Review: Child’s Play

DIR: Lars Klevberg • WRI: Tyler Burton Smith • DOP:  DOP: Brendan Uegama • ED: Tom Elkins, Julia Wong • PRO: Seth Grahame-Smith, David Katzenberg • DES: Dan Hermansen • MUS: Bear McCreary • CAST: T Aubrey Plaza, Mark Hamill, Gabriel Bateman

Every Halloween you will always see the same costumes from horror movies. Ghostface will be requesting a song to the DJ dressed as Michael Myers. Freddy Krueger  will be scrambling for change to get his coat in the cloakroom. Pennywise will be tearing it up on the dancefloor. One thing that all of these characters have it common is that they come from big recognisable films. One guy who shows up to every Halloween party in Chucky. There will always be someone donning dungarees and a cheap ginger wig. Despite all his appearances, every Halloween Chucky’s movies never seem to receive the same degree as love as the other horror icons. Chucky is left out in the cold while everyone else are film stars. It’s not for the want of trying; he has been in 7 films before this reboot. Chucky has always been waiting for that movie to shoot him into the VIP section of horror. With It (2017) and Halloween (2018) blowing fans away with their fresh takes on old-school horror, it seems fitting that Chucky gets an opportunity to garner new fans. Child’s Play (2019) gives the doll a chance to prove to the world that he deserves his annual place at the party. 

Child’s Play (2019) tells the story of Andy Barclay (Gabriel Bateman), a 13-year-old, who, following a move to a new city, is left with no friends. In a bid to try and give her son some happiness for a change his mother (Aubrey Plaza) decides to give him a doll (voiced by Mark Hamill) for his birthday. With his new buddy Chucky by his side, Andy strives in the world. His grades improve in school, he makes new lifelong friends and Chucky scores the winning touchdown in the big game. Wait, this isn’t the feel-good indie film of the year? Andy’s doll Chucky is a murderous doll who rejects his programming in favour of becoming evil. After 7 films it would have been nice for Andy to catch a break for once. The film arrives at a time where horror has become staler than ever before. Every single month we get the same horror movie filled with the same lifeless characters and beat for beat jump scares. The film is surprisingly different to your average run of the mill horror film. The narrative could have easily been one where Chucky is evil for no reason from the get-go. In this film you can understand why Chucky picks up his trusted knife. Chucky is a good friend who just wants what’s best for Andy. The opening act details the rise of their friendship in a natural manner. From Andy’s reluctance, to their eventual bond, the friendship feels honest. When Chucky sees Andy being mistreated by his Mother’s boyfriend (David Lewis) and the family cat, Chucky seeks justice for Andy. Unfortunately, Chucky’s version of justice isn’t exactly legal. What follows is a second and third act that is more conventional than its first. The difference here is that we are invested in the characters. Nothing feels forced. Too often in horror films’ the villain goes full villain mode for no real reason. It’s refreshing to get a slasher film that cares about its characters. 

Child’s Play made an ingenious decision in casting Mark Hamill as the menacing doll. Hamill is obviously most known for his portrayal of Luke Skywalker. While most actors would have decided to stick to blockbusters after leading the most successful series ever. Hamill took a different path. Hamill decides to become the best vocal performer in the world. If you are unaware of his voice performances check out his portrayal of The Joker in Batman: The Animated Series. Hamill is arguably the finest Joker ever. In Child’s Play Hamill gives a voice to Chucky. The original Chucky, Brad Dourif, gave the character a gruff voice which was clearly evil, that’s not an insult – his performances were terrific. Hamill decides to give Chucky a child-like voice that is eerily off-putting. Even when he goes down a villainous route Chucky’s voice never changes. Hamill’s performance of “The Buddi Song”  will leave you with Goosebumps. The character is let down by its design, which belongs in a cheap parody film. How they greenlit a design of Chucky that resembles a CPR doll is beyond me. Hamill’s performance deserved to come out of a menacing figure not a cheap SNL prop. 

Having a teenager as your leading character is always a risky move. Especially in horror where the teen characters are usually whiny and unrelatable. Gabriel Bateman does a decent job as Andy. Bateman is no stranger to horror, having previously appeared in Lights Out. Bateman is likable as the kid who can’t catch a break. It’s easy to forget that Hamill wasn’t there when filming was taking place, Bateman was literally acting with a doll. Despite this, he still manages to create chemistry with Chucky.  Bateman is a talented young man who I’m sure we’ll see more of very soon. Once Andy makes friends the movie falters. Ty Consiglio plays Pugg in a performance that wouldn’t have landed him a part on Nickelodeon. Beatrice Kitos does better as Pugg’s sister Falyn, but they take the film off course with teen angst. Had Andy been written like his friends the film would have been a complete disaster.  Aubrey Plaza is as entertaining as always as Andy’s mother Karen. Plaza uses her comedic experience to land solid laughs. It’s a shame that she disappeared for chunks of the film because she is always a hoot when on screen. Without a doubt the standout human character in the film is Detective Mike, played by Bryan Tyree Henry. Henry is one of the most consistent actors around today and shows yet again what he has to offer. Henry brings charm and liability to a character that in any other movie would be one note. If Hollywood doesn’t cast Henry and Plaza in a romantic comedy in the next year I will riot. 

There’s been an air of controversy surrounding the creation of this film. This is the first ever film featuring Chucky that has not been written by creator Don Mancini. Mancini has distanced himself from Child’s Play (2019) after MGM didn’t want him on board. It’s never nice to see a creator being pushed away from his own creation and leaves a sour vibe around the film. Lars Klevberg is the director of this Chucky reboot. Klevberg’s only other feature to date is another 2019 movie called Polaroid. The direction he chooses to take this film  was wise. Turning Chucky into an Alexa-type gadget was wise. The scares may not be intense, but you can’t deny they are creative. Klevberg does fall victim to clogging his last act with unnecessary jump scares. The script, by first-time movie writer Tyler Burton Smith, is filled with clever gags.  Smith doesn’t quite figure out how to write teenagers or how to finish the movie neatly. For a first-time writer there is a lot to be admired. For 2 guys who are new on the movie scene, Klevberg and Smith managed to make one of the year’s surprisingly enjoyable films. 

Child’s Play (2019) is the best Chucky movie to date. It’s not that this is a masterpiece. For starters the other 7 aren’t that good, besides Chucky himself.  Everyone expected this to be a dud. All the pieces seemed to come from different boxes, yet they all fitted together. Hamill is riveting as the villain. Bateman delivers one of the better leading teen performances. Aubrey Plaza and Bryan Tyree Henry are both too likeable to dislike. You’ll come out of the theatre with an odd feeling. Seldom do you walk out of a horror film thinking of the characters instead of the horror. Yet Child’s Play (2019) is that movie. Roll on October when we will finally have a reason for so many people to dress up as Chucky. I might just join them.

Liam De Brùn

@liamjoeireland 

90′ 4″
16 (see IFCO for details)
Child’s Play is released 21st June 2019

Child’s Play – Official Website

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Review: Men in Black: International

DIR: F. Gary Gray • WRI: Matt Holloway, Art Marcum • DOP: Stuart Dryburgh • ED: Zene Baker, Christian Wagner, Matt Willard • PRO: Laurie MacDonald, Walter F. Parkes • DES: Charles Woo • MUS: Chris Bacon, Danny Elfman • CAST: Tessa Thompson, Chris Hemsworth, Rebecca Ferguson

How dare you have Frank on the poster and only have him in 1 scene?

Men in Black has always been an oddity to me. It’s a film series that you need to remind yourself that there’s already been a trilogy.  When you think of trilogies your brain would normally turn to Lord of The Rings, Batman or The Godfather. Granted these are sublime series. I just find it odd that you don’t see the Men in Black trilogy in many DVD shops. Maybe there’s a reason for this? What if this beloved series isn’t all that good? When you think of these films your brain will automatically respond with memories of Will Smith, Frank the talking dog and Tommy Lee Jones’ deadpan expressions.  Do you remember these films? The first instalment of Men in Black is terrific even today. The ’90s aura suits the campy style of the film. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones’ chemistry make it a film that will forever be remembered. The sequels on the other hand are a different story all together. Men in Black 2 is a disaster. Filled with offensive jokes and a lifeless plot, it may be one of the worst sequels of all time. Men in Black 3 is a step up from 2 thanks to a great Josh Brolin performance. It still never comes close to hitting the heights of the first film. On the whole, it’s hard to find why there ever needed to be a sequel to Men in Black in the first place. Men in Black: International arrives with the task of trying to convince the world that this is the first sequel of the series that isn’t a cash grab.

Men in Black: International tells the story of Agent M (Tessa Thompson), a new addition to the Men in Black (MIB). Paired with the experienced but impulsive Agent H (Chris Hemsworth), the 2 of them must travel the world to defeat a global threat. If that wasn’t bad enough there’s a mole in the MIB. Can Agent M and Agent H overcome their differences? Or will the plot make things up as it goes along? The MIB movies have never been known for their magnificent plot structure. MIB: International takes the cake when it comes to messy storytelling. It’s a film that’s trying to juggle too many balls at the same time without ever attempting juggling before. The film wants to tell the story of rookie Agent M. The film also wants to give Agent H a redemption arc. These two desires clash and end up cancelling each other out. One moment Agent H is showing Agent M the ropes, the next moment Agent H becomes inept for no reason leading Agent M to become the more level-headed of the two. An odd couple pairing can only work if the film chooses distinct roles for each of the couple. By making them switch every 5 minutes it makes the film unbelievable.

MIB: International doesn’t know what it wants its main threat to be either. Is it the twin aliens (Laurent and Larry Bourgeois) who are causing havoc in cities? Is it Riza (Rebecca Ferguson), Agent H’s ex-girlfriend turned intergalactic arms dealer? Or is it the mole inside the MIB? Every single one of these villains is underdeveloped. The twins don’t have any dialogue to give them personality or motive.  Riza is only in the film for 20 minutes. The mole is so painfully obvious that when the film decides to switch to it in the last 20 minutes you can’t help but wonder what the point of it all is. Thankfully, the film is saved thanks to its dedicated cast.

Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are no where to be see this time around. This leaves big shoes to fill. Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth through sheer hard work manage to get these shoes to fit. We all know how good these two were in Thor: Ragnarok. Their chemistry was no fluke. Once again Thompson and Hemsworth bounce off each other with ease. Thompson brings a sense of awe and wonder to her character. You can see how blown away she is by the world by looking at her eyes widen. Agent M is undermined at times by a script that falls flat in its attempts to dig into the sexism of the past films. Thompson’s likability makes it impossible for these moments to derail the film.

Agent H is the more obvious comedic foil of the two. Hemsworth has shown time and time again that he’s hysterical when given a platform to showcase his comedy skills.  Hemsworth can sell even the poorest joke. When Thompson and Hemsworth get the opportunity to bounce off each other for lengthy periods it makes you forget about the mess of a movie they are in. It’s weird because their characters’ arcs are written so poorly, but you don’t notice because of how good the performances are. Without these two leads the film would have been a disaster. What could have been one of the worst films of the season becomes a solid one thanks to Thompson and Hemsworth. If these two keep it up they can become one of film’s great pairings.

The rest of the cast are a mixed bad. Kumail Nanjaini threatens to steal the film with his character Pawny. Pawny is an alien who joins forces with Agent H and Agent M in the second half of the film. Nanjani uses his comedy experience to turn what could have been an irritating character into a memorable one. If you haven’t seen Nanjani in The Big Sick change that now. This guy is going places. Rebecca Ferguson’s character design is the only impressive thing about her character Riza. The arms dealer is given no time to leave a lasting impression after being hyped up for so much of the film. Laurent and Larry Bourgeois are commonly known as French dance group Les Twins. It’s hard to figure out why they were chosen to be the main alien villains. They don’t get to act or dance. They needed to do something. Hell, I would have taken a dance sequence set to the Will Smith theme. The other MIB agents don’t get much to do either. Emma Thompson shines in her 5 minutes of screen time in her return to the series. Underusing her should be considered a criminal offence. Yet the MIB films have done it twice now. Agent C (Rafe Spall) is irritating in every single scene he’s in. Unfortunately, not in the intended way.  The sooner Hollywood learns how to use Spall right the better. High T (Liam Neeson) is the head honcho of the London MIB branch. Neeson does a solid job at reminding audiences that he’s good at talking when he’s not giving interviews. For a 2-hour film it’s bizarre that every single character feels underutilized.

MIB: International is the first MIB film not to be directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. With that comes an opportunity for a new director to take a stab at adding a new dimension to the series. F. Gary Gray is the man at the helm this time around. Gray is certainly an established director with Straight Outta Compton being one of the best films of 2015. Since then Gray’s gone on to direct Fast & Furious 8. Rather then making more dramas the director has decided to go down the big-budget action root. Gray’s direction for the most part is solid. The action scenes aren’t ground-breaking but there is enough to keep you invested. A scene involving a hover bike is an enthralling set piece. The problem is that this film feels like more of the same. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been seen in a MIB movie before. The same guns. The same action sequences. The same amount of alien’s explosions. It doesn’t feel like anything new was brought to the table to enhance the world. Which is shame considering the possibilities of a world filled with aliens. Gray is a talented director, but it doesn’t feel like he was given an opportunity to express himself. The root of all the film’s problems comes from the script. Written by Matt Holloway and Ant Marcum the script is a dud. These guys wrote Iron Man and now they seem to have forgotten how to write. The plot is predictable and jumps from A to Z at any given moment. The jokes fell almost entirely flat. I was the only person in the cinema who had the slightest giggle from them. For a film set in an alien world there are few aliens to be found. It’s the third film of this summer that attempts and fails to display feminism. These blockbusters really need to look at Hereditary, Roma or The Favourite. Blockbuster movies seemed adamant to point out how they are all for having female characters and it needs to stop. It’s your own fault that you excluded them for year so please quit the pandering.

Men in Black International isn’t the abomination that many critics are making it out to be. Hemsworth and Thompson bring enough fun that you’ll have a good time. The problem with the film is that it’s very lazy. It’s another film in this series that feels like it’s only doing it for money. Not one of these sequels has felt honest. Each one feels like a movie has already been written and they decided to slap Men in Black on it to sell it.  The first film is filled with heart and to see it exploited is a travesty. In 7 years, we’ll see another MIB reboot. This one will star of the Stranger Things kids and Jaden Smith.  At the end of the day this isn’t a series of a films. This is a series of marketing exercises led by Sony. Marketing in Black will return to feed off nostalgia in 2025.

Liam De Brùn

@liamjoeireland 

114′ 49″
12A (see IFCO for details)
Men in Black: International is released 14th June 2019

Men in Black: International – Official Website


 

 

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