Sunday, 25 August 2019

Netflix And Chill: Game Over (2019)

Hmmmmm, I am usually pretty good when it comes to reviewing movies while keeping things relatively spoiler-free. Decisions have to be made, of course, especially if the movie has been mis-sold, or is worth discussing in more detail because of what it brings to the table, as it were. But it's a delicate balancing act. Even mentioning a movie has a twist is resented by people who then spend the duration of a film watching out for a twist.

Game Over doesn't really have a twist, but it is worth mentioning that it takes a turn in the third act that rewards patient viewers. Will it elevate the film for you? I cannot say. All I can tell you is that I was enjoying the first hour or so while waiting to see if it would deliver anything more entertaining... and then it delivered something more entertaining. Whether you go along with it or not is entirely up to you.

Things start with a life being ended. A vicious murderer is on the loose. Viewers are then introduced to Swapna (Taapsee Pannu), who seems to have resigned herself to a different kind of end to her life. She plays videogames, doesn't seem to save any friends to prove a distraction, and is battling severe nichtophobia. She's also starting to be bothered by a tattoo she had done to display her love of gaming, as well as the not insignificant fact that she survived a traumatic attack, one that has been displayed online and leads to her being occasionally recognised.

Written by Kaavya Ramkumar and Ashwin Saravanan, who also directed it, Game Over may disappoint some people who like to think they know where it is heading from the earlier scenes. Those people may start plotting out their own movie, only to be thrown a curveball later on. Just be patient, trust in the skill of those involved, and you will be rewarded. The script puts everything in place nicely, and Saravanan directs with precision, leading viewers step by step towards that immensely enjoyable and satisfying third act.

Pannu is decent in the main role, especially when you consider that she's in almost every scene. Vinodhini Vaidyanathan plays the only other main character (a housekeeper/carer who shares her home), and also does well, while there are very brief portions of screentime allocated to characters such as a psychiatrist, a doctor, a murder victim, the victim's mother, and a security guard.

As much a look at the psychological impacts of hugely traumatic events as it is a tense thriller, this has some interesting points to make about gathering up the courage to keep fighting whatever life may throw at you, and how life doesn't necessarily always play fair (not at all). It also seems to suggest that maybe, just mayyyyyybe, you can offer abuse victims support while also allowing them to find their security/comfort/distraction any way they wish to, until they once again have the mindset and the strength to deal with whatever fate has in store for them.

7/10


Saturday, 24 August 2019

Shudder Saturday: Revenge (2017)

Revenge is, in a number of ways, a standard thriller that has an appalling sexual assault on a young woman as the catalyst for the rest of the plot. But, in a number of important ways, it's also decidedly NOT like many others you could select.

Written and directed by Coralie Fargeat, things start with Richard (Kevin Janssens) and his younger lover (Jen, played by Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) being dropped off by helicopter at a remote house that will give them time together in peace. Well, that is the plan. They are soon joined by Richard's two friends, Stan and Dimitri, and one of the men decides that Jen should be available to him, despite what she may think about that. This sets off a chain of events that will, well, let's just say that things aren't going to end well for most of the main characters here.

Although it feels as if this couldn't possibly require the 108-minute runtime that it has, Revenge displays the plight of Jen in an unflinching way that allows viewers to see her strength develop without necessarily dwelling lasciviously on the trials that keep forcing her to grit her teeth and bear the pain she receives. There are moments here that will make you wince and flinch, including a downright brutal interface between a foot and a huge chunk of glass, but they're also satisfying. The title of the movie says it all, and the men are all completely deserving of the fate that Jen wants to deliver them.

Lutz is superb in the lead role, with her character developing in a way that feels based completely on a survival instinct kicking in, as opposed to any kind of hidden expertise that transforms her from victim to Sarah Connor by the halfway mark (a la the I Spit On Your Grave remake). The men, led by Janssens, but including the abuser and enabler, played by Guillaume Bouchède and Vincent Colombe, do a good job of being loathsome, and it's great to watch them grow more and more desperate as their situation worsens and they worry about their self-preservation.

Fargeat obviously puts a different spin on things, compared to a male director, and that is another plus point. We don't get too much background information on Jen, she's a typical young woman with typical plans for her life, as her entire character is about to be changed by this one major trauma, and the aftermath of it. The assault itself is filmed in a way that makes it clear what is happening without dwelling on anything that could be seen as exploitative, and it's only when the revenge starts to be executed that things become viscerally entertaining.

There are so many movies that you could choose to watch from the "rape revenge" subgenre, and yes it is a subgenre, but few of them are made with quite the same level of relative restraint and genuine interest in the character beyond showing them as a beauty to be broken and destroyed. If you have the stomach for it, this is a superior example, and that may be due in no small part to the fact that it is a woman at the helm, providing a different filter on the material.

8/10

Americans can buy it here.


Friday, 23 August 2019

Shazam! (2019)

If they hadn't been quite so desperate to catch up on the huge success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, DC could have helped themselves immensely with a much better release schedule. Instead, they just had to get their crossovers in place as soon as possible, leaving more lightweight films, such as this one, relatively sidelined. And Shazam! could have easily been one of their first big releases in this wave of movies, with the main story feeling enjoyably standalone. If you have seen this already, imagine what a great impression it could have made if released before any of the other major DC movies, with the nods to other characters and a fun cameo right before the end credits.

For anyone, like myself, who is unfamiliar with this comic book character, Shazam is a powerful man who seems pretty invincible, can throw bolts of electricity out of his hands, has super-strength, and can possibly fly (he's still figuring things out in this origin tale). This movie also has him starting off as a teenager named Billy Batson. When Billy has the power bestowed upon him by an elderly wizard type, he can transform by saying his name. Saying the name again takes him back to his everyday child form, where he is residing in a foster home alongside a young boy named Freddy, who is the only one to initially be made aware of Billy's new superpowers. There's also a major villain, of course, and that is Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, who was once given a chance to claim the powers of Shazam but was found unworthy.

Cast-wise, this is absolutely wonderful. Asher Angel and Jack Dylan Grazer are both excellent as Billy and Freddy, respectively, and Zachary Levi is an absolute blast as the adult-on-the-outside Shazam. The villainous Dr. Sivana is played by Mark Strong, who is as brilliant onscreen as he usually is, and it's perhaps telling that one of the better DC villains in recent years is also one that doesn't feel able to immediately destroy the entire world in a fit of rage. Djimon Hounsou does well in a small, but vital role, and there are solid performances from the likes of Faithe Herman, Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Marta Milans, Cooper Andrews, and the always-welcome John Glover.

The third feature film from David F. Sandberg (who spent years crafting some great shorts, including the one that would be developed into his first full-length film, Lights Out), this is a solid, and enjoyably comedic, superhero adventure. It's a small film, in many ways, with the more important moments being grounded in the personal story of Billy and his new family. The script, by Henry Gayden, has the usual lessons about responsibility and what it really takes to be a hero, but it also provides a very positive message to those who need to learn, or be reminded, that your family isn't necessarily made up of blood relatives. You can grow close enough to good friends that you make your own family unit, but forming those attachments means that you also impact on their lives more, and vice versa.

It may lack some of the huge set-pieces that fans of superhero movies have been getting on a regular basis over the past decade or so, and some of the more fun sequences could have crammed in a few extra gags, but this is a highly entertaining family film that delivers the expected cape-wearing moments alongside a healthy dollop of Big (which is given an amusingly obvious nod at one point). Sometimes you don't need to see the whole planet put in peril. Sometimes it's a lot more satisfying to watch a kid realise how he can easily have something life-enriching that he'd always previously thought out of his reach.

7/10

You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.


Thursday, 22 August 2019

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Important note - it has been many years since I have seen Apocalypse Now, but I could not pass up the chance to see it on the big screen, even if it was "The Final Cut", a version that includes a lot of the footage from the "Redux" version, but not all, and clocks in at around three hours.

Here is my completely unnecessary review for today, because god knows that more than enough has been written and said about this film already. But I'll add my two cents anyway.

I've always had my issues with Apocalypse Now, issues that have simply been exacerbated by most of the material added to it over the years.  The film is an undeniable classic, and should always be considered as a contender for the greatest war movie of all time, but that third act is a real slog, going on for far too long and becoming more and more arduous in a way that was perhaps intended as a metaphor for the Vietnam War itself.

The plot is relatively simple. Martin Sheen plays Captain Benjamin L. Willard, a man sent on a classified mission to catch up to the mysterious Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) and terminate his command. Terminate with extreme prejudice. Willard travels on a small boat with four other men, and they all get a chance to be reminded of the absolute insanity of war.

Based on the novel, "Heart Of Darkness", by Joseph Conrad, written by John Milius and Francis Ford Coppola, and also directed by Coppola, the making of Apocalypse Now is the stuff of legend, with some claiming it felt as if it would go on, and be as tough, as the war itself. It's a sprawling mess, at times, but the more powerful moments are SO powerful that it will remain an essential work of art as long as cinema is around.

It's also funny to watch it as a more fully-formed adult, compared to how I watched it as a teen, eagerly awaiting the iconic moments. The Ride Of The Valkyries sequence still holds up as well as ever, for example, but also plays out as a comment on how those particular Americans view themselves, as powerful and larger than life warriors annihilating an enemy by dealing out death from above, while the people below include a random selection of villagers and schoolchildren, as well as those quick to fight back.

It's hard to think of anyone better than Sheen for the lead role, and I'm glad that heart attack didn't put an end to his involvement. He's the perfect mix of military rigidity and wide-eyed confoundment at the events occurring around him. His "crew" are all portrayed brilliantly by Albert Hall, Sam Bottoms, Frederic Forrest, and a very young Laurence Fishburne. Dennis Hopper crops up for a few scenes, stretching himself by playing a wild-eyed hippy type (with a camera), and there are very small roles for Harrison Ford, Scott Glenn, and R. Lee Ermey. Robert Duvall doesn't have a lot of screentime, but he certainly grabs a fair share of the best scripted lines, and the film somehow finds another level to go to whenever he's around. And then you have Brando, casting a lengthy shadow over the proceedings, both in character and also in the established weight of his performance that has been spoken about for the past forty years. Although the film really grinds to a halt when Willard and Kurtz finally meet, that is not the fault of Brando, who is riveting for every moment that he's onscreen, a warrior who knows what it truly takes to win any war, and is as willing to accept his own death as he is unwilling to accept the judgment of others.

There are a couple of moments I will never enjoy, a scene involving the slaughter of an animal being one that really turns my stomach, but Apocalypse Now is a film that, considering what it took to get made, wouldn't feel right if it was perfect. I'd also agree with many other people who might want to remove a whole point for the extended "French plantation" sequence that appears in extended editions of the movie (it's so clunky and awful that it's actually embarrassing). The fact that none of the negatives ever put me off recommending it in the strongest possible terms, however, should help to remind you of what a cinematic touchstone this is.

9/10

I caved in and ordered this upcoming release.
Americans can get it here.


Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Prime Time: Bloody New Year (1987)

Norman J. Warren is an interesting figure in British cinema. His genre films are all resolutely British, especially the enjoyable Satan's Slave, yet they are also clearly influenced by various other European luminaries (either deliberately or accidentally, as happened with Inseminoid, which feels like a British version of an Italian rip-off of Alien). Prey could almost be viewed as Bergman-esque, particularly as I have always viewed it as a sci-fi horror that also shows how not to treat unexpected houseguests, and Terror is a wonderfully bizarre riff on Suspiria. Bloody New Year is like a cross between The Shining and numerous Lucio Fulci movies. And that is no bad thing.

Everything starts with the leads having a run-in with some aggressive funfair workers. Making their escape, they jump in a small boat (!) and soon end up stranded on a small island. There is an abandoned hotel on the island, but that doesn't mean that it is really empty. Many spirits reside there, and they are about to terrify the teenagers who have unexpectedly joined them.

Seeing this nowadays, after knowing nothing more than the title for many years, I have to say that it amused and entertained me. If I'd seen it when it was first released, however, then I am not sure how I would have felt about it. It's a typically Warren-esque mix of the old-fashioned and the bizarre, with a  disappointing lack of gratuitous bloodshed and gore offset by a good selection of WTF? moments.

The script by Frazer Pearce is the silly skeleton upon which everything hangs. I mean, seriously, just re-read that synopsis above. It's like something from the Children's Film Foundation, except the characters are all supposed to be older teenagers (or in their early twenties, surely). That doesn't matter when you start to get the more standard horror movie moments though, especially when it is made clear early on that this isn't a movie concerned with logic or rationality. It's full of moments of madness, in the best ways, and viewers have to decide whether to go along with things or not. It's a lot more fun if you just go along with it.

The cast are a mixed bag, with everyone deserving credit for at least being game enough to throw themselves in amongst the daffiness of it all. Suzy Aitchison has the most fun, in my opinion, as Lesley, one of the first members of the group to be seriously transformed by the whole experience, Mark Powley feels like the closest thing to a lead, despite the focus not staying on any one individual for too long, and Nikki Brooks, Daniel James (credited as Colin Heywood), Catherine Roman, and Julian Ronnie make up the rest of the core group. Other main players include those nasty funfair workers (who . . . *slight spoiler* . . . do manage to make it to the island eventually) and the people portraying the various spirits, sometimes by simply standing there and wearing pale makeup.

A lesser film from Warren, this still has plenty to recommend it, as long as you are well prepared for what you are letting yourself in for. Sadly, the fact that it is being more broadly influenced, than some of his other works makes it a less interesting film than pretty much anything else from his horror output. But I'll still rewatch this before any number of slicker and "safer" movie choices. It's quite bad, and yet it has still managed to win me over.

6/10

This is THE way to own the works of Norman J. Warren (I cannot begin to cover the quality and quantity of the movies, and the supplementary materials).




Tuesday, 20 August 2019

The Banana Splits Movie (2019)

If you are of a certain age then you'll know of The Banana Splits, an anarchic and fun TV show that featured four characters (Bingo, Fleegle, Snorky, and Drooper) played by people in fluffy suits. Think of a more kid-friendly version of The Monkees and you'll be close. Anyway, I have fond memories of the show, as do so many others.

Which makes this horror-comedy makeover all the stranger. The trailer seemed to appear out of nowhere last week, when it was picked up and shared around by various sites, and here we have the film already. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I knew I definitely had to check it out.

Finlay Wojtak-Hissong plays Harley, a young boy who is taken along to a recording of The Banana Splits show for his birthday. He's there with his mother (Beth, played by Dani Kind), his inconsiderate father (Mitch, played by Steve Lund), and his brother (Austin, played by Romero Carere). And he's taken along a friend named Zoe (Maria Nash). Everyone watches the show, but things start to get weird when a select few members of the audience are allowed to stay behind and meet the gang. It turns out that the gang are robots, and something has gone wrong with their programming.

What. The. Hell?

Looking up The Banana Splits Movie brings up a number of interesting points. First of all, although I haven't seen anything else from director Danishka Esterhazy, but I'll check out anything else she does after this, I HAVE seen another movie written by Jed Elinoff and Scott Thomas. They've done a fair bit of TV work, including The Mistle-Tones (one of the many Christmas movies I have seen in my lifetime) and they have a history of mashing up TV show formats with some extra blood and death (as they did with their My Super Psycho Sweet 16 movies). Second, this was apparently based on an idea for a Five Nights At Freddy's movie. Whether that is true or not, it's hard to unsee the similarities once you consider that possibility.

Although never as wild or inventive as it could be, this ticks a lot of the boxes if you were somehow waiting on a horror comedy featuring the Banana Splits as deadly killers. The main characters look pretty much the same as ever, a number of familiar accessories are put to good use (such as the cars that the characters used to drive and Fleegle's magic tricks), and you get a version of the familiar theme song played here and there. Some of the kills are gory fun, and the central premise ensures that the horror is underscored with a current of dark comedy.

Wojtak-Hissong is a decent young actor, as are all of the humans here, but each main sequence is really a waiting game until the Banana Splits get involved. They are too much fun, in normal or killer mode, and so you just have to give props to Kind, Lund, Nash, and Carere for playing second fiddle to them. Richard White does fine as Stevie, the one human character who stars alongside the Banana Splits, and Naledi Majola tries her best in the role of Paige, a put-upon member of staff who looks after the show's live audience members. There are numerous others onscreen, all of them potential victims, and they're all acceptable enough in their roles.

I liked this movie. I wasn't sure who the hell thought it would be a good idea, but I liked it nonetheless. It's just a shame that it seemed to hold back when the potential was there to go even darker and crazier. Because if you're going to create a film around this ides then you may as well make up a mess of fun.

7/10

You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy the movie here.


Monday, 19 August 2019

Mubi Monday: Phoenix (2014)

Stop me if you've heard this one before. A woman (Nelly, played by Nina Hoss) survives the Holocaust, seriously disfigured, and doctors try to reconstruct her face, which has been seriously damaged. She ends up looking similar to her old self, but not exactly the same. Seeking out her husband (Johnny, played by Ronald Zehrfeld), despite warnings that he may have been the one to betray her to the Nazis, she becomes embroiled in a plan that requires her to pretend to be his "dead wife" in order to collect her sizeable inheritance and turn a very bad situation into a good, profitable, one. Can she keep up the charade, and will she find out, once and for all, whether or not Johnny really did betray her?

Adapted from a novel, The Return From The Ashes, by Hubert Monteilhet, this is a film that feels very much in the middle of harsh reality and dark fairytale. It's the royalty returning in disguise to take over the kingdom, on the one hand, but it's also very much showing someone painfully trying to put back together the shattered windows of their soul. Someone who assumed they were going to die, and then somehow survived, and everything beyond that point is both a blessing and a confounding mess. Because how do you move forward from your death?

Hoss is superb in the role of Nelly, a woman trying to remain composed on the surface as she is both attracted and repulsed by the idea of reclaiming her former life. Zehrfeld plays his character in a way that is suitably ambiguous, considering the circumstances, allowing for tension to build as we head towards a climax that may yet reveal some painful truths. And, an important third party in the plot, Nina Kunzendorf is very good as Lene Winter, the woman who helps her friend head home after her ordeal, and who tries to warn her against her plan.

Although it may seem like a ridiculously contrived, over the top, melodrama, Phoenix is a gripping film, one that manages to make a big impact without resorting to scenes of major histrionics or war movie stereotypes. Director Christian Petzoid, who worked with Harun Farocki in adapting the story to the screen, does a remarkable job, showing restraint throughout and allowing the strength of the lead performances to carry the viewers along, providing a lot of food for thought while never bringing things to a halt in order to hammer home any one particular point. Double-bill this with Son Of Saul and you have quite the devastating display of the impact of the Holocaust on individuals, and how that machinery of genocide would grind down the humanity in those who were somehow surviving, one day at a time.

I'm very surprised that there hasn't been some remake of this already. Perhaps it's viewed as something too unbelievable, even for Hollywood, but truth can be stranger than fiction, as we all know, and this does more than enough to make everything seem entirely believable, from the harrowing first scenes all the way to an emotionally-charged and brilliant final moment.

8/10

You can buy the movie here.


Sunday, 18 August 2019

Netflix And Chill: The Exorcism Of Emily Rose (2005)

I like director Scott Derrikson. Even though he gave us the appalling remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still (which at least had Keanu Reeves in it, if nothing else). His first feature film remains one of the best of the many Hellraiser sequels (Hellraiser: Inferno) and he has since delivered some fine entertainment in both the horror world (this film and Sinister spring to mind) and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (where he was chosen to helm the kaleidoscopic Doctor Strange movie, and may currently be working on the next one). But I remember this film being the one that seemed to mark him out as someone to watch.

The core of the tale involves a priest (Father Moore, played by Tom Wilkinson) who is on trial for causing the death of a young woman (Emily Rose, played by Jennifer Carpenter) during an exorcism that the more rational-minded prosecution team (led by a man named Ethan Thomas, played by Campbell Scott) believe was completely unnecessary. Can the main defence attorney (Erin Bruner, played by Laura Linney) make any kind of case that won't be scoffed at by the jury and dismissed by the judge (Mary Beth Hurt)? Perhaps it would be easier if Father Moore wasn't sticking quite so rigidly to his truthful view of the events.

Although an undoubtedly polished and well-crafted supernatural tale, it's hard to deny the fact that this was effectively marketed with the "based on a true story" angle. Anneliese Michel was a young German woman who spent the last year of her short life being the subject of attempted exorcism procedures. Her death, at the age of just 23, led to a court case against her parents and the two priests. The Exorcism Of Emily Rose may well contain enough similarities to justify the tag, certainly more than some other horror movies that have misused the credit, but it's also very happy to diverge from the truth whenever the opportunity arises to add some tension and scares.

Derrickson, who also co-wrote the movie with Paul Harris Boardman, balances things nicely between an atmosphere of dread and one that is more believable. Viewers see how Emily is viewing the world, and how others are at times viewing her, and that is often followed up by prosecution statements that provide a more grounded, alternative, explanation for what initially seems to be impossible to describe as anything other than supernatural.

Wilkinson is excellent in his role, consistently managing to portray his character with faith and trust in the truth being on his side, without ever becoming unlikable or irritating. Linney and Scott are both typical attorneys, and both do very good work, even while constrained by a number of cliches. It would be easy to dismiss the performance from Carpenter if it was nothing more than a bag of tics and pained expressions, which is how it feels in some scenes, but she brings much more to the role, not least of which is a physicality that allows her to contort her body in some of the more disturbing moments in the movie.

There's nothing wrong with this film. It is, from start to finish, a decent bit of entertainment that gives viewers something to think about, while also scattering some decent scares (and FX work) throughout. It's just one of those mainstream hits that I never quite understood ALL the love for, because there was a time when this seemed to top a lot of lists from people recommending their favourite horror movies to others, even if I can't think of anything majorly negative to hold against it.

7/10

You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.


Saturday, 17 August 2019

Shudder Saturday: Why Horror? (2014)

Why Horror? may be the title of this light documentary that looks at horror fandom and the enduring appeal of the genre, but a better title might have been Why Bother? Because there's nothing here worth giving your time to, nothing that you haven't seen a hundred times before, framed in much better documentaries, and it all feels more like a personal memento for Tal Zimerman, a huge horror fan who serves as the host for the whole thing.

I have said it before, many times, and will no doubt say it again . . .my love for the genre began when I was somewhere between the ages of 5 and 7. I remember that the babysitter used to let me stay up late at weekends, recording as much of my parents' vinyl collection as he could, and buying my silence and good behaviour by allowing me to stay up and watch the double-bills that were being shown on TV late at night. I was drawn to all of the archetypes, anything undead and/or fanged was thrilling to me, and I was even more won over by the delights of the genre when I saw my first "evil buxom wench" in a film that I assumed was a Hammer horror. It wasn't. It was a film that evaded me for many years, until I could make use of the wonderful world wide web, a Tigon movie called The Creeping Flesh, and the fiery young woman who made me wonder what the world had in store for me in my adult years was the lovely Lorna Helibron.

I could also tell you about my parents renting a top-loading VCR, impressing visitors who gathered around the glow of Creepshow while I sat in the background, being quiet and pretending to sleep while I was being traumatised by the tales within the film (to this day, I have no idea how I managed not to scream and run out the room during the finale of "They're Creeping Up On You").

Or being an excitable ten-year-old when my mother finally got a VHS copy of A Nightmare On Elm Street. We watched it, I was terrified, I loved it. I went to bed and thought I could hear noises from outside, Freddy WAS coming to get me (even though I lived up on the third floor). 'I know', I though to myself, 'now that everyone else is asleep I will put my bedside lamp on and sleep peacefully, then get up before anyone else in the morning and turn it off. Job done.' The only minor problem with my cunning plan was that, as a child, I could easily sleep in until midday, if left alone. I NEVER woke up before the adults, apart from in response to that body clock alarm that would alert me to the Saturday morning kid show extravaganza, and I didn't manage it on that morning. My mother came in, her raised voice made her disapproval clear, and, worst of all, I was told that I wouldn't be getting to watch any more scary movies until I was old enough to handle them.

That threatened punishment never happened, thankfully, and I continued to fill my head with all manner of horrors, starting my journey seeking real frights and thrills and eventually growing to love the variety of entertainment offered up by the genre, from the thought-provoking to the simple gorefest.

You may wonder why I have written all of this when I could have delivered a review of Why Horror? Well, every horror fan has a story like this one. It is good to share those stories, especially when you are in the company of friends, old and new. But watching a whole documentary about one person trying to act as if the appeal of the genre is still some huge mystery isn't half as good as making a personal connection.

Nicolas Kleiman and Rob Lindsay direct, with the latter also being responsible for some of the writing, and there are a good selection of people offering their thoughts (George A. Romero, Alexandre Aja, Eli Roth, Don Coscarelli, etc), but it's a shame that Zimerman is a "host" without anything to separate him from so many other horror fans. He's not bad, he's just not in any way more interesting or unique than at least twenty people I could choose right now from my list of fellow fright fans.

Why Horror? It's a question that everyone who loves the genre already knows the answer to, making this a completely pointless exercise, especially when there are a number of better genre-centric documentaries that are worthy of your time.

3/10

Pick something much better from Arrow Films here.


Friday, 16 August 2019

Hellboy (2019)

Hellboy is the weakest film yet from director Neil Marshall, who has been away from cinema screens for far too long (his last solo project was Centurion, almost a decade ago). But a weak film from Neil Marshall is still something that I'll happily watch ahead of films from many other directors. Because Marshall has consistently provided me with entertainment, thrills, and some of the best moments in modern genre cinema. So, despite the critical and commercial failure of this movie, I was always going to give him my time.

David Harbour is the actor now taking on the main role, and Ian McShane is his father figure, but this will all feel very familiar to fans of the property. All you need to know is that an evil sorceress, a "blood queen" named Vivienne Nimue (Milla Jovovich) is trying to come back and get her revenge, despite having been dismembered and her body parts placed in different locations, and part of her plan involves Hellboy taking charge of Excalibur and unleashing a kind of hell on Earth. Hellboy is helped in this adventure by a young woman who can communicate with the dead (Alice, played by Sasha Lane) and a skilled soldier type (Ben Daimio, played by Daniel Dae Kim).

I could spend just as much time writing about all of the little mis-steps that stop this from being a great movie, but I am choosing instead to try and heap a little praise upon it. Enough people have told you why you should give it a miss. I am going to try and convince you to give it two hours of your time.

First of all, forget the previous Hellboy movies. They are fantastic, and few people have the same attention to detail when it comes to creating cinematic worlds as Guillermo del Toro. So it's important to remember that as you go into this. It's not a Del Toro film, and it's not trying to be. I think too many people gave this a viewing while still holding on to their love (and well-earned love, at that) for those other movies.

Second, this is a good cast. Harbour does well in the main role, and McShane has become a master of stealing scenes while appearing in smaller roles in recent years. Jovovich has a blast as the big baddie, and is especially fun in the roles that have her still waiting for her body to be fully assembled. It's a shame that Lane and Kim aren't as much fun as they could be, let down by a script that doesn't seem to know what to do with them for large sections of the runtime, but that's compensated for by the performances from Sophie Okonedo, Thomas Haden Church (in a brief cameo), and Stephen Graham, voicing a "henchman" creature named Gruagach.

Although the script by Andrew Cosby may not be as strong or interesting as it could be, everything moves along energetically enough, with some fun set-pieces interspersed throughout that allow Marshall to deliver some blood and guts around people who roll their eyes and swear at the monsters attempting to push them off their mortal coil.

The special effects are varying in quality, the score from Benjamin Wallfisch is foot-stampingly good, and the whole thing is just a flawed bundle of messy fun. Which is sometimes the best kind of fun (hey, get your mind out of the gutter). Give it a watch and you may agree.

6/10

You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy the movie here.


Thursday, 15 August 2019

Once Upon A Time . . . In Hollywood (2019)

If you take any one scene from Once Upon A Time . . . In Hollywood that features a look at the winding career paths of either Rick Dalton (former movie star, now a TV name, played by Leonardo DiCaprio) or Cliff Booth (main stunt double for Dalton, and good friend, played by Brad Pitt) then you have something pretty wonderful. Also take any scene with Sharon Tate (played by Margot Robbie) being happy and seemingly unspoilt by her near-stardom and you will be smiling, thanks mainly to the wonderful performance from Robbie.

But there's everything else here. Tarantino, for he's long been in the position where we don't have to use his full name, has crafted a fairytale, which the title clearly signifies, but he's done so in a way that loses focus, seems to often have its heart in the wrong place, and just stumbles into a grand finale that is, at worst, uncharacteristically graphic and tonally jarring and, at worst, disappointingly disrespectful and distasteful.

The core of the film is based around the relationship between Dalton and Booth, as the former tries to keep working while not allowing his name to lose that star quality. Tate is shown being the kind of woman who lights up any room when she enters it, although those who know what happened to her cannot keep a tinge of sadness at bay, despite suspecting that the fairytale aspect may allow for more QT historical revisionism. And then you have the Manson Family, a shadow looming over the film once they make their first appearance.

Let me make something clear first of all. There are no bad performances here, and Pitt is doing his best work in years (this is arguably more his film than DiCaprio's, although the latter does brilliant with a range of acting, from his natural state off-camera to his cheesier style in some of his TV work). Robbie is phenomenal, if underserved, and there are also excellent turns from Timothy Olyphant, Margaret Qualley, Julia Butters, Bruce Dern, Kurt Russell, and Al Pacino, to name but a few. Even those who turn up just to do a small impression (Damian Lewis is Steve McQueen, Mike Moh is Bruce Lee) do great work.

All of the things that don't work here come from Tarantino, a man who has indulged and deluded himself for so long that I doubt he will see anything wrong in what he may consider the culmination of his career. The soundtrack is what you'd expect, the barrage of movie and TV references are on point (and the second-best thing about it, after the lead performances), the violence appears (but it feels different from other violence he has depicted, it feels . . . more unpleasant and out of place, considering the tone of the rest of the finale, as if he felt everyone would need things to be pushed further and further, like some kind of cathartic release), and you get so many shots of people with their bare feet up in the air/on furniture that it starts to feel like he's trolling us all.

Obviously intended as a love letter to this time, and a way of both celebrating and lamenting the effect that TV had on the careers of many in the movie industry, Tarantino throws everything in the mix without considering how much of it is necessary. Although this allows for more treats (the technical side of things is wonderful, when it comes to capturing the feel of the time, and the many shows shown are wonderful, as are some of the movie clips, both real and re-envisioned with Dalton in a main role), it also allows for the moments that feel most sour. Why have your character shown to be a badass in a number of different ways when you can just have him go toe to toe with Bruce Lee? Why give someone a dark backstory when you can just imply a very similar fate to that of Natalie Wood? Why treat well-known names with a little more respect when they can be bit-players in the lives of the two main characters?

There were so many other ways to do this, ways that didn't have to be signposted less than halfway through the 161-minute runtime (at least I think the moment in which Booth is asked to fix a TV aerial is before the halfway point). This should have been a pure celebration from start to finish, showing the bad with the good but ending on a great upswing. Instead . . . well, it feels completely misjudged, completely gratuitous (sometimes for the better, often for the worse), and completely half-assed, considering how much the viewer is expected to bring to the table in order to fill in the gaps and place characters that ultimately end up being so transformed and/or discarded by Tarantino that they didn't have to be based on ANY reality at all. But then he wouldn't be able to feel quite so self-indulgent, and we all know that QT loves to indulge himself. It's just that his best movies also indulge the audience at the same time. This one doesn't. In fact, I am tempted to say that it ends up being downright insulting at times, but then often manages to make up for it with some little moments of cinematic beauty.

Hugely frustrating, hugely problematic, and still absolutely essential viewing for those who want to see where they stand on another Tarantino film that, at the very least, is once again steeped in the history of the cinema he loves.

5/10

You'll be able to get the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.


Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Prime Time: There Are Monsters (2013)

There Are Monsters starts off really well. REALLY well. The opening act makes great use of the found footage style to put a different spin on familiar "Body Snatchers" material. And the main actors do a decent job, which is often a pleasant surprise with these movies (as if the supposed low-budget style automatically means poor acting from people pretending to be natural). Then it all starts to unravel. And it gets worse, and worse, and worse, winding towards a finale that it becomes increasingly difficult to care about.

Written and directed by Jay Dahl, developing one of his shorts into his feature debut (after just over a decade spent building a decent body of work), There Are Monsters follows a group of film-makers who end up inadvertently witnessing the gradual takeover of the human race while they're making a documentary.

The main quartet here are Beth (Kristin Langille), Jeff (Guy Germain), Terry (Matthew Amyotte), and Dan (Jason Daley). Don't ask me to remember who was who, in terms of main characteristics, because everyone is pretty interchangeable. They're all there to pretend to be wandering through a normal world until they start to see more and more signs of obvious abnormality. And they all do a fairly decent job.

Dahl gave himself such a great concept to work with, and he looks set to make a real success of things with the early scenes. You get a mixture of little, unnerving, touches and strange effects that start to paint a disturbing picture. The filming style generally works well, even when you start to ask yourself the usual questions that always come up when watching found footage films, until it stops being an organic way of displaying the material and turns into something completely unnecessary, and bloody lazy.

Yes, this is a found footage film that gives up on that idea pretty early on, but then decides to keep filming everything in the standard unfocused, shaky-cam style. That can be hard to tolerate when watching movies that are dictated by the format. It's very annoying to have to tolerate it when you realise that the film-maker couldn't even be bothered to keep working to his own remit.

A failure all the more frustrating because of how easily it could have been a complete success, There Are Monsters still has enough good scenes to make it worth your time, and there is some enjoyably disturbing imagery in the grand finale, but I cannot recall the last time a movie annoyed me as much as this one did, watching someone hide in the dark and use a camera/flash in a way that we've seen so often before in films of this type . . . without it really having to be another bloody film of this type.

4/10

You can buy the movie here.


Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Shin Godzilla (2016)

I don't have too much knowledge of kaiju movies. In fact, I have seen so few of them that it is, at this point, frankly embarrassing. For a long, long time the only films I had seen with "Big G" in them were Godzilla (1954) and, ummmm, Godzilla (1998). I eventually saw King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1962), but then it was back to the American blockbuster versions, when I saw both Godzilla (2014) and Godzilla: King Of The Monsters (2019). The American attempts to capture the essence of the monster have yet to nail it. Each one has good individual moments (yes, even that Emmerich mess), but none of them get everything right. I've seen a FEW more now, still not enough to allow me to show my face alongside any proper fans, but my love for Godzilla is growing, and one day I hope to have seen many more movies starring him, or his colleagues.

Shin Godzilla is probably not one that many would pick to watch ahead of many others. Never mind, I'd heard good things, although I had also heard some criticism. I would give it a go, even if I still had decades of more traditional entries to get to.

It's pretty fantastic. It's also a strange mix of the stuff you love about Godzilla movies and a more grounded look at how people would respond to the destruction. A strange creature comes out of the sea and starts moving across Japan. It's Godzilla, even if it doesn't initially look like him. Causing a lot of unintentional destruction and chaos, the authorities have to find a way to best respond. They seriously underestimate the strength of the creature, and his ability to retaliate, and things start to get worse while the brains try to think of a more successful strategy.

Co-directed by Hideaki Anno (who also wrote the script) and Shinji Higuchi, Shin Godzilla brings the most famous kaiju crashing into a more believable real world than any of his other movie outings. While this may seem like a recipe for something horribly dull and uncharacteristic for the long-running franchise, and I have seen some complain about that, it ends up being a smart move, juxtaposing some spectacular scenes of destruction with moments that show puny humans completely at a loss when considering how to minimise the devastation.

Despite the large cast assembled, including Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara, and Ren Osugi, and despite the scenes in which people weigh up risks and discuss the economy of dealing with their huge problem, this is still very much a Godzilla movie. It may not feel that way in the early scenes, with a creation that is comical in appearance before starting to evolve into a more familiar incarnation, but that is the beauty of it. This is, both literally and cinematically, a Godzilla many times evolved from that very first outing back in 1954, but no less respected, no less powerful, and no less important to the country that allowed the rest of the world to also look up and admire him.

Any recommendation of this obviously comes with some reservations, and those who dislike it will probably REALLY dislike it, but I thought this was absolutely brilliant. It's fascinating because of the different spin on things, and then it still remembers to deliver some epic moments of kaiju power. I may even end up watching it again before I mark more of the others off my list.

8/10

You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.
Or feel free to click a link and buy anything else instead. I don't care, as long as someone clicks something and I can get some pennies without it costing anyone else a thing (apart from their standard movie shopping budget).
And you MAY also enjoy this set, of course.


Monday, 12 August 2019

Mubi Monday: Play Misty For Me (1971)

Clint Eastwood seemed to go out of his way to become, at least temporarily, hated by women in 1971. He starred in both The Beguiled, a wonderful gothic melodrama, and Play Misty For Me, a contemporary psychological thriller that serves as one of the main fore-runners to the "(x) from hell" movies that would become very popular again throughout the 1980s and '90s (and, to my delight, seem to be experiencing a slight resurgence at the moment). The big difference is that the former was directed by Don Siegel while the latter was the directorial debut of Eastwood himself (with a cameo role for Siegel).

Eastwood is a DJ, Dave, who manages to work his seductive magic one evening on a woman named Evelyn (Jessica Walter). Evelyn is a fan, and assumes that their liaison is the start of something serious. Dave just wanted some fun, but Evelyn has been pining for him a long time. She is the caller who often requests a tune named "Misty". One thing leads to another, and another, and things start to get heated and problematic quicker than you can say "bunny boiler" in a thriller that doesn't bother with ensuring you think the lead is completely undeserving of . . . at least being made to squirm for a little while.

Written by Jo Heims and Dean Riesner, this really does feel like a template-setting movie in this particular subgenre. Things start off being mildly inconvenient, with Evelyn turning up unexpectedly to cook a meal for Dave, for example, and the escalation is as steady as it is swift. The first half shows moments that make it all worse, and it's easy to see why someone would be angry at Evelyn before then feeling sympathy for her. And she has another way to win over Dave, of course, that involves shedding her coat to show nothing being worn underneath.

Eastwood directs with a sure hand, there's nothing fancy here but it's all clean and professional throughout, an approach that he would maintain throughout his entire directorial career. He's a man interested in human stories, and this is definitely a tale worth telling. Casting himself in the lead role also helps, not only for his own approach to the work (I am sure) but also because it's easy to buy into his character, and how someone like this could act around his level of supreme handsomeness.

Walter is superb in the role of Evelyn, initially sweet and alluring before turning into the flesh-covered equivalent of a bag of angry cats. She's the star of the show, despite Eastwood having his name and fingerprints all over it, and becomes more and more intense and unnerving as things build towards the expected climax. Elsewhere, Donna Mills is fine as an ex-girlfriend Dave wants to fix things with, John Larch is an investigating officer, and Clarice Taylor stands out as a housekeeper, Birdie, who ends up on the end of a horrifically violent outburst from Evelyn.

Although far from perfect, especially when it comes to the 1970s attitude towards what is surely a serious mental health issue (although, having said that, things didn't change much for the treatment of the perpetrators in those 1980s movies either), this remains a fine thriller, and showed Eastwood storming into this decade with a sense of commitment and fearlessness that would, mixed with a canny knack of giving people what they wanted every few years (be it cowboy, gun-toting cop, or everyday hero with an oranguntan sidekick), ensure his immortality as a towering cinematic icon.

8/10

You can buy the movie here.
Americans can get a decent little set here.


Sunday, 11 August 2019

Netflix And Chill: Wanted (2008)

James McAvoy plays Wesley, a frustrated loser stuck in an office job he hates, living with a girlfriend who is cheating on him (with his "friend", Barry, played by Chris Pratt), and generally feeling as if his life has amounted to absolutely nothing. That all changes one day when he is caught up in a shoot-out involving a woman (Angelina Jolie) who can perform a number of seemingly-impossible acts. She is part of a team of assassins, a team that wants Wesley to join, because they know he has the skills required. Led by Sloan (Morgan Freeman), this team is tasked with eliminating people who are picked by a fate-deciding loom. If you think that is silly, just wait until you see the rest of this film.

Based on a comic book series by Mark Millar and J. G. Jones, Wanted is absolutely ridiculous from start to finish. The characters are superhuman, every major set-piece has at least one stunt too many added to it, and the ending is laughably demented. And I love it. The screenplay, written by Michael Brandt, Derek Haas, and Chris Morgan, is juvenile stuff, complete wish-fulfilment for young men who sit around and daydream of being someone important and brave, but the energy and flair ensure that you'll have a hell of a good time, as long as you don't overthink things.

Director Timur Bekmambetov is at ease with the kind of action on display here (having previously delivered wonderfully imaginative, and memorable, moments in the Night Watch and Day Watch movies) and he keeps the tone consistent throughout. If you're wanting something with any hint of realism then look elsewhere.

McAvoy has a blast in the main role, especially when he first transitions from mild-mannered cuckold to badass who realises he can shed his old life. Jolie is in her top badass phase, which gave us films as varied as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, this, and Salt (to name a few), and she's about as cool as they come. And then you have Freeman, once again playing god, in a way, and doing well in his supporting role. There are also decent turns from Terence Stamp (in a cameo role), Thomas Kretschmann, Common (if you have a script about assassins then send it to him, because he seems to love 'em), Marc Warren, David O'Hara, Konstantin Khabenskiy, as well as that amusing turn from Pratt, playing the disloyal friend.

This is a film that wants you to believe that the rules of the physical world around us are more flexible than we have been led to believe. It tries hard to ground the main premise in a theory that seems possible, but utterly fails to do so. The whole thing, from the superpowers to the grand design of it all, is just far too outlandish. So the best thing to do is relax and enjoy the action without overthinking things. And then enjoy the grand finale, which I absolutely love (although I can see why some will find it a step too far). Basically, if you've gone along with the film up to that point then you should find the ending as wonderful and hilarious as I do. If you've not been able to get on board with the film at all then, well, I guess you may not even make it to the end.

7/10

You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.


Saturday, 10 August 2019

Shudder Saturday: The Midnight Swim (2014)

The feature debut from writer-director Sarah Adina Smith, The Midnight Swim is the tale of a woman (Beth Grant) who disappears during a deep-water dive at a place called Spirit Lake, which leads to her three daughters turning up to ostensibly put her affairs in order. The three women end up discussing their upbringing, as well as the mysterious power of the lake.

First thing's first, The Midnight Swim is not a horror movie. It's important to get that out of the way now, and especially important when it is a title that horror fans may stumble upon. Judge the film for what it is, not for what it doesn't try to be.

Second, The Midnight Swim has enough in place to make it worth your time. It's all very competently put together, the main characters - June (Lindsay Burdge), Annie (Jennifer Lafleur), and Isa (Aleksa Palladino) - are all fine to spend time with, and the pull of the lake at the heart of things is nicely woven throughout the whole thing.

Third, and finally, this is a film which, in line with the subject matter, has some hidden depths to explore. Whether it's the mystery of their mother's disappearance or the strength of the bonds between the sisters, you get the feeling that almost every scene in this movie is saying something important, either about the characters or about the grand mysteries of life and death.

Having said all of that, this didn't work for me. It wasn't a painful experience, not at all, but it certainly wasn't a film I really enjoyed watching. The relatively slim runtime - it clocks in at about 84 minutes - felt longer, many scenes felt as if the main point being made got lost somewhere in translation, and the ending wasn't as interesting or satisfying for me as Smith obviously wanted it to be. I am sure there are others who will love the ending, it's certainly something a bit different, but I just couldn't get on board with it.

Burdge, Lafleur, and Palladino all do well in their roles (all three actresses have built up interesting résumés over the past decade or so), Grant does as good as she usually does, in her small amount of screentime, and there are solid supporting turns from Ross Partridge and Michelle Hutson, although the latter features in one of those scenes that I feel ended up a step removed from what was intended.

What you get here is, overall, a decent family drama with one lively "music video moment" to pep things up. It's just a shame that none of the main plot elements or ideas are explored in a way that makes them as interesting as they could be, resulting in a film that is just rather dull and disappointing, albeit very well put together.

4/10

It's on Shudder here in the UK, of course.
Americans can check it out here.


Friday, 9 August 2019

I Want Candy (2007)

Well, here we are with a British sex comedy. Let's all take a moment to wipe our minds before we go on. There used to be the solid reputation, often viewed with rose-tinted glasses, of the Carry On films, of course. And things got naughtier with "Adventures Of..." and "Confessions Of..." movies. But, let's face it, British movies have done better over the past few decades when they focus on the romance over sex. On the one hand you have a number of films featuring Hugh Grant, and on the other hand you have, ummmm, films like Fat Slags and Sex Lives Of The Potato Men (neither of which I can envision appearing on blu-ray any time soon).

So where does I Want Candy fit in? It's the tale of two students who want to make their first film. Joe (Tom Riley) and John AKA Baggy (Tom Burke) have a vision, and they have a lot of faith in their own talent. What they don't have is anyone willing to back them. Until they make a deal with Doug Perry (Eddie Marsan). Unfortunately, Doug is in the porn business, and the deal is made on the understanding that Joe and John have the hottest adult entertainment star, Candy Fiveways (Carmen Electra), in their movie. It's then up to the young film-makers to come up with a plan that pleases everyone and allows them to get their film made.

Directed by Stephen Surjik (who has a hell of a lot of TV work in his filmography, with his biggest movie release being Wayne's World 2, back in 1993), I Want Candy isn't the kind of film that has any individual style stamped all over it. It's rude without being explicit, I may have already forgotten some details but I don't believe you ever see any actual nudity, the cast of main characters are ably supported by a decent enough ensemble, the soundtrack contains a cover version of the song with the same name as the movie, and the ending is completely unbelievable, but in line with the feelgood nature of the film.

A lot of people worked on the script, far too many than you would expect for something this lightweight. There was an "original idea" by Piers Thompson and Olivia Glazebrook, that was fleshed out into a script by Peter Hewitt, Phil Hughes, Jamie Minoprio, and Jonathan M. Stern, and then some further dialogue was added by Fred Wolf and Jimmy Carr, apparently (the latter has a fun cameo role that may have allowed him to improv some of his dialogue, or maybe he also helped with some other parts of the movie). And despite all of those people involved, it's never as funny as it could be. I suspect this is partly to do with keeping it a bit too tame, and also partly to do with not having the perfect cast in place.

Riley and Burke are good in their lead roles, they're just not great. Riley just doesn't have the charisma to sell his character as well as someone else might have done, and Burke is hampered by the script wanting to keep him very much in the "sensitive young artist" box. Marsan is a lot of fun in his role, the potential villain of the piece, and Electra just has to turn up and look incredibly desirable, which she does. Easily. Felicity Montagu and Philip Jackson are good value as Joe's mum and dad, Mackenzie Crook has fun in his role as a teacher trying to stay cool with the kids, and Michelle Ryan is the female friend who keeps being very helpful and loyal to a main character who cannot recognise something with the potential to blossom right under his nose (I am on about romance, that is NOT a porn term . . . I hope).

This isn't a terrible film. It's certainly not half as bad as those awful examples I mentioned in the opening paragraph. It's just not any great shakes. Relatively amusing enough while it's on, very easy to forget as soon as it's finished, and bottom of the pile when compared to other films in the same vein (the Risky Business type of film, arguably most successfully reworked as The Girl Next Door).

5/10

You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.






Thursday, 8 August 2019

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019)

Anyone who knows my view on the Fast & Furious franchise should predict that I was optimistic, yet also very cautious, about this spin-off. The car-based core series has often entertained me, they peaked with the mix of action and ridiculousness in the sixth and seventh instalments, and then eight just went too far over into the kind of silliness that kept taking me out of the movie. This film, pairing up Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham for their own action-packed adventure, looked enjoyably silly from the first trailer I saw.

And it is. Which was a huge relief for me. This film makes it obvious from the very beginning that the central characters are almost superhuman and your brain shouldn't spend too much time calculating the odds of all of their plans and stunts being physically possible.

Written by Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce, the story concerns a deadly virus, a cybernetically-enhanced supervillain (Brixton, played by Idris Elba), and a young woman named Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) who has already tried to defeat Brixton, but finds herself defeated. Fortunately, Hattie is the sister of Shaw (Statham), which is why he is asked to help, along with the one person he really doesn't want to be paired up with, Hobbs (Johnson). This isn't a one-man job though, and working together may be the key to any chance of success, which would also basically save the world.

Directed by David Leitch (who previously did such good work on Deadpool 2), this is big dumb fun that runs for just over two and a quarter hours (do any major action movies nowadays manage to come in at a brisk 90 minutes?) and manages to entertain from start to finish, thanks to the comedic tone of the script, the charisma of everybody with a major role, and the pacing. The set-pieces are enjoyable loony, with as many challenges as possible thrown at our heroes while they generally outrun, out-think and out-fight everyone around them.

If you enjoyed the interplay between Johnson and Statham in Fast & Furious 8 (which, let's be honest, was at its best when they were onscreen) then I don't see any way that you wouldn't enjoy this. They remain amusingly antagonistic towards one another, and competitive when it comes to who can despatch the most disposable henchmen, and both men get an equal amount of time to show off. Elba is a fantastic villain, and he appears to be having a lot of fun in the role, and Kirby is as good as, if not better than, anyone else onscreen, with a tough attitude and a badass skillset ensuring that she can hold her own in any of the major action sequences (including a scene in which she believably takes on Johnson). Helen Mirren reprises her role, as the mother of the Shaws, and entertains once again in her one main scene, and Eddie Marsan is good value in a small supporting role, a Russian Professor who may be able to help ensure the virus can't harm others.

Plenty of punches are thrown, you get a few moments of vehicular mayhem, there are a couple of fun cameos (which I won't spoil here), and those who are patient enough to sit through the end credits will be rewarded with numerous little extra scenes, which are also a lot of fun. I doubt anybody is going to spend too much dissecting this, or searching for hidden meanings or metaphors, because it's absolutely not that kind of film. But I am pretty certain that it will please most action movie fans, and be on regular rotation when it comes to the home media market later in the year. I know I'll be getting it, and am already looking forward to a rewatch.

8/10


Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Prime Time: The Convent (2000)

A film that feels very much like it could be an instalment in the Night Of The Demons series, The Convent is the third feature film from Mike Mendez, who was already comfortable with his approach to making fun, modern horror movies full of energy and homages. It's one of his weaker films, especially compared to the likes of Gravedancers (which would be his next feature) and Big Ass Spider! (released in 2013, do check it out), but it's definitely of interest to genre fans.

The main premise concerns a group of youthful men and women who decide to break into a local, allegedly cursed, convent. They plan to get up to typical hijinks, but all of that goes out the window when it soon becomes clear that the convent is host to at least one demonic presence. And a grand plan can start to be put in motion once again if a virgin can be procured and ritually sacrificed. Perhaps the one person who can help is the one person everyone assumed was mad after she attacked the convent residents many years ago. Especially as she is played by Adrienne Barbeau.

With plenty of silly character interactions, evil creatures with neon-tinged veins and blood, and logic quickly sidelined in favour of extreme silliness, including a scene in which Coolio (yes . . . Coolio) and Bill Moseley play a couple of cops, this is a film about fun ahead of anything else.

Joanna Canton is the lead, even if her character feels quite thin, and others involved include Megahn Perry, Liam Kyle Sullivan, Renée Graham, and more, but once you know that Adrienne Barbeau is in the cast list you just end up waiting for her to show up, and the film steps up a notch once she appears, being as tough as fans like her to be.

Mendez directs competently enough, working from a script by Chaton Anderson (who also gets a small onscreen role), and this is the kind of silliness that accompanies the more horrifying moments with some sharp editing and . . . lively music on the soundtrack. It's not about tension, at least not once the opening scenes are out of the way, and it's not about well-rounded characters you want to see make it through the night alive.

The Convent is not big or clever, and it's not trying to be. It's a film uninterested in depth, instead just hoping to provide viewers with some thrills, some laughs, and a fun 80 minutes, which is a perfectly good aim to have, especially when it succeeds. It's not a complete success, I admit that I would have liked some moments that were actually suspenseful, and some more gore gags would have also helped, but it's lightweight fun for those in the mood for it.

6/10

You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.


Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Book Of Monsters (2018)

A little girl is being told a scary bedtime story by her mother. All is well and good until a monster appears, drags the mother away, and kills her. Many years later, that little girl has grown up to be Sophie (Lyndsey Craine), someone due to celebrate her 18th birthday with a party full of her friends, and some people who don't like her at all but will turn up just to have their own fun. Which means there are plenty of disposable victims around when monsters start to show up and kill people, monsters that are in a book that Sophie's mother used to make notes in. It's up to Sophie and her friends to battle the numerous beasties, from a shape-shifting demon to a beast that looks like a crazed plague doctor, and even some deadly gnomes.

Made possible thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign, Book Of Monsters is a real melting pot of fun moments and enjoyable elements. The practical effects are all generally very well done, the cast do alright, and it moves briskly enough from one battle to the next once the monsters make their appearance.

Director Stewart Sparke and Paul Butler collaborate once again, after a number of previous projects that I'll probably check out at some point (The Creature Below sounds right up my alley, at the very least). Both men have a firm enough grasps on the basics of their craft, and they certainly do plenty to make best use of every budgeted coin, but they seem to have gotten so good with the budgeting that they have forgotten how to set aside less interesting ideas. And allowing contributors to pick specific elements not only leads to both good (a birthday gift that leads to another spirit encounter) and bad (monsters being killed by dildo), but also leaves the film feeling like what it is, a mish-mash of ideas that have been thrown into the mix in a way that stops the whole thing feeling consistent and cohesive.

Craine is decent in the lead role, and Michaela Longden also does good work (as Mona), while the others help contribute to the inconsistent tone. Arron Dennis isn't too bad, as a male stripper who ends up caught up in the nightmare, but I can't help thinking that someone else could have done better with that role, and fans of films based on the work of Clive Barker will enjoy the cameo role for Nicholas Vince.

Essentially a riff on Goosebumps that's aimed at adults, Book Of Monsters has a few decent bits of bloodshed and some impressive creature design. And then it also has some killer gnomes, for no reason other than I guess people thought killer gnomes would be fun (and some viewers like that sequence, I am not one of them). There just wasn't enough here to win me over completely, not at any point, but that doesn't stop me recommending it to others, especially if you want a rental to enjoy with some snacks and beverages of your choice. Sparke and Butler deserve some praise for what they've done here with their limited resources, I just wish that it was something I was more entertained by. Which is an odd thing to say, considering how much it tries to please everyone at different times.

5/10

Check it out here.


Monday, 5 August 2019

Mubi Monday: Enemy (2013)

Sitting in between the less mainstream, but no less interesting, films from director Denis Villeneuve, Enemy is a dark and strange film that boasts a fantastic dual performance from Jake Gyllenhaal, some interesting themes being explored, and a head-scratching ending that feels much more surreal and nonsensical than it actually is.

Gyllenhaal plays Adam, a teacher who seems to enjoy his quiet life. His weekdays are taken up with work and he usually sees his girlfriend (Mélanie Laurent) at weekends. His world changes, however, with the discovery that he has an exact double in the form of an actor, Anthony, and he decides that they should meet. But that may just makes things stranger, and may lead to a spiralling chain of events that include mistrust, anger, and arachnid-infused nightmares.

Based on a novel by José Saramago, Enemy is a dark and compelling psychological drama that rewards multiple viewings, and also retains enough ambiguity to allow viewers to have their own interpretation of events. There are clues, probably even pointers, generously sprinkled throughout the first half of the film, but they still don't point to any one, definitive, conclusion. Well, not in my mind.

Villeneuve knows exactly how far to push things, working with a fine script by Javier Gullón that takes time to observe the main character in between a number of defining moments. Everything has an air of menace and foreboding about it, emphasised by the dark visual style (not murky, but this feels like a film with a hell of a lot of dark brown used in the colour palette), and that doesn't disappear as you realise that a number of the external cues may just be representing the state of mind of the main character.

Although he has many performances that could contend for the title, Gyllenhaal once again proves why he's one of the most watchable actors of his generation as he portrays Adam and Anthony here, two men who may be physically identical but certainly seem poles apart when it comes to personalities. Laurent and Sarah Gadon (playing Anthony's partner, Helen) both do great work in roles that could have easily been further sidelined in favour of more screentime for Gyllenhaal. They're not big roles, or handled as well as they could be, but both actresses do excellent work, reminding you at all times that these are very important characters in the story, even when they're not onscreen. There's also a cameo from Isabella Rossellini, who provides more information that could help sway you towards one definite conclusion, yet once again proves far from definitive.

Enemy is a film I have thought about often, since I first saw it a couple of years ago. It's not one I will revisit often, but I WILL revisit it. And I doubt I will ever stop appreciating the little touches throughout - the character beats, the dialogue, the design work, etc. I recommend others seek it out, if you haven't seen it already.

8/10

You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.


Sunday, 4 August 2019

Netflix And Chill: Blindspotting (2018)

Blindspotting is an incredible film. There's no point in trying to keep you waiting to hear my view on it. Because I'd like everyone to rush off and watch it immediately, before or after reading this review. It's not really thought-provoking, sadly, but simply underlines the huge problem of systemic racism that doesn't seem to be getting any better (particularly in the USA, but it's not a uniquely American issue).

Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal (who also wrote the movie) star as, respectively, Collin and Miles. Collin is just finishing up his probation, after serving some jail time, and he wants to get that out of the way. One night, while driving home, he is shaken up when he sees a man chased down by a police officer and shot. This serves as a timely reminder of just how slippery the slope is for someone like himself, now a black man with a felony on his record, and how he would most likely suffer much worse consequences for his actions than Miles, who is hot-headed and problematic, but less likely to be shot by officers thanks to his white skin.

The first, and only, feature directed by Carlos López Estrada (I'll be very surprised if things stay that way), Blindspotting works as a great piece of entertainment throughout, but it also maintains an added layer to it that lends weight to every moment and builds tension in a number of ways that allow viewers to also consider their own blindspots (whether they are intentional or not). Much like a certain scene in Get Out, this is a film that has extra tension when it wouldn't necessarily play out that way with a white protagonist, and it's those moments, as much as the incredible finale, that make you realise just how often you might be choosing to ignore the reality that others around you are very much living through.

As well as their sterling work on the script, Diggs and Casal are perfect in the lead roles. Diggs is very easy to like, and he's not painted as an angel, despite the fact that his friend is the one who causes the most trouble. Casal, for his part, has enough charisma and energy to make his character much more tolerable than he otherwise would have been. Get the wrong actor in that role and the whole film is unbalanced. Janina Gavankar does well in the role of Val, someone Collin may have some kind of relationship with, depending on how he moves forward in his life and what she can see in him when it is being clouded by mistakes and misplaced loyalty, and Jasmine Cephas Jones is equally good as Ashley, the partner of Casal's character. Ethan Embry appears for a small, but pivotal, role, and you also get a fine little turn from Ziggy Baitinger, a sweet child actor involved in a couple of sobering moments, and cameos from Wayne Knight and Leland Orser.

On the one hand, it can be quite saddening that a film like this has to be made, and even more saddening that it probably won't reach those that need to see it the most (including the people who feel the need to reply to "black lives matter" with the tiresome "all lives matter", which is on a par with replying to tales of sexual abuse and harassment with a reminder that it is "not all men"). On the other hand, this is an incredible, intelligent, effective way to get across an important message.

9/10

You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.


Saturday, 3 August 2019

Shudder Saturday: Soulmate (2013)

A well-handled debut feature from writer-director Axelle Carolyn, Soulmate is a film that uses supernatural trappings to explore something very grounded, which is namely how difficult people can find it to move on after losing a loved one.

The first person we see suffering is Audrey (played by Anna Walton). She has recently lost her husband, and attempts suicide at the very start of the movie. She then rents a cottage, where she hopes to have some time to rest and get better. Unfortunately, the cottage still has a spirit residing there, in the shape of Douglas (Tom Wisdom), a young man who managed to commit suicide after the death of the woman he loved. After an initial fright, Audrey starts to find herself enjoying conversations with Douglas, despite warnings from a local couple, Theresa (Tanya Myers) and Dr, Zellaby (Nick Brimble). Audrey thinks they are either not wanting to believe her or not wanting to condone her actions, but perhaps they are just thinking of her safety.

Inevitably too slow and uneventful for anyone seeking standard horror movie thrills, Soulmate is best viewed as a straightforward drama that happens to also feature a ghost. If you're hoping for either The Conjuring type levels of spookiness or The Ghost And Mrs. Muir type levels of humorous interaction between a living tenant and dead "squatter" then you'll be disappointed here. This looks at a number of people adversely affected by loss. Although Audrey and Douglas are the main focus, it also becomes obvious that there's something drawing Theresa to the cottage, and its inhabitant, and the third act draws things together in a way that you suspect may not play out well for those involved.

Carolyn does well enough, the film looks good and the script develops the characters in a way that lends more weight to the words and actions as things head towards the finale, but it all feels a bit like something too stagey at times, despite one or two scenes set outdoors. It's a chamber piece and, as such, feels more like the kind of thing you could catch on TV in the evening than a film you would seek out on streaming/disc.

Although not perfect in their roles, everyone does decent work. Walton is a very good lead, mainly just because I like her and would like to see her in more roles that don't have me spending the first few minutes thinking I am watching Rebecca Ferguson, and Wisdom gets to play his ghostly character without any clichéd ghostly mannerisms. Myers isn't as good, but does fine in her role, and Brimble makes the most of moments that have him warning of a danger he won't explain in any more detail. There's also a very small, welcome, role for Emma Cleasby at the end of the film.

It's always a bit tricky when reviewing a film like this to find a balance. You cannot "punish" it for not being the film you expected it to be, yet it's also not good to praise it too much just because it does something a bit different, as admirable as that is. There really should have been a few more scares scattered throughout this, or some more gripping drama between some of the main characters. As it is, the end result sits uncomfortable between the two worlds, not entirely unlike the sad male ghost at the centre of things.

5/10

You can buy the movie here.
Americans can get the same DVD here (region 2).