Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Prime Time: The Negotiator (1998)

An absolute comfort viewing of the highest order, The Negotiator is a slick and enjoyable thriller, even if it is pretty predictable how things are going to pan out by the final act. The script by James DeMonaco and Kevin Fox mixes in wit and some real tension, and director F. Gary Gray is a dependable pair of hands for the material, leading to what I view as a personal highlight from his filmography.

Samuel L. Jackson plays Danny Roman, a skilled hostage negotiator who finds himself set up on charges of financial wrongdoing and the murder of a colleague. With no other way to get to the truth, Danny takes a number of hostages. This leads to a stand-off in which the hostage-taker can easily stay one step ahead of those trying to resolve the situation. Danny requests to speak to Chris Sabian (Kevin Spacey), another skilled negotiator, famous for de-escalating situations to give him a record free of fatalities. Not knowing which of his friends has betrayed him, Danny decides to put his trust in a stranger. The evidence certainly seems stacked against him though, but we know he's innocent . . . because he's Samuel L. Jackson.

Although this runs for just over two hours (the runtime on PAL format is about 134 minutes) it doesn't feel as if it outstays its welcome. Freidnships and tensions are set up from a smart opening sequence that shows our hero at work, getting the best result while infuriating those who want to barge in and end the situation quicker. Beck (David Morse) is one of those put out, keen to send in the men with guns, which makes him a potential suspect when the conspiracy to frame Danny starts to become clear. There are plenty of others to suspect, however, thanks to the cast being so loaded with great actors.

As well as the leads, both doing brilliant work, you have enjoyable performances from Ron Rifkin, John Spencer, the inimitable J. T. Walsh, Michael Cudlitz, Tim Kelleher, Nestor Serrano, Dean Norris, Regina Taylor, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, and Paul Giamatti. And Morse, of course. By the standards of most people, that is a cast absolutely packed with quality actors, and none of them are just sleepwalking through the film.

More about the brainpower than firepower, those seeking a thriller with some big action moments may be disappointed by this. It's quite removed from the kind of thrillers that were churned out with the names Simpson and/or Bruckheimer attached (not that there's anything wrong with those, especially when you have enough popcorn to hand). This is fairly restrained throughout, with only a couple of important deaths helping to propel the plot forward, but the sparks fly as Jackson gets to outwit and shout down those around him, particularly when he shares the screen with Spacey. It holds up well, and I will happily revisit it any time.

8/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Come Play With Me (1977)

Curiosity got the better of me, I admit it, and I finally watched Come Play With Me for the first time a few years ago. It was, in many ways, one of the most successful movies in British cinemas (particularly the Moulin Cinema in London) in the late 1970s, and it was sold on the obvious appeal of Mary Millington, despite her having only a relatively small share of the screentime.

The basic plot concerns Clapworthy (played by writer-director George Harrison Marks) and Kelly (Alfie Bass) trying to lay low at a quiet health resort as they attempt to print numerous forged banknotes that are causing quite the impact on the national economy. They're also hiding away from a tough gangster named Slasher (Ronald Fraser), which makes the resort, run by Lady Bovington (Irene Handl), a perfect place to just relax and stay under the radar. Unfortunately, or fortunately, a coach full of lovely ladies arrive, led by Lady Bovington's nephew, Rodney (Jerry Lordan), and they decide to do whatever it takes to drum up extra business for the resort. That usually means getting quite naked, and getting much more physical with the guests.

I wondered if this second viewing would make Come Play With Me a more enjoyable experience, knowing how bemused I had been when first giving it a go. Nope, it turns out that I am still puzzled about the massive success this enjoyed, which must have been the result of Millington's name and a constant marketing campaign in at least one top shelf magazine titles.

Bemused or not, however, there's no denying that this DID enjoy huge success, and I wanted to explore the filmography of Millington (billed as the most popular British porn star of the 1970s, and a woman who ended her life tragically at the far-too-young age of 33). Having watched Respectable: The Mary Millington Story, I purchased a fine box set of her movies, and also have a superb book all about her. The films might all end up being awful, I'll have to wait and see, but it's easy to see why so many were smitten with Millington, a woman with that perfect mix of "girl next door" looks and liberated sexuality.

Let's get back to the film though, which is only really worth watching for Millington, and the faltering performances from Handl and Fraser, as well as an entertaining little turn from Milton Reid. Every scene makes it obvious that this was made as quickly and cheaply as possible, and Marks and Bass, while moderately capable, are very strange choices for the lead roles. The sex is decidedly unsexy, the humour rarely lands, and there's not enough moments focusing on Millington, despite the mix of other women happy to wear very little clothing, or none at all, while the film stumbles from one sequence to the next, with an odd musical number thrown in for good measure.

I'm not bothered if people question my motives for watching these films, the gratuitous nudity at least guarantees I won't be bored for the entire runtime, but I have a strange affection for the British sex comedies of this era. I'm also fascinated by them, whether they are films that were mis-sold to audiences who expected much more sex, or whether they were films trying to use actors with "cheeky charm" moving from one saucy encounter to another. Whatever you think of them as works of cinema, they were relatively successful with audiences, from the Millington vehicles to "Confessions Of...", as well as the "Adventures Of..." movies. They're not essential viewings, by any means, but they shouldn't necessarily be consigned to the dustbin of history, considering the money and reputations that they made for some of the people involved.

3/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Monday, 28 June 2021

Mubi Monday: Princess Cyd (2017)

It's strange that Princess Cyd is written and directed by a man, Stephen Cone, because it feels very much like the kind of material that would be so brilliantly brought to the screen by a woman. It really captures certain feelings and moments, there are times when this is absolutely beautiful in how laser-focused it can be, and stealthily starts to pluck at your heartstrings until you realise that you're *that* close to some happy tears.

Admittedly, having never been a teenage girl, this film may not seem to be aimed at me. It's fine though, because we've all been teenagers, and Princess Cyd showcases a teen who is typical, in so many ways, and yet also better than many of us could have hoped to be at that age.

Jessie Pinnick is Cyd, a 16-year-old who goes to visit her aunt (Miranda, played by Rebecca Spence) in Chicago. Miranda is quite a well-known writer, and she seems to have a lot of interests that are a world removed from anything Cyd might like. She also doesn't seem all that interested in sex, which is something popping into Cyd's mind a lot, especially after she meets a local girl named Katie (Malic White). But, and this is very important throughout the movie, Cyd and Miranda have a shared connection in the way they grow closer to one another. Family bonds are one thing, but getting to know someone better, and respect and admire their differences as well as their similarities to you, is quite something else. 

With a traumatic past event being alluded to, the clash between a teen and her aunt, and a period of sexual exploration coinciding with a summer holiday, Princess Cyd could have gone in any number of different directions. I admit that during the earliest scenes, with Cyd making some assumptions and trying to cut in as Miranda was speaking, I didn't think I was going to enjoy this. That kind of conversational style is very much how teens are, especially when trying too hard to show interest in something they may not care for, but it's only used here before Cyd starts to settle into her new surroundings. Cone is very smart in his way of making the characters completely believable, but also developing them naturally and carefully to a point that proves massively rewarding by the time we all move on towards a finale that is able to bring a lump to your throat with one brief telephone conversation.

Aside from his superb script, Cone also gets things right with the way everything is shot. The camera stays close to the leads, but without doing that irritating thing every minute of hanging around close to someone's neck while you hear them breathing (you know what I mean, you've seen it in many other independent movies). We get a lot closer, and more "tactile", when things are intimate, but those scenes are also shot with a mix of intimacy and care that once again belies the fact that a man helmed this film.

If there is any justice in the world then Pinnick is destined to have a fantastic film career ahead of her. She's an absolute star in this role, a captivating presence who handles the more cinematic beats without ever feeling fake. That's not to dismiss the performance from Spence, who is excellent working alongside/opposite her, but this is a real showcase for Pinnick. White is on par with the other leads, and James Vincent Meredith makes a great impression as Anthony, one of Miranda's friends, also a writer trying to better his work with her advice.

There are one or two little things I can't quite put my finger on that stop this from being perfect, but it certainly comes pretty damn close. I look forward to checking out more from Cone when I get to them, and I'll definitely be looking out for other films that make good use of Pinnick. And, just in case it wasn't completely clear from my effusive praise above, this is highly recommended.

9/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Sunday, 27 June 2021

Netflix And Chill: Awake (2021)

If you have been using the internet for some time then you have undoubtedly read some spooky story that purports to be all about infamous experiments in sleep deprivation. It is an idea rife with great potential for someone wanting to make a decent horror movie. And here we have Awake.

Gina Rodriguez plays Jill, an ex-soldier who is now struggling to get her life back on track after issues with addiction that has resulted in her children (Matilda, played by Ariana Greenblatt, and Noah, played by Lucius Hoyos) no longer being in her care. Out and about with them for the day, things go crazy when something affects all of the electrics around the world, like some massive EMP, and that then leads to very few people being able to sleep. But young Matilda can sleep, which might make her very important to the kids mitre future of humanity. All of the negative effects you expect from a lack of sleep start to take hold very quickly, for no good reason, and the world starts to slide further and further into madness.

Directed by Mark Raso, who also co-wrote the script with Joseph Raso, Awake is a film undone by carelessness and impatience, arguably more so than any other film I can think of in recent years. What you want/need here is a nice, creepy build-up as things start to break down, in terms of both physical health and society. What you get is a rush from normality to madness, making the whole thing far less believable as people lose one night of sleep and immediately turn into zombiefied loonies. There’s one line of dialogue that explains this without explaining it (someone says that things are moving along quicker than they normally would, that is supposed to satisfactorily explain the timeline), which means you get a lot of standard “humans are the real threat” moments when you could have had a nice selection of unsettling set-pieces as the main characters started to piece together the big picture.

Despite the problems with the script, and the fairly lacklustre direction, I cannot really fault the performances here. Rodriguez, Hoyos, and everyone else unable to sleep at least look suitably shattered, reacting slower to things around them and slurring their speech slightly. Greenblatt is suitably bright and nervy, lucky enough to be able to sleep, but also knowing that everyone else wants her to help them find a cure. Jennifer Jason Leigh is a desperate scientist, and there are decent little supporting turns from Frances Fisher, Barry Pepper, Shamier Anderson (a highlight as an escaped convict going by the name Dodge), and Gil Bellows.

Based on a story by Gregory Poirier, Awake is treated in a way that makes it a massive disappointment. There is some good horror in the third act, and a couple of decent moments scattered here and there, but it doesn’t do enough to make it worth your time. Even if it won’t necessarily send you to sleep.

4/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Saturday, 26 June 2021

Shudder Saturday: An Unquiet Grave (2020)

In a number of ways, An Unquiet Grave is a great little horror movie (although it's very mild, mainly playing out as an intimate drama with a couple of good shocks thrown into the third act). It does well with limited resources, and explores grief and what lengths people are willing to go to in order to have some more time with loved ones.

Jamie (Jacob A. Ware) has a plan to bring back his dead spouse, Julia, and he enlists the help of her twin sister, Ava (Christine Nyland, who also co-wrote the script with director Terence Krey). Although the plan seems ill-advised, Ava wants to give it a try. But Jamie hasn't told her everything, and he intends to do something that could put them all in serious jeopardy.

With only three characters involved in the plot, and only two cast members portraying them, An Unquiet Grave has to be good enough in the script department, and pacing, to hold your interest until it ends. Thankfully, it is. Nyland and Krey's script is intriguing, but it is also scattered with a lot of little lines of dialogue and moments that will ring true to anyone who has experienced a dangerous black hole of grief that could easily swallow up so much of their personality and feelings. It also does a great job, certainly in the first two thirds of the film, of lacing most scenes with an unnerving hint of things about to become dark and horrifying. 

Krey, making his feature debut, keeps things simple with his direction, and it's just a shame that he goes for an approach of near-full restraint (one impressively haunting image aside). He allows the characters to convey everything outwith the frame, whether it's their history or their fear of things that viewers don't get a full look at, and this approach certainly helps to keep things comfortably within the limitations that he is working with.

Ware and Nyland are both very good in their roles, with the latter perfectly nailing his performance between desperate widow and slightly creepy guy playing with fire. Nyland has to show a wider range, but she also gets every moment just spot on.

My only major gripe is the ending. Despite the film never really moving into a higher gear, so to speak, it moves along nicely enough, and starts to put everything together in a way that draws viewers in, and has them starting to consider more and more implications. Then it feels as if it just gives up, deciding that it's time to wrap everything up. This leaves the last 5-10 minutes completely flat and unsatisfying, and the absolutely last scene of the film is a huge disappointment. I didn't think it was quite enough to undo all of the good work done in the previous hour or so (and the runtime is a nice, tight, 72 minutes), but I can easily see other people disagreeing with me on that point.

Worth the short portion of your day that it will take up, but worth approaching as a horror-tinged drama, with expectations kept in check, rather than something that will deliver bloodshed and jump scares. 

6/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Friday, 25 June 2021

These Final Hours (2013)

Nathan Phillips stars here as James, a selfish mess of a young man who is trying to get to a party, and to his girlfriend. He wants to get drunk and messy, but ends up distracted from his main journey by a young girl (Rose, played by Angourie Rice) he ends up saving from some dangerous pedophiles. The two head along to the party, an occasion with added significance for being the last one that many will attend. The world is about to end, you see, and people are making choices about how to spend their last living moments. Many want to break rules and wallow in excess and debauchery, some just want to find the right person with which to shuffle off the mortal coil.

Written and directed by Zak Hilditch, These Final Hours is a very good film, technically speaking, that just didn’t resonate with me. I finally checked this out after friends mentioned it recently, and nobody really had a bad word to say about it, so I expected good things. Weirdly, I can recognise all of the individual moments that should affect and move me. They just didn’t work, mainly because this film feels so derivative of many other films in this specific sub-genre without ever really committing to any specific tone. You have moments of tension, but they are too fleeting. You have moments of strong emotion, but they are often held in check by the characters. You have a good central relationship between James and Rose, but it already begins with everyone knowing that they won’t have much time together.

Phillips and Rice are both excellent in their roles, believable and easy to root for, especially when compared to almost everyone else appearing in the movie. Sarah Snook makes a strong impression as a woman who sees her own daughter in Rose, Daniel Henshall is the party host, and both Kathryn Beck and Jessica de Gouw play the main women figuring in plans that James has for his last day of life. Lynette Curran also deserves a mention, onscreen for a key scene between James and his mother.

I cannot put my finger on why I didn’t like this as much as so many other people. I like the cast, I like the journey that the main characters go on, I like the decisions made by Hilditch to avoid providing any easy escape, or deus ex machine, for his leads. I just didn’t truly settle in to the full experience, and I was always wondering about the many different directions this could have gone in, to make the film a bit darker or lighter. Maybe it hits a bit differently after seeing how awful human beings can be when there’s even a hint of something affecting their day to day lives, which makes the behaviours shown here far from shocking. Or maybe I am just growing a bit more heartless and/or stoic in my “old age”. 

5/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Thursday, 24 June 2021

The Binge (2020)

A typical teen comedy, in many ways, The Binge focuses on three friends who are out for what should be a legendary night out. Griffin (Skyler Gisondo) wants to reach a big party and confess his feelings to Lena (Grace Van Dien), Hags (Dexter Darden) wants a night that massively boosts their status, and Andrew (Eduardo Franco) is just enjoying the journey, fuelled by drink and drugs. Andrew has a mean brother who may spoil their plans, and Lena is the daughter of Principal Carleson (Vince Vaughn), which makes things complicated.

Directed by Jeremy Garelick (who also gave us The Wedding Ringer, but don’t judge him on that alone), The Binge is a decent selection of set-pieces and minor chuckles written by Jordan VanDina with one big twist that adds to the fun. This is a film that is set in an America where all alcohol and narcotics have been banned, with everything accessible only one day a year. Yes, it is The Purge, but with drugs and alcohol. All other laws and rules still apply, as clarified in a hilarious speech from the Proncipal to the school pupils.

Admittedly, there aren’t too many big laughs here, and if you want something unpredictable then a teen comedy is not what you should be looking for, but the idea is good, and silly, enough to do a lot of lifting. It feels like we haven’t had a strong full-on comedy for a couple of years now (maybe that is just the elasticated time factor of the past year or so) and this does what you want it to do be or just over ninety minutes. There’s even a fun musical number to enjoy.

Gisondo, Darden, and Franco are decent leads, the latter having made an impression on me in a number of recent enjoyable comedies. Van Dien is a bright and appealing love interest, typically so lovely and funny that you are not quite sure why she might be interested in the lead character, but these films are mainly fantasies. Then you have Vaughn, giving another superb turn as the Principal, and someone who is very much anti-binge, perhaps with strong reasons to be that way. Vaughn has been excelling in a variety of roles recently, and I hope he is rewarded for some of the great moments that he has been delivering.

There could be more done here, the script could have been polished up a lot more, supporting cast could be better, and the soundtrack could have had a selection of hits throughout, but this generally succeeds in what it is aiming to do. People drink alcohol and take drugs, and the results are fairly amusing. There are also a couple of very fun impressions of Pacino in Scarface.

Unlike the activities depicted onscreen, you probably won’t regret this once it’s all over. Nothing great, but a decent enough choice if you’re in the mood for some dumb fun.

6/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Prime Time: CarousHELL (2016)

Another low-budget bit of madness from director Steve Rudzinski, who also co-wrote the film with Aleen Isley, CarousHELL is a typical tale of horny folk, party games, and a carousel unicorn that wants to get off the ride and kill as many people as it can.

I first encountered Rudzinski when I checked out one of the “Meowy” movies (and let me say now . . . it was cute and fun, and you could pick many worse low-budget short films to watch, as long as you know what to expect). Having then discussed it briefly online, Rudzinski was gracious enough to point out more in-jokes I may have missed, and directed me to where I could see more of his work. I am just sorry that it took me this long to dive back into the weird and wonderful world of this guy, because he definitely works on my wavelength.

Despite the obvious low-budget here (and we may be talking a few hundred dollars), CarousHELL delivers one or two fun gore gags, but it’s first and foremost a comedy. The unicorn (named Duke, and voiced by Steve Rimpici) may be a threat to everyone, despite being so ridiculous in terms of visuals and dialogue that it never feels like a main concern, but the focus never strays far from the assortment of partygoers, from one horny individual to another, to the poor pizza delivery guy (played by Rudzinski) who just wants the money owed to him, plus tip.

As well as Duke and the pizza delivery guy, other memorable characters include the lusty Laurie (Sé Marie), the unicorn-loving Sarah (Haley Madison) and potential hero Cowboy Cool (P. J. Gaynard in an amusingly silly park-worker outfit). The acting may vary wildly in quality, but at least everyone involved taps into the infectiously silly vibe that Rudzinski puts ahead of everything else.

You also get the usual load of nods and references from Rudzinski scattered throughout the film, from Dumb & Dumber to The Evil Dead and many more. If you’re a movie fan then you can see the same love for certain films in every Rudzinski outing, and that is another factor that can help you overlook the limitations of his minuscule budgets.

Do I recommend this to all? Hell, no. Do I recommend it to anyone? Not without a main proviso. I hope some people watch this, and I hope they have as much fun with it as I did, but you have to accept it for what it is. It is a film made with a sense of fun, a load of heart, elbow grease, spit and polish. And maybe some sticky tape. If all of that cannot make up for the fact that it was made with very little actual money available then look elsewhere. But I hope some people can look beyond the surface, because you don’t get enough comedy slasher movies about deadly killer carousel unicorns.

6/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews


Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Paganini Horror (1989)

The kind of bonkers Italian horror movie from the eighties that we fans seem to automatically love, Paganini Horror is a film I long intended to mark off my own watchlist, and others who knew me told me that I should enjoy it.

It’s all to do with a cursed piece of music written by Paganini, which connects seemingly random events, from a small girl killing her mother to a rock band having a nightmare of a time in an isolated house as they film a music video. Logic is, of course, thrown out of the window early on, so viewers can quickly decide whether or not they're willing to go along with the general lunacy of it all.

Directed by Luigi Cozzi, who also co-wrote the movie with star Daria Nicolodi, this is the kind of film you need to watch with your brain in a certain mode (maybe not switched off, but certainly just idling over without being moved into any gear). It’s not actually a good film, but it is enjoyably silly, especially in the grand finale.

The script is hilarious, with those moments you often get in these films that have characters discussing the most ridiculous ideas with complete earnestness, and the acting is . . . well, it is on par with other films of this ilk.

Aside from Nicolodi, you get a fun role for Donald Pleasence, playing someone offering a kind of Faustian pact for those seeking a better life, and Jasmine Maimone (Kate), Maria Cristina Mastrangeli (Lavinia), Michel Klippstein (Elena), and Pascal Persiano (Daniel) make up the rest of the main cast. Pietro Genuardi is just fine as Mark Singer, and you get someone creeping about as a murderous spirit of Paganini. 

Sadly, I didn’t enjoy this one as much as I hoped I would. The gore is uneven, in terms of both the pacing of the kills and the quality of the effects, and it feels too padded out, despite not exactly having an epic runtime. There’s still fun to be had though, but connoisseurs of Italian horror from this decade may enjoy it a lot more than I did.

5/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Sunday, 20 June 2021

Mubi Monday: The Hummingbird Project (2018)

Two cousins, Vincent (Jesse Eisenberg) and Anton (Alexander Skarsgård), have a dream to pursue in The Hummingbird Project, which uses an unusual central idea to create a fascinating journey for the main journey. It is a film full of familiar moments, but things feel fresh because of the main character motivation.

Basically, the plan is to lay a 1000 mile long line of fibre between one location and the New York Stock Exchange, which could allow someone to get stock market information milliseconds before anyone else. And those milliseconds can allow people to make millions more dollars. Vincent is the one driving this plan, and Anton is busy working through computer code to see how much time he can shave off the data transfer.

Written and directed by Ken Nguyen, someone I am not familiar with (but a quick look over his filmography shows that I should check out the rest of his work), The Hummingbird Project gives a unique perspective on the race to make money from the stock exchange. While focusing on the attempt to create that one, absolutely straight, line - under properties, through mountains, underwater, etc - it manages to emphasise that single-minded pursuit of monetary gain, with no real thought to others affected by it.

Things are helped a lot by the leads. Eisenberg is able to do a lot of his usual stuff, talking quickly and with confidence to get people on his side even as they are still trying to process the information, and he’s a perfect fit. Skarsgård is playing someone much more awkward and quiet, the typical genius who isn’t so good at social interaction, and he does a great job, especially on moments that show him not being quite as vulnerable and lacking in common sense as you might suspect. Salam Hayek gets to add tension, playing their ex-boss who knows something is going on and wants to either be part of it or beat them at their own game, and Michael Mando is superb in a large supporting role, playing the man who can head up the massive job of getting that line stretched out along 1000 miles.

As described by Eisenberg’s character at one point, this is a “David vs Goliath” tale, which means viewers can all root for the underdog, even if the underdog is harder to distinguish from the strong reigning champion this time around. You get strong performances, an intelligent and thoughtful script, and an enjoyably bittersweet third act. Highly recommended.

8/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Netflix And Chill: The Devil Below (2021)

A near-perfect example of how not to make a creature feature, The Devil Below manages to be even worse than the first feature from this director, Chernobyl Diaries and a lot worse than almost every other movie I can think of that contains elements of this material.

The plot may be pretending to be worth you investing some time in, but it really isn’t. Ostensibly, a group looking to investigate a “lost” mining town/community believed to have disappeared into sinkholes some years ago, things start to get dangerous for everyone onscreen when some monsters start to drag people underground. Hence the title.

Written by Stefan Jaworski and Eric Scherbarth, The Devil Below at least has a half-decent creature at the heart of it. Unfortunately, you don’t really get a good look at the creature, with the decision made to blur the image and keep it only ever half-glimpsed. Outwith the creature action, the rest of the script weaves between dull and simply awful, with some of the worst scenes being unbelievable debates on ideas of science vs faith. This is obviously one point that the writers thought could be interestingly developed as things move towards the climax. It isn’t. The rest is too unoriginal, and not treated well enough, to find entertaining. Creatures using sound to hunt, locals being mean to outsiders in order to keep others safe, a third act that has one of the most obvious callbacks to an earlier moment shared between two of the main characters (seriously, if you don’t see it coming then shame on you), the only real fun here is seeing just how unengaging things can be for the entire runtime. 

Will Patton is the one star I recognised, and he is always welcome, but most of your time is spent in the company of Alicia Sanz, Adan Canto, Zach Avery, and some other people you won’t really care about. 

Although the script is at fault, director Bradley Parker should receive more of the criticism, because every decision he makes seems to work against the material (e.g. the shot choice when a creature is in frame). Parker seems to make every wrong choice possible, despite it being difficult to envision any version of this that plays out much better.

Not good, even for the most undemanding fans of creature features. I would even recommend many silly Asylum movies ahead of this one. At least they try to set out to keep boredom at bay. 

3/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Friday, 18 June 2021

Shudder Saturday: Monstrous (2020)

A film about Bigfoot that doesn't really focus on Bigfoot, Monstrous is an interesting way to make a low-budget creature feature without leaving viewers completely unsatisfied. Which isn't to say that everyone will be pleased with the final result. This is a film that people should be warned about beforehand, in order to suitably lower expectations.

Spurred on by her friend, Jamie (Grant Schumacher), a young woman named Sylvia (Anna Shields) heads on a trip to try and discover what happened to a missing mutual friend, as well as some other missing individuals. She meets up with Alex (Rachel Finninger), a young woman who may have some idea of things that have gone on, and a relationship starts to develop. Bigfoot, meanwhile, may be waiting to strike, supposedly starting to kill humans after years of existing peacefully alongside them.

Shields, as well as bagging the lead role, also wrote the screenplay here, and she has a good overall feel for dialogue and teasing out some of the main plot points. It's fairly obvious early on exactly what is going on, but there are some nice misdirections that never feel as if they're cheating viewers.

Director Charlie Wemple, who made this as the first of three creature features in a row (his last one, Dawn Of The Beast, ALSO being a Bigfoot movie written by Shields) knows what he's doing when it comes to overcoming the limitations of a low budget, most of the time anyway. He puts in some cracking shots that show the size of the main creature, but keeps things either shown from afar or partially hidden. It's only in the finale that he slips up, but we all know that his only other option would be to get criticised for never showing the central creature, so I think he tries his best with what is available to him. Importantly, and often a small thing not well-used enough by independent film-makers, the sound design helps, especially in a key creature moment.

Shields and Finninger do well in their roles. Although she gets a lot right, the main problem with the writing is the rapid pace with which the two main characters form quite a strong connection, but the performances help to make that less of an issue. Schumacher isn't onscreen for long, but he does well enough with what he's given. And Dylan Grunn is credited as the main monster, so he deserves a mention here for his good physical work.

Probably destined to be criticised by many for what it isn't, rather than what it is, Monstrous comes close to being a rough little gem. It's a Bigfoot film that's not really about Bigfoot, with the title having a nice double meaning, but it's also a character piece that also has the monster available to keep things from becoming staid. The fact that it doesn't all quite come together as well as it could is outweighed by the fact that everyone tries their best to make it work. It's an admirable attempt to avoid the laziness that can so often be found in this subgenre. 

6/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Young Einstein (1988)

I was very young when I first saw Young Einstein, an offbeat and whacky comedy starring Yahoo Serious, a man so serious about being Yahoo that he once tried to sue Yahoo. I had a blast with it. I knew that I would have a very different experience watching it as an adult, but I decided to dive in anyway.

Yeah, it wasn’t great.

Serious plays Albert Einstein, but this Albert Einstein grew up in Tasmania. He comes up with a very famous theory to do with energy, creates a potentially dangerous source of power while trying to put bubbles into beer, and invents rock and roll. He also endears himself to Marie Curie (Odile le Clezio).

The script, co-written by Serious and David Roach, isn’t actually THAT bad, in terms of being generally harmless fish-out-of-water fare that also enjoys rewriting some well-known history. Einstein is as naive as he is smart, and this provides a few chuckles during the first half of the movie, even when he is given a major problem in the form of Preston Preston (John Howard).

I would also tentatively recommend this as a way for younger viewers to find out very small snippets of science grounded within comedy moments. Is it a good primer for anything used here? No. But it is, for the most part, well-paced (aside from an awkward and strangely dark turn in the third act) and engaging enough.

There’s also an energetic soundtrack, with a couple of tracks “performed” by Serious, making his character a smart rock ‘n’ roller. 

Serious is the wrong person for the lead role. He tries to sell himself as much as the film, which is not a recipe for success, but at least both Howard and Le Clezio do better, the latter having to be shown to fall for our lead while the former gets to be a pantomime villain brought back into the plot for key scenes that provide obstacles for our hero to overcome.

There are a few fun running jokes, with apples being used often in a way that is integral to the plot, and some quirky details that manage to be more amusing than annoying, but the biggest problem that the film cannot really hope to overcome is, sadly, Serious himself. Good on him for trying to make this work, and not having it feel entirely like a vanity project, but a better star in the lead could have made this so much better. And you don’t need to be Einstein to figure that out.

4/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Thursday, 17 June 2021

Scrawl (2015)

I only learned of the existence of Scrawl a few days ago, when the writer-director mentioned that it had appeared on Amazon Prime here in the UK without anyone letting him know. I admired his little bit of self-promotion, and the message was a nice and slightly self-effacing one. So I decided to give this a watch.

Unfortunately, Scrawl is almost completely dire for every minute of the just-under-80-minute runtime. I feel sorry for the people who check it out because Daisy Ridley is in it. She's just as bad as everyone else onscreen.

Let me tell you what it's all about anyway. Simon (Liam Hughes) is working on a comic with his friend, Joe (Joe Daly). Things start happening to people around him that are directly from the comic. And Daisy Ridley plays Hannah, a young woman who is basically a force of death. Characters have moments of looking seriously off into the distance as they contemplate a number of tedious flashbacks, the script lines up one bit of terrible dialogue after another, and everyone overacts until the end credits come along to mercifully end the experience.

I don't like to be outright rude when reviewing movies. A lot of people work on these things, and sometimes the end result just doesn't come close to what they had in mind when starting their journey. So I will try not to go overboard with the easy insults. The fact remains, however, that Scrawl is sometimes incomprehensible, lacking any polish in any department, and really not worth your time at all.

Peter Hearn, the man who wrote and directed this, is probably delighted that he was lucky enough to cast Ridley in her feature film debut. I am almost certain that Ridley herself won't be as delighted, and I doubt she even has this on her CV nowadays. Her performance here, although not good, is a point of minor interest to those who want a complete overview of her film career. Hearn provides nothing else that even comes close to making the film more bearable.

Hughes and Daly just aren't very good in their roles, sorry to say, and poor Annabelle Le Gresley is stuck with most of those moments when a flashback is occurring. Nathalie Pownall and Mark Forester Evans both fare slightly better, perhaps simply due to them being more experienced adults in the midst of such a relatively young cast, but they also can't overcome the inept script.

I don't think I can be any clearer here. The acting is poor, the cinematography is worse than an advert filmed by a local takeaway restaurant to appear on your regional TV, the score is weak, and the effects range from the amateurish to the so-bad-they-must-be-taking-the-piss. The last time I sat through something that was this bad it had the word "Amityville" shoehorned into the title.

1/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Prime Time: Mary (2019)

I think the best way to warn people against Mary, a painfully poor horror movie from the director of the stupid-and-why-can't-more-people-see-it-is-stupid Megan Is Missing (honestly, I have no idea how so many people were so affected by that film, apart from considering it an internet-savvy way of tapping into the modern equivalent of Satanic panic), is to describe it as a film that could have easily been put out by Dark Castle at the turn of the 21st century. The big difference is that Dark Castle would have delivered some much better production design and visuals, thrown around some blood and fun scares, and not made the mistake of thinking the silly premise could be turned into something serious.

The plot is quite simple to summarise. A family buy a boat, and that boat turns out to be, well, not very nice. It may even have an evil spirit on it. As the family are taken further out to sea, things get more dangerous. That's all you need to know. Oh, there's also some tension, of course, between the husband and wife, because one partner had an affair.

I can only assume that the script, by Anthony Jaswinski, seemed like something that might work better when adapted to screen. Or maybe those involved were just big fans of The Shallows (also written by Jaswinski). I can't think of any other reason for both Gary Oldman and Emily Mortimer to sign on for this. I really like both actors, but they are unable to do anything here to outweigh the dire material. Maybe they both had large, unexpected, bills that needed paid. People do what they have to do for a decent payday. And I am not saying that they are bad here, just to clarify, I am just saying that they're unable to polish this turd.

Others acting alongside Oldman and Mortimer are Stefanie Scott and Chloe Perrin (playing their daughters, Lindsey and Mary), Owen Teague, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and Jennifer Esposito. Teague and Garcia-Rulfo are wasted, at least Scott and Perrin get one or two decent moments between them, and Esposito feels like a character drafted in from a more straightforward cop thriller flick.

Mary is more annoying for the fact that it could easily have been something pleasantly surprising and fun. But that would have meant someone at the helm who wanted to show that they cared about the thing. Director Michael Goi doesn't want to do that. He instead just meanders from one moment of melodrama to the next, occasionally stopping for a bit of horrible CGI to shake up one of the main characters, and keeps heading towards an ending that is as bad as everything else that precedes it. Although most of the problems stem from the script, a bit of restructuring and some time spent working on the overall tone could have made this less of an endurance test. The runtime is only 84 minutes, yet it feels like it goes on so much longer than that.

3/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

A Return To Salem's Lot (1987)

A sequel to the classic Stephen King vampire tale, made into a memorable TV movie by Tobe Hooper (and remade a few decades later), I had avoided A Return To Salem’s Lot for many years, having heard it was a real stinker. It isn’t. As imperfect as it is, and it seriously lacks actual scares, director Larry Cohen (who also co-wrote the script with James Dixon) used a tale of vampirism to explore some very interesting ideas.

Michael Moriarty plays Joe Weber, an anthropologist always willing to go that one step further to document tribal behaviour without interfering. Unexpectedly having his teenage son returned to his care, Joe heads back to Salem’s Lot, a small town he grew up in. Salem’s Lot is full of vampires though, which is bad news. The good news is that the vampires want Joe to tell their story to the world. The bad news is that Joe doesn’t want to tell their story, but he may be forced to do so if he wants to stop his son being offered eternal life as a teenager.

Although it is never subtle at any point, things are really hammered home here when the lead character ends up planning his fight back alongside an elderly Nazi hunter (played by Samuel Fuller). The script is pointedly showing how evil needs complicit helpers to thrive, whether they are people “just following orders” or human vampire helpers who work during the daylight hours while their masters sleep safely.

Cohen directs in a rather perfunctory manner, seemingly assuming that it would also just end up on TV, but that still cannot completely outweigh the quality of the ideas at the heart of the script.

Moriarty is a decent lead, as ever, and it’s a delight to see Fuller join in for most of the second half of the film. Ricky Addison Reed is just fine as the moody teen son, Andrew Duggan is a decent patriarch of the vampire community, although he never feels as menacing as he should, and there’s a small role for a very young Tara Reid, if you keep your eyes peeled.

Perhaps even more deserving of your time now than when it was first released, A Return To Salem’s Lot is one of the more interesting vampire movies I have seen from the crowded subgenre. It is weakest when trying to deliver standard horror moments, but you will get more from it if you don’t go seeking genre thrills. It’s striving more to be a study of the insidious and seductive nature of darkness, and the people who will do anything to assist those that they view as being able to help them maintain a comfortable life.

6/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews




Monday, 14 June 2021

Mubi Monday: Shiva Baby (2020)

There is often comedy gold to be mined from a situation in which a character has to survive some kind of event that just seems to be filling up with misfortunes and moments of fate conspiring against them. And that's exactly the kind of embarrassment pile-up that makes up the plot of Shiva Baby.

Rachel Sennott plays Danielle, a young Jewish woman who has to do her duty of appearing with her parents at a shiva (a Jewish ritual for mourning the dead that begins immediately after the funeral). Danielle and her parents run through some potential answers to questions she may be asked, about her education and career path, and things start to feel awkward when she sees that an ex-girlfriend, Maya (Molly Gordon), is also in attendance. Then she is introduced to Max (Danny Deferrari), a man she already knows intimately. Which makes things much more awkward when Max's wife, Kim (Dianna Agron), arrives. Can Danielle get through the day with her sanity intact?

Written and directed by Emma Seligman, expanding her short from a few years previously (which also had Sennott in the lead role), Shiva Baby is worth seeing, and worth praising, for a number of reasons. It balances the central Jewish way of life for the main characters with the many pressures that all young people go through at one time or another. Figuring out relationships, finding ways to make money while also studying, even picking the right course to hopefully lead you to some better prospects in your career choices. All of these things are difficult enough, but all can feel even more difficult to deal with when you're also being scrutinised by parents who are presenting you to everyone around them at a large gathering.

Almost a one-location film for the duration, Seligman uses this to her advantage, using the confines of the shiva, the bustle of people, and the atmosphere (that mix of solemnity and socialising that happens at these things) to keep you empathising with Danielle as she starts to feel trapped.

The script isn't really surprising, but Seligman allows one or two moments to play out nicely without having characters explicitly state the words they really want to say. The conversations may be strained, but they remain just about civil enough, even as the body language says something very different.

Although Seligman deserves to be recognised for her work here, she's lucky to have captured what is almost certainly a star-making turn from Sennott, who is simply fantastic for every minute that she's onscreen (and she's in onscreen for pretty much the entire 77-minute runtime). Constantly scrambling for the right thing to say that will allow her to get away from many of the people around her, Sennott is a nervous ball of energy, and she never feels unnatural or unrealistic. Gordon is also very good in her role, and works well with Sennott, while Deferrari and Agron lend capable support as they provide more problematic moments for our lead. Fred Melamed and Polly Draper are Danielle's parents, and both are quite excellent.

Despite the great work here, it's almost impossible for Shiva Baby to feel fresh or vital. It's still very much worth your time, but it's far from essential viewing. I hope you enjoy it when you do give it a watch though, and I look forward to seeing Sennott in many more movies.

7/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDm
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Sunday, 13 June 2021

Netflix And Chill: Ma (2019)

It's kind of heartening to know that the standard "insert noun - from hell" thriller movie has never really gone away. It's just been dressed up in a variety of ways, from the many TV movies you can see in the schedules (with a hell of a lot of them featuring Eric Roberts, if you want to watch someone stalked by their doctor anyway) to the slick, mainstream outings that start deceptively tame before letting things go enjoyably crazy in the finale.

A departure for both director Tate Taylor (who has The Help as arguably the best-known film in his filmography) and writer Scotty Landes (although he also wrote the pretty poor Deadcon, released the same year), Ma is all about Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer), a woman who finds herself in the company of some teens when she buys alcohol for them. She sets things up in a way that gains the trust of the teens, turning part of her home into a bit of a party area, and becomes more and more reliant on their friendship, Or so it seems. While initially fun and strange, the teenagers soon realise that they should maybe distance themselves from Sue Ann AKA Ma. She seems particularly interested in Maggie (Diana Silvers) and Andy (Corey Fogelmanis), but she also may have some reason for recapturing a youthful experience that she seems to have missed out on.

Ma is ridiculous, yet it's also a lot of fun. A large part of that is thanks to the performance from Spencer, pitched perfectly between the believable and the absurd. We've all probably known that one "cool" adult who would prefer teenagers to drink in their home than out in the streets. Ma is just portraying herself as that kind of person, until she keeps pushing her way into the lives/phones of the young revellers.

Silvers and Fogelmanis do just fine in their roles, and McKaley Miller is a lot of the fun as the first person to become wary of Ma, calling her out directly. But there's more fun to be had here with the rest of the experienced adults populating the cast. Juliette Lewis plays Erica, Maggie's mother, and does well with her small role. Luke Evans is Andy's father, Ben, and has a past with Ma that makes him wary of her behaviour, and Allison Janney is Ma's boss, quick to notice when she is becoming more distracted in the workplace.

It gets awkward at times, and may certainly cause a cringe or two, but Ma generally strikes just the right balance to keep it entertaining throughout. You get a backstory teased out throughout the proceedings, you get one or two developments that you know are going to become vital in the third act, and you get some enjoyably over the top acts of crazed rage before the end credits roll. In fact, considering the motivation of the main character, and the attempted bodycount, this could easily be considered a slasher movie. Fans of that subgenre would expect some more blood and guts though, but you may be pleasantly surprised by this anyway.

7/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDm
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Saturday, 12 June 2021

Shudder Saturday: The Amusement Park (2019)

A film from George A. Romero that was considered lost for decades, The Amusement Park is a surprisingly excellent short feature (it clocks in at just over 50 minutes), and one that is absolutely in line with the work that Romero did when he wasn't back in the company of his shambling ghouls.

Lincoln Maazel plays an elderly gentleman who goes for a day out in an amusement park, still heading out there after being warned by a disheveled and distressed elderly gentleman who has just returned from the experience. The amusement park is quickly shown to be a bit of a nightmare for all of the elderly people visiting it, from stalls offering very little money as they buy items of value to bumper car experiences that allow people to pass blame on to drivers they assume are too old to be driving reasonably. And it just keeps getting worse, to the point that the character played by Maazel starts to crave a moment of genuine connection with anyone else.

A work commissioned by the Lutheran Society, The Amusement Park was envisioned as a film that would show the abuse of the elderly, and how important it is to look after them. That means both protecting them from a number of perils, such as those that seek to prey on their vulnerability, and also just giving them your time and attention without making them feel like a burden. As wild and hellish as this is, it absolutely fulfils the remit. Romero seized on a great an idea that he ran with, and I have to say that it works perfectly. 

Most of the stuff here is very much on the nose, but that doesn't make it any less effective. In fact, on this occasion, the more blunt and obvious the mistreatment of the characters onscreen the more it should give people watching it a wake up call. Writer Wally Cook stabs at the heart of a major issue that has, if anything, only grown worse over the decades since this was made (back in 1973). We see it every day, even if we don't recognise it immediately. Every advert that uses fear about people leaving their loved ones unprepared after their passing, every company that offers to "free up the value of your home", and the general feeling of being a bit left behind as younger generations find more of their time taken up by phones, computers, and anything else that stops them from wanting to just spend some time with, or talk to, their parents/grandparents.

Romero doesn't overtly pick from his bag of horror movie tropes, despite the amusement park setting being rife with imagery we've seen used throughout the genre so often, but he contents himself with building an atmosphere that starts to become oppressively disorientating and bleak, arguably culminating in a beautiful and horrifying moment that shows the main character breaking down after trying to tell a short story to a young child, only for her to then be moved away by her mother.

Maazel is superb in the main role, although all of the cast does a very good job. Considering the budget, I suspect that many non-actors were put in the mix, but you can't really tell. That's helped by the fact that many of the elderly people onscreen, as in life, are talked over and left confused by others trying to bamboozle them and frighten them into giving up their money, assets, and rights.

Of course it's a curio piece, but The Amusement Park holds up surprisingly well as a strong outing from Romero, a film that shows his continuing attempts to mix intelligence and social commentary within some loose horror genre confines. I'd go so far as to say that this is in his top five, personally, and the other four would be Martin and his first three "Dead" movies.

8/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Friday, 11 June 2021

Nobody (2021)

When a family are terrified by a home invasion one night, and the youngest member of the family loses her favourite kitty bracelet, the man of the house, Hutch Mansell (Bob Odenkirk) decides to head out and get some revenge. This leads to him being on a bus at the same time as a group of assholes who are harassing a woman, and Mansell decides that he can take out his rage on this group. This gets him noticed by the wrong people, mainly the very powerful Yulian Kuznetsov (Aleksey Serebryakov), and that means that people start to realise his past life was spent being the last person that many people ever saw.

Pretty much sold to people as another John Wick kind of movie, but with "Saul Goodman" in the lead, Nobody will definitely please fans of that series. The fun comes from the fact that Wick reluctantly returned to his killing ways while Mansell is actually keen to let out some rage that has been kept locked away during years of a steady 9-5 grind (a dreary life of routine shown in a montage at the start of the film). The only reason he doesn't want to start back down that path is because he knows how much he's going to enjoy the journey, and he knows how good he is at killing people.

Written by Derek Kolstad, who wrote the first John Wick movie, this is a smart and funny action flick with some impressive violence in the fight scenes. It's hard not to feel a sense of glee as Mansell slides comfortably back into his former habits, and he makes great use of every environment around him to remove the advantage that his opponents usually think they have.

Director Ilya Naishuller is no stranger to this kind of thing, having started his directorial career with an impressive POV short  ("Bad Motherfucker" for Biting Elbows) that would lead to him helming Hardcore Henry. Although I couldn't get on board with that POV gimmick for a whole feature, Naishuller certainly showed that he was happy to revel in gunshots, bone-breaking melee fights, and the kind of forward momentum that should keep most action movie fans pleased.

Odenkirk is superb in the lead role here, believably strong without having bulked up to seem huge. A great actor in pretty much everything I've ever seen him in, it's great to see him have fun in a role that seems so far out of his wheelhouse. I really hope more people see this and become Odenkirk fans. Serebryakov is the standard big baddie, and is just fine in his role, overseeing an army of henchmen who will all likely fail in their attempts to kill Odenkirk's character. RZA has a small role, which he does just fine with, and Christopher Lloyd is a real treat, playing David Mansell (father of Hutch), someone with a similar past. Connie Nielsen is a very understanding wife, Michael Ironside has a small role as a boss/father-in-law, and Colin Salmon has a nice little moment as "The Barber".

All in all, this is everything you could want it to be. The action satisfies, the plotting is good enough to make it all seem plausible (within the movie world), and the sense of humour throughout makes it feel even more suited to Odenkirk having the lead role. Everybody should see Nobody.

9/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Thursday, 10 June 2021

A Quiet Place Part II (2020)

I really enjoyed A Quiet Place. I wasn't the only one. It was very successful. I'm not sure how many people were wanting a sequel to it though, but here we are. Unsurprisingly enough, a sequel to a film that relied on tension and solid performances to distract you from the plot holes would seem to be an opportunity for more plot holes, considering the need to stretch out an idea that was really ideally suited to one movie. There are good moments in A Quiet Place Part II, but it does nothing to really justify existing, and may in fact cause some viewers to re-appraise just how much holds up in the first film.

After an unnecessary prologue sequence, seemingly designed to show one bit of sign language that will play into the third act, we join the characters who survived the first film. Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and her children (Regan, played by Millicent Simmonds, Marcus, played by Noah Jupe, and one tiny baby) have to move along after their home has been trashed by the alien beasties that stalk their pray by hearing their movements. They stumble upon the shelter of Emmett (Cillian Murphy), and things then jump from one bad decision to the next, mainly due to Regan having the idea of heading to a radio station to use her hearing aid in a way that can broadcast feedback on a certain frequency. Because these aliens are like insecure, arrogant males - they are caused confusion and pain by any kind of feedback.

Back in the director's chair, but this time taking on the writing duties solo, John Krasinski remains a reliable pair of hands. With the direction. It's just a shame that he doesn't take the time to make a sequel that slows things down further and patches up some of the holes in the first film. He instead opens things up, which just makes it easier to weigh up every moment, and every character decision, and find them wanting.

Blunt is once again very good in her role, as she always tends to be, and the younger cast members, Jupe and Simmonds, do a good job, with the latter continuing to be the big plus that she was the first time around. Murphy is also a consistent performer, but feels misused here, a character who is basically being proven wrong about how he has decided to settle for a life of safety and survival. Djimon Hounsou and Scoot McNairy get a few scenes, playing very different characters, and both are just fine.

The thing to admire most about A Quiet Place Part II is the fact that we're once again given a film that encourages people to be completely silent as they listen for, and are wary of, every sound. It's just a shame that the rest of the film is so carelessly constructed, with major injuries dismissed as minor handicaps for characters, reckless decisions that create needless peril for others, and also, perhaps worst of all, one or two main sequences that seem to misunderstand the way a creature could use acoustics to hear any moving prey.

A big step down from the first film, there are still some things to enjoy here (not least of which is the fact that this is a blockbuster horror flick not falling in line with some of the more common trends of the past decade), but you have to work harder to forcibly overlook the stuff that doesn't work.

5/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Prime Time: Double Dragon (1994)

In the many conversations that I've had over the years about videogames that have been adapted into movies, Double Dragon seems to get the least attention. There's probably a good reason for that. Namely, it's not a very good adaptation of the videogame. It's certainly not a terrible movie though, not if you're after some family-friendly martial arts antics with some fun baddies.

Robert Patrick plays white-haired Koga Shuko, a crime lord desperately seeking a magic medallion that goes by the name of the Double Dragon. The medallion gives the wearer power over body and soul, and Shuko has one half already. He can place himself inside the body of anyone else in his vicinity. But if he also gained the other half, which bestows super-strength, then he would be unstoppable. That part of the medallion ends up in the care of brothers Billy Lee (Scott Wolf) and Jimmy Lee (Mark Dacascos), which means Shuko will do anything to capture the brothers.

Written by Michael Davis and Peter Gould, who would both go on to comparatively better projects in the 2000s, Double Dragon is in line with other films and shows that decide to tame numerous elements of the source material to appeal to a family audience. I remember Double Dragon on my Spectrum 48K and being blown away by the fact that one of the enemy types you fight were whip-wielding women (represented here by a woman named Linda Lash, played by Kristina Wagner, although she's depicted in a way that only hints at the videogame character). There were also weapons you could pick up and use, another element largely discarded here.

Director James Yukich has a long list of directorial credits, but this is the first of only two fictional features that he helmed (unless I have missed a title while perusing his extensive filmography). The rest of his work is largely made up of music videos and comedy specials. Thankfully, he doesn't do himself a disservice here. Double Dragon has energy and a slightly whacky sensibility, which is much better than it being over-edited to oblivion and couched in a combination of misguided stylistic choices.

Wolf and Dacascos are decent enough leads, with the latter bringing his impressive fighting skills to the film. Patrick is a fun villain, helped by the look given to him for the film, including the wide-shouldered suits worn throughout. Alyssa Milano is Marian Delario, a rebel fighter working against the system (the world of the film is a weirdly vague dystopian society) and a less passive supporting female character than you might expect. Milano is suitably appealing and resolved to help enact change in the world around her. Wager is underused, sadly, but okay, and Nils Allen Stewart and Henry Kingi play a large thug named Bo Abobo, with Kingi playing him in his mutated form.

I understand why this isn't exactly celebrated, or even remembered often. The fighting isn't impactful, the plotting is silly, the dialogue between the characters has lines to make you cringe, and there's no real brand recognition for the target demographic. But, and it's a big but, taken for what it does onscreen, as muddled and silly as it is, it's not a bad way to spend just over an hour and a half. Especially if you have kids, I'd say aged about 8-12, who may enjoy the action and effects.

5/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021)

Is this the final film in The Conjuring cinematic universe? I hope so. If not, it should be. Mainly because there are only so many times viewers should be made to swallow another horror film that posits the Warrens (Ed and Lorraine, played here once again by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) as shining beacons of goodliness helping to save innocent souls from the clutches of demonic forces. That's not me deliberately "forgetting" any other horror franchise that maintains the same leads throughout, but I cannot think of any other characters within the genre who are painted as being so constantly right and slightly above everyone around them.

Let me get to describing the plot here. The Warrens are helping a young boy who has been possessed. That young boy is in serious trouble, but his older brother (Arne, played by Ruairi O'Connor) tries to save the day by offering himself as a vessel for the evil. Ed Warren has a heart attack, but has to get himself fit as soon as possible, and he and Lorraine want to help save Arne from a death sentence when he is arrested after murdering his landlord. Things play out as you expect them to play out, all underlined by that fear-inducing selling point that it is all "based on a true story".

There are a few things working against this third Conjuring movie, but the main one may be the fact that it's no longer James Wan directing. That role has been handed to Michael Chaves (the man responsible for the massively average The Curse Of La Llorona). Say what you like about these movies, or the widening cinematic universe they have created, but Wan knows how to best execute scares, and he is a master at laying out the geography of sites in order to set up atmosphere and jumps later. Chaves, to put it bluntly, does not. There are some lovely shots here, and a lot of the cinematography by Michael Burgess is better than the weak material deserves, but there aren't any good scares. And there's a disappointing lack of anything that reinforces the period, or even the locations of the various set-pieces. That's not to say that the production design doesn't set out to replicate the early '80s, or Connecticut, but the films is so focused on the Warrens, or the force they are battling, that nothing else in the film feels like anything other than the minimal amount required of setting required for the main events.

The second thing working against the movie is the script by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick. Having worked with James Wan on a couple of previous movies, I suspect that Johnson-McGoldrick had his hands tied here, with Wan helping in the story department and obviously wanting to maintain the value of a horror franchise that has now been able to sell itself as much on his name as the actual onscreen content.

Last, but by no means least, there's an over-familiarity here, and it feels like a big mis-step to try and move away from the haunted house horrors of the two main films that preceded it. I'd rather watch an imperfect haunted house movie than a dull story that mixes demonic possession with a big court case. The latter now feels overdone, mainly thanks to the many films that have mixed horror with standard drama/thriller tropes over the past few decades (and, while it has been over 15 years, The Exorcism Of Emily Rose has cast a long shadow here, for better or worse), while the former can always work well, even if far too familiar, by providing some easy spookiness and scares.

Wilson and Farmiga do well in the lead roles, very comfortable in the skin of these characters, and they arguably bring more to the material than it deserves. They are both very likeable, and completely believable as a couple in love for all of their time together. O'Connor is good, but has to deliver a performance that is overwhelmed by jerky movements and crackling sound effects when he's in the throes of the possession. Nobody else really matters, which is a shame when you have decent supporting turns from John Noble, young Julian Hilliard (playing David, the first victim of possession), Sarah Catherine Hook, and Keith Arthur Bolden. 

It starts off feeling like a film you have seen many times before, with even a strong nod to The Exorcist (and it's a brave film that so blatantly references THE iconic shot), and then stitches mediocre moments together from many other films you have seen before, leading to a finale that inevitably feels like, well, you've seen it all before. Because you have. Sometimes in movies within this very cinematic universe.

Competently done, in terms of the standard drama, but ultimately a disappointing end to a number of Warren-based movies that have exemplified the cinematic law of diminishing returns.

4/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews

Monday, 7 June 2021

Mubi Monday: Born In Flames (1983)

Set ten years after a revolution in the USA, Born In Flames is a depressingly prescient film that shows a government struggling to deal with many groups - feminists, those fighting for gay rights, minorities, etc - it used to be able to just ignore completely. Adelaide Norris (Jean Satterfield) is the main figure rallying people around her, firing up large numbers of women who want the equal treatment that they fought for without being dismissed by the men around them.

Written and directed by Lizzie Borden, basing the work on a story by Ed Bowes, this is consistently interesting and consistently on the nose throughout. Filled with a righteous fury, it's even more rewarding (and horrible) nowadays, when we see the fight back against people who are just hoping to have some proper semblance of equality.

What may have seemed like complete fantasy, or unbelievably over the top comedy, back in the early 1980s has been proven to be almost non-fiction when you look at the world around us nowadays. Look at the reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement. Look at the tiresome and constant annual questions of "why can't we have a straight pride month?" and "when is International Men's Day?" (November 19th, as anyone who follows Richard Herring on Twitter will already know) Look at every straight, white male whining about being marginalised and erased from society, stunningly unaware of how prominently placed they are in every facet of our society. It's like listening to someone who won £50m in a national lottery and cannot stop complaining about how they didn't win on the week that the jackpot was £100m.

The cast all do good work, with it being mainly women (of course). It seems that the material resonated with everyone involved - again, no surprise - and people seize the opportunity to embrace their hopes, dreams, and fierce refusal to allow the world to maintain a status quo that has been tipped hugely in favour of one particular demographic for centuries.

Notable also for featuring both Kathryn Bigelow and Eric Bogosian in small roles, Born In Flames is a perfect way to confront viewers with outdated attitudes and oppression that all still loom large today. It's a prehistoric bug caught in amber, but someone made sure they could extract the DNA and synthesise it to keep dinosaurs alive, rampaging around the world and treating all of the smaller animals in the food chain with disdain.

I've only seen one other film from Borden, Working Girls, but she's absolutely someone I recommend to those seeking out important female film-makers of the 21st century. It's a shame that her filmography is not as large as it deserves to be, but be sure to watch her features whenever the opportunity arises.

10/10

If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews