Friday, 22 March 2019

Night Train To Terror (1985)

Well, this is a hell of a wild ride. Night Train To Terror is an anthology movie that stitches together parts of some other movies (one unfinished) and frames them with a tale of God (Ferdy Mayne) and Satan (Tony Giorgio) having a philosophical debate while travelling on a train that also features a groovy group of dancers who keep gyrating around while a lead singer keeps repeating the same song.

There are three stories here. Story one shows an insane asylum that seems a lot more interested in mutilation and murder than curing anyone. Story one is also the hardest one to get through, but more on that later. Story two is about a man who ends up in a club that enjoys playing deadly games. Everything is set up so that one person in the group should always die, with methods ranging from electrocution to deadly insect. Last, but not least, we have a tale about a servant of Satan and the people out to stop him.

Due to the way this movie was assembled, there are a number of different directors involved here (which can be the case with anthology horror movies anyway). John Carr is the man behind the first two segments, while Philip Marshak, Tom McGowan, and Gregg G. Tallas are responsible for the third tale. The framing device was filmed by Jay Schlossberg-Cohen, and the screenplay is credited to Philip Jordan, the man responsible for writing the movies that were edited together to make this.

Like any anthology, there are good and bad sections here. The first tale is just too random and bonkers to be as effective as it could be, although you get to enjoy a performance from John Phillip Law that sees him permanently confused by the events around him, as well as a menacing turn from Richard Moll, playing a sadistic orderly. The second is the strongest, despite the silly moments throughout, lifted slightly by the presence of the lovely Meredith Haze in the role of Gretta, the woman who starts the main male character on his journey through these death challenges. Although the final segment is, unbelievably, even less coherent than the first, it throws in some better imagery, has decent performances from Faith Clift and Robert Bristol (the latter being the Satanic helper), and also lets Richard Moll back onscreen, playing a very different character from the one he played in the first tale.

I wasn't enjoying Night Train To Terror, feeling that it was a slog throughout the first 15-20 minutes, and then it started to win me over. Maybe it was the lengths it would go to in order to line up the shocks and bloodshed, maybe it was the attempts to sandwich some debate on good and evil in between the tales, maybe it was just that bloody song, that gets repeated again and again, and turns into quite the earworm by the time the end credits roll.

Sometimes you want movies that comment on the world around us, sometimes you want slick thrills and chills, and sometimes you can be entertained enough by something that is just complete nonsense, lacking any logic or attempt to stay within spitting distance of a sense of reality. Night Train To Terror is a film for those times.

6/10

Americans can get a decent disc here.




Thursday, 21 March 2019

Slaughterhouse Rulez (2018)

Not content with upsetting people who took a dislike to his output in the music industry, Crispian Mills (son of Hayley, frontman for Kula Shaker, who I actually really enjoyed) seems intent nowadays to equally upset people who dislike his output in the movie industry. This is his second feature, both with Simon Pegg in a lead role, and I can only say that, judging from this one alone, Mills is a much better musician than he is a director.

The plot of Slaughterhouse Rulez is quite a simple one. You have a new boy (Don Wallace, played by Finn Cole) trying to fit in at a posh public school. He finds a friend (Willoughby Blake, played by Asa Butterfield), finds a girl that he immediately starts pining for (Clemsie Lawrence, played by Hermione Corfield), and finds himself incurring the wrath of a bully (Clegg, played by Tom Rhys Harries). And this all coincides with trouble at a nearby fracking site that has unleashed some dangerous beasties.

The cast don't do a bad job. Everyone mentioned fits nicely in their roles, even if those roles are quite thin stereotypes to help this feel very much like an old comic tale brought to life onscreen. As well as those mentioned, you get Simon Pegg as a teacher, Nick Frost as an environmental activist, Michael Sheen as the headmaster, and very small roles for Jo Hartley and Margot Robbie, as well as a number of lesser-known actors doing their bit to add to the fun.

Look, you can't see a film like Slaughterhouse Rulez and call it one of the worst things ever made, you just can't. It has a degree of technical competency that is achievable for people who can get a decent budget in place (no blockbuster money but certainly not at the lowest end of the indie scale), it has fleeting moments that hint at how much better it could have been, and it has a delightful performance from Sheen.

You can, however, see this and be massively disappointed. In much the same way that 101 different British crime caper movies came along after the success of Guy Ritchie, a horde of British movies have all tried to capitalise on the success of Edgar Wright, some of them doing so by blending horror elements with some particularly British comedy stylings, and some doing so by trying to get Simon Pegg and/or Nick Frost involved. This does both, allowing it to be doubly disappointing.

Mills must take most of the blame. He directed. And, with Henry Fitzherbert, he also co-wrote the script. The pacing is off, without any decent set-pieces to make things move along quicker, the supporting characters aren't interesting or well-developed enough to make the time spent with them worthwhile, and, worst of all, very few of the jokes land. The monster moments work, but are too infrequent, which leaves the whole thing feeling like a wasted opportunity, especially considering the cast assembled.

4/10

You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy the same disc here.
Or you can just click on the links and buy whatever you like.




Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Prime Time: Ouijageist (2018)

There are many things in life more painful than having to sit through Ouijageist, the second low-budget horror feature from director John R. Walker, but I cannot think of them right now. Maybe receiving an injection of bleach directly into my eyeballs. Having my kneecaps placed in a vice before they are then slowly unscrewed by murderous Oompa Loompas holding power tools. Being forced to eat broken lightbulbs, coated in kale. All of those things sound extremely painful, and yet none of them would make me as unhappy right now as watching this bloody movie.

I think it's always fair to try and find any positives when reviewing a film. If you end up just churning out insults and dismissing every single thing about a movie then it only leads to people thinking that you must be exaggerating, which then leads to them checking out the film for themselves. And there are very few films that have NO redeeming features. This one, EVEN this, has a couple of minutes at the beginning that seems to suggest a decent little time-waster lies ahead. But then it starts to go downhill, and keeps going that way. Fast.

The basic plot, and I use the term in the loosest possible sense, concerns an evil witchboard. This troublesome item, to put it mildly, ends up causing a lot of pain and terror in the life of a young single mum named India (Lois Wilkinson). People die, a baby is put in peril, a dog is killed, and even the window cleaner isn't safe from . . . the ouijageist.

I don't WANT to be unnecessarily rude to anyone here but I do have to emphasise how bad this all is, so I guess I just have to hope that nobody involved ever reads this (and why would they? I'm astonished daily when more eyes end up here than just those belonging to me and my cats, and sometimes my wife when I make a special plea).

Let's start with the cast. Wilkinson is just bad, but she's far from the worst one. Far worse performances come from Roger Shepherd (playing a friendly gent who has a suspicion about the cause of the strange events) and Lesley Scoble (playing Karen, India's mother). Scoble isn't helped by the script, which has her spend half of the movie repeating the end of every previous sentence in order to drag out the conversation or set up plenty of exposition, but she's helped even less by her own inability to convincingly portray a real human being. Nicholas Kendrick only has to star in a couple of scenes, and fair play to him for being involved in one of the more ridiculous moments, so I'll not spend too much time criticising him (but rest assured that he IS also awful), and Nigel Buckley, Michelle Jennings, and everyone else onscreen seems to have been hired immediately after passing the advanced class in "Acting Comedically Bad For Every Moment Of Screentime You Get". The only one I didn't mind was Gabriella Calderone, who played India's best friend, Becca, but I'm not sure if that means she was doing any decent acting or just seemed better compared to every one of her co-stars.

Darrell Buxton and Steve Hardy don't help anybody either. Their script is a real mess, with the bizarre tonal jumps (just sit and scratch your head when you get the "comic relief" moment of a Bishop enthusiastically discussing the Poltergeist movies while figuring out if he can be of any help), a lack of any explanation or rules for the malevolent activity, and bits and pieces pilfered from other, much better, movies. If I've endured a worse script this year then I cannot recall it right now, and that includes anything delivered to me via mobile phone by some agent trying to convince me that I was involved in a recent motor vehicle collision (if you've had those calls then you know what I'm on about).

I guess, ultimately, it's John R. Walker that gets to take the full credit for this mess. I do understand that it's a great achievement for anyone to get full films made, and to get them out there into the world. But that doesn't mean everyone gets bonus points for doing the bare minimum, and this often feels like the bare minimum. A lot of the camera shots are flat and drab, the score and foley work stays in line with the visuals, with the exception of a fun constant menacing sound that signifies the evil spirit, and more time should have been spent either in casting the roles or just getting the cast he could afford able to do what was being asked of them.

I'm going to be really generous with my rating here, but everyone should remember that it's only down to the fact that, incredibly, I have seen worse. Not everyone will agree, and I don't encourage anyone else to watch this, but I am charitably doubling my initial rating.

2/10.

Brave UK film fans can rent it here.


Tuesday, 19 March 2019

The Darkest Minds (2018)

Another month goes by, another YA novel is unsuccessfully adapted into movie form. This time it's The Darkest Minds. There's something about these teen-friendly film (wannabe-)franchises that often appeals to me, perhaps due to many of them being created with so many fun genre tropes in the mix (all of the ones I can think of right now are either horror, sci-fi, or whirling through a landscape of magic and fantasy, of course). Or perhaps it's just the case that the older I get, the more I try to pretend I'm still energetic and young at heart.

This particular tale starts with a MAJOR EVENT. It's not given any explanation, it's just a sudden occurence that immediately kills of a lot of the children on our planet and imbues those left behind with special powers. Some become smarter, some can use and control the electricity around them, some have telekinetic powers, and the most dangerous have the ability to brainwash others, even to the point of them being led towards harming themselves. Amandla Stenberg is Ruby, a young woman who is now viewed as one of the most dangerous of the child population. Her power is discovered while being graded in an internment camp, which she then has to escape from with the assistance of an adult (Mandy Moore) who seems to be wanting to help her. Unsure of who to trust and what to do, Ruby ends up teaming up with three other youngsters: electricity-wrangler Zu (Miya Cech), supersmart Chubs (Skylan Brooks), and telekinetic Liam (Harris Dickinson). The quartet end up heading towards a rumoured place of safety, headed up by a mysterious figure who has set himself as a leader of a resistance movement.

I suspect the biggest weakness here lies with the source material, by Alexandra Bracken, or the changes that have been made by Chad Hodge to adapt it into his screenplay. Although the main premise seems like a decent one, it's far too derivative and predictable once it gets past the opening act. It also feels a bit too haphazard, without enough scenes showing the ripple effect of the deadly initial incident, instead just giving us a couple of scenes to set up some main characters that will figure during important plot points. Although this is a film about a global crisis, you never get the feeling of that. I had, in fact, forgotten quite quickly that most of the other children around the world had been killed off in the opening moments.

Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson doesn't help. Everything is in place, but it's all assembled in a perfunctory way. The characters never feel well-rounded, they're just reduced to the tags given to them after the MAJOR EVENT, and none of the potential surprises in the plot are surrounded by enough distractions to make them work. There are a couple of good sequences that tease the horror genre ideas at the core, and a satisfying battle in the grand finale, but not enough to make up for the rest of the movie being so disappointingly generic.

Despite the weak direction and script, things could have been lifted a little bit more by the cast. Sadly, that doesn't happen. Stenberg tries, she just isn't quite good enough (although she's not bad). Brooks fares the best from the younger cast members, Patrick Gibson does well as the young leader assembling the young fugitives, while Cech and Dickinson fare the worst. The adults all do a bit better, with decent performances from Moore, Gwendoline Christie, and one of my favourite "big meanie" actors, Wade Williams, here portraying a . . . big meanie.

While not working with a huge budget, the money and people involved here ensure that it's far from unwatchable. It's just not surprising to find out that it underperformed, and probably won't be getting any of the intended sequels. But if it does end up getting them then I'll still end up watching them.

5/10

You can buy the DVD here.
Americans can get the Blu here.



Monday, 18 March 2019

Mubi Monday: Under The Silver Lake (2018)

Although this is his third feature film, David Robert Mitchell's Under The Silver Lake most definitely feels like a sophomore effort. It's a film made by someone who has been given the budget and casting choices to let loose and indulge himself after making a name with his previous outing (in this case, the enjoyable It Follows).

The plot, seemingly dense but also actually fairly slim for the 2hr+ runtime, sees a young man named Sam (Andrew Garfield) drawn into a Hitchcockian web that involves a missing girl (Riley Keough), a number of local urban legends, and a conspiracy theory so grandiose that it dances and twirls through absurd territory. It's a mix of The Big Lebowski, Inherent Vice, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, with the obvious influence of The Long Goodbye also in there. It's also frustrating, because so many individual moments are great, without adding up to anything really worthwhile.

Garfield is great in the lead role, playing someone smart but without any drive or focus. He's so likeable that it's easy to watch the film without being preoccupied by the many questions we should have about him. What happened recently in his life? What did he do to get money when he was working? How the hell does he attract some gorgeous women while placing himself firmly in slacker/loser territory? You get some details that help to answer the first question but not much else. Now I don't need a film to fill in every space for me but when you spend most of the lengthy runtime with a character who delves deeper and deeper into an investigation of his own making then it's good to know a bit more about that character, as far as I am concerned. Instead, Mitchell's script is more concerned with putting together a collage of cool visual motifs and soundtrack choices. It's a fever dream, but one without the sense of urgency or energy, which is an odd combination.

The direction matches the script, not bothering about logic or coherence when there's a chance to jump from one memorable moment to the next (and the less said about the repeated touch of having women turn to the main character and eventually start making dog noises the better). This means that you get a lot of wonderful moments in a film that only had to bring them all together in a satisfying way to become something great. It doesn't manage that, instead turning into one of those enjoyable albums that you stay in love with because there are always two or three tracks that you skip, leading to some confusion about why you love it so on the rare occasions when you listen to it all the way through.

Alongside Garfield, Keough does well in her small role, and you have decent turns from Riki Lindhome, Grace Van Patten, Jimmi Simpson, Topher Grace, and, in one particularly memorable scene, Jeremy Bobb, playing a super-talented songwriter responsible for all of the most memorable tunes throughout the years. The acting is pretty flawless throughout, which is another major plus helping to keep the film enjoyable in the lesser scenes.

I liked this, at times I liked it a lot, but it's obviously a film that was made by Mitchell coming up with some memorable ideas and moments that he then had to find a plot for. I don't think he came up with a good enough plot, not for the lack of trying, but the individual moments ensure that it's not without many pleasures for cinephiles.

7/10

Here's the film on shiny disc.
Americans can browse a whole load of movies here.


Sunday, 17 March 2019

Netflix And Chill: Johnny English (2003)

Movies come from many places. Original ideas (don't laugh, this does still happen occasionally, it's just not the source for 95% of the big names you'll see advertised at your local multiplex), TV spin-offs, tales springboarding from real events, and reworked board games. But very few other movies, if any, have been developed after a successful series of adverts. Beginning his life in a series of Barclaycard adverts, Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson) was a comedic riff on the James Bond character. Never that savvy, pretty hopeless with the gadgets, and yet still trying to give off that image of unflappable cool, he was the kind of character that it would make sense to create a movie around.

The plot sees every other MI7 agent in the land killed during the funeral of one top agent (who died because of misinformation given to him by English). With nobody else available, English is tasked with keeping an event secure that will focus on a display of the Crown Jewels in the Tower Of London. Those jewels are stolen, which takes English on a journey that will lead him and his partner (Angus Bough, played by Ben Miller) on a collision course with Pascal Edward Sauvage (John Malkovich), a Frenchman who has been celebrated for a series of "superprisons".

Since making his feature debut with Sliding Doors, director Peter Howitt was, for the first few movies that had him in the big chair, a fairly safe pair of hands. None of his films were particularly memorable, but most of them did exactly what they were supposed to do. Johnny English sits perfectly among those titles.

What you have is a script by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and William Davies that feels incredibly light, focusing on a number of plot points while leaving a few spaces here and there in which Atkinson can do the kind of physical comedy that he does so well. It hits all of the required Bond-isms, not surprising as Purvis and Wade have been working on that franchise for the past twenty years, but doesn't do quite enough to make the comedic set-pieces as funny as they could be.

That's all pretty much left to Atkinson, who is good, but never great. Constrained by the suit he has to wear, Atkinson is left to bumble around like an inferior Inspector Clouseau, with too many of the jokes either obvious or just falling flat. There are minor chuckles throughout most scenes, but very few big belly laughs. Miller is excellent in the role of suffering assistant, however, and Malkovich clearly has a lot of fun with his role. You also get Natalie Imbruglia doing a decent job as the beautiful woman mixed up in everything somehow.

There's something to be said, of course, for entertainment of this nature. Genuinely fun for all, fairly inoffensive, and paced and timed almost to perfection. In that way, and with the 007-like music cues running through it, this works well. It just didn't make me laugh as much as expected, considering how much I often enjoy Atkinson's style of comedy.

6/10

Here's a triple-pack for you.
Americans can buy the same set here.


Saturday, 16 March 2019

Shudder Saturday: The Thaw (2009)

The Thaw isn't a bad movie. Not really. It's just too derivative, and doesn't do enough with the main premise, to become a truly good movie. If more characters had been thrown into the mix, leading to more moments of peril, and if the ending didn't feel so silly then it could have been an excellent little horror flick that would make viewers itchy in between moments of extreme unpleasantness.

Val Kilmer plays Dr. David Kruipen, a research scientist who makes an astonishing, and terrifying, discovery while working in the Canadian Arctic. Unfortunately, that discovery takes place just before he is due to be joined by a group of "lucky" students AND his disgruntled daughter. When the youngsters arrive at the main camp, they find it unsettlingly quiet. I would say it was uninhabited but, in all honesty, something is still residing there. Lots of little, dangerous, somethings that have defrosted and are looking to continue their normal life cycle.

There are plenty of movies I could name here that cover similar territory to this, but with better results. The Bay, Ticks, Blood Glacier, Deep Freeze (okay, not better, but similar anyway), and, of course, the "Ice" episode of The X-Files. That's the biggest problem. Pick any of those movies, or that TV show episode, and you will be more entertained.

Although he's put front and centre on the poster design, and in the cast list, Kilmer is offscreen for a lot of this movie. He's fine in his role, but it's one of those roles that uses a star name to play a character vital to events without having to pay them more for being in more of the runtime. Sadly, none of the younger cast members are as good as Kilmer, with the best of the bunch being Aaron Ashmore. Martha MacIsaac is okay as the grumpy daughter, but Kyle Schmid and Steph Song are far too forgettable, making it hard to care during the moments that try to rack up the tension. Anne Marie Loder (billed as Anne Marie Deluise) is okay as another member of the core group at the camp, and Viv Leacock is good in the role of Bart, the guy who takes everyone up to the base by helicopter and then sticks around to try and help.

Mark A. Lewis directs capably enough, and there are some good gore effects used throughout that mix practical work and fairly decent CGI, but he's let down most by the script, which he co-wrote with Michael Lewis. The two writers seem to think that the core idea is strong enough to carry things along with no need for tension throughout most of the first half, forgetting that they should also scatter some more treats throughout, in the shape of either scares, gore gags, or, y'know, decent characterisation to have viewers invested in the third act.

That's not to say that they weren't almost correct though. Despite there not being much memorable here (from the cast to the score to the set-pieces), this still manages to be worth a watch, all thanks to the fact that it's a creepy-crawly creature feature. But it has nothing in it to warrant a revisit, and the sheer awfulness of the twist in the final act, which I won't spoil, almost undoes all of the good work.

6/10

You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.
Or just click on those links and go shopping for better movies. I win, you win.

Part of a poster that in no way represents the actual movie!

Friday, 15 March 2019

Bridget Jones's Baby (2016)

Here we go again. With no disrespect intended to anyone involved, Bridget Jones's Baby is a sequel that feels like you have to see it out of a sense of obligation, as opposed to it being something you were really waiting on for years. It's much like the second film, which was a pale imitation of the first film, and that is both a positive and negative.

In case you couldn't tell from the vague title, Bridget Jones (Renée Zellweger again, of course) finds herself pregnant. It usually takes two to tango but Bridget, as different as ever, has decided to complicate matters. The baby may have been fathered by Mark (Colin Firth again) OR a handsome American chap named Jack (Patrick Dempsey). Deciding not to tell either man about her lack of certainty, Bridget goes through her pregnancy while trying to keep her secret. Thankfully, she has a very accommodating doctor (Emma Thompson) willing to help her. But the truth will need to come out eventually. I know what viewers will be hoping to see happen by the time the end credits roll, but is that the kind of happy ending that Bridget can get?

Look, I've reviewed the first and second movie already, so the easiest thing to do here would be to copy bits from those reviews and place them here. The main characters of Bridget and Mark are essentially the same, just a bit older, and the comedy generally works, even during the times when it seems that Bridget is about to crumble under the weight of her situation.

Director Sharon Maguire, who helmed the first film, returns, and she has a better feel for the tone and characters than Beeban Kidron seemed to in the previous outing. It helps that she's working from a better script too, this time Helen Fielding and Dan Mazer are joined in the writing department by Thompson (which MAY help to explain why she almost steals the show with her few scenes but, then again, Thompson is just always that good). There aren't too many moments that are outright hilarious but there are plenty of little chuckles supplied in between the few bigger laughs.

Zellweger and Firth know their characters very well, and have always felt like perfect casting in those roles, so they slip back into things with ease. Dempsey is a great addition, considerate and caring and seemingly perfect in a way that very much irritates Firth's character, and I just mentioned Thompson almost stealing the show. The rest of the cast crop up for moments that show their characters are still around, Hugh Grant aside, so you once again get to see Gemma Jones, Jim Broadbent, Sally Phillips, Shirley Henderson, James Callis, Jessica Hynes, Neil Pearson, Joanna Scanlan, and a few other familiar faces.

Still not as good as the first movie, this is a slight step up from the second film and at least provides a better ending to the Bridget Jones saga, as far as I'm concerned. I hope they can now leave these characters were they are. But I know I'll end up watching the next movie if they decide to make another one.

7/10

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


Thursday, 14 March 2019

Serving Sara (2002)

There was a time when I thought that Matthew Perry should have done well in his film career. I always thought he was the funniest main member of the Friends cast (well . . . second to Lisa Kudrow) and he had a way of being cheeky while still remaining likeable. Sadly, you wouldn't know that from most of his film roles. It would be unfair to say that he kept picking duds. He obviously tried to stick with what was viewed as a winning formula, and I happen to like both Three To Tango and The Whole Nine Yards, but it soon became clear that his talent was best contained in episode form, as opposed to lead roles on the big screen.

Serving Sara, the tale of a process server (Perry) who tries to catch an elusive target (Sara, played by Elizabeth Hurley) until he is convinced by her that they should actually turn the tables on her scurrilous husband (Bruce Campbell), is far from the worst thing he has starred in. The plot is light enough to allow the leads space to have plenty of fun, there are some great line deliveries from Perry, and there's one sequence that seems specifically designed to get Elizabeth Hurley out of an everyday outfit and into something much more revealing (which is good news if you're a fan).

Director Reginald Hudlin does well enough, keeping things looking good enough to help viewers forget that most of the budget seems to have been spent on putting the cast together. There's nothing that stands out here, it's all just put together competently enough when it could have easily been a much lazier and sloppier film.

Writers Jay Scherick and David Ronn do a lot better here than they have done with many other entries in their filmography. Although weaker than many better comedies, I wouldn't have believed that this was from the same people who gave us National Security, Norbit, and Baywatch (although, in the interest of full disclosure, I actually rate that one about the same as this - and will always remind people of how easily pleased I can be).

But it's the cast who really help to keep this enjoyable throughout, even if Perry doesn't quite do enough to sell himself as a viable leading man. There may not be any chemistry between Perry and Hurley but they both always seem to be having fun, which helps a lot. Campbell is a lot of fun as the husband who wants to divorce his wife in a way that will leave him with all of his acquired wealth, and Cedric The Entertainer and Vincent Pastore are amusing as, respectively, the boss and competing colleague of Perry's character. Jerry Stiller pops up as a cop who is willing to offer helpful information for the right price, Terry Crews is the tough guy hired to ensure Campbell's character doesn't get served, and Amy Adams has a small amount of screentime as "the other woman".

Serving Sara is the kind of breezy comedy you may well find yourself catching on a TV channel one afternoon or evening. You then watch some of it, don't mind what you see, and watch some more, all the way to the end. Unless someone else picks up the remote control and presses the menu button to remind you of the better options playing on some of the other channels. It's inessential, it's forgettable, and it's perfectly passable comedy entertainment.

5/10

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


Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Prime Time: The Club (1994)

The Club isn't a particularly terrifying, or original, horror film. It's a slick teen movie that peppers the runtime with moments attempting to show interesting character dilemmas and moments showing a grinning villain wisecracking as he dances around those who are in peril. Easy enough to forget, it somehow still has enough charm to make me want to save it from complete obscurity.

It's prom night. One couple (Kyle and Laura) are at a stage in their relationship when it looks like the best thing for them to do is go their separate ways. One couple (Amy and Evan) seem happy enough with one another, but there's a lecherous, and potentially dangerous, counsellor (Mr. Carver) to deal with. And one young man (Darren) is miserable enough to be considering suicide. The clocks stop at midnight, leaving these six characters alone and trying to figure out just what is going on, with a young man named John Rotman on hand to further mess with their minds.

Although director Brenton Spencer has a large body of TV work in his filmography, The Club is a rare non-TV feature for him, and the same goes for writer Robert C. Cooper (billed here without the middle initial). Perhaps that explains why this sometimes has a made-for-TV feel, but I can see it being potentially problematic when it came to raising the money for a horror film that wasn't part of a franchise heading downhill at this point. There are still genre gems to be found from this time but they're few and far between, with mainstream American horror feeling quite stagnant in the '90s, before the shot in the arm that came from Scream and the second shot that came from the success of The Blair Witch Project at the end of the decade.

The cast are a mixed bag. Rino Romano and Andrea Roth are a bit too bland as Evan and Amy, whereas Zack Ward and Kelli Taylor do better with their more troubled characters. Matthew Ferguson is okay in the role of Darren, although he's pretty much sidelined for most of the movie, with the exception of his one main scene, and the ever-enjoyable Kim Coates is as . . . enjoyable as ever in the role of Mr. Carver. J. H. Wyman (billed as Joel Wyner) is surprisingly good fun in the role of Rotman, although he only really comes into his own during the third act, when the script really lets him cut loose and become amusingly impish in almost every scene.

Although it takes a bit of time to get going, perhaps a bit too long for this kind of easy entertainment, The Club picks up enough after the opening third to at least keep viewers entertained until it's time for a few decent set-pieces. That's when you get some good practical effects and some fun confrontations that serve as practice runs for the real battles of wills to come during the grand finale.

Unlikely to make any top lists (unless it's something entitled "fairly enjoyable horror movies you may not have seen and could live without but just give them 90 minutes of your life anyway"), The Club is a decent little time-waster for the undemanding. It's no classic, and relatively bloodless, but it does exactly what it sets out to do.

6/10

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


Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Captain Marvel (2019)

We've been here many times before. You'll have seen a lot of people singing the praises of Captain Marvel and just as many people calling it the worst film they've seen in years. The reality, as it so often does, lies somewhere in the middle.

Another origin story, but one that's a bit different from so many of the others that we've already been given by Marvel, this tells the story of a Kree Starforce member named Vers (Brie Larson), a young woman who may have once been a human being named Carol Danvers. The Kree are currently engaged in a war with the Skrulls, and one battle leads to Vers ending up on Earth in the 1990s. There she meets Nick Fury (a youth-enised Samuel L. Jackson), fights more Skrulls (they can take on the form of anyone they have seen), and starts trying to piece together her past on the way to fulfilling her potential future.

There's a lot to like here, but almost as much to dislike, and it's a shame that so many people on both sides of a dividing line completely separate from the actual quality of the movie itself have decided to use their stances to attempt to build up or tear down Captain Marvel (both the film and Larson).

Let me start with the good. The cast are almost uniformly fantastic, with Larson yet another perfect choice by Marvel. Jackson works very well alongside her, and there's a lot of fun to be had wondering just when he will need the eyepatch we're all so used to him wearing, and the other big names are Jude Law (a Kree warrior/mentor figure), Ben Mendelsohn (appearing in both Skrull and non-Skrull form), and Annette Bening (playing a scientist, a memory, and an incarnation of a Supreme Intelligence . . . it makes sense when you watch the movie). As good as they all are, there are also excellent supporting turns from Lashana Lynch and Akira Akbar, portraying a mother and daughter who have a strong connection to Carol. In fact, Lynch and Akbar have some of the best moments with Larson that emphasise the empowering message of the movie.

Which leads me on to the next big plus point. Although this has been promoted with a message of positivity and strength for women, it also has plenty of other messages in the mix, with some that feel constant, and fairly standard in the realm of comic book movies, and one that feels very relevant, and very well-handled.

What else works? The humour, for the most part. There are numerous laughs to be had here, with targets ranging from the older tech of the '90s to the cuteness of a feline named Goose, but they're interspersed in a way that doesn't tip the balance away from the essence of the story - the superhero origin. There's also a great soundtrack, including big tunes from Elastica, Nirvana, and No Doubt. And then you have the world-building, with fans being allowed a nice sense of satisfaction as you see pieces being moved into place that have already been shown established in previous films.

Now to the bad stuff. Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who also helped to write the screenplay, seem as confused and unsure of themselves as the central character does. The opening act is a muddied and fractured collage of scenes that you know will have some context by the end of the film, which doesn't make the start any more enjoyable, and the ending is almost impossible to care about. You get a twist everyone knows is coming from the very start of the movie, you get a superhero up there with Superman (which means they're so powerful that there doesn't seem to be any real threat to them), and none of the action sequences are put together with the care and polish that we've come to expect from these movies in recent years. It's also a dull movie, in terms of both the light levels (unless they were projecting it incorrectly at my local IMAX) and the visual style. Things brighten up once we're on '90s Earth but other moments that should be treats for the eyeballs just don't feel all that spectacular or . . . shiny. And that soundtrack? As good as it is, only one song really works for the scene it is in. The rest feel either completely unnecessary or are just there to sell soundtracks and allow some viewers to enjoy a warm glow of nostalgia. The biggest mis-step may be the way a song is used in a third act fight scene, with no attempt made to at least match the rhythm of the visuals to the audio or actually use the song as part of the experience. It plays. People fight. That's all you can say about the scene.

Despite me sounding like a crotchety old man, I found enough here to have a good time at the cinema. And I'll buy Captain Marvel when it comes to shiny disc. There's a decent middle section, a nice nod to The French Connection, a pinch of The Right Stuff, a moving Stan Lee tribute, and a statement about heroism that proves more effective than many of the others (how many times do we really need to see Tony Stark have fun in his suit and defeat baddies before then feeling tortured and guilty?). It's not a terrible film, not at all. But it's not a great film either. Compared to many of the other Marvel movies, since they started their proper schedule of dominating the box office, it falls short. Not at the bottom of the pile, but maybe just below the other titles I would have ranked in the middle section.

6/10

The movie will be available to buy here.
Americans will be able to get it digitally here.


Monday, 11 March 2019

Mubi Monday: Orlando (1992)

Written and directed by Sally Potter, adapting the book by Virginia Woolf, Orlando makes use of the androgynous form of Tilda Swinton in a lead role that allows her to command the screen for the majority of the runtime.

Swinton is the titular character, commanded by Queen Elizabeth I (Quentin Crisp) to always stay as he is. "Do not fade. Do not wither. Do not grow old." Remarkably, he manages to obey this command, with one major change happening many years later. On a journey that takes in love, art, politics, and more, Orlando wakes up one morning as a woman, which brings another viewpoint and some extra problems.

Difficult to review, Orlando is a well-made, intelligent, and interesting film. But it's also one that, much like the main character, just seems a bit too aloof, slightly disconnected from anything else (it certainly didn't connect with me, I'm afraid).

The script is full of enjoyable lines, as fans of Woolf would expect, and Potter does a great job of wrestling what could have been a troublesome sprawling narrative into something surprisingly straightforward, despite the gender change that occurs about halfway through. Although I am unfamiliar with the source material, a phrase I am aware that I use all too often nowadays, but the episodic structure, whether from the book or decided upon by Potter, feels like the best way it could have been done.

Swinton is as good as ever in the main role, although it's still harder to find her convincing in the male role than it is in the female role, something that could have been improved by some more work on the hair and make-up. Not to insult fans of her performances, but she plays up the androgyny better than she plays up any perceived male traits, as silly as that may sound. Crisp is wonderful in his royal role, a fitting one for someone of his stature in the LGBTQ+ community, and singer Jimmy Somerville (arguably best known for the hit song "Don't Leave Me This Way" when he was the front man in The Communards) pops up to impress with his vocal range. Charlotte Valandrey is a potential love interest for male Orlando, Billy Zane is a potential love interest for the female incarnation, John Wood is good value in the role of an Archduke who thinks very highly of Orlando, and there are small roles for Heathcote Williams, Toby Stephens, and more (including Toby Jones, although his appearance is fleeting).

This is a good film, in many ways, and there are people who will find more of value in it than I did. It just didn't ever fully click into place for me, despite the sure hand of Potter and the many solid performances from her assembled cast.

6/10

Buy the movie here.
Americans can get it here.


Sunday, 10 March 2019

Netflix And Chill: The Five-Year Engagement (2012)

Another offbeat rom-com from Nicholas Stoller (director and co-writer) and Jason Segel (star and co-writer), The Five-Year Engagement is a lot more fun, and a lot sweeter, than I expected it to be (considering the mixed opinions I had heard on it). The biggest problem it has, like so many other comedies from recent years, is a lengthy runtime. Having said that, I am not sure what I would cut out of it to slim it down. I just know that I was waiting for a suitable final act about thirty minutes before it was due to be delivered.

Segel and Emily Blunt play Tom and Violet, a couple who are very much in love, and so get engaged. As the title may suggest, things keep cropping up that extend their engagement again and again. They end up living in Michigan, which Tom resents, while others start to race forward with their own life plans (mainly Violet's sister, Suzie, and Tom's best friend, Alex). Nothing seems to get easier, which puts more and more strain on their relationship. Can they get through this problematic stage, or does such a lengthy engagement mean that it's just not meant to be?

The middle section of The Five-Year Engagement is the weakest part, as the film seems to relish piling on the misery for the two main characters and becoming far too sour for a rom-com (even for an anti-rom-com, which this seems to be for a while, before making amends in the final stages). There are still a lot of funny lines and moments, but everything is tinged with sadness, doubly so for viewers who like both of the leads (and I do).

Stoller directs capably enough. You get plenty of obvious, amusing, transitions, the soundtrack has some jangly guitar tunes on there, and he allows the cast to interact with one another in a way that feels natural without feeling like the extended improvisations you would get in a Judd Apatow film. But that's definitely the biggest problem here, the Apatow effect. There's just no need for a film like this to be over two hours long.

It's a good job that the cast are so enjoyable, making it easier to accept the inflated runtime. Segel and Blunt are fantastic in the lead roles, and you really root for them to stay together, and a lot of laughs come from Alison Brie and Chris Pratt, playing Suzie and Tom. Rhys Ifans is also good fun, playing a professor who supports Violet in a way that may creep beyond professional interest, and others joining in with the fun include Brian Posehn, Dakota Johnson, Mindy Kaling, Randall Park, Kevin Hart, Jacki Weaver, and more.

This is a fun film. It has enough laughs to be a good comedy. It has enough sweetness to be a good romance. It's a fantastic ninety minutes. Stretched to over two hours.

7/10

Pick it up here.
Americans can go buy it here.


Saturday, 9 March 2019

Shudder Saturday: What We Become (2015)

A very frustrating viewing experience, What We Become is a virus/zombie movie that ends up bringing so little new to the table (if anything) that it ends up being ultimately pointless, even if it's well put together.

There's been some kind of viral outbreak, with details relayed via news updates. That's the start of the trouble, and it's not long until soldiers in protective clothing are checking over homes and insisting that people stay where they are. One family (father, mother, teenage son, and younger daughter) initially trust that everything will work out, but that trust is harder to hold onto as the situation grows increasingly perilous, and the need to survive outweighs the need to behave in the normal ways they used to.

Written and directed by Bo Mikkelson, his debut feature film after working away on numerous shorts and one documentary over the years, I'm not sure what I dislike most about What We Become. It's either the fact that it adds nothing new to the multitude of virus/zombie movies we've seen before, or the fact that it thinks that won't be a problem because it's attempting to mix standard genre moments with more thoughtful ruminations on humanity and the lengths people will go to in order to keep their loved ones, and themselves, safe from harm. I say "attempting to mix" those things because it doesn't succeed, any potential points of interest being undermined by the fact that a number of main characters seem to be working through a checklist entitled "Things Not To Do In The Event Of A Viral Epidemic." Sneaking out of your home, not informing others of the full severity of the situation, taking in others who may or may not be infected, throwing a spanner in the works that leads to a much more difficult situation for the military to contain, I could go on. If you've ever watched this kind of film and seen the young child obliviously wander into danger or the elderly relative slowly but surely succumb to illness then you'll find nothing surprising here.

Points are gained for the level of competence throughout. Every main plot beat may have been done before but at least they're done well, on the technical side of things. You can always see what's going on and the infrequent special effects are very good, which is always a relief when you've sat through as many of these types of movies as most horror fans have.

The cast all do decent work. Troels Lyby is the standout, playing the father trying his best to keep his family safe, but Mille Dinesen and Benjamin Engell are both very good (as, respectively, the mother and the teenage son), and Marie Boda also does well, playing a young woman who Engell would like to get to know better.

Despite the majority of this review sounding very negative, I can't say that What We Become is a BAD movie. It's just a surprisingly bad, and cliché-ridden, script. That's something that the film cannot overcome, despite the solid performances and technical aptitude.

5/10


Friday, 8 March 2019

Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason (2004)

I really disliked Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason when I first saw it. It spent too much time either being completely ridiculous (a plot point that sees Bridget jailed in Thailand) or just rehashing moments that were done better the first time around. Watching it now, I don't mind it too much. It still suffers from the same failings, especially the ridiculousness of that Thailand section, but the worst thing about it is really that it's just not the first film, despite trying hard to be.

At the start of the movie we see Bridget (Renee Zellweger) enjoying a happy life with Mark Darcy (Colin Firth). Unfortunately, that happiness doesn't look like it will last forever. Bridget is insecure, still as accident-prone as ever, and she once again ends up with the predatory Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) in her life. Can she make it through a difficult time, or will she give in to that inner voice of hers that is often spectacularly wrong in the viewpoint and advice it provides?

Directed by Beeban Kidron, this is a film that seems to struggle to find a proper identity. Much like the central character, it's not sure where it really fits in. In trying to both give audiences what they enjoyed so much the first time around while also adding some new adventures, it falters and stumbles from one set-piece to the next. The script, by Helen Fielding (who wrote the source material), Adam Brooks, Richard Curtis, and Andrew Davies, has too few moments of decent dialogue, instead relying on the familiarity and appeal of the main characters to carry things along.

The main plus point is that those main characters DO appeal. This remains the best role that Zellweger has had, perhaps simply due to it being the most fun and (for many) identifiable, and she slips back into the character like a favourite outfit. Firth does his strong-jawed noble act again, few do it better, and Grant is as amusing as he usually is, especially when in full on devilish mode. As well as the leads, most of the supporting players return (some getting more screentime than others) so it really feels like the whole gang is back together, which makes this an easy choice for comfort viewing. Jacinda Barrett and Joe Nicholls is the main new face, and they both provide some interesting twists. There's also a fun little turn from Jessica Hynes, no twists there but always good to see her onscreen.

The pop soundtrack, the fun escapades, the cast of well-to-do characters dealing with problems that help everyone forget the burning hellhole of the real world around us, there's nothing here to outright hate (unless you hated the first film). But there's nothing here to outright celebrate either. It's just there, bringing no advancement to the story or characters that we all enjoyed the first time around, and seeming to have no purpose other than selling repackaged boxsets featuring the first film alongside it. And yes, I bought the boxset.

6/10

You can buy the movies here.


Thursday, 7 March 2019

The Blind Side (2009)

It's interesting to watch The Blind Side today, probably more interesting than it would have been watching it when first released, for the way in which it already feels quite archaic and cringe-inducing. A decade later we have conversations whirling around daily about representation, we've had the attempt to remind police of their bias with the Black Lives Matter, and there has been a notable progression, even if it is in the tiniest of increments. The fact that The Blind Side is based on a true story doesn't mean you can watch it without considering everything that has happened since. I'll be reviewing it for what it is, as I try to do with every movie, but I felt it was worth pointing this out at the start. You can view and enjoy this for the standard drama, with a hefty serving of sports, that it is, and you can also springboard from it into some very interesting thoughts and conversations about what has, and hasn't, changed in the previous decade.

Quinton Aaron plays Michael Oher, a large African American lad who gets a chance to join a fairly prestigious school when the American Football coach (Ray McKinnon) considers what an asset he could be to the school team. Unfortunately, Michael doesn't look like he will be there for long. His grades aren't good and he has to spend his nights seeking somewhere warm to sleep, due to his being made homeless. But an encounter with the Tuohy family starts him on a path that may give him the time and opportunity to make a much better life for himself.

Writer-director John Lee Hancock has done well for himself with a selection of celebrated films adapted from true stories (including Saving Mr. Banks and The Founder, as well as this one). Here he adapts the book by Michael Lewis, fudging some facts and character traits to create more cinematic elements for the main characters to contend with, and he does everything with a degree of polish and competence that guarantees most viewers who watch without being too cynical will at least enjoy watching the story unfold. It's very predictable, and makes a lot of very safe choices, but it's still a good watch, the kind of glossy cinematic comfort food that makes for a decent choice on family movie night.

Aaron is very good in his role, a gentle giant who has his intelligence hidden behind his timid demeanour, ready to fulfil his potential if someone can engage him in the right way. Sandra Bullock is enjoyably over the top as Leigh Anne Tuohy, a woman who is used to getting her way and doesn't care about the opinions of others. It's an over the top performance, and one that bagged her an Oscar for reasons that are beyond me, but there's no denying that she has fun with it. Tim McGraw plays her husband, and the children are played by Lily Collins and a scene-stealing Jae Head (the youngest family member). Everyone does good work. McKinnon is fun in the coach role, not knowing how to deal with his new player until Mrs Tuohy puts him right, and Kathy Bates does just fine as a tutor who is hired to help Michael get his grades up, because failing academically will scupper any prospects he may have to develop his American Football career.

Just as easy to hate as it is to enjoy, The Blind Side is simply out to tell a story that engages and entertains viewers, and maybe moves them on occasion (if you're unmoved then it's not for the lack of attempted manipulation by Hancock). I ended up really liking it, mainly thanks to the central performances from Aaron and Bullock, and I recommend it to others, even if, despite the title, there's not much that happens that you don't see coming from the very beginning.

7/10

You can buy the movie here.
Americans can get the same disc here.


Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Prime Time: School Spirit (1985)

The people responsible for School Spirit didn't have a lengthy career in the movie business, and that's something we should all be thankful for. Because this is a terrible movie. It's not funny enough as a comedy, you can't care about a main character who spends so much of the first half of the film trying to lech on as many women as he can, and the special effects are weak.

Tom Nolan plays Billy Batson, a student we first see trying to seduce the beautiful Judith Hightower (Elizabeth Foxx). It's all going well until she asks him if he has protection. Telling her to stay right where she is, Billy rushes off in his car to get a condom from somewhere. And as he is rushing back, condom in his possession, he crashes. And dies. That's when his dead uncle (Pinky Batson, played by John Finnegan) appears to take him away. Billy doesn't want to go. He still wants to finish his date, and things get even more interesting when he realises that he can turn visible and invisible with a little waving gesture over his head. Cue a number of "fun" escapades that see Billy following women around and seeing them naked.

Look, I get it, the 1980s were a very different time. Attitudes weren't the same as today, especially when it came to any aspects of equality, sexuality, and sex. I can watch a lot of movies from this era and still find enough to make me chuckle. You might judge me for chuckling, but I will chuckle nonetheless. School Spirit, however, didn't make me chuckle. It has all of the worst aspects of the decade packed into its runtime without any of the saving graces. If the main characters had been better then this might have worked, if the gags had been funnier then this might have worked. If the rest of the storyline had been remotely interesting then this might have worked. None of those things were given enough time and attention.

Writer Geoffrey Baere does the bare minimum (no pun intended) to give a plot for the main character to run through. The focus is on nudity for the first half until things turn into a standard "get revenge upon the main authority figure" second half, and neither half works. Director Alan Holleb goes along with the weak script, happy to add nothing to the proceedings until he needs the camera to linger over the naked bodies of young women (sometimes showering, and even sleeping on one occasion, the creepiest scene of them all).

Nolan is clearly too old for his main role, a fact not compensated for by his lack of charisma and acting prowess, and Finnegan can't overcome the fact that his character is written in a way that makes him far too sleazy to like. Foxx makes an impression, thanks to her fine looks, and I wish I could namecheck all of the other women onscreen who were given thankless roles (but I don't have the time or space here). Larry Linville is okay as President Grimshaw, there are okay turns from Roberta Collins, Nick Segal, Frank Mugavero, and Toni Hudson (the typical, from this decade anyway, secondary female character who is actually a lot cuter than the many women being pushed onscreen ahead of her). It's also worth mentioning Danièle Arnaud, who plays Madeleine, a character I resented almost immediately. I can't tell if this was due to Arnaud's weak acting or the fact that she feel for such a repulsive main character.

There are many better comedies to pick from the 1980s, even if you're still after the lowbrow mix of gags and nudity that so many of them dealt in. School Spirit was one I had never heard of before, and it's one I hope many other people never come across.

3/10

IF you want to seek out the R1 disc then you can torture yourself here.


Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Overlord (2018)

If there's one thing we all know by now it's that Nazis would have made an army of zombie soldiers if they could have. The only thing worse than a Nazi is a zombie Nazi, and they have appeared in popular entertainment quite often over the past couple of decades. They appear here, but the plot chooses to focus on the very real horrors of war, first and foremost, with the standard genre thrills mixed in slowly but surely until brought to the surface for the third act.

Starting with a group of soldiers being airdropped into Germany, Overlord is a tense and visceral experience from the opening scenes. The skies are shredded with anti-aircraft gunfire, meaning that many of the young men are killed before they even get a chance to jump out of their craft. The ones that land are immediately in great danger, and it never gets easier. But the mission is a vital one, destroying a radio tower that has been causing all kinds of problems, to put it mildly. The soldiers find someone willing to help hide them, a young French woman named Chloe, they start to figure out how best to complete their mission, but it all becomes even more complicated when they discover bodies being experimented on and a serum that seems capable of creating mutated super-soldiers.

Written by Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith, it's intriguing to see that this was developed from a story idea from the former, who has a background in more varied dramatic works. Smith seems to be the horror guy, of the two, but both have worked well together in balancing the wartime tension with the pulpy entertainment aspects.

Director Julius Avery, working on what is only his second feature, does a great job with the material. It's often dark, and the action is frantic at times, but you never lose sight of the identity and location of the various characters, and the set-pieces are perfectly paced. Special effects are great throughout, impressively bizarre and bloody, but the focus stays on the main characters, even while horrific oddities start to multiply around them.

The cast are another big plus. Jovan Adepo and Wyatt Russell are the two main soldiers, with Russell being the one who ends up in charge after so many deaths in the first act, and both of them do excellent work (I'm not familiar with Adepo but have already come to expect excellence every time I see Russell onscreen). Mathilde Ollivier is equally good as Chloe, a determined survivor with loved ones to look after, and the main villain of the piece is played with relish by Pilou Asbæk. Other characters are portrayed by John Magaro, Iain De Caestecker, Jacob Anderson, Gianny Taufer (a standout as the younger brother of Chloe), and Dominic Applewhite.

There may be a little too much familiarity here, which might explain why there were so many mixed/lukewarm reviews when this was released in cinemas, but Overlord takes the elements that we've all seen elsewhere and blends them into a fantastic piece of genre entertainment, with impressive visuals and a score by Jed Kurzel that's also worth mentioning (I know, I know, I always forget to mention scores, and I constantly apologise for it).

8/10

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


Monday, 4 March 2019

Mubi Monday: Children Of Men (2006)

The first time I saw Children Of Men I wondered what everyone else saw in it that I didn't. It was a good film but everyone else seemed to love it. And now I know why. What once felt like a low-key sci-fi movie that I could never warm to now feels like the kind of sci-fi tale warning us of what could be just around the corner. To be fair, it was probably always that way, it's just that when I first saw it I wasn't taking as much notice of the world around me.

Clive Owen stars as Theo, a man trying to keep his head above the dangerous waters of a society on the brink of collapse. There hasn't been a child born for almost two decades and the UK is dealing with an immigration problem by basically capturing them and keeping them in camps until they can come up with an excuse to send the military in to solve the problem with deadly efficiency. Theo also used to be a political activist, information that is used by his ex-wife (Julianne Moore) when she needs someone she can trust to assist a valuable young woman (Kee, played by Clare-Hope Ashitey) in escaping the country.

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, who also co-wrote the screenplay with a number of other people (incorporating feedback and ideas from Owen), Children Of Men is a wonderful film that mixes hope and despair in a delicate and thoughtful mix. This is mainly thanks to the central character, an understandable cynic, being constantly surrounded by people who cling on to the smallest silver lining as the clouds gather overhead. It's also thanks to the fact that we can still watch the movie and, I sincerely hope, view it as a low point that we would never want to reach. We're already precariously close to it, in places, but I have faith that those with more common sense and empathy will always outnumber the small-minded bigots and xenophobes who keep trying to drag us further and further down into the mud.

Based on a novel by Ps. D. James (yes, THAT P. D. James), this story layers on the horrible  revelations and realisations as we keep moving towards the grand finale, not sure if this will be able to give us a happy ending, considering the overwhelming odds that keep mounting up against the main characters. There are a number of moments that let the action unfold in a number of impressive tracking shots, contributing an effective air of immediacy akin to the found footage format without really showboating in a way that takes viewers out of the movie (it's worth noting that I didn't notice these the first time I watched the film, I was so engrossed, and it was only in the intervening years that I saw them praised and then knew to look out for them on a rewatch).

Owen is superb in the lead role, he's an actor that is rarely given his due and this is one of his very best roles. Grim and determined, he is dragged into the situation in stages, always resisting right up until he realises that he's the only one who knows how to do the right thing at the right stage in the journey. Ashitey is very good in her role, similar to Owen in the way that she's often passive until the moment when she has to put her foot down, and there are strong supporting turns from Moore, Pam Ferris, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Charlie Hunnam, Danny Huston, and Peter Mullan. There is also a fantastic turn from Michael Caine, playing Jasper, a man who deals cannabis and tries to keep himself hidden away from the urban madness until the day when he hopes things start to get better.

If you think Children Of Men is just a dystopian thriller disconnected from the events of our daily lives then see how you feel during the scene in which the characters discuss how an upcoming major event could be manipulated and "improved" for the public by replacing the face of an immigrant with the face of someone white. Prescient sci-fi? This almost feels like a documentary nowadays.

9/10

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


Sunday, 3 March 2019

Netflix And Chill: Isn't It Romantic (2019)

When I first heard about Isn't It Romantic I thought that it was going to cover the same ground as They Came Together. It wasn't. Instead, I got something that felt like a cross between I Feel Pretty and The Final Girls (which was, funnily enough, also from this director, Todd Strauss-Schulson).

Rebel Wilson plays a young woman named Natalie. Natalie is an architect, although a lot of people around her seems to treat her as a general dogsbody. Natalie is also quite the cynic, and has been taught from a young age (as we see in the opening scene) to always keep in mind that rom-coms are just nonsense, full of things that would never happen to someone like herself. Which makes it worse when, one day after struggling with a mugger and running into a metal beam, Natalie wakes up in hospital, and wakes up in the middle of what seems to be her own romantic comedy. Will this allow her to learn some kind of valuable lesson, or is it just going to be an endurance test until she can figure out a way back to normality.

A lot of Rebel Wilson performances depend very much on how you feel about Rebel Wilson. I tend to enjoy her work but each subsequent movie highlights the fact that she always plays things the same way. That can work, and you could say the same of her male co-star here (Adam Devine, who plays the smug moron-cum-douchebag in 90% of the movies he has done), but it's not something to rely on forever. She's fine here, and given decent support from a core group that includes Devine (the best friend who might end up being more than that), Liam Hemsworth (very . . .  "beguiling" . . .  as the hunky love interest), Priyanka Chopra (woman who Devine falls for, providing standard complication), Betty Gilpin (friendly work colleague in the real world, acidic workplace enemy underused in the rom-com world), and Brandon Scott Jones (popping up to be the subgenre-requisite gay BFF).

No one in the cast stands out as a bad choice. The big problem here lies elsewhere. The script. Written by Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox, and Katie Silberman, Isn't It Romantic has some funny and clever moments here and there, especially when it comes to censored swearing and transitions that imply sex without showing anything happening, but everything centres on a central idea that doesn't work. Wilson knows all of the tropes, and rolls her eyes at all of them, yet she goes along with them all while commenting on her displeasure. This allows the film to underline everything in every scene, making it less fun. Not only do viewers have everything spoon-fed to them while being bashed on the head with a rom-com rubber mallet, they also get constantly reminded that what they're watching is nonsense and (essentially) without any value. Where the movies mentioned in the first paragraph had a certain sweetness and optimism at the heart of them, whether you liked them or not, this has a cynicism in line with the main character, and that sours what could have been a very enjoyable rom-com that wore some layers of cool meta clothing.

Strauss-Schulson does a good job with the direction, ensuring that this always feels like your standard rom-com, from the visual style of each scene to frequent use of uplifting pop standards on the soundtrack. The film feels infused by every modern rom-com, helped there by the script, but nothing can quite outweigh the misjudged tone. I would have liked to laugh along with this film, instead it feels like they're pointing at things for you to laugh at.

There are laughs to be had, and a couple of fun musical numbers, but this is ultimately a disappointment, despite making a very good point during the grand finale.

5/10

Americans may order it here.


Saturday, 2 March 2019

Shudder Saturday: Satan's Slaves (2017)

Apparently this Indonesian horror is a bit of a remake/prequel to a 1980 film, which I haven't seen, but you may be happy to hear that it's absolutely fine to watch as a standalone film. I did read up on the final scene, which didn't make much sense to me, but my ignorance wasn't enough to spoil my viewing experience.

Rini (Tara Basro) is the family member who spends most of her time with her mother, who is very ill. She rings a bell when she needs assistance, and spends most of her time prone in her bed. And then her mother dies, which is when things go from quite scary to pretty terrifying. Having already been weirded out by a couple of creepy incidents, Rini and her brothers start to see figures appearing in various places around them, either spirits or physical manifestations of the undead, and they eventually figure out that there is some evil force trying to get hold of the youngest of the children (Ian, played by Muhammad Adhiyat) because of a deal made with a Satanic sect.

This is a horror film that has the best of both world for fans of the genre. You get the jumps and scares similar to those recently packaged in popular hits by James Wan and you also get a near-constant sense of unease and dread. The creepier moments, and the imagery, are reminiscent of the best stuff we discovered during the Asian horror boom at the turn of the 21st century.

Director Joko Anwar, who also gave us the very good Ritual (2012), does a fantastic job here, working from his own script to perfectly set up the details and geography that will pay off later in the movie. The bell that is rung by the "patient", the water well, even the set up of the bedrooms, showing where people sleep in a shared room and where they sleep alone. Windows and reflective surfaces often show viewers more than the characters notice, and there are a couple of standout scenes that involve white linen being inhabited by figures that nobody would want there.

The cast all do solid work. Basro is the nominal lead, but she shares a lot of the screentime with Adhiyat, Endy Arfian (as her brother, Tony), and Nasar Anuz (as her other brother, Bondi), and there are worthwhile contributions from Bront Palarae (the father), Arswendi Nasution (a man who may have knowledge of the situation), Dimas Aditya (the son of Nasution's character), and Elly D. Luthan (grandmother). Everybody fits perfectly in the role they're given, and their personalities and relationships make everything easier to accept as things go very quickly from the mundane to the completely mad.

If you want something that will deliver some straightforward genre thrills then this is a great choice for you. Thankfully, it also has a little bit more to it, in the way it develops the backstory and crafts something that could lead on to even more horrors in the future (I would much rather see more films spun off from this than I would see more films spun off from The Conjuring movies). It's highly recommended, and I'll be going back to check out the original inspiration whenever I get the opportunity.

8/10

No links for this, so please just go to Amazon.co.uk and buy stuff.
Or Amazon.com.


Friday, 1 March 2019

Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)

A top-tier entry in the selection of British rom-coms from the past few decades, Bridget Jones's Diary is the film that made everyone fall in love with Renée Zellweger, reminded everyone of their love for Colin Firth, and once again showed off the comedy chops of Hugh Grant.

The fairly light plot involves Bridget, a young woman who is keen to change her life for the better. She wants to lose some weight, quit smoking, and land a good boyfriend. Unfortunately, she has a habit of not helping herself in these matters, sometimes accidentally and sometimes not. She is unimpressed when she meets Mark Darcy (Firth) at a Christmas party, despite the fact that he is, well, Colin Firth, and eventually ends up having some fun with her work colleague, and charming rogue, Daniel Cleaver (Grant). Things may seem like they're going her way but there are some obstacles on the way to true happiness, or at least a satisfyingly happy ending to this movie.

Directed by Sharon Maguire, Bridget Jones's Diary holds up as well nowadays as it did when first released back at the turn of the 21st century. Critics could argue that it's a horrible fantasy, pandering to international audiences with scenes of snow-covered and picturesque pockets of England, upper-class Brits going through their angst while not having any real cause for worry (certainly compared to many others), and a problematic female icon who seems to look in all the wrong places for solutions to her problems. Fans might refute those accusations by saying that those aspects make the movie as enjoyable as it is. It IS a fantasy, it IS people dealing with problems unlike the standard problems that many of us have (although I am sure that we've all had our moments of unrequited love and/or loneliness), and the central character being problematic is better than watching yet another flawless starlet pretending that her life is unravelling around her while she continues to do everything right until the world around her finally delivers the good karma that everyone knows she will be due.

The script, written by Helen Fielding (who also wrote the popular source novel, of course), Andrew Davies, and Richard Curtis, is full of classic rom-com moments and some wonderful dialogue, whether it's Bridget narrating her diary entries or awkward exchanges between her and Mr Darcy. You could do a lot worse if you ever wanted to dissect a script that brilliantly sketches a number of main characters while delivering quality laughs in most scenes. Things rattle along perfectly, and you get a selection of pretty good pop hits on the soundtrack helping everything along.

Despite a career that has seen her give a number of great performances, Zellweger may never escape from her role of Bridget (a role she has now played in three movies). She's brilliant in the role, authentic and appealing, helped by the fact that she manages to also put on a very good English accent. Firth does his stoic act with aplomb, making it all the more amusing when he has an angry outburst that leads to a hugely entertaining fight scene, and Grant is probably as hilarious as he's ever been (and he has made me laugh a lot in so many of his roles). Gemma Jones and Jim Broadbent are both excellent as Bridget's parents, Shirley Henderson, Sally Phillips, and James Callis are all fun as Bridget's main three friends, and there are wonderful turns from Neil Pearson, Felicity Montagu, Paul Brooke, Celia Imrie, and many others.

If you enjoy great comedies then you'll like this. It's a near-perfect rom-com, and a reliable favourite to have to hand for those evenings when you want to watch something that will keep you grinning from ear to ear throughout, even if you started watching it while in a low mood, wearing your pyjamas, and determined to eat your way through an entire tub of ice cream.

9/10

Buy the set here.
Americans can get the same set here.



Thursday, 28 February 2019

Hunter Killer (2018)

Gerard Butler. Gerard bloody Butler. I have been a fan of his for quite some time now, but he seems intent on making it harder and harder for people to say that aloud. His movie choices are often problematic, at best, and some could say that he seems to deliberately pick some of the worst scripts around when he gets his name in the hat for potential blockbuster material.

In this submarine-based action thriller, Butler plays Captain Joe Glass, a slightly unorthodox type who is trusted by the men around him because he may seem a bit odd but he gets results, dammit. He's given a crew and immediately sent off to Russian waters, where there has been an incident involving the sinking of both a Russian and an American sub. Knowing just what is at stake if the wrong move is made, Glass is determined to do whatever he can to get to the bottom of the situation and avoid an all-out war.

Written by Arne Schmidt and Jamie Moss, two men without too many scripts already under their belts, Hunter Killer is just about as lazy and incompetent as you can get, at least without descending to the level of the laughably bad. I'm not sure if the source material (a novel named "Firing Point") is any better but this certainly doesn't have me in any rush to check it out. Almost every line of dialogue is a cliché, and director Donovan Marsh doesn't think he should do anything in his role to help distract viewers from that. He adds to it all, if anything, with every decision made, taking his cues from the back catalogue of Tony Scott and Michael Bay when it comes to moments that show slick and powerful military action but forgetting to keep things orderly when it comes to the geography of the action sequences.

While there's supposed to be tension under the water, there's also supposed to be some tension on land, as a small group of soldiers (led by Toby Stephens) attempt to get in and extract a Russian president being held against his will by the individual who wants to start the war. One decent sequence aside, involving an enemy sub hidden under a large ice glacier, no tension is to be found once the plot starts to unfold. There are also no characters to care about, and the ending is laughably bad.

Butler is still a decent onscreen presence, making this just about bearable, and the cast is rounded out by Stephens, Michael Nyqvist (also a highlight, playing the rescued captain of another submarine), Common, Gary Oldman, and Linda Cardellini. I like all of these people when they're in half-decent movies. This isn't even a half-decent movie.

The submarine movie subgenre isn't the biggest one around, by far, but I guarantee you that almost any other film you can think of featuring periscopes, men getting tense while standing quietly in a floating chunk of metal, and radar screens that go ping and bloop, will be better than this. That even includes Down Periscope.

3/10

Dive in here.
Americans can buy it here.