Thursday 30 April 2020

The Drone (2019)

If you're going to watch one movie about a possessed killer drone then it may as well be this one, a film that does a lot better with the premise than, for example, the recent reboot of Child's Play (there are a number of similarities here), and one that generally plays out much better than it probably should.

Neil Sandilands is "The Violator", a man who uses a drone to spy on females before making them his victims. Cornered by the police, the film starts off showing him being killed while holding on to his precious drone. There's an incident, of course, that puts his soul into that of the flying object, which then eventually ends up on the doorstep of a married couple, Chris (John Brotherton) and Rachel (Alex Essoe). That's when things start to get problematic, to say the least.

Directed by Jordan Rubin, who also co-wrote the script with Al and Jon Kaplan, this may not be as obviously hilarious throughout as one of their previous collaborations, Zombeavers, but it once again shows how the group have a real knack for taking a potentially ridiculous premise and managing to navigate the perfect tone throughout. The Drone starts off fairly light, despite a couple of death scenes within the first ten minutes, and it has a sense of mischief that works very nicely as small odd occurrences start to confuse the leads.

Brotherton and Essoe are both excellent in their roles, working well with one another and having a believable chemistry. Although not onscreen for long, Sandilands is allowed to make such a strong impression at the start that he casts a shadow over every minute the drone is present. Anita Briem is a lot of fun as an inappropriately flirtatious neighbour, Rex Linn does a decent enough job as a detective eventually called in to investigate the situation, and Christopher Matthew Cook somehow manages to keep a straight face during scenes in which the drone attempts to communicate with him and show him that he is actually his brother.

If you have read all of this review so far and laughed at the sheer preposterousness of the main premise, fear not. Rubin and the Kaplans are well aware of that. They play everything with a small sheen of self-awareness throughout, not stopping to point out anything in particular, but making the fun characters observe certain things, and allowing the journey to realisation to be littered with small moments of characters balking at the real explanation of events. It's a fine line, and walked well by all involved. The leads are fun and likeable, but the main premise is actually played pretty straight.

It helps that the pacing is perfect. The 82-minute runtime means it doesn't overstay its welcome. You get the set up, you get the occasional deaths, and then you get a second half that starts to build up both the bodycount and the very real threat to the leads.

Far from a perfect film, but kind of perfect entertainment (if you know what I mean). The Drone is recommended if you want a fun distraction that clocks in under an hour and a half.


Wednesday 29 April 2020

Prime Time: Dark Encounter (2019)

The second feature film from writer-director Carl Strathie, with both Alice Lowe and Sid Phoenix returning to work with him, Dark Encounter has good intentions. It's just a shame that it is horribly dull, and leads to a third act that Strathie clearly thinks rewards viewers for their patience. It's not half as good as he thinks it is, and many may end up as disappointed as I was.

It is 1982 in America, and a young girl (Maisie) goes missing. Her family are understandably distraught. When people gather together one year later for a memorial, strange phenomena are witnessed in the local area. Are alien abductors returning to look for more potential abductees, or is there another reason for things?

Technically competent, and there are some nice shots here and there that give off a nice vibe evoking both The X-Files and a number of '80s sci-fi movies, the biggest problem with Dark Encounter comes from the unnecessary choices made that don't seem to help the film in any way. Why is it set in 1982, for example, when it doesn't seem to affect the plot? Maybe I missed, or have already forgotten, something that wouldn't work if the film was set in the present, but it seems that the only reason for the time setting is a vein of nostalgia it doesn't even mine. And as for setting it in America, with the largely (fully?) British cast all adopting decent accents for their roles, I am also at a loss as to what that adds to anything onscreen. I understand it may have helped to sell the movie in other territories, maybe, but it just seems to be too obvious throughout in the way it refuses to show any more exterior views than a few establishing shots, or anonymous wooded areas.

None of the cast do a bad job, they're just left to suffer at the hands of a weak script unworthy of their talents. Laura Fraser is the central figure, Olivia, the mother in mourning who wants to know what happened to her daughter, but Mel Raido, Sid Phoenix, and Grant Masters all do just fine. Alice Lowe and Vincent Regan aren't onscreen for long enough, especially the former (someone I always enjoy seeing in any role she takes on), and nobody else is given the chance to make a strong impression.

Now let me just get back to that third act. This is a drama marketed as a sci-fi horror movie, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's just worth bearing that in mind if you're after something more at ease with the standard genre tropes and thrills. What stops this from working is how badly executed the material is. Strathie doesn't set things up well at all, taking viewers in one direction and then hastily pulling them another way when he deems it the right time for a rug pull. It also doesn't help that it's a very interesting plot development that feels completely mishandled.

Not recommended, although I would still be interested in seeing what Strathie might do next, especially if he ever decides to just base things in the UK, in the present, without seeming slightly embarrassed about working with certain genre standards.


You can buy a disc here.
Americans can buy a disc here.

Tuesday 28 April 2020

The Gentlemen (2020)

I absolutely understand that Guy Ritchie movies aren't necessarily designed for anyone other than Guy Ritchie fans (and I'm not talking about his studio work here, I am talking about GUY RITCHIE movies), and I also absolutely understand that another crime comedy from him will be about as appealing as a smack on the back of the head from an irate Jason Statham, but The Gentlemen actually ends up being a lot of fun. Ritchie is confident enough in his own abilities, and he seems to relish the chance to get down 'n' dirty with a great cast who will help him create his most blatant homage yet to The Long Good Friday.

Matthew McConaughey is Mickey Pearson, the mastermind behind a superbly profitable drug business. It's pot he sells though, which means we can still view him as a good guy compared to other criminal types onscreen. Charlie Hunnam is Ray, Mickey's trusted right hand man. Mickey wants to retire, which sets off a twisted and violent chain of events as people try to nominate themselves as worthy successors. The prime buyer would seem to be a savvy businessman named Matthew (Jeremy Strong), but Dry Eye (Henry Golding) is an up-and-coming boss/thug who wants to get a big piece of the pie. We learn all of this through a lengthy conversation between Ray and a bloodhound journalist named Fletcher (Hugh Grant).

The Gentlemen is a film that does everything well, and is elevated by the cast. From those just mentioned, the only performer I didn't really enjoy was Strong, who delivers a performance that feels just a bit too weak and lacking in confidence for his character (despite his character being the kind of brain who outsources to brawn).McConaughey is his usual cool self, and very laid-back until he has to pounce on someone, Hunnam is the best I have seen him be, Golding is enjoyable in a role that thankfully doesn't have him yet again showing all of us men up as inferior and unromantic souls, and Grant has an absolute ball playing the kind of unscrupulous journo he has often publicly berated while working in support of Hacked Off, a campaign group set up to hold members of the tabloid press to account over their illegal tactics of phone hacking to gain private information that would provide them with juicy tabloid gossip. Michelle Dockery is a fitting queen to McConaughey's king, Eddie Marsan has fun in a small role that leads to a punchline both hilarious and appalling, and Colin Farrell once again proves that he can be relied upon to do his best work when not constrained by the packaging of a mainstream star vehicle.

There are only two main problems, and they're problems you find in most Ritchie movies (although I hadn't realised it before). First of all, every character feels like a character written by Ritchie. Nobody has their own voice here, although Grant almost overcomes this with the strength of his performance. Secondly, the large selection of characters inevitably delivers some that you wish weren't given much screentime (in this case it's a bunch of amateur criminals who upload their exploits to YouTube).

Those with sensitive ears will want to give this a miss, because the word "cunt" is bandied about more than it would be at a Christmas night out with a bunch of gynaecologists, and those who prefer their tales of crooks and crime to be told in a more straightforward fashion may also be a bit peeved, especially during the indulgent moments that allow for some playful unreliable narration from Grant's character. Everyone else should have a great time.


Monday 27 April 2020

Mubi Monday: Accident (1967)

Although there are many similarities between this and The Servant (Losey directing, Pinter on the writing duties, Bogarde the star at the heart of things, the exploration of a very twisted situation intertwined with an essence of particular Britishness), Accident is also interesting for how much it does differently from that film. Everything is much more subtle, much more restrained, but that serves to highlight how much every word is loaded, and how everyone moves through society with the protection, and sometimes hindrance, of their own class role.

Bogarde plays Stephen, an Oxford professor. He takes an interest in a couple of his student. One is William (Michael York). The other is Anna (Jacqueline Sassard). William likes Anna very much. Unfortunately, Anna has also caught the eye of another professor (Charley, played by Stanley Baker). And so we get a tale told in flashback that shows the Laura-like effect Anna has on all the various men around her.

Based on the novel by Nicholas Mosley, Accident is a story that is worked by Pinter and Losey, because both complement one another perfectly, into something that plays out in a controlled and sedate manner, for the most part, with occasional moments to shock that are so effective it ends up taking you an extra minute or two to properly process what you've just watched. That is especially applicable to the way things unfold in the third act.

Bogarde is his usual good self, putting himself forward as a good man, despite the fact that his actions belie his self-image. Baker is superb, the more obvious baddie in a film that actually has very few good people in it, either due to direct actions or the inaction that enables certain behaviour. And York gives a performance slightly removed from his better-known roles. There's an insecurity sitting hidden beneath his usual layers of cockiness and charm, and he seems to be trying to both impress the professors around him while also competing against them at times. Sassard is perfect in her role, probably best described, certainly in the 1960s, as a "bewitching, exotic beauty". She has the look, and a lovely accent, but she also does very good work in the scenes that ask more of her. Vivien Merchant is the wife of Bogarde's character, and she embodies the old-fashioned kind of good wife who will support her husband without wanting to look any closer at some of his bad behaviour. Those who go looking for evidence of misdeeds may not like what they find.

A twisted and tragic tale, and also one that almost encourages you to observe and laugh at some of the ridiculous notions thought up by mature men who should know better, when not in the grip of infatuation, Accident is still depressingly relevant today. Married men excited by the prospect of young women who may take a fleeting interest in them, people projecting their own feelings and desires on to others, the husbands who think they are maintaining a fine marriage because everything is fine at home while they enjoy their indiscreet affairs, all of these things happen just as much now as they did back in the 1960s. So you're best to watch this film and remind yourself to avoid that kind of behaviour.


Sunday 26 April 2020

Netflix And Chill: Extraction (2020)

The directorial feature debut from stunt actor Sam Hargrave (who has worked many times on the Marvel movies with Joe Russo, who takes on writing duties here, adapting a graphic novel into a star vehicle for Chris Hemsworth, who you may also know from his small part in helping the Marvel machine grind through the cinematic competition), Extraction is sort of what you might expect from someone with his background. It's pretty light on plot, pretty thin on the characterisations, and pretty great when it comes to some of the stunt work.

Taking place in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the story concerns the son of one crime lord taken hostage by people working for another crime lord (Amir Asif, played by Priyanshu Painyuli). Hemsworth is Tyler Rake, a skilled mercenary hired to retrieve the child and extract him to safety. The initial encounter is easy enough, but it soon becomes obvious that others are after the young boy, and local law enforcement are also on the payroll of Asif.

Once the action properly begins here, at about twenty minutes in, it rarely lets up for the rest of the runtime. And viewers should be prepared for a lot of brutality, this is wince-inducing stuff, whether it's the close quarters combat between Hemsworth and everyone, including a lot of kids, trying to overwhelm him or the constant fatal gunshot wounds.

Being unfamiliar with the source material (a phrase I am aware that I tend to use in every other review lately), I'm not sure how well this has been adapted by Russo. It certainly feels more like a videogame movie than a graphic novel adaptation, a cross between the standard Call Of Duty antics and some Uncharted chase sequences through buildings being pretty thoroughly destroyed as our hero attempts to defy ever-increasing odds to get one boy to safety.

Hargrave directs well enough, often distracting you from the elements lacking in the film with some impressive set-pieces. The first big fight sets the tone for everything to come, and sets up Hemsworth as someone more than capable of battling his way through a city of potential enemies, and there's also a vehicle chase sequence that stands out as one of the best I have seen in some time. No doubt, if you love your action movies then you should definitely give this a watch. It's just a shame that the plot feels either too clichéd at times, or just too clumsy in the way it attempts to manipulate viewers into caring a little bit more about someone who is, as I have just mentioned, essentially a lead character in a videogame.

Hemsworth is superb in the lead role though, never looking unsure of himself and his abilities. It's possibly his most physical action role yet, and he's more than up to the task. Rudhraksh Jaiswal is very good as the young boy being dragged through fire and blood to a place where he can hopefully be safe. The other main character to make a good impression is Saju, played by Randeep Hooda, another ex-military man sent to rescue the boy, putting him in direct conflict with Hemsworth while both parties view the other as a major obstacle. Golshifteh Farahani and David Harbour do okay as potential allies, Painyuli is your typically ruthless crime boss, and lots of other people do well in ensuring that they hit the right spot before being kicked around or shot in the head.

I can see some people hating this. The style and the simple nature of the way it is plotted mean some will be made weary by it, this is a plot so simple that it really NEEDS to take that big starting point and maintain the momentum all the way through to the end, which it does, impressively. While the characters are paper-thin, and it doesn't have anything more to say beyond "isn't Hemsworth a handsome badass", the action has enough variety, the choreography and editing work to keep the energy high without becoming headache-inducing, and it's a perfectly fine way to kill some time during the weekend, with your snacks and beverages of choice lined up beside you.


Saturday 25 April 2020

Shudder Saturday: 0.0Mhz (2019)

A fairly new film, and one that there isn't much information available, apologies in advance for any mistakes in the name format for those involved. I have tried to keep myself right, but sometimes my limited time and resources show up my glaring lack of professionalism.

Here's the summary on IMDb for 0.0Mhz - "Members of a supernatural exploration club go into a haunted house." That's all I knew about it going in. Well, that and the fact that it was another horror movie from South Korea. I was sold. Although I tried to keep things moderated, my expectations started to climb up. It feels like far too long since I watched a horror that really packed in the quality scares (I may be forgetting something, but Satan's Slaves might have been the last one) and I was ready to enjoy some haunting imagery.

Based on a webcomic by Jak Jang, 0.0Mhz is written and directed by Yoo Sun-dong (his second feature after Musudan, which I haven't seen). Sun-dong never seems sure of his own talent, which is a great shame because some of the better moments in the film are put together perfectly. You get a character who sees spirits of the dead while nobody else can, you get a character possessed in a way that leads to a twisted body moving around in moments of explosive energy, and you get a nice feeling of tension building as the club members realise that they've got in way over their heads. Unfortunately, these better elements are couched in a film that runs from one familiar beat to the next, something particular hard to overlook when you get the lively and menacing strands of dark hair that we've now seen in approximately one thousand other Asian horrors.

The cast all do okay, but the only ones who stand out are Jung Eun-Ji (the girl who can see dead people) and Choi Yoon-Young (the girl who seems to be in the most immediate danger from the spirit, and the actress asked to give the most physically demanding of the performances). The boys onscreen all either feel completely disposable or a little bit creepy anyway, or both. Even when put in danger, it's hard to care about them, and they certainly seem to get a much easier time than their female counterparts.

Perhaps there's a lot missing here that was laid out in the webcomic. It definitely feels that way, with no major history given to the main spirit/haunting and a few of the enjoyable details seeming pointless, although they add nice colour to the picture being painted. Horror movies can be full of small details that feel pointless, just to add scares and help the pacing in between the set-pieces, but things here are given a sense of importance here that never feel fully justified.

There's enough here to please horror fans who want something a bit different from the many glossy mainstream options, but I also suspect that, in some ways, this IS a glossy mainstream film. It just doesn't feel that way to us viewers who look at it as a title from the extensive range labelled "world cinema".


Friday 24 April 2020

We Summon The Darkness (2019)

There's humour in We Summon The Darkness, but it's not really a horror comedy. There's a period setting (late 1980s), but that's not really ever a focus, apart from giving a more realistic grounding for the wild central plot. And there's a good cast, but they're not used as well as they could be. In fact, everything in We Summon The Darkness feels a bit half-assed, to use the technical term.

Alexis, Valerie, and Beverly are three young women on their way to see a heavy metal show. Once there, they meet three boys they seem to click with. The girls invite the boys back to an empty house they're staying at, the perfect spot for some more drinking and partying. But should these youngsters all be letting their hair down in the middle of nowhere, especially with the recent spate of Satanic cult murders?

Writer Alan Trezza previously gave genre fans Burying The Ex, a fun little film enjoyed by myself and about ten other people (so it would seem). That also had Alexandra Daddario in a starring role (she plays Alexis here), but she was surrounded by Ashley Greene and Anton Yelchin. It was also directed by Joe Dante, which was a big plus. Similar to this, Burying The Ex had one neat little idea at the heart of it. Unfortunately, We Summon The Darkness doesn't have anything of note beyond the one little idea it has (a plot beat that is surprisingly predictable from the very opening scenes).

Director Marc Meyers isn't someone incapable of doing good work. But he's no Joe Dante. The biggest mistake that Meyers makes is having complete fait in the script from Trezza, which means neither party does enough to make this as good as it could be.

Daddario does well in her role, although she's the weakest of the three main female cast members, and Maddie Hanson and Amy Forsyth are good in the roles of Val and Bev, respectively, with Forsyth easily the strongest of the three. As for the boys, Keean Johnson, Logan Miller, and Austin Swift are a good mix, even if their very first appearance onscreen doesn't bode well. Other characters pop in and out of the narrative, but the only other one worthy of note is Pastor John Henry Butler, played in an enjoyably atypical way by Johnny Knoxville (who I would very much like to see get a meatier role in this vein).

There's entertainment to be had here, Meyers does just fine with the technical side of things, despite lacking the ability to elevate the material, but We Summon The Darkness feels very much like some comedy act in which the performer is very proud of his jokes, especially one he drops on the audience early on to set the tone, while every audience member sits patiently and waits for the big laugh that never comes. There's nothing here that will make you remember the movie hours after you've watched it, and I can't help thinking it is destined to become a forgotten obscurity within the next year or two. I also can't help thinking that it wouldn't have taken too much effort to save it from that fate. It's a shame that Meyers and Trezza weren't able to make that effort.


There will be a disc to buy here, although the film is available digitally now.
Same deal, but in America.

Thursday 23 April 2020

Crawl (2019)

As a major hurricane starts to move into the area, Haley (Kaya Scodelario) ignores all of the warnings to drive further into the danger zone and find her father (Barry Pepper). She hasn't been able to get a hold of him and it's a worry. She eventually finds him, underneath a house and badly injured. Oh, and there are a number of alligators that have also decided to pop round for a visit. Can Haley, with her exceptional swimming skills, help both of them to survive this ordeal?

Crawl is a fun creature feature, but it's not one you can watch with without making an effort to consciously switch your brain off. If you know anything about alligators then this may be harder, but if you go with the flow then you're going to have a good time.

The main cast members to enjoy here are the alligators, impressively realistic CG creations that remain feeling like a physical threat as soon as their presence is made known. That's not to take anything away from Scodelario though, who gives a performance that requires every ounce of her focus and strength. Pepper, by comparison, gets to spend a lot of the movie fairly prone and relaxed (well, as relaxed as you can be after being bitten by alligators that are still prowling around your home). He's good, but he's mainly there to motivate Scodelario in different ways. Other people do appear, but they're really just there to become a snack for the dangerous predators.

Written by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, the structure is nice and tight (the runtime is 87 minutes), with the premise being set up quickly enough before the tension and thrills start to be added on. It becomes clear early on that they don't really care about the reality of the situation, instead doing enough to ground the movie reality of the situation (one in which a human can outswim an alligator, which is just one of the differences between reality and what is depicted here).

Director Alexandre Aja is no stranger to this type of thing, having provided superb tension and thrills in many of his previous movies (and at least he keeps this a lot more grounded than the enjoyable silliness of Piranha 3D). He knows how to set up the geography of the cramped location, how to get everyone where they need to be, and how to shoot some great set-pieces that alternate between having the alligators front and centre in a way that provides some jumps and having them gliding underwater to be an invisible menace.

This is not a serious study of what happens when a large predator is suddenly added to an environment normally fairly safe for humans. It's just fun, and manages to be fun from start to finish. We've already had sharks being used this way (in the likes of Deep Blue Sea and Bait), so it's good to see the alligators getting some time to shine. And when I say time to shine I mean time to hunt down humans and try to bite massive chunks out of them.


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

Wednesday 22 April 2020

Prime Time: Midsommar (2019)

Unlike many other people, I wasn't overly impressed by Hereditary, the feature film debut from writer-director Ari Aster. It was certainly an assured piece of work, and had some great moments, as well as an impressive visual style, but everything started to unravel in a third act that, to me, felt surprisingly hokey and predictable, considering what had come before it.

So I wasn't anticipating Midsommar with much enthusiasm, especially when the trailer gave me a strong feeling of having been there and done that before. And if I want to see a film like The Wicker Man then I'll usually just watch The Wicker Man.

I am pleased to be proven wrong. Midsommar is one of those films that is so good I am considering revisiting Aster's previous feature, especially as both movies are thematically connected by exploring how people deal with death, and how they grieve.

Starting off with one hell of a grim opening, viewers are then introduced to the main characters. Dani (Florence Pugh) has been changed by a devastating personal tragedy, which means it has never been the right time for her boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor), to separate from her, as he feels he should. Christian and his friends, Josh (William Jackson Harper) and Mark (Will Poulter), have been invited to a special festival in Sweden by another friend, Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren). It will be a chance to relax for some of them, while one or two others may make it the subject of their big university dissertation. But the trip could feel very different when Christian decides to invite Dani along, expecting her to say no. The welcoming residents at the Swedish retreat soon start to show some bizarre behaviour, to say the least, and it becomes obvious that the first impression of something pretty and sweet hides something much darker.

As mentioned above, this is another exploration of death and grief from Aster, and it's an impressive flipside to his first feature. Where Hereditary was all about the consuming darkness and the constant pain hanging overhead like a heavy weight ready to crash down, Midsommar looks at someone attempting to take their mind off things and constantly attempt to act "normal" until that becomes natural to them again.

The visuals throughout are gorgeous, with the bright colours, floral displays, and geometric design of each shot giving you plenty in every scene to appreciate, explore, and dissect. Not always noticed by the central characters, many of those at the festival make sure they sit or stand in a certain formation, and the camera moves around to let viewers see what the leads might miss.

Pugh puts in another superb performance here. The past two years have seen her immediately become one of my favourite actresses, thanks to the sheer range and undeniable talent shown throughout her roles, and this turn is arguably her strongest yet. Reynor is the right choice for Christian, because he's charming and likeable enough even as he's being a bit shitty to people. Poulter provides a number of the lighter moments, and they can grate slightly, and he's good in his role, Harper is a considerate guest interested in learning more that will help him in his studies (so not too far removed from the character that he's best known for playing on The Good Place), and Blomgren is enjoyably ambiguous for a lot of the runtime. As for the many other festival attendees, all are believably beatific and everyone ends up onscreen precisely where Aster wants them.

I am sure that some will dislike the fact that Midsommar is highly derivative and predictable, if you've seen even one other film like it, but it's a film all about the journey, not the destination. And it's one hell of a journey.


Buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here, or browse for other options.

Tuesday 21 April 2020

Sonic The Hedgehog (2020)

You have to hand it to them. The best thing to happen to the Sonic The Hedgehog movie was a trailer with main character design so bad that a lot of people seemed about to rush off and pluck out their own eyeballs. It was atrocious. It was unthinkable that someone passed that as a final product. It was . . . the beginning of something positive for a film that people had previously been simply shrugging their shoulders at (in my experience).

Now here we are. Sonic looks far cuter, and less likely to cause nightmares, and the whole movie is an easy bit of entertainment for people who like the little blue speedster and can enjoy over the top antics from Jim Carrey.

The story is pretty simple. Sonic has ended up here on Earth. His bag of golden rings are his most valuable possession, because one ring can take you wherever you want to go. They become a portal to wherever you have been thinking of. He's going to need them to make a getaway when a power surge alerts authorities to his presence. Befriending a small-town cop (Tom, played by James Marsden), Sonic tries to mark a few items off his bucket list before leaving Earth, all while being pursued by the very smart and very dangerous Dr. Robotnik (Carrey).

Written by Patrick Casey and Josh Miller, who have been working together for many years, Sonic The Hedgehog is pretty much what you expect it to be. Marsden once again works well alongside a CG effect making his life difficult, there are lots of moments that show off Sonic being so fast that everything else around him barely moves (a barfight is the best example of this, and the best set-piece in the whole movie), and Carrey gets to cut loose and have fun. Purists may be unhappy with him not portraying Dr. Robotnik as they would prefer to see him, but I think it's the right choice.

Director Jeff Fowler is making his feature debut (impressive, considering his VERY short CV - his only other directing credit is the average animated short, Gopher Broke) and does a perfectly fine job with the material. It has the energy that it needs, you get a few little touches to please fans of the SEGA games, and the general look of everything (Sonic, Robotnik, the gadgetry being used to hunt Sonic, the special effects) is good enough to make you forget all about that massive initial mis-step.

Carrey may steal a number of scenes, and he has one solo physical dance/comedy sequence that shows he hasn't lost his knack for such shenanigans, but Marsden is a good, stoic lead, Tika Sumpter does fine as his girlfriend, and Ben Schwartz is a surprisingly great fit as the voice of our spiky sprinter.

It's simple, predictable, and probably great to settle down and watch with younger viewers, who will undoubtedly enjoy the cute, colourful hedgehog and laugh at the obvious jokes. Not really one I'll rush to revisit, despite being kept mildly amused for most of the runtime, but I'll be much more optimistic about the planned sequel than I ever was about this.


Here be a hedgehog disc.
Americans can get a digital version here.

Monday 20 April 2020

Mubi Monday: The Servant (1963)

A dark and brooding British drama, looking at the class divide and the expert manipulation of one individual by another, The Servant is uncomfortable viewing during many of the main scenes, and a bit of a classic.

Dirk Bogarde plays Barrett, a man hired by Tony (James Fox) to be his servant. Initially appearing to be quite the perfect choice for the role, Barrett is soon shown to be working on a scheme to make his life a lot better. This will involve getting a job for Vera (Sarah Miles), a woman he pretends is his sister, and trying to make the most of the household whenever he is not having to undertake the main duties of his role. Tony thinks he has found a perfect employee, while his girlfriend (Susan, played by Wendy Craig) smells a rat.

Based on a novel by Robin Maugham, The Servant was adapted into screenplay form by celebrated playwright Harold Pinter, and directed by Joseph Losey. Both men know exactly what they're doing as they dive deeper and deeper into the nightmarish atmosphere created by someone who should be a trusted member of staff. The framing of the character shows the constant, and fluid, power battle, and many individual scenes look gorgeous, even while depicting people trying to wallow in some of their more base pleasures.

There are times when Barrett is quietly and subtly making things worse for his employer, just through a "careless" word here and there, or appearing at an inopportune moment, and then there are times when Barrett is more brazen in showing his attitude. He clearly doesn't want to be a servant, but it seems to be his designated lot in life, and that may be impossible to change.

Bogarde is superb in his role, all charm and humility at the start, sliding into a more menacing persona as the plot starts to take shape. Fox is comfortable in his role, and does well in showing the kind of attitude of someone who tries to keep blinkers on while things around him start to get worse. Miles is a good match for Bogarde, and Craig excels as the only one who sees the truth of what is going on.

Commenting on class, of course, and the fact that so many "invisible" workers can hold so much power and confidence in their relationship with their employers, The Servant is a film that will also resonate with anyone who has ever been in a situation that had friends who took advantage of a bad situation while it was fun for them to be tagging along for the ride. It's a superb film, one that will haunt you long after it ends, and still feels fresh and relevant today, despite being specifically set in a fairly bygone Britain.


You can buy the movie here.

Sunday 19 April 2020

Netflix And Chill: Polar (2019)

Based on a graphic novel, "Polar: Came From The Cold", this over the top action movie feels very much like an attempt to capture a viewing audience of John Wick fans. There are moments that definitely feel similar (as will happen nowadays every time one skilled hitman is facing off against numerous foes). But I think the difference can be summed up with one sentence. John Wick lost his beloved dog, the lead character in Polar accidentally shoots one.

Mads Mikkelsen is Duncan Vizla, 14 days away from his retirement after years spent working for the Damocles organisation. He's due a very lucrative pension, which is surely a worthy reward for a lifetime spent in his dangerous line of work. Mind you, the head of Damocles doesn't want to pay out massive pensions, which explains why all employees tend to die just before or after their retirement. A team is sent to track down Duncan and make sure he has no need of his huge pension fund.

I'm not sure who to blame here, having not checked out the source material, by Victor Santos. There's maybe stuff in the graphic novel that works better on the page than the screen, as is so often the case, but Jayson Rothwell doesn't help with a clumsy screenplay, and director Jonas Åkerlund feels as if he's just floating without a rudder from one Wick-lite moment to the next.

It's the tone that causes the biggest problem. Every moment that has Mikkelsen being a composed badass is great, because Mikkelsen can do composed badass in his sleep. There are also many good little conversations between him and Katheryn Winnick, playing Vivian, the mediator trying to hire him for one last job that turns out to have him as the main target. Vanessa Hudgens and Richard Dreyfuss also fare well, but everyone else seems to have been given a script for an entirely different movie.

The group tasked with seeking out our hero (led by Hilde, played by Fei Ren) are almost always shown killing someone in a way that is either gleefully over the top or just allowing them to vent their frustrations on people who are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Although it's worth mentioning the hilarious sex scene that involves Mads (fans get to see some Mikkelbooty) and Ruby O. Fee, who plays Sindy, one of the killers who gives fresh meaning to the term "special finishing move". And the less said about the owner of Damocles (Blut, played by Matt Lucas), the better.

With that glaring disparity in mind, it's hard to judge the performances, considering that everyone involved may have been doing exactly what was asked of them. Lucas still stands out like a sore thumb, he's a whole other level of awful and I really cannot understand why he was thought right for the role (again, maybe it's close to the source material, I just don't know).

Some sequences look great, including the main attempt to capture Duncan and a very satisfying final bout of revenge killing, and there are infrequent moments in which the comedy works (our lead giving a highly inappropriate talk to a classroom full of kids is great fun), but neither Rothwell nor Åkerlund have the confidence to maintain the balance required to make this a success. The fact that it still entertains is all down to the performances of Mikkelsen and Winnick.

This could have been great. It's not. This could have at least been good. It's not. It's just average, which makes it disappointing. Fans of Mikkelsen will still find enough to enjoy, but he deserved a better vehicle for his not-inconsiderable talent.


Click this link and do your shopping, it gives me pennies.
Americanos can do the same here, you know it makes cents.

Saturday 18 April 2020

Shudder Saturday: Exorcismus (2010)

Sophie Vavasseur plays Emma, a young woman who ends up worried as she starts to have increasingly dangerous and violent episodes that seem to suggest she is maybe becoming possessed by an evil spirit. Her parents (played by Richard Felix and Jo-Anne Stockham) are initially as sceptical as you would expect, but eventually decide that it's best to get help from a priest (Stephen Billington). Things get worse and worse, with real harm occurring to those around Emma.

Directed by Manuel Carballo, making what I believe is his first English language feature after some shorts, as well as TV work and one other film, in Spanish, Exorcismus is decidedly more impressive than it should be, thanks to the fact that it doesn't really try to make things more complicated than they need to be. Carballo directs well enough, and there are some moments of good tension as you see people fail to become aware of Emma about to potentially lash out at them, and he keeps himself within a comfort zone for anyone familiar with this subgenre.

Writer David Muñoz probably helped with that, obviously. The script has some cheesy moments, and certainly falls a bit flat during the many moments in between the actual possession drama, but it works well for laying everything out and simply aiming to entertain viewers. And it all builds nicely, with Emma initially suffering from fits, progressing to pushing her best friend away and having horrible visions, then moving towards the expected third act reveal of the full horror of the situation.

If the script and direction are surprisingly good, in the way that both manage to settle into the expected beats while somehow avoiding that feeling that it's all just rehashed from better movies (I think the very Britishness of the presentation helps to make it feel a bit fresher than it otherwise would), the acting is a bit more of a mixed bag. Not terrible, but not good enough to help elevate the material further.

Vavasseur isn't great when acting normally, unfortunately, but she does better when it's time to start the eye-rolling and growling. Felix and Stockham try hard, despite being the main characters who are given the weakest dialogue. Billington is earnest enough in his role, it's a decent performance from him, and there's a minute or two of screentime for Doug Bradley that treats him a lot better than so many other horror movies I could name. The other person worth mentioning is Isamaya Ffrench, a young actress who makes a strong impression in her feature film debut (and who has since gone on to develop a career as an interesting and talented makeup artist).

There are one or two plot turns that you may or may not enjoy, nothing that stops the whole film to emphasise how much they're veering from familiar territory though, and there are no moments I can single out as absolute highlights (well, there's one that surprised me, but I won't spoil anything here), but Exorcismus does what it sets out to do, and doesn't overstay its welcome with a runtime that clocks in at just under 100 minutes. I say it's worth a watch, even if it is unlikely to become a new firm favourite.


You can buy a disc here.
Americans can buy that same disc here.
Or just click on either link and buy some essentials you need, which gets you your essentials and sends me pennies.

Friday 17 April 2020

Boardinghouse (1982)

This particular movie choice came my way because of those folks at Strong Language & Violent Scenes Podcast. But, y'know, don't forget I also am part of a fine podcast at Raiders Of The Podcast.

I am really not sure where to start with Boardinghouse, it's such an odd viewing experience. I even considered just not reviewing it (hey, I always have options for my blog entries), but then I realised that it was certainly one of the lesser-known films that I've laid eyes on in recent months and it would be doing a small service to others to warn them off it.

My inner alarm should have started going off immediately. Although he uses a variety of names, John Wintergate is the writer, director, AND star of this film (and he also wears a number of other hats), and I use the word "film" in the loosest sense. In fact, please assume that every word I use from now on is being used in the loosest sense. I'll try to make that obvious though.

The "plot" involves a "spooky" supernatural presence that "terrorises" some attractive women in a newly re-opened "boarding house" (the term may have a different meaning here, it really just seems like a house with a lot of renters sharing the space). "Tensions rise", there are "shocks and scares", a few "gory" moments, and an air of "mystery"about the whole thing.

There. I think I managed to highlight the correct words. I'll try to use all of the words I really want to use now, even when discussing the "actors" (that's a bit unfair actually, some do better than others).

Beginning and ending with some text onscreen that looks like it was typed out on a BBC Micro (and, for all I know, maybe it was), Boardinghouse starts off with some scenes of madness and then just continues to unfold in exactly the same tone for the rest of the runtime. It's a film made by a bunch of crack-addicted possums that have just overstuffed themselves on tasty garbage snacks and decided to steal some money to pay for some cameras and models.

The flimsy plot feels like nothing more than an excuse to gather together a bunch of pretty women and have them be onscreen at the same time as some horribly cheap "special effects" while Wintergate posits himself as some charismatic guru in amongst them all. It feels like that because that is what it is.

I cannot namecheck many of the characters, or those who played them. I cannot begin to make sense of the nonsense you get every 5-10 minutes. And I'm not going to pretend that it was laughably bad. This was just inept in almost every possible way. The audio makes you think someone is playing the soundtrack out of one window of a car that is driving around you in circles, the cinematography is awful, and it's one of those movies that even makes the infrequent gore gags and gratuitous nudity seem boring.

Not recommended, not at all, except to those who have the same level of morbid curiosity that I do. Mark it off your watchlist and then never think about it again.


Buy what you want, but preferably use a blog link and help a brother out.

Thursday 16 April 2020

Trolls World Tour (2020)

Honestly, there are times when I just don't want to write a review of something I have watched. But I made my viewing choice, I wanted it to go on my blog, and now I am up at 0530 in the morning to write about Trolls World Tour because there are only 24 hours in a day and I was too tired last night to get this done ahead of time.

Following on from the horribly average, but I guess successful enough, Trolls, this sequel comes along to make you look back on that averageness with fondness, and yearn for those good old times when the worst thing a Troll movie did was rework some classic singalong tunes alongside some kid-friendly visuals.

This is horrible. Really horrible. If it wasn't for the charm of San Rockwell (yes, even in animated form, his charm blasts out of the screen and helps things along), I am not sure I would have given it such a relatively high rating.

The slight plot concerns the fact that our two main trolls, Poppy and Branch, find out they are one of a number of troll tribes. Each tribe is aligned with a certain type of music. You have the ones we already know from the first movie, pop trolls, and you also have ones that enjoy techno, classical, country, funk, and rock music. Queen Barb heads up the rock music trolls, and she wants to collect the one guitar string from each troll territory before bringing everyone together into one big world of rock.

Yeah. Although the main message here is about valuing individualism over conformity, it's hard to see beyond the fact that a) trolls are only individual when compared to other tribes, so that's a stumbling block for the main message, and b) rock is pretty much shown as an evil kind of music over all the others.

Everyone returns to the main voice roles they had in the first movie, and Kendrick and Timberlake are still just fine in the leads, although James Corden still gets a few lines to give him the potential to spoil things by being James Corden. Rachel Bloom is suitably loud and impetuous as Queen Barb, and there are cameo roles for Ozzy Osbourne, Kelly Clarkson, George Clinton, and Mary J. Blige (to show that the makers of the movie DO know some people who sing songs that aren't just upbeat pop tunes). I already mentioned Rockwell, but he's definitely worth mentioning again.

Walt Dohrn returns to co-direct, this time with David P. Smith alongside him (his first feature). Everything is as you'd expect from a sequel to Trolls, although maybe slightly worse in the obviousness of the various design choices and attempts to build different worlds.

Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger are back to write the screenplay, helped along by Maya Forbes, Wallace Wolodarsky, and Elizabeth Tippet. Five people. It took five people to write this piece of crap, and yet there still isn't enough here to make it worth your time. No great character moments, no funny lines of dialogue to single out, no redeeming value in the muddled message at the heart of it all. Even the soundtrack is just a big mess.

One to avoid, although I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who felt differently about this. It's one of those films that you find hard to consider anyone being a fan of.


You can buy this shiny set here.
Americans may want to go for this.

Wednesday 15 April 2020

Prime Time: Playmobil: The Movie (2019)

Considering Playmobil is usually the easier, more childish, precursor to LEGO, it's completely unsurprising to find that Playmobil: The Movie is a more childish and simpler film compared to the brilliance of The LEGO Movie (or, indeed, any of the main LEGO movies). It still has some fun moments here and there, and it's a good little adventure for kids to enjoy, but it's definitely an inferior selection of blocky toy movie moments. It has some issues that are easy to point out, but I don't think it deserved to do as poorly as it did at the box office. I'll take this over either of the Trolls movies any time.

The plot, and I'll keep it as simple as I have to, revolves around Marla (Anya Taylor-Joy) and her younger brother, Charlie (Gabriel Bateman). There are dead parents, tension between the siblings, and a large toy exhibition that has a magical Playmobil set in it. Marla and Charlie end up in the Playmobil world. Charlie ends up in a very bad situation, one that may see him unable to leave the world, and it's up to Marla to try and save him, aided by Del (Jim Gaffigan), a food truck driver who is currently using his vehicle to transport and sell magic hay.

Directed by Lino DiSalvo, his first feature after working on a number of animated movies before this, Playmobil: The Movie suffers from inconsistency in a number of areas, and it's almost as if DiSalvo worked on various scenes without remembering that they should come together to form a satisfying whole movie. The script, co-written by Blaise Hemingway, Greg Erb, and Jason Oremland, is sometimes content to keep kids distracted by the figurines onscreen, and various environments, and then seems to remember that they can add in some more jokes. You also get a few songs, none of which are memorable, and all feel very much like an afterthought.

Taylor-Joy and Bateman both do well in their roles, faring better in Playmobil form than when they have to do the live-action work that bookends the animation. Gaffigan is a fun presence in the role of Del, and you also get some good work from Kenan Thompson. Less impressive is Adam Lambert, playing the bloodthirsty Emperor Maximus with a distinct lack of any real pizzazz. Thankfully, the lacklustre turn from Lambert is compensated for by the real star of the show, Daniel Radcliffe, playing a James Bond type, named Rex Dasher, who comes with his own theme tune and an amusing lack of self-awareness.

I can absolutely see why this is viewed as a lesser option when compared to many other animated movies. Generally, it IS a lesser option. And perhaps people thought it was covering the same ground as certain other toy-based movies, without being as good as those. Which is also completely true, as I already said in the opening paragraph. But it's really not a terrible film, certainly not in the scenes in between those shoehorned songs anyway. If you have younger children in the house who want something bright and fun then you could do worse than this. That's maybe not a ringing endorsement, but it's probably a nicer appraisal than many others have given it.


You can buy it pretty cheap here.
Americans can buy a disc here.

Tuesday 14 April 2020

Trolls (2016)

I think it's always important when discussing a movie aimed at children to remind people of how immature and childish I can be. When people tell you to try remembering how it felt like to be a wide-eyed child . . . I'm already there. I'm not going to compare a children's movie to, say, Casablanca (although some are gold-plated classics in a different way from that Bogart vehicle), but I am still going to expect it to do a certain job.

Trolls is an odd film in almost every sense. First of all, it's based on those little troll dolls that I thought had faded out of our shared consciousness back in the 1990s (the last thing I remember about them was a console game on the Sega Mega-CD, I want to say). Second, it's a film that patches together a number of horrible cover versions of songs, almost as if every main scene was initially planned to be the standard finale/credit sequence we've seen in dozens of other big animated releases. Third, the story is a bit wild, being all about a race of creatures that believe eating the trolls is the secret to happiness.

You find that out at the very start of the movie. The Bergens are about to have their annual feast of trolls, served up by the Chef (Christine Baranski), but they find that the trolls have escaped. Some years pass by, trolls live in a new area, they sing and dance (which is what they do), and have hug time every half an hour. Poppy (Anna Kendrick) is a most vocal fan of all of this stuff. Branch (Justin Timberlake) is not. He's too busy worrying about when the Bergen will find them and whisk them all away to be eaten. And so, when a load of the trolls are found by the Bergen and whisked away to be eaten, Poppy and Branch head off to rescue their troll buddies.

It's bright, it's full of excerpts from popular songs (with the main theme being that they're all upbeat singalong favourites, from what I can recall), and it has enough to keep younger viewers entertained. But that doesn't make it actually any good. It makes it passable, average, it's the bare minimum to be expected from a mainstream animated release from a major studio. Director Mike Mitchell has films on his CV that prove he can do much better than this. Co-director Walt Dohrn, on the other hand, will have to work harder on future projects to make me forget his name is attached to this.

Writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger have been involved with some treats (the Kung Fu Panda movies stand out from their filmography). This seems like a thankless task for them. The characters aren't too bad, although often defined by one main trait, but the script is simply required to hop from one peppy song moment to the next.

The voice cast almost make up for the rest of the negatives. Kendrick is always someone I enjoy onscreen, and her personality is perfectly suited to her character here. Timberlake is very good, and Baranski is superb as the mean Chef. Chriostopher Mintz-Plasse is a grumpy young King, Zooey Deschanel is a staff member who is smitten with the King, Russell Brand is a guru type of troll, Kunal Nayyar voices someone very glittery, and there's a turn from James Corden that is small enough to have him be almost tolerable.

Trolls is average, at best. It's easy to see why kids will enjoy it. The tunes, the bright colours, the cute characters. It's also easy to see that it was put together without any of the care or detail that goes into so many other movies looking to capture the attention of the same demographic.


Here's a shiny set available.
Americans can buy this disc.

Monday 13 April 2020

Mubi Monday: Portrait Of A Lady On Fire (2019)

I approached Portrait Of A Lady On Fire with no small amount of trepidation. Nothing to do with what could or couldn't be in the film (I actually had no idea), but more to do with the overwhelming praise it had already received from all corners. That sometimes sets you up for a disaster. What if you like it, but don't love it? What if you don't like it? Everyone should form their own opinions about art, but when your opinion is contrary to that of almost everyone else it can lead to some creeping insecurity about your own perception and filters.

I can breathe a sigh of relief now, because Portrait Of A Lady On Fire is very good indeed. Phew. I might still get into some interesting conversations, however, as I couldn't see how it garnered QUITE the level of praise that has been heaped upon it.

Written and directed by Céline Sciamma (I have previously enjoyed Tomboy, although others have found that one a bit problematic), the film tells the story of a young painter (Marianne, played by Noémie Merlant) tasked with painting the portrait of a young woman (Héloïse, played by Adèle Haenel) who is due to be married to a gentleman from Milan. Héloïse has previously refused to be painted, she really isn't keen on the marriage that has been arranged for her, something set up rather hastily after the death of her older sister, and that means Marianne has to observe her subject more closely, pretending to be a companion as she observes everything that she hopes she can then use to create the portrait. She is helped in her scheme by Sophie (Luàna Bajrami), a young maid who seems happy to help, especially as the artist and unwitting subject spend more time together and form a stronger connection.

There's certainly plenty to enjoy here, with the lead performances being right at the top of that list. Both Merlant (destined to be played by Emma Watson in any English-language remake, surely) and Haenel doing superb work with a script that conveys more with the silent moments than it does with the actual dialogue. Bajrami is equally good, and her small role is expanded for a couple of important and interesting scenes, and I was pleased to recognise Valeria Golino in a strong supporting role, playing the Countess/mother of Héloïse.

Sciamma has a great eye, composing many of the scenes in a way fitting for a film about an artist striving to create a piece that would become her most important work. A recurring vision is particularly striking, and shown again towards the end in a context that shows how things were being foreshadowed, and the film often feels as if it is made up of firelight and shadows (one of the main posters even takes a frame from one specific moment that does this best).

Thematically, this is surprisingly simple stuff. The other things that are mixed into the plot (appreciation of great art, the sub-plot involving the maid) easily fade into the background when the focus returns to the central relationship between Marianne and Héloïse, and the love that blossoms between them. Which again puts most of the success of the film on the shoulders of the leads.

Beautifully shot and put together, perfectly cast, and fairly flawless throughout, Portrait Of A Lady On Fire deserves your time and attention. The only thing going against it is the fact that it feels a bit too much like a trip through well-trod territory for most of the runtime.


Sunday 12 April 2020

Netflix And Chill: Cargo (2017)

Based on a superb short film from 2013, Cargo is a zombie horror with a bit of a difference. It shows the lengths a parent will go to in order to keep a child safe, and reach somewhere they can have a chance at life, with or without them.

Martin Freeman is Andy, a man we see at the start of this movie with his partner, Kay. The two have a young daughter, Rosie, and they are trying to survive a world in which zombies are a wandering threat. Things change greatly when Kay is bitten, leaving the family unit as just father and daughter, so Andy plans a journey that he hopes will take them both to a better place.

Written by Yolanda Ramke, who also-co-directed with Ben Howling (the same positions they inhabited for their short film), Cargo is one of many films that come along to remind you of how many wonderful variations we can have within the zombie movie subgenre. The focus is on survival, as it so often is, but there's a lack of self-interest here. All that Andy wants to do is to give his daughter a chance to have some kind of life, and his every decision is informed by this, whether the people he meets are good or not.

Freeman is a great choice for the lead role, he always brings a quality to his characters that have you on his side from the very beginning and there's some added ingredient here watching this Englishman trying to plod on under the glare of an Australian sun (for that is where the film is set). Simone Landers is very good as young Thoomi, the inverse of Andy, a child trying their best to protect their father, and Anthony Hayes and Caren Pistorius play the kind of characters you often see in a zombie movie, ones that behave in ways that show a moral compass birling and whirling around differently in a world gone mad (well . . . that's more Hayes, really, but both have moments to keep you on your toes until you figure out how things are going to play out).

Cargo is a very good film. It uses some very familiar zombie movie moments, but they're all given that twist because it's a parent and child trying to survive them. It's also a great illustration of how to expand an impressive short into a feature. There are three key scenes here that are taken from the short film, but everything in between feels like a nice addition to the world, and to the story, in stead of just material used to pad out something that should have just stayed a short (as happens with a number of these things).

Not a film for those who need an excess of shambling undead, buckets of gore, and the standard third act situation of survivors being cornered and gradually overrun by hordes of zombies, Cargo is one to watch if you're wanting some horror with heart. If you're sitting there from the very beginning, rubbing your hands with glee, wondering when the baby will get eaten then it's probably best that you find something else to watch.


There's A disc available here.

Saturday 11 April 2020

Shudder Saturday: Body At Brighton Rock (2019)

Written and directed by the talented Roxanne Benjamin, who also delivered some solid work in both Southbound and XX (anthology horrors that already allowed her to stand out as someone to watch), Body At Brighton Rock is the kind of film that feels as if it could easily be a successful adaptation of some Stephen King novella. I mean that as a compliment, because the film works thanks to the strength of the writing and the central character being shown isolated and getting out of her depth, and potentially heading towards great danger, in a nicely believable and effective way.

Karina Fontes plays Wendy, a young park ranger who swaps with a colleague to give herself a mountain trail that would usually have someone more experienced giving it the once over. She loses her map, and loses her way, but finds a dead body. Getting on the radio straight away, Wendy is told that there's no way a search party can be sent up to get her until morning. She has to stay put overnight, guarding what could be a crime scene (although it's probably just an accident . . . probably).

Although there are other characters who appear here, mainly at the very start and very end of the film, this is largely a film that rests on the shoulders of Fontes, an actress having to express her inexperience, her fear, and her attempts to hide those things when she does what has to be done. It's a good job that she's up to the task, helped by a script that paces everything out well enough without overdoing the obvious tricks (although one moment of clumsiness feels a bit disappointing, as does one obvious sequence that you just know isn't how it seems). Casey Adams also appears for a little while, a stranger on the scene who may be trying to help or may have some other reason for being there, and there's a nicely-presented sequence that features an intimidating-looking bear (let's be honest, if it's not a panda or a koala, every bear looks intimidating to me, but this one is a helluva scary beast).

Benjamin has managed to take a small-scale little drama, mix in some pleasing thriller and horror elements, and allow it to feel more open and grander with her use of the vast swathe of mountain terrain surrounding the central character. The location feels like it adds a special effect to most scenes in the film. Wendy feels small and vulnerable as soon as she realises she is a little bit lost, and that just gets a lot worse when a corpse is added to the proceedings. It's easy to imagine the camera rising further and further up into the sky, showing our lead miles and miles away from anywhere, or anyone, that could provide assistance.

Like so many other movies marketed towards the horror genre crowd, it's worth warning viewers that this only has a light smattering of what you may typically expect from a horror film. There are some thrills, especially during the final act, but it's mostly a drama, and a really good one. I only end with this warning because the film is on Shudder, and Shudder has a bad habit of putting these films on their service that end up ultimately disappointing people who are seeking a more "standard" horror movie experience.

However you want to label it, Body At Brighton Rock is a solid, and REALLY well-crafted, independent movie.


Friday 10 April 2020

Vivarium (2019)

The last time director Lorcan Finnegan worked with writer Garret Shanley, on their debut feature after collaborating on a fine short, Foxes, they gave viewers a film about someone finding strangeness and potential insanity in an isolated wooded area. This time around they give us a couple finding strangeness and potential insanity in a picture-perfect suburban home.

Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg are Gemma and Tom, a young couple looking for their ideal home. They meet a strange agent, Martin (Jonathan Aris), and are then taken to a home in a street of identical homes, in an area full of identical streets. Martin then disappears, leaving Gemma and Tom to find their own way out of the neighbourhood. They can't manage it, and it soon becomes clear that they are somehow always fated to end up back at the front door of what is now their new home. No matter how hard they try to escape, they keep finding themselves back home. And then they receive a child.

That's pretty much everything about Vivarium, and the main plot is fully set up within the first 5-10 minutes. Although I would be hesitant to compare it to something like Blue Velvet, it certainly uses the fantastical concept to illustrate how much the dream of suburban contentment can soon sour and become a nightmare for those who are trapped in it (which, in this case, is a very literal situation).

Visually, you get an excellent exaggeration of most typical modern street layouts. All of these new homes look the same, the streets are the same, and every home even has one fluffy cloud-shaped cloud (you know what I mean) resting just overhead. Finnegan really does all he can to create a vision that is both uniformly mundane and also very creepy.

Shanley's script is a bit less satisfying, but I also admired the fact that he didn't set out to provide any answers for the non-stop string of oddities that make up the various plot points. The child alone (played mostly by Senan Jennings) is one major part of the movie that you never get an explanation for, which doesn't stop him being incredibly creepy and disturbing, but you also get no extra information about the motivation of certain characters, about the logic and physics of the environment, or even how certain things are always worked out (such as deliveries and repairs). Viewers are as bemused as the main characters.

Poots and Eisenberg are very good in the main roles, with the latter becoming more angry and aggressive than the former. They adjust to their new life quite quickly, but that's when they realise they have no choice in the matter. Jennings is excellent as the child, one of the most loathsome little people I have had to endure onscreen, and Eanna Hardwicke does a decent job as the grown-up version of the same character.

I'd recommend Vivarium if you're after something far removed from the norm. Just don't expect answers to any of the questions it puts forwards.


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

Thursday 9 April 2020

Bloodshot (2020)

Be warned, there will be some minor spoilers in this review. I will say, however, that I will only mention elements shown in the trailer, while trying to avoid revealing anything major, although the film is predictable enough as it plays out that you'll always be a couple of steps ahead of it.

Vin Diesel is Ray Garrison, a typically Vin Diesel kind of guy. He's a skilled, tough, soldier who gets the job done and looks forward to returning to his wife (Talulah Riley) after every mission. But things take a sharp turn into disaster town when Ray and his wife are caught by a group of extreme villains, and both are killed. And that's when the plot really begins. Ray wakes up, confused. It turns out that he's been brought back to life by Dr. Emil Harting (Guy Pearce), and he's been given a substantial upgrade. He is stronger, and any injuries are swiftly repaired by nano-technology. The first chance he gets, Ray heads off to find those who killed his wife. But is he after the right people? And why does he wake up in the same confused state, being treated the very same way, once he thinks he has completed his objective? All is very much not as it seems.

Bloodshot is a typical feature debut from someone who has spent years working on the visual effects of various projects, and that is exactly the background we have for Dave Wilson (billed as David F. Wilson). The only other thing directed by him is the excellent , and visually stunning, "Sonnie's Edge" episode of Love, Death & Robots. The visuals here aren't bad, but they're not good enough to make up for the weaker elements of the film, and there are too many weaker elements.

First of all, Vin gotta Vin. I don't know why he always has to be the best in the room, but we know that he does. So you know how this story is going to play out from the very beginning, even as it tries to squirm and swerve around various plot turns. Eiza González does okay in the lead female role, KT, and Pearce is a good presence as the scientist who obviously has a nefarious agenda, but everyone else is either forgettable (Sam Heughan plays Jimmy Dalton, a potential antagonist with nothing to make him stand out, aside from the special effects) or underused (Toby Kebbell). At least Lamorne Morris livens up the proceedings, playing a computer programmer who may be able to help Vin if he is allowed to live long enough.

Although I am unfamiliar with the comic book that this is based on, I can only hope it isn't as dull as this. The script, by Jeff Wadlow and Eric Heisserer (the latter has the better overall filmography, but also helped to give us the remake of A Nightmare On Elm Street), feels like it is 50% exposition, 25% the usual ego-stroking that Vin Diesel needs, and 25% decent set-pieces. That's not a recipe for success.

As long as you don't expect greatness, there's just enough here to entertain. It might make the second part of a good double-bill for the few people who also somehow enjoyed Babylon A. D. Everyone else should keep bumping it lower on any list of planned viewings.


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

Wednesday 8 April 2020

Prime Time: Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (2019)

Let me be up front right now by declaring how much I enjoy Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark, even if I haven't ever read any of the books it is based on (they seem to be a cross between Goosebumps tales and urban legends). It really works for me, thanks to the wonderful atmosphere, the set-pieces, and the young cast all doing their best to sell it. Unfortunately, despite my own feelings on it, I struggle to think of people I would unconditionally recommend it to. I'll come back to that later.

The story concerns a group of young teens who find themselves in a local "haunted house" when they are being chased by a violent bully. They also find themselves a book of stories, apparently written by Sarah Bellows (a young woman who died some years ago, after a troubled life). When Stella (Zoe Colletti) reads the book in her home, she sees a new story. It's all about a scarecrow that comes to life, moving through the corn and killing someone. And it turns out that the story really happened. The group are now in danger. The stories will appear, and each one of them could be dead by the time the last word is written.

One of many films produced by Guillermo del Toro, but this time he also helped work on the general shape of the screenplay, aided by Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, with the main credit then going to Dan and Kevin Hageman. It's easy to see why this would appeal to Del Toro, it's a film that is essentially about the power of storytelling and what repercussions can stem from the truth being hidden away when it yearns to be set free.

But it's André Øvredal in the director's chair, which brings a different style to the whole thing. This is a dark and unpleasant film, at times, with muted colours and shadows encroaching whenever a main story is about to be played out. Øvredal is happy to start off having viewers thinking this will be a light and fun film, gradually make things darker and darker, and then turn everything around again for a finale that ends up, sadly, feeling overly familiar and weak.

It's the shifting of tone that both helps and hinders the movie, and makes it so hard to recommend. I assumed this was a horror movie aimed at kids. It's not. Well, it's aimed at those who have fond memories of the books, from what I can gather, but also works well for a young teen demographic (I would say 13-15 year olds could really enjoy this, if they can get through the fairly horror-free first act).

If the tone never feels truly settled, the same cannot be said of the fantastic young cast. Colletti is a bright lead, Gabriel Rush and Austin Zajur are equally good as her friends, and Michael Garza is effective as the new kid in town, Ramon, who gets dragged into the whole dangerous adventure. Austin Abrams is all sneer and rage as the bully, Tommy, and Natalie Ganzhorn gets a big moment in a tale familiar to anyone who has heard any urban legends about big spots. There isn't too much screentime given to adults, but it's always good to see both Dean Norris and Gil Bellows in film roles, the latter playing a Police Chief who obviously doesn't believe the kids until he gets to see something wild with his own eyes.

I first saw this movie a few weeks ago. I decided that I couldn't settle on my final opinion, so I waited. And waited. Until I rewatched it again this week. I'm glad I did. Without waiting for the movie to conform to any expectations I may have had, I enjoyed it a lot more. There are some impressive special effects, some very memorable set-pieces, and a decent enough story to pin everything on, even if it does mean that it needs resolved during those disappointing end scenes.


You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.
Or click either link and shop for whatever you want. That helps me, so win win.