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.


Dive in here.
Americans can buy it here.

Wednesday 27 February 2019

Prime Time: The Nines (2007)

It's really hard to consider how to even begin writing a review of The Nines, a film that is quite often overlooked in the filmography of Ryan Reynolds. It was only brought to my attention just over a week ago, in the midst of an online conversation about Reynolds, and I'm very glad that it was.

Reynolds plays a number of characters, I think it is safe to say that. And all of those characters seem to be going through a bit of a tough time. He keeps meeting incarnations of Melissa McCarthy and Hope Davis, among others, and tries to piece his mind together, while viewers try to figure out just how, if any, of this makes sense. There IS an explanation, and it's probably not one you would see coming.

Written and directed by John August, there's plenty here to mull over as you start to wander deeper and deeper into a story that is either about deteriorating mental health or something less easy to explain. In fact, despite the end of the movie seeming quite clear, I would argue that you could view the whole film as a look at a deluded individual, someone seeing patterns that aren't necessarily there while creating a wild theory to explain everything.

Reynolds is superb in his multiple roles, even better than he was in The Voices (a film that many seemed to love, but I just liked), and he's matched by his co-stars. Davis does well, but it's McCarthy who almost steals the show, mainly thanks to a large portion of the film that sees her playing a version of herself for the purposes of the plot. Elle Fanning, David Denman, and Ben Falcone also do solid work in smaller roles.

August has a varied and interesting filmography, from his short film God to Go and on to the Charlie's Angels movies. This is much more in line with the former than the latter, and allows him to tell his own tale in his own way, rather than take part in the blockbuster machine. The fact that he found some quality names to go along for the ride, and it is a wild ride indeed, is a major bonus.

The technical side of things is a-okay, utilising a few special effects moments here and there when showing cracks in the reality around the main characters but mostly keeping everything grounded by the effectiveness of the script and performances. The dialogue is always lively, with one or two lines that brilliantly punctuate scenes at vital moments, and it's a film that will continue to entertain on rewatch, even if it doesn't become any easier to fully untangle.

Not quite a 9 but . . . 8/10

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

Tuesday 26 February 2019

Halloween (2018)

Horror fans. At heart, we're easily pleased, according to some anyway. And we're an optimistic lot, at least when it comes to films that aren't cynical remakes. Time and time again, we have been given assurances about remakes and reboots. This time they're going to get things right. It's going back to the spirit of the original. This will be a film for the fans. And that's what we were told with Halloween. Indeed, early word on the film was fantastic, and a lot of fans are very happy with it. I am just not too sure what they have seen in it that I have missed.

Here's the plot. When a couple of true-crime podcasters get to visit Michael Myers in the sanitarium that has been his home for forty years they do their best to get a reaction from him, seemingly to no avail. The podcasters then go to visit Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis returning to her iconic role), now living a sheltered existence, staying locked inside her own home, to the detriment of her relationship with her daughter (Karen, played by Judy Greer) and her granddaughter (Allyson, played by Andi Matichak). And it's only a short while from then until Michael *gasp* escapes and *shock* heads to find Laurie once again.

Okay, there's something off about Halloween that I can't put my finger on. Something to do with the way that those involved insisted it would work as a sequel to the original film, while ignoring all of the other movies that came along after it, yet not quite nailing a consistent tone throughout, not seeming to handle the manners of Michael correctly, and not managing to give fans a finale worthy of the wait. What should have been a potential last hurrah ends up instead being a bit of an eye-roll and a shrug.

Director David Gordon Green doesn't do a bad job when he allows himself time away from the main characters and plotting. That one tracking shot, shown in preview clips that were used to advertise the movie, is pretty great, allowing us to watch Michael mingle with unwitting trick or treaters as he wanders around and commits a couple of impressively short 'n' sharp kills. And there's a decent sequence that features a scared child and a babysitter who assumes that it's all down to imaginary terrors. Unfortunately, Green does worse with a number of scenes that seem to warp the characters for the sake of a fresh start in the series. The script, co-written by the director with Jeff Fradley and Danny McBride, has just as many silly moments as many of the other sequels it is so desperate to erase from the canon, and, worst of all, it doesn't do justice to the characters that deserve better treatment. Those characters would fare a lot worse if they weren't played by such good actors. And did I mention that everything is kicked off this time by true-crime podcasters? Yes, it may lack Busta Rhymes and webcams, but let's not pretend that this isn't as gimmicky and mistakingly attempting to be trendy in the same way as, oh, Halloween: Resurrection was. Things lift up when scenes don't feel like they're either reacting to trends or dishing up fan-service but, sadly, most of the film seems to be stuck in those two camps.

The cast help immensely, and it goes without saying that Curtis gives another great performance. Greer is good, although playing the overly-tense character that she's been stuck with many times before, and Matichak is a likeable younger potential final girl who could easily carry on the Strode legacy, as far as I'm concerned. The wonderful Will Patton is . . . wonderful, if sorely underused, in the role of Officer Hawkins, and Haluk Bilginer tries to fill a Loomis-shaped gap, but is let down by the writing in the second half. Virginia Gardner, Dylan Arnold, Miles Robbins, and Drew Scheid all do well as teens who may find themselves in peril, and Jefferson Hall and Rhian Rees are those pesky podcasters.

Is this a bad horror movie? No. There are some good kills, and an attempt to craft some iconic Myers moments. It just isn't a masterpiece, not in comparison to many other horror movies and not even in comparison to the preceding films that those involved view as lesser instalments in the series. A lot of the characters here do typically dumb stuff to get themselves in a position to be picked off, a number of moments feel like they bring the luggage of the other movies that have been ignored/discarded, and the ending doesn't feel true to the characters.

But that doesn't matter whenever Michael grasps hat knife handle and starts walking towards his next victim while that classic music plays. Because us horror fans, well, we're easily pleased sometimes. I know I am.


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

Monday 25 February 2019

Mubi Monday: A Foreign Affair (1948)

There's so much to enjoy in A Foreign Affair that the negatives end up being remembered more than the positives as you think of what could have been changed and improved to put this higher up in the rankings of Billy Wilder movies. It's nowhere near his best, and a couple of scenes really end up veering away from the delicately-balanced tone that the rest of the movie has, but it's still one to seek out and enjoy, not least for the central performances from Jean Arthur and Marlene Dietrich.

Arthur plays Phoebe Frost, a congresswoman from Iowa who arrives in post-WWII Berlin with a committee who are wanting to check on the American troops stationed there and to make sure morale isn't dipping too low. What they find is that most of the troops are having a good time, able to barter their supplies in exchanges that often leave them richer and trying their best to spend pleasant time in the company of beautiful German women they won't necessarily mention to anyone when they eventually get home. One such man enjoying his time there is Captain John Pringle (John Lund), and the lady he likes to spend company with is Erika von Schlütow (Dietrich), a cabaret singer AND former valued mistress of someone quite high up in the Nazi party. Captain Pringle wants to keep Erika safe, which may mean distracting the visiting congresswoman, and what better way to keep her off the sent of both of them than pretending to fall for her?

You may have guessed from reading that paragraph that this is an odd tale to work into a romantic comedy, yet work it into a romantic comedy it does. Despite the fact that Wilder has a knack for weaving gold from straw, he can't quite do enough here to transform this. The script, written mainly by Wilder, Charles Brackett, and Richard L. Breen (with work from Robert Harari, adapting a story by David Shaw), has some great lines scattered throughout but starts to crumble and fall apart in the third act. As things become more complicated, it also becomes less amusing and harder to enjoy. The first half should be difficult enough, built on the premise of visitors journeying around a war-torn city and realising just how unscrupulous and unfaithful many of the men stationed there are, but it bounces around between a variety of characters and locations to help distract viewers from the ugly heart of the matter. When everything focuses on the Arthur, Dietrich, and Lund, that's when the cracks start to appear.

It doesn't help that Lund isn't all that appealing in his role. He does okay, I guess, but the role really requires someone with more charm. Thankfully, the best moments involve either Arthur or Dietrich, or both in the same scene. Dietrich is at her sultry best, and gets to deliver a couple of enjoyable musical moments, and Arthur transforms throughout the course of the movie, stealing the whole thing with some absolutely wonderful drunk acting in a sequence that ends up being the last proper moment of fun in the film. Millard Mitchell is also enjoyable, playing a Colonel who knows more than he lets on for most of the film, and there are a couple of fun supporting turns from Stanley Prager and William Murphy, playing a couple of women-chasing soldiers.

If things could have been held together for the finale then this would have been another excellent Billy Wilder movie to recommend to all. As it stands, it's just a good Billy Wilder movie instead. Which is still ten times better than a hundred other movies you should choose to watch most days.


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

Sunday 24 February 2019

Netflix And Chill: Deadly Detention (2017)

There's a fine line that many horror movies walk nowadays, even horror movies with a wide streak of humour in them. How do they try to rework subgenre staples that have been tired ever since they started to oversaturate the market by the start of the 1980s? You can either play it completely straight, up the gore quotient, and hope you make something that people appreciate enough to overlook the clichés or you can try to be self-aware and make fun of viewer expectations. It's easier to do the latter than it is to do the former, but both are quite tricky to get just right. Making a joke about something being tired and overused isn't always enough to distract people from the fact that much of your material is tired and overused. Deadly Detention tries to sit in between these two camps, and doesn't do enough to impress either way.

Five teens are stuck in detention, which is taking place in an abandoned prison because of the school having a bit of a pest infestation problem. The five are pretty much archetypes. Alex Frnka is Lexie (the sexy bad girl), Henry Zaga is Barrett (cool Mr Perfect, superficially), Sarah Davenport is Jessica (goody two shoes), Coy Stewart is Kevin (black ands gay), and Jennifer Robyn Jacobs is Taylor (quiet, skateboards everywhere possible). Looking after them is Ms. Presley (played by Gillian Vigman), but that all changes when it looks as if Ms. Presley is killed by someone who wants to hunt the teens down and kill them all.

Although not awful, Deadly Detention is one of those films that just never makes the effort to be as good as it could be. The script, written by Alison Spuck McNeeley and Casie Tabanou, fails to really mock the core aspects of the premise, making the characters self-aware enough to label themselves but otherwise not having as much fun with the stereotypes as it should, as if the writers were worried that laughing at the silliness of it all would weaken the material. Unfortunately, this ends up, yep, weakening the material. Especially when there's no real tension developed once we get into the section of the film that plays out like a game of cat and mouse (mice), and don't get me started on the grand finale, which had one or two reveals I could see coming from the opening scenes of the film and other moments that had no impact because nothing had been set up in the runtime preceding it.

Director Blair Hayes goes through the motions but also fails to help the script. It's perfunctory, at best, and sometimes just lazy. The main characters are in a prison. At one point they jump up through some polystyrene ceiling tiles and start to crawl through the space above, trying to stay in the right place that stops them from falling back through those flimsy, light tiles. In a prison building. Correct me if I am wrong but I just couldn't accept the fact that any prison would use those tiles. It would have certainly cut the runtime of The Shawshank Redemption down to about all of fifteen minutes, surely.

The cast are okay, considering what they are given to work with. Frnka and Davenport fare the best among the teens, although I did also enjoy Stewart when he wasn't asked to just be the jittery black kid, in a way that was almost uncomfortably similar to some of the early cinema clips shown in Horror Noire: A History Of Black Horror, and Vigman is a highlight as the authority figure who can barely contain her frustration at the attitude of some of the children in her care.

In a way, this is a film made better by the fact that you can currently find it on Netflix. You don't have to pay anything extra for it, it will probably reach a wider audience there than it otherwise would have managed, and it's one you can stick on without worrying about having to invest too much time or thought into it.


Here's a slightly better fun genre movie with kids in detention.
And here's . . . Detention.

Saturday 23 February 2019

Shudder Saturday: Deadwax (2018)

Something a bit different for Shudder Saturday this week, I was reminded to check Deadwax out while listening to the hosts . . . "wax lyrical" about it on the Strong Language & Violent Scenes podcast some time ago. And after listening to writer-director Graham Reznick give his best defence of the woeful Poltergeist III I knew that I had to check out his work.

Split into eight different episodes (or tracks, if you like), ranging in length from about 10 minutes to about 15 minutes, Deadwax is the tale of a powerful vinyl record that cam kill those who hear it. It was allegedly recorded by someone who died during the process, the sound of his "transition" captured, but isn't the only powerful record they recorded. There are also three key records, to be listened to simultaneously, that provide sounds never before heard by the living. These records, and those who have the misfortune to stumble upon them, also bring together a police officer (Len, played by Evan Gamble) and someone who specialises in finding rare records for her client (Etta, played by Hanna Gross).

Although the plot revolves around a very familiar horror trope (the powerful and evil work of art that can drive humans to madness and/or death, here it is in the form of vinyl albums, but it has previously been in the form of paintings, books, and movies), Deadwax has enough care taken with it to make it quite the treat for genre fans.

Reznick is quite the audiophile, something that resonates (no pun intended) throughout every chapter of this tale. That seems obvious, of course, in a story with this plot but it's not just sequences involving the featured records that place emphasis on the sound work. This feels very much like an audio piece, first and foremost, something that has been built up, layer by layer, until Reznick is finally content to then position the dialogue and visuals over the top of everything. Thanks to the contributions of everyone involved, it feels like he has made the album he always wanted to make. In visual form.

The cast all do fine, with Gamble and Gross being decent, if unspectacular, leads. Kirk Bovill is better, although only in one episode, as a young DJ who ends up providing a lot of backstory, building up the legend, there are fun turns from Yuki Sakamoto and Ted Raimi as two people who know more than most about the record, and Tracy Perez does well in her main supporting role (as Lana, the partner of Etta).

An enjoyable experience, overall, and one that totals up to the average runtime of a movie, Deadwax would benefit from some more moments of creepiness, or even just a few extra cheap scares here and there, but is an admirable attempt to take old ingredients and make something a bit fresh. I'll be interested to see what direction it goes in if a second season is developed, although this first run feels nicely self-contained.


Play some records on this.
Americans may want to pick up this.

Friday 22 February 2019

Queen Of The Damned (2002)

Despite never having read the source material, I understand why fans of the book would have problems with the movie version of Interview With The Vampire. Tom Cruise wasn't the first star that anyone had thought of as a good fit for the BIG role, Lestat, and any adaptation of a beloved book is bound to upset a portion of the readers, no matter who is involved. I happen to really like Interview With The Vampire (perhaps being unfamiliar with the source material helped me to enjoy it on a purely cinematic level, and Neil Jordan rarely does wrong). I cannot say the same for this film, a vampire tale so mind-bogglingly inept that I am amazed anyone agreed to it.

Lestat is played this time by Stuart Townsend. He's rested for some time and comes back out of hibernation to find that he can posit himself as a nu-metal/goth rock star. This is incredibly easy for him, and the fact that he is open about his tendency to bare fangs and crave blood only adds to his image, and his appeal. Other vampires are not happy with his publicity and fame, which means lots of them want him dead. There's also the return of the titular queen of the damned, Queen Akasha (played by Aaliyah), and a captivated young woman named Jesse (Marguerite Moreau) wanting to get close to Lestat for reasons she doesn't fully understand.

In case I wasn't clear in the first paragraph, Queen Of The Damned is a horrible movie, but it's horrible in enough ways to be fun. Everything is so wildly inconsistent (from the quality of the acting to the accents, and even the character motivations) that viewers have to resign themselves quite early on to either just accepting the nonsense they're about to watch or giving up completely. Maybe this all works better on the page, and I can imagine that it would, but the script, by Scott Abbott and Michael Petroni, is content to throw together scenes and dialogue that would be bad even in the cheapest of straight-to-disc vampire movies. I'm not sure how I would have reacted if I'd paid to see this in the cinema, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been as cheerful as I am right now.

Director Michael Rymer was clearly told what had to be in the film; namely slow-motion shots of the glamorous cast members, plenty of nu-metal and mopey rock tracks (seriously, my hair developed corn rows just watching this movie, and I almost changed my named from Kevin to Kevinescence), and vampire attacks shown with the kind of special effects and camerawork usually reserved for 21st century Steven Seagal movies.

Townsend is the one who has to endure the most embarrassment, whether he's pretending to be a vampiric rock god or talking to his "master" (Vincent Perez) in front of a giant billboard of himself, with the leather-clad crotch positioned immediately behind the two. Moreau is also quite bad, although gets away with it a bit more because of the fact that she is effectively mesmerised for the majority of the movie, as is Perez (although that's also because it's hard to watch his performance without thinking of how it could be improved by replacing him with someone from the previous Lestat movie). Paul McGann doesn't have much to do, nor does Lena Olin, though she is good with her limited screentime, and the only cast member who manages to rise above the material and emanate some real presence is Aaliyah, appearing onscreen just in time to save viewers from slipping into a comatose state. If, as per the title, the film had been more about her character and less about the adventures of a rockstar Lestat then this may have been a much better viewing experience.

Not one I'll ever want to revisit, this is a film so bad that I'm amazed Townsend managed to keep a career. It doesn't even feel like a story continuing on from Interview With The Vampire. I hope, once filming wrapped, that most of the people involved here took some time to themselves to think about what they did and figure out some small way to atone for it.


Masochists can buy the movie here.
American masochists can buy it here.

Thursday 21 February 2019

All Nighter (2017)

All Nighter begins with a very familiar scenario. It’s the young man (Martin, played by Emile Hirsch) meeting the father (Mr. Gallo, played by J. K. Simmons) of his girlfriend (Ginnie, played by Analeigh Tipton). That meeting does not go well. It is, in fact, a bit of a disaster. Which makes it more of a surprise when, months later, Mr. Gallo turns up on the doorstep of Martin’s home to catch up with Ginnie. Martin and Ginnie broke up a few months previously, and it’s not been an easy time for Martin. Mr. Gallo has remained oblivious to this because he’s often too busy and/or self-centred. Regardless of the awkwardness of the situation, Mr. Gallo still needs Martin’s help to locate his daughter, which sees the two of them journeying together through an evening of mishaps and, yes, some unexpected bonding.

There’s nothing here in the main premise that will stand out to viewers. Director Gavin Wiesen is competent enough, without showing any real flair, and writer Seth Owen knows that he needs to get from A to B, but the film lacks any great dialogue or strong supporting turns. What it does have, however, are two excellent lead characters who are nicely sketched out by Owen, and enhanced by the winning performances from Hirsch and Simmons. The former is playing an imperfect, but sweet, young man who also plays the banjo (which is initially played as a flaw before being used as a way to deliver a "be happy doing something you are really good at" message) and the latter is a guy not used to not getting his way, and always able to grease the right palm in order to get to wherever he wants to go.

Hirsch is very good. I've not really known him to be anything less than enjoyable in his film roles but he definitely plays this perfectly, passive for much of the runtime, and sometimes seeming like a complete pushover, but eventually altering the initial view that he's a complete loser. Simmons is equally perfect, not actually hating the young man his daughter has been dating, more just exasperated and unimpressed by his lack of drive and aim. Tipton isn't in the film anywhere near long enough, although she is welcome in the few scenes that she has. Varying supporting turns come from Meta Golding (who is fine), Jon Daly (also fine), Taran Killam (pretty bad, but that seems to stem from the poor writing making his character a one-dimensional idiot), and Kristen Schaal (as good as ever), and there are other people who come and go without making much of an impression.

From the opening scenes, All Nighter feels like an obvious and predictable comedy you have seen many times before. That feeling doesn't change once the rest of the plot actually kicks into gear. When it does change, and when it improves, is when you start to see the dynamic between Simmons and Hirsch transform into something enjoyably different from the expected constant dislike and abrasiveness. That's when it becomes a decent little watch, even if it never does enough to be truly memorable. And banjo music fans will enjoy a couple of moments on the soundtrack.


You can buy a disc here.
Americans can pick it up here.

Wednesday 20 February 2019

Prime Time: Just Friends (2005)

Just Friends is a fun, if forgettable, rom-com that features a great cast (mainly Ryan Reynolds, Anna Faris, Amy Smart, and Chris Klein), an average script, and a number of predictable moments on the way to a finale you can see coming a mile away, even if you've only seen a handful of other romantic comedies. It's also, to my surprise, a little darker than I recall it being, especially when you consider that the main character has become so determined and bitter in his adult life all because he resents his teenage years that saw him left in "the friend zone"*.

Reynolds is Chris Brander, a young man we first see being fairly humiliated by his fellow teens as he confesses his true feelings, in a heartfelt message, to the beautiful Jamie Palamino (Amy Smart). Jamie doesn't feel the same way about Chris.
Years later, Chris has changed. He no longer needs to wear a retainer. He's lost a bit of weight. And he ensures that no woman he is interested in ever puts him in "the friend zone". He's got everything exactly how he wants it, apparently. But that looks as if it could change when he ends up back in his hometown, looking after a crazy pop star (Samantha James, played by Anna Faris), and figuring that it could be a perfect time to reconnect with Jamie.

Directed by Roger Kumble (who started out strong with Cruel Intentions and then followed that up with the one two punch of, ummmmm, Cruel Intentions 2 and The Sweetest Thing) and written by Adam Davis, Just Friends is, in some ways, more in line with some of the anti-rom-coms that we've had over the years. Despite the lead character being appealing because he has the appearance and charisma of Ryan Reynolds, his motivation is, for the most part, decidedly dark and unpleasant. To put it in simplistic and very coarse terms, he has spent years trying to bang away the bad memories of his youth and now figures he can settles the score with what would really amount to a standard "grudge fuck", albeit one wrapped up in a confusing mess of good memories and past good intentions. If you weren't sure about this, the film spells it out on a couple of occasions, firstly by pinning so much of the plot on the fact that the fragile male ego cannot accept being "friend-zoned" and, secondly, by giving us another character who is essentially working in the same way as the main character, but without any self-delusion about his intentions.

Reynolds is as fun as he usually is in the lead, charming and witty enough to distract you from the, at best, misguided heart of his character until he is forced to face up to some home truths. Smart, an actress who has given wildly uneven performances throughout her career, is an appealing romantic interest, sweet and pretty and believably unaware of the feelings that others may have for her. Faris is hilarious, as she so often is, and Chris Klein has a lot of fun in his role, playing another admirer of Jamie who seems to be almost saintly in the way he lives his life. Christopher Marquette is a lot of fun, in annoying younger brother mode, and it's always nice to see Julie Hagerty, here as the mother of our lead.

If you're after a Reynolds vehicle to watch then he's done much better stuff since this, but he's also done a few things that are worse. This is good, not great, but certainly develops into something much more interesting and thought-provoking than first impressions would suggest.

*I have used quotation marks around every use of the term "friend zone" because I think we're all aware nowadays that it isn't actually a thing and if someone does give you a great friendship then they aren't obliged to offer you any more than that, no matter how it makes you feel.


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

Tuesday 19 February 2019

Action Point (2018)

Obviously based on the infamously dangerous amusement and water park located in New Jersey, Action Park, this comedy is an excuse to once again watch Johnny Knoxville get knocked flat on his ass in a variety of ways, resulting in him having to be taken to the emergency room multiple times during the shoot.

Framed by moments of an old man telling a story of his younger days to his granddaughter, the core of the plot takes place in the late 1970s and sees D.C. (Knoxville) struggling to find a way he can reinvigorate the fortunes of his dangerously dilapidated park. He also has his daughter (Boogie, played by Eleanor Worthington-Cox) staying with him for a few weeks, although the timing isn't great, considering how much time he has to spend scheming to keep the park open. But he does come up with at least one fantastic idea; remove anything that is in place to make the rides safer. Nothing seems to make kids happier than a sense of real danger. And that's all there is to the movie, aside from some father and daughter bonding, of course.

Director Tim Kirby has an extensive background in TV and comedy, having worked often with the the peerless Stewart Lee, and on shows ranging from Look Around You to Veep and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. So I assume that is why he was thought of as a good fit for this film, which is essentially using the slight narrative to string together the kind of slapstick violence Knoxville and co. entertained us all with during their Jackass years. Unfortunately, he's unable to bring anything to the film, which is  nothing more than an uninspired selection of pratfalls.

The screenplay by John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky is of no help either. If there had at least been some great one-liners and amusing exchanges peppered in between the physical comedy then this could have been moderately entertaining. There isn't, so it isn't.

Knoxville wanders through each scene, very much looking like the broken man he so clearly is (age makes every knock that little bit more painful and every injury that little bit harder to fully recover from), and he doesn't even get moments to revel in the injury-causing anarchy. He enjoys seeing some of the madness around him but there's nothing here to match the infectious glee that was always there in his Jackass persona. Worthington-Cox does better, being the standard teen who wants some quality time with her father, and she's really the only one who seems to be making an effort. Chris Pontius is given a role that could have been given to anyone (let's face it, his strengths do not lie in his acting ability), Dan Bakkedahl is the main villain of the story, but he isn't allowed to get too crazy or nasty, and nobody else stands out. Nobody.

I am easily pleased. Most people already know this about me. And I like Johnny Knoxville (I was a latecomer to the Jackass exploits but that first film remains the cinematic experience that had me laughing harder than any other). Sadly, this lacks laughs. It lacks action. And, worst of all, it kind of lacks a point.


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

Monday 18 February 2019

Mubi Monday: A Private War (2018)

I am going to start this review with a slight, unexpected, spoiler. So don't read ahead if you want to go into the film knowing absolutely nothing about it. There's a scene towards the end of this movie, a look at the incredible journalism of the late Marie Colvin, in which the real Marie Colvin talks about her life. It's a testament to the performance from Rosamund Pike, who has the lead role here, that I thought it was still her voice, as opposed to that of the woman she had just spent almost two hours portraying. And I think that one moment underlines just how good her performance is.

Pike plays Colvin with no polished edges, no vanity. She is a tough, determined, woman who will often go further, and therefore get more, than many other journalists who take their chances out in the battlefields. But it takes a toll, and that's quite obvious from the earliest scenes. Not only physically, Colvin lost an eye while reporting on one conflict, but also emotionally. Her boss (Tom Hollander) isn't ever really sure how she manages to do what she does, but he knows that she needs to do it, both for herself and for those around the world who will be unable to deny the truth once it is shown to them.

It's no surprise to find that director Matthew Heineman has a background in documentaries, particularly from the way he presents everything to viewers here while expecting them to be able to piece everything together as we move along with Colvin from one corpse-strewn environment to another (not often shown, but a couple of devastating images are more effective for being used sparingly). Working from a script by Arash Amel, that was based on an article by Marie Brenner, Heineman asks viewers to trust him, a trust rewarded by everyone involved in the way that it feels as if we are getting to really know, and appreciate, the amazingly strong woman at the centre of things.

I started with praise for Pike because, well, she deserves it. It's a performance so strong that I'm surprised it hasn't been talked up more. In fact, I'm surprised that the release wasn't planned to get Pike in the running for some awards (she was nominated for a couple). Hollander is good at portraying her boss, a man who knows he has a star worker but also knows that it's affecting her mental health. Jamie Dornan is excellent, playing a photographer with a military background who likes Colvin, admires her, and tries to save her from her own worst journalistic instincts. Greg Wise ands Stanley Tucci do well with their limited screen time, and Nikki Amuka-Bird has at least one great moment as the one person who comes closest to calling Colvin out for the habits that she develops away from her workday, to cope with the images that haunt her.

A celebration of a life without pretending there weren't any major flaws, A Private War is a timely look at the risks some people take to get the truth out there to a much wider audience. It's also, of course, a worthy introduction to Colvin. Much like the documentaries he has helmed in the past, Heineman does justice to the central subject while also making you keen to do some more research once the film is over.


You can read about Colvin in this here book.
Americans can already buy the movie here.

Sunday 17 February 2019

Netflix And Chill: Cam (2018)

The feature directorial debut of Daniel Goldhaber (other than this he has two shorts under his belt from about five years ago), Cam is both what you expect it to be and, in a number of impressive ways, so much more. The script by Isa Mazzei (also making a debut, developing a story based on her own experiences as a former cam girl) is smart and incisive, building up the tension and atmosphere on the way to a finale that is as satisfying as it is thought-provoking.

The basic story revolves around a young woman named Alice (Madeline Brewer), who makes a living by being a cam girl named Lola. She is desperate to move up the rankings, initially into the top 50 but ultimately to the number one spot, but there are certain rules she has in place that some think will work against her. She deals with keeping her online life separate from her real life, keeping some generous clients happy while also trying to maintain a safe distance, and serious rivalry from at least one other cam girl (who, at one point, offers to strip as long as viewers help to send Lola back down the rankings). But that's nothing compared to what happens next. Someone takes over Alice's account and becomes Lola. She has the same look as Alice, seems to live in the same building, and starts to cause problems. Alice can't find a way to get her account back, reduced to having to look on with mixed feelings as the new Lola goes further than she ever would . . . and starts to move up the rankings.

There's a chance that a number of the elements worked throughout Cam are inevitable strands inseparable from the main narrative thread but I really don't think that's the case, and to say that is doing a great disservice to Mazzei. She's crafted a tale here that attempts to show cam girl life without judging the main characters, at least not for their chosen way of earning money, and also shows just how close the positive and negative qualities are. Making a completely new identity is fun, it's liberating, but it also requires you becoming much more protective of your real identity. You sell your company, your looks, your confident and sexy image, and viewers/customers who completely buy into it all can just as easily turn ugly, either looking down on people who work in the adult entertainment industry, assuming they can make a real connection and take things further, or worse. Even those who don't dismiss cam girls probably assume that their life is just one candy-coloured session after another of evenings spent lying on a bed and telling generous viewers that you're feeling really horny. Technology is allowing a lot of people to make their living in an isolated, and seemingly safer, way but it's also hackable, and everything online has the potential to eventually go viral.

All of these things are mixed in here, with Mazzei's script given solid treatment from Goldhaber, who knows how much to show to ensure that this doesn't feel completely sanitised, yet never dives headfirst into gratuitousness or sheer exploitation (which could have very easily happened). It's a good balance. This is a film about a cam girl, it's not an actual cam show.

Brewer is very good in her main role, very good indeed. In fact, the fact that she is also playing her doppelgänger is something that is easy to forget, despite both characters being identical. She manages to portray the second Lola as someone just lacking . . . something. A soul? Boundaries? It's hard to pin down, sorry, but the performance from Brewer sells it superbly. Melora Walters does well as the oblivious mother of Brewer's character, and David Druid is also good as the brother who knows how his sister is earning her money nowadays. Patch Darragh and Michael Dempsey are two fans, the former a more naive and nervous type while the latter knows how things are played (but assumes he can always still "win"). Those men are different, yet they're ultimately the same, both projecting on to Alice something that isn't actually there. Imani Hakim, Flora Diaz, Jessica Parker Kennedy, Quei Tann, and Samantha Robinson play other cam girls, with Robinson particularly enjoyable as the mean Princess_X.

Cam only has a few moments of outright horror, in the more obvious use of the term, but it's a film that is infused from start to finish with a different kind of horror, be that associated with self-identity, self-harm, or trying to earn a living in a saturated industry that has more workers trying to push things further and further while viewers constantly want more for less (or free, nobody seems to love a freebie more than men who have been titillated). You could even say that the horror is underlined beyond the end credits. When the film finished, much like a cam show, it's your reflection you see. And it's been there all the time, hidden by the more thrilling imagery laid over the top of it.


And here is a webcam you could buy (if you wanted to).
Americans can get this one (or any other you might wish to buy).

Saturday 16 February 2019

Shudder Saturday: The Blood On Satan's Claw (1971)

A film that is probably still underseen today, or considered that way by those who love it, The Blood On Satan's Claw is a creepy and intriguing slice of folk horror that easily sits up there alongside some other classics of the subgenre (such as The Wicker Man and Witchfinder General).

Things all start to get strange when a young man finds some strange remains in a field that he is ploughing. Sensing that there is something wrong with his find, he tells others, but it's initially shrugged off. Meanwhile, something is affecting a number of local residents, not least a group of the younger folk who start to band together into a dangerous coven.

Directed by Piers Haggard (who directed a lot of forgettable stuff, but also did this and the 1981 film that put Klaus Kinski and Oliver Reed in close proximity to a deadly snake, Venom), this brooding horror film is a wonderful mix of the subtle and the bonkers. You get people acting creepy, you get mistrust and division creeping through the community, but you also get glimpses of a diabolical beast (or, at the very least, a furry hand with sharp claws), and a number of people developing patches of excess hair on their body (the Devil's Skin).

The script, mainly written by Robert Wynne-Simmons, with input from Haggard, manages to build one small moment on top of another in a way that allows things to get truly diabolical by the grand finale without having felt too silly or unbelievable. That's an impressive feat, and even more impressive when you consider the individual elements once the film has finished.

The cast all do a good job in their roles, even the lovely Linda Hayden as Angel (who ends up having to act under some extra-thick eyebrow growth, signifying her evil as she leads the corrupted youths who come under her thrall). Patrick Wymark is The Judge, the main authority figure who the locals assume will be able to get to the bottom of things, Barry Andrews is the young man who makes the fateful discovery, Anthony Ainley is the reverend who senses that something is seriously wrong, and Michele Dotrice and Wendy Padbury stand out as two girls grasped by the coven in very different ways.

If you're interested in British horror movies then this is a title that you really need to check out. If you're interested in the more niche selection of folk horror movies then this is essential viewing (alongside the two titles mentioned in the first paragraph - throw in Robin Redbreast and you have a fine primer). And if you end up enjoying it, as you should, then make sure you turn others on to it.


You can buy the movie here.
Or here.

Friday 15 February 2019

Tag (2018)

Based on a true story, to a degree, Tag is a comedy all about a group of friends who have tried to stay young at heart by competing in an ongoing game of, as you may have guessed, Tag. It happens every year, throughout the month of May. That last one who is tagged as "it" is the person who has to spend a whole year knowing that they were the loser. One member of the team (Jerry, played by Jeremy Renner) has never been tagged, but this is the year when that changes. It's also the year of his wedding.

Marking the feature directorial debut of Jeff Tomsic,  Tag is about as middling as mainstream comedies get. I'm not going to deny that I laughed a few times, which is a few times more than I expected to, but a lot of the humour here comes from the cast, who elevate the fairly weak script by Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen.

Renner is a lot of fun here, his ultra-serious approach to covering all of the bases to avoid being tagged a highlight of the film, and the rest of the team do well. Ed Helms is the one who seems to have things planned out best, Jon Hamm looks to be a viable threat at times, Jake Johnson is in unfocused stoner mode, and Hannibal Buress amuses with a number of timely, but unhelpful, observations. Isla Fisher is very good, playing the wife of the character played by Helms, her intensity turned all the way up to 11 for many of her scenes, Leslie Bibb isn't bad as the bride-to-be, and Annabelle Wallis follows the group to get an unexpected story for her newspaper, the Wall Street Journal. Rashida Jones is always a welcome presence, but she's shoehorned in here as a distraction for two of the main male characters, and subsequently given nothing decent to work with.

I'm surprised that we don't get a selection of upbeat pop hits but, otherwise, this ticks all of the expected boxes. You get flashbacks to the characters playing the game as kids, you get a number of tag-related set-pieces, there are some underhand tactics, and you also get a secret revealed towards the back end that is supposed to underline everything with some additional emotion and poignancy (although it doesn't). Fisher aside, the women onscreen are mostly sidelined by the men running after one another and being big kids, and it's all presented as a wonderful way in which friends stay bonded over the years and hang on to their youth.

It's a shame that this is so mediocre throughout, but then it's also hard to see how it could have been anything more than that. How, after all, do you flesh out a film that is based around such a silly, and lightweight, concept? Maybe you decide that it's not really film-worthy and move on to something better instead.

Some may, of course, like this more than I did. Many may liked it even less. Aside from the lack of major laughs, I just found myself often watching the carnage onscreen and wondering just why these people were being celebrated for being selfish men-babies who didn't care about the damage they were causing to bystanders and property as they raced to tag one another. That may just be a sign that I am now officially middle-aged. Or it MAY be that these characters aren't really worthy of a whole movie.


You can pick up the movie here.
Americans can catch the movie here.
Or just click on those links and go shopping crazy. Because that gets me rewarded and gets you a nice selection of gifts to yourself.

Thursday 14 February 2019

Bad Times At The El Royale (2018)

I have just finished watching Bad Times At The El Royale for a second time and I think that may already tell you how this review is going to go (considering I just bought it this week, and I rarely have time for rewatches lately). A first viewing left me in the rare mindset of having enjoyed what I watched but immediately wondering how it would hold up on a second viewing. Because I had issues with the film, with the pacing across the excessive runtime being the main one, and wondered if these would become more or less problematic upon a rewatch. The answer is less, with me knowing what was still to come I wasn't surprised by how far (or, indeed, not far) through the movie I was. Knowing that the plot wasn't setting up to pull the rug from under my feet, I was also able to relax more into the viewing experience and absorb all of the wonderful separate characters who are thrown together into an enjoyably pulpy crime thriller.

A number of people converge at the titular hotel. There's Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges), a salesman named Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm), a black singer named Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), and a young woman named Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson). None of these people care much for the spiel given by the one hotel staff member, Miles (Lewis Pullman), who reminds them all of the unique placement of the building, one half in California and one half in Nevada, but that's mainly because they all have their own agendas to be getting on with. Secretive stuff, few people are as they initially appear to be. And, considering his placement on the poster, it's only a matter of time until Chris Hemsworth appears, playing a cult leader named Billy Lee.

Written and directed by Drew Goddard, Bad Times At The El Royale is a fantastic collage of cool moments that have been pieced together by someone obviously in love with the tropes and archetypes found in crime thrillers. You get the crook in disguise, the lawman (also in disguise), the femme fatale, two-way mirrors, a stash of stolen loot, and some inflammatory film footage. All the ingredients you need for a fine bit of intrigue and danger. Goddard is a major strength here, thanks to his writing and directorial style (he's not afraid to just sit back and show some moments that are cinematically cool), but it's also his name being attached to it that made me less appreciative of the movie the first time around, as I was expecting this to keep me on my toes and twist everything around a la The Cabin In The Woods. It's good that he doesn't just repeat the same trick, of course, but it's also so unexpected that you spend a lot of time waiting for a big twist that doesn't come (on the first viewing anyway). There are lots of little twists and turns, all nicely done and never feeling like cheats, but nothing that has Goddard turning everything inside out.

The solid script is helped by a cast who are all on great form. Bridges gives one of his more atypical performances in recent years, and is bloody wonderful in his role, Hamm is comfortable in another role that relies on his ability to be both arrogant and charming, Johnson is very good, and Pullman feels like a completely insignificant character caught up in the middle of things until he is given a chance to shine. But the standouts are Erivo, absolutely charming as the singer trying to work as hard as she can for her big break, and Hemsworth, who is only seen in flashback form until it's time for him to swagger into the hotel, bringing an energy and charisma that helps to revive the film en route to the (slightly overdue) third act. Cailee Spaeny is decent enough in her role, and there are nice cameos from Nick Offerman and Shea Whigham.

The positives far outweigh the negative here. The script, the cast, the design, the directorial and editing choices, etc. The only thing I will hold against it as a major minus is that bloated runtime, which should have been trimmed down by about 20 minutes, at least, to tighten it all up (the backstory to the Hemsworth character could have easily been truncated, as could some of the details we get as we see what eventually brought Bridges to the hotel).

Although it may seem unlikely as a film that you may end up returning to for comfort viewing, I can see this one becoming a constant favourite for those who warm to it as much as I have. I can't think of any main sequence that wasn't full of little moments I loved, and the finale was a lot more satisfying than I expected it to be. And that's before I start thinking of the potential allegory underpinning the storyline. Yeah, I'll end up rewatching this one before many other, brisker, films.


You can check in and check it out here.
Americans can check it out here.

Tuesday 12 February 2019

Prime Time: Deadtime Stories (1986)

I often say that there is nothing like a good horror anthology film and, you might guess where I am going here, Deadtime Stories is nothing like a good horror anthology film. Still, it has a goofy charm that makes it hard to hate, and does just enough to keep boredom at bay.

Michael Mesmer is Uncle Mike, looking after his nephew, Brian (Brian DePersia), for the evening. He just wants a peaceful night, but it soon becomes clear that he will only get that once he has told Brian a number of bedtime stories. They're all very familiar tales, but with a slight revision from Mike. First, a young slave named Peter (Scott Valentine) is forced into helping two witches revive their dead sister. Second, we get a version of Little Red Riding Hood. Third, and finally, we get Goldi Lox (Catherine De Prume) and the three Bears (a mother who has helped her husband and son escape from a fairly insecure mental health facility). And there's a small wraparound tale, of course, with young Brian becoming more tense after each tale.

Directed by Jeffrey Delman, who also wrote some songs featured in the movie and co-wrote the script with J. Edward Kiernan and Charles F. Shelton, this is a cheap and cheerful anthology that should amuse horror fans while being completely forgotten by everyone else. It's a shame that Delman obviously wanted plenty of comedy in the mix because the tale that plays things most seriously (Little Red Riding Hood) is the best of the three, and the one that is supposed to be funniest, the last of the three, is the weakest segment.

Mesmer is fun as Uncle Mike, trying to put in the minimum amount of effort to babysit his nephew, and DePersia is perfectly tolerable, but the rest of the cast vary wildly, depending on what they're given to work with. Valentine is a bland "lead" for the first tale, overshadowed by the evil witches and their plan. Nicole Picard is much better as Rachel, the Little Red Riding Hood of the second tale, and Matt Mitler is also excellent as the menacing man who ends up encountering her grandmother. As for that last tale . . . oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear. Melissa Leo may have a small role in this one, but the cartoon tone doesn't allow anyone to do their best work, and when De Prume shows that her Goldi Lox has a particularly dangerous "talent", by crossing her eyes and waiting for others to feel the effects of her powers, the end result is laughably embarrassing.

Not a film that will ever appear on the top end of any "best anthology movies ever" list, this is a relatively painless experience that certainly remains a step or two ahead of many modern movies trying to recapture the same vibe.


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

Charlie Wilson's War (2007)

A comedy-drama based on the real events that saw a Congressman named Charlie Wilson building support, in terms of funds and supplies, for the Afghan people being decimated during the Soviet-Afghan War that lasted throughout most of the 1980s, Charlie Wilson's War is an interesting look at the fluidity of loyalty, certainly in comparison to how things stand today. It also underlines the importance of staying to finish a job if you're going to help out a country being ravaged by war, something that America didn't do for the Afghan people, arguably leading to the whole mess that we now find ourselves in.

Tom Hanks stars as Wilson, a role that makes use of his easy likability while refusing to hide the failings of the man (mainly drink and women, not necessarily in that order). Starting from a point of relative ignorance, his journey to Afghanistan, and what he sees there, begins a relatively speedy learning curve that connects him to a wealthy potential donor, Joanne Herring (played by Julia Roberts), and a talented CIA operative (Gust Avrakotos, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman). The three work hard to raise interest and money for something they view as a worthwhile war effort, and there are some startling results as Wilson digs his heels in to negotiate budget packages and effective plans.

The final film directed by Mike Nichols, this belongs much more to the writer, Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin is pretty much THE person to go to when you want to deliver lots of information in a comprehensive, and comprehendible, manner while also fleshing out a variety of main players. Adapting the book by George Crile, Sorkin appears to be in his element as he wrestles the complexities of the diplomatic and political proceedings into a narrative that manages to be both informative and entertaining. But he also makes time and space to give the leads some great moments (the lead role is a doozy for Hanks and the main scene introducing Hoffman's character is one of the funniest things that he's ever done).

Noticing the style of the writing more than the style of direction isn't to say that Nichols does anything wrong here. It's just that he is content to keep everything relatively simple when it comes to letting his impressive ensemble have fun with the script.

Having already praised Hanks and Hoffman, both giving standout performances in a career that isn't short of great turns from them, it's also worth paying compliments to Roberts (who has less screen time but still gets a couple of moments in which to shine) and Amy Adams (playing a dutiful assistant to Charlie Wilson). There are also very enjoyable appearances from Emily Blunt, Om Puri, Ned Beatty, Ken Stott, and others, all serving the script as best they can.

Given the quality of the various aspects, it's a shame that this doesn't quite become the sum of its parts. There's just something holding it back. A reticence to pick at the scab long enough, to take more moments to show the waters getting murkier and murkier, and a third act that doesn't underline the serious consequences of what is played out as a bit of a light romp for some of the main players.

This is a very good film, a smart one aimed at adults, but it could have been tweaked to be even better.


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

Monday 11 February 2019

Mubi Monday: If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

It's a difficult job to follow up a film as impressive and moving as Moonlight but that is the job that writer-director Barry Jenkins has given himself. The fact that this isn't quite as good as that film doesn't mean it's a bad film. Not at all. It just means that it could have been better.

Kiki Layne is Tish Rivers, a loyal girlfriend to her partner, Alonzo 'Fonny' Hunt (played by Stephan James). That loyalty, and her strength, comes to the fore when Fonny is put in jail for a heinous crime that he didn't commit. With the help of her family, Tish does all she can to maintain a good lawyer and work on achieving the break that they need to get Fonny released, hopefully in time for the arrival of their baby.

Perhaps it was inevitable that this would prove slightly underwhelming, because only something close to perfect would rival the previous film from Jenkins, and there's a familiarity to the storyline here that stops it from feeling as unique and vital as Moonlight, but that familiarity is also part of the reason why Jenkins must have wanted to make it. Adapting the book by James Baldwin, Jenkins has another tale full of love and race, but it also has a sense of resignation to it, a sad inevitability as we follow the plight of yet another young black man wrongly imprisoned.

Set mainly in New York of the 1970s, Jenkins does an impressive job of evoking the atmosphere of that time without trotting out the expected selection of tunes and pop culture references, instead painting a much more detailed picture with the attitudes of the main characters and the muted colour palette used throughout.

Layne and James are both very easy to root for in the lead roles, with the former a constant source of quiet strength and dignity throughout and the latter trying to act likewise, despite viewing the world around them with more of a cynical and self-defensive attitude (the difference between the two highlighted as Fonny tells another character about a prospective landlord who was a lot more accommodating before he realised that Tish had a partner). Regina King is the standout, however, as Sharon Rivers, the mother of Tish and a woman determined to do whatever is necessary to keep her family happy, healthy, and safe. The film arguably revolves around one moving scene, featuring King and Emily Rios, and it's a moment that illustrates both great pain and great futility for both women. Ed Skrein is a loathsome police officer, and there are uniformly excellent turns from Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Michael Beach, Aunjanue Ellis, Diego Luna, Finn Whitrock, and everyone else involved.

Despite the romantic notions of the main characters, love cannot solve all problems and overcome all obstacles. But it can make a bad situation more bearable, just knowing that someone who cares for you is always on your side, always has faith in you. Sometimes the doubt and judgement of everyone else in the entire world doesn't matter one bit as long as the contents of your heart and soul are an open book to the one you love, and the fact that Jenkins makes this a clear, positive, message in a story that also focuses on the bias of the American justice system and the way in which so many African Americans can be punished for crimes that police want to pin on any black individual . . . well, that's why it's not a bad film. In fact, it comes very close to being a great one. And I look forward to his next one.


You can buy the excellent Moonlight here.
Americans can buy it here.

Sunday 10 February 2019

Netflix And Chill: An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn (2018)

The director of An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn is Jim Hosking. He is the man who was also responsible for The Greasy Strangler, which is important information for anyone going into this. Because this movie is, if anything, even more bonkers than that movie. It's also even funnier, and has already become my favourite film from the many I have seen so far this year. It's insane, it's very stupid at times, and it's bordering on the absolute genius. Hosking, with the help of a very game cast, made me laugh more than I can remember laughing during any film I can think of from the past few years. And I know that my enjoyment of the movie could just as easily get me funny looks from someone sitting beside me and hating every moment.

The very basic core of the plot revolves around Lulu Danger (Aubrey Plaza), who takes a chance to escape her loveless marriage to Shane (Emile Hirsch) when a petty crime he executes ends up getting him threatened by Colin Keith Treadener (Jemaine Clement). Lulu and Colin head off to hole up in a hotel, the same venue that is about to hold the titular evening of magic with Beverly Linn Luff (Craig Robinson). Lulu and Beverly have a past, or so she believes, although this is news to the person who currently cares for, and loves, him.

Where to begin with this? I really have no idea of how best to convey my enjoyment of this film. If I simply quoted lines from the script, co-written by Hosking and David Wilke, then nothing would seem that funny, out of context. The words ARE great, but it's the strange delivery and mood of the whole film that helps to build every moment into comedy gold. And everything is helped along by the simplistic, and brilliant, soundtrack from Andrew Hung.

Plaza shines in the lead role, the perfect mix of weird and cute and dangerous that she does so well. I know she has bills to pay but I really wish she would take ten roles in films like this (and the enjoyable Ingrid Goes West) over the more mainstream movies that waste her talent. The majority of her scenes are alongside Clement, who threatens to steal every scene he is in with his mix of inanity and earnestness. Robinson is good, although doesn't use too many words, and Matt Berry is very amusing as the man looking after him, and you get wonderful turns from Sam Dissanayake, Zach Cherry, Sky Elobar, and Jacob Wysoki. You actually get wonderful turns from everyone involved, but they are the people I am going to name here. Oh, and Emile Hirsch deserves more words of praise than I can come up with here. Delivering every line he has in a very particular style, his performance was the most surprising. I like Hirsch onscreen but never thought of anyone who would be able to make me laugh as much as he did here. His performance feels like he's channeling Jack Nicholson, Nicolas Cage, and John Cleese, with all three personalities battling for dominance of every sentence he speaks.

Some reviews (many, in fact) feel redundant. I cannot put my finger on what Hosking gets so right here because it feels like a whole bundle of negatives that somehow all add up to a positive, and I don't see this working for at least half the general population (the sane half). But for the people it DOES work for . . . it's going to become as much a treasure to you as it is to me.


You can buy the disc here (even if you hate it and then send it to me).
Americans can treat themselves here.

Saturday 9 February 2019

Shudder Saturday: Horror Noire: A History Of Black Horror (2019)

Based on the book by Robin R. Means Coleman, Horror Noire: A History Of Black Horror is exactly what it says it is. The lean runtime means that it's by no means exhaustive, and a lot of that runtime is given over to celebrate Get Out, but this is still a pretty impressive primer on the subject, providing viewers with a varied list of titles to check out, and plenty of context to consider while thinking back over the history of the horror genre.

The format is simple. Various people are encouraged to discuss aspects of African Americans in horror movies, often in a theatre setting while clips from horror movies play on the silver screen in front of them. The discussion points range from the downright awful use of an actor in blackface to portray a dangerous black man in The Birth Of A Nation through to the recent success of Get Out, with plenty to mull over in between, from the virtual non-existence of black people in the sci-fi horror movies of the '50s and '60s (because they weren't considered eligible/educated enough to be part of the scientific community) to the well-known trope of the black character being killed off fairly early to show how dangerous things are for the white leads.

Although fairly simple in the way it works chronologically through the horror genre, Horror Noire works very well because of the singular viewpoint. It is that focus, as obvious as it seems to say it, that turns the familiar into something new and interesting. Some of the discussion points may feel more obvious than others but all of them deserve your time and attention. I'll admit that I was scoffing at some moments, thinking that people were stretching too far in order to dissect something that possibly wasn't intended to exclude black people, or portray them in a harmful way, and then I was won over, realising that I'd just never considered the weight of those cinematic decisions before because I sit in the main demographic (as a straight, white male I have been represented comfortably throughout the entire past of cinema).

It's an impressive roster of names that's been assembled here, and I'll namecheck a number of them: Jordan Peele, Ken Foree, Keith David, Tony Todd, Ernest Dickerson, William Crain, Rachel True, Loretta Devine, Miguel A. Nunez Jr, Ken Sagoes, Richard Lawson, Tina Mabry, and more. And the titles discussed are just as impressive, especially if you're a fan of films like Night Of The Living DeadBlacula, Tales From The HoodCandyman, and Sugar Hill (and why wouldn't you be?).

It would seem that we're currently in a much better time for African Americans in the movie industry, both behind the scenes and in front of the camera, which makes this a timely documentary, a journey that ends in a place of celebration rather than pessimism. But it's also important to keep that momentum going, that progress, that representation, and not have this current boon period being a blip in a more depressing overview that tries to surmise what went wrong a couple of decades down the line.


You can buy Candyman here.
Blacula is here.
A R1 disc of Eve's Bayou is here.

Friday 8 February 2019

The Miseducation Of Cameron Post (2018)

When Cameron Post (Chloe Grace Moretz) is caught in a sexual encounter with another girl, she is sent away to a gay conversion therapy centre. Here she meets Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr) and his sister, Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle), who run the centre, and other teenagers who are supposed to be being "cured" of their sickness. The teens include Cameron's roommate, Erin (Emily Skeggs), and the likes of Jane (Sasha Lane), Adam (Forrest Goodluck), and Mark (Owen Campbell). Very few of them seem to believe what the adults are trying to sell to them, but that doesn't make the whole process any less harmful.

The fact that The Miseducation Of Cameron Post can both make you very angry while also proving to be enjoyable entertainment is testament to the quality work put in by everyone involved, from page (it's base on a novel by Emily M. Danforth) to screen.

Indeed, there are many scenes here that you've seen many times before. Standard coming-of-age stuff, or moments of individuals who feel like outcasts meeting kindred spirits and finding strength in that revelation that they're not as alone as they first thought. But everything is freshened up by the setting, the background to why all of these characters are here, and not just the teenagers but the adults too (it's revealed early on that Reverend Rick was "cured" some time ago).

All of the younger cast members do great work, although it's strange that Moretz, who is often so good, feels like she spends many scenes taking a step back while she remains the lead character. This isn't a major criticism, it's a compliment if anything, but Cameron is more our lens through which we get to view this warped world rather than someone going on their own journey. She may be moved around physically but Cameron very rarely feels anything but disdain for the process that she has been pushed into. The same goes for the characters played by Lane and Goodluck, both are confident in just knowing who they are while trying to do what needs done to placate the adults and get themselves out of there as quickly as possible. More interesting conflict comes from the moments involving Skeggs, who tries to act positively saintly at times, and Campbell, who obviously feels the most pain from how his sexuality has damaged his relationship with an uncaring father. Ehle is very good, and most worryingly self-satisfied at the fact that they are doing the right thing for the teenagers they view as sick, but Gallagher Jr. is given at least one great moment in which he expresses a major moment of self-doubt and shows that the harm being caused, the lives being potentially shattered, all stem from someone who means well but is also being ignorant and selfish. We all know what road is paved with good intentions.

Director Desiree Akhavan, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Cecilia Frugiuele, does an excellent job of showing who is in the right and who is in the wrong without turning anyone into outright heroes or villains. You can easily boo and hiss the adults here, and with good reason, but the script and direction doesn't demonise them. What induces rage and frustration also induces no small amount of sadness, and the inevitable thought that these people work with teenagers because adults would be in more of as position to shut their bullshit down within seconds and push them aside as they headed out the door.

The Miseducation Of Cameron Post is, undoubtedly, a film about abuse, and the way in which it sugarcoats the bitter pill is very impressive indeed, making it more accessible to some who might otherwise have avoided it. Check it out when you can, and I hope you're also moved and angered by it.


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