Sunday, 1 August 2021

Netflix And Chill: The Last Mercenary (2021)

The longer his career continues, the easier it is to see Jean-Claude Van Damme as more than deserving of his status among the action heroes of the '80s and '90s. His films always had humorous moments dotted through them, which is something some of the other big names found a bit tougher (Arnie being the one who moved most successfully into comedies, Steven Seagal to this day not wanting anyone to ever see him smile, or be the cause of an inadvertent smile), and he always convinced with the cinematic action.

Having lost his way for a while, with a mix of personal problems and bad judgements marring his filmography for a good ten or twelve years, Van Damme took a big risk with the self-reflexive, and superb, JCVD. It's not been a consistent filmography since that film was released, back in 2008, but it has certainly been one with more hits than misses. And more interesting choices than he was able to make back at the start of his career. He has been involved in some animated films, he has been a villain, and he has played a small supporting part in a strange alien movie. Even his small-screen work, Jean-Claude Van Johnson, proved a hit with those who gave it their time, more comedy inspired by his willingness to poke fun at himself and use his back-catalogue as a source of multiple gags and references. 

The Last Mercenary essentially repeats a lot of the comedy that we've seen Van Damme do before, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable. JCVD plays a legendary secret agent named Richard Brumére AKA The Mist. Richard disappeared many years ago, vowing to stay silent in exchange for a deal with the French government that would protect his young son, Archibald. Many years later, Archibald (Samir Decazza) is oblivious to the fact that his ID is also being used by a Scarface-obsessed crook named Simyon (Nassim Lyes). This leads to the government deal breaking down, placing Archibald in a lot of danger, which means Richard has to venture back where he isn't really wanted, or welcome. And he has to figure out the right time to reveal that he is Archibald's father. A plan is hatched, one that utilises the various skillsets of a politician (Alexandre, played by Alban Ivanov), a young woman who is Archibald's friend (Dalila, played by Assa Sylla), and an old colleague (Marguerite, played by Miou-Miou).

Directed by David Charhon, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Ismaël Sy Savané, The Last Mercenary works as well as it does because of how well it uses Van Damme. He may be a couple of decades beyond his prime, but the man can still kick ass. What's more, he has gradually improved as an actor, in terms of both serious moments and the comedy. That's not to say that he's any master of the craft, but this doesn't need him to be. All it needs from Van Damme is for him to be Van Damme, whether that's him showing his kicking power, dancing in a way that will remind everyone of THAT great moment in Kickboxer, or any of the other little jokes and references that just wouldn't work without Van Damme's skillset and legacy. Although things wobble slightly whenever there's an attempt to create a kind of Clouseau/Dreyfus animosity between Richard and Commandant Jouard (Patrick Timsit), that's easy to overlook when you zip quickly to another decent bit of comedy or action, and there are enough scenes here incorporating both. And the big final fight sequence, set in a games room and soundtracked by the funk-tastic tune "Do Ya Wanna Funk?", is a very satisfying way to showcase everything that the film is aiming for.

Apart from our leading man, the rest of the cast are generally quite excellent throughout. Ivanov is asked to play the comedy a bit broader than I would have liked, but he does well in his role, and Decazza is good as the young man ill-prepared to be thrown into a world with so many risks to his wellbeing. Sylla is a real highlight, just emanating charisma throughout every one of her scenes, and Lyes is a lot of fun as the man who doesn't just admire, but wants to BE, Tony Montana. Miou-Miou is a great member of the team, and there are also fun turns from Eric Judor, Djimo, Michel Crémadès, and everyone else involved.

There have been a lot of comedic action thrillers over the past five or six years (with Spy being one of the best) and a lot of them have done a great job of melding the genres together. While The Last Mercenary may not be the best of them, it easily sits alongside them. More for fans of the leading man, and the decade that propelled him to stardom, this is one that I easily recommend to people who probably already know that they're going to have fun with it.

8/10

There are SO many other JCVD movies reviewed here.

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Saturday, 31 July 2021

Shudder Saturday: Rot (2019)

Although it's a mix of The Signal (2007), Slither, and any film that has "*insert noun" from hell" as a title, Rot does something a bit more interesting with the idea at the heart of it. It's not entirely successful, mainly due to the cast of characters that you never really feel you get to know, but it deserves credit for trying to do something different. And certainly gets a bonus point for a final sequence that will surprise most viewers.

Kris Alexandrea is Madison, a young woman who breaks up with her boyfriend, Jeff (Johnny Kostrey). Jeff doesn't take things well, especially as he was planning to propose to Madison. Unfortunately, this all coincides with Jeff being on the receiving end of a strange infection, the kind of thing that will help him impact Madison's life by working his way through many of her friends, either converting them to his cause or violently dispatching them.

Written and directed by Andrew Merrill, making his feature debut after working on numerous shorts for a decade or so, Rot is, on the one hand, a simple virus horror. On the other hand, however, it's a smart metaphor for the ways in which relationship break-ups can completely change your life. The different side of someone that you see when they're hurt and lashing out, the ways in which friends often immediately pick a side, either consciously or subconsciously, and the moments that have you feeling as if your recent past has turned into some kind of treacle flooring you keep having to battle through in order to progress towards a new future.

It's a shame that the cast aren't treated better by the script, which has an unfocused and meandering approach to the material, even as things start building towards that out-there finale. Alexandrea often feels like a very passive lead, despite the fact that the first half of the film shows her being pro-active with circumstances that she changes for the better. Kostrey gets the opposite end of the spectrum, although the fact that he seems far too aggressive in so many scenes is sadly spot on for the kind of boyfriend that he's portraying. Many will recognise his bad traits, even before they are amplified and used for more traditional horror moments, and that's another plus for the film, but it leaves Kostrey without any real room to show any other aspect of a main character. Everyone else is too easy to forget until they are involved in confrontations, and a small role for Eileen Dietz is at least enjoyable for the fact that you get to have another film credit for Eileen Dietz.

Although Merrill tries to balance out the horror elements with the exploration of a relationship break-up going from bad to worse, he's not entirely successful. It's a script problem more than anything else though, and he does well to make up for that with some scenes that are so effectively creepy and disturbing, especially considering the fairly low budget. Definitely someone to keep an eye on, and Rot is worth your time, even if it probably won't become a new firm favourite.

6/10

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Friday, 30 July 2021

The November Man (2014)

An action thriller from director Roger Donaldson (who has a lengthy filmography that you could call more eclectic than consistent, but is always worth checking out), The November Man makes perfect use of leading man, Pierce Brosnan, and jumps from one set-piece mixing smarts and violence to the next.

The very basic way to explain this movie is that Brosnan plays a retired CIA agent, named Peter Devereaux, who is called back in to service and ends up protecting Mira Filipova (Olga Kurylenko). A lot of people want Mira dead, and the main person heading up the pursuit is David Mason (Luke Bracey), a young man who was trained by Deveraux.

Based on a book by Bill Granger, The November Man is exactly the kind of movie that it shows itself to be from the very first scenes. The wiser elder agent, the hot-headed youngster, some twists and turns, and Brosnan looking unflappable for most of the runtime. 

The script, by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek, is decent enough. About as predictable as this sort of thing can do often be, it at least feels satisfying by the time things all come together in the finale. You’re not supposed to know who is actually going to be a hero and who is going to be a villain, but you can figure it all out at least a few steps ahead of the main characters.

Brosnan is on good form, even if he is reusing the kind of performance he already did so well in the Bond movies and The Thomas Crown Affair (as well as a few others from the past couple of decades). Kurylenko does well as the woman in peril, I always like watching her onscreen, and it’s an added bonus to watch one era of Bond work with another era of Bond girl. Bracey is also good in his role, being tough and determined to “win” at all costs, but also still weighed down by his connection to Brosnan’s character. Bill Smitrovich, Will Payton, and Lazar Ristovski all do their part in the main plot, playing various authority figures making life difficult for the lead.

Ultimately a bit too similar to a number of better movies, The November Man is still one that I would recommend to people wanting a bit of action couched in a plot attempting to pretend it is a bit smarter than it really is. It’s paced well, Donaldson directs with enough skill and confidence, there are some decent set-pieces, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and Brosnan is effortlessly cool throughout.

7/10

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Thursday, 29 July 2021

Bombshell (2019)

A film about the eventual, and long overdue, downfall of Roger Ailes, the man at the very top of the ladder at the Fox News HQ for many years, Bombshell plays out with some very interesting points that don’t just target the abuser at the heart of the story. It is also about toxic work environments and the repercussions of not taking a stand sooner, although that is a lot easier said than done (for many reasons).

Nicole Kidman is Gretchen Carlson, a presenter at Fox News who knows her days are numbered. She is too old now, apparently, and has taken a stance on certain subjects that has angered Ailes (John Lithgow). Once she is fired, Carlson decided to sue Ailes, bringing up his problematic (to put it mildly) behaviour with the female staff. Many employees rally round Ailes, showing a unified front, but there’s a notable silence from one of the top channel stars, Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron). While all this is going on, Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie) has just started her employment with the company, and soon finds out exactly how she is supposed to act around certain people. 

Written by Charles Randolph, who was also a co-writer on The Big Short screenplay, the first thing you may notice about Bombshell is . . . how similar it is to The Big Short. The character played by Theron introduces viewers to the situation, and the world shown, by breaking the fourth wall, and there are some tangents that rapidly and clearly explain how the company structure works, and what the main policies were.

Director Jay Roach makes life easy for himself by casting well, all treated perfectly by the hair and makeup people, and doing well by the script. Everything moves along well enough, but certain lines of dialogue and individual moments are given the time and space needed to really sink in.

Theron, Kidman, and Robbie are all excellent, playing women at very different levels within the very sexist structure of Fox News, as dictated by Ailes, whether their position is to do with age, experience, savvy, or all of those things. Lithgow is excellent in his role, bullish and arrogant, and very often completely repugnant, even before the level of his abuse of his position is made apparent. The supporting cast includes some great performers, such as Allison Janney, Kate McKinnon, Connie Britton, Liv Hewson, Rob Delaney, and Mark Duplass. Not everyone works though. Richard Kind, for example, doesn’t feel close enough to Rudy Giuliani (although my view has maybe been tainted by seeing how far I think Giuliani has fallen in recent years). Generally, however, the cast feel like a good fit.

The people to blame for abuse are abusers, and Bombshell doesn’t lose sight of that fact. But it also shows the importance of speaking up against those who are abusing power, despite the potential consequences. Because someone has to lead the way, someone has to try their hardest, if only to help warn others, and Bombshell is as much about the need to act and speak out, even if things thankfully didn’t go as far as you worried they would, as it is about Ailes and the power that had him thinking he could act however he wanted. 

7/10

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Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Prime Time: Jolt (2021)

I saw the trailer for Jolt and I was immediately interested. But I was also wary. It looked like another riff on John Wick, but this time starting Kate Beckinsale in the main role. That seemed good enough to me. It turned out that it wasn’t.

With a voiceover explaining things to us, we meet a young girl named Lindy. Lindy has a condition that means she absolutely loses control of her temper when she sees anyone doing wrong. Young Lindy grows up to be Kate Beckinsale, a woman still trying to figure out how to live with her condition. The latest solution is a vest that delivers electric shocks to her system when she presses a button. It makes life harder. It certainly makes it a lot tougher to date people, and she may not make it through her first date with Justin (Jai Courtney). Justin is special though, so they end up managing more than one date. Then tragedy strikes, which means Lindy needs to embrace her rage and exact some revenge. A couple of cops (played by Bobby Cannavale and Laverne Cox) want to stop her from creating a large bodycount, and her therapist (Dr. Munchkin, played by Stanley Tucci) doesn’t want any small amount of progress completely undone.

Jolt has a decent helping of humour alongside every moment of violence. The main character has been let down by people at every turn, which adds to the inability to cure her condition, and that leads to moments that have her happily ignoring her therapy while she punches and kicks people who thoroughly deserve it.

Directed competently enough by Tanya Wexler, I guess, the problems with Jolt lie mainly with the script, from first-timer Scott Wascha. Wascha keeps the tone consistent throughout, ensuring that there’s always a sense of fun throughout, but a) the main concept is flawed, and b) the pacing is just a bit off, even if it clocks in at roundabout the ninety minute mark, which is a pleasant surprise nowadays. Having Lindy control herself with the use of the electric vest, except in the moments when she doesn’t want to stay calm, isn’t the way to set the ball rolling. What should have happened was something that would forcibly propel the character violently throughout a plot that could then have Beckinsale battling baddies while trying harder not to hurt innocent bystanders. Imagine if, for example, Lindsay had an early fight with someone that led to her being thrown against a fuseboard, electrocuted, and having the vest then malfunctioning while fused to her muscles/skin. Way more fun could be had there, and that is the first idea I came up with while watching the film play out.

Beckinsale is a solid lead, and she can do the physical stuff well, and the other big plus here is Tucci. Cannavale and Cox both do fine, although the former feels like he’s been used as a strong supporting player so often recently that his roles all seem to blend into one another (even if he is sometimes a villain and sometimes a nice guy). David Bradley is good fun in his few onscreen moments, and Courtney benefits from the fact that he’s not in the movie all that long. He’s not my favourite actor, by far, but does okay here.

Best when it is allowing the main character to revel in delivering painful justice to people who deserve it, Jolt is an easy way to kill an hour and a half. The fights are okay, the thin storyline moves well enough from one set-piece to the next, and the third act is as predictable as any slick action thriller you have ever seen. I’d watch a sequel to this, but I would also hope that lessons are learned and the sequel makes significant improvements on the foundations laid down here.

6/10

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Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Werewolves Within (2021)

A lot of people had mentioned Werewolves Within over the past few weeks so I was keen to see it. I like werewolf movies, I like a good comedy horror, I figured this would be an easy one for me to enjoy. It turned out not to be as easy as I first thought. I didn't actively dislike this film at any point, the main cast members are too likeable or fun to keep that from happening, but it wasn't ever that good. It's not that funny, and the lycanthropy is barely a part of the film. It's as if far too many people have still to discover the superb Game Of Werewolves. Or even the more recent The Wolf Of Snow Hollow.

But let's focus on this film anyway, which is the one I am reviewing today. Sam Richardson plays Finn Wheeler, a forest ranger who has been posted to the small town of Beaverfield. The town is currently divided by the people who support a pipeline being proposed by a local businessman and those against it. Meeting a postal worker, Cecily (played by Milana Vayntrub), Finn gets to accompany her on her round as she introduces him to the various residents. It's not long until a dangerous secret is revealed, and Finn is tasked with trying to keep people calm and find out what is damaging generators and looking to potentially kill people. The signs all point to a werewolf, but there's a chance that it is just one of the more eccentric locals having dived headlong into murderous madness.

Richardson and Vayntrub are both excellent in their roles here. The former has already stolen a few scenes in a couple of movies from the past year or so, the latter isn't someone I can say I have spotted in any other movies, but I'll look forward to seeing her in more after enjoying her work here. Everyone else does great work, even if I'm not going to namecheck them all here. Definite highlights include Catherine Curtin as Jeanine Sherman, the woman who owns the hotel that Finn is staying at, Wayne Duvall as the businessman, Sam Parker, and Glenn Fleshler as the gun-toting, unfriendly, Emerson.

Written by Mishna Wolff, making her feature-writing debut with a videogame adaptation that certainly doesn't feel constrained by that remit (although I am not familiar with the actual game itself), Werewolves Within is generally an amiable experience. That's about all I can say about it. The direction from Josh Ruben, who also gave horror fans the much-liked Scare Me (liked by a group of people that would not include me among them), does everything required without ever taking the material up a notch. None of the comedy is mined for bigger laughs, none of the few horror moments are made as horrific as they could be, and I found it impossible to ever really care about the mystery element. The majority of the film may be trying to create a The Beast Must Die guessing game, but what's the point in crafting that kind of curio piece if you don't even provide an updated "werewolf break"? 

Maybe people enjoy this more when they also have the game as a reference point, so feel free to add a point or two if you fall into that category, but I kept waiting for this to deliver something . . . more. It's pleasant enough for the duration, and doesn't run too long, but it's a shame that it wasn't tweaked to increase the comedy, the frights, or both. Still one to recommend, tentatively, thanks to the sterling work of everyone in the cast.

6/10

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Monday, 26 July 2021

Mubi Monday: Nadia, Butterfly (2020)

As Mark Kermode, eminent UK film critic and long-running champion of The Exorcist, is prone to tell/remind us, in his view, Jaws is a classic film that isn’t about the shark. I tend to slightly disagree, but I absolutely get his main point. I mention his point now because sport movies are rarely about sport. They can be about so many other things, simply using the sport setting to ground a number of relatable life lessons. Nadia, Butterfly is a film about swimming, but it’s not really about swimming. I will come back to this very soon.

Katerine Savard, a young woman who really is a superb competitive swimmer in real life, plays Nadia, a young woman who has decided to bring her competitive swimming career to an end. She has a rough plan for what she wants to do next, and the announcement about her retirement just before a big team relay event has a number of people questioning her on her future. Nadia’s first immediate part of her new life, however, is just to have some fun.

Written and directed by Pascal Plante, Nadia, Butterfly is a film that ultimately explores a mindset that can work in so many different environments. Dedicating yourself to any pursuit requires making difficult decisions sometimes, and sacrifice (be it time, money, etc). But suddenly removing that one thing from your life can also leave you feeling a bit lost, wondering what to do with your new freedom and the extra time available to you.

Savard is very good in the main role, seeming to enjoy a role that asks her to portray someone not too far removed from herself. She certainly has much more screen presence than many other sporting personalities I have seen in movie roles, and maybe she can keep edging a little further and further out of her depth if she keeps up the acting career (pun intended). The supporting cast all do well, with the standout being Ariane Mainville, playing a friend named Marie-Pierre, her character showing how others may be seismically affected by such a change in direction from someone they have known and worked with in one specific part of their life for so long.

A film about swimming that isn’t at all about swimming, Nadia, Butterfly is an interesting and unique way to present a number of familiar situations and quandaries to viewers. I look forward to seeing more from Plante, and I also hope to see a bit more in the acting world from Savard. Even if she doesn't take every role based on how much time her character spends in a swimming pool.

8/10

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Sunday, 25 July 2021

Netflix And Chill: Blood Red Sky (2021)

A rather simple action horror movie premise is turned into yet another film that misses the mark after promising so much. It’s not bad, but it’s just a bit too long and a bit less bloody and vicious than I wanted it to be.

Peri Baumeister plays Nadja, an ill woman who is travelling on a plane with her young child, Elias (Carl Anton Koch). Nadja and Elias, and most of the other plane passengers, have their flight seriously disrupted when the plane is taken over by terrorists. A lot of people are due to die, but the terrorists haven’t counted on a very problematic passenger. Because the “illness” affecting Nadja also makes her a formidable force when she decides that she needs to stand up and fight back to keep her son safe.

Directed by Peter Thorwarth, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Stefan Holtz, Blood Red Sky has a great central premise, and it works well with it. Nadja taking on the terrorists, and surprising them with her strength and violence, is good for a few decent moments, but when things settle down slightly the film quickly feels like it is deflating, which isn’t good to notice just before the halfway point. The action and bloodshed is depicted well enough, although more of both would have been welcomed. 

Baumeister does well in the lead role, whether playing her character weak or strong, and Koch is very good as her son. The terrorists are generic baddies, with the only two standing out being Dominic Purcell and Alexander Scheer, but that is more to do with the actors than the material. Kais Setti is good as a fellow passenger. Farid, who quickly realises how the situation is twisting and turning and tries to help Nadja as much as he can.

The biggest problem here is the pacing. The big reveal in the first act isn’t any major surprise, especially if you have seen any of the marketing material for the film, and the initial enjoyment of the tables being turned soon fades to impatience, waiting to see if any set-pieces make full use of the main plot points. They don’t, and that means you end up watching the film play out while thinking of all the ways it could have done better, which makes the film seem even worse than it is.

Not really that bad, thanks to the idea at the heart of it, Blood Red Sky just doesn’t manage to feel like the fun action horror it could be. That should have been easy enough, especially when you see the moments that it gets right, but it just falls short of the mark. Above average, but this easily could have been good/great.

6/10

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Saturday, 24 July 2021

Shudder Saturday: Sadistic Intentions (2018)

Like so many other people nowadays, I can often spend more time deciding what to watch on various streaming services than actually watching the movies. Thankfully, I saw that Sadistic Intentions had a main role for Jeremy Gardner. I have mentioned my love of Gardner before, a number of times, so nobody should really be surprised that his inclusion made me feel safe in deciding to give this a watch.

The main premise is simple enough, initially. A young man (Kevin, played by Michael Patrick Nicholson) sets things up so that he can get two people stuck at a fairly remote house. One of those people is Stu (Gardner), a musician ready to enjoy a noisy jam session. The other is Chloe (Taylor Zaudtke), a young woman who has been lured there by the promise of a good deal on some weed. Although two people are in the house, and one person is waiting to make their appearance, it's Chloe who seems to be in the most danger, and the one most oblivious to the fact that she's being toyed with.

Written and directed by Eric Pennycoff, his feature debut after writing and directing a few shorts, Sadistic Intentions is an enjoyable, if familiar, journey through some dark comedy and twisted moments. Gardner and Zaudtke work well together, and the first half really delivers some surprisingly uplifting and sweet moments as you see their two characters learn about one another and seem to find some unexpected connection. It's a shame that the second half goes off in the direction that it does. Although it's still fun entertainment, it also undermines the good stuff that was already developed.

The best thing that Pennycoff did was assemble the right cast. This is essentially a three-hander, and with only two of those three onscreen for most of the first half. Nicholson is a lot of fun when he finally appears, but the performances of Gardner and Zaudtke are the strong foundation of the whole thing. They work with a script that seems custom-made for them, and I'm not sure how much, if any, of the final product was a more collaborative experience than most movies, and they keep you on their side, sort of, even when things start falling apart.

If you're looking for the obvious signs of independent movie-making then they're all here. Pennycoff doesn't hide them away. All set mainly at one location. A film based more on dialogue than any spectacle. Attempts to use formulaic material and give them a bit of a twist. The presence of Gardner (at this point, I'm considering him the younger Larry Fessenden of the film world, and Fessenden also has a tiny role here). But I'd rather someone had faith in their material than tried to cover it up with distractions, or extra bells and whistles costing money that could be better spent elsewhere. Pennycoff has that faith in the script and performances, and he's right to have it. This may not be one that you remember years down the line, but it's a good time while it's on, and Pennycoff is someone well worth keeping an eye on.

7/10

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Friday, 23 July 2021

Greed (2019)

Another collaboration between writer-director Michael Winterbottom, also helped here by Sean Gray, and star Steve Coogan, Greed is a fictionalised look at the life of someone not a million miles away from high street business mogul Philip Green. While it is not up there with their best work (24 Hour Party People is a tough one to beat), Greed is a smart and funny way to deride the rules and tricks in place to allow capitalism to thrive, as well as a comment on the high cost of cheap “fast fashion”.

Coogan plays Sir Richard “Greedy” McCreadie, a businessman looking to have a memorable birthday party for his upcoming 60th. He wants famous guests in attendance, an extravagant Roman theme, and time with the slightly awkward journalist (played by David Mitchell) who has been hired to write his memoir. Unfortunately, the planned celebrations are soured by the fact that Sir Richard seems to be losing his popularity, due to being hauled in front of some politicians to answer questions about his business practices, and the Greek beach party setting being made into a temporary home by some Syrian refugees.

Showing key points in the life of someone who decided early on that money was the best idol to worship, Greed uses a non-linear structure to highlight the ways in which bad behaviour are rewarded by those who can strong-arm their way further and further up the business ladder. Negotiations shown here aren’t subtle and considerate of the various supplier issues, but rather the bullish haggling of someone who believes all that matters is getting stock for their shops at the lowest possible price.

Coogan delivers a great performance, defined by his tan and shiny teeth, and equally defined by his need to overcompensate after dragging himself to a position of great power and wealth. Shirley Henderson, not very far removed from Coogan in age, plays his mother, and does an excellent job of showing the attitude and strength that would be passed along to her son, just as some of those values are then passed along to the next generation (with Asa Butterfield getting the best moments in that regard). Mitchell is perfectly cast, Isla Fisher is a lot of fun as McCreadie’s ex-wife, who stays a good friend to him, and Dinita Gohil is the embodiment of someone with a life affected by the repercussions of the immorality of such rampant capitalism. 

The script is solid, although it definitely allows Coogan to stay within a comfort zone of playing someone full of arrogance (so I am not sure how much was on the page and how much, as usual, was brought to life by allowing Coogan to improvise), and Winterbottom does his best to fill every scene with little moments that show how ridiculous people are when they consistently need to show off wealth that they have spent their entire lives pursuing.

You may not enjoy the film at times, which just proves that you are not as slavishly worshiping at the altar of capitalism as the main character, but it is definitely worth your time, and some information provided at the very end of the film allows for viewers to ponder what they might do differently in an effort to try and make the world just a slightly better place for people who are trapped in poverty. No matter what the rich and powerful tell us, trickle down economics just keeps seeming to trickle up, and Greed illustrates that perfectly.

8/10

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Thursday, 22 July 2021

The Forever Purge (2021)

I've generally been a fan of The Purge movies, although it's quite telling that I can't really remember anything that happened in The First Purge (I'll have to rewatch it some day, but I cannot bring myself to do it just yet). The films have always been most fun when they blend the thrills and tension with unsubtle commentary on the class/wealth divide in America.

The Forever Purge, as the title suggests, depicts a world in which some people don’t want to leave the crime and killing to just one night a year. Emboldened by their activities, and finding others like themselves, a group of violent racists want to keep the ball rolling as they see a chance to purify America into their vision of a supreme nation.

Once again written by James DeMonaco, this time it is Everardo Gout directing. Gout does well when it comes to making the most of the budget, something this film series has generally done well with in every instalment, and he films the few small set-pieces well enough. The main problems come from DeMonaco’s script. More on that in a little while.

Cast-wise, the main characters are played by Ana de la Reguera, Tenoch Huerta, and Josh Lucas, none of the characters really stand out, certainly not for the right reasons. Every main character here is absolutely defined by their race and class, or their unpalatable attitude to people of different races and classes. And you have Will Patton being as good as he usually is, which makes it more annoying that he is onscreen for a mere few minutes of the screentime.

Unfortunately, nobody really gets a chance to do any decent work, hampered by the shallow characterisations and clumsy dialogue. What could have been a decent expansion of the movie world ends up weak and implausible, from the relations between the different characters to the way we are supposed to believe that gun-toting Americans would band together and help protect people from other gun-toting Americans. Sorry to say it, but recent events have shown what the general public, not just Americans by the way, will put up with if it keeps themselves safe and comfortable. 

None of this would be as hard to accept if the moments of vicious nastiness were more impactful, but they aren’t. What should have been a bleak and bloody adventure ends up as just a tame fantasy, limping along to an ending that feels like a groan-inducing punchline. Maybe they should be ready to call the next movie, as there IS going to be a next movie, The Final Purge.

4/10

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Wednesday, 21 July 2021

Prime Time: Guns Akimbo (2019)

If you want to see a prime example of how to completely derail your new movie, career, and any feelings of goodwill that people may have for you then do check out the story of Jason Lei Howden, writer-director of Guns Akimbo. He has delivered a fun, frenetic, film here. I don’t think anyone is holding their breath for his next one though.

With that noted, let’s move to the actual content of the film itself. Daniel Radcliffe plays Miles, a young man who seems to be the definition of “a bit of a loser”. He spends his days working for a company that creates mobile phone games, has separated from his girlfriend, and spends a lot of his free time getting drunk and trolling people online, especially those who comment while watching Skizm, a videogame that takes real people and puts them against one another. His latest antics get him notices by Riktor (Ned Dennehy), the crazy boss of Skizm. That leads to Miles being caught, drugged, and waking up with a gun bolted to each hand. He has 50 bullets in each gun, no great shooting skills, and very low odds of surviving against the reigning champ, Nix (Samara Weaving).

Having previously given us the excellent Deathgasm, Howden has shown that he has a talent for comedy. While that film blended horror with the comedy, this is an action film that never strays too far away from absurdity. Even the first main sequence showing Miles trying to adapt to life with guns bolted to his hands provides some chuckles as the threat of accidentally shooting himself becomes immediately apparent while he tries to get dressed. The action is enjoyably over the top and some of the moments that highlight the difference between being a videogame player and being capable enough to handle any confrontation in the real world work really well.

Radcliffe is a lot of fun in the main role, absolutely useless for most of the runtime until he finds the courage to embrace his new form. Weaving is as good as she has been in most movies over the past few years, given a makeover here that makes her look even more badass and scarier than usual. Dennehy is good fun, Natasha Liu Bordizzo is just fine as the ex-girlfriend seeing a new side of Miles, and there’s a hilarious cameo from the brilliant Rhys Darby.

The big problem that Guns Akimbo has is the lack of proper focus. The action scenes are shot well, but they’re also deliberately stylised and unbelievable, putting them at odds with the level of development needed for Miles to stay alive. The comment on videogames and the ease with which we can find and pick fights online is potentially interesting, but dropped quite quickly (or, at least, buried by the rest of the plot and the gunfights). And the way the plot unfolds should be easy to predict if you have watched any action thriller made since the 1980s.

It’s definitely still worth your time though, very easy to watch and enjoy when you want something funny and violent that won’t cause you to overthink anything or delve into a period of introspection. The fact that it is a bit of a mess doesn’t matter as much as it rushes from one set-piece to the next, and everyone involved at least knows exactly what kind of film they’re participating in. 

7/10

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Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021)

I get it now, I really get it, and I can only apologise to the people I have seen sharing their disappointment of Space Jam: A New Legacy online. Because I replied to a lot of them with a jokey comment about the first film being no classic work of art. It's fun, because what kind of film featuring some Looney Tunes action could possibly not be fun, but it's also a film that holds up best in the recesses of your nostalgia. Maybe the same will be said one day about this film, but I doubt it.

The very basic plot concerns LeBron James and his son, Dom (Cedric Jones), being sucked into a main server by a Warner Brothers algorithm, Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle). Al wants to create a team around Dom that will take on his father at basketball, and that will be the Goon Squad. Meanwhile, LeBron ends up enlisting help from the Looney Tunes. And the scene is set for a basketball game that plays by videogame rules, with power-ups and special score boosts available, while a crowd of characters from various Warner Brothers properties look on. Not exactly the ones we know and love though. You see Batman, Robin, Pennywise, The Penguin, an agent from The Matrix, and many more. But they're the versions you'd get if you hired people from a look-a-like agency.

There are too many people involved in the writing of this mess to make it worth my time to name them all, which saves me time and spares their embarrassment, but director Malcolm D. Lee is responsible for trying to mix all the ingredients into one enjoyable bit of junk food. So you get the star power at the centre of it all (LeBron, his acting skills and charisma far below his basketball skills), you get a decent mix of musical score and one or two new pop songs, and you have the Looney Tunes doing their thing, which is the absolute highlight.

Another highlight is Cheadle, who has a whale of a time in the role of the villain. He and Jones are the only human stars who get a chance to have some decent moments onscreen. Otherwise, the real stars here are Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig (who drops a cringe-inducing rap at one point), and the rest of the animated gang. Which is a plus.

Some people are saying that people are missing the point if they don’t realise that this is aimed squarely at younger viewers. Unfortunately, that isn’t true. Warner Brothers is trying to entertain younger viewers AND cash in on the nostalgic love for the original that many movie fans of my age may have. That leaves it stretching too far for almost every gag. A reworking of the opening of The Matrix? Having both The Iron Giant and King Kong in the audience? A Back To The Future reference? Throw in that Pennywise inclusion, as well as characters from the likes of Game Of Thrones and other more adult-oriented properties, and it is clear that WB just wanted to throw absolutely everything into the mix, giving themselves a family flick with a crossover appeal to those who enjoyed the overstuffed set-pieces in Ready Player One. The only main difference, and big problem, is that Ready Player One was a story about someone sharing his nostalgic love for ‘80s pop culture. This isn’t, yet it plays out as if it is.

I had a few chuckles while waiting for the predictable finale, anything with Bugs and Daffy will at least slightly amuse me, but this is a massive disappointment. Not that I was expecting a masterpiece, but I didn’t have expect it to be so completely unnecessary. Bonus point for one of the most fun cameos I have seen in a while though, even if it was obvious as soon as it started being built up.

4/10

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Monday, 19 July 2021

Mubi Monday: Maso And Miso Go Boating (1976)

Astounding as it may sound, considering how little progress has been made in the intervening years, 1975 was declared International Women's Year. Bernard Pivot, a popular TV show host, invited Françoise Giroud, the French Secretary Of State For Women, on for a seemingly light-hearted and celebratory overview of the state that women could currently find themselves in.

Maso And Miso Go Boating takes that TV show and edits and intercuts in a way that highlights the constant misogyny, the appalling way in which very real problems were dismissed by both men and women, and the way in which everyone could so easily work together in a comfortable environment to create a world in which progress was hindered, because it's more difficult to push yourself beyond your limits when you're being told that it's not necessary, and ultimately just laughable.

Created by a collective of female artists (Delphine Seyrig, Nadja Ringart, and Carole Roussopoulos), this reactionary work of art maintains sharp focus and great wit throughout. Although they create replies to comments from Giroud, the males onscreen, and Simone de Beauvoir, the final statement clarifies their true motivation. They are not targeting one woman, or ANY individual women, but are rather highlighting the fact that women cannot effectively work within, or with, a patriarchal structure designed to really just maintain the status quo.

People read my blog, I guess, for movie reviews. Not necessarily for political statements. I'd also say that nobody comes here to read my views, as a male, on the ongoing issues faced everyday by women. So you're out of luck today. Look, as with all things, the time to stand by and be silently complicit in all of this was never, although we've done it for decades, and the time to highlight every main issue and be an ally is now. It is today, tomorrow, and forever. That applies to all inequality and prejudice that permeates the layers of our society. But for now, and for here, Maso And Miso Go Boating is a stark reminder of how far women still have to go in order to even be taken seriously when discussing subjects such as misogyny, and even abuse.

Don't be the kind of guy who tries desperately to play the White Knight in every interaction. Don't be the kind of guy who responds to any description of the problematic treatment of women with a message of "not all men". Don't jump into conversations that relate experiences you won't have as much insight on. Just keep learning, keep listening, do what you can do be a part of any attempt at a solution. Watch art like this, the searing Born In Flames, and Be Pretty And Shut Up! (and those are just the titles I have enjoyed lately on MUBI) Read more, get better at recognising all of the ways, big and small, that sexism and misogyny are turned into bricks that make the walls that women have to smash through every day. 

Even getting to the end of this "review" without rolling your eyes to the back of your head may be a small positive. But definitely check out Maso And Miso Go Boating

9/10

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Larger than usual, format-wise, because it needs to be.

Sunday, 18 July 2021

Netflix And Chill: Fear Street: Part Three - 1666 (2021)

Here we are, the third and final part of the Fear Street trilogy (or, perhaps, the first of a number of film events adapted from the R. L. Stine books). I'll try to avoid spoilers, although I advise that you have at least seen the previous two films before reading this review.

Following on immediately from the end of the second film, Deena (Kiana Madeira) finds herself in the body of Sarah Fier in 1666. We already know the fate of Sarah Fier, which makes almost half of this film seem a bit redundant. There are one or two twists, but they're not executed well enough to make this an instalment that is even on a par with the previous two films. And the last 20-30 minutes whisk us all back to 1994 for an enjoyable, if altogether implausible, finale.

Where to begin here? Let's start with a compliment. Director Leigh Janiak, who was this time joined in the writing department by Kate Trefry, as well as a returning Phil Graziadei, does a decent job of making this consistent in the way it has one main tale to focus on and the overarching storyline that links all three movies. The production design is decent, and there are some nice shots here and there, particularly in the finale. And I still like Gillian Jacobs, who returns for a very small amount of screentime.

That's about it for the good stuff.

Taking the main action back to 1666 means that everyone has to try on an accent. If you thought some of these cast members weren't that great in the 1994 instalment then you're going to tear your hair out watching them pretend to be in 1666. Madeira is, once again, a disappointingly weak lead. And there's no relief this time around, with her character remaining the focus for the majority of the film. Olivia Scott Welch is just fine, but given a lot less to do (in terms of characterisation), and Ashley Zukerman at least gets to have some fun with his role this time around, coming to the fore as the story fully unfolds. Sadie Sink and Emily Rudd are both underused, while McCabe Slye is annoyingly overused (playing a drunken villager who can see signs of evil everywhere and helps agitate people to find a scapegoat and punish them).

I'm not sure if things are a lot clearer in the book(s), but a big problem with Fear Street Part Three is the way things seems to work against the rules that were previously established. The twists and turns may be interesting, to some degree, but they also make you rethink previous situations and wonder why certain moments played out as they did. I might have missed a detail here and there, admittedly, but I don't believe this script holds together as well as any of the others. That applies to a moment in which someone is accused of evil deeds, despite being able to lead everyone directly to an "altar" that would at least cast doubt upon their guilt.

The very end saves it. It still doesn't make as much sense as it should, but it's at least fun, and goes back to the neon-lit mall where we started this journey. You also get some timely music tracks once again, just in case you forget that it is 1994 within minutes of a title card explicitly stating that we're now back at 1994.

This has been a fun way to draw out the experience, overall, but I have to say that this third Fear Street movie is easily the weakest of the three. It lacks the fun of the previous films, for the most part, and also lacks the smarts. I know that some will disagree with me on the notion of the previous two movies actually having smarts, but they did. There was intelligence and decent internal logic there. This film reminds you of that fact, because of it lacking both.

5/10

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Saturday, 17 July 2021

Shudder Saturday: Son (2021)

I've only seen one other film from writer-director Ivan Kavanagh, but that film is one I still praise to this day, the superb psychological horror The Canal. Seeing his name pop up at the start of Son immediately piqued my interest. I had no idea what the film was actually about, although knowing what you're getting into isn't necessarily a bad thing, certainly not in this instance anyway.

Andi Matichak plays Laura, mother to a young boy named David (Luke David Blumm). When she is disturbed one evening by a number of people seemingly standing around David while he sleeps, Laura calls the police, which is how she comes to meet an officer named Paul (Emile Hirsch). As nerves start to abate slightly, David then falls into a disturbing physical state, becoming ill in a way that mystifies the nearby hospital and staff. Laura will do anything to make her son better and keep him safe, but that may mean confronting her troubled past, including David's father.

Although it starts off with more than a little sense of mystery, Son is a film that very quickly puts its cards on the table. It actually sits comfortably within one particular subgenre, although fair play to Kavanagh for dressing it up in a way that allows it to feel a bit removed from the norm for a number of scenes. Once the end credits roll, it's not hard to think back over what you've just watched and evaluate it entirely as another psychological horror, especially when you consider the delicate mental state of the main character through most of it.

Matichak is a very solid lead, and gets to show off even more of her talent than she did in Halloween (2018). It helps that she also works well with young Blumm, who has to spend a number of scenes ensuring he looks ill and in the midst of numerous throes of pain. Hirsch is required to do the least of the three leads, and he works better when alongside the other two than when separated from them, but he's perfectly fine in his role. It is, however, the only recent role of his that I could easily imagine being better with someone else in his place. Hirsch is someone I enjoy seeing onscreen, but he does better portraying characters who can still have a bit of naivete about them.

Sadly, Kavanagh makes things a bit too unambiguous and obvious early on, something that he then continues to do right through to the very end of the film. That's a shame, and it's a misjudgement on his part that stops the film from ever being as good as it could be. Despite his best efforts, everything feels predictable and slightly disappointing when you realise that there aren't going to be any major surprises. Mind you, it's definitely not a bad film, and I still look forward to seeing Kavanagh's name appear on anything that I check out.

6/10

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Friday, 16 July 2021

Wrongfully Accused (1998)

Leslie Nielsen is often thought of as one of the comedy greats. That's mainly thanks to his work in Airplane! and anything involving the tales of Police Squad (the superb, short-lived, series that led to the superb The Naked Gun films). But that success meant that he was also involved in more than his fair share of inferior work. Not that the likes of Spy Hard and Dracula: Dead And Loving It don't have their fans (with the former at least having a glorious opening title sequence accompanied by 'Weird' Al Yankovic delivering a great Bond song parody). But they're not on a par with the best films that made use of Nielsen's talents. I'm sure that one day I'll be brave enough to check out the likes of Mr. Magoo and 2001: A Space Travesty, but I think that day is a while off yet.

Wrongfully Accused is mainly a spoof of The Fugitive, but it also has time to gently mock the Mission: Impossible movies, The Usual Suspects, and Clear And Present Danger, among others. Not all of the gags land, of course, but it has a better hit rate than a lot of these movies that have been churned out over the past few decades.

Nielsen is Ryan Harrison, a man framed for murder. He knows that he is innocent, and he knows that the murderer was a one-armed, one-legged, one-eyed man (played by Aaron Pearl). Setting out to prove his innocence, Harrison is pursued by the doggedly determined Fergus Falls (Richard Crenna). He also finds himself potentially betrayed by two different women, Cass Lake (Melinda McGraw) and Lauren Goodhue (Kelly LeBrock).

It's always hard to review something like this, because it's a very simple approach to comedy, in many ways, and writer-director Pat Proft follows the usual approach of throwing enough gags around to ensure that at least some of them land. This is the only film directed by Proft, although he has written a lot of great films over the years (including, but not limited to, Police Academy, Real Genius, High School HighHot Shots! and the best in the Scary Movie series). Proft knows his stuff, and this holds up as something that is a lot of fun for fans of all those other movies just mentioned. It may not be very clever, and a lot of the comedic targets meant that it felt a bit behind the times when it was released, but it WILL make you laugh. And that's a big plus for any comedy film.

Nielsen is fine in the lead role, doing his usual deadpan best most of the time, although he was already having a tendency to overdo the mugging and gurning at times, and the supporting cast work well with the material. LeBrock smoulders, but also happily overacts in response to what she claims is her powerful attraction to Harrison, and McGraw enjoys being the woman who may or may not get Harrison into a lot more trouble. Pearl is used as a walking set of props, basically (with the false leg, arm, and eye all used in different ways), and there are amusing little turns from Michael York, Sandra Bernhard, and a few others. Crenna is a highlight, helped by the fact that his character is never really made to act comedically while he wanders through some ridiculous situations and delivers some of the best dialogue in the film.

It will never creep up to near the top of your prioritised viewing list, but Wrongfully Accused is an easy slice of entertainment, and I highly recommend it to fans of silliness, spoofery, and Nielsen.

7/10

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Thursday, 15 July 2021

Confessions From The David Galaxy Affair (1979)

Another Mary Millington vehicle directed by Willy Roe and written by George Evans, Confessions From The David Galaxy Affair is at least, similar to The Playbirds, a piece of adult entertainment that attempts to thread the minimal semblance of a plot through things.

Alan Lake plays David Galaxy, a playboy lover man who finds himself in hot water when he starts to be investigated by Chief Inspector Evans (Glynn Edwards). The police are wanting to know where Alan was on the day of a robbery, and he needs to get someone to give him an alibi. But that could turn out to be a lot harder than expected, with Alan not really surrounded by good friends. He does have people rooting for him, however, when it comes to his sexual exploits, especially when he is challenged to please a woman (Millington) who is said to have never before had an orgasm.

If tweaked here and there, this could have been a comedic crime paper with some enjoyable sauciness. You could have had more flashback scenes, and more time spent with Lake trying to keep his head above water. But it is sold on Millington’s name, which means you get the sexual escapades throughout, interrupted by some of the crime caper plot.

Roe directs just fine, for what the film is aiming to do, and the script has some minor highlights, despite being massively problematic here and there. But I cannot be sure how many of the worst moments are down to the script and how many are down to choices made by actors. Lake seems to be enjoying himself when he is allowed to change his character for a couple of scenes, portraying both an Asian gentlemen and a gay man at different times, with the sensitivity and nuance that you might expect from a film like this. None.

Lake isn’t bad in the lead role though, and somehow stays quite likeable as he skips from one but of nookie to the next. Edwards is good to see, and brings some weight to things, never allowing you to doubt that he is serious in wanting to apprehend the lead. Millington has one key scene, obviously, and does what you expect, and I enjoyed the small amount of screentime allotted to Diana Dors and Bernie Winters. There are other people involved - Anthony Booth, Kenny Lynch, Milton Reid, Sally Faulkner, Rosemary England, etc - but none of those make as strong an impression as those already mentioned (even if Faulkner is involved in an amusing scene in which she is offended by David breaking wind in bed).

Another movie of this kind, and from this time, that is hard to imagine keeping enough people pleased for the runtime, with the softer sex scenes, clumsy humour, and plot strand about the criminal investigation, it ends up being a bit more enjoyable to everyone who may simply be watching it nowadays to satisfy their curiosity.

4/10

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Wednesday, 14 July 2021

Prime Time: The Covenant (2006)

Directed by Renny Harlin and written by J. S. Cardone, The Covenant is a fun and vapid tale of young sorcerers battling one another as they face a major threat on the way to gaining their full powers once they reach adulthood.

An opening text tells you about the Sons Of Ipswich, descendants of the most powerful families in the area they live, gaining powers at the age of 13 before they fully “ascend” at the age of 18. Caleb Danvers (Steven Strait) is the nominal leader of the four young men, and he is the first one due to turn 18 soon. There’s jealousy and anger in the group, especially when some misuse their power, a power that is addictive and damaging, and things get more strained with the arrival of two newcomers, a young woman (Sarah, played by Laura Ramsey) and a young man (Chase, played by Sebastian Stan). And someone is using powers to cause trouble, but who is it?

Harlin is someone I have mentioned before as a director who consistently delivered fun movies for a number of years before then losing his touch and helming movies that felt far removed from his better outings. As much as many may deride, and even hate, The Covenant, I have always thought it was a blast. Cardone’s script is predictable and just the right level of silly, taking time, for example, to allow the main characters to shout “Harry Potter can kiss my ass” as they take their car up in the air while they evade police. It will make you cringe at times, but it's better than any script used in Cardone's own directorial efforts, I can tell you that much.

The cast are all attractive youngsters, picked for how they look in the different groups, and probably how they work in scenes that have then shooting balls of energy from their hands (a special skill that Strait also displayed in the enjoyable Sky High). Nobody stands out, not even Strait or Stan, but they fit perfectly with the cool and glossy aesthetic of the movie. It may be a film with supernatural moments dotted throughout almost every scene, but this is not aiming to create any scares. Thrills, yes, but no scares.

There’s an energetic soundtrack, ready to pop up whenever it takes Harlin’s fancy, the CGI isn’t too bad, masked by the blue/grey colour scheme a lot of the time (it isn’t great, but it is serviceable), and you get decent pacing from start to finish. It is a teen movie, unashamedly so, and definitely aiming to appeal to people who have enjoyed the massively popular hits of supernatural pop culture touchstones from the past few decades (Potter, Buffy, Charmed, Supernatural). It doesn’t even entirely work in that regard, yet it makes itself almost impossible to find boring and unlikeable. Which is a statement I know will just encourage responses from anyone who found it boring and unlikeable.

I have watched this a few times over the years. I would happily watch it again. I know I am in the minority, but this is my review and I’m not suddenly going to start to pretend that I have any sense of shame.

7/10

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Tuesday, 13 July 2021

Black Widow (2021)

A solo, and some might say long overdue, outing for the one female who made up part of the original Avengers movie line-up, Black Widow should have been a chance to right some wrongs. Considering how the character has been used in the movies, and her final main sequence in Avengers: Endgame, allowing her to just have the full spotlight and kick ass without being filtered through the male gaze should have been an easy "win" for the film-makers. Yes, I have repeatedly used the words "should have" here.

Set just after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) ends up travelling to yet another foreign city, this time looking to meet up with her sorta-sister, Yelena (Florence Pugh). Yelena has managed to get hold of an antidote to the brainwashing drugs that have allowed a powerful figure named Dreykov (Ray Winstone) to create what essentially amounts to an army of Black Widows. Enlisting the help of the people who acted as their main father and mother figures (Alexei, played by David Harbour, and Melina, played by Rachel Weisz), Natasha and Yelena aim to access a top-secret base and thwart Dreykov's grand plan.

Written by Eric Pearson, no stranger to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (having worked on Thor: Ragnarok and some of the enjoyable "one-shots", amongst other projects), and directed by Cate Shortland, who IS a newcomer to this kind of movie, Black Widow feels like a film shaped by far too many people who didn't have to put their name to the main credits. Although the main story is as described above, and there's a decent core exploration of what it means to become a family unit, it's also an obvious and clumsy set-up for Pugh to become a part of the MCU. And any scenes that show a female being controlled by a dangerous man just calls to mind the far superior Jessica Jones show, which debuted over five years ago. This makes Black Widow feel a bit irrelevant when some better writing and direction could have avoided that, because consent/control is a theme that I think will remain depressingly relevant for many years to come.

The other thing working against the movie is the fact that Shortland seems to be directing from a number of notes handed over by men. That's the only reason I can think of for the amount of shots that have the camera sitting low and looking up to focus on the backsides of either Johansson or Pugh. 

And then you have the accents. Johansson and Pugh do okay, with the latter struggling more at times. Harbour focuses more on fun than consistency, Weisz tries her best throughout, and Winstone . . . well, Winstone clearly gives up after his earliest scenes, settling on a blend of Russian and Cockney for the rest of his screentime. Aside from the accents, everyone works hard to lift up a script that is beneath them. It's difficult to imagine a superhero movie making effective jokes about the "superhero landing" after Deadpool already did it so well, but they try it here. It falls flat, especially when they then have characters DO the superhero landing without giving them good enough reason to do it. William Hurt makes a welcome return, once again playing Secretary Ross, and Olga Kurylenko fans will be disappointed to find that she's only visible onscreen for about a minute.

There are a couple of good action sequences, but none of them feel close to the quality of some of the superb action set-pieces that we have seen in these movies. That would be absolutely fine if this was a small-scale movie looking to keep things minimal and low-key. It's not. The stakes may seem smaller, in a way, but the big action moments throw far too much around the main characters, whether they are battling multiple enemies in close-range combat, evading a huge tank-like vehicle, using a helicopter to attempt a prison break, or plummeting through the air as they avoid, and use, the debris from a huge explosion.

I've seen people complain about the mishandling of a character named Taskmaster. Not being familiar with this character before this movie, I'd still have to agree. Taskmaster is an impressive foe in the first half of the film, and enjoyably unstoppable, but the third act reveal is surprisingly disappointing, leading to a finale that it's hard to really care about.

There's still a level of polish and professionalism here that makes it easy entertainment, and the music by Lorne Balfe deserves a mention, but this never once felt like an essential big-screen experience. And that's not something you can usually say about any MCU release. I'll end up buying it, the completist in me will demand that I do, but it's not one I will be in a hurry to revisit.

6/10

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Monday, 12 July 2021

Mubi Monday: Borg Vs. McEnroe (2017)

John McEnroe and Björn Borg are two titans of the sport of tennis. This film focuses on what was arguably their biggest, and best, match. A Wimbledon final that saw McEnroe as the main challenger for Borg, who was aiming for his fifth consecutive win there. McEnroe was hated by the crowds, his crude and abrasive manner at odds with how everyone wanted people to be behaved at Wimbledon, whereas Borg was known for his icy cool demeanour. But what would happen when these two men finally met?

Like many other sport movies, Borg Vs. McEnroe is about much more than just the sport. It is about two very different men who actually have a lot in common, shown in flashback sequences that allow viewers to see the dedication and pain it can take to reach a professional level in the sport. 

Directed by Janus Metz Pedersen, from a screenplay written by Ronnie Sandahl, there’s a hell of a lot here that is done perfectly, including (most importantly) the tennis itself. The casting feels right throughout, rather than using familiar faces just to make the whole thing an easier sell.

Having said that, I cannot think of more perfect casting than Shia LaBeouf in the role of McEnroe. Constantly simmering with anger, ready to hurl expletives at everyone around him, and generally distracting everyone from his talent with terrible behaviour and derision of those around him, surely LaBeouf saw plenty in this role that he could identify with. At the other end of the spectrum is Sverrir Gudnason, perfectly portraying the cool, perhaps a bit too stifled at times, and super-professional Borg. Stellan Skarsgård is allowed to be his usual excellent self, playing Borg’s tough and exacting coach, and others do good work, but the film rarely moves away from LaBeouf or Gudnason for too long. 

Everything is a build up to the final tennis match, and Pedersen uses every cinematic trick at his disposal to emulate the excitement and tension. The score, the editing, the physical performances, it all comes together to really throw viewers into the thick of a match that has become more important to either player than “just one more victory”.

It does help if you are interested in tennis, or either man being portrayed here, but Borg Vs. McEnroe does more than just explore what happens on the court. It tries to provide moments from two parallel lives to show how two players ended up on very similar journeys to become very different people. The final result may not be an ace, but it’s a damn good shot nonetheless. 

8/10

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Sunday, 11 July 2021

Netflix And Chill: Fear Street Part 2: 1978 (2021)

Leigh Janiak is once again directing this second instalment of the Fear Street trilogy, but it's Zak Olkewicz responsible for co-writing the screenplay with her this time around. Following on from the events of the first film, our leads end up at the home of C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs), someone who previously survived an attack from the witch Sarah Fier. A tale is told that takes us back to a summer of 1978 at Camp Nightwing.

Emily Rudd is Cindy Berman, a well-behaved and ambitious young woman at the camp, committed to completing tasks like cleaning the outhouse, with her boyfriend (Tommy Slater, played by McCabe Sly). Cindy's younger sister, Ziggy (Sadie Sink), isn't so well-behaved, and she's clearly getting a tough time from some of the other kids. But it turns out that she has an ally in the shape of young Nick Goode (Ted Sutherland). To cut a long story short, blood is spilled, the spirit of Sarah Fier grows restless again, and someone is turned into a mad axe murderer, looking to hack their way through camp and kill off every Shadyside kid that they encounter. Cindy and Alice (Ryan Simpkins), a close friend she grew apart from, end up stuck in a strange area that spreads out under the camp. They need to find a way out, but they also want to find a way to stop the killing, and/or stop the curse.

So, as you may have guessed, Fear Street Part 2 is basically a very familiar campground slasher movie, with nods to so many others coming thick and fast in every scene. The main characters are fine to spend time with, the rest of the plot is finely balanced between adding more to the overarching storyline without getting too much in the way, the kills are decent, if lacking any creativity, and there’s a decent twist before the end credits roll.

Janiak proves a good pair of hands once again, shamelessly revelling in the straightforward moments that could easily have been lifted from any Friday The 13th movie and circling around in ever-decreasing circles towards an ending that has to set up the starting point of the third, and final, instalment. The script does what needs to be done, weaker in the character development side of things (but what slasher isn’t?) while easily wandering from one plot point to the next, with an axe swing here and there to spray blood everywhere.

Sink and Sutherland work well together, Rudd and Simpkins also do good work, and Sly does well with the mean expression he has to plaster on his face for most of the runtime. And the other main character, yet again, is the overstuffed soundtrack, this time playing a selection of tunes from the seventies.

If you liked the first part of the trilogy then you should enjoy this one. It is fun, nothing more and nothing less, and it will be interesting to see if the final instalment manages to be just as entertaining.

7/10

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