Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Prime Time: Without Remorse (2021)

A Tom Clancy adventure tale, which means a lot of military tactics and hardware on display, Without Remorse is yet another vehicle for Michael B. Jordan that isn't really deserving of his talent. That's not to say that it's bad, it's just not great. And it could easily have been improved.

Jordan plays John Kelly, a bit of a super-soldier. He's taken, along with his team, on a mission overseen by Robert Ritter (Jamie Bell). It turns out to be a mission that upsets some powerful Russians, apparently, and a revenge attack attempts to take out the team when they're back on American soil. Kelly actually survives the attack, but his pregnant wife is murdered. So he's determined to do whatever it takes to take down the people responsible for shattering his life. But who is the one giving the orders, and how far up the chain does the whole mess go?

Not considering the cast, who I will mention soon enough,  Without Remorse has a number of good names involved with putting it together. The script is by Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples, and it's not that bad. Oh, it's fairly predictable and clichéd, but it works just fine for the kind of film it wants to be. Director Stefano Sollima handles everything capably enough, especially in the action scenes that give a cinematic spin on some more realistic action, if you can overlook the fact that at least one character seems to be pretty indestructible at times. The plotting is kept straightforward enough, and the geography is usually quite clear when it comes to the gunfights and combat.

Jordan is as riveting as usual in the lead role, absolutely believable as a smart and tough badass (I'd say his John Kelly is on a par with a character like Jack Reacher). Bell is just fine in his role, playing someone that Kelly distrusts from the start, which means we viewers also distrust him. Jodie Turner-Smith is another main member of the military team, Karen Greer, and she holds her own in the thick of the action. Last, but not least, is Guy Pearce, playing Secretary Clay, the kind of suit-wearing official you suspect will always be looking out for plausible deniability, even as he seems to be helping the main characters. Pearce is another highlight, and he gets some of the better little moments in the script, gaining trust from soldiers with his ability to be savvy and realistic, at times offering an option to others without any glorious reward at the end of it.

If you like this kind of film then you're going to like this. It's exactly what you want it to be. But it's nothing more than that. Nothing. There's no real ambiguity or complexity, despite what the writers may want you to think by the third act. You have good guys going after bad guys, and those bad guys come in various guises. There are a few decent set-pieces, and it sets things up for a potential series. But it's unlikely to be one that viewers will revisit often, if at all, and if there IS a sequel coming along then I hope it improves on what has been laid down here. A solid, unspectacular, foundation.

6/10

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Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Spookies (1986)

Although I didn't know anything about the production history of the movie when I first saw it, as a teenager seeking out every horror movie with a tantalising title and/or lurid video cover, Spookies has always been a film I viewed with a mix of affection and admiration. I knew it wasn't quite how movies should be, going by the standard criteria that many use to judge their viewing experiences, but I also knew that I kind of loved it.

It's a sign of the wonderful age we live in that Spookies now had a lovely blu-ray release, packaged with a documentary about the film and a documentary on VIPCO, the company who brought so many horror movies to VHS and DVD here in the UK, often butchered by the BBFC. It's worth noting that, for all the complaints to be made about VIPCO releases (murky prints, the many cuts to the material, etc), they were delivering this kind of content to horror fans years before we had the wonderful variety of boutique labels we have now. It may be difficult to limit your purchases now, with the likes of Arrow, Indicator, Second Sight, 101 Films, and others vying for your money, but 20-30 years ago we mainly had to rely on the curating skills of VIPCO and Anchor Bay.

But back to the film. There's an elderly man (Felix Ward) waiting beside a beautiful woman (Maria Pachukas) he seems to be in love with. They're hidden away somewhere in an old house that is visited by a mixed group of people we will call "People Obviously Set To Imminently Expire" AKA POSTIE. What's more, this group includes a Man With A Hand-puppet AKA MWAH. I think that tells you everything you need to know. As is so often the case, the POSTIE group decide to play around with a spirit board. That leads to encounters with the undead, including demonic creatures, a statue of the grim reaper that doesn't want to stay still, an arachno-beastie, and, rather infamously, some farting mudmen.

The things that are bad here are things that are bad in a lot of small horror movies. The acting isn't great, especially any scene featuring MWAH, the script gives people some laughably bad dialogue, and there's a lack of any sense of logic or consistency. The fact that the film was so severely recut and reworked explains that last aspect, but the air of surreal insanity it creates also ends up being a big plus point for the film. You can accuse Spookies of many things, but you certainly couldn't accuse it of being boring.

Eugenie Joseph is the director to have finished it off, and Ann Burgund helped to write the extra material used, but equal credit must go to Thomas Doran, Brendan Faulkner, and Frank M. Farel, the people who created "Twisted Souls", the film that was mistreated and transformed into Spookies.

My love for this film isn't fully in line with what you get onscreen, but I cannot bring myself to let the bad outweigh the good. The cast at least do what is asked of them, even MWAH, but they're playing second fiddle to the wild and varied special effects on display, with lots of pulsating bladders being used and an ill-advised amount of blue paint to create a number of unthreatening ghouls.

Not a film I would hastily recommend to everyone, but one I would hastily recommend to those who spent the same amount of hours as I did browsing the many horror movie video boxes that often specialised in misrepresenting the actual content of the films contained within them, Spookies may well be one of the best films to come from such a bad experience. It's cheesy, laughable, often incoherent, and full of moments lifted from elsewhere. It's also pretty bloody brilliant.

8/10

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Monday, 3 May 2021

Mubi Monday: Rules Don't Apply (2016)

A drama loosely based on part of the life of Howard Hughes, Rules Don't Apply allows the character of Hughes (played by writer-director, Warren Beatty) to cast a very long shadow over the lives of a driver/assistant named Frank (Alden Ehrenreich) and a newly-arrived potential film starlet, Marla (Lily Collins).

The main storyline begins when Frank picks up Marla, who has just arrived in town with her mother, Lucy (Annette Bening). The two start to get along right away, but Howard Hughes has strict rules forbidding staff from fraternising with one another. That doesn't stop these two youngsters developing stronger feelings for one another, however, despite the other factors that are working against them. Hughes takes a liking to Frank, asking more and more of him, and both viewers, and Frank, watch the downward spiral of a man who would become a virtual recluse for so many years.

Say what you like about Warren Beatty, and his reputation has preceded him for decades now, the man can put together a film. His sensibilities may be a little old-fashioned for people seeking out films with energy and/or challenging moments, but he picks material that he can work with. He then gives that material the treatment it deserves. Even the much-maligned Dick Tracy movie has a lot going for it, from the effects and production design to the casting. Rules Don't Apply takes two very familiar movie concepts, the "star-crossed" lovers and the legend of Hughes, and blends them together in a way that makes for one engrossing and enjoyable Hollywood presentation.

The script, from a story co-developed with Bo Goldman, is decent, if unspectacular. It keeps Hughes more enigmatic for the first third of the movie, eventually revealing more of the man, flaws and all, as his erratic behaviour is shown, and commented on by those trying to keep their jobs around him. The same goes for the technical side of things, with things like shot choice, soundtrack selections, and everything seen onscreen as well-made and polished as you would expect.

The big boost to the material comes from the cast, something Beatty has always done well with. Ehrenreich is superb in the lead role, and looks absolutely right in this era, while Collins is a very enjoyable female lead. Both deliver the right level of innocence and earnestness, only growing more savvy and cynical as time marches on. Beatty is a decent fit for Hughes, although this is the only role I would have been tempted to recast, and his performance is complemented by great little turns from Matthew Broderick, Martin Sheen, Candice Bergen, and many other familiar faces.

There's nothing new here, but what's here is done well. Really well. And sometimes it's nice to sit back and enjoy something that is so unabashedly old-fashioned and sympathetic to all of the main characters. You get a peek at a strange lifestyle of one of the most rich and famous figures of the 20th century. And you get a couple of young stars being allowed to truly shine.

8/10

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Sunday, 2 May 2021

Netflix And Chill: Things Heard And Seen (2021)

If the past year or so has taught us anything, impact of a global pandemic aside, it is never to move in to a house with Amanda Seyfried. She just doesn't seem to have any luck with it. The biggest worry for most of us is watching the movers take our things in and out, and wincing if a beloved item of furniture is bumped and forced through a doorway that looks a bit too small for it. Seyfried seems to have a knack for finding haunted houses, which can make for a more nerve-wracking experience than sorting through bags to find the one that you stashed the bath towels in.

Seyfried plays Catherine Claire, a talented artist who has given up most of what she enjoys in life to support her husband, George (James Norton), and look after their young daughter, Franny (Ana Sophia Heger). Catherine also has an ongoing battle with an eating disorder, seems to be more susceptible to tales of spookiness, according to George, and looks to be a bit unhappy with her life. George, on the other hand, is feeling great about things. He's now the college professor he always wanted to be, he starts having an affair with a young local woman (Willis, played by Natalia Dyer), and his life is almost exactly as he wants it to be. George isn't really a nice man though, and a lot of his current situation may have been created by some cheating and manipulation.

Co-directed and co-written by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, adapting "All Things Cease To Appear", the novel by Elizabeth Brundage, it's no surprise to see that neither Berman nor Pulcini have any other horror movies in their main filmography. They deliver some great little chills throughout this movie, but they're more interested in showing the extensive damage in the relationship between Catherine and George, and how George has been causing this for a number of years, but it was easier to overlook when creating fault lines under the surface. You also get an ending that, while satisfying, actually moves away from delivering some better horror and supernatural twists.

Seyfried is as good as ever in the lead role, easy to root for as he gets angrier and tougher in the second half. Norton does well as someone it's easy to hate, starting with an air of entitlement and arrogance before becoming worse and worse. Heger doesn't get too much to do, but she certainly does decent work. Dyer is saddled with one of the weakest characters, but she does okay, Alex Neustaedter and Jack Gore are good as a couple of young brothers who come around to help at the house (and also lived there at one point), F. Murray Abraham is a welcome presence, and I hope this is the first of many more worthwhile film roles for the talented Rhea Seehorn. I should also mention the small role for Karen Allen, someone else I am always happy to see in anything.

It's not that Things Heard And Seen is bad, or boring. It does everything well enough, including an ending that focuses on details that were signposted elsewhere in the movie. I just can't help but think of the third act as a missed opportunity, for reasons I won't go into here (because of spoilers), and that makes me then think that the rest of the film could have been tweaked and improved here and there. It never really feels as if it does more than coast along, and Berman and Pulcini seem to steadfastly refuse to turn the screws when they have chances to ratchet up the tension. The end result is something that's decent, but also so safe that it's also a bit disappointing.

6/10

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Saturday, 1 May 2021

Shudder Saturday: In Search Of Darkness: Part II (2020)

I was quite clear when I discussed In Search Of Darkness last year, a lengthy documentary about the horror movies of the 1980s. So many people loved it, and the only reason I can think of for that love is the shared affection for the genre, and a large helping of nostalgia. A lot of the contributors offered nothing more than the most basic opinions, there were very few films mentioned that weren't already very well known, and they angered me by crediting John Carpenter with that fine score for The Thing which came from Ennio Morricone.

Why would I dive into this sequel then? Well, I was hoping they might do better. 

The format is pretty much the same. You get a lot of the same selection of talking heads (some better than others, and some make you question why they were chosen for involvement in the first place), you get plenty of clips from the movies being discussed, and you get some attempts to contextualise individual entries within the bigger picture of what was happening to the horror genre throughout the decade.

First of all, although the titles picked here are generally a bit less "mainstream" than the titles in the first instalment, this still almost steadfastly refuses to dive into the really dark recesses of the video selections from the '80s. A whole section could have been dedicated to Gremlins rip-offs, but instead they're simply name-checked by Joe Dante, who gets to state that he doesn't rate Ghoulies, but considers Critters the best of the bunch that came out about that time. Every time the camera shows a number of movie posters (or I guess they are supposed to be video covers), you get to see some more obscure titles before it zooms in to focus on the next film up for discussion, which is most often one that most horror fans will be familiar with. And a horror documentary full of movie clips spending some time discussing a previous horror documentary full of movie clips - Terror In The Aisles - seems both meta and also completely unnecessary.

I won't try to list some of the many notable omissions, as that would just be too depressing, but things are saved this time around by some sections that allow stars to discuss their careers. You get Nancy Allen On Nancy Allen, Tom Savini On Tom Savini, Robert Englund On Robert Englund, and Linnea Quigley On Linnea Quigley. These, alongside a section that looks at the horror movie videogames of the era, offer up just enough insight and enjoyment to make this a better film than the first instalment. It's also bittersweet to see some on-camera contributions from the late, great, Stuart Gordon.

If you enjoyed In Search Of Darkness then you're bound to enjoy this. It's more of the same. If, like me, you were in the minority then this at least improves things slightly. I have no doubt that a third entry would be possible, and it would be the same yet again. And I'll be bemoaning the fact that we horror fans seem to be so easily pleased sometimes by stuff put out there with minimal amounts of care and real insight. 

4/10

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Friday, 30 April 2021

Relic (2020)

Another horror movie that takes the idea of the very real horror of gradually losing a loved one to dementia, or something very similar, Relic does everything very well, and leads to a finale that is equal parts moving and equal parts creepy (or at least attempting to be creepy).

Emily Mortimer plays Kay, a woman who heads along to find out what has happened to her missing mother (Edna, played by Robyn Nevin). Kay has her daughter (Sam, played by Bella Heathcote) there to help, and it isn’t long until they realise that Edna may no longer be able to live on her own. But is her decline in mental health due to the usual circumstances, or is there something else happening?

Directed by Natalie Erika James, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Christian White, Relic could easily have done gone very wrong, and I wouldn’t mind if the horror genre now moves away from this idea, before some film comes along that completely mishandles the subject matter. James and White take great care to keep fleshing out the heart of the film, the relationships that come with both love and pain, and they help themselves greatly by incorporating a superb cast.

Mortimer is rarely less than great, and this is another very good turn from her, while Heathcote is equally good, giving a performance that balances out the different dynamics you have between being a child and being a grandchild. Nevin may seem to get the easiest role - simply having to veer between moments of clarity and moments of confusion - but she also has to seem like a victim for many scenes, and then occasionally act with what could be malicious intent. There are one or two others onscreen, but it’s largely kept to the three main leads.

Although it’s very good throughout, and gives an interesting twist on what you might expect to happen, this is also a surprisingly straightforward film, in terms of how things unfold and the reveals that occur. It’s a shame that James didn’t take some more chances, with both the narrative and her stylistic choices, but maybe she was concentrating on keeping the tone so finely balanced for the duration.

A solid, if unspectacular, horror. I recommend this, and it definitely fully won me over by the time the end credits rolled.

7/10

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Thursday, 29 April 2021

The Astronaut's Wife (1999)

Part Quatermass movie, part Rosemary's Baby, The Astronaut's Wife could easily be titled Rosemary's Space Baby and nobody would complain.

Charlize Theron plays Jillian Armacost, the wife of an astronaut named Spencer (Johnny Depp). While up in space on a mission, contact was lost with Spencer and his flight partner, Alex (Nick Cassavetes). All seems fine when they get back to Earth, although Spencer and Alex are put through a number of tests. Sherman Reese (Joe Morton) thinks differently, however, and ends up trying to warn people who don't want to hear his "paranoia".

The only feature both written and directed by Rand Ravich, and it soon becomes clear why that is, The Astronaut's Wife is a plodding melodrama with no tension, no originality, and one or two scenes that use some ill-advised CGI to create some kind of set-piece highlight.

It also wastes what could have been a great cast. Theron has to watch her husband while looking tense and worried, obviously. Depp isn't in his self-parody stage yet, but it's not a great central turn from him (I think  he's always struggled to play anyone who seems . . . "normal"). Cassavetes makes no impression, while Donna Murphy, playing his wife, is disappointingly underused. Morton is good, as is Clea DuVall (playing the sister of Theron's character), and there are decent little supporting turns from Blair Brown, Tom Noonan, and Samantha Eggar, but Ravich clearly does nothing to help any of them.

At no point does Ravich do enough to make his movie more than a full waiting game between points A to B, to C and beyond, which is a real shame. Not only that, he refuses to then take the other approach that could have been more entertaining, a simple lean in to the potential horror and craziness of the concept. So you get a restrained horror that wants to be a mystery, but has no sense of mystery. The score by George S. Clinton is underwhelming, and there's not even any aspect of the film that is accidentally impressive (from the production design to the cinematography, it's all just . . . there).

Probably forgotten by everyone involved as soon as get settled into the 21st century, The Astronaut’s Wife is best also forgotten by anyone who might think about watching it. It is a big waste of time. Maybe not as terrible as some glossy movies, it’s still criminally dull for almost the entirety of the runtime. 

3/10

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Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Prime Time: Assassin (2015)

Look, I don’t actually hate Danny Dyer. I rarely think he is the best actor for any role (one or two major highlights aside), and many of his movies have been amusingly incompetent, but I still always root for him to pick better films to star in. Unfortunately, he seems to think that his bread and butter comes from British movies in which he can portray a tough lead. And maybe that is where his bread and butter comes from. But it never leads to his best work.

Dyer is Jamie, the titular assassin. He is hired by two crooks (played by Gary and Martin Kemp) to kill off a competitor. Which he does. But not before coincidentally sleeping with Chloe (Holly Weston), who happens to be the daughter of the soon-to-be-dead crook. Complications ensue, and Jamie shows himself to be a terrible choice of assassin, although we’re supposed to think he is still a most excellent and capable killer.

Written and directed by J. K. Amalou, this film is so carelessly thrown together, with everything leading to a final ten minutes that is supposed to feel like a satisfying finale, that it borders on the outright insulting. Dyer at no point seems like a good fit for the main role, and none of the other characters are written to seem at all convincing.

The cast cannot really be bothered. They have been paid, maybe get some free food and drink as they spend time in between scenes, and half-heartedly recite lines from a script they must know is just dire. There’s no style, no decent score to help, nothing to help distract from the awfulness of it all.

As for Dyer, he walks through his performance looking as if, moments before the camera started rolling, he was just woken up from a nap and asked to reel off the first twenty integers of pi. In the pantheon of Dyer performances, this ranks as one of his very worst.

Nobody livens up the material, no part of the plot gives you something to care about (either due to the laughably weak characters or the editing removing any tension from the sequences that are supposed to be standouts), and this is a film destined to be forgotten by everyone, until you see fifty copies of it on a shelf in your nearest Poundland store.

2/10

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Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Superintelligence (2020)

A comedy vehicle for Melissa McCarthy that is once again directed by her husband, Ben Falcone, Superintelligence has a soft, sweet, centre to it that may gain it some goodwill from the right viewer. It's certainly not the usual mix of swearing and pratfalls that people assume is part of every Melissa McCarthy movie.

McCarthy plays Carol Peters, a woman deemed by a number of people to be one of the most average humans alive. Which is why an artificial intelligence system enters her life, erasing her debt and upgrading everything around her, in order to study Carol and learn about humanity. Over the course of a few days it will decide the best way to deal with the human race. Yes, that means that things could go very bad. Carol is also given a chance to make up with her ex-partner, George (Bobby Cannavale), a man about to leave the country in just a few days.

That's all you need to know about Superintelligence. Oh, and the AI is voiced by James Corden, because that was deemed the voice that Carol would respond to best, having been a massive fan of his for many years.

I've said many times that I like McCarthy, more than most people seem to, and I once again like her here, despite the fact that the comedy is often left to many of the supporting players (such as Brian Tyree Henry, a man who becomes flustered when in the same room of the President - Jean Smart - that he greatly admires, or the much smaller turns from the likes of Karan Soni, Usman Ally and Jenna Perusich, and Damon Jones). Carol Peters is supposed to be unremarkable, but she has a good heart, and hopes to one day be able to change the direction of the human race on to a better path.

Falcone directs well enough, and also gives himself a fun supporting role as an agent, alongside Sam Richardson, and he doesn’t seem to warp or strangle the light script from Steve Mallory. There are a number of fun pop culture references (WarGames being an excellent one), the tech side of things is kept simple, it’s easy to show how powerful the AI can be with so much gadgetry around, and the focus keeps returning to the potential rekindling of love at the heart of the story.

While McCarthy is very good in her role, she’s ably supported by everyone around her. I have already mentioned some of the highlights in the supporting cast, but Cannavale also deserves some praise, especially when his role could so easily be seen as the thankless love interest role that women usually get landed with. Kept largely offscreen, aside from one or two moments of visualisation, Corden has fun portraying a version of himself in audio form. And Henry, playing Carol’s friend, and a computer expert, provides a good number of laughs every time he appears.

It’s difficult to think who will enjoy this most though. Those who dislike McCarthy won’t be won over. Those who dislike Corden could be put off. Anyone after a rom-com might hate the tech thriller plot strand, and vice versa. That doesn’t make it a bad film though, not necessarily, but it easily stops it from being a very good one.

6/10

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Monday, 26 April 2021

Mubi Monday: Compliance (2012)

A stark lesson about why we should maybe remember that blindly following the lead of someone who seems to be in a position of authority isn’t always a good thing, Compliance is based on a true story that is all the more worrying and disturbing for being all too easy to understand. And, let me make it clear, although I watched the film with a mix of anger and no small amount of self-righteous smugness about how I would do anything I could do avoid being in that situation . . . I know that I would just as easily be manipulated if I was intimidated by anyone with enough information to convince me that they were on official police business.

Dreama Walker plays Becky, the fast food employee who is taken into the office by her boss (Sandra, played by Ann Dowd) when an alleged police officer (Pat Healy) calls with an accusation of theft. The questioning begins, as does the titular compliance, even as the situation starts to get more and more strange and twisted.

Written and directed by Craig Zobel, this is a hell of an experience to sit through. Viewers are told at the very start that everything is depicted truthfully, without exaggeration (it's hard to firmly believe that, but let's give everyone involved the benefit of the doubt), and that somehow makes it all the more frustrating and angering as you watch someone toy with people over a phone line. 

Walker is very good in her role, as vulnerable and confused as anyone would be in her position. Dowd is equally good, harder to sympathise with, especially at times when she gets carried away with the whole process, but also an unwitting victim of the manipulative caller. Healy says a lot of the right things, and the script easily shows just how well this dialogue was planned out, up until a certain point that there is no coming back from. Bill Camp is also worth mentioning, in the role of Van, a man who is shown to resist the easy option of just going along with the whole thing, until he is then seemingly cajoled into action by both the voice on the phone and his partner (Dowd).

Someone once said that you can get in almost anywhere with a hi-vis and a clipboard. You can also get people to do a lot if they fear being arrested. There are many assumptions we make in our daily lives that put us in surprisingly vulnerable positions, and Compliance is a necessary reminder that we should try not to live by those assumptions. Because there will always be someone out there looking to exploit others, for monetary gain, for revenge, or just for their own enjoyment.

8/10

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Sunday, 25 April 2021

Netflix And Chill: Love And Monsters (2020)

No matter how often it happens, it can always be surprising to see the Netflix effect in action. Everyone and their dog, ironically, seemed to have watched Love And Monsters last week. It was a film on my radar for some time, but I didn't realise it had appeared online until I saw everyone giving their opinions on it. And the general census seemed to be that it was a good one.

Yeah, I don't disagree with the majority here.

Set a number of years after a chain reaction of events that led to our planet being overrun by mutated creatures, we follow Joel Dawson (Dylan O'Brien), a young man who has recently reconnected over the radio comms system with Aimee (Jessica Henwick), the potential love of his life. He decides to leave his own colony to travel the seven days over land and meet her again in person. The only problem is that Joel is not a fighter. He tends to freeze when faced with any nasty monster. Thankfully, he meets a very smart, and helpful, dog along the way, and also meets a couple of other survivors (Clyde, played by Michael Rooker, and young Minnow, played by Ariana Greenblatt) who have skills they can teach him. Growing more and more capable, Joel starts to rate his chances of getting to Aimee. But the threats keep getting progressively more dangerous.

Directed by Michael Matthews (who has a small filmography that doesn't indicate a sudden move in this direction), Love And Monsters is a fun post-apocalyptic creature feature that moves some very likeable characters around in a world chock full of influences, ranging from the obvious (A Boy And His Dog and a number of films featuring Ray Harryhausen effects) to the not-so-obvious (there seems to be a few nods to the famous journey made by Frodo Baggins).

The script, by Brian Duffield and Matthew Robinson, manages to be light and amusing while also maintaining a sense of threat. Our hero is woefully unprepared for so many steps of his journey, but improves on the way. His chances of survival, however, tend to remain the same, depending on what luck he might have on the way. And the comedic approach to the material means that you're not entirely sure that there won't be a way to kill the main character off (temporarily, or for good).

O'Brien is very good in the main role, believably naive and optimistic, and able to step up to some big challenges without suddenly seeming superhuman. It's a world in which brains are just as valuable as any other resource, and O'Brien convincingly plays his role wide-eyed, but not dumb. Rooker and Greenblatt are a great addition to the middle section, and provide some great set-ups that are later paid off. Henwick is also very good, although her character development is undermined by a complete lack of surprise. There are also good turns from Dan Ewing as a yacht captain offering to help a colony move and, best of all, a couple of very talented canines playing a dog named Boy, arguably one of the best scene-stealing animals I can think of from the past decade.

With a finale that even manages to make you think of the wonderful Clash Of The Titans, consistently impressive special effects throughout, a surprisingly positive approach to living in a post-apocalyptic world, and the potential for at least one solid sequel, Love And Monsters is well worth your time, if you like creature features. Although, as far as I'm aware, everyone else has seen it by now anyway.

8/10

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Saturday, 24 April 2021

Shudder Saturday: Mother's Day (1980)

Co-written and directed by Charles Kaufman (arguably best known for being the brother of Lloyd "Troma" Kaufman), Mother's Day is a strange slasher movie that tries to work within the standard parameters of the sub-genre while also having fun with some of the tropes. It doesn't work, let's get that out of the way right now, but there are elements here that remain interesting, especially when you consider that this was a film released at the start of the 1980s, before the slasher movie had really taken the firm hold it would take on the horror movie output of the decade.

Beatrice Pons (billed as Rose Ross) plays Mother, an elderly woman who has a couple of sons, Ike and Addley, she encourages to torture and kill people. They live in a cabin in the middle of some woods, which is very unfortunate for Abbey (Nancy Hendrickson), Trina (Tiana Pierce), and Jackie (Deborah Luce), three women who set out on a carefree vacation.

A fairly "cheap 'n' cheerful" horror, with occasional dollops of gore and moments of nastiness to ensure that horror fans won't feel as if they have been short-changed, Mother's Day feels somewhat like a reaction to the nastier, and more notorious, films that were released in the latter half of the '70s. The Last House On The Left, The Hills Have Eyes, I Spit On Your Grave, et al. Those films often feel like endurance tests, especially in the scenes that show the victims being tortured and brutalised before we get to the more cathartic third acts. Mother's Day, on the other hand, tries to show the villains being despicable and abusive while not dwelling on things for any extended period of time. But when it comes to the inevitable retribution, THAT is when you get more gore and the camera moving in to get closer to the bloodshed.

The acting is a mixed bag, but it's in line with the tone of the material. Pons is a lot of fun as the demented mother, while Hendrickson, Pierce, and Luce all do well enough as the trio trying to stay alive once Ike and Addley have a hold of them. Frederick Coffin and Michael McCleery (both billed under different nnames) are suitably menacing and powerful as the baddies, so blasé about their deadly deeds that they can take time to bicker with one another and/or check on how much mother approves.

If the script, co-written by Kaufman and Leight, was just improved slightly then this could have been a solid slasher that also subverts a number of the tropes already established by the time it was released. Unfortunately, because of the uneven tone and the lack of a well-constructed "Trojan horse" for the main ideas, it just ends up being a bit of a misfire. Those wanting a slasher movie can find many better ones to watch, those wanting to enjoy the comedic elements of it will have to put in a bit more effort than they may feel should be necessary.

5/10

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Friday, 23 April 2021

I Blame Society (2020)

I don't blame society. I blame Gillian Wallace Horvat. And that's my review done. 

Okay, I guess I should say a bit more.

Gillian Wallace Horvat plays a struggling filmmaker (named Gillian), who is also having a hard time with a friend, Chase (played by Chase Williamson). She starts to plan murders, having been told that she could be very good at it, and then puts them together into a film she hopes will impress those who can help her career.

It's hard to think of where to really begin with my full review of I Blame Society, mainly because there are lots of separate little moments that at least made me smile. It's a bad film though, weighed down by the ridiculousness of a central concept that it never really knows how best to handle. I've seen a lot of people giving this a fair bit of praise, which surprised me once I'd finally seen it for myself.

First of all, Horvat is a great talent. Her filmography is full of some interesting celebrations of different movies (her video documentary shorts cover films as diverse as American Ninja and The Bells Of St. Mary's, as well as some looking at Frank Capra, Cary Grant, and others . . . I assume these are pieces that have been packaged with various features given upgraded shiny disc releases). Horvat is clearly a big film fan, and has decided to try something that can call out, and make use of, the limitations of low-budget, independent, cinema. It just didn't work for me.

The two main problems are the script, co-written by Horvat and Williamson, and the central performance. Try as she might, I just don't think Horvat felt right in the lead role. It all feels like acting throughout, whereas the whole thing could have been better if there was someone who was able to convincingly portray that detached coldness needed for most of the small set-pieces that occur.

Although I can't say just how much effort went into this, and most films take a hell of a lot of effort just to get made, there's also a feeling that everyone involved took the easiest options. A pet peeve of mine is when mockumentaries and/or "found footage" films have lead characters who are just given the same name of the actors. I know it's often used to blur the lines between fact and fiction, and allow for some more spontaneous magic to happen, but it always feels lazy to me. Then you have the supporting cast that are just dragged in and out of the loose storyline when required, none of them really given any time or space to feel like a potentially real person. And the ending is just a culmination of the ridiculousness that keeps being piled on throughout the second half.

You can blame society. You can blame others close to you. But don't blame me if you watch this and end up disliking it. The humour saves it, but there's not enough of it to make it something I would even rate as average.

4/10

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Thursday, 22 April 2021

Promising Young Woman (2020)

You're probably already familiar with Promising Young Woman, either after seeing the impressive trailer or just hearing about the excellence of the central performance from Carey Mulligan. If you have heard people heap lots of praise upon it then, trust me, it's all warranted. Promising Young Woman is an enjoyable thriller that manages to be as entertaining and satisfying as it is searingly damning.

Mulligan plays Cassandra, a young woman who dropped out of university after a traumatic event changed her life, and the life of her friend, Nina, forever. Always ready to assume the worst in people, Cassandra hangs around in various clubs, pretending that she is very drunk, and waits for some guy to come along and act as if he's being her saviour. When the man inevitably decides that sex is on the cards, Cassandra drops her charade and confronts them about their behaviour. Despite this being all well and good, and an important lesson for every man she meets, Cassandra also has a grand plan to get revenge on the main criminal who ruined Nina's life. But that plan may need some tweaking, especially as she connects with Ryan (Bo Burnham), a paediatrician who was also at the same university. Is Ryan different from other men she has encountered? Is he a good man? He certainly seems to be better than most.

Although she has a number of acting credits to her name, this is an incredible feature debut from writer-director Emerald Fennell (who also wrote a number of episodes for the highly-praised Killing Eve). The big plus is creating a central character who is such a determined and smart day of reckoning for those who are blissfully ignorant of her ongoing work. Although taking aim at the behaviour of many men, it also ensures that viewers are reminded of how society is still designed to support and enforce a patriarchy that allows that kind of behaviour to be justified, defended, or disbelieved, even in the face of clear and obvious evidence.

Mulligan gives what may well be a career-best performance here, and that is saying something. Her character is so often attempting to outwit and wrong-foot others that her performance needs to be made up of layers upon layers. Burnham is very good alongside her, someone who may be a good guy, patient and understanding, but who may also get in the way of the main plan. Alison Brie gives an enjoyably ugly turn as Madison, someone who disbelieved Nina back in university, and doesn't think of her reaction as necessarily something to be ashamed of, and Connie Britton is so detached in her role of Dean Walker that it would be funny if it wasn't so sad/horrible. Chris Lowell is Al Monroe, the top name on Cassandra's list, with good reason, and he's also very good. Nobody gives a bad performance at all, whether it's Adam Brody or Christopher Mintz-Plasse, playing two different types of awful men, Laverne Cox, as Cassandra's employer, or Clancy Brown and Jennifer Coolidge, who play Cassandra's parents. You also get a fantastic couple of scenes featuring an uncredited Alfred Molina, a lawyer who bluntly lays out how the system works.

Considering the path this goes on, it's surprising that Fennell has kept it all so perfectly balanced. There are moments that will give you chills, scenes full of real potential nastiness, but they're often eventually reframed by a line of dialogue or an action that shows we, as much as anyone else around Cassandra, were being tricked into thinking the worst. Which is easy to do, because few people have as strong a moral compass as Cassandra has, and that says a lot about where we are with our world today.

9/10

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Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Prime Time: Palm Springs (2020)

The feature film debut from director Max Barbakow (who has a number of shorts and a documentary already to his name), Palm Springs is a time loop comedy-drama that focuses on two wedding guests who get to know one another better as they try to make the best of their situation.

Andy Samberg is Nyles, a man who seems to know everything that is about to happen, which helps him to make a strong impression on Sarah (Cristin Milioti). After spending a memorable evening together, things start to get crazy when Nyles is attacked by someone wielding a bow and arrow. Crawling into a glowing cave, Nyles implores Sarah not to follow him. Not heeding his pleas, Sarah enters the cave, which takes her into the same time loop that Nyles has been experiencing for a very long time already. Freaked out, obviously, we see Sarah go through a number of phases that Nyles already went through. She is confused, she wonders if death can end the loop, she tries to right some wrongs, and she and Nyles have some fun, in between conversations about the lack of consequences and the meaning of life.

Although Andy Samberg is the male lead here, those who might not always enjoy his schtick should know that this performance is nowhere near his usual full-on Samberg. He's actually perfectly cast, a mix of confidence and understandable fear. Milioti, who I am much less familiar with, is equally perfectly cast. She's likeable, strong, and very capable of pushing Samberg's character towards being a better person. Meredith Hagner is fine as Misty, the girlfriend of Nyles (who we find out very early on isn't being faithful to him), but the only other person who really gets to stand out is J. K. Simmons, playing Roy, a man who ended up stuck in the time loop after a night of partying with Nyles.

Barbakow directs well enough, keeping things lively and clear throughout (markers dotted throughout, of course, and a montage here or there), helped in no small way by the script, from Andy Siara. Although it takes what is, by now, a premise that could be seen as overly familiar, Siara adds some layers to be peeled away on the way to the ending, one or two twists that help to explain different character motivations, and he also does enough in the third act to make the science seem remotely possible. 

If you like time loop movies, and I do, then Palm Springs is a worthy addition to the sub-genre. It's a lot of fun, but it also takes some time to remind viewers of why we should value the lives that we lead, whether time seems to march on too quickly ahead of us, or whether we are sometimes stuck with the consequences of bad decisions. Those consequences mean that your life is having an impact, on yourself and on others. Worrying about the time you have available to you means that you have things you want to do with your time that have meaning to you. But, let's face it, being stuck in a time loop for a while would be pretty damn cool.

8/10

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Tuesday, 20 April 2021

A Little More Flesh II (2021)

While I liked A Little More Flesh, the second feature from writer-director Sam Ashurst, I had some issues with it that held it back from being something truly great. Other people didn't have those same issues, so maybe it was just me being in the minority. Which may be the case again here, but I am happy to say that A Little More Flesh II is an impressive step up from the preceding film, even if it is also an interesting logical progression in the meta-layered approach that Ashurst has been using to make a couple of features under extremely challenging conditions, especially for independent artists trying to get films made.

Ashurst plays Sam Ashurst, looking to follow up his last film with something entitled 'Stalker'. He wants to use footage from Harley Dee (played by Harley Dee) and Sean Mahoney (played by Sean Mahoney). The film that we see plays out various snippets of self-recorded footage, overlaid with phone/computer conversations between Ashurst and his cast members. It soon becomes apparent that Ashurst has a hidden agenda for this movie project, and it's something that will send him further and further beyond the boundaries of anything that is acceptable.

Co-written by the three leads, and I am not sure how much of it was improvised and workshopped, A Little More Flesh II plays with viewers in a thrilling and unnerving way. Once certain things become more apparent, you realise that nothing you have been watching has really been okay. And you're warned from the opening scene (a moment showing Elf Lyons, star of A Little More Flesh, berating Ashurst and insisting she definitely doesn't want to work with him on this project).

Although it escalates to what many may deem an unbelievable level, the dark beauty of A Little More Flesh II comes from the core of harsh reality to so many ideas bubbling through it. The male who hears another male being inappropriate and tries to speak up against it, but doesn't do enough to really help the situation. The manipulative abuser blaming a victim for the situation that they've put themselves in. The horrible way people can hold a little bit of power over others, be they employees, loved ones, the vulnerable, minors, or anyone who may be relying on someone else to do right while they are in some position of authority, however small. The projection of emotions on to someone else. Denial, anger, spite, obsession, it's all here. And it gets worse. But, no matter how bad it gets, there's also always an audience there for it. 

A large part of the success of A Little More Flesh II comes from Ashurst playing an onscreen version of Ashurst (and I admire him for giving a performance that puts him in such a horrible light). I noted for his previous film that Ashurst didn't sound convincing as an old man in his seventies, but he obviously sounds convincing as Sam Ashurst. Mahoney and Dee are both very good, with the latter needing singled out for a performance that requires her to make herself vulnerable onscreen for most of the runtime. There are also a couple of solid cameos at the very end of the film, a bit of light relief after the difficult viewing experience that you've just gone through.

Certainly not for everyone, casual horror movie fans who want something slick and full of jumps won't want to stick with this, A Little More Flesh II displays uncomfortable footage that seems to last for far too long, almost challenging viewers to keep watching. We're all complicit, yet it's almost impossible to just turn it off and walk away. And that's kind of the point, with Ashurst making one hell of a clear statement on the nature of humanity, and our tolerance for nastiness that is packaged in a way we accept as just something we cannot stop. Maybe he will get his message across, or maybe those who think they can clear their conscience by typing "not all men", for example, will continue to think that they're doing enough to stop the insidious acts of evil committed every day by abusers. I hope for the former.

8/10

A Little More Flesh II debuted, I believe, at yet another fantastic Sohome Horror Film Festival. Check out the website here.

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Monday, 19 April 2021

Mubi Monday: This Boy's Life (1993)

A fairly standard coming-of-age/memoir tale, This Boy's Life is a film you may have heard of before, mainly because of the celebrated performances from Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio. And it's highly recommended to fans of any of the leads (Ellen Barkin being the third central character).

DiCaprio is Toby, who often likes to be called Jack, a young boy who is used to tagging around with his mother, Caroline (Ellen Barkin), as she tries to make a good life for them both. Caroline meets Dwight (Robert De Niro), a man who initially seems pleasant, if a bit uncool. It doesn't take long to see that Dwight is happy to lie and manipulate to keep himself in a good light, while also keeping everything in his favour, and he and Toby start to clash in increasingly violent confrontations. Toby seems to be a good kid, at heart, but often runs with some of the wrong crowd, but Dwight is not necessarily the good man he keeps trying to make himself out as.

Based on the book by Tobias Wolff, the Toby of the main story (this is his life), and adapted into screenplay form by Robert Getchell, this is a consistently solid drama that is elevated by an absolutely fantastic cast. Michael Caton-Jones directs well, dropping a number of pop hits from the era throughout the soundtrack, allowing the dialogue to reveal so much about all of the characters, and framing many of the confrontations in a way that focuses on the imbalance of power and the physical threat posed by Dwight.

But it's all about this superb cast. DiCaprio makes one hell of a large move away from the daffy fun of Critters 3, easily holding his own alongside the adults, and shows the talent that would put him on the radar of so many other directors. De Niro gives another fantastic turn, unafraid to play a character who is so jealous and petty that he will go to any lengths to make himself look like "the big man". Barkin may have less to do, but she's an essential layer in between the two main men in her life. Jonah Blechman is also wonderful, playing a young man named Arthur Gayle, and you have the cast list filled out by the likes of Eliza Dushku, Chris Cooper, Tobey Maguire, and Gerrit Graham (many of them onscreen for just a few minutes).

The focus throughout stays on Toby and Dwight. The story belongs to the latter, but is so clearly moulded and overshadowed by the former. It's almost like coming up for air when you are reminded that Toby obviously did something to eventually get his story told, and it's extremely satisfying to watch Dwight devolve, little by little, from angry man to whining baby. It is, essentially, the way that so many men like him really are. And not everyone is lucky enough to escape their pleas and clutches.

9/10

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Sunday, 18 April 2021

Netflix And Chill: Thunder Force (2021)

I really like Melissa McCarthy. I am fed up of saying that to people who think that she does nothing more than fall over and swear. It gets more depressing when she then goes on to appear in a movie in which she seems to do little more than fall over and swear. Although he's done some good work with his wife onscreen, writer-director Ben Falcone is one person who misunderstands the best way to use McCarthy comedically. In her best roles, and two of those were starring in Paul Feig films, she is smart and competent, but with an ability to swear enough to make a sailor blush while everyone arounds her underestimates her.

Thunder Force is set in a world in which some people have suddenly received superpowers, leading them to a life of super-villainy. After losing her parents at a young age, Emily Stanton is determined to devote her time to creating a superhero worthy of taking on the villains. Unfortunately, after decades of working on this main goal, Emily has her work potentially ruined when her old childhood friend, Lydia Berman visits her place of work. Lydia ends up being given super-strength, while Emily continues a treatment schedule that should give her the ability to become invisible. Perhaps they can still protect people, but do it as a team. The Thunder Force. Or perhaps they won't agree on the best way to do things. Emily has always been very cautious, after all, while Lydia is the kind to act first and think later.

I am sure it's already obvious to you, but McCarthy plays the Berman character here. Stanton is played by Octavia Spencer, who has spent the past couple of years in movies that focus on delivering some fun (yes, that includes Ma). Neither lead is given good enough material, leaving both of them desperately trying to create some additional chemistry that, I'm sorry to say, doesn't ever appear. Taylor Mosby helps, playing Tracy (the daughter of Emily), she's a lively presence, but the rest of the fun here really comes from the other supporting players. Melissa Leo is Allie, a strait-laced head of operations, and is the butt of one or two good gags, Bobby Cannavale is The King, a candidate for mayor who has a plan involving the super-villains, Pom Klementieff is Laser, having a blast as she tries to blast people, and Jason Bateman is a highlight as The Crab, someone with crab appendages where his arms would be. 

I am sure that Falcone and McCarthy make each other laugh loudly many times each day, and I'm sure that happened while making this movie, but the former really needs to take a step back, or sideways, to remind himself of just how much better he could do behind the camera, in both the writing and direction, instead of resting so much of the film on his wife's shoulders.

It's not as terrible as many people will tell you it is, but Thunder Force doesn't do anything to make it truly worth your time. There are too few laughs sprinkled throughout, the superhero side of things is all too silly (although an exchange between the head villain and a henchman that he may have killed is very amusing), and it feels like everyone may have had so much fun behind the scenes that they forgot to capture any of it on camera.

4/10

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Saturday, 17 April 2021

Shudder Saturday: The Banishing (2020)

I was optimistic when I started watching The Banishing. Director Christopher Smith is someone I have been a fan of for many years. Sean Harris is a superb actor. And Jessica Brown Findlay is someone I have been a huge fan of since her star-making turn a decade ago in Albatross. All of those people working together in a horror movie about a haunting . . . sign me up. 

What you have here is the tale of a young reverend (Linus Forster, played by John Heffernan) who moves into a haunted manor with his wife (Marianne, played by Findlay) and daughter (Adelaide, played by Anya McKenna-Bruce). They have been placed there by Bishop Malachi (John Lynch), a man aware of the troubled past of the property. As things start to become troublesome, to put it mildly, the Forsters may end up seeking help from a local named Harry Reed (Sean Harris), although there's just as much chance of him making things worse.

With a script from David Beton, Ray Bogdanovich, and Dean Lines, The Banishing is a huge disappointment for anyone who watches it for the same reasons that I had. It's a creaky and hokey horror movie written by people that seem to think they're serving up a great mix of the old and the new. They're not. They also seem to think the third act will surprise and impress viewers. It doesn't. In fact, this is a film that would probably be improved by removing any twists or turns. Making a more traditional haunted house movie could have led to it standing out more from the many Wan-iverse-inspired movies we've seen over the past decade or so.  The period setting helps, as the film is set in the 1930s, but nothing else really makes any impression. Even the cast, sadly.

Findlay is as watchable as ever, once again proving that she will add value to any project, but neither Heffernan nor McKenna-Bruce do anything of note. Lynch is the brooding figure who knows what's going on, but reveals nothing. Worst of all, Harris is completely left out to dry, portraying someone who is defined by his whispery voice and the constant knowledge that he is ultimately right while everyone else around him tries to make out otherwise.

Even Smith wastes the talent of Smith. This is the man who delivered a fantastic mix of chills and head-scratching drama with the likes of Creep, Triangle (my personal favourite), and Black Death. You wouldn't know that from this, a barely competent chiller that takes some of the mythos of the infamous Borley Rectory haunting and turns it into something you would expect to be helmed by a stumbling first-timer.

Interested in haunted house movies? There are many others that are more worthy of your time. Interested in  Borley Rectory? You could always read a number of fascinating articles on the place, or treat yourself to the superb Borley Rectory (written and directed by Ashley Thorpe, and a film that feels like the definitive Borley Rectory experience). And if you're simply after a great horror movie then you could always delve into the earlier filmography of Christopher Smith. I hope he comes back soon with something that once again shows off what he is really capable of.

3/10

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Friday, 16 April 2021

Mutant (1984)

Sometimes a film makes an impression on you because of the advertising. Sometimes it makes an impression on you because of the poster. There were a number of films that became must-sees for me in the 1980s because of both. Two of the most memorable were The Return Of The Living Dead and Mutant. The former has remained a firm favourite of mine since I first saw it. As for the latter, well, it seems to be a film that I remember fondly for no other reason than having seen it at a relatively young age. Because it’s not really a very good film, but it still feels like the kind of thing you should watch on VHS.

Wings Hauser and Lee Montgomery are two brothers, Josh and Mike Cameron, who end up in a quiet little town where some recent unpleasantness has occurred, resulting in a number of deaths. Sheriff Will Stewart (played by Bo Hopkins) seems to suspect something isn’t right, but cannot get close enough to the truth.

Directed by John ‘Bud’ Cardos (who also delivered the spider-centric chiller Kingdom Of The Spiders), Mutant is an acceptable time-waster that suffers from too few attempts to make things properly scary, instead turning the third act into more of an action thriller. This isn’t how the film was intended to play out, according to writers Michael Jones and John C. Kruize (Peter Z. Orion is also credited, but Jones and Kruize birthed the whole story). So what you have is an action movie without impressive action set-pieces and a horror movie without enough atmosphere and scares.

Hauser isn’t bad in the lead role, although the script doesn’t play to his strengths. At all. Hopkins fares better as the Sheriff, playing the typical flawed hero, on this occasion it’s someone who has battled for a long time with alcoholism. Jennifer Warren is good as the doctor who starts seeing the full picture as she puts pieces of the puzzle together, Jody Medford is decidedly okay in her role, Montgomery doesn’t make much of an impression, and many of the better supporting players get to pop up with very pale complexions and murderous intentions.

I cannot suddenly stop having a soft spot for Mutant, all thanks to that poster/trailer combo that had me so keen to see it before I had turned ten years old, but it’s not one to revisit if you are hoping for the viewing experience to match your memory. The first half drags, the mystery element never feels very mysterious, and the third act will make you pine for some simpler action movie fun.

5/10

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Thursday, 15 April 2021

The Willies (1990)

A strange mix of comedy and horror aimed mainly at children (I would say the perfect age range for this is about 10-13), The Willies is an anthology film that makes the mistake of not maintaining the energy and fun of its opening sequence.

Sean Astin, Jason Horst, and Joshua John Miller are three kids spending a night together in a tent. Which means they obviously start to tell one another scary stories. After a few “appetisers” it is on to the mains. Story one involves a young, put-upon, school student who discovers a creature that will happily munch on anyone it catches. Story two involves a teenager who is obsessed with dead flies, even putting them into biscuits that he then tries to get others to eat. 

Written and directed by Brian Peck, an actor who has only helmed this one film, The Willies is easy to see appealing to younger viewers, if they can be patient through the less horrifying moments. Think of a cross between Goosebumps and any American TV show that just depicts a couple of main characters being deemed as outcasts in their school and you should know the tone. Peck does well when it comes to the scares, knowing just how far to push things with the tension and occasional gore effects, but he sets everyone up for some disappointment by presenting a strong opening that the rest of the film never equals.

The child actors already mentioned do just fine in their wraparound section. Ian Fried is a decent young lead, playing Danny Hollister in the first main story about the creature in the school, but Michael Bower isn’t given enough to help make him worth journeying with throughout the second story. Genre fans will have fun seeing the likes of Kimmy Robertson, James Karen, Kathleen Freeman, and a few other familiar faces in supporting roles.

I am fairly sure that I have heard some friends refer to this film with some fondness, and I guess seeing it at the right time would explain that. Although not a great anthology, nor a great kid’s film, it’s a fantastic gateway. But even then . . . you could always just pick the wonderful “Eerie, Indiana”.

6/10

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Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Prime Time: The Taking Of Deborah Logan (2014)

Please note, for some reason, this is often now listed under the title "The Taking".

I have joked for many years that when I forget something, or lose something, I am having “a senior moment”. I am sure I am not alone in using this phrase in a light-hearted way. But the reality is that, as is the case for so many others, the thought of any illness that would affect me in that way is terrifying. You lose yourself, you cannot be sure of what is real in your life, and you rely on everyone else to keep you attached to whoever you once were.

The Taking Of Deborah Logan is a found footage film that uses the idea of dementia and illness being equatable to possession, and it’s not much of a stretch. I am sure that many people who have watched loved ones suffer from such brain-warping illnesses could tell you how strange it is to see someone turn into someone completely different.

Jill Larson plays Deborah Logan, and Anne Ramsay is her daughter, Sarah. Deborah is getting worse and worse, in terms of her health, and an arrangement has been struck with a crew wanting to document some of her journey. It doesn’t take long to see that there may be more to Deborah’s illness than the usual medical issues.

Director Adam Robitel, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Gavin Heffernan, is capable enough when it comes to dealing with thrills and chills. He may not be any kind of master of horror, but he knows how to create some enjoyable creepiness and impressive jump scares. The first half of the film is a bit stronger, when considering the boundaries blurred between what can be diagnosed and what seems to be supernatural, but the second half brings together the main plot strands and delivers a few great shocks (including one haunting image that you may have seen in gif form on the internet, whether you have seen the film or not).

The cast all convince in their roles, but most scenes are carried by Ramsay and Larson, with Ramsay easily conveying the pain and confusion of a loving grown-up child unable to find ways to help a parent, and the latter perfectly pitching her performance as she weaves between extremely vulnerable and extremely menacing.

Navigating the tone well, The Taking Of Deborah Logan only really stumbles when it feels the need to make one story strand completely overt. Some ambiguity and uncertainty would have made this a modern classic, but it holds up as a strong modern horror, and certainly one of the better found footage movies from the past decade.

7/10

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Tuesday, 13 April 2021

The Stud (1978)

Based on a novel by Jackie Collins, and starring her famous sister, Joan, The Stud is almost exactly how you think it will be. Trashy. It's all about sex and power, with a main character who thinks he has a clear path planned out ahead of him, not knowing what his lifestyle could really cost him.

Oliver Tobias is Tony, the titular stud. He manages a nightclub, and has dreams of opening his own place one day. He thinks he can transfer a lot of the clientele, but other people believe he's spent far too much time being the plaything of Fontaine (Joan Collins), the wife of Tony's boss. Things are complicated when Alex (Emma Jacobs), Fontaine's stepdaughter, finds out about the talents of Tony, and decides to use him out of spite.

Directed by Quentin Masters (he only has four features to his name, this probably remains his most well-known), with credit for additional script work going to Dave Humphries and Christopher Stagg, the only people really making their mark here are the Collins sisters. Jackie writes the popular mix of sex and partying and rich people, and Joan has the perfect way of delivering the kind of dialogue that needs to be spoken with a conviction it never deserves. She's also happy to disrobe for a number of the sex scenes.

Although Collins is the star at the centre of the whole thing, Tobias does a good job as Tony. He's handsome enough, confident enough, and very cocky (no pun intended . . . okay, maybe it's a bit intended). And he shows his confusion and anger when it starts to become obvious that the life he has planned may be slipping out of his grasp. Jacobs isn't onscreen for long, but her character makes a strong impression, thanks to her urge to test out Tony. Sue Lloyd also livens things up, playing Vanessa, Fontaine's close friend, and the supporting cast is rounded out by the likes of Walter Gotell, Tony Allyn, Mark Burns, and one or two more faces who may be familiar to those of a certain age.

Another character worth mentioning is the music, with a number of popular disco hits interspersed throughout the soundtrack. It's a good mix, with tunes including Car Wash, Love Is The Drug, and Every One's A Winner, and more, perfectly summing up both the period of the film and the world through which the leads sway and strut.

Easy to remember for the elements that make it risible, The Stud is also better than you might think. If made for modern audiences, the second half would have more nightmare imagery and a feeling of things twisting from sexy fantasies to hedonistic hellscapes. It plays things a bit safe, not wanting to fully push away the viewers who enjoy the perks of the lifestyles on display, but it certainly tries to introduce a darkness that builds and builds to an unsatisfying, yet also very fitting, end.

6/10

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Monday, 12 April 2021

Mubi Monday: Punishment Park (1971)

“Under the provision of Title 2 of the 1950 Internal Security Act, also known as the McCarran Act, the President of the United States of America is still authorized, without further approval by Congress to determine an event of insurrection within the United States and to declare the existence of an "internal security emergency". The President is then authorized to apprehend and detain each person as to whom there is reasonable ground to believe probably will engage in certain future acts of sabotage. Persons apprehended shall be given a hearing, without right of bail, without the necessity of evidence and shall then be confined to places of detention.”

That is the very opening dialogue of Punishment Park, a fake documentary written and directed by Peter Watkins. It is a disturbingly prescient piece of work, something even more relevant now than it was back when first released.

The premise stems from that opening. We get to see some young people who have protested, their biased and unfair “trial”, and the consequences of their decision to take Punishment Park over some lengthy jail sentence. Punishment Park ends up being quite the endurance test, almost certainly designed more for the satisfaction of those in authority than to rehabilitate offenders.

People used to say that if you weren’t angry then you weren’t paying attention. Nowadays, if you are not angry then you are being wilfully ignorant. While neither the UK nor the USA are on a par with the worst countries in the world, in terms of human rights and freedoms, things are happening lately that feel worryingly similar to the events depicted here, whether it is state-sanctioned violence and death, people being pre-judged for actions deemed to be against the good of the country, or slavish devotion to any flag.

Absolutely on the nose when it comes to presenting scenes of people overreacting and being shocked by those who do not want to go along with every single act that the government claims is a necessity for the good of the country, Punishment Park is probably one of the most depressing films I have viewed in the past year or two. Because it is so uncomfortably close to where we are now, and where we have been for the past few years. Some may view this and think of it as pure fiction. Others will see it for what it is, a stark warning, a rallying cry to stop willingly handing over so much power to those who may end up abusing it, sometimes believing themselves to be doing good and sometimes simply furthering their own agendas.

I implore everyone to watch it, if only to try and ensure that we don’t fully live it.

9/10

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