Sunday, 2 October 2022

Netflix And Chill: Our House (2018)

Science is great. If applied correctly. We could eradicate every major world problem. Alternatively, science can also provide some very unexpected results. It’s never the best day at the lab when you end up accidentally creating ghosts while putting the finishing touches on a device that is supposed to generate electricity from nothing. Unfortunately, that is what happens to Ethan (Thomas Mann), the lead character in Our House.

When we first meet Ethan, he is so busy trying to finish his important experiment that he is unable to spend much time with his parents and siblings. That soon changes when he receives a phone call to inform him that his parents have died in an automobile accident. He now has to be the main carer for Matt (Percy Hynes White) and Becca (Kate Moyer). It's not long until some of them start to sense another presence in the house, which they suspect could be their deceased parents trying to communicate with them. And they seem to grow more powerful when Ethan turns his "failed experiment" back on.

Based on a film that was itself less than a decade old (Ghost From The Machine, by Matt Osterman), Our House is a film with plenty of potential for good atmosphere and scares. To be fair, there are some good moments here and there, and the visual representation of the spirits, as black smoke trying to solidify themselves into a humanoid form, works well. Director Anthony Scott Burns had been honing his craft for a number of years before making this his feature debut (including delivering "Father's Day", one of the better segments in the anthology horror Holidays) and he handles things well enough. He just doesn't seize the opportunity to fill up every space with growing tension and creepiness.

Writer Nathan Parker doesn't help. The central idea is a very easy one to communicate to viewers, freeing everyone up to focus on scares, but he decides to give an equal amount of time to the day-to-day problems that our lead experiences while moving from the role of brother to that of main guardian. I understand why he would want to do that, but it's never as engaging as the developing spookiness. Like many films, this sits in a middle ground. It would either need to be streamlined into a fantastic frightfest, paring down the family drama to something minimal, or the runtime could be expanded slightly to allow more time spent showing the strain and tension affecting everyone while the spirits start to push their way into their plane.

Mann is a decent lead, and both White and Moyer are believable in their respective roles. Nicola Peltz plays Hannah and Robert B. Kennedy is a neighbour named Tom. Both do fine, but they can't overcome the fact that their characters feel superfluous to requirements. The same can be said for Marie, a different neighbour played by Marcia Bennett. I may be wrong, but the film could have been greatly improved if the main characters felt isolated and trapped in their house as things began to get worse and worse.

Although it's perfectly okay for most of the runtime, things are dragged down by an ending that feels horribly rote and unengaging. It's enough to drag the whole thing just below average, and leaves it being something that I wouldn't recommend to others.

4/10

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Saturday, 1 October 2022

Shudder Saturday: Wild Country (2005)

The feature movie directorial debut from writer-director Craig Strachan, who hasn't done anything else since this (thankfully), Wild Country is a film that starts off well enough, presenting a very familiar premise with a decent young cast onscreen, before falling apart quicker than the flimsiest house of cards.

Samantha Shields is Kelly Ann, a young woman we first see giving birth to a baby. That baby is then given to someone else, a decision made based on the fact that Kelly Ann is deemed too young and ill-equipped to be a mother. Some weeks later, Kelly Ann and a few other teenagers are driven up to the Highlands by Father Steve (Peter Capaldi), where they are supposed to hike their way to a designated meeting point. Kelly Ann's ex-boyfriend, Lee (Martin Compston), turns up, making things a little bit tense. And then some creature starts menacing them. 

The tension within the main group, the idea of these teens being left all alone in the middle of nowhere, and even the plot detail of finding a baby (because, yes, Kelly Ann finds a baby, which means she spends a lot of the movie protecting it), these are all decent elements to mix together for what could be a potentially enjoyable, low-budget, horror movie. Adding a strange creature isn't a terrible idea either, in theory. Where Strachan goes spectacularly wrong is in the execution of the material, particularly in scenes that show off a creature that never once looks as scary as it could be. It's a shame that nobody advised Strachan to turn his limitations to his advantage, because some better sound design and just an occasional glimpse here and there would have been a much better way to show the presence of something that endangers the main characters.

Strachan doesn't help himself with the script either, reducing the serious side of the film to little more than a few soap opera moments before making viewers watch a bunch of people it's very hard to care for fight for their survival. And when I say fight for their survival, I mean . . . run around in a dark field and shout at one another. And the strangely comedic diversion showing Father Steve having a surprise tryst with a Highland innkeeper may not crop up too often, but it belongs in another movie entirely.

Sadly, I can't even praise the cast. Shields tries hard, and I think she does well with what she's given, but it's not enough to improve the movie. The same can be said of Compston, an actor who I rate very highly. Capaldi is welcome, simply because he's Capaldi, but mis-used, and Jamie Quinn is at least one extra familiar face (playing one of two brothers, the other one being played by his real brother, Kevin Quinn), especially to fans of Still Game.

Despite everything, I quite liked the ending of this, but it was once again something that worked better in theory than the execution (which is, sorry to say, a bit laughable). I think others may be even less charitable, and this isn't something to recommend to anyone, because the rest of the film is a mess of murky night-time action, characters wandering around while they fear their impending doom, and creature design so woefully inept that it would have been better to just thrown a bathmat over a dog.

3/10

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Friday, 30 September 2022

Bullet Train (2022)

A comedy action movie, emphasis on the comedy, starring Brad Pitt as a professional criminal who wants nothing in his life but good vibes, Bullet Train has a lot going for it. On paper. Directed by David Leitch, starring Pitt, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Joey King, Michael Shannon, and Hiroyuki Sanada, and mixing action and comedy on the titular bullet train, what’s not to love?

Pitt is on a simple mission. He is given the codename “Ladybug” and tasked with retrieving a briefcase from the bullet train. Ideally, he should get on, grab the case, and then get off at the next stop. Meanwhile, Lemon (Henry) and Tangerine (Taylor-Johnson) are looking after someone they are supposed to keep safe, in exchange for a decent payday. Meanwhile, Prince (King) wants to get revenge on a number of people, as does Wolf (played by Bad Bunny. MEANWHILE, others start to board the train with their own deadly agendas. Ladybug shouldn’t even be there, as he is filling in for an agent named Carver, and it isn’t long until he wishes he hadn’t taken the job.

Based on a book by Kôtarô Isaka, turned into a screenplay by Zak Olkewicz, this is a bizarre throwback to a time when every other film was trying to rip off Tarantino or Guy Ritchie. I am not sure if the problem lies with the source material, having not read the book, but there’s a smugness throughout that isn’t matched by the dialogue or plotting. Everything feels far too much like a Rube Goldberg machine, an excessive amount of moving parts and complications leading to a very underwhelming final result, and the eclectic cast isn’t good enough, overall, to help it all along.

Leitch, who has spent the last five years directing films that mix action and comedy better than this one, fails to find the right way through the dense plotting. There aren’t enough moments of impressive action, the comedy always feels like a separate component, rather than an intertwining strand, and any sense of entertaining spectacle is undermined by the overuse of CGI. This is a busy movie in so many ways, often painfully so, and I only felt that working in its favour during an enjoyable finale that somehow managed to tie up every strand and provide a punchline for every running gag (so fair play to Olkewicz for saving his best work until the end of the movie).

Pitt is fine in the lead role, playing a character we have seen a version of in a number of different movies now. The main thing that allows him to stand out is what he views as a constant string of bad luck, something that allows the script to keep getting bigger and wilder, but there’s a moderately interesting idea tucked away here about perspective, and how bad luck in one way may be good luck in the long run. Taylor-Johnson is bad, I just didn’t like him in this role (and I can only imagine how much this movie could have been improved with someone else there), but Henry does a bit better, helping to make their scenes together more bearable. I don’t want to rate every single main player, especially when I can spend some time highlighting just how good both Shannon and Sanada are. Both get in on the action for the third act, and both take this movie up an entire notch or two. King is okay, Bad Bunny is . . . okay, Zazie Beetz is great, but sadly underused, and there are a few cameos that properly amused me.

It certainly tries to keep the momentum going for most of the 2+ hour runtime, I will give it that, and the soundtrack has some great choices, although I wanted even more. I MIGHT revisit and reappraise this at some point, to see if I enjoy it more while spending less time trying to unpick the various plot threads, but for now I have to tell people that it’s not recommended. It’s tonally very messy, it’s comedically very hit and miss (but one hit, a sequence showing two men tallying up the numbers killed in their most recent job, is superb), and it spends a lot of time going off the rails before sorting itself out just in time for that enjoyable finale.

4/10

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Thursday, 29 September 2022

Beast (2022)

A film is always in a bit of trouble if you end up thinking of other films you want to rewatch as soon as the end credits roll. Films that you think are better, or films that are just more comforting after you have endured something quite disappointing. I stayed focused on Beast for the full runtime, but a little voice in my head kept whispering “it’s been many years since you saw The Ghost & The Darkness”. So I think you can guess that I didn’t love this.

Idris Elba plays Dr. Nate Samuels, a man who has decided to take his two daughters on a trip to South Africa. The family will be shown around some of the local area by a good friend/expert guide named Martin (Sharlto Copley). Everything quickly takes a turn for the worse when the family end up being stalked by a rogue lion with a vendetta against humans. Having separated from a pride wiped out by poachers, this animal isn’t hunting for food. It’s out for revenge.

Writer Ryan Engle, fleshing out a story idea by Jaime Primak Sullivan, really drops the ball here, but is allowed to do so by a director, Baltasar Kormákur, who should know that more needs presented onscreen to cover up the weaknesses in the script. Most of us haven’t encountered a lion, for example, but I am sure we can all imagine how easily limbs would be torn and lost if we met one that was in a bad mood.

The CGI stays consistently good though, which is a big plus, and many scenes in the first half of the film work really well in a simplistic “it’s Jaws, but with a lion” way, so there’s enough to enjoy while the cracks start to appear. I also really enjoyed the score by Steven Price (I am listening to it right now while writing this review), a selection of music that evokes the right sense of geography and tension throughout without filing the soundtrack with every obvious and easiest choice. Although it is something I sometimes forget to mention, or speak of in the abstract rather than the specific, major kudos must go to those crafting the cinematography, especially for making the night scenes so dark and thrilling while also still keeping everything clear and visible enough.

The cast do what they can to help make this as watchable as possible. Elba has been a bona fire star for a good few years now, and if anyone can face off against an angry lion then I believe he can. Iyana Halley and Leah Jeffries are good as his daughters, respectively, Meredith and Norah, with the latter being the older sister who tries to be more pro-active in some of the dangerous encounters. And Copley is as good as ever, despite the fact that he is saddled with delivering a lot of the exposition and then being voted “most likely to die” in any scene that features all four of the main characters together. Despite some other supporting turns, the film generally stays focused on the quartet vs the lion (which is the strongest aspect of the script).

Although not a terrible film, Beast ends up folding under the weight of one implausibility atop another, which leads to an ending that is hard to care for. In fact, it’s sadly laughable. If you think big cats don’t have decent eyesight, don’t have great hearing, and wouldn’t sniff out potential prey hiding just beside them then maybe you will enjoy this more than I did. You will also have to accept that people can be mauled by a lion, while punching back at it, and somehow not watch their arms and legs being moved meters away from their body.

If you don’t like Elba or Copley then this will have even less appeal. If you do like them though, well, this isn’t the worst way you could spend 90 minutes. It just ends up being dragged down to something average when the bad outweighs the good.

5/10

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Wednesday, 28 September 2022

Prime Time: Dog (2022)

People always like to go on about their respect for those who have served time with the military. There’s always an element of peer pressure to view everyone in uniform as a hero. But the same peer pressure is rarely applied to ensuring things like decent benefits for veterans, free healthcare, and help with mental health issues (particularly PTSD), readjustment to civilian life, and even housing. Sometimes it feels very much like people are saying “thank you for your service, please let me swerve around your cardboard bed while I vote for someone who has you bottom on their list of self-enriching priorities.” Or maybe I am being a bit too bitter and cynical.

Anyway, Dog is a film that explores PTSD and rehabilitation, but it does so by pairing Channing Tatum up with a dog, Lulu, perhaps because those making the film knew that this would sugar-coat the message better than just having a damaged human character as the focus. Tatum plays Jackson Briggs, an ex-Ranger who really wants to get back into military service. He has somehow managed to convince someone that he is medically fit, despite having some major problems, but a superior officer needs to make a call to finalise everything. That call will be made, but on one condition. Briggs needs to take Lulu on a cross-country trip to attend the funeral of the young man who used to be her handler. That would be easy enough, if not for the fact that Lulu is as traumatised and nervous as many other soldiers who have been in the heat of battle as often as she was.

Co-directed by Reid Carolin and Tatum, both making their feature debuts in that role, Dog is a very easygoing, very pleasing, mix of drama and comedy that aims more for the former than the latter. Even the potentially funniest sequence (in which Tatum pulls off a scam to get a nice hotel room for one night) ends with a moment that brings everything back down to a sombre reality. It’s not depressing though, although it is emotionally manipulative and moving (I had something in my eye on a couple of occasions), and anyone thinking they know how it will all play out is probably going to be 100% correct with their predictions.

The script, by Carolin (from a story developed with Brett Rodriguez), is best when it maintains focus on that strong through line of the central character developments. There are a number of episodic side-steps, played out with varying degrees of success, and one or two moments could have easily been excised to craft a tighter, arguably better, film. Not that it overstays its welcome, thanks to the third act being better than all the rest, but the first half of the film suffers as it shows Tatum trying to enjoy some time away from his new traveling companion.

I will say that Tatum is good in his role, very believable as the damaged and desperate veteran wanting to get back to the only life he really knows, and there are enjoyable small turns from Kevin Nash, Jane Adams, Bill Burr, and Ethan Suplee, but the real star of the show is Lulu (played by a number of different canine stars, named Zaza, Britta, and Lana 5). If you are watching a movie named Dog then you should feel something for the dog. Although starting off perceived as a vicious and uncontrollable “monster”, Lulu is always just the same as Tarik’s character, a soldier deemed unfit for service who hasn’t known any other way of life. The parallels running between the two, and how they end up complementing one another, are as obvious as they are emotionally affecting.

There are things that could be improved, including that pacing in the first half. Thomas Newman’s score isn’t great, the music choices are bland, and it’s not a visually interesting piece of work. But the central pairing of Tatum and the dog, the battle between them, is easily good enough to recommend this to fans of either kind of movie star, be it hunk or hound.

7/10

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Tuesday, 27 September 2022

Bodies Bodies Bodies (2022)

Pete Davidson plays David, a young man about to hold a hurricane party for a group of his friends at his family home. He also seems to be a bit of a dick, but that becomes less of an obstacle for anyone watching the movie when David is found dead. The group immediately suspect the one other male still amongst them (Greg, played by Lee Pace), but they also turn against one another as the killer seemingly stays hiding in plain sight. Is it Sophie (Amanda Stenblerg), a recovering addict who has turned up with a new girlfriend, Bee (Maria Bakalova)? Is it Bee? Maybe David’s girlfriend, an actress named Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), was just tired of his shit. Podcaster Alice (Rachel Sennott) seems to be desperate enough to create such a drama. And then there’s Jordan (Myha’la Herrold), a badass who definitely seems the most capable of killing someone. 

Written by Sarah DeLappe, majorly reworking a more straightforward slasher movie screenplay by Kristen Roupenian, Bodies Bodies Bodies is a comedy that is looking to have people love or hate it. There will be very few people who end up in the middle, thanks to the relentless parade of negative character traits displayed by everyone onscreen. Nobody here seems to have many (any?) redeeming features. Which doesn’t mean they deserve to die, but it is certainly more fun to watch this group self-implode due to the consequences of their own attitudes and actions. The dialogue isn’t as sharp as it could be, but you get some superb lines that will make you laugh while reminding you of how awful the characters are, and it’s a shame that things seem to take a bit too long to really get going. Thankfully, the third act is so good that it’s easy to forgive the rest. And there’s an ending that ranks up there with one of the best I have seen in the past few years.

Director Halina Reijn does a good job with the material, and she has a team that works well in shooting most of the movie in darkness. The house is big enough for people to wander off to various parts of it while hunting for a killer, there are plenty of accessories that you would expect these characters to have to hand, and there’s a general level of consistency and care taken with the developing tensions and the placing of potential victims within the geography of the house.

Having Davidson as the first murder victim is great casting. He can quickly make a strong impression, good or bad, and his presence/character casts an appropriately large shadow over everything. Although very much an ensemble piece, and everyone does well with the material, Amandla Stenberg is an excellent nominal lead, sharing most of her scenes with a very good, and suitably bemused by the people around her, Bakalova. Sennott is a lot of fun, and Herrold revels in the strength of her character throughout. Pace is good, but gets less screentime than most of the women, and the only one who barely makes any impression, seemingly due to being almost forgotten by the script, is Wonders. 

I liked Bodies Bodies Bodies, but I was apprehensive during some of the earliest scenes. I didn’t like the characters, didn’t know who to root for, and struggled to even enjoy the “whodunnit?” aspect. Then I realised that was the point of the movie. As the situation starts to get worse, it is easier to see the characters all being hampered by their narcissism and selfishness, which makes it easier to just sit back and enjoy. And you have that ending, which is good enough to lift the whole movie up a notch.

8/10

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Monday, 26 September 2022

Mubi Monday: The Naked City (1948)

A film that plays out, helped by the voiceover narration throughout, like a feature-length version of the kind of crime drama we can see by the hundreds, if not thousands, in the TV schedules every week, The Naked City is another superb Jules Dassin crime drama that deserves to be seen by any film fan already aware of his impact on the landscape of cinema.

A woman is found dead. Murdered. The motive is unclear, but there are soon a couple of likely suspects. Although things start off murky, and with no easy answers in sight as the sensational headlines start to appear in the newspapers, Lt. Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) has the patience and determination to keep working away at anything that could help develop the investigation. He is being helped one way by his loyal colleague, Detective Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor), and helped another way by a prime suspect, Frank Niles (Howard Duff).

Written by Albert Maltz and Malvin Wald, this is a well-constructed and perfectly-paced police procedural that knows to base things around some colourful characters in order to compensate for any of the moments that could otherwise be viewed as dull. The crime seems simple enough at the start, but a number of twists and turns show how different factors worked together to make the final solution a bit trickier than first impressions would suggest.

Fitzgerald lifts the movie up a notch, his character being a wonderful blend of experience, cynicism, compassion, and wry humour. It is an absolutely fantastic performance, making his character as good as it needs to be in order to overshadow the darker plot points. Taylor plays his character just like a Boy Scout out to impress his troop leader, but that is also fine, mainly due to his onscreen time being rationed out throughout the entire film. Duff is untrustworthy from the very beginning, but that doesn’t mean he has committed a murder, and he is lucky enough to have a woman standing by him (played by Dorothy Hart) even as mounting evidence starts to suggest her faith is sorely misplaced. House Jameson plays a doctor who ends up having his collar felt, and Ted de Corsia appears onscreen just in time to help deliver a tense finale that delivers a great chase and gunfight.

Dassin had a habit of delivering films that could entertain and thrill while also feeling almost documentary-like at times, and The Naked City is another fine example of his style. As well as the entertaining character interactions and twisty-turny plotting, you get a real feeling of the police getting results from their dogged determination and investigative work, the instinct to pick up on one bit of information and extrapolate towards another line of investigation. There is also a lot of nice location shooting, showing part of 1940s New York in a way that makes it as much a part of the story as any of the people. 

I like most of the other Dassin movies I have seen just a bit more than this one, but this is absolutely still one to recommend. And I could easily rewatch it right now, happily accompanying Muldoon and Halloran around New York as they strive to get justice for a young woman who will be forgotten by many once the newspapers have a new headline to run with.

8/10

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Sunday, 25 September 2022

Netflix And Chill: Ava (2020)

It feels as if everyone lately has been wanting a shot at portraying a highly-skilled assassin, very possibly due to the great success of a certain Keanu-led franchise, but not all of them manage to do enough to stand out from what has fast become a very crowded field. Ava is a film that not only doesn't stand out, it becomes so well-camouflaged by the cliches and tired tropes it is wearing that it's pretty much the John Cena of the skilled assassin movie sub-genre.

Jessica Chastain is the titular Ava. She is very good at her job, killing people, but has started to wonder what people have done to prompt her being hired to put an end to them. This makes Ava a potential liability, despite the fact that she still (literally) executes her orders. Her "handler" (Duke, played by John Malkovich) still has faith in her though, but others want her retired. And retired means dead.

Writer Matthew Newton seems to think that anyone watching Ava will not have seen any other movie like this, which is the only explanation for a script that is so consistently lazy from start to finish. Ava is given three defining characteristics - her questioning nature, her history of addiction, and her deadly skillset - and some messy family tension (with a mother in hospital and a sister now dating her ex-boyfriend), but she never feels like a fully-realised lead character. It isn’t as if we cannot accept assassins who are defined just by how good they kill people, but there isn’t enough information given to us to explain why Ava has started to ask more questions, or why she has kept such strong connection to her family while still in a job that would seem to make that a very risky proposition.

Director Tate Taylor manages to get everything onscreen competently enough, helped by the fact that Chastain is as committed to the physicality of the role as you would expect, but he doesn’t ever do enough to elevate the script. Some fight scenes are decent, some have to be over-edited. Sadly, none of the moments of straightforward drama work, with characters chopping and changing their moods, depending on what exposition is required or how any scene is leading everyone towards the inevitable climax.

Chastain is good in the central role, even if she isn’t quite good enough to make the film worth watching, and Malkovich excels in a supporting cast that also includes Colin Farrell (good value), Geena Davis (always welcome in any movie), Jess Weixler, Common, Diana Silvers, and a badass Joan Chen. Nobody does a bad job. They’re just stuck dealing with that lame script that leaves them hung out to dry.

On the plus side, the pacing isn’t bad, the runtime clocks in at just over 90 minutes (from opening scene to the start of the closing credits), and you can, with some hard work blocking out the worst elements of the script, accept it as a mildly diverting action thriller. I would always be ready to recommend 100 other movies ahead of this though, easily.

4/10

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Saturday, 24 September 2022

Shudder Saturday: Speak No Evil (2022)

There’s a fairly amusing, and fairly accurate, joke you can see shared online sometimes that provides British phrases with translations of what they really mean. Saying “you just come round some time” is actually not an invite. It is said out of politeness, and underscored with a real sense of dread that the person you are speaking to ever takes you up on the offer. 

Speak No Evil is, in a way, the ultimate illustration of that point. Stemming from politeness, two couples become friends while on holiday together. Bjørn (Morten Burian) and Louise (Sidsel Siem Koch) are parents to young Agnes (Liva Forsberg). Patrick (Fedja van Huêt) and Karin (Karina Smulders) have a son named Abel (Marius Damslev). The group get on so well together that Patrick and Karin invite Bjørn and Louise, and Agnes, to visit them at their home. But it's not long until things start to get tense, due to a lack of consideration from the hosts, and a number of strange incidents that out the guests on edge.

Well-acted and presented throughout, this is a really effective thriller/horror movie that works best when characters start having moments of doubt and confusion about people they then remember are complete strangers to them. There are numerous small moments in the first half of the film that begin to sow seeds of doubt, but there are also some major details signposted that ultimately make the third act slightly predictable, and inevitably anti-climactic.

Director Christian Tafdrup, who co-wrote the screenplay with his regular collaborator, and brother, Mads Tafdrup, is interested in holding viewers in a state of squirming discomfort. The first half of the movie is especially hard to watch, presenting a number of incidents that might be a bit more open to interpretation, but the second half is interesting in a way that runs surprisingly close to something like Funny Games, with the script working almost more as a mirror than a straightforward narrative piece. Viewers will question how much they themselves would have tolerated if they had been in the position of the troubled house guests, and the lack of an obvious answer makes the film all the more troubling than something that could have been a bit more straightforward. It’s just a shame that we get those final scenes, moments that undermine the film in a few different ways, but the collapse of plausibility and logic isn’t enough to ruin the whole thing entirely.

The cast all do very good work, although it must be said that Van Huêt struggles with some of the scenes that remove ambiguity from his character, and they all work well with the flowing and shifting dynamics of the scenario, whether friendly to one another, mistrusting, or openly hostile. Burian is the standout, but Koch excels in the way she portrays a woman who senses something a bit awry while her husband isn’t as bothered by it. It could have been all too easy to paint her as the hysterical woman disbelieved by everyone around her, someone we have seen onscreen a thousand times before, but both the script and her performance perfectly avoid that particular pitfall.

It is a shame that the ending brought things crashing down so suddenly for me, but I will say that I haven’t heard that being an issue for anyone else. Maybe I was being a bit too critical, which is unlike me, or maybe others were much more forgiving after being taken on such an intense, wild, ride.

7/10

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Friday, 23 September 2022

The Seventh Victim (1943)

The directorial feature debut of Mark Robson, and the continuation of his working relationship with producer Val Lewton, The Seventh Victim is an odd mix of drama and what I couldn’t help viewing as very dark, and twisted, humour.

The plot focuses on Mary Gibson (Kim Hunter), a young woman who begins her own investigation when she is informed that her sister (Jacqueline, played by Jean Brooks) has gone missing. It isn’t long until Mary meets a few people who may be able to help her in her quest, including a psychiatrist (played by Tom Conway), a poet (Erford Gage), and a husband (Hugh Beaumont) she was previously unaware of. But where is her sister, and what has happened to her?

Like some other movies I have watched recently, The Seventh Victim is best appreciated by people who don’t bring their own expectations to it. The title may suggest a crime thriller (perhaps a serial killer movie) or something supernatural, but what you actually get is a framework that allows some time to be spent examining the power of faith, despite it being in a rather unusual context. This isn’t an unfamiliar topic to Lewton, of course, and you could argue that most of the movies he produced had that at the heart of them, but it’s a slightly less comfortable fit here, although everything still works well enough.

The script, by Charles O’Neal and DeWitt Bodeen, manages to take viewers through an ever-darkening corridor with enough light touches and breathing space to distract from the gloom and doom until reaching a rather bleak final destination. It’s just a shame that the ending isn’t at all satisfying, and the final scene feels more like a punchline than something effectively poignant.

Although Hunter, Conway, Gage, and Beaumont all do well in their roles, they also often feel as if they are starting in a different movie from the one in which a woman has gone missing, and is presumably in danger. Remove a couple of main scenes and you end up with a standard rom-com narrative here. Brooks, on the other hand, benefits from being the endangered woman, with her intermittent appearances creating either more mystery or more danger.

While not a bad film, this is easily the worst of the films I have seen produced by Lewton. It suffers from an identity crisis, as well as some plotting that never feels as tight and well-handled as it should be (especially when you consider the lean 71-minute runtime). I didn’t mind watching it, but I doubt I will ever want to rewatch it.

6/10

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Thursday, 22 September 2022

Lake Placid vs Anaconda (2015)

The first feature directed by A. B. Stone and the last film written by Berkeley Anderson, to date, Lake Placid Vs Anaconda is a film as stupid and lazy as the title would suggest. 

Robert Englund returns to the role of Jim Bickerman, minus a couple of body parts after his close encounters in the last movie. This time he is helping to bag a croc for people that want to use them in a major experiment that also involves some very big anaconda (hence the title). It isn’t long until things go wrong, which then leads to people being threatened by the crocodiles, the big snakes, and sometimes both together. Rolling her eyes as the body parts start to pile up, Yancy Butler is also back, her character, Reba, now the local Sheriff. She ends up working alongside Tull (played by Corin Nemec) as they try to get to the animals before a group of teens get munched.

There are other things I could mention here, the ruthless scientist and her lackey being one of them, but all you really need to know is that this is another instalment in a movie series that should have really stopped after the first film. Varying levels of acting talent and poor CGI are the order of the day, although it has to be said that Anderson actually creates some decent humour when focusing on one or two “mean girls” who end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Englund is fun in his role, once again keeping an eye on whatever will get him a great payday, and Butler is just the same as she has been in all of her Lake Placid appearances so far. It’s not a nuanced performance, but I guess it works, especially if you like Butler. Nemec is appropriately bland and willing to play second fiddle, Oliver Walker is moderately amusing as an inexperienced Deputy, and Skye Lourie is okay as Bethany, the young woman who is supposed to be worth rooting for ahead of many other characters. 

Stone does what is required of them, helped at times by the script while hindered by the obviously tiny FX budget, but it is bizarre to see just how much of a wasted opportunity this is. Neither the crocs nor the snakes feel like the star of a movie that is clearly intended that way, and the pacing, music cues, and lack of gore mean that viewers never forget this is very much a TV movie.

Nobody would willingly choose to seek this out or watch it, it’s a film you catch accidentally while flicking between channels, and nobody would own it in digital form. Except me. I own it, and I just willingly watched it. And I believe I have one more dip left to watch in this series. So I will be getting to that soon enough.

3/10

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Wednesday, 21 September 2022

Prime Time: The Haunted House Of Horror (1969)

Dated, groovy, and mildly diverting fun, The Haunted House Of Horror is a film I have seen more than once, mainly because I always forget exactly how things play out. Once the finale unfolds, and the end credits start to roll, I then remember that there is good reason for this being so forgettable. It’s not that good.

But it is a Tigon film, and I always have a soft spot for Tigon (who gave us a couple of British horror greats, as well as a few more like this).

A bunch of lively young things decide to head to an allegedly haunted house and get up to what can only be described as shenanigans. That is all well and good until things take a dark turn when someone ends up dead. One of the group must have committed the murder, or maybe someone else joined them in the house, just waiting for their perfect moment to strike.

A whodunnit that doesn’t even bother about getting viewers invested in the solving of the mystery, The Haunted House Of Horror is best watched as a fun curio piece, especially when you consider that the cast features a main role for both Frankie Avalon and UK sitcom stalwart Richard O’Sullivan (a combination I don’t think is ever recreated in any other film).

Director Michael Armstrong, who also wrote the screenplay that was rewritten by Gerry Levy, seems to be more interested in allowing his cast to have fun than he is in creating any atmosphere and tension. Okay, the death may feel like an interesting “twist”, but the reactions of the other characters, who simply want to distance themselves from the corpse and hope to eventually find out who did it, makes everything feel much more relaxed and unimpactful (a word? it is now) than it should.

It doesn’t help that the cast isn’t full of great performers. Avalon may have been a successful pop star, but he doesn’t really work when placed in this particular film. O’Sullivan fares a bit better, the film making use of his easygoing and cheeky persona. Mark Wynter is slightly annoying in his role, but that is down to his character more than his performance, George Sewell adds potential threat as an older man obsessed with a young woman he has had a very brief affair with, and Julian Barnes is there to look sweet and soulful for many of his scenes. Jill Haworth, Gina Warwick, Carol Dilworth, and Veronica Doran generally do a bit better than their male counterparts, perhaps because they don’t just become one homogenized mass of swinging youngsters (as most of the men do).

I will never hate this film, I just can’t do it, despite knowing how much of it doesn’t really work. The two main songs on the soundtrack are irritating, the score by Reg Tilsley is even more forgettable than the murky visuals, and the slow pace is another nail in the coffin. As a horror movie, considering the lack of atmosphere, blood, and/or tension, it is a complete failure. But as a small slice of 1960s UK grooviness, I can still find enough to keep me amused and entertained.

5/10

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Tuesday, 20 September 2022

Mildred Pierce (1945)

Another classic film that I had heard about for many years, and another chance for me to check out a central performance from Joan Crawford (I think this is only my second film I have watched with her onscreen), this was the perfect choice to sit down and enjoy during a recent, relaxing, bank holiday.

Crawford is the titular Mildred Pierce, a woman who will do whatever it takes, working her fingers to the bone, to look after her family. Her husband (played by Bruce Bennett) leaves home, which means divorce needs to be figured out, and her eldest daughter, Veda (Ann Blyth) seems to have a constant need for things that cost more and more money. Mildred does have an idea though, a plan for a restaurant that could prove to be a very profitable business venture, but it soon becomes clear that, whether the business is successful or not, money won’t necessarily solve more problems than it causes.

Directed by Michael Curtiz (who delivered some major classics throughout the 1940s - little films you might have heard of like, ummmm, Casablanca, Captain Blood, Angels With Dirty Faces, etc), this is a fantastic blend of standard 1940s melodrama and film noir. It all begins with a murder, and a sequence of events that lead to Mildred Pierce being interrogated by police, but it is easy for forget the moments framing the main narrative as the storyline unfolds.

Writer Ranald MacDougall (someone else with more than one big title in his filmography) adapts the James M. Cain source material with an impressively delicate touch throughout. Everything in the film is deceptive, from the time taken to show the start of the whole story (keeping viewers far removed from that corpse for longer) to the various characters who end up as main suspects in the third act. And everything is anchored by Crawford at the centre, delivering another superb performance. Not that she is alone, and I guess now is as good a time as any to praise the entire cast.

Is this the best performance ever from Crawford? I don’t know, but only because I have yet to see enough of her work. I would be surprised if many of her film turns topped this one though. Blyth impressed by holding her own alongside her, playing a spirited girl who grows up to be an icy and determined young woman, with money always being her main motivation. Bennett is decent enough in his role, but he is overshadowed by the charismatic presence of Jack Carson (playing Wally Fay, the man who helps Mildred get her business started) and the faux-mystery and charm of Zachary Scott (playing a businessman who could also be a potential love interest). There are also enjoyable moments from Eve Arden and Butterfly McQueen, the latter injecting a particularly welcome scattering of humour with just one word or line delivered at just the right times.

Not a film I see mentioned all that often by film fans, although I am sure those who already appreciate it just assume that everyone knows about it by now, Mildred Pierce is another classic that I recommend others check out sooner than I did. A great mix of light and dark, and with the kind of memorable and impactful ending that you want from a film noir, it’s well worth your time, not least because it is well worth watching such a masterful performance from Crawford.

9/10

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Monday, 19 September 2022

Mubi Monday: Wildlife (2018)

Paul Dano is not just a good actor. He is a great actor. So great that I will always watch anything he is a part of. So I was looking forward to Wildlife, even if it didn’t feature him in front of the camera. This is his directorial debut, from a script co-written with Zoe Kazan, adapted from the book by Richard Ford, and it is certainly a film in line with other choices he has made throughout his career.

Ed Oxenbould is Joe, the son of Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Jeanette (Carey Mulligan). The family live in Montana, it is the 1950s, and there is a big wildfire raging nearby that Jerry decides to head off and help tackle once he finds himself out of work. This leaves Jeanette alone, which leads to her looking for employment. And occasional company.

With each scene shot in a very controlled and precise, and fairly muted, manner, Wildlife is a film that feels almost as if it could have been made in the time it is set. Although not as polite and repressed as a Douglas Sirk movie, and certainly not as vibrant with the colours, this is a familiar portrait of people trying to keep up appearances with everyone around them while emotions beneath the surface start to bubble up and threaten to explode in a spectacularly messy display.

The three leads help, despite the fact that Gyllenhaal ends up offscreen for most of the runtime. Oxenbould is fantastic, perfectly portraying his character as a teenager being protected by his parents while he starts to become more aware of their problems. He is wide-eyes at times, strong and determined at other times, depending on how he is moved to react to events unfolding around him. Mulligan gives the kind of performance that she has given so effectively before, that of a young woman trying to do what is seen as right while also allowing herself some moments of happiness, and she's a delight in her role, whether strained by her interactions with Gyllenhaal or drinking her way into the mentality she needs for an extra-marital close encounter that will give her something she cannot find at home.

Dano directs everything with a very delicate touch, not feeling a need to punctuate the proceedings with any major cataclysms. That's probably in line with the book, I would assume (although I haven't read it), but it also allows Dano to focus on doing his best by a cast that will deliver exactly what he wants from them. The barbs in the script, the moments of awkwardness, the compartmentalisation of people according to classist labels, these elements add up to something surprisingly compelling. Oxenbould is the observer, the person that viewers are often placed alongside, but neither Mulligan nor Gyllenhaal are painted as angels or demons. They're just human. And that is nicely highlighted by the very final scene in the film, which feels both honest and melancholic. 

7/10

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Sunday, 18 September 2022

Netflix And Chill: Interceptor (2022)

If you want some slick action entertainment that also feels smart and fresh then you need to look elsewhere. Interceptor is not interested in that. It's a ridiculous film that feels like a throwback to a time when every other straight-to-video title was a Die Hard rip-off. That works though, it's sometimes refreshing to watch a film that doesn't want to show off or reinvent action cinema. I'll rewatch every John Wick movie numerous times ahead of this, but I didn't resent the time spent watching this.

Elsa Pataky plays Captain J. J. Collins, an army officer who ends up being the one person in the way of a group of terrorists that want to take control of the remote missile interceptor (hence the title) station under her command. These terrorists possess a number of nuclear weapons, but to follow through on their threat to use those weapons they need to neutralise the interceptor system. Luke Bracey plays Alexander Kessel, the leader of the terrorists, and the film basically amounts to little more than Pataky versus Bracey for most of the runtime.

Ticking the boxes in a way that sometimes feels like it's bordering on parody, Interceptor is comforting in the familiarity it provides. Aside from the backstory that shows why some view Collins as "trouble", this does everything you expect. There are a number of disposable characters, there's someone due to make a major sacrifice when the time is right, there's an enemy who believes in the principles of his mission, and there's even a traitor who you can point to and call "traitor" from their first minute of screentime. 

Debut director Matthew Reilly, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Stuart Beattie (a man with one or two modern classic tucked away in his back catalogue), does a good enough job, despite the fact that someone with a bit more experience may have been able to paper over some of the cracks. Give them their due though, Reilly and Beattie develop a backstory that both develops the central character and also comments on an ongoing problem within, but not exclusive to, the military.

The biggest problem, sadly, is the cast. Pataky isn't bad, and she ends up surprisingly convincing in some of the more ridiculous set-pieces, but she never feels like a strong enough lead (in any sense). Bracey suffers in a different way, his villain being played far too nice in between the occasional moments of ruthlessness. I don't want to name any other cast members because that will just make it even more obvious who is the traitor, who is there to make a noble sacrifice, and who is just standing around until they get shot in the face.

This is fun. No more, no less. It's never remotely believable. It's not as violent or as bloody as it could be. There's a slightly annoying, obviously intended to be cutesy, cameo for Chris Hemsworth (aka Mr. Pataky). It's as predictable as a Hallmark Christmas movie. But it's fun. Which is fine by me.

6/10

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Saturday, 17 September 2022

Shudder Saturday: The Final Wish (2020)

I didn't read up on what The Final Wish was actually about before I started to watch it. The title made me think (not without reason, I would say) that it would be another telling of The Monkey's Paw. It isn't, but it's not entirely dissimilar to that classic horror tale. 

Michael Welch plays Aaron Hammond, a young man who heads home to help his mother (Kate, played by Lin Shaye) after the passing of his father. Aaron also reunites with Lisa (Melissa Bolona), but Lisa is now in a relationship with the ever-ready-to-be-abusive-local-cop Derek (Kaiwi Lyman) so it's probably best if Aaron just catches up with some other friends, Tyrone (Jean Elie) and Jeremy (Jonathan Daniel Brown). There's also an old item that catches Aaron's eye, something that he soon starts to suspect is helping to make his wishes come true. But at what cost?

Directed by Timothy Woodward Jr., and co-written by a trio of writers, The Final Wish is a perfectly enjoyable, and well-made, horror movie. It isn’t too intense or gory, it’s a bit predictable, and the cast are decidedly okay, but it passes the time well enough, and works well in what it is setting out to do. The biggest problem with it is the fact that those involved didn’t just fully commit to doing The Monkey’s Paw, instead thinking the tweaks and additions would be enough to make it feel a bit fresh and unique. They don’t.

Welch is perfectly fine in the lead role, and he has to sell some aspects of his character that aren’t really made as obvious as they should be. The rest of the cast are largely easy to forget, sadly, with both Elie and Brown left to hang around in scenes that could have used a bit more punch. Bolona has to portray someone stuck in between passive and assertive, which she does well enough, and Lyman has the most fun out of everyone, playing his nasty bastard character as a full-on nasty bastard. Shaye is always welcome, and one or two scenes certainly make this worth watching if you enjoy her work.

People don’t just want the same thing over and over again, that is correct (although sometimes, as I have said before, there is a certain comfort in the familiar), but when you have such a classic concept at the heart of your tale then it makes sense to either completely rework things, maybe going a lot wilder with main plot points, or attempt a modernized presentation of something very traditional. The Final Wish falls between these two stools, to the detriment of the final product. It is good, good enough anyway, but never becomes any better than that.

6/10

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Friday, 16 September 2022

Bedlam (1946)

Directed by Mark Robson, who co-wrote the screenplay with Val Lewton, Bedlam is a wonderfully dark and nasty piece of work. I don't know what people would have thought of it when it was first released, but I can understand it not finding an audience immediately. While tame in many respects nowadays, it somehow retains an impressive power, thanks in no small part to the sterling central performance from Boris Karloff.

Karloff plays Master George Sims, the man in charge of an insane asylum (there are many better ways to word that, granted, but I think bluntness here matches the tone of the film). Sims keeps himself in the good graces of Lord Mortimer (Billy House) by occasionally using the patients in his care to put on a distasteful show. Sims is used to doing what he wants, and he makes extra money by charging people to enter the asylum and look around, but he starts to come unstuck when his ways are questioned by Nell Bowen (Anna Lee). Nell is a companion to Mortimer, which means she may have the ability to convince him of how badly the asylum is run, and Sims has to think and act quickly. Nell won't be much of a threat to him if she ends up IN the asylum.

A sadly familiar tale nowadays, we have had many films showing authority figures abusing their position of power, Bedlam remains a prime example of this kind of film. It also remains a twisted and vicious piece of work, as well as a damning indictment of the way society tends to deal with the mentally ill. Things have greatly improved over the years, thankfully, but there are also ways in which people continue to be misdiagnosed, mistreated, and stigmatized.

Despite stiff competition, Karloff delivers a performance that could easily be considered among his very best. There’s no soft centre this time around. The monster is all monster here, and Karloff portrays every bit of merciless scheming without feeling the need to wink or reassure viewers. He is thoroughly unlikable in a way that keeps you riveted, and the fact that Lee does such a great job in her role as the “woman who won’t stay quiet” is testament to her performance. With a number of enjoyable supporting turns dotted throughout, a good dollop of praise should be heaped upon whoever was responsible for casting, and the consistency of quality means I would once again rather direct people to browse the entire cast list than try to single out any one other performance.

Robson and Lewton do everything that they set out to do, using their central premise to link together a number of dark and unforgettable grotesqueries. They know how to make the most of their assets (mainly Karloff and Lee) and they have confidence in their own abilities. That confidence is not misplaced, and I can happily recommend this to anyone who has already appreciated some of the other films featuring people who worked on this, whether behind or in front of the camera.

8/10

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Thursday, 15 September 2022

In The Earth (2021)

Written and directed by Ben Wheatley, In The Earth is the typical film you can expect from writer-director Ben Wheatley, which means it is as unpredictable and unexpected as many of his other films.

There has been a virus, and scientists are desperately seeking a cure. One such scientist if Martin Lowery (Joel Fry), who is taken into a forest area by a ranger/scout (Alma, played by Ellora Torchia). They hope to find a scientist who previously went missing in that area, but they also hope to find anything that could help them create a cure. What they find is a stranger named Zach (Reece Shearsmith).

Almost every Ben Wheatley film feels like a natural fit in his filmography while also feeling like a unique work. It's a testament to the man and his ability to always make the most of whatever resources are available to him, be it the right bunch of actors willing to work with him in some experimental work, the right single location for some inventive gunplay, or the idea of a virus-based horror that can make a much bigger impact on people due to recent events. That doesn't mean that everything he does is a success, but it's always at least interesting. 

In The Earth may be the exception, in a number of ways. First, it arguably feels more connected to another Wheatley film (A Field In England) than any of his other films. I think the two would make for a very heady double-bill. Second, it doesn't feel all that interesting. The runtime is 107 minutes, but it feels like a much longer movie, mainly because it doesn't add enough to the central premise to engage viewers.

The cast all do good work. As well as Fry, Torchia, and Shearsmith, there's a small role for Hayley Squires, and nobody can be faulted. Everyone brings something vitally different to the film, creating an interesting and fluid dynamic that adds more to every scene than the script manages. Everyone is very believable, even as their behaviour becomes stranger, and that helps to offset the wilder ideas that come to the fore as things head towards the finale.

This is only my first viewing of In The Earth though. I cannot state with any certainty that my opinion won't change when/if I revisit it. It's a fairly slim film, in terms of the content, yet there are things tucked away under the surface that may well reward a repeat viewing. Maybe it would also help to be even further removed from the events that this brings to mind. No matter how much things have improved over the past 12-18 months, we're still processing a global event that was hugely disconcerting and disorientating, to say the least. 

Let the seasons pass, let the years start to roll by again, let this be forgotten and buried for now. Let it metaphorically go back into the earth. And then, one day, I can dig it up again and see how I feel. It could just be a clod of dirt, or it could be a rediscovered treasure by then.

4/10

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Wednesday, 14 September 2022

Prime Time: Memory (2022)

Another week, another Liam Neeson action thriller. I like Neeson. He's an enjoyable actor, he has a good screen presence, and he often looks like he can actually do some of the stuff that his characters are supposed to be able to do. His filmography is really starting to become a chore though, with the duds easily outweighing the good stuff by now. Memory may well be his worst film in some time, although I say that as someone who has got into the habit of ignoring many of his recent releases.

Neeson plays Alex Lewis, a skilled assassin who wants to retire. We all know that usually doesn't work out well for skilled assassins, but Alex knows that he won't be able to do his job for much longer anyway. He is suffering from the onset of Alzheimer's disease, his condition sometimes kept in check by some medicine, but the clock is definitely running out on his time as a feared killer. When Alex refuses to kill one of the targets assigned to him, he finds himself in the frame for the killing anyway. It's all tied to some horrible crimes that have been committed by people who are protected by someone VERY rich and powerful. That wealth and power has stopped the police from being able to conduct any decent investigation, but Alex might be able to do things more effectively than the police.

All you really need to know about Memory is that Neeson plays a character who sometimes has to write pieces of information on his body in order to remember them. And there's a character played by Guy Pearce, who is given the thankless task of starring in this to seemingly remind viewers that Memento exists, and is a much better film than this piece of garbage. It's not just Neeson and Pearce who should be indignant about their casting in this. There's also a small role for Monica Bellucci, as well as Ray Stevenson. None of these familiar faces are doing anything close to their best work. Taj Atwal, Harold Torres, Ray Fearon, and Lee Boardman are also ill-served by the film, but they don't have quite so far to fall from grace.

The screenplay, by Dario Scardapane, is based on a previous screenplay, by Carl Joos, that was based on a book, by Jef Geeraerts (titled De zaak Alzheimer/The Memory Of A Killer). There may have been a time when the material worked, when it may have even felt fresh (the book was published almost 20 years ago), but now it's beyond saving. It's a horrible, limp, lazy, waste of the time and talents of everyone involved.

It's especially saddening that this is directed by Martin Campbell. Campbell has, one or two dips aside, often provided me with the kind of films that I can easily enjoy. Some are better than others, of course, but he can deliver some great action thrillers that use many familiar tropes and moments without feeling stale and worthless. You wouldn't know it from this film though. I really thought this was a film from some first-time director who had been lucky enough to be given a chance on a pet project for some studio producer, there's so little here to signify that it is in an experienced pair of hands.

I have racked my brain to think of one good thing to mention here, from the score to any of the action sequences. There's nothing. The acting from everyone is pretty bad, the plotting is painful, and it's genuinely disheartening to see the likes of Neeson, Pearce, and Bellucci slumming it in something so obviously unworthy of their talents. I am already wishing that I could completely forget it.

2/10

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Tuesday, 13 September 2022

Lake Placid: The Final Chapter (2012)

Spoiler warning, this isn't the last film in the Lake Placid movie series. I am sure that most people wouldn't have been fooled by "The Final Chapter" sub-heading, especially horror fans who saw the same words used so memorably in the Friday The 13th movie series (for a film that currently has about 7 or 8 films after it already). I knew this wouldn't be any kind of proper finale, but I also knew that I would probably wish it WAS a proper finale. This is a series that really hasn't been served well by the people wanting to wring more and more money from sequels that provide nothing but diminishing returns.

The plot isn't even worth the time and space it would take to describe it. Suffice to say, a group of young folk end up beside the wrong lake, which means they could quite quickly become snacks for some hungry crocodiles. Looking out for the kids are Sheriff Giove (Elisabeth Röhm), Reba (Yancy Butler, reprising a character we all thought had died in the previous movie), and Loflin (Paul Nicholls). And Robert Englund plays a hunter/poacher called Jim Bickerman.

Writer David Reed is also returning from the previous movie, where he didn't do too bad a job, although I wish he hadn't. This is a step down, in terms of both the writing and the direction, the latter now in the hands of Don Michael Paul. Neither man does more than a perfunctory job behind the camera, obviously hoping that the wonky CGI and poor pacing will be made easier to accept by the main cast.

It isn't.

Oddly enough, there's at least some potential with the main adults. Röhm has a good presence, and her chemistry with Nicholls works quite well as their characters are pushed closer and closer together by the clumsy script. Butler is happy to once again ham things up a bit, although she has less scenery left to chew on whenever Englund has been onscreen ahead of her. Someone clearly forgot to tell Englund that he didn't have to play his character like a bastard cousin of Ahab. I'm happy about that though, because he certainly adds some fun. Poppy Lee Friar, Benedict Smith, Caroline Ford, Scarlett Hefner, and the rest of the younger cast members are sadly left hanging out to dry, not given any character depth nor any truly memorable moments, which means every scene they are involved in becomes a waiting game until we see some of the older characters back in action.

I know not to expect great things from these movies, I'm not a complete idiot (ahem, no need to look so surprised), but it shouldn't be so hard to make something moderately amusing and entertaining. They almost managed it with the previous film. They don't manage it this time though, and this isn't really worth your time. Unless your a masochistic completist. Like me.

3/10

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Monday, 12 September 2022

Mubi Monday: Babysitter (2022)

Based on a play by Catherine Léger, Babysitter is a very smart and witty look at sexism, misogyny, and the male gaze. It also shows the amusing, but equally dire, consequences of men trying to overcompensate for their bad attitudes when they finally make a real attempt to change their mindset.

Patrick Hivon is Cédric, a man who finds himself in big trouble when he is caught on camera being sexist and harassing a news reporter. This gets him in hot water with his employer, and starts him on a path of (possible) enlightenment that he hopes will make him a better man, a better person, and a better husband to his wife, Nadine (played by director Monia Chokri). Nadine is also struggling after the birth of their child, which leads to the couple hiring a babysitter (Amy, played by Nadia Tereszkiewicz). Amy is very eager to help both Cédric and Nadine, but her help may end up making things a bit trickier for all involved.

First of all, I think I'd better say that my view of this film may be affected by my own male gaze, but I am hoping that Chokri deliberately played around with the framing and mis-en-scène to emphasise the journey of the central characters. It has to be deliberate (I hope), and it's brilliantly on the nose, from the first conversation with men who are rating women to the later imagery of men wrestling with a train of thought they now realise doesn't have to dominate their mind.

Hivon is a decent lead, but calling him a lead is only signifying his importance in setting the ball rolling on the whole plot. His character ultimately becomes sidelined as the focus moves to those with more problems to work on, whether that is Jean-Michel (Steve Laplante), another man who starts to think more about his attitude, or Nadine. Laplante brings even more humour to things, but Chokri does well to balance things out with more serious and sensitive moments, particularly in the scenes that have her character being unexpectedly helped by the babysitter. Tereszkiewicz is an innocent at the heart of everything, in many ways. She's the screen that others project on to, and her performance is often defined by her displaying a straightforward and pragmatic attitude that is at odds with anyone viewing her in a more sexualised way.

What Babysitter doesn't do is say "all men are bad and this is the way they can change", which is a great relief. It shows men looking to change for selfish reasons (social forgiveness, camouflage, etc) and then puts them in different scenarios that leads them from one riverbank to the next via a number of solid stepping stones. While wanting to go from one extreme to the other, and extremes are never good, the men show how much they misunderstand the needs of women, whether that woman is a potential lover, a tired partner, or a work colleague, and their journey takes them to a place far beyond where they initially envisioned.

Whether I am right or wrong in my way of interpreting certain aspects of Babysitter, it's a film I would happily watch, and re-examine, again. I can't remember the last time I had so much fun being reminded of the desperate overhaul required to lessen everyday sexism and misogyny.

8/10

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Sunday, 11 September 2022

Netflix And Chill: I Came By (2022)

Directed by Babak Anvari, who also gave us the excellent Under The Shadow (AND the very enjoyable Wounds), I Came By is a slick and intermittently enjoyable thriller, based on a story by Anvari and written by Namsi Khan. It has one problem, but that problem is enough to unsettle the whole thing, sadly, and I'll get to it soon enough.

George MacKay is Toby Nealey, a young graffiti artist who enjoys spending his time breaking into the homes of the rich and powerful, tagging their walls with the message of "I came by", and proudly watching his work appear on local news. He's helped in his endeavours by Jay (Percelle Ascott), but the two part ways when Jay finds out that he is about to be a dad. Determined not to stop his spray-painting protests, Toby ends up in the home of Hector Blake (Hugh Bonneville), a retired judge. Blake is still very friendly with people high up in the local police force, and he's the sort of person you expect to be a pillar of the community. But he also has a very dark secret, one that leaves Toby with a hell of a dilemma. This also drags his mother, Lizzie (Kelly Macdonald), into things, despite the fact that she has previously been unaware of Toby's graffiti campaign.

MacKay is okay in his role, although his performance is sorely weighed down by an accent that seems to have been taught to him by Ali G. Ascott is also okay in his role, although his performance is slightly weighed down by the script. Macdonald is in the same boat as Ascott, but she does slightly better, as you might expect from Macdonald. The star is Bonneville though, playing the villain of the piece with aplomb. Always generally maintaining an air of composure and civility, Bonneville's character is all the more fun because of his confidence. Whatever he may or may not be up to, he acts like someone who knows they will never have to worry about receiving any punishment.

In amongst the standard thriller moments, and they're often moments that we've seen in many other movies, there are some interesting ideas in here about class, about the futility of protesting with gestures that aren't backed up by actions, and the danger of self-doubt and procrastination just because you view yourself as someone unable to effect ANY change.

I did mention that one big problem though, the one that unsettles the whole film, and I'm sure you're all dying to know what that is. There's no central protagonist. A film like this needs a central protagonist, but we don't get that. I am sure Khan and Anvari thought they were making the film even more interesting, it's certainly an unusual approach, but it just ends up distancing viewers from the onscreen events. It's hard to care for anyone when you realise they may disappear from the plot at any time, only to then be replaced by a less interesting character given the nominal lead role for a while.

I can easily imagine people liking this quite a bit more than I did, but I wouldn't be surprised if many felt the same way. That one big problem is a BIG problem, and even people not thinking about it consciously may well get to the end of the film and wonder why they never felt fully engaged with the plot. I couldn't bring myself to recommend it, unless you can dismiss the rest of the movie and just enjoy the fantastic turn from Bonneville.

4/10

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