Wednesday 31 March 2021

Prime Time: Ticks (1993)

A creature feature about a cast of young people being terrorised by killer beasties, Ticks is a film that doesn't want to do anything more than make viewers tense, and probably a bit itchy. And it succeeds admirably.

A group of troubled teens (well, supposed teens) are taken to a woodland cabin to help them learn how to work together, to take some time to work through their issues, and to generally work on being better young people. There are a couple of social workers in charge, but there are also some drug-growers in the local area, and they have inadvertently increased the size of the local tick population. Ticks aren't nice at the best of times, but they're so much worse when enlarged to the size of tarantulas. Seth Green is the young lead who needs to work hardest to overcome his fears, Alfonso Ribeiro is a muscular young man who goes by the name of 'Panic', and the rest of the cast are a bit less memorable, although that's not to say that there is any issue with their acting.

Directed by Tony Randel, Ticks is a film that makes the most of every aspect, from the decent assembled cast to the impressive practical effects (including makeup effects by the well-known K.N.B. EFX Group). It doesn't need to hide the schlocky entertainment beneath any layers of deep soul-searching or ruminations on the current state of the world, which allows for more scenes that homage Aliens without ever feeling too indebted to it.

The script by Brent V. Friedman is good fun, zipping from one bug-centric moment to the next. Friedman knows the nasty potential of the central idea, and he taps into everything you may want to be presented with in a film about overgrown, deadly ticks. 

As for the cast, nobody embarrasses themselves here. It may be weird to see Ribeiro in a very non-Carlton role (considering he'll now forever be associated with that character from The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air), but he's entertaining, Green is as good as ever, just in a slightly smaller form this time around, and Ami Dolenz and Virginya Keehne have some good moments. Ray Oriel and Dina Dayrit are the two other main teens, they do fine, Rosalind Allen and Peter Scolari are the responsible adults, Barry Lynch and Michael Medeiros are less responsible adults (because they just want their drugs to grow well), and Clint Howard is a poor unfortunate who gets severely ticked off (pun very much intended) throughout the movie.

I'm not sure if we'll ever get the special edition shiny disc release of this film that I've been wanting for years, but I'm glad to see it available online for those who love it, and for those who have yet to give it a watch. The simple title and artwork lets you know what you're going to get, but it's arguably much better than it has any right to be. Especially if your recent experiences with creature features have involved films made by The Asylum (they can be fun, but none of them are as fun as Ticks).


Tuesday 30 March 2021

Wrong Turn (2021)

At the last count, I think there were approximately twenty films in the Wrong Turn movie series. I could be misremembering, but I'm fairly sure that I'm correct. Every movie was pretty much the same; some inbred cannibals pick off numerous victims, often using some traps dotted around the vast woodlands they call home.

This Wrong Turn is a reboot written by the same writer of the original film, Alan B. McElroy, and there's enough here to keep horror fans happy. But there are also a couple of key points that may work against it. I'll come to those later.

Matthew Modine plays Scott Shaw, a father who arrives in a small town near the Appalachian Trail on a search for his daughter, who he hasn't heard from in about six weeks. Jumping back to six weeks previously, viewers are shown what happened to his daughter, Milla (Charlotte Vega), and the friends that she was travelling with. And what happened to them involved some woodland traps, an accident or two, and a self-sufficient community known as 'The Foundation', headed up by Venable (Bill Sage).

Directed by Mike P. Nelson, Wrong Turn is a well-balanced mix of nasty gore gags and attempts to be more seriously disturbing. Helped by McElroy's script, fans of the series will like the fact that they get something very much the same, but different. Traps are used, unwitting travellers are caught unawares, and the main villains are a very tight-knit "family". 

Vega is a decent lead, she's allowed to show some real strength in the moments that have her character doing whatever needs to be done as she keeps survival in her sights, but no other members of her troupe really stand out, unfortunately. Sage is an impressive head villain, always a threat and always seeming one step ahead of the protagonists. Modine does well with his supporting role, and gets more involved with the main events during the third act. The other main person to mention is Tim DeZarn, playing a local who may or may not be wishing misfortune upon the young travellers. 

And yet the small differences are enough to stop this from feeling in line with the pure horror entertainment vibe of the original movie. It may seem churlish, but the plotting here, the use of 'The Foundation' instead of those crazy cannibals, stops it from feeling like a Wrong Turn film. Although McElroy may have wanted to revisit his earlier work and rework it, perhaps it could have been better to just have it as a new, original(-ish) horror property. Although that would leave them unable to sell this as a recognisable brand name.

Overall, it's a decent film, especially if you don't pick apart all the holes in the logic of it. It's worth a watch. It just doesn't seem to fit alongside all of the other movies with Wrong Turn in the title.


Monday 29 March 2021

Mubi Monday: Catch Me Daddy (2014)

Laila (Sameena Jabeen Ahmed) is a young Pakistani girl on the run with her white boyfriend, Aaron (Conor McCarron). There are a number of people hunting them down, including a pair of men, played by Gary Lewis and Barry Nunney, who seem more determined to cause some damage than the group made up of Laila's brother and his friends. Things don't look like they're going to have a happy ending, and it's all because the two young lovers are from such different backgrounds. 

Directed by Daniel Wolfe, making his feature debut after time spent on numerous video shorts, Catch Me Daddy is a very interesting look at a specific problem that continues to affect many people in Britain, especially younger people who don't want to follow the traditions of their family. It's all about expectations, family duty, and the oppressive nature of those things. Although it seems specific to the experience of a Pakistani family in the UK, many viewers should be able to sympathise with someone not wanting to live their life exactly as their parents want them to.

The script, co-written by Daniel and Matthew Wolfe, is vague on the specifics, but they're not needed as you are drawn into the mood of the whole thing. You know that the young leads feel endangered, you know that it seems to be a decision made by Laila's family, and you know that the people who are presently friendly with them are able to take them as they are, without considering their differences in family units and cultures.

The acting from everyone involved is superb. Ahmed and McCarron are two great leads, getting along together in a way that is believable. These aren't lovers who never have a disagreement. They're young people who are frustrated by the way in which they're being hunted, and potentially trapped. Although you get great, natural, performances from Wasim Zakir, Adrian Hussain, Anwar Hussain, and many others I am unfamiliar with, Lewis and Nunney hold your attention more, their performances made more electric by the undercurrent of violence accompanying their every moments. 

One of the films I have found hardest to review in a long time, Catch Me Daddy is an assured and vital debut. It's a film that says so much without making it all completely obvious and narrowly defined. Viewers can interpret certain scenes in a number of ways, and there's an end sequence that leaves things unresolved, but the whole thing adds up to much more than the sum of its parts. Take a step back, you'll find at least one minor character you can identify with, or at least understand, and each perspective is as important as the other in creating an image that is placed alongside all of the others to make the full picture.


Sunday 28 March 2021

Netflix And Chill: Temple (2017)

I cannot think about a horror film that I have cared less for recently than Temple. Sometimes you write a review with a mix of positives and negatives, even if you have to work harder to find some of those things, and sometimes you write a review in which you offer constructive criticism. And sometimes you just want to scream profanities at anyone who even thinks about watching a movie you have just endured. Temple is very much in the latter category.

It's a film that wants to be so many things, but ultimately ends up being none of them. It wants to be a found footage movie. But that would require better writing and planning. It wants to be an Asian-styled creepy horror. But that would require understanding the material without feeling like it's being interpreted by someone who cannot really ever get a handle on it. It wants to be a film with some twists and shocks, but none of the twists or shocks are as effective as the writer or director think they are.

Kate (Natalia Warner) and James (Brandon Sklenar) and the couple who are travelling through Japan, hoping to see some sights that are off the beaten track. They're accompanied by Chris (Logan Huffman). Because two guys and a beautiful woman has always been the best way to guarantee a stress-free and harmonious holiday experience. I hope the sarcasm was obvious there. The three find out about a temple that is located deep in a jungle area. Warned away from it by many people, they obviously want to go there and spend the night. And they then meet an entirely expected set of problems. I'm not saying they get what they deserve, but . . . I wasn't exactly rooting for them to somehow save themselves.

Director Michael Barrett doesn’t do a good job here, failing to cover up the many weaknesses and gaps in the script from Simon Barrett (no relation, as far as I can tell). Having picked this for his directorial debut, after years of working as a cinematographer on a number of excellent projects, Michael Barrett perhaps put too much faith in his writer. That's understandable, considering the many enjoyable genre outings that Simon Barrett has penned. This film isn't one I suspect either Barrett will place highly on their CV, if at all.

The cast can't work any magic either. Warner is a stunningly attractive leading lady, and both Sklenar and Huffman are handsome enough to be vying for her affections, I guess, but everyone has to act dumb enough for the script to move them from A to B, and elsewhere. They rarely make any good decisions, and many of the supporting cast members are pulled in to act as if they're in very different movies, whether they're being much more restrained and grounded in reality or acting like the typical harbingers we find in every horror movie that has a place no sane person should visit.

I've already written more here than I had planned. My initial review was simply going to say "Temple is utter shit". I'm glad I didn't just settle on that one sentence, but I'm sad that this small attempt to warn people away from the thing seems to have been crafted with a bit more care than the film itself. 


Saturday 27 March 2021

Shudder Saturday: White Zombie (1932)

As a big fan of zombie movies, White Zombie was one I had been aiming to see for many years. The only other one now left on my list is I Walked With A Zombie, which will make me happy. I'm not saying there aren't many other zombie movies I need to see, but these are the sub-genre milestones that I feel I should have marked off my list way before now.

Being from 1932, White Zombie obviously isn't a gore-filled zombie flick as we mostly know them today. It's a rather sedate little film, but full of great atmosphere, as well as some great eyeball work from Bela Lugosi.

Madge Bellamy plays Madeline Short, a woman due to marry her fiancé, Neil Parker (John Harron), in Haiti. Staying at the home of a plantation owner named Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer), viewers soon learn that Charles is in love with Madeline, so much so that he enlists the assistance of a man named 'Murder' (Lugosi). 'Murder' is a bit of an expert when it comes to zombiefying people, so his plan naturally involves a poison which will make Madeline seem dead, allowing her to then be resurrected and controlled. This plan causes some upset for Neil, to put it mildly, who eventually teams up with Dr. Bruner (Joseph Cawthorn) when he suspects that the love of his life isn't really as dead as she appeared to be.

Although quite creaky, and without any great acting throughout, White Zombie has to be viewed as an impressive horror piece from a time when we weren't being overrun by hordes of the undead. In fact, it would seem to be the very first proper zombie film, which means it deserves a little respect for that alone, if nothing else.

Director Victor Halperin moves everything along swiftly enough, making fine use of the sets to keep the spooky and oppressive atmosphere throughout, and the runtime clocks in at about the 70-minute mark, ensuring you shouldn't be fed up of it by the time it ends, even if one or two scenes feature characters clarifying some rules and behaviours that are now common knowledge to most horror fans. The script, by Garnett Weston, does a good job of putting everything and everyone in the right place, and building towards a third act that remains entertaining enough, even if it's easy to see coming a mile away.

Lugosi is the star here, for his gaze and the hand movement he keeps making while controlling any zombies. If you're a fan of the horror icon then that's another reason to watch this. Bellamy is pleasant enough, but spends a large portion of her screentime in her "dazed" state, and both Frazer and Harron do decent work. It's a shame that Cawthorn, playing the knowledgeable doctor, isn't better in his role, as he gets to play the elderly figure so often turned into the real hero in movies from this time, but he's just alright.

Not a film to convert anyone who dislikes older movies, White Zombie is definitely one to watch if you are a horror fan interested in the cinematic history of the genre. It's a vital touchstone, and gives Lugosi some more iconic moments.


Friday 26 March 2021

Real Genius (1985)

Val Kilmer plays Chris Knight, a genius student who is working on a project that he doesn't realise wants to make a laser usable in a sophisticated and dangerous weapon. Chris is tasked with taking young Mitch Taylor (Gabe Jarret) under his wing. He wants to help academically, but also wants to remind everyone to not take everything so seriously. Chris has seen how stress and obsession can affect people, and he wants to help people maintain a good balance. That doesn't always work for Professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton) though. It also doesn't work for the prime douchebag, Kent (Robert Prescott).

Directed by Martha Coolidge, who has a filmography full of interesting movies that I have always been meaning to check out, Real Genius is an enjoyable '80s teen comedy that has the expected mix of fun characters, archetypes, and dialogue without the usual obsession over girls and nudity. You get some early moments with Val Kilmer wearing deely-boppers to highlight just how much he doesn't want to take life seriously, you get some pranks, and you get a final act that allows plot strands to be tied up, set-ups to be paid off, and the slightly serious stuff to be dealt with in a way that intertwines the humour with some serious stakes for those involved. 

Writers Neal Israel, Pat Proft, and Peter Torokvei know what is expected, and they provide some standard moments and gags wrapped in the clothing of these onscreen geniuses. Whether it's the battle of wits between the new kid and the bully, the potential blossoming romance between a couple of main characters, or the strange loner who sees things that nobody else does . . . Real Genius entertains on a trope-filled, teen comedy level, yet adds a layer of smarts that allows it to stand out from the crowd.

Kilmer is a force to be reckoned with, superbly charming and charismatic. Although Jarret is playing the main character, and the way for viewers to meet this cast, it's Kilmer who is the lead. Jarret does well though, he's likeable enough and happy to let others around him shine. Atherton gives another one of his great turns, smiling at his students until things look to be no longer going his way, and Jon Gries is very amusing as the strange loner named Lazlo. Kent may be the character you're supposed to boo and hiss at, but Robert Prescott does well in that role. And then you have Michelle Meyrink, playing Jordan, a young woman with plenty of brains who lacks confidence in herself, and also lacks confidence in her social skills.

It's quirky and clever, but not too quirky and clever for its own good. Having seen this listed by many people over the years as a favourite comedy from this decade, I'm glad I finally checked it off the list. And even more glad that it was as good as many told me it was.


Thursday 25 March 2021

The Mirror (2014)

I quite like writer-director Edward Boase. He was kind enough to let me conduct a phone interview with him many years ago. I mistrust mirrors. They show you what is all around us, but different. So Edward Boase making a horror movie about a bad mirror (to put it mildly) seemed like a good combination. 

Three flatmates, two of them in a relationship, buy a mirror that has supposed links to a dark past. Setting up a camera in front of the mirror, and aiming to document their own experiences with it, it’s not longer before strange things start to happen. And strange soon starts to become dangerous. Very dangerous.

Taking the “found footage” approach to this idea would seem to make complete sense, and Boase (fleshing out a story created by himself and Keidrych Wasley) seems to know the potential of the material here. He paces things almost as you would expect, although the third act kicks in a little bit sooner than I thought it would, and conversations are often a mix of banter and drip-feeding background details that become more important to the plot as things get worse for the main characters.

Unfortunately, although some may view it differently, Boase keeps things a bit too restrained for the first half of the movie. Even when things get a bit more obvious, and graphic, certain aspects of the film remain frustratingly hidden offscreen. I admire the approach, but it does make you wonder why the setting up of the camera was so important when that footage is used so infrequently.

Joshua Dickinson, Nate Fallows, and Jemma Dallender are fine in their roles. They may be a bit mishandled by the script, which moved between calm to incredible intensity before going inexplicably calm again, but they’re naturalistic enough, and their interactions with one another feel generally believable.

It may not be a bad film, from the central idea to the technical side of things, but it’s far from an essential viewing for horror fans. It’s not serious enough to be thought-provoking and disturbing, nor is it simplistically entertaining enough to make for a bit of fun you could easily recommend to others. It sits very much in the middle, which is where it also ends up with my final rating.


Wednesday 24 March 2021

Prime Time: MVP: Most Valuable Primate (2000)

Jack is a talented chimpanzee. He can use sign-language. He can also skate. Both of these things come in handy when circumstances conspire to leave him in a small town that has a) a struggling ice hockey team, and b) a young, deaf, girl who could do with some support at her school. It's not long until Jack is becoming a favourite on and off the ice.

Director Robert Vince has a LOT of these kinds of animal movies in his filmography. Having also written the script with Anne Vince (wife? sister? cousin? I'm going to go ahead and assume it's one of those connections), he seems to have a very firm idea of what he wants to give viewers.

And what he wants to give viewers is a small-scale drama that features some ridiculous plot development as everyone onscreen just accepts their new simian star. It also features Kevin Zegers as Steven Westover, Jamie Renée Smith as his sister, Tara (the aforementioned deaf girl), and Rick Ducommun as the coach of the ice hockey team.

If that's something that you fancy then good for you. The opening scenes here don't bode well, with a couple of actors mugging in ways you normally only see in TV shows aimed at toddlers, but things do pick up once Jack starts to find his way around a new town. A sighting here and there, a stolen banana, and then it's time for his big reveal. And his ability to communicate with Tara via sign-language is a genuinely nice, and sweet, touch.

Three different chimps are credited for the role of Jack, they're all talented and better onscreen than some actors I have seen over the years. Thankfully, both Zegers and Smith are also very good, interacting with the chimp in a way that is much more tolerable than the way the adults were portrayed in the earliest scenes. And Ducommun does a good job as the coach. It's a shame that he's held back from giving a fully comedic turn, but he's certainly not exactly in line with all of the other adult performances, in a good way. There's also a main villain, of course, a doctor played by Oliver Muirhead, and he's exactly as you expect him to be, pacing around with purpose and barking statements about getting his hands on that monkey.

It's an oddity, a novelty piece, a children's film aimed firmly at younger viewers. Although released in 2000, MVP: Most Valuable Primate already feels like a relic from a bygone era. Putting chimpanzees in outfits and having them do things that humans normally do used to be a more commonplace thing (here in the UK we had chimps selling us PG Tips teabags for many years), but it's not any more. Yet it's still endearing and amusing enough to entertain children who want a film featuring a cute little chimp. Others should probably give it a miss.


Tuesday 23 March 2021

A Little More Flesh (2020)

Writer-director Sam Ashurst seems to want to build a filmography full of impressive curio pieces that allow him to tell a story in a cost-effective way, birthing a lot of inventiveness from the various necessities. I have yet to watch Frankenstein's Creature (although I bought the DVD when it was available in a limited quantity), but I am aware that it's essentially a filmed monologue. And, in many ways, A Little More Flesh is very similar.

Stanley Durall is a (in)famous British director and he's revisiting his notorious debut, God's Lonely Woman, to provide a commentary for a disc that will house the film and some previously-unseen footage from behind the scenes. As Stanley discusses the movie, it soon becomes clear that things did not end well for either of his lead actresses (Isabella, played by Elf Lyons, and Candice, played by Hazel Townsend). What is initially just alluded to is soon clarified, with Stanley at pains to reassure listeners that nothing he did could have possibly harmed his leads. But is that at all true? Is Stanley really trying to reassure himself?

There's a very good idea at the heart of A Little More Flesh, and it's mixed in with one or two other good ideas. The commentary track allows Ashurst to develop a character, and a growing sense of foreboding, while he presents visuals that look convincingly in line with the era that the main film is supposed to be from. 

Ashurst himself provides the voice of Durall, working from a carefully-constructed script that keeps the screws tightening as everything builds to an unforgettable final sequence. He does a good job with the tone and the choice of wording throughout, but it's a shame that he couldn't utilise an older actor who would convince more as someone who should be between 60-70 years old. 

Lyons and Townsend are good fits for their roles, and there are decent turns from Dane Baptiste, playing an actor named Patrick, and Gabriel Thomson, as Leon. Although they're helped by the fact that their scenes are being spoken over by Durall, they feel authentic for the kind of acting being performed.

The central conceit here is basically sound, and it's a film built very much around a number of unnerving details, but Ashurst overdoes things slightly with intercut "interruptions" and that ending. As jaw-dropping and powerful as it is, it also feels like a step too far. It's a great moment, capping an intriguing film, but the two don't really feel as if they belong together.

Worth your time, and Ashurst is worth your support, A Little More Flesh ultimately proves more rewarding for the "non-horror" threads running through it. The exploration of art created by a bad man, the sharp contrast in attitudes between the 1970s and the present, as well as the reticence of some people to change with the times, and the ever-important issue of consent.


Monday 22 March 2021

Mubi Monday: Tigerland (2000)

A Vietnam war movie with a difference, this focuses on a group of soldiers who are being trained at an infamous area named Tigerland. Standing out from the group, Pvt. Bozz (Colin Farrell) is clearly not wanting to be there. He won't get himself out of the forces, however, but does annoy the higher-ups by helping to get some other solders their freedom. This makes him about as popular as a sneeze in a supermarket in 2020, as you can imagine, but he's tough enough to take all of the negativity aimed his way. He's not bulletproof though, which makes it a lot more difficult when one soldier (Wilson, played by Shea Wigham) has a building level of rage that would make it best for him to be kept away from all guns and ammo.

Directed by Joel Schumacher, this is the film that first sold Colin Farrell as a star leading man, basically. He would spend the next decade or so being misused in all kinds of roles that just weren't right for him (Farrell is actually an excellent character actor with the looks and charisma of a blockbuster star), but revisiting Tigerland allows you to see just what Schumacher saw in him. He's confident, charming, smart, witty, and elevates what is already an excellent premise.

A million miles away from his usual slick, over the top, approach, Schumacher relies on a cast of quality actors and a great script by Ross Klavan and Michael McGruther, both newcomers to screenwriting (in terms of credited jobs anyway). Klavan and McGruther know all of the standard war movie moments that we've seen so many times before, and they use the character of Bozz to navigate and subvert most of them, whether it's the angry instructor picking on someone who can't keep up the pace or a butting of heads between soldiers and a leader who seems to often make the wrong decisions while parroting the lines about duty and military ways.

I've already said enough about Farrell, and it's slightly unfair to let his performance completely overshadow everyone else, but the other cast members generally do just as well. Matthew Davis is Paxton, the one who observes Bozz for the majority of the runtime, and the one narrating the full story. Davis is a bit bland, but that's fine for how his character is used. He's the observer. Clifton Collins Jr. has a great character arc, playing Miter, someone who resents Bozz while he's trying to keep the rest of the squad in check, and Whigham is brilliantly loathsome for most of his scenes, moving from a standard nasty asshole to full-on "Private Pile" by the third act.

There are a number of unbelievable moments here and there, including a heart to heart between Bozz and a tough leader who gives him some time to explain his perspective (when you just know that time would have been spent with the latter chewing out the former), but the grounding of the drama, and the setting of the training area itself, makes it all feel a bit less cheesy and cliché-ridden.


Sunday 21 March 2021

Netflix And Chill: War (2007)

Sometimes you are hunting around for the right thing to watch on a Saturday evening and you remember a Jason Statham movie you have yet to see. Not only that, but this particular Statham movie also features Jet Li in a main role.  

Statham plays an FBI agent named Crawford who is after a deadly assassin named Rogue (Li). Rogue apparently killed Crawford’s partner, Tom, as well as Tom’s wife and child. He now seems to be killing off both Triads and Yakuza, which makes his motivation very puzzling. 

If you haven’t heard of director Philip G. Atwell then the opening scenes of this movie will make clear why. I haven’t seen a director make action quite so headache-inducing since I endured the second Resident Evil movie. I was completely unsurprised to find that Atwell has a background based largely in the music video world, an approach to the film format he isn’t able to shake off here. 

I was equally unsurprised to see that this was the first full script from Lee Anthony Smith and Gregory J. Bradley, two men who decided to blend a bunch of action movie clichés with one or two frankly preposterous plot twists. Yet the silliness of everything helps to make it more enjoyable as it all moves towards an action-packed finale. 

Despite the efforts of Atwell, this is a hard film to truly hate. There are some decent set-pieces, the pacing is surprisingly good for a film that runs to approximately 110 minutes, and you at least have your star power. 

They may not interact as often as viewers would like, but Statham and Li are given enough moments to do what fans will want to see them do. The former is left to do the less exciting stuff, he is piecing together a puzzle that can only be fully revealed in the very last scenes, but he still does his usual thing with conviction. Li is his expected mix of quiet and power, and gets some decent fight sequences in the second half of the film. There are also solid supporting turns from John Lone, Devon Aoki, Ryo Ishibashi, Mathew St. Patrick, Sung Kang, Luis Guzmán, and Saul Rubinek. 

Violent, silly, and entertaining. It’s the least you expect from a Statham action thriller. One of his lesser films, but still an okay watch. 


Saturday 20 March 2021

Shudder Saturday: Slaxx (2020)

A film about a killer pair of denim jeans may not sound like something you want to watch, but Slaxx turns out to be a great mix of gore and humour, taking direct aim at the world of fast-paced, trendy, fashion. Maybe I was more receptive to it due to the traumatic memory of the time I accidentally picked up some jeans to try on in T K Maxx and discovered they were ALL slim fit (handing them back to the shop worker with the words "I didn't wear them when I was 20, it's really not going to work now I am in my 40s). Or maybe it's just a really accomplished horror comedy.

Romane Denis plays Libby McClean, a new staff member at a horribly trendy clothing store. The staff may keep uttering the company slogan about making a better tomorrow today, but they're mainly just interested in looking cool, impressing the boss, and/or being slim enough for the best fashion choices. Enter the pair of killer jeans, set to kill off people in a number of ways as the staff stay locked in the store to prepare for a manic Monday in which they are set to unveil the latest must-buy.

Directed by Elza Kephart, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Patricia Gomez, I cannot praise this highly enough, considering how it takes such a silly central premise and uses it to have some great set-pieces and make one or two great, albeit obvious, points. Anyone who has worked for a company that pretends to work by a set of ethics that goes out the window whenever not facing a member of the public should find scenes here that ring true, despite the stylised artificiality of the extra-sterile store environment. And those who have worked in retail will definitely recognise the fake smiles plastered on workers as they snipe at one another and prepare to deal with a voracious crowd of consumers.

Denis does a good job as the innocent young woman entering her new job role with an idealism and innocence that you suspect won't take long to be worn down. Brett Donahue and Kenny Wong have fun in their roles, both being mid-to-upper-level management at the store level, and Sehar Bhojani is Shruti, a female staff member who accidentally unlocks a way to discover more about the deadly denims.

Obviously not for everyone, if you give Slaxx a try then you may be surprised by how effective it ends up being. The message it delivers is delivered well, and you get an excellent mix of horror and humour. A couple of deaths are impressive and bloody, while the absurd essence of the thing ensures that you'll keep smiling throughout, even as it tries to push onward to an ending that may end up much darker than expected.

I hope this is the start of a franchise. Slaxx 2: House Of Levis. Slaxx 3: Mind The Gap. Slaxx 4: The Wrangler Strangler. And, of course, Slaxx 501. Kephart and Gomez, you know where you can get a hold of me.


Friday 19 March 2021

Playing With Fire (2019)

Smokejumpers, they're a special breed. They are parachuted into the middle of raging fire sites and tackle the raging infernos like absolute heroes. Like firefighters, except they're not like firefighters. Certainly not according to the characters in Playing With Fire.

John Cena is Jake, the stoic leader of his team, a group made up of Mark (Keegan-Michael Key), Rodrigo (John Leguizamo), and the fairly uncommunicative Axe (Tyler Mane). Jake has the chance for a big promotion, which would allow him to feel as if all the years living under the shadow of his beloved, departed, father have all been worthwhile. Which makes things even more stressful when the team end up temporarily caring for three young children (played by Brianna Hildebrand, Christian Convery, and Finley Rose Slater). 

Absolutely harmless family fun, as predictable as it is amusing, Playing With Fire has an okay mix of youngster causing trouble alongside a number of very enjoyable turns from the adults. As well as those already mentioned, Judy Greer pops up to be a love interest often overlooked by Cena as he tries to focus on his career, and Dennis Haysbert is the man who will make the final decision on the promotion, which means he is due to visit just after the kids should be dealt with and moved from the station by that point.

Director Andy Fickman feels like a good enough person for the job here. He's done family fare before, even if he's also given us Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, and he's helped by a decent script from Dan Ewen and Matt Lieberman. When I say the script is decent enough I mean that it gets you from A to B to C without any major turbulence or ill-advised tangents. You should know what you're getting with this movie, and you get it.

Cena is fun in his main role, required to look stern and straight-laced until shown how good life can be when you loosen up slightly. Key is hilarious, Leguizamo is a fun addition, and Mane is enjoyably intimidating to look at while having a soft heart. Greer and Haysbert are also pluses, but the latter is really nothing more than the required third-act obstacle/problem. As for the young co-stars, they're bearable. Hildebrand is actually pretty good, but it's not necessary for her to be as annoying or problematic as her younger siblings.

Few of the set-pieces feel as good as they could be, but they're pitched at just the right level for younger viewers, but this moves along nicely enough from start to finish, providing a good opportunity for Cena to grow his audience demographic. Disposable fun, and it leaves you chuckling with some fun out-takes over the end credits.


Thursday 18 March 2021

The Odds (2018)

A feature debut from writer-director Bob Giordano, The Odds features a premise that will be familiar to anyone who has explored some more horrifying thrillers of the past decade. It's someone desperate enough for money that they will take part in a game that involves increasingly dangerous tasks that test the limits of every participant.

Abbi Butler is the player, credited imaginatively as . . . The Player. The film focuses on her battle to stay in the game, which mostly leaves her in the company of one Game Master (James J. Fuertes), a man who takes turns being supportive and abusive. The first round involves the player holding their hand over a candle flame. If they last long enough for three other players elsewhere to drop out then they win, and it's on to the next round. Things quickly escalate from there.

I was looking forward to The Odds when I read the main plot description. Having seen many of the other films within this particular sub-genre (and I think there are enough of these kinds of movies out there nowadays to lump into a sub-genre), it tends to be the kind of thing I enjoy. Some deliver twisted fun, and some get very nasty and full of wince-inducing pain.

Giordano, however, hampers himself by keeping everything on a much smaller scale than it needs to be. A film can work if set mostly in one room, and with only two leads onscreen for the majority of the runtime, but the script needs to be much stronger than this. Repeated scenes that have two people getting on, and then not getting on, and then maybe getting on again, but without any trust between them, that's all you get here, which drags everything down much more when the runtime edges closer to the 110-minute mark. Giordano may have managed to get away with his weak script at a lean 75-80 minutes, but the extra half hour ensures that all of the limitations (set, cast, dialogue, etc) turn into major negatives.

Butler tries hard in her role, but she's not given strong enough material to help her really sell the heart of her character. Fuertes is given much more to work with, but it's not the right stuff, and he's not a strong enough actor to do anything more than recite the laughable lines given to him and change his tone between nice and nasty without convincing at either end.

Fans of independent cinema (which I am going to say this is an example of, despite the details and connections often making that designation an uncertain one) will know what can be done with a low budget, small cast, and one location. Necessity is the mother of invention. Sadly, there's nothing here that feels necessary or inventive.


Wednesday 17 March 2021

Prime Time: The Night Sitter (2018)

On the surface, there's really nothing all that wrong with The Night Sitter. The pacing is pretty brisk, the cast do decent work, and it brings to mind a number of other, fun, movies that it seems to be looking to emulate, or pay homage to. Unfortunately, there's also something missing. It's hard for me to pinpoint exactly what that is, but it's almost like once central piece needed to complete a jigsaw puzzle.

Amber (Elyse Dufour) is all set to babysit young Kevin (Jack Champion) and Ronnie (Bailey Campbell) in a house that also contains some powerful paranormal works. Kevin's dad, Ted (Joe Walz), is basically a cross between the Warrens and some manic local salesman with an ad that you see popping up on your TV in the middle of the night. Amber is actually looking to rob the house, along with a number of accomplices, but things become complicated when evil forces are let loose in the house.

Co-written and co-directed by Abiel Bruhn and John Rocco, The Night Sitter blends together some Argento-esque moments of "Three Mothers" and the kind of mix of mostly horny characters found in films such as Night Of The Demons and, well, hundreds of other enjoyable horror comedies. It tries to build some tension, and has one or two impressive gore gags, but ultimately falls down because of a lack of confidence in the writing and direction. The visuals are nice enough, albeit lacking some real stamp of identity on things, and the script never finds the sweet spot in between the horror and humour. There's not enough inventiveness in the blood and death, and the dialogue fails to crackle as it should. Characterisations are thin, and the exchanges between all of the different characters lack a necessary layer of wit and bite.

Dufour is a big plus in her role, and Champion is very good working alongside her. Amber Neukum also stands out, playing an accomplice (sort of) named Lindsey, and you have perfectly acceptable supporting turns from Jermaine Rivers, Manny Sandow, and one or two others.

In summation, The Night Sitter is a hard film to hate. Despite never really moving in to top gear, it moves along well enough and has a constant feeling of wanting to please. But it is also, for me, a hard film to love. Although I know a few people who would strongly disagree with me. 


Tuesday 16 March 2021

The Craft: Legacy (2020)

Written and directed by Zoe Lister-Jones, The Craft: Legacy is a film I had been putting off watching for a while. The trailer didn't really sell me on it. Nor did the fact that it was making use of a title that many view as a beloved 1990s teen horror. I have never loved The Craft as much as many others do, mainly because I've never been a big fan of Robin Tunney and I've also never been a teenage girl, but I can absolutely see why so many enjoy it. Especially female viewers. It's also helped immensely by a wonderful performance from Fairuza Balk (although pretty much all of the non-Tunney leads are great).

The Craft: Legacy doesn't have anything that the original had, in terms of working for the intended audience or having any of the cast members stand out. It's not quite as bad as the last incarnation of Black Christmas, but it's close.

Cailee Spaeny is Lily, a new girl in town. She has moved with her mother (Helen, played by Michelle Monaghan) as her mother looks to start the next stage of her life with her partner (Adam, played by David Duchovny). It's not long until Lily becomes the sought-after fourth for Lourdes (Zoey Luna), Frankie (Gideon Adlon), and Tabby (Lovie Simone). Working together, the girls can cast quite a spell or two on those around them.

It's slightly disheartening to find that this movie really is just as bad as the trailer made it out to be. It's a cynical attempt to cash in on a couple of potential markets, and it's extremely lazy throughout. It says something that a few of the better moments involve Monaghan and Duchovny, the main adults, when things should really have been set up to showcase the younger stars.

Not that the cast do a terrible job. They're just poorly served by a script that gives them no chance to make any real impact. Spaeny is at the centre of the plot, but could hardly feel less like a vital lead character. As the other three have to act in orbit around her, everyone suffers. Nicholas Galitizine doesn't do bad in his role, a young man named Timmy who becomes a much more sensitive soul after a spell is cast upon him, but it never has any ring of truth to it.

The fault seems to lie squarely with Lister-Jones, who may have taken this job as a stepping stone to something that interested her more. She doesn't seem to have any handle on the characters, or the material, and the final result is a teen drama with supernatural elements delivered by someone who seems completely disinterested in what's going on.

Given a different name, this would have come and gone without anyone noticing. But tie it to The Craft and there's much more reason to dislike it (not least of which is a third act bit of plotting that will make most viewers roll their eyes).


Monday 15 March 2021

Mubi Monday: Legend (1985)

Yet another film that has been revisited and tinkered with by director Ridley Scott (who just cannot ever seem content with his films as originally released), Legend is a sumptuous fantasy flick that is almost non-stop style over substance.

Tim Curry is Darkness, determined to destroy daylight and turn the world into something dark and cold. He sends out some of his small denizens to set his plan into motion, which involves removing a horn from a unicorn and killing off those majestic creatures. A dark and cold world would be a more difficult one for Jack (Tom Cruise) and Lili (Mia Sara), especially as the former has professed his love for the latter. Do you know what a dampener it puts on new love to have Darkness turn your world into a landscape of night-time frost.

You can accuse Ridley Scott of many things, but you can never accuse him of skimping on things when it comes to creating a believable cinematic world. Love or hate the movies he has done over the years, they all take place in environments that feel 100% real. That also goes for Legend, a film with every scene looking ready for the viewer to step into. It's a shame that there's nothing else to it, beyond the visuals and the practical effects.

Writer William Hjortsberg, possibly familiar to horror fans as the writer of the novel that Angel Heart was adapted from ("Falling Angel"), has distilled things down to the most basic fairytale elements. Good, bad, magical creatures, and very little else of note. The dialogue is sparse, and what you do get isn't usually very good, unless uttered by Tim Curry. The plotting is slim, and the ending makes it all even slimmer.

Cruise and Sara do what they're asked to do, but it's just a case of them being in the right place onscreen, opposite some of the impressive creations. The best moment that Cruise gets is one in which he faces Meg Mucklebones (a green hag played by an unrecognisable Robert Picardo), but Sara gets to have a bit more fun in a sequence in which she is bewitched, and potentially turning evil. Billy Barty jumps around, David Bennent acts wide-eyed and mystical, and Annabelle Lanyon plays an oddly amorous fairy named Oona. The real star of the show is Curry, as unrecognisable under the make-up and prosthetics as many of the other performers. But there's always that voice, this time given a deeper timbre to convey the voice of Darkness. Curry really steals the show, thanks to the blend of the physical performance and practical effects.

Considering what it could have packed into the runtime, Legend is a dull film. It's also bloody gorgeous, and has a nice Tangerine Dream/Jerry Goldsmith score accompanying the visuals (delete as applicable, depending on the version you're watching). Not one to watch over and over again, I'd still tentatively recommend it to those who just want to sit back and let a visual experience wash over them.


Sunday 14 March 2021

Netflix And Chill: The Spy Next Door (2010)

Putting Jackie Chan in more family-friendly fare that should appeal to a mass American audience has rarely been a good thing, With a few notable exceptions, the results have been quite turgid. They also often make the huge mistake of covering up any Chan antics with special effects, which obfuscates their best special effect (Jackie Chan himself).

So I didn't head into The Spy Next Door with any great expectations. It's all about a retiring special agent named Bob Ho (Chan) who is dating a lovely woman (Gillian, played by Amber Valletta) and ends up looking after her three kids for a few days. The children are, in descending age order, Farren (Madeline Carroll), Ian (Will Shadley), and Nora (Alina Foley). Unaware of what Bob actually did for a living, the kids are soon surprised when they encounter a number of villains who are out to get him.

Director Brian Levant may have quite a few family features under his belt (including BOTH of The Flintstones movies and Jingle All The Way), and the writing team of Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer, joined here by Gregory Poirier, also have experience of aiming at younger viewers (the first two having also written Lindsay Lohan vehicle, Just My Luck). Which is all well and good, yet nobody knows how best to use Chan, once again.

Having said that, nobody here wanders into the outright awful mistreatment of Chan as we saw in the likes of The Medallion and The Tuxedo. While this is a less stunt-packed movie, some of the fight scenes aren't too bad, and there are some mildly amusing set-pieces. It's just a shame that, inevitably, fans of the star will have seen him do stuff like this with much better results. 

The cast are a very mixed bag. The three kids do quite well though. Carroll is the moody teen, Shadley is the young bright spark, and Foley is the cute youngest one. And Chan is Chan, which means he's pretty wonderful in pretty much anything he does. Valletta is sidelined for a lot of the film, but she's perfectly fine. Magnûs Scheving is the main villain, and there's an amusing running joke about people bringing him back unsuitable clothing from the shops. Alongside Katherine Boecher (playing Creel, his right-hand woman), Scheving is required to play his role without any real sense of threat or menace. That's a shame, because it makes everything seem much more inconsequential. Lucas Till is enjoyable in a small role, which is more than I can say for Billy Ray Cyrus (who plays Colton James, a colleague of Bob). And you have George Lopez in the role of Glaze, with him trying his best in a role that takes the most predictable turn you expect once the plot starts to kick into gear.

Taken by itself, this is far from a terrible movie. It's not a great one either. It's just a passable bit of family fare. But Chan fans have so many other films to compare it to, and that's when it starts to look worse and worse. MAYBE a decent introduction to the superstar for younger viewers, I'd certainly ask you to consider it ahead of the other two titles mentioned just above (although I have a bit more of a soft spot for The Tuxedo nowadays, thanks to the cast).


Saturday 13 March 2021

Shudder Saturday: Stay Out Of The F**king Attic (2020)

It can be surprisingly comforting at times to watch a film that is so bad, in almost every way, that I know my review will flow easily as I simply rummage around in my brain for the right expletives and derisory comments. I try to keep things from getting personal, which is a good rule to go by, but there are some films that make you want to be a bit more rude about them than usual.

Stay Out Of The F**king Attic (not me censoring the title, that is how it is displayed) is one of those films. It's sadly inept, which means the distasteful central subject matter never gets a chance to become something fun and gory.

Ryan Francis is Albert Schillinger, the boss of a removal company that gives opportunities to those who have served time in prison. Two workers with him on his latest job are Imani (Morgan Alexandria) and Carlos (Bryce Fernelius). They're about to empty the house of Vern Mueller (Michael Flynn), who wants everything gone within 24 hours, except anything in the basement and attic, both of which are out of bounds. Discovering one oddity after another, the movers soon start to realise something is very wrong. There's someone, or something, else in the house. And Vern Mueller may not be who he says he is.

That premise may sound intriguing to you. And if I add that there's a central plot strand about Nazism, and the experimentation that used to go on during WWII, then you may be even more intrigued. Don't be. This is a terrible film, clearly written by people who think they are being edgy and fun, when that couldn't be further from the truth. The best example is the young woman who appears, named Anne (Brynne Hurlbutt). She's quite monstrous in appearance, but also not necessarily a danger. And she's been hidden away in the house. So you pretty much have Anne Frank reimagined as Anne Frankenstein, without them actually leaning as far into that idea as they would need to, in order to make it fun (Troma would have done that, and it's not often I sit there wishing a movie would have been a Troma movie instead).

Director Jerren Lauder also helped to write the script with Jason Goldberg, Jesse Federman, and Julie Auerbach (all making their feature writing debut, with the exception of Auerbach). I'm not sure how it took four people to write this, especially when individual moments don't make any sense, logic isn't a major concern, and the end of the film shrugs off any consequences in a way not entirely like the way a child would simply pluck a happier ending out of thin air when unable to plot a more satisfying ending. Lauder is also directing a feature for the first time here, and it shows. Everything feels clumsy, and also completely contrived, and he cannot do anything to compensate for the writing or the acting.

Yes, the acting is also pretty bad. Sorry to say it. Francis has some of the better moments, and somehow manages to play things just about right, even when he's in some completely ridiculous scenes, but Fernelius and Alexandria are unconvincing throughout, with the latter also suffering from poor direction in scenes that have her unable to authentically yell out in pain and/or panic. Flynn is over the top from start to finish, playing his character like some obvious panto villain.

One to avoid, obviously, Stay Out Of The F**king Attic isn't even the right kind of dumb to make for a fun evening viewing choice at the weekend with some good food and drinks to accompany your viewing. It does almost nothing right, save for some decent practical effects and a couple of decent ideas that are never properly realised.


Friday 12 March 2021

No Good Deed (2014)

Idris Elba is a horrible person. In this movie. In real life, from what I have seen of his many public appearances, he seems like a lovely guy. But in this movie he's playing a horrible person. It's just a shame that the film is also quite horrible.

Elba plays Colin, a man who is hoping for parole after serving five years in prison on a manslaughter charge. His parole is refused, with at least one board member reminding everyone that Colin was also the main suspect in the murders of five different women. Heading back to prison, Colin escapes and immediately heads out to get revenge on his ex-fiancée (Alexis, played by Kate del Castillo). He also ends up losing control of his car, and inveigling his way into the home of Terri (Taraji P. Henson), a neglected wife and busy mother of two. And so begins a tense game of cat and mouse.

Well, that's what should happen. What you end up getting is a bit different.

Director Sam Miller has a career full of some quality TV work (including Luther, another show that did great things for Elba), but he tries to maintain a cinematic sheen to the predictable dross here. There's nothing too showy, and he can often let viewers simply enjoy the leads interacting with one another, but there's nothing too static and "stage-bound" either.

Writer Aimee Lagos, with one short and one other feature to her credit (both of which she also directed), is the person who lets everyone down. Her script is trite, drawn out, despite the brief runtime, and often almost outright laughable. The fact that Elba and Henson make the thing even remotely watchable is testament to their talent. Make a list of everything you see in thrillers that make a lead character seem dumb, often just to sustain things until an established end point, and you can check off every item while watching this.

I don't need to go on any more about how good the leads are. I at least knew that I was a fan of both actors before I started watching the film. I didn't expect greatness, but I was hoping for some fun. There are some fun moments, and all of them happen in the scenes that have Elba and Henson working opposite one another in a fluid and flirtatious manner. Leslie Bibb does well in a supporting role (a best friend named Meg), the kind of role that means you just know what's going to happen as soon as you see her billing, and the few other players do perfectly fine, including the young children.

It's not as bad as some ridiculous thrillers, granted, but this is bad. There's not enough room for the plot to have any decent twists and turns, even if Lagos could have been bothered to try harder, and every minute of runtime makes things feel less and less plausible. It's not a painful experience though. It's just a sadly unenjoyable one.


Thursday 11 March 2021

Drop Zone (1994)

Let's be clear from the very beginning. Both you and I know that Drop Zone, a mid-90s action movie that throws Wesley Snipes in a plot involving some skydiving criminals, isn't a traditionally great movie. Even if you've not seen it before, you have an idea of the kind of entertainment it is aiming to deliver. The important thing is whether or not it actually delivers.

If you don't want to read my full thoughts, the general answer is yes.

Things start with a major incident on a plane, one that sees Pete Nessip (Snipes) lose his partner/brother, Terry (Malcolm-Jamal Warner). This means the whole thing is personal, of course, which also means that Snipes has his badge taken off him, because he's clearly a cop on the edge. His main lead is the fact that these criminals managed to pull of their crime in such an audacious manner, signifying that they must be skilled skydivers. Pete makes contact with Jessie Crossman (Yancy Butler), a skydiver who may know some of the people involved, and he ends up joining a talented crew on a number of high-altitude exercises.

Directed by John Badham, a man with a very entertaining, but also very inconsistent, filmography, Drop Zone is a typical slice of action nonsense from this time. There's some very good stunt work throughout, but the only problem is the recurring inability to perfectly blend in the main actors during the few moments in which audiences have to see them close-up while they "skydive". Everything filmed at more of a distance is much better though. Writers Peter Barsocchini and John Bishop don't care much for anything that isn't a cliché, which makes the script as eye-rolling as it is amusing. Subtlety and smarts are kept to a minimum, but it's easy to forgive when the cast and action beats help to carry it all along.

Snipes is, and always was, a solid action hero. This isn't his best action movie role, that will always be his turn in Demolition Man, but he always seems capable of handling himself, even when he has to get to grips with skydiving. Gary Busey is the head villain, and he's a fantastic presence, relishing the opportunity to play another character who shows no mercy as he executes his criminal plan, and you also get a fun supporting turn from Michael Jeter. Butler is a bit of a weak link, I've just never found her an appealing presence (from the little I have seen of her work, which would be this movie and Hard Target), but it's another role hitting a number of expected beats. Kyle Secor is a highlight, playing a skydiver named Swoop, and everyone else does decidedly okay.

It doesn't really do enough to stand out from the crowd, but Drop Zone is the kind of film that you want to watch BECAUSE it's so similar to many other films from this time. It's unremarkable, yet that's part of the appeal when you're in the right mood.


Wednesday 10 March 2021

Prime Time: Coming 2 America (2021)

Coming along over thirty years after the original, Coming 2 America also comes after a lot of years that led to a decline in the star status of Eddie Murphy. And there's no John Landis here. So I can understand why fans would be wary.

Murphy once again plays Prince Akeem (as well as many other characters), based in his homeland with his family, a wife and three daughters. As his father (James Earl Jones) passes away, it comes to light that Akeem may well have a male child from his time in America. This was all thanks to his loyal manservant, Semmi (Arsenio Hall). And a male child is apparently required to take over the throne from Akeem, despite the strength and intelligence of his eldest daughter, Meeka (KiKi Layne). Under pressure from the neighbouring General Izzi (Wesley Snipes), Akeem finds his son, Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler), and brings him back, along with his mother (Mary, played by Leslie Jones), and his Uncle Reem (Tracy Morgan).

While it's not the funniest comedy film released in the past few years, not by a long shot, Coming 2 America manages to remain consistently amusing throughout, as well as taking moments to celebrate some of the popular art and culture of African Americans. Director Craig Brewer keeps everything moving along nicely enough, with the only main flaw being an unnecessary flashback or two that features a de-aged Murphy on a previously-unseen stage of his adventure that made up the first movie. Remember when movies had to use smart camera positioning, make-up, and stand-ins to do that kind of thing? New technology isn't always the best option. 

The script, by Kenya Barris, Barry W. Blaustein, and David Sheffield, stays largely on point, with the focus this time around being on the need for old patriarchies to be shaken up in order for any real progress to be made. Akeem once again wrestles with traditions, wanting to move forward while remaining respectful, and his life is nicely juxtaposed with the life that his son has known, but this is a male-dominated film with a loud message about gender equality, and the casting of the supporting roles helps immensely with that.

Layne is superb, trying to keep her grace and her cool while justifiably angry at the old rules keeping her sidelined. Nomzamo Mbatha is equally wonderful as Mirember, the royal groomer who has some strong views on the way things should be run. You get cameos from En Vogue, Salt-N-Pepa, and it's nice that they didn't try to recast Shari Headley (Lisa, the love of Akeem's life). Although not always front and centre, Headley is the one person often influencing the way that Akeem thinks and acts. Then you have Jones, who is a lot of fun for pretty much every minute she's onscreen. Murphy and Hall are having a lot of fun, whether in their main roles or portraying some of the many faces familiar to fans of the first film (the barbers return, as well as one or two other firm favourites). Fowler is a worthy addition, and he often outshines a lively Morgan (the wide-eyed youth just plays a bit better than the loud-mouthed, cocky, uncle), but it's a huge treat to watch Snipes having so much role as the menacing-but-rictus-grinned General who looks set to wage war.

There are no major set-pieces, and very few BIG laughs throughout, unlike the first film, but this is a good way to do a belated comedy sequel. You get to spend some time re-acquanting yourself with some very likeable characters, and there are lots of call backs to keep you smiling. I've seen many people complain about it, which is just down to personal taste, but I've been struggling to wonder why some have warned others away from it so strongly. Personally, I'd tentatively recommend it. It's an easy one to enjoy in company for an evening's entertainment.


Tuesday 9 March 2021

The Unnamable (1988)

The works of H. P. Lovecraft have been adapted into film form with expected varying results. His work often revolves around the kind of horrors that can barely be described, lest anyone be driven mad, and trying to convey that cinematically is very difficult. Film, of course, is a visual medium, first and foremost, so it's not best suited for stories about the indescribable.

I don't think I have read the short story that this film is based on, but it's clear from the title that it's in line with many other Lovecraft tales. Although it's worth noting, for anyone after some bizarre movie trivia, that "the unnamable" is actually named Alyda. I guess The Namable just wouldn't have been as enticing a movie title for horror fans stumbling upon this when it was stocked in video stores.

There's an old "haunted" house, one in which a monstrous creature lives. A bunch of people end up in that house. Things get spooky and dangerous, and the one person who may be best-equipped to deal with the whole situation is the studious and intelligent Randolph Carter (Mark Kinsey Stephenson).

What does this get right, and what does it do to keep it in line with some other Lovecraft movie adaptations? First, the central lore is decent. You get some backstory, a mixture of standard horror and something slightly sad, and you get Randolph Carter as a typical Lovecraft character, and one who could so easily have been a villain, with just a few tweaks. You also get some very impressive creature design, displayed prominently in the third act after a lot of time spent keeping it hidden away for the majority of the preceding runtime.

What does it get wrong? Well, the other characters don't feel right. Howard Damon (Charles Klausmeyer) is the main companion of Carter for most of the movie, and he's relatively inept and unlikable, while Tanya Heller (Alexandra Durrell) and Wendy Barnes (Laura Albert) are young women who end up visiting the house to be scared and hit on by Bruce Weeks (Eben Ham) and John Babcock (Blane Wheatley). None of these five characters feel right for the material, especially with the old-fashioned way in which things play out in between occasional moments of gore. The actors vary in the quality of their performances, but at least Stephenson just about does well enough to make you forget that he's not Jeffrey Combs.

Writer-director Jean-Paul Ouellette has only a few films to his credit, with another one of those being the sequel to this, and he handles everything capably enough to avoid it feeling like his debut directorial feature, which it is. This is more of an oddity than a completely satisfying movie experience, but it's one that I'd easily recommend to horror fans with the patience for it. The middle section may feel a bit padded out, because it is, but there are too many good little touches scattered throughout to make it an easy film to dismiss.


Monday 8 March 2021

Mubi Monday: Queen Of Earth (2015)

I get it, not every film can be Persona. Or Repulsion. Or any other absolute classic that revolves around the psychological unravelling of a lead female character. That doesn't mean that people should give up though. There are lots of very interesting films that aren't classics. None of those very interesting films seem to come from writer-director Alex Ross Perry, although I am making this sweeping statement after having seen only two of his movies. Maybe I'll change my mind on him soon. Maybe not.

Elisabeth Moss plays Catherine, a woman who is at a real low point in her life, having ended a major relationship and lost her father (who committed suicide). Katherine Waterston is Virginia, Catherine's closest friend. The two are spending some time together at a lake house, somewhere they have spent many times together in the past, but things are strained by Catherine's mental health, as well as a man (Rich, played by Patrick Fugit) who seems to enjoy antagonising Catherine while he keeps popping round to spend time with Virginia. Things move between the past and the present, with nothing really impacting on the characters in a way that feels meaningful.

It's not that Queen Of Earth is irredeemably bad. The script has some good lines, and Perry certainly helps himself by picking two women who do a good job in the lead roles. But that doesn't give the film a free pass. Those good lines are like small pieces of gold in a whole lot of muddy river water, and no one speech or exchange holds up as an entirely satisfying piece. 

Moss gets to be at her most erratic, sometimes child-like in her mannerisms and sometimes looking ready to kill someone. She does well, and obviously relishes delivering the best lines given to her. Waterston has less motivation for some of her behaviour (she's depicted as being quite the unfriendly "friend" in some of the flashbacks that show her reacting to Catherine's relationship), but she commits to the performance. I've never been the biggest fan of either actress, which means other people who enjoy their work more may well like this film a lot more than I did. As for Fugit, he's given a character who is irritating for almost every moment he's onscreen. It's nothing that even a great actor could work to improve, and Fugit, although decent enough in the right roles, is not a great actor.

The fault here lies squarely with Perry, who fails to make the most of his assets. If he'd been more confident with the tonal shading, if he'd laced the script with some more intriguing details, and if he'd just been a bit more focused, then this could have been a good film. The cast would have had a chance to really shine. But Perry does none of those things, and it's only thanks to the cast that any of it is tolerable.


Sunday 7 March 2021

Netflix And Chill: Black Water: Abyss (2020)

There's a difference between trying to generally avoid reviews about a movie you're going to watch and being completely ignorant of the majority opinion. I like to try and stick with the former, which is why I sometimes know when my own opinion of a movie is likely to be contrary to the opinion of so many others. But it's all subjective, so we should all be able to agree or disagree on various art subjects and still get along, right? Well, unless we're talking about Home Alone 4: Taking Back The House or The Amityville Haunting, both of which rank among the worst movies I have ever seen.

Let me start with a reminder that I didn't really like Black Water, a killer croc movie that decided to use the "based on a true story" line to make up for the majority of it being a bit dull. Lots of people liked it more than I did, and I would already direct you to my first paragraph at this point. Re-read that paragraph before you continue, please. It's only going to become more obvious why I started with those words.

Black Water: Abyss gives us the premise of five friends who decide to explore a cave system, and who then get stuck when some rocks fall and trap them. It's dark, there may be no way out, and the water is rising. And there's a big hungry crocodile somewhere in the water. Part killer croc film and part The Descent, this is a much more satisfying, and simplistically entertaining, movie than its predecessor.

Andrew Traucki returns to the directing duties, flying solo this time around, and the script is by John Ridley and Sarah Smith. Everyone involved knows exactly what kind of movie they want to create, and there are plenty of familiar beats, including a third act that has a preposterous way of placing any survivors back in danger. I know this may have some people hating me, but sometimes there's comfort in the familiar, especially when compared to a film that promised so much and delivered very little. And that's why I was pleasantly surprised by this sequel.

The cast are a selection of decent disposable faces, with identities and relationships becoming a lot clearer in the second half, while everyone tries to avoid the crocodile, plan attempted escapes, and take moments to consider one or two big revelations. Jessica McNamee and Amali Golden are Jennifer and Yolanda, the female leads, and they get some decent moments together. Luke Mitchell is Eric, Benjamin Hoetjes is Viktor, and Anthony J. Sharpe is Cash. Hoetjes is the one character injured early on, which means he has to sit around and wince in pain for most of his screentime, but both Mitchell and Sharpe get involved with some impressively tense moments.

It's maybe about 5-10 minutes too long, and certainly could have done without the irritating final sequence that feels like one contrivance too far, but Black Water: Abyss is pretty perfect fare for those wanting a simple and entertaining creature feature. It's not bringing anything new to the table, but it does everything it sets out to do well enough. I wouldn't rush to revisit it, but I'm glad I checked it out.


Saturday 6 March 2021

Shudder Saturday: Lucky (2020)

Brea Grant plays May, a woman who has a few problems in her life. Things are a bit rocky with her husband, Ted (Dhruv Uday Singh). Her book sales have dwindled, which means that career path may be coming to an end. And every night a man comes into her home and tries to kill her. She can wound, or even seem to kill, the man, but the body disappears a moment later. The police don't seem able to help, and they offer advice that doesn't take into account the strangeness of her situation.

Directed by Natasha Kermani, who is really hitting her stride now with this, her third feature, and the film preceding it (Imitation Girl), Lucky is a horror that extrapolates a very real, and constant, problem. The script, written by Grant, is enjoyably clever in the way it weaves so many familiar horror movie clichés with the kind of experiences that women go through every single day, whether that is having their concerns dismissed, having friends offer extra criticism when simple support is needed, or any number of other problems that seem to only really affect the female half of the population.

It may seem like the wrong time for Lucky to have been released, those who like to keep their heads in the sand may think that people are now facing consequences for behaviours that were once just accepted as standard, but it's actually a perfect extra reminder of everything that needs to be worked on. Mansplaining, gaslighting, domestic abuse, victim-blaming, expecting women to change their behaviour because of the actions of men, all of these things are covered in Lucky. There's also a great moment in which May is worn out and worn down, and snaps at someone who calls the result of her hard work a stroke of good luck. Although that particular issue isn't one just experienced by women, they tend to have their hard work shrugged off more often than men. 

It's not the best performance I have seen recently from Grant, but she does good enough in the lead role. Singh does well alongside her, playing his character in a fairly neutral way that allows for most of his dialogue to be reconsidered as the main point of the film becomes clearer with each passing scene. Hunter C. Smith is "The Man", doing a good bit of stalk 'n' slash work, and there are good turns from Yasmine Al-Bustami, Leith M. Burke, and Larry Cedar, with the latter a standout as a cop who seems to be acting in the best interests of May without actually offering any real help. 

The one weak performer isn't actually onscreen, it's Jeremy Zuckerman, responsible for a surprisingly poor soundtrack throughout. Zuckerman may be trying to riff on one or two well-known slasher movie themes, or maybe he isn't, but the end result ends up detracting from the visuals on one or two occasions.

Perhaps not sitting as comfortably within the boundaries of the horror genre that some fans want their movies to stay in, and with a central message that is about as subtle as a brick to the face, Lucky is an impressive and smart film. Subtlety be damned, especially when the message STILL isn't getting through to those who need to hear it, and Grant and Kermani lead viewers to a rewarding, if ambiguous, finale.


Friday 5 March 2021

The Stylist (2020)

I admit that my review of the short film of the same name that The Stylist was developed from could seem a little harsh. I said that it had decent first half squandered by the second half, and that it was ultimately not very good, although was at least polished and lovely to look at. A lot of people will disagree with that, and I wouldn't spend too much time arguing with them. Because The Stylist was a very well-made short. It just didn't work for me, certainly not as well as it worked for so many others.

And now we have the feature, once again allowing director Jill Gevargizian to get a wonderful performance from her lead, Najarra Townsend.

Townsend plays Claire, the stylist of the title. It doesn't take long to see that she's not your usual hair stylist. She is a bit of a psychopath. Which makes things dangerous for Olivia (Brea Grant), a bride-to-be who needs Claire to help her with her wedding day hairstyle. Olivia acts like a friend to Claire at times, not just a client and service provider, not really noticing any warning signs until it may be too late. Will Claire manage to keep herself under control as the wedding draws ever closer?

Let me start with the good things here. Gevargizian is an excellent director, and has a great eye for making even the more macabre moments look visually appealing. Having co-written the script with Eric Havens and Eric Stolze, she also has a knack for building moments of discomfort and keeping everything moving well as she leads viewers towards an unsurprising finale.

There are also two superb lead performances, from both Townsend and Grant, that help to make the more ridiculous moments feel plausible. Grant has been fairly ubiquitous in the horror genre within the past year or two, and long may it continue, she's always a welcome presence. Townsend may not have quite the same profile, but her portrayal of the sympathetic and deadly Claire should ensure that she is now on the radar for many horror genre fans.

What doesn't work? Without wanting to sound completely dismissive, this feels like a feature that should have remained a short. I know that I started this review with my own harsh criticism of the original short film, but tweaking and fleshing that out slightly could have led to a better end result than this feature. Once the chain of events has been kick-started, and it won't take most viewers long to see where everything is going, The Stylist becomes little more than an okay "punchline" preceded by a number of scenes that don't flow into one another as smoothly as they should. You get those impressive moments I mentioned above, but they're small diversions, and it's irritating to see some scenes create a tension that is then dismissed by the time certain characters next talk to one another.

Despite my thoughts on how this feature would make a better short, and how the original short could have been improved upon, I didn't dislike The Stylist. Gevargizian is someone to keep an eye on, as are both Townsend and Grant, and the film has a certain something that manages to keep you hooked throughout (whether that is the lead performances, or perhaps the potential that's so obviously there in the fascinating central character). I won't rush to rewatch it, but it's worth remembering that I seem to be very much in the minority here. Again.