Court of Justice in the Netherlands so he can testify against Eastern European dictator, Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman). Dukhovich has no plans to be convicted and sets his best men to hunt down and kill the pair before they reach the court.

Pairing up Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds was a stroke of genius. Reynold’s charm and cockiness pitted against Jackson’s no nonsense, ‘does what he wants’ attitude made for some hilarious exchanges of dialogue and scenes. Its nothing new from the pair of them, but when they’re together they easily bring the laughs. It’s not long into the film before the pair meet, but once they do there are only a few occasions where they aren’t sharing the screen. There’s car chases, rooftop jumps, shoot outs, and a some life lessons learned along the way, which includes one thought-provoking scene about the morality of the pairs jobs and why they both see themselves as the good guy and the other the bad guy.

The supporting cast all bring something a little different to the film. Elodie Yung plays Interpol agent, and Bryce’s ex, Amelia Roussel. Whilst I feel she was criminally underused in this film, she’s a key part of the story and she played it really well. A shout out definitely has to go to Gary Oldman, he played his villainous role superbly and was as scary as he was ruthless. Salma Hayek, again criminally underused, was hilarious in her role as Kincaid’s imprisoned wife, who has even more attitude than he does. The scenes that Hayek and Jackson shared were possibly some of my favourite of the film and I’m definitely all for a spin-off to watch the married couple wreak some havoc together. It would definitely go down in history as the film that uses the word ‘motherfucker’ the most. 

‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ is definitely worth checking out at the cinema. There’s plenty of action, and the bonus of it is that it’s actually shot really well. You’re guaranteed a laugh from Reynolds and Jackson, that’s just a given, but performances all round are absolutely brilliant. The story is fairly predictable, but then again it didn’t ever really try to keep anything secret. Hughes knows that the majority of the audience is there to see Reynolds and Jackson go at each other, and everything else that happens in the process is just a bonus.

Tom’s rating: 6.5 out of 10

The Big Sick

Year: 2017
Director: Michael Showalter
Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Anupam Kher, Bo Burnham

Written by Fiona Underhill

Fans of ‘Silicon Valley’ will recognise Kumail Nanjiani, but apart from that and the stand-up comedy circuit, he’s gone fairly under-the-radar, until now. Nanjiani has teamed up with his wife, Emily V. Gordon to write the true story of their courtship. Zoe Kazan (who I loved in ‘What If’) plays Emily and Nanjiani plays himself, which must feel bizarre, especially when shooting romantic scenes with an actress playing your wife, who is on-set watching proceedings. The film is directed by Michael Showalter, who also directed the delightful ‘Hello, My Name is Doris’ (currently on Amazon Prime).

Nanjiani is a Pakistani immigrant, trying to make it on the stand-up circuit in Chicago. He does the same open-mic night with fellow comedians played by Aidy Bryant (terrific in ‘Girls’), Bo Burnham and Kurt Braunohler – all hoping to be noticed by someone who can help them make the leap to ‘SNL’, or similar stardom. His parents parade a slew of Pakistani girls in front of him, in the hope he will find a suitable match for an arranged marriage. However, after heckling him at the comedy club, Emily catches Kumail’s eye and they end up going home together. Their relationship seems to be going swimmingly, even surviving the skeletons in Emily’s closet (she’s been married before), but when she discovers that Kumail seems to be judging ‘Pakistan’s Next Top Model’ – they have a huge fight and break up. He then gets a late-night phone call, letting him know Emily is in the hospital and this is where we get to ‘The Big Sick’ of the title. Emily has a mysterious infection and has been placed in a medically-induced coma.

It is here that perhaps the strongest supporting characters enter the scene – Ray Romano and Holly Hunter – as Emily’s parents. As someone who detests ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ – it almost pains me to say that Romano provides some of the biggest laughs of the whole film. Hunter gives a typically tender performance as a heartbroken mother, desperately doing everything she can to solve this problem for her daughter. Incidentally, she is also one of the strongest aspects, in a similar role in a totally different type of film from this year, ‘Song to Song’. I was also pleased to see, among the supporting cast, Adeel Akhtar, who plays Wilson Wilson in ‘Utopia’ – the best television programme of the last ten years (including all of the American golden age fare).

‘The Big Sick’ is a very good example of a rom-com – funny, charming, tender – probably precisely because it is true. Nanjiani makes a natural and compelling central figure – all of the action revolves around him. It may sound easy to just be playing yourself, but it takes a lot of guts to be that vulnerable. To also be publicly exposing what must have been a difficult time – not just dealing with a gravely sick girlfriend, but also facing a choice between romantic and familial love – is brave and refreshingly honest. In some ways it feels old-fashioned – almost a Romeo & Juliet style tale – but it is also modern – dealing with the immigrant Uber driver, the post 9/11 climate and Islamophobia. The film has taken on a more political stance than it perhaps intended, now that Trump is in power. There is a scene in which a heckler becomes racially abusive but now, it could be argued that he represents roughly half of American voters.

It is important to Nanjiani to represent Muslims as something more than terrorists in the mainstream media and he provides a well-rounded character to do just that. The fact that the character IS him definitely makes the film seem more real and while there are moments that are perhaps more dramatic or with more perfect comedic timing in the movie, it is character-driven at its core. ‘The Big Sick’ is currently ‘expanding’ throughout the US, relying heavily on word of mouth. It deserves to succeed in the US and internationally, as it is rare to see such a well-written, non-clichéd rom-com. Go see it!

 Fiona’s rating: 8 out of 10

Rough Night

Year: 2017
Director: Lucia Aniello
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, Zoe Kravitz, Ilana Glazer, Jillian Bell

Written by Fiona Underhill

I saw the trailer for this film and thought it looked like a female version of ‘The Hangover’, which is pretty much exactly what it is. Although the trailer did not appeal to my sense of humour, it had a strong cast (including Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon and Zoë Kravitz) and I wanted to support the film because it’s a female-directed, female-driven R-rated comedy and I believe there should be more of all those things. Interestingly enough, like buses, two have come along at once – the similarly-plotted ‘Girls Trip’ (starring Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah) is also coming out this Summer, showing there is room for more than one studio comedy from the female perspective. I am pleased to say I was pleasantly surprised by ‘Rough Night’ and I ended up laughing a lot more than I thought I would. 

Jess (Johansson) is a goody-goody, trying to carve a noble political career and engaged to a boring and sensible man. Her former college roommate, Alice (Jillian Bell) has planned a wild weekend in Miami for Jess’ bachelorette party. Along for the ride are uptight and wealthy Blair (Kravitz) and free-spirited hippy Frankie (Ilana Glazer) – who have a romantic history from college. The fifth ingredient is Pippa (McKinnon) – Jess’ friend from a year out in Australia. Pippa immediately gets Alice’s back up, as she feels jealous and threatened in her best friend status with Jess. The weekend starts off predictably wild – with drink, dancing and drugs and a stripper is ordered once the girls are back at their luxury Miami pad. In the fine tradition of a Joe Orton farce – an accident occurs, the stripper ends up dead and the rest of the film covers the panic of what to do with the body. 

It’s interesting that because it is women reacting to the death of someone in their midst, the tone did become more serious and emotional – at least for a while. I was in a packed cinema, with a mostly female audience and the atmosphere did become a little awkward and uncomfortable when the stripper was killed. It’s hard not to empathise when you see yourself represented on screen and initially the group of women are quite shattered by what has occurred. The writers – Lucia Aniello (who also directed) and Paul Downs (who plays Jess’ fiancee Peter) quite deftly handle this tonal shift and fairly subtly but quickly build the moment back up to comedy. Bell and McKinnon, who play the more outlandish comic figures also greatly help with returning the mirth. I did find myself swept along and almost despite myself, laughing at crude and broadly comedic moments – which usually isn’t really my thing. 

The film alternates between the raucous bachelorette weekend in Miami and Peter’s bachelor party. In a slightly tiresome role reversal, his is a much more sedate wine tasting affair. However, after a panicked phone call from Jess, Peter believes she has cheated on him with the stripper/prostitute and his friends persuade him to pull an insane all-nighter – fuelled by Adderall, Red Bull and adult nappies – and drive to Miami to confront her. This was a pleasantly unhinged performance from Downs (who I’ve not seen before) and did provide some welcome relief from the body-hiding shenanigans.

Add in great cameos from Ty Burrell and Demi Moore – as the randy neighbours to the party pad – and all in all, this was an enjoyable night at the cinema. I can definitely see this proving popular with groups of girls, who want to go out and have a few drinks and have a fun night at the movies. Films like that don’t come along all that often (‘Magic Mike’ and yes, ‘Fifty Shades’ are probably the most recent examples), so we have to take what we can get. I think ‘Rough Night’ is going to do well financially and I’m happy about that. Of course, many films have tried to replicate the success of ‘Bridesmaids’ and not many have managed to pull it off. Hopefully female-driven comedies will not be so few-and-far-between in future and we don’t have to put so much emphasis on female directors, writers and stars when reviewing them. It should be standard, run-of-the-mill, not worth noting. But we’re not there yet. 

Fiona’s rating: 7 out of 10