Saturday, 30 April 2022

Shudder Saturday: Jamie Marks Is Dead (2014)

We come, once again, to a film that is very good, and very well made, but perhaps not what people may be looking for if they're scheduling some standard horror genre fare. Although Jamie Marks Is Dead is very much, as it says, about Jamie Marks no longer being a sane pick for the dodgeball team, it's a teen drama that has more in common with the likes of River's Edge (I STILL need to see that film, but the imagery here certainly brings it to mind) and Submarine than it does with any full-blooded horrors. There are ghosts here, yes, but they're barely any more ethereal than teenagers who hide away from their peers as they deal with their problems.

The story begins with some snapshots of teen life. Sort of. It all really begins with the discovery of the corpse of Jamie Marks (Noah Silver), a young man who seems to have spent most of his high school years being an outcast and a victim of bullies. A shared fascination with the death brings Gracie (Morgan Saylor) and Adam (Cameron Monaghan) closer together, which allows them to stay distracted from their own problems. Adam, in particular, is struggling with the fact that his mother (Liv Tyler) was paralysed in an accident caused by a woman (Lucy, played by Judy Greer) that she is now friends with. Things get more intense when both Gracie and Adam start seeing, and talking to, the ghost of Jamie, which gives them hope that they can find out exactly what, or who, caused his death.

Based on a novel, "One For Sorrow", by Christopher Barzak, Jame Marks Is Dead is one of those films that is easy to see struggling to find a target demographic. The issues explored are relevant to teenagers everywhere, but the presentation is more serious, and surprisingly grounded, than teen viewers may want. Older viewers, such as myself, can still identify with the things being worked through, but writer-director Carter Smith, who previously delivered solid horror for fans with the excellent plant-based nastiness of The Ruins, seems unwilling to believe that people will be drawn in by the drama alone. He adds an occasional scare here or there, which may stem from the source material, when things may have worked better with more time spent straying away from the horror elements.

Monaghan and Saylor are both very good in their roles, playing up their sensitivity and empathy without making it all seem too much like an assumed affectation. They work well together, but also separately, and Monaghan gets some excellent scenes in which he can direct his frustration and anger at Tyler and Greer, who both do well in supporting roles. Silver is slightly hampered by the fact that he has to spend a lot of his screentime looking miserable and lonely, for obvious reasons, but he gives a good performance, and the film is at its best in the few moments that have all three of the main characters shifting the dynamic between them. Madisen Beaty is also very good, playing another spirit named Frances Wilkinson who has her own, volatile, way of reacting to living souls around her.

There's nothing really wrong with this, in terms of the performances, the technical side of things, and the visual style. It's a good story, and it's generally presented well. It's just disappointing that nobody, whether that's Barzak or Smith, or both, was unable to nail down something more fitting and consistent when it came to the overall tone.

I tentatively recommend Jamie Marks Is Dead, but I don't know who I recommend it to.

6/10

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Friday, 29 April 2022

The Puppet Masters (1994)

Although very similar to The Body Snatchers, The Puppet Masters is actually based on a Robert A. Heinlein book that came along a few years before Jack Finney's seminal work. It's a fun film, but also one that is very much a product of its time, that being the early to mid-'90s, when The X-Files had made us all aware of how government agencies move in and deal with potential alien threats.

Things start moving pretty quickly, with head guy Andrew Nivens (Donald Sutherland), and agents Sam, who is also his son (played by Eric Thal), Mary (Julie Warner), and Jarvis (Richard Belzer) among the first to investigate some strange events in a small town. It's an alien invasion, with the little parasitic creatures attaching themselves to people and controlling them, making them part of a hive mind. In a race to stop the little buggers from taking over the world, Andrew and co. have to find out exactly how they work, and find out what is the most effective weapon against them. Because once they attach to a host, removing them can be a very tricky, and life-threatening, operation.

Written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, a successful writing duo who went on to craft a number of massive box office hits, The Puppet Masters also had many other people trying to help finalise the script, including director Stuart Orme and David S. Goyer. The script remains weak, certainly in a middle act that moves between familiar “body hopping” moments and attempts to explain the full M. O. of the creatures, but it still has enough fun contained within it to keep things just about entertaining enough in between the more exciting story beats.

Helped by a cast that also includes Keith David, Yaphet Kotto, Will Patton, and some other familiar faces, Orme gives viewers something that absolutely, for better or worse, plays out like a feature-length TV episode of something from this time (as well as The X-Files, you also had Dark Skies and First Wave, the latter two shows coming along after this film). Basically, if you like that aesthetic then you will find enough to like here. The look of the whole thing is quite flat, but there are some decent practical effects, although some aren’t so decent, and plenty of people in suits looking serious and commanding soldiers to contain/destroy a major threat. 

Sutherland is very good in his role, and he provides a connective tissue between this and a previous incarnation of Finney’s tale (thanks to his work in the ‘70s version, consciously or subconsciously helping people to forget THIS is actually Heinlein’s story), but he’s left a little bit out on his own in scenes that have him working with Thal and Warner. It isn’t that Thal and Warner are terrible, although they are sorely hampered by the script here, but they don’t have an ounce of Sutherland’s charisma and presence.

One of many films that fares better in your memory than it does on a full rewatch, The Puppet Masters is a lightweight bit of sci-fi horror entertainment. It just isn’t half as good as most of the films that adapt this kind of material.

6/10

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Thursday, 28 April 2022

Dreadnaught (1981)

For people who don't yet know about the martial arts prowess of Yuen Biao, a man who was occasionally a very worth "third musketeer" alongside Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung, I highly recommend diving into his filmography. And, for all I know, there may be better places to start, but Dreadnaught is a hell of a good time.

Biao plays Mousy, a cowardly young man who is rarely able to collect the laundry money that he is sent out to collect on behalf of his sister (played by Lily Li). That makes his fate seem inevitable when he becomes the target of a crazed killer known as White Tiger (Yuen Shun-yee). Or maybe not, considering that Mousy has the chance to learn from both Leung Foon (Bryan Leung) and the legendary Wong Fei-hung (Kwan Tak-hing).

Directed by Yuen Woo-ping (arguably best-known to modern movie viewers for his work on THAT big sci-fi action movie from 1999), Dreadnaught is a hugely entertaining mix of thrills, slight chills, and the expected underdog-to-top dog character arc. Writer Wong Jing has time for supporting characters, and some humour that doesn't work, but never takes too long to move the focus back to our hero, who still shows his athleticism even when trying to avoid a fight.

The cast work well, overall, with Biao easily proving himself as a likeable leading man. He has presence, he can play up his inability to fight for comedic effect, and he's definitely got the moves when the time comes for him to show what he can actually do. Shun-yee, on the other hand, is made to look memorable most of the time, thanks to the facial make up used, but his performance is just a constant stream of bared teeth and gurning expressions. The other good guys, however, more than make up for the overworking villain, with Leung doing good work and Tak-hing almost stealing the entire movie with his portrayal of Fei-hung (especially great in a couple of fight sequences that have people pretending that they’re not fighting).

Highlights include a frankly amazing dragon dance/ritual sequence, a tailor attacking his customer while the customer deftly defends himself, and a finale that features some surprisingly eerie imagery in just before the expected face off between the lead and the rage-filled villain.

It may not be the absolute best film with Biao in a starring role (almost everyone who knows the man tells me that The Prodigal Son is THE one to watch), but this is a great introduction to his work, and an easy one to recommend to fans of martial arts cinema . . . or anyone who enjoyed the laundry scene in Batman Forever (which was lifted from this).

8/10

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Wednesday, 27 April 2022

Prime Time: Heartbreakers (2001)

A con movie with plenty of comedy in the mix, Heartbreakers makes use of a great cast to provide some enjoyable entertainment. It's never going to be rated as an unmissable slice of cinema, but I'd recommend it to anyone who likes the people involved.

Written by Robert Dunn, Paul Guay, and Stephen Mazur (the latter two a screenwriting duo who had previously delivered both The Little Rascals and Liar Liar), this is the tale of a mother (Angela, played by Sigourney Weaver) and daughter (Wendy, played by Jennifer Love Hewitt) who work together to trap foolish, horny, men. We see how their plan plays out at the end of their latest venture, with Angela having married Dean (Ray Liotta), falling asleep on him on their wedding night, and then ensuring that she catches him almost-coitus-startyuppus with Wendy (who is using an assumed name, and not letting on to the fact that she is related to Angela). Moving on to their next victim, a rich old man named William B. Tensy (Gene Hackman), things are soon complicated by Angela having to pretend to be Russian and Wendy being charmed by a local bar owner, Jack (Jason Lee).

Director David Mirkin may not have the most interesting and worthwhile directorial filmography to explore, his best work tends to be with his role as writer and/or producer, but he has delivered at least two very different comedy features that some put forward as deserving of more love. One is Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion, which so many people will now rush to remind you is a real treat. The other is Heartbreakers, often championed by . . . me.

With the focus on the main characters and dialogue throughout, without propping things up with soundtrack choices or big set-pieces, this is a film that will appeal more to people who like the leads. Which shouldn’t be a problem when the leads include Weaver and Hackman.

Weaver gives a performance so good that it saddens me she hasn’t been given more comedy roles. She is also showcased for her looks and sexiness here, which works brilliantly (thanks to her natural appearance and the wardrobe department maximising her ability to attract the gaze of any man she wants). Love Hewitt ends up overshadowed, which would seem inevitable, but also manages to show a decent knack for comedy at times. She commits to some of the zanier moments, and the relationship between herself and Weaver is nicely crafted. Hackman is having fun, playing a blinkered old man letting his heart overrule his head, and Liotta also seems to be enjoying himself, and ALSO does so well with the comedy that it makes you wonder why he didn’t get to do more (the opening act is hilarious, and he has one or two great lines in the finale). Lee is a sweet guy who might just be The One, a standard love interest role he played very well for a number of years, and there are great supporting roles, and cameos, for Anne Bancroft, Ricky Jay, Nora Dunn, Zach Galifianakis, Sarah Silverman, and Carrie Fisher, among others.

I am not here to convince anyone that Heartbreakers is an all-time classic, as a con movie or a comedy, but it is certainly up there with a number of greats that I would consider hard to beat. Films like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Matchstick Men, Paper Moon, The Brothers Bloom and a few others. I might rewatch all of those films ahead of this one, but this is one I would definitely like to see remembered by more people who appreciate its many charms.

8/10

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Tuesday, 26 April 2022

The Batman (2022)

Here are some things that Matt Reeves seems to really like, based on what he presents to viewers in The Batman. "Something In The Way", by Nirvana, Seven, putting a camera as close to someone as possible so you can be right beside them as they grapple hook up to a roof/BASE jump off a building/crash a car/etc, Seven, Zodiac, and . . . Seven. Oh, and shots of people riding motorbikes. If you took out every moments of someone riding a motorbike here than you might have a film that would clock in at a much more reasonable runtime, instead of the hefty three hours we get.

Here's the story, boiled down to essential elements. Batman (Robert Pattinson) is being given the runaround by Riddler (Paul Dano), a criminal determined to expose the secrets of Gotham City. As he tries to get information from the underworld that essentially rules Gotham, Batman deals with Penguin (Colin Farrell), Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), and is helped in his investigative work by James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) and Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz). People are placed in deathtraps, forced to admit to their weaknesses and crimes, and a whole master plan is in place, with the Riddler moving pieces around the city, perhaps including the Batman himself.

There's a lot to like here, a lot that is easy to enjoy if you're a fan of Batman (and so many people are). Despite the darkness of the colour scheme, it's often a visually impressive film. The score is decent, although hampered by those that have come before it, and Reeves and Peter Craig have crafted a screenplay that attempts to provide a perfect mix of the cerebral and the visceral. The biggest problem is how often it defers to past movies, be they other Batman movies, Seven/Fight Club/Zodiac, or Taxi Driver (you could say that the entire finale of this film shows a real rain coming along to wash away the scum).

The pacing of the film is helped by the action set-pieces. They're generally of a high standard, although that close-up camera trick spoils a number of moments, and it's good to see consistency in the way Batman uses skill, strength, and confusion to take on groups of henchmen. There’s nothing new here, and it would be nice to have a Batman/Bruce Wayne who isn’t wrestling with his own guilt and self-doubt for a while, but it is given, for the most part, a decent makeover. I didn’t personally like the reinterpretation of the Riddler, nor do I think a tiresomely inevitable cameo bodes well, but it all works within the film that Reeves set out to deliver.

The cast are, by and large, almost perfect. Pattinson has to be a bit too dour as Wayne, although he doesn’t spend a lot of screentime without the mask and cape on, but he really suits the Bat attire, and has a good voice that doesn’t wander too far towards Bale-growl territory. Dano is disappointingly underused, seen largely through phone screens and computer monitors, but his performance is excellent, and he is allowed to believably posit himself as someone much smarter than everyone around him. I have seen people say that Farrell is also underused, but I think his character is crucially involved in a number of moments that help him make an indelible impression. Wright is a perfect choice for Jim Gordon, and Kravitz stands out as the best Catwoman since Michelle Pfeiffer played the role so memorably back in Batman Returns (I like Anne Hathaway, I just don’t think she was as good when asked to portray this particular character in The Dark Knight Rises). Strong, athletic, smart, sexy, and believing she has extra lives to make use of, Catwoman is once again a very believable and viable yin to Batman’s yang (get your mind out of the gutter), and Kravitz is perfect for the role. Turturro makes a great Falcone, the criminal kingpin who controls so much of the city, and the famous Alfred is played this time around by Andy Serkis. As good as he is in the role, Serkis has to play a character who is basically forgotten, aside from a few small scenes, which feels strange in a film with so much runtime to fill.

The good far outweighs the bad, and a lot of that is thanks to the canny casting, but it’s sometimes hard to view this favourably when it constantly indulges in such obvious plundering and cannibalism. The ending feels especially dull, and familiar, considering how it basically turns a great villain into a sad totem for . . . well, just wait and see for yourself what you think of the “grand finale” and big reveals.

This is a good way to reconfigure the character (although it would have been nice to not keep referring to dead parents as a main plot point again), and I was surprised by how much I didn’t care for the runtime as things moved from one impressive sequence to the next, but it still doesn’t quite equal the best of the Bat-flicks. It’s very good though, despite the flaws.

8/10

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Monday, 25 April 2022

Mubi Monday: Zero Fucks Given (2021)

AKA the anti-View From The Top.

The excellent Adèle Exarchopoulos stars here as Cassandre, a flight attendant who has some big decisions to make when she reaches the end of her contract with her airline employer. Her next move is to do the training that will take her to management level, but that will make her job more of an actual job, as opposed to the fun, hazy, flight from one party to the next that she has been enjoying for some time.

The obvious irony here, from my point of view, is that the central character has problems in her life because she actually does care. Her time of not caring is ended, outwith her control, and that forces her to re-evaluate her life, which allows viewers to see what she has been determined to not think about for as long as possible.

Co-directed and co-written by Emmanuele Marre and Julie Lecoustre, with some additional assistance from Mariette Désert, Zero Fucks Given expertly walks a line in showing a character trying to pretend that they don’t have a care in the world without having them become so irritating that they are unpleasant company to be stuck with for the duration of the film. Marre has the bigger filmography, although I am unfamiliar with their work, but this is a feature that should easily stand out as a highlight in anyone’s body of work, which means I will look forward to whatever comes next from those involved.

While there is a smattering of supporting characters, Cassandre is front and centre for almost every scene, and Exarchopoulos is perfect in that role. She is easy to like, easy to root for, and the script ensures that she actually does show empathy and a willingness to do the right thing, even while also trying to just enjoy some carefree time before life puts a stranglehold on her. Everyone does good work here, but Exarchopoulos owns the movie, cementing herself as another favourite of mine I will enjoy watching in anything.

Although showing the specific work issues that are associated with a career in air travel, this also works as a look at almost any working environment. When you are young enough to want that work-life balance leaving you more playtime, but still aiming to do your job to the best of your ability, employers often don’t leave room for mistakes (be they mistakes of youth or mistakes stemming from not doing things exactly by the book). People need that room, they need to make mistakes, and they need to be allowed to have fun before tying themselves to a rigid career path. It is unusual for anyone to know exactly what they want to do as soon as they leave formal education. Hell, I am in my forties and STILL unsure about what I do. Most of us do care though, and there’s constant pressure coming from so many different directions. Those who actually tend to give zero fucks are the companies, for the most part, especially those with many more potential job applicants than vacancies, assuring them a constant supply of ready replacements for people they don’t view as being committed enough.

8/10

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Sunday, 24 April 2022

Netflix And Chill: Poltergeist Activity (2015)

There are very few, if any, times when it is acceptable to be personally insulting to anyone making movies. I would argue, however, that someone treating viewers with complete disdain, delivering them a product that is clearly slapped together with a lack of care or consideration, is one of those times when reciprocating with a certain brusque manner, or overt rudeness, is generally okay. Because why give someone respect who seems unable to respect the people who may have spent some of their money to be suckered in by a terrible (usually horror) film?

And that is why I am starting this review by confidently stating that writer-director Andrew Jones should step away from film-making, or maybe he just needs to get himself in the company of financiers and producers who can better help him realise a proper movie. Jones has been responsible for some of the worst movies that I've seen throughout the past decade, and all of them are given some decent artwork to lure people in, as well as a title that either plays on some other movie or hints at something MUCH better (e.g. Poltergeist Activity, The Amityville Asylum, and anyone using the name Amityville in a title that isn't an official part of the series should have a warm seat kept for them in a special circle of cinema hell, The Manson Family Massacre, The Jonestown Haunting, Cabin 28, and Alien: Battlefield Earth). Who knows, maybe something like Jurassic Predator manages to be daffy fun. I'm not brave enough to check it out yet, I believe it is safest to only watch one Andrew Jones film a year, at most. The BEST thing I have seen from him is Robert, a killer doll movie that has inexplicably turned into a whole series by now (about 5 films so far, unless I am miscounting). And I gave that a mighty 3/10. The worst I have seen from him is The Curse Of Halloween Jack. Well, that was the case until I saw this film.

Lee Bane plays David Prescott, a man who moves into a new house with his daughter, Katherine (Natalie Martins). Unfortunately, it turns out that the house has a dark history. Before you can say "is that clown doll there just to reference the best Poltergeist movie?" things start to get freaky and scary. That's what is supposed to happen anyway. What actually happens is father and daughter arguing with one another, things becoming more unbearable for them in the house, and the eventual help of an occult expert, Hans Voltz (Jared Morgan). There's also a neighbour, Mrs. Blankenship (Judith Haley), who knows about the history of the house. And one scene in which Sam Harding plays Alex, a character he seems a bit too old to be playing.

Absolutely horrible, almost painfully so, from start to finish, this is amateur film-making at its very worst. Although the acting is quite bad, I am loathe to blame the cast. This feels like one of many British horror films that is made with the approach of "well, we have a central idea/title/poster, I am sure we can work out the rest while filming". If you know me at all then you will know that I always try to find some good in everything. Very few films have nothing at all going for them. This is one of those rare ones. And the less said about the audio mix, and music from Bobby Cole, the better.

Consistently ugly, there's genuinely not one moment here that even accidentally frames the action in a way that you can acknowledge resulted from a conscious choice, absolutely lacking any actual scares, often laughable when it's trying to be serious, this is a disaster. Destined to be a solid choice for any bad movie club, the only other place this should appear is in a wastebin. Which is then dumped in the sea.

One final note, a warning to the curious (if you will), is that I've probably oversold it here. Although mentioning it as a contender for a bad movie club choice, this doesn't even manage to be laughable in the right way. You just end up growing increasingly incredulous as you realise that people worked on this, people thought they were making something worthwhile, and then they thought that others might pay to see it. Do NOT ever exchange any money for this. Ever. Because a penny spent on this is a penny you could have used as a sacrifice in one of those wonderful "Make Your Own Penny" machines that can be found at numerous tourist attractions up and down the UK.

P.S. If anyone involved in these films ever wants to contact me and put forward their side of things then I'll be happy to email back and forth, and allow some space here for that dialogue. My email address is kevinjmatthews75@gmail.com

1/10

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Saturday, 23 April 2022

Shudder Saturday: Rocktober Blood (1984)

There are many "heavy metal horror" movies to choose from, it's quite a fun sub-genre, so I've no idea why anyone would end up with Rocktober Blood near the top of their viewing list. Having said that, there's some fun to be had with this bizarre and sloppy tale of a rock singer (played by Tray Loren) who goes on a killing spree, is apparently killed himself, and then returns years later to cause terror all over again. That's all you need to know about the plot though, it's a cross between a standard slasher flick and a psychological horror (with the character, Lynn, played by Donna Scoggins being the only one to see the truth for so long that people assume she is having some kind of breakdown).

Directed by Beverly Sebastian, who co-wrote the script with husband Ferd Sebastian, what you have here is something VERY '80s, and something that manages to become charming when watched nowadays. It makes no sense, it's visually ugly, and the lighting is poor throughout (although sometimes these issues are caused by transferring materials that haven't been shown any love for many years). It also doesn't have any memorable gore gags to make up for other failings. 

You do get a fun villain though, a performance from Loren that just about makes up for everyone else in the cast, helped by the motivation of his character, and Scoggins is nice enough. There's also, as you might expect, a finale that involves a full song performance (the oh-that-is-quite-good-actually "I'm Back", by Sorcery). The ending may not be as entertaining and hilarious as it needs to be to make up for the plodding first half, but it certainly helps you to keep smiling as things move towards a very sudden ending.

Having also given viewers the likes of The Hitchhikers, The Single Girls, and (arguably the best-known of their films) 'Gator Bait, the Sebastians try to deliver something that sits comfortably alongside other slasher movies, but with some extra nastiness and grit. Which is why we get lines ranging from the wild "I want your hot steaming pussy blood all over my face" to the more straightforward "I’m going to show you what rock and roll gore is all about!”

As much as I'd like to recommend this to people, there are many other films you should check out first. Trick Or Treat (1986) is one. Black Roses (1988) is another. Even films such as Paganini Horror and Blood Tracks feel superior to this (although the latter is a film I admit I view with more nostalgic affection than it deserves). Once you've seen those films though, yes, put aside a bit of time for this one. It clocks in at about 90 minutes, it seems to be aware of how inherently silly it is, and you can learn the lyrics to sing along to "I'm Back".

5/10

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Friday, 22 April 2022

Body Snatchers (1993)

Although not his usual kind of film, and it's unsurprising to see that this was originally due to be directed by one of the co-writers (Stuart Gordon, who I think would have also done a great job), director Abel Ferrara finds himself well-matched to the classic alien invasion story represented here, helped by the fact that the setting is now an army base, instead of any standard town or city.

Gabrielle Anwar plays Marti Malone, a young woman who has just arrived at another temporary home with her family, made up of her mother, Carol (Meg Tilly), her father, Steve (Terry Kinney), and a little brother named Andy (Reilly Murphy). Keen to have some fun, Marti soon ends up in trouble, but that's nothing compared to the trouble that she could be in if she becomes replicated by some alien invaders. Because if you're going to replicate humans without finding a way to ensure they also have access to emotions, there are few better places to do that than an army base.

Based on the Jack Finney story, reworked by a couple of people updating the premise (including Larry Cohen), the script here is finalised by Gordon, Dennis Paoli, and Nicholas St. John, and it's a 1993 movie that, for better or worse, feels like an '80s movie. There are some great practical effects throughout, there's a younger lead character than we have in any other film adaptation (up to this point), and the pacing helps the 87-minute runtime just fly by. There are also one or two moments that stand out for the wrong reasons, one showing the fate of a character that maybe should have been edited around the limitations of the time, but it's generally all working to an impressively high standard.

Ferrara handles the whole concept well, and he can build tension and craft scares so well that it makes you regret the fact that he didn't give us some more "straightforward" horror movies throughout the '80s and '90s. Maybe most movies coming under that genre umbrella wouldn't appeal to him as much as the premise here. After all, Ferrara has always tended to feel like an outsider, an uncompromising individual who would never make life easier for himself if it meant giving up something that he felt was intertwined with his DNA. If there’s any surprise here it is the fact that it took so long until Ferrara decided to work with this material.

Cast-wise, this is full of treats. Anwar is an appealing lead, a young star who never seemed to get the BIG role that would put her on a higher status level, and she works well alongside Billy Wirth, who plays a soldier/ally/believer ready to help humanity survive. And Christine Elise fans will enjoy her work here, despite her limited screentime. Murphy is a decent little brother, a more vulnerable character who manages not to be too clingy or annoying. Kinney may be the least of the adult stars, simply due to his character being the blandest, but there are many treats elsewhere, from the sly menace of Meg Tilly (who has long been a favourite of mine) to the standard stern military officer role for R. Lee Ermey. There’s also an enjoyable little turn from Forest Whitaker, another individual on the army base who starts to suspect that something strange is going on, and plans to avoid the fate of so many others.

Sadly all too often forgotten in favour of the previous films based on the Finney tale, Body Snatchers actually earns a place alongside both the 1956 and 1978 movies. It reworks things without trying to change it into something too far removed from the source material, has some nice scenes of gloopy terror, pairs up the visuals with a fine score from Joe Delia, and generally deserves to be better known than it is. It’s top-tier Ferrara, it’s just a step aside from most other movies that Ferrara has preferred to give viewers throughout most of his directorial career.

8/10

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Thursday, 21 April 2022

Snatchers (2019)

Although the main creature here turns out not to be from outer space, Snatchers is an entertaining comedy horror that has people being controlled by a parasitic entity looking to breed, and is very much a mixture of “The Puppet Masters” and raging teen hormones. It gets going quickly, and manages to keep energy levels high right up until the end credits roll.

Mary Nepi plays Sara, a young woman who feels pressured into having sex with her boyfriend, Skyler (Austin Fryberger). Not using any method of contraception is a big mistake though, as Sara ends up pregnant. Her pregnancy is obvious the next day, and her belly soon fills out to the size of someone who would be expecting to go into labour any day. While getting checked over, and enlisting the help of Hayley (Gabrielle Elyse), Sara gives birth to something that immediately starts destroying the surrounding room and people in it. It can latch on to people, controlling them and hopping from one body to another while dealing death to pretty much anyone who just happens to be nearby. Sara and Hayley try to figure out a plan of action, both helped and hindered by a local police officer, Oscar (Nick Gomez).

Expanding their short film, directors Stephen Cedars and Benjo Kleiman, with co-writer Scott Yacychyn, have really done their best to maximise the fun factor throughout, and are helped massively by allowing Nepi and Elyse to reprise the main roles (as they were also involved with the short). They have used practical effects well, especially in the realisation of the main beastie (great work by the special effects team) and the various gore gags spread sparingly throughout.

Nepi and Elyse are both very easy to root for, and their characters are given the kind of backstory you can find in any teen movie that features characters who used to be best friends before they grew apart, and they react well to the madness unfolding around them, perfectly moving from panic and fear to strength and determination in time for whatever final face-off is coming. Fryberger is enjoyably awful, having typical teen male inconsideration and horniness ramped up to eleven, and he steals one or two scenes at both the beginning and end of the film (especially in a flashback sequence that shows how a family holiday connects to the destruction and weirdness). Gomez is also good in his role, the kind of potential hero who may suffer serious injury, or even death, before being of any real assistance to those in peril.

Walking a fine line throughout, especially when this could have so easily been a teen sex comedy with only a pinch of horror and bloodshed to it, Cedars and Kleiman (and Yacychyn) deliver a bit of fun that a) feels indebted to a number of classics, and b) doesn’t outstay its welcome, with a runtime just over 90 minutes.

If you only see one horror comedy about a teenage girl who goes from not pregnant to fully ready to give birth in twenty four hours, and who then has to witness the thing that came out of her body whirling around and mortally wounding almost everyone around her, then I recommend this one. It may not be celebrated years down the line, but it’s an enjoyable bit of entertainment for an evening.

7/10

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Wednesday, 20 April 2022

Prime Time: Assimilate (2019)

Zach Henderson and Randy Foster are two young men who decide to film life in and around their small town, trying to get a piece of that YouTube fame (or whatever generic video uploading site is standing in for it). Nothing happens in their town, or so they think. Some new bugs have arrived, bugs that bite people. And once someone is bitten, it’s only a matter of time until they change. With everyone radically changing around them, Zach and Randy end up teaming up with Kayla, desperately trying to avoid assimilation while they figure out the best way to fight back against what looks very much like an invasion of creatures that snatch/swap bodies. Because, yes, this is a teen-friendly reworking of Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers.

Director John Murlowski is an odd figure. His filmography covers a wide range of movies, from one of the many Amityville series entries to the infamous Santa With Muscles, and he has helmed a couple of movies that have pleasantly surprised me (including that Amityville movie). This premise seems like an easy one to get right, and Murlowski does a good job with the material, working from a script that he co-wrote with Steven Palmer Peterson. It’s far from perfect, and may be the least of the films based on this material, but it’s tense and entertaining throughout.

The life cycle of the invader is pieced together well, with characters figuring things out as they face increasingly immediate threats, and the way the town is overtaken is impressively quick and plausible. People are changed, that’s obvious, but the aim is to get the new creations outnumbering the original humans as quickly as possible, and a lot of the changes happening so brazenly make things seem more ridiculous when our leads try to convince others of odd happenings.

Joel Courtney and Calum Worth do well in their roles, playing Zach and Randy, and they come across as likeable enough throughout, even when doing the whole “let’s film everything around us and comment on it” spiel that could have easily been built up to turn this into a painful found footage take on the material, and I am very glad that route wasn’t taken. Andi Matichak is equally good in the role of Kayla, a character also given a little brother to try and protect, just to up the stakes, and all three leads are served well by the script. Some of the supporting players have to overdo the change from normal to blank slate, but Cam Gigandet stands out as a local Sheriff who may or may not end up being a dangerous enemy.

Although I didn’t love this, I liked it well enough. And I like it more when I think of the choices made for what NOT to do. No doing the whole found footage thing is a big plus. Not cramming the film with songs to help sell any accompanying soundtrack album. Having the special effects used pretty sparingly, and therefore making them more effective. There are other films in which these things - format, FX work, banging tunes - can, and have, been used to great effect, but this feels like everything was done to make the film teen-friendly without moving too far away from the simplistic brilliance of the central concept. It features youths at the heart of it all, but never dumbs things down or tries to be “too cool for school”. And the third act adds one or two pleasant surprises.

6/10

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Tuesday, 19 April 2022

Studio 666 (2022)

It would not be an entirely unreasonable reaction if you rolled your eyes when you heard that the Foo Fighters were starring in a horror movie that had them playing themselves. Based on an idea by Dave Grohl, this could have easily been a complete disaster. It isn’t. In fact, it is a lot of fun.

It is time for the Foo Fighters to release a new album. Their tenth album. It’s a big deal. Unfortunately, Dave Grohl seems to have no original ideas left. He has songwriter’s block. Growing ever more desperate, the band eventually relocate to an empty mansion in Encino, a place with a history of rock ‘n’ roll . . . and murder. It isn’t long until things start to get strange, and Dave becomes the focal point for a destructive supernatural force.

Directed by BJ McDonnell, a man with an appropriate directorial background in heavy metal music videos and the third Hatchet movie, Studio 666 is a gloriously gory and silly horror movie, stuffed with all the right nods and winks to show that everyone involved knows exactly what they’re doing (from John Carpenter music, and a cameo from the legendary director, to a fantastic homage to The Burning, and much more). Writers Jeff Buhler and Rebecca Hughes may not have filmographies that inspire confidence, but they do well here in just having fun with the concept and characters.

Which brings us on to the Foo Fighters themselves. Grohl and the gang have always had fun onscreen over the years, in a variety of videos and with any appearance that catches them making one another laugh in interviews, and they’re all suited to the task of playing versions of themselves being surrounded by horror movie tropes. It may be bittersweet for fans to now see Taylor Hawkins here, so soon after his untimely passing, but I am glad that this got made with the whole gang present, with everyone able to bring a bit of their own personality and humour to make it a hugely entertaining ensemble piece. There are also small, fun, roles for Jeff Garlin, Whitney Cummings, and Leslie Grossman, as well as a surprisingly decent number of CG evil entities appearing in numerous scenes.

Last, but not least, this matches the number of gags with some grisly deaths that should impress even the hardiest of gorehounds. Electrocution, barbecue grill, shears, chainsaw, all of these things and more are used in despatching various characters, and one of them is a contender for the most impressive bit of bloody FX work I have seen in the past few years.

Your enjoyment of this will, obviously, partially depend on how much you like the Foo Fighters, but I would encourage every horror movie fan to give this a go. It’s a knowing and sharp blend of old and new, and also counts as a fun addition to that subgenre known as “heavy metal horror”. 

8/10

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Monday, 18 April 2022

Mubi Monday: Benedetta (2021)

It's been a while since I've actually watched a new Paul Verhoeven movie, despite the fact that I own both Black Book and Elle, two films that had very good reviews when released. Benedetta was just impossible to resist though, being the story of a nun who develops a reputation for her religious visions, as well as an erotic relationship with another woman.

Based on a book by Judith C. Brown that surely drew Verhoeven to it like a moth to a lightbulb, titled "Immodest Acts: The Life Of A Lesbian Nun In Renaissance Italy", Benedetta may have the lurid plot synopsis and plot elements that seem designed to surely titillate viewers, but it allows for Verhoeven to work in his typically subversive style, confidently and maturely exploring ideas of love, faith, and power in the hands of those who seek to manipulate a situation to best suit their own needs.

Virginie Efira plays Benedetta, a woman who has given her life to god since she was a small child. Occasionally butting heads with her Abbess (Charlotte Rampling), Benedetta finds herself confused and succumbing to a healthy does of pleasures of the flesh when she convinces the convent to take in a young woman named Bartolomea (Daphne Patakia). Then there's a case of stigmata, which leads to a change in structure at the convent, as well as divided opinion of just how holy Benedetta might be.

Written by Verhoeven and David Birke (who worked with the director on Elle), Benedetta is a film you can take a number of different ways. There are times when it just feels like nunsploitation, that's true, but a lot of the film points out religious hypocrisy, and questioning why love and lust are such a great sin, especially when the person battling such "sin" is also apparently responsible for a lot of good. And there's an interesting look at just what constitutes a miracle or an act of god, considering how god is supposed to move through people. This is brought to the fore when Benedetta is questioned about the cause of her stigmata.

Of course, being a Verhoeven film, there's also more to dig into. The way those who purport to do good can be complicit in evil deeds by simply remaining silent is another important point, but there's also the double-standards that become more obvious when learning about the behaviour of those who place themselves as morally superior to all others.

Efira is excellent in the main role, a perfect mixture of innocence and possible deceit. I have been a fan of her since seeing In Bed With Victoria and Sybil (both recommended), and I went into this knowing that there would be at least one great performance. Rampling, someone who I think can be hit or miss, depending on the writing, also does great work. Her character is justifiably cynical, yet also tries often to do things as they should be done (in terms of the religious hierarchy). Patakia is a little bit weaker than the two more experienced actresses that she ends up working with, but she does well in conveying someone with a wild streak who has found the convent as a salvation, more than a calling. The other very important character in the whole story is played by Lambert Wilson, who is excellent at acting superior to everyone around him, looking to maintain control of people even as his grasp on the situation seems to become untenable.

Surprisingly tasteful throughout, and I realise I am saying this about a film in which a character uses a piece of religious iconography to craft a wooden dildo, Benedetta is a very well-made film that will only shock those who are more easily affected by nudity and any exploration of human sexuality. Sex isn't evil, it's not a sin, and the way it is used by those who want to take power away from Benedetta is typical of attitudes still disappointingly prevalent in modern society. 

9/10

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Sunday, 17 April 2022

Netflix And Chill: Choose Or Die (2022)

It feels obvious that this is the first feature from director Toby Meakins, who also helped to co-write the screenplay, but the fact that others involved (mainly co-writers Simon Allen and Matthew James Wilkinson) couldn't do enough to make up for the director's inexperience makes me think that everyone was somehow thinking they were creating something fun and entertaining. There are some decent moments here, especially a final "big boss" battle that has a very enjoyable twist, but far too much of this feels like it is coming along at least twenty years later than it should. I know that is part of the main concept, being based on people finding a survival horror computer game from the 1980s, but it feels more laughably outdated than cool retro.

Iola Evans plays Kayla, a woman who is having a tough time of things. She is working as a cleaner while trying to complete her studies, and she's also struggling to keep her drug addict mother safe and healthy. She does have a good friend, however, in the shape of Isaac (Asa Butterfield). Isaac helps her in her studies while working on coding his own game. One day, while nosing around the many bits and pieces accumulated in Isaac's apartment, Kayla finds an old computer game called CURS>R.  It offers a large cash prize reward to people who call a special number and then start playing the game. Kayla decides to compete for the prize, but soon realises that the game can affect the reality around her, and when she is forced to make a choice it is usually going to result in someone dying.

Bookended by a few great scenes that involve Eddie Marsan, as someone who also played the game, Choose Or Die makes the crucial mistake of filling out the majority of the film with moments that don't have enough random characters to become potential victims. The very first time that Kayla realises the danger of the game, forcing a waitress to smash a load of glasses and then clean up the mess with an unusual, and fatal, method. This should have been an ongoing aspect of the film. Yes, put the main characters in peril, but keep a decent selection of others around who can be despatched in mean-spirited ways.

Another mistake is the format of the game. A text-based adventure doesn't just seem cool and retro, it feels practically archaic nowadays. This could have easily been even a basic 3-D adventure, incorporating enough elements from Kayla's surroundings to show her how much the lines between the gaming world and the real world were being blurred.

Finally, but arguably most importantly, there aren't any characters, outwith Kayla, that viewers can really care for. Isaac is really just there to explain things, and try to help at a crucial point, and Kayla's mother spends most of her time in bed, and in pain. The best character isn't even shown onscreen, it's the voice on the recorded telephone message (a fun cameo by Robert Englund playing . . . Robert Englund).

Evans does a decent job in her role, and is certainly the best of the main bunch, and Marsan is as good as ever, particularly enjoyable as a character who will do anything to maintain some status quo, but Butterfield, although not bad, will probably not want to keep this one near the top of his CV. Angela Griffin deserves a better role than this one, she's that pained mother lying in bed, Ryan Gage is an over the top Mr. Nasty, and Joe Bolland has a decent scene, playing the creator of the game.

Falling right in between where it should have landed, Choose Or Die is neither continually nasty enough to make it worth your time nor enjoyably silly in a way that plays up the retro-gaming aspect of the premise. There's nothing here that feels worthy of praise, nothing here that really feels worth your time. I hope Meakins picks a better project for his next directorial outing, and everyone who worked on this script needs to get used to taking a step back, maybe putting their work away for a while, and then getting back to it some time later with a better sense of what they should really be aiming for.

3/10

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Saturday, 16 April 2022

Shudder Saturday: The Cellar (2022)

Writer-director Brendan Muldowney gave horror fans an excellent short called The Ten Steps back in 2004. He has directed a few features since then, none of which have even appeared on my radar (so I cannot say whether they were good or bad), but this film is an expansion of that effective short. Sadly, it's pretty much an object lesson in how not to take your short film and make it into a feature.

A family move into a new home, a place that seems a bit spooky, and it's not long until they're affected by the forces within it. While busy at work one evening, the parents receive a phone call from their teenage daughter, Ellie (Abby Fitz). Ellie has to head down the ten steps that go down into the cellar so her mother (Keira, played by Elisha Cuthbert) tries to help her by getting her to count each step into the darkness. Ellie just keeps going though, counting past ten and heading to some unknown place, and is later declared missing. Keira starts to investigate the house they have moved into, and she finds that there may be a mathematical formula in place to help create something seemingly impossible.

Although there are some effective moments here and there, not least of which are the Fulci-esque images in the third act, Muldowney needlessly complicates what should have stayed a beautifully simplistic bit of creepiness, crafting a theory for the unfolding events that is as laughable as it is implausible. I'm also not entirely sure that he sticks to the rules he tries to create, but maybe that is more to do with my own perception of the film. Something similar to this can be very effective (e.g. the enjoyable You Should Have Left), but Muldowney seems determined to shoot himself in the foot at every opportunity. His weak script is more obvious while being delivered by leads who aren't as strong as they could be, and there aren't enough truly memorable supporting characters to help the pacing.

As much as I like Cuthbert, she seems to be unable to pick decent horror fare to star in. Her best horror role was in House Of Wax (2005), and even that wouldn't be as enjoyable as it is if it wasn't for the absolutely stellar production design throughout. Despite her age allowing it to be possible, she doesn't feel like a good fit for a role that has her being a parent, sorry, so she's not right in the main role here. Her onscreen husband is played by Eoin Macken, who feels equally miscast, unhelped by the fact that the script gives both of our adult characters some dull-as-ditchwater jobs in the world of social media advertising. Fitz is a lot better than her older co-stars, although sadly not onscreen for too long, and Dylan Fitzmaurice Brady is fine as the youngest member of the family, Steven.

There's a decent score from Stephen McKeon, some nice cinematography by Tom Comerford, and some excellent sound design, but those are the only aspects I want to praise here. Some music, some scenes that look very nice, and the audio work. Those things aren't enough to make up for the script, the performances (which aren't bad, just not very good), or the anti-climactic scenes that have to fill up the 70 minutes or so after the best moment reworked from the original short.

I'll still maybe check out the other films directed by Muldowney,  and I would give some more time to any of his future efforts, but this seemed to be grossly misjudged from the very beginning. Sometimes a great short film should be left as it is. Expanding it can spoil what made it so great in the first place. The Cellar is proof of that.

4/10

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Friday, 15 April 2022

You Are Not My Mother (2021)

Another day, another excellent debut feature, this time from writer-director Kate Dolan (who some may already be aware of thanks to her excellent 2017 short, Catcalls). You Are Not My Mother is exactly what the title tells you it is, a tale of suspicion and a fractured parent/child relationship. It also veers very closely to a certain classic modern horror from the 1990s in a final sequence that somehow feels like a great homage without suffering in comparison.

Hazel Doupe plays Charlotte, AKA Char, a young woman who is struggling with the ups and downs of her mother, Angela (Carolyn Bracken). After a major depressive episode, Angela goes missing. She turns up again a while later, but Char senses something different about her. As her mother's behaviour becomes even more inexplicable, Char also has to fend with more bullying from Kelly (Katie White) and some of her cohorts, but also manages to start forming a friendship with a girl named Suzanne (Jordanne Jones). Can Char find out what has happened to her mother? Perhaps information that her gran (Ingrid Craigie) is reticent to share could help get things back to normal.

Basing her story on a very traditional bit of supernatural lore, Dolan does a nice job of grounding potential horror in a mundane modern world. Char doesn't seem to exactly be living her best life, having a generally awful experience that many teenagers end up going through, and the change in her mother is all the worse for her because, well, she could really do with parental support while having a tough time of things. The fact that her attempt to find out just what has changed her mother leads to a revelation about her own past manages to make things creepier while also making it more relatable, in a way that so many of us have been told tales of our childhood we have no memory of, be they amusing moments or something with a hint of spookiness to it.

The cast all do very good work. Doupe is able to deliver her performance without overdoing her awkwardness or anger, it's a perfect portrayal of the kind of teen girl trying to keep to herself who becomes, for some unknown reason, a shining target for bullies. White is enjoyably nasty, always flanked by friends who won't stop her from going too far, and Jones excels as someone who provides a small ray of sunshine as things look to be getting darker and darker. Bracken has to act quite detached from everything around her, and she does well, while Craigie does enough to improve her role slightly, considering that her main purpose seems to be providing the important exposition required before the third act really kicks into gear.

This would pair nicely with a varied mix of movies from the past few years that have explored parent/child relationships within a supernatural/horror/fantastical context, even with something as strange as Lamb, but it also feels enjoyably fresh. Dolan delivers the horror goods here and there, but she's savvy enough to try giving viewers a glimpse of very real pain and sadness, the alienating feeling of being a teenager unable to relate to, or get support from, a parent. Sometimes horror is an enjoyable genre to explore because it takes us away from reality for a while. Sometimes horror is worth exploring because it IS reality, and knowing that monsters can inevitably be defeated makes it easier to cope with the times that the monsters had their fun at our expense.

8/10

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Thursday, 14 April 2022

She Dies Tomorrow (2020)

A film that would make up a perfect companion piece to the excellent Pontypool, She Dies Tomorrow is a film all about an infectious idea that renders people quite unable to go about their day to day business as they used to.

Kate Lyn Sheil plays Amy, a woman who becomes convinced that she is going to die tomorrow. She doesn't seem alarmed by that knowledge. It won't necessarily be a terrible thing, especially if she can put her plan in place to have her remains turned into a leather jacket. As Amy passes her foresight along to Jane (Jane Adams), Jane becomes equally convinced that she will also die tomorrow. As does everyone who becomes a part of this chain of communication.

Written and directed by Amy Seimetz, this is a small and effective drama that constantly darts in and out of the horror genre, and it's a film that explores a few various aspects of humanity in surprisingly effective ways, be it depression that can plunge anyone into a dark abyss, leaving them falling/floating like Alice heading into Wonderland, or the general aversion that most of us have when it comes to discussing our own mortality. It also features moments in which people are having a very real existential crisis, at the very least, while others try to criticise them for it or ask them to stop bringing down the mood of the room.

Sheil and Adams are both very good, spending a lot of the film in a bit of a daze, while everyone else appearing alongside them does work on a par with them, many quickly transforming during scenes that show them talking to a character until they themselves are afflicted with the same knowledge about their own time left on the planet. The supporting cast members worth highlighting are Katie Aselton, Chris Messina, Tunde Adebimpe, Jennifer Kim, and Josh Lucas, although you also have screentime for Adam Wingard, Michelle Rodriguez, and a number of others who are all poised to have their frame of mind radically altered.

This may not maintain any sense of creeping dread that appears in a few main scenes, and it may lack some real chills and scares, but it's an interesting film, thanks mainly to the main idea showing the reactions from various people seemingly forced to face their own mortality. If you go into it knowing what to expect, it's something aiming more for an atmosphere of helplessness and confusion rather than pure horror, then you should be able to appreciate everything that it does well, as opposed to watching it with any preconceptions that lead to you criticising it for what it's not trying to do.

Seimetz is best known for her acting work over the past couple of decades, but she's been doing some solid work behind the camera, in TV and film, for almost as long as she's been in front of the camera. And I hope she continues to make interesting choices like this.

7/10

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Wednesday, 13 April 2022

Prime Time: Master (2022)

Sometimes it seems as if everyone is capable of crafting a feature film debut that absolutely smashes it out of the park. Sometimes it doesn't seem that way. Writer-director Mariama Diallo definitely shows that she belongs in the former camp. Master is a twisted serpent of a film, one that explores race relations, and the entire structure of modern America (although not America alone), in a way that is consistently thought-provoking and tense.

There are, basically, three different story strands here, three women living lives that intertwine with one another. There's Gail Bishop (Regina Hall), the first black master of a New England university. There's Liv Beckman (Amber Gray), a professor who is applying for tenure. Liv is a friend of Gail, but she may have a big secret in her past. And then there's Jasmine (Zoe Renee), a freshman who is having some problems with racist students, as well as a problem with Professor Beckman, who she believes has been unduly harsh in grading her work.

Full of sadly familiar interactions, micro-aggressions, and the looming shadow of the weight of a history that far too many people keep trying to maintain in the present, Master is easily as smart and sharp a horror movie with the focus on race as the superb Get Out. It's just a shame that, in terms of traditional creepiness and scares you'd expect from a horror movie, this instead keeps things much more low-key and ambiguous, although I strongly suspect that Diallo meant everything to play out that way, allowing viewers to see what some people have to deal with every day, interactions that have either a sly or obvious implication that continually proves difficult for them to address directly, because they can either be accused of "seeing something that isn't there" or just rocking the boat.

The three main leads are all very good, and I'm particularly enjoying seeing Regina Hall take on such a wider variety of roles over the past few years (or maybe I was just watching her in the movies that were more heavily promoted because of them following some standard formula). She's an excellent mix of authority and nervous lack of confidence, emphasising how unsteady her position is. Renee is the woman who is most often placed in difficult situations, whether it's being left to clean up after others or being the victim of racist abuse, and she shows the eroding effect of everything affecting her daily life, like constant dripping water eventually damaging stone. Gray is the least likeable of the three leads, but also perhaps the most complex. On the one hand she is keen to please many of her peers, on the other hand she wants to remind them that African Americans aren't just there to be meek and servile in front of white people, her character always has a feeling of fakery about her, something portrayed well by Gray, who gives a performance that veers from the benevolent to the confrontational with a constant smile that seems to belie the real meaning of the words spoken.

Strange, uncomfortable, intriguing, and always worryingly believable, Master is a film that picks at an unsightly scab and forces people to look at a wound that isn't likely to heal for a hell of a long time, even if some people try to cover it over with sticking plasters that only succeed in keeping it out of sight for a while.

8/10

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Tuesday, 12 April 2022

Lake Placid 3 (2010)

The third film in the series that seemed planned to squander all of the goodwill gained from the first film, Lake Placid 3 isn't terrible, but it's still a very far step down from that first film.

Colin Ferguson and Kirsty Mitchell play Nathan and Susan, a couple who end up taking over the lakeside property left by Sadie Bickerman (there's no substitute this time around, no Betty White or Cloris Leachman amusing viewers as a profane elder). Unbeknownst to Nathan and Susan, their son, Connor (Jordan Grehs) soon starts to amuse himself by feeding baby crocodiles. But baby crocodiles soon grow into big crocodiles. Nathan soon has his hands full, much to his disbelief, helped by Sheriff Tony Willinger (Michael Ironside) and a local hunter named Reba (Yancy Butler). There's also a selection of teens spending time at the lake, bumping up the potential bodycount.

Writer David Reed, who also delivered the next movie in this series, at least does a better job than his immediate predecessors with mixing the humour and the thrills, and director Griff Furst is used to the format for this kind of thing (just browse his filmography to see a variety of great titles that tell you exactly what you can expect from him, including the likes of Arachnoquake and Ghost Shark). He's hampered by the low standard in special effects that most SyFy Channel seem to have, but that doesn't stop him from working well with a script that aims for fun over any attempts at plausibility. 

Ferguson and Mitchell are about as bland as you can get, but that's all well and good when you have Ironside being very likeable in his supporting role, as well as Butler being amusingly over the top as someone who enjoys hunting any kind of prey, from the local wildlife to local young men. Grehs just has to be a kid with a secret habit of feeding crocs, which he does well enough, and Kacey Clarke, Mark Evans, Nils Hognestad, Brian Landon, and Angelica Penn play the main teens/appetisers.

Slight spoiler warning here, I guess . . . for anyone who enjoys the turn from Butler in this movie, you may be pleased to see that she is able to return for the next two films in the series, both of which also feature Robert Englund, despite her last scene in this film seeming to have quite an unambiguous fate. Mind you, expecting rigid continuity in a movie series about large killer crocs is probably like expecting to find a side of chips available for a quid in a Michelin-starred restaurant.

If you endured Lake Placid 2 then you might want to at least check this out. It's not one I would recommend to anyone else though. Only the hardiest of creature feature viewers need bother with it (and, indeed, with any other sequel entry in this snap-happy series), and anyone who wants to enjoy an all-too-brief sequence that features crocodiles on the hunt in a grocery store.

4/10

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Monday, 11 April 2022

Mubi Monday: I Am Not A Witch (2017)

An astonishing feature debut from writer-director Rungano Nyoni, I Am Not A Witch has so much underpinning it that it feels as if you should gather up a large selection of small and large tools before digging in for a full excavation. I've nowhere else to go with that archeological dig analogy, but let's just remember that there are layers and layers to this while I surmise the story on a surface level.

It's all about a young girl who appears in a Zambian community, is accused of being a witch, doesn't confirm or deny that status, and ends up housed in a camp full of witches. These women are all tethered to posts by ribbons, and they are used as both hard workers and tourist attractions. The girl is named Shula and, while she is paraded around by a government official who believes that she really does have some power, she starts to resent being viewed, for better or worse, as a witch.

Although witchcraft is placed at the front and centre of this movie, from the title to the starting point of the plot, it's not actually about that. I Am Not A Witch is perhaps summed up by the moment in which the young lead is told to stay in a small hut and make a choice, to join the witches or run off (like a goat, that's how it is described to her . . . be a witch or be a goat). Once deciding to join the witches, Shula soon realises that her path through life seems to have now been set, all based on a time when she wasn't even fully aware of the repercussions of her decision.

Using what I am going to assume is a cast made up of largely non-professionals, considering how many people credited for acting in the movie have no other movies listed, Nyoni moves her camera between one crucial moment to the next, which allows for the supporting cast to leave the film to be carried by the extraordinary talent of young Maggie Mulubwa (in the role of Shula). Every scene is a blow, small or large, to the character of a young woman who hasn't had time to think about her future yet. Even a "success" ends up simply ensuring that her place in society is cemented in place, a small pigeonhole giving her no room in which to potentially spread her wings.

As well as Mulubwa, Henry B. J. Phiri gives a great performance, portraying an official who convinces himself that he is working to help women that are actually just being stifled, and enslaved. Nancy Murilo is also very good, a woman trying to help steer a young girl in what she sees as the right direction for her, and Margaret Spinella plays someone who has a different approach, but with the same good intentions. 

Moving expertly between moments of wry amusement (the opening sequence explains how the witches are attached to the ribbons to stop them from flying away) and heart-breaking despair, I Am Not A Witch is a riveting and important film. It ultimately makes no difference whether or not any of the women shown onscreen are witches. The important thing is how they are viewed and defined by others. Some may accept that, some may fight against it, but the film shows that labels can be attached to people, but especially women, at any moment. And sometimes those labels last an entire lifetime.

10/10

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Sunday, 10 April 2022

Netflix And Chill: Metal Lords (2022)

Ahhhhh the joys of discovering metal music. Arguably more than any other genre of music, aside from punk, metal speaks to the anger and frustration within us, something that is even more in need of an outlet when we are teens than when we are adults. As an adult, metal becomes more about the musical skill and ear-splitting wall of sound, generally, but it's hard to argue against the idea that most would first really tap into the music as a teen. It is, just like punk, the kind of music that doesn't need a lot of extra equipment to have a go at (a guitar and a loud amp will do), and it scares away a lot of people who may have already been viewing someone else as an outsider anyway. And it can become all too easy to lean further into that comforting world of noise, scaring more people away, either accidentally or deliberately, and claiming the outsider status as a badge of honour.

Metal Lords is the tale of two such "outsiders" who have decided to fight against the world together. There's Kevin (Jaeden Martell), a newbie to the music who is an excellent drummer, and Hunter (Adrian Greensmith), a talented guitarist who lives and breathes metal. Having said they will participate in an upcoming "battle of the bands" competition, the two struggle to find a bassist. Fortunately, there's a new way to present the songs if they team up with a cellist named Emily (Isis Hainsworth). Kevin thinks that could be a great idea, but he also ends up in a relationship with Emily, much to the displeasure of Hunter.

Written by D. B. Weiss, who has done the rest of his writing work for TV (including a small show you might have heard of called Game Of Thrones), Metal Lords is a mess, initially, and I can see a number of viewers giving up before it really hits its stride, which is actually just before the halfway point. That's not to say that the messy parts are bad, but they are certainly more enjoyable for those who can recall some awkward years in their teens, and for those who have at least dipped their toes into the hallowed waters of metal. Weiss maybe errs slightly as he makes his lead characters a bit too determined to keep some others at bay. Well, it's Hunter doing the pushing, but Kevin sticks with him throughout the first half of the film. The fact that the actors are great in their roles is another big help.

Martell and Greensmith both look as if they know their way around the respective instruments that they're playing, whether through natural talent or the editing of the film, and they feel spot on in their central characterisations, with the former being open to eventually connecting with other people as the latter keeps putting up metal-spiked walls. Greensmith becomes irritating quite early on, but he's supposed to be. That's all nicely in place for a grin-inducing grand finale. Hainsworth is wonderful as the young woman who could work well with the central duo, despite Greensmith's character viewing her as simply coming between them. Fiery-tempered, but also very sweet in the company of those she cares for, Hainsworth is at her best when cursing people out in her Scottish brogue and priming herself to jump on their heads. She also looks as if she knows what she's doing when it comes to the scenes that have her playing the cello. Brett Gelman also has fun, playing a doctor who hasn't connected properly with his son in years, Noah Urrea, Analesa Fisher, Phelan Davis, and Rachel Pate all have one or two good moments, and there's a very amusing little turn from Joe Manganiello, not to mention fun cameos from four fully-fledged "metal lords".

Director Peter Sollett works well with the stumbling script, keeping everything in place until things settle into the better sequences. He allows the characters to show their facades as being just that, he keeps the metal tunes coming, and a special mention should go to the absolutely superb use of "War Pigs" throughout, and he conveys a faith in the material that is infectious. While viewers may be unsure of how much of the journey they will fully enjoy, they can always sense that things are heading towards a destination that is both predictable and joyous.

I feel like I've been a bit harsh in this review, but it's important to warn people that the film feels a bit tonally erratic for a while. And I'm not sure how I would have felt about the whole thing if it had stayed that way. It doesn't though, and I'm glad that the right choices were made to turn this into something that should please anyone who enjoys teen flicks, metal music, and underdogs having their moment in the sunshine (metaphorically, because metal fans usually prefer the pitch black of night to any beach trips).

7/10

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