Wednesday 31 August 2022

Prime Time: Samaritan (2022)

There was a time when a city had a hero, Samaritan, but those times are gone. Samaritan and his brother, a nemesis named . . . Nemesis, disappeared after a lengthy battle. Both were presumed dead. But young Sam Cleary (Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton) thinks at least one of them survived, and he thinks it is an old man who lives in the building just across from him. As that old man, Joe, is played by Sylvester Stallone, he might be right. Will Samaritan return, and will he deal with the new threat (Cyrus, played by Pilou Asbæk) that the city is facing?

I could have worked a bit more on that summary, but that would require more effort than the writer of the film put into the plotting. I have enjoyed some previous work from Bragi F. Schut (mainly the Escape Room movie), but this is bad. And it’s bad from start to finish, despite having a few scenes between young Sam and old Joe that show promise.

Director Julius Avery entertained me with the excellent Overlord a few years ago so I know that he can so great work. He can keep viewers grounded, in terms of geography and timing. You wouldn’t know that from this film. Scenes go by that could be indicating minutes, hours, or days, and the locations could be almost next door to one another or in opposite sides of the country (the only exceptions being Sam’s apartment and Joe’s apartment). And my summary of the film? It is depicted in animated form at the very start of the movie. 

A couple of things work, mainly the cast and a few decent fight scenes, but this is a superhero movie that thinks it is slyly subverting the superhero movie, and it really isn’t. If you haven’t spotted the third act moment being set up from the very opening moments then I don’t know what to tell you, but I saw it coming a mile away. The fact that the film allows it to play out as if it is a major bombshell ends up undermining it, and undermining the whole film. It doesn’t help that it is followed by a flashback with some of the worst de-aging FX work I have seen in a mainstream film.

Stallone is as good as you would expect in the role, his performance helped by the fact that he is an elderly man who could still beat up most of us with one hand tied behind his back. Walton is fine, even if he is credited with the middle name ‘Wanna’, but his character is sorely underwritten, and surprisingly hard to root for at times. Dascha Polanco is perfectly fine, playing the mother of Walton’s character, and various minor goodies and baddies are suitably portrayed by Moises Arias, Jared Odrick, Sophia Tatum, Abraham Clinkscales, and Shameik Moore. Asbæk is the highlight, however, and he manages to lift the movie slightly with every one of his scenes, seeming to revel in the experience of playing the kind of charismatic and deadly villain you could slot into pretty much every action thriller from the 1980s onwards.

There are one or two ideas here that make the appeal of the movie obvious, with everyone involve probably thinking they would get to have their cake and eat it, starring in a superhero movie that tried to be a step removed from other superhero movies. Sadly, those ideas are either under-developed or worthless, especially when couched in a feature that is so flat and consistently lazy. There’s not one aspect that deserves extra praise, from the score to the wardrobe, from production design to the effects, and I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone. Just watch Mystery Men instead. Or Super. Or Defendor. Or one of many other movies that twists some of the superhero movie tropes.


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Tuesday 30 August 2022

Men (2022)

Men. Men, men, men, bloody men. Some might rush to say "not all men". But it is. It is all men. We know that it's all men. Not all the time, and perhaps not all with bad intentions, but, yes, all men. It is, I hope, a situation that is improving over time, but I would suspect that many women might disagree with me there. The best we can hope for is that attitudes continue to be checked and adjusted in ways that just weren't even considered a generation or two ago. There will still be those who just can't accept change, but they can wallow in their tar-pits and wait for extinction like the dinosaurs they are.

Now let's get to this film. Men is the story of a woman (Harper, played by Jessie Buckley) trying to enjoy some vacation time in a small English village. Unfortunately, she cannot seem to escape the main problem that she is trying to forget. Men. And, just in case you didn't understand the size of the problem, writer-director Alex Garland has nearly ever male character in the film played by Rory Kinnear (assisted by either make-up or CGI trickery). What unfolds is a nightmarish journey through a landscape plagued by awful men. Even the ones who don't seem overtly awful are quite awful.

Although not entirely successful throughout, and I think the central conceit is just a bit too clumsy and obvious, there's so much to enjoy and admire in Men that I am surprised by the opinions I have seen from people who have claimed to be pretty disappointed by it. I knew what to expect, pretty much, as soon as the film began (the trailer certainly made the premise obvious), but it was still able to surprise me, from the increasing level of dread throughout to the moments of wince-inducing gore. And when I started to wonder if we were being shown a reality or a vision filtered through the fevered brain of the central character, as I wonder often with horror movies full of such startling imagery, I realised what a wonderful extra little button Garland had put on his material. Accept the horrors, empathise with the lead, and consider the implications of every awkward exchange and encounter . . . or doubt the lived experience of the woman who is suffering in the midst of various problematic men.

Buckley is superb in her role, giving her best performance so far (although I am basing this on my own exposure to only a few of her movie roles, some), and she is more than up to the task of plumbing the depths of pain that her character has gone through, and carries around with her. It would seem rude to praise Kinnear more than Buckley so I will try not to, but he certainly deserves a lot of credit for allowing his visage to be used as a universal symbol of patriarchal problems and the predatory male gaze. Paapa Essiedu has a small, but pivotal, role, and he's very good, and Gayle Rankin allows viewers an occasional sigh of relief whenever she is onscreen, being a friend to Harper, despite having to settle for being on her phone screen as opposed to physically being there to provide extra comfort and support.

I agree with some who have mentioned that it may have been even better for Garland to write this script and then hand it over to a female director, but he certainly handles everything with an effectiveness that makes up for the lack of subtlety. And maybe the time for subtlety is long gone, so why not put together a collage of potent horror imagery that gives just a hint of the many micro-aggressions and 24/7 nightmares that women go through every single day. And if you're rolling your eyes and wanting to yell "not all men" at this review then you're part of the reason WHY subtlety had to be thrown by the wayside. Because it is. It is all men. We know that it's all men. Even if a lot more are trying to change for the better. I'm qualified to say that, being a man who has worked hard on changing my own language and attitudes over the years, and there are billions of women around the world even more qualified than me to correct your wilful ignorance.


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Monday 29 August 2022

Mubi Monday: Be Kind Rewind (2008)

If you remember Be Kind Rewind as the film in which Jack Black and Yaslin Bey (still being billed here as Mos Def) make cheap recreations of some blockbuster movies then you're quite correct. You're also missing out on the real heart of it though, and the obvious commentary about the divide between art and commerce. Or maybe you also remembered that. If so, you have a better memory than I do. I hadn't watched Be Kind Rewind in over a decade, but I am very happy to have rewatched it now. Because it's a lovely film, full of wit and charm, as well as a great cast all doing great work.

Bey plays Mike, a young man who works in a video store owned by Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover). He is put in charge of the store while Mr. Fletcher leaves town for a few days and it's not long until disaster strikes. That disaster is in the shape of Jerry (Black), a friend who doesn't realise that he has been temporarily magnetised, and therefore doesn't realise that his presence in the video store leads to all of the movies being erased. This isn't good, not at all, especially when the business needs to make a lot more money than usual in order to stay solvent. Rushing to replace titles with their own versions of them, Mike and Jerry have to start with Ghostbusters, a title requested by Miss Falewicz (Mia Farrow). As they look to get more titles done, they enlist the help of Alma (Melonie Diaz). The three soon become quite the production house, finding their personal visions being appreciated by the local community, and also by film fans who start travelling to the store from further afield.

Written and directed by Michel Gondry, a man who knows how to create some great practical effects on a low budget (as shown in his many creative music videos, as well as films like Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and The Science Of Sleep), Be Kind Rewind is easily sold as "that film in which the leads make cheap recreations of some blockbuster titles", but it's much more than that. It serves as a reminder about necessity being the mother of invention, it shows the limitless possibilities that are available to people who have imagination and vision, and there's a subtle-as-a-sledgehammer-to-the-face commentary on the homogenisation of cinema, from the content to the delivery system that gets it out there to viewers. Granted, you have to cringe slightly in a scene that has Jack Black playing Jackie Chan's character in Rush Hour 2, and there are a couple of other moments arguably worse than that, but it's all done with an air of innocence and childish exuberance that shows where the characters are coming from. They're playing dress-up, they're putting on a show for others to enjoy, and they'll take on every role they have to. Despite being adult actors playing adult characters, Black and Bey are very much portrayed as well-intentioned children, with childish dreams and a childish ignorance of how everything should be (of how things are done just because that's always the way that they have been done).

Bey is very sweet in his role, and is also receptive enough to stories told to him that he serves as a way in which the viewer learns another valuable lesson about just how important it can be to believe in stories, especially when reality tries to get in the way and/or grind us down. Black is a lot of fun, bringing his usual energy and physicality to the role. Glover and Farrow, the two "sensible" adults who find out about the movie-making plan at different times in the movie, are both wonderful, and really fit their roles. Glover, especially, gives what may well be his best performance of the past couple of decades. Diaz may be the least familiar of the leads, but she does great work, matching the enthusiasm of her male colleagues while bringing a bit more savvy to any opportunities that arise to make some money.

Not only does this work as a comedy, not only does it work as a love letter to artists making art that isn't necessarily going to reach blockbuster status, it also serves as a lovely analogy for the lifeline of a movie fan. You start off by being told stories by adults, stories that you envision in your mind and you accept as reality (whether or not they are). You then get to enjoy those stories for yourself. You may get a bit lazy here, assuming that everything is always available around you, accepting the mainstream "fast food" without remembering the full range that is out there. You then start to make strong connections with others, bonding over a variety of shared tastes, and maybe even striving to make your own work (in whatever medium you might choose), and that might even lead to you becoming part of a clique. And then, one bright and beautiful day, you realise that you don't have to protect yourself by sheltering in that clique. Many other people enjoy the same art as you, and just as many people will react positively to your passion, even if they're not on the exact same page.

Be Kind Rewind sounds like it would just be about videotapes, but it's not. It's about all film. It's about all art. And it's ultimately about the value it has, not in budgets or box office, but in bringing people together for a communal experience. You should watch/rewatch this, and enjoy it. And you should definitely check out pretty much everything else that Gondry has given us over the years.


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Sunday 28 August 2022

Netflix And Chill: Tremors (1990)

I have seen Tremors before. In fact, I have seen it many times. I own it in a couple of different formats, I own the excellent book by Jonathan Melville, I even own the t-shirt (a great design from the now-defunct darkbunnytees). It is very much comfort food in movie form, and I know that many others agree. It's also up there with the very best creature features. Who doesn't like Tremors? People with no soul, that's who. 

The plot here is simple. Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward are Valentine and Earl, two friends and co-workers who are looking forward to getting away from Perfection, the small desert town they have felt trapped in for many years. They end up feeling more trapped than usual, however, when the local area becomes a hunting ground for a number of subterranean creatures. The creatures are blind, but they're able to pick up on vibrations and sound, and they're fast and powerful. But the local residents, including the heavily-armed Burt (Michael Gross) and Heather Gummer (Reba McEntire) aren't going to be easy pickings.

The feature film debut of director Ron Underwood, (who spent a decade or so working on numerous shorts, knocked out a few movies, and almost ended his career by helming The Adventures Of Pluto Nash) this is a perfect storm of great ingredients, from the cast to the creature design, from the screenplay, by S. S. Wilson and Brent Maddock, to the ingenuity of the team all making the most of the relatively small budget.

Bacon and Ward are perfect in the lead roles, easygoing guys with a very believable friendship connecting them. Bacon has had his star shining brightly for decades now, but it's a shame that Ward rarely received due credit for the many wonderful performances he's delivered over the years. This remains one of his best turns, however, and we can just be thankful to the casting department for their great taste. That taste also gives us a lot of fun in the characters portrayed so wonderfully by Gross and McEntire, both highly proficient with their huge selection of weaponry. Finn Carter works well as Rhonda LeBeck, a graduate student conducting a number of seismology tests in the area, and a way to deliver more exposition at times (as well as being a potential romantic interest for one of our leads), and there are moments for Bobby Jacoby, Charlotte Stewart, Tony Genaro, Ariana Richards, and Victor Wong that provide a great mix of memorable moments for memorable characters. Everyone gets to be involved in the unfolding action, and nobody lets the team down. 

It's actually very easy to pull Tremors apart and show why it works as well as it does, and the biggest reason for the enduring success of it lies in the script. Following a structure that is familiar to any fan of decent creature features, or even most disaster movies, the pacing of every scene allows for beautifully-developed characterisations to run parallel to the increasingly dangerous threat to the lives of everyone onscreen. Add some creature POV shots, and a nice streak of humour, and the end result is something memorable, eminently rewatchable, and, well, almost perfectly designed to grab your attention and keep hold of it. And many of the films that would follow on from this (a number of sequels and one film set in the past) are also highly recommended, even if they aren't quite as good as this one.

Most people will have already seen this, which makes this yet another redundant review in a long line of redundant reviews. But if you haven't yet seen it . . . make it a priority. Today. treat yourself. You will definitely enjoy it. Unless you have no soul.


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Saturday 27 August 2022

Shudder Saturday: Glorious (2022)

I like Ryan Kwanten, the star of Glorious, and responsible for carrying most of the film on his shoulders, but he hasn't really done well with his choice of film projects since the excellent Red Hill many moons ago. I also like Rebekah McKendry, despite the fact that she and David Ian McKendry disappointed me with their Christmas horror anthology All The Creatures Were Stirring. So I was hoping for the best, but also expecting the worst, with Glorious. Kwanten starring, Rebekah McKendry directing, and a script co-written by Joshua Hull, David Ian McKendry, and Todd Rigney. 

No need to try and keep anyone in suspense here. I really enjoyed this. It's a simple, dialogue-focused film that also sneaks in some wonderful visuals, as well as a great vocal performance from J. K. Simmons.

But let's get back to Kwanten for now. He plays Wes, a man who we first see in a state of some distress. He seems to be broken-hearted, but maybe there's something more to it. He heads into a fairly isolated roadside rest stop, just to use the toilet, and then finds that he's unable to leave. He also finds that he's not alone. Someone (J. K. Simmons) claiming to be some kind of god, starts speaking to him from behind a glory hole in the bathroom. It soon becomes clear that Wes will need to make some difficult choices before he can leave the rest stop, which may require him to also face up to some horrible truths.

Although the premise may seem too insubstantial for a feature runtime, Glorious actually works perfectly. It's a familiar concept given an enjoyable new set of clothes to wear, and the main cast complement the smart and amusing script. It is also helped by a number of scenes showing flashbacks/memories that Wes is processing, mainly with his ex-partner (Brenda, played by Sylvia Grace Crim), allowing viewers to escape the confines of the grimy toilet area without REALLY escaping the confines of the grimy toilet area. And McKendry does plenty to keep the film visually interesting, switching between different viewing angles and gradually opening up the environment around the two main characters conversing.

Kwanten does well with his best role in years, likeable, and occasionally dopey, in a way that he performs so easily. I'd say that his casting even manages to underline the entire finale of the film in a way that makes it more effective and brilliantly obvious. Simmons has a great voice, and his delivery of every line here is a treat, starting off as a friendly stranger before quickly turning into a cosmic horror of potentially mind-shattering proportions. Sort of. Crim isn't in too many scenes, but she has a great presence, her winning performance helping her character cast a long shadow over everything.

I don't want to dive into the kind of hyperbole that I much prefer to avoid altogether, but Glorious works as an object lesson on how to make an independent horror movie with fairly limited resources (obviously, having cast members like Kwanten, Simmons, and Crim helps a lot). Have a good enough script, use numerous tricks to make your one main location interesting, and do your best to ensure that the pacing is spot on. And try to convince J. K. Simmons to take on any voice roles. Simple. 


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Friday 26 August 2022

I Walked With A Zombie (1943)

Arguably the best thing about being a fan of cinema, and having over a century of cinema to work through, is the fact that there will always be some major classics to look forward to. Okay, I am sure there are some people out there who have seen everything they want to (and everything they feel they should watch, even if it is just checking off one of those “1000 Films To Watch Before You Die” lists). I am not one of those people. I still have a lot of films to get to that have glowing reputations I have been aware of for decades. I Walked With A Zombie is one of those films.

Frances Dee is Betsy Connell, a woman who takes a job as a nursemaid on the Caribbean island of Saint Sebastian. She ends up working for the Holland family. There is Paul Holland (Tom Conway), married to the patient, Jessica Holland (Christine Gordon), a woman who has been left in a “zombiefied” state after an accident some time ago. Wesley Rand (James Ellison) is Paul’s half-brother, simmering with regret and resentment. And the matriarch of the household is Mrs. Rand (Edith Barrett), a doctor who seems to have put a lot more faith in the local voodoo beliefs and practices than her science.

Another atmospheric film directed by Jacques Tourneur, and another one helped along immensely by producer Val Lewton, I Walk With A Zombie is a number of different things, from a discussion about the situation conflict between science and faith to a dark and stormy gothic romance, from an exploration of slavery to an exploration of deceit and guilt. What I would point out here, however, is that it doesn’t stand out as a horror film. I am happy enough to consider it within the genre, being non-rigid and fluid with genres is important, but I feel the need to mention this here, for fear of other late-comers who may be looking for a more straightforward zombie tale.

Although the title was lifted directly from a magazine article headline, writers Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray feel as if they were given great freedom to plot their way around the titular event. Also taking great inspiration from Jane Eyre, the storyline allows everything to build to a crescendo without feeling rush (which is a pleasant surprise, considering that the runtime comes in at just under 70 minutes).

Dee is very good in her role, acting as a wonderfully calm mediator between many of the other characters. Conway and Ellison are both suitably perturbed in various ways, both pained by the central situation in different ways. Then you have Gordon, who makes one hell of an impact in the second half of the film, despite the fact that her character has no will of her own. Barrett is perfectly fine, Theresa Harris is a likable presence as the housemaid, Alma, and Sir Lancelot steals a scene or two with his singing of a song that seems to hint at the backstory of the Rand family.

It is always nice to finally get to a classic movie and find how well-deserved that reputation is. Thankfully, it happens quite often while working back through the rich history of cinema that is available to us. I Walked With A Zombie has everything you would hope. There’s great use of resources to make it look as good as can be, some wonderful music by Roy Webb, memorable characters being placed in jeopardy, and a finale as moving as it is tense.


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Thursday 25 August 2022

MTOS: What A Cary Carey Carrie Carry On.

 #MTOS is Movie Talk On Sunday, something we try to have happen every week on Twitter, at 2000 BST.

Feel free to join in, always great to see people there. This week, it's a right Cary Carey Carrie Carry On. Look, it gives me a theme, but also allows for a great variety of movies to chat about.

Q1. What is your favourite serious Cary Grant film role?

Q2. What is your favourite comedic Cary Grant film role?

Q3. If you could drop Cary Grant into one modern movie, what would it be, and why?

Q4. It may seem simple to name your favourite Cary Elwes role, but I am asking you to leave The Princess Bride aside.

Q5. But we now have to give The Princess Bride some space here. As you wish. Are you a fan, or in the minority? Favourite cast member, and/or favourite moment?

Q6. Favourite Carey Mulligan role?

Q7. Without spoilers, Promising Young Woman sparked a LOT of debate when it was released. What did you think about it?

Q8a. Who is your favourite member of the Carry On team?

Q8b. What is your favourite Carry On film? This IS an excuse for quotes.

Q9. Carrie has been adapted into films, sequels, and stage musicals. How many incarnations of the material have you seen, and what highlights would you recommend to others?

Q10. Let's end with some love for Carrie Fisher. Please share your favourite non-Star Wars turn.

And that's it. Until next week. . . keep calm and carry on.

The Leopard Man (1943)

Another excellent film from Jacque Tourneur, once again teamed up with producer Val Lewton (this would be their third success in the span of just two years), The Leopard Man is a whole mess of different movie genres jumbled into one, and it's a fascinating subversion of everything you might expect from the title.

Let's start with that title anyway. There IS a leopard. It's used by a man who wants to create some publicity. Unfortunately, the leopard is frightened and runs away, which leads to people searching for the creature. The more time goes by without the leopard being found, the more deaths occur. Most people assume that the deaths are caused by the wild animal, but some start to think about other possibilities.

Dennis O'Keefe plays Jerry Manning, the promoter who could arguably be referred to as the titular character, but there's also the owner of the leopard (Charlie, played by Abner Biberman), as well as anyone who may be opportunistically using the situation to act on some murderous impulses. Kiki (Jean Brooks) is a nightclub performer, but she may also become a victim of the "leopard", as could Teresa (Margaret Landry), Consuela (Tuulikki Paananen), Clo-Clo (Margo), and a fortune teller named Maria (Isabel Jewell). There are also some other male characters, but they all feel much more like suspects than potential mauled bodies.

Tourneur shows his usual talent for beautifully framing most of the main scenes, and once again shows how much more effective it can be to not show the audience what might be lurking in shadows, or even just outwith the edges of the screen. The script by Ardel Wray (adapting the material from “Black Alibi”, by Cornell Woolrich, from page to screen) is very good, although slightly disparate and episodic in nature throughout the first half. The main ideas are developed nicely though, and there are some great dialogue exchanges between characters. Nothing here ranks alongside the best work from the film-makers involved, but it has a consistent level of quality throughout.

O’Keefe and Brooks are decent nominal leads, easy enough to tag along with and root for, but the fun here comes from the wonderful variety of supporting players, whether they are in one scene or most of the movie. Biberman and Jewell were my personal favourites, but everyone manages to make a surprisingly strong impression, no matter how much screentime they have.

Although seemingly very easy to dismiss, especially while the plot seems very straightforward in the opening scenes, this turns into a real little gem of a film. I wouldn’t hold it up as a classic, not even a minor one, but it’s easy to enjoy, easy to appreciate, and easy to squeeze into your viewing schedule (with a runtime of approximately 66 minutes).


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Wednesday 24 August 2022

Prime Time: Get A Job (2016)

Written by Kyle Pennekamp and Scott Turpel, and directed by Dylan Kidd, Get A Job is, in many ways, exactly the standard comedy that you think it is. And yet, in other ways, it inadvertently stands out as a melting pot of attitudes and ideas that many people (myself included) want to see changing.

Miles Teller is Will Davis, a young man who thinks he has his life sorted. He has just graduated, his girlfriend (Jillian, played by Anna Kendrick) has got herself a great job, and his friends seem to be poised to fall upwards. Unfortunately, the job that he thought would be there for him, after a lot of hours put in as an unpaid intern, isn’t. Which means he has to decide between doing what he loves and doing what he has to do in order to earn a decent wage. And things get even worse for his father (Bryan Cranston), who finds himself unemployed for the first time in decades.

Work needs done. We al know that. Not every job is going to be fulfilling. But that doesn’t mean anyone should be undervalued. If anything, the “unskilled” jobs that are seen as less desirable should pay just as much as some of the more enviable, cushy, numbers that we see people striving for in movies. Get A Job doesn’t consider that though. It is too busy working with the motto of “find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” This is a fantasy film, basically, but it accidentally scatters some reality throughout it.

Here are the positives. You get a reminder of how crappy it is to have someone in an unpaid role. You get a reminder of how disposable you are to any big company (shown in the way that Cranston’s character so suddenly finds himself adrift with no idea of where he might be able to go next). You get to see someone applying themselves to fully show what they are capable of, albeit often in a way that also has them feeling a bit restricted and very bloody tired. And, arguably best of all, you get a nice mockery of that whole “I’ll make sure you never work in this town again” attitude that some employers still think can work. Having been on the receiving end of that line of bullshit myself some time ago, I can assure you that it’s very rarely a serious threat. It is the flailing claws of a wounded predator used to being at the top of the food chain, and you should never let fear of repercussions from an employer stop you from valuing yourself enough to move to a better position (for any reason, be it pay, location, working environment, etc).

The cast do well enough, although the supporting players are a very mixed bag. As the friends of our lead, Brandon T. Jackson is easily integrated into the awful world of stock market trading, Nicholas Braun is a teacher who would rather spend his time getting stoned and playing videogames, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse has a plot all about creating an app that is basically every stalker’s wet dream. These three aren’t great, but there are much better turns from Alison Brie, Bruce Davison, Jorge Garcia, Marcia Gay Harden, Greg Germann, and Iohn C. McGinley, all playing a variety of adults already established in their respective workplaces. Kendrick is completely wasted in her role, which amounts to little more than 5-10 minutes of screentime, but both Teller and Cranston are very good, with the latter having some great moments with a local barista (Cammy, played by Mimi Gianopulos) who turns out to be more supportive than any official employment advisors.

Predictable, cheesy, but also fun, I won’t ever feel the need to rewatch this, but I enjoyed it well enough while it was on. The technical side of things is competent enough, the plotting fits everything together in an amusingly snug way for the third act, and it at least serves as a reminder that you should give your loyalty and time not to a job you may feel worn down and frustrated by, but to the people you care about.


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Tuesday 23 August 2022

Orphan: First Kill (2022)

Although this may seem like a sequel that has come along too late, and wasn’t anything that people were asking for, it must be said that the fanbase for Orphan has just grown and grown over the years. It is such a perfect mix of the camp and the twisted, despite also being completely unbelievable. I wasn’t sure if this second film, a prequel (as the title implies), would be able to sit alongside the first film, but I am happy to say that it does.

It all starts at the institute where Leena (Isabelle Fuhrman) is being kept. She is very violent, smart, and dangerous. And it doesn’t take her long to figure out an escape plan. Out in the wide world, Leena decides to take on the identity of a missing girl named Esther, which allows her to get from Estonia to America, to then be “reunited” with her family. Can she keep up the facade for long though, and will she be tripped up by the fact that her potential mother (played by Julia Stiles) seems to suspect that something isn’t quite right.

Directed this time around by William Brent Bell (a man who has delivered numerous films that don’t exactly set the world alight, but who also seemed to pleasantly surprise many viewers with The Boy before spoiling things with Brahms: The Boy II), Orphan: First Kill isn’t the most inventive film, nor is it visually stunning (although there are some lovely shots here and there), but that doesn’t matter really, because the big selling point is the entertainingly deadly main character. It is a film saved by a middle section that absolutely understands how best to rework that central character.. There are a couple of fun twists, and everything is set up in a way that starts a clock running. Viewers know that Esther will need to act quickly, and they also know what she is capable of. 

The script, worked on by David Coggeshall developing the story and ideas of David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Alex Mace, has to tie in to the first movie, which is where it is weakest, but allows for some fun trickery with the details of a backstory that viewers will assume they already know. The notes are the same, but this is a very different tune being played.

Fuhrman, needing to be digitally de-aged this time around, is just as much fun in the role as she was last time. In fact, she’s arguably even more enjoyable to watch here, having less scenes that require her to hide her true nature. Stiles is equally enjoyable, pitching her performance perfectly at the level best suiting the tone of the material. Rossif Sutherland and Matthew Finlan (as “daddy” and “big brother”, respectively) aren’t quite as good, although the latter works very well in his scenes alongside Stiles, and it is a shame that the writers didn’t think to push things further. Have a bigger selection of characters to cause problems, have more troubling secrets hidden away under a civil and well-to-do exterior.

If you enjoyed the first movie then you should find enough to enjoy here. Although it ultimately fails to match the highs and surprises of Orphan, this makes an admirable attempt to give people what they want while trying to add one or two sudden turns. I don’t think a third film is possible, considering the timeline already covered, but if it is . . . I will check it out.


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Monday 22 August 2022

Mubi Monday: Julia (2008)

It's not often that you can watch a movie starring Tilda Swinton without appreciating the acting skills of Tilda Swinton. Julia doesn't change that. It gives Swinton a lead role that may well rank up there with her very best. It is just a shame that the film around that performance isn’t as good as her work deserves, although I have already noticed that I am seriously in the minority with this opinion.

Julia (Swinton, of course) is an alcoholic about to lose everything. Her job, her home, maybe even her life if she keeps blacking out and ending up in the bed of whatever stranger is most responsive to her. Things look set to change, however, when a woman asks for help to get her son (Aidan Gould) back in her life. The young boy is apparently in the custody of family on his father’s side, and Julia can get a big payday if she effectively kidnaps him to return him home. You can imagine how well this plan unfolds, but each extra “wrinkle” ends up changing Julia, perhaps changing her into a better person.

Director Erick Zonca, who also co-wrote the screenplay with a number of different collaborators, has a good handle on where he wants this cinematic journey to take us, and also where he wants it to take the main character. Unfortunately, many of the scenes in between the more impressive moments don’t work half as well as they should. For all her great work, Swinton is left adrift in situations that feel messy and pointless. I get that the style of the film may be signifying the very messy and unhealthy mental state of Julia, but it’s difficult to sit through without becoming frustrated and/or bored, especially when those scenes make up so much of a movie that runs for just over two and a quarter hours.

In fact, let me put it this way; the film only ever hits the heights it aims for in the scenes that focus on Swinton and Gould. Everything else feels like white noise, with the exception of a scene or two stolen by Saul Rubinek.

I started this review by praising Swinton, I have JUST mentioned how good she and Gould are together, and that’s all I have to do. Julia is a weak film that is lucky enough to be hung on some excellent performances. There’s nothing else to really praise here, despite those involved trying to use some thriller genre tropes to help disguise what may have worked better as a more straightforward character study. It’s particularly telling that the very best moments here could be removed from the film and displayed as a short, with very little or no context, and they would work just as well. All thanks to Swinton, Gould, and Rubinek.

Hugely disappointing in many ways, but absolutely worth your time if you are a fan of the lead. The good doesn’t manage to outweigh the bad, but it helps to raise my final rating to absolutely average.


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Sunday 21 August 2022

Netflix And Chill: Day Shift (2022)

It all makes sense now. Day Shift is a horror comedy that happens to be directed by someone, J. J. Perry, who has spent most of their film career working as a stunt co-ordinator. This isn't the start of some snobby criticism of the movie. It just explains why I was so impressed by the action set-pieces here.

But let's start at the beginning. This is a film in which vampires exist, and there are people who earn a living from hunting vampires. One of those people is Bud Jablonski (Jamie Foxx), an effective, but also sometimes irregular and messy, vampire hunter who needs to earn a lot of extra money in a short amount of time. And you can only earn the most money by working for the organised union, which means Bud has to ask a friend (Big John, played by Snoop Dogg) to help convince a manager to give him another chance to show that he can play by the rules and play nice. He gets his chance, but he also gets an inexperienced partner (Seth, played by Dave Franco). And, unbeknownst to Bud, there's a vampire with a very personal vendetta against him. One that may imperil his daughter (Paige, played by Zion Broadnax) and his ex-wife (Jocelyn, played by Meagan Good), which means that they may soon realise he isn't just the pool cleaner he claims to be.

Co-written by first-timer Tyler Tice and relative newcomer Shay Hatten (who also helped on the last John Wick movie and a recent movie series kick-started by Zack Snyder), Day Shift is a very funny and very violent work that uses the vampire movie sub-genre as a background for some enjoyably inventive fights and deaths. The interplay between Foxx and Franco is very entertaining "buddy-movie" banter, and any little pertinent details, about the plot or types of vampires, are easily scattered throughout (or info-dumped into a scene by Franco's character).

Perry mainly keeps everything moving with a great deal of energy, and the title may clue you into the fact that we have more daylight-set scenes than you would expect in a vampire movie. It's only in the third act when things start to drag, with a finale that disappointingly feels as if too many of the coolest tricks are repeated while any sense of real danger quickly dissipates. There's also a problem throughout the film with people refusing to open curtains and make better use of the sunshine, but that was easier to overlook during moments of extensive vampire violence.

Foxx is solid in the lead role, easygoing and always looking able to handle himself, and Franco works really well alongside him. It's a very standard pairing - the competent killer and the office worker being put into the field for the first time - but it's one that provides ample opportunity for some good laughs. Broadnax is a particularly likeable child star, and the script gives her a few moments to shine, while Good finds herself a bit too restricted in the "ex-partner who the lead hopes to reconcile with" role. Snoop is Snoop, and he seems to be enjoying himself, while Karla Souza and Oliver Masucci do well in the role of the main fanged foes. Steve Howey and Scott Adkins kick ass in one brilliant sequence that takes everything up to 11, Nathasha Liu Bordizzo makes a decent impression with her small role, and both Eric Lange and Peter Stormare do their bit to try and steal a scene or two.

This isn't a film to take seriously, and it's not one I would recommend to anyone looking for scares. It's a horror comedy with the emphasis on the comedy, and an extra emphasis on the potential for wildly over the top action. It works in that regard, and shaving the runtime by 10 minutes or so would have had me shouting about it from the rooftops. As it is, it's a perfect choice for any evening when you just want something that will help you avoid boredom without taxing your brain too much. Also . . . I would definitely be down for an sequel/spin-off that decides to focus on the characters played by Howey and Adkins.


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Saturday 20 August 2022

Shudder Saturday: Alone With You (2021)

In a scenario that many people may struggle to identify with, Alone With You shows a central character who is stuck in an apartment on her own, somehow losing track of time, worrying about what she might be missing from the outside world, and generally losing track of a marble or two. If she had taken some time to make at least one loaf of banana bread then this could have very easily been called Covid Lockdown: The Movie.

Emily Bennett is Charlene, a young woman who is expecting her girlfriend to return home at any moment. Preparing everything for a potential nice evening in together, it soon becomes apparent that something isn't quite right. Nobody is coming to the door, and it's almost as if the world outside has disappeared from view. And the other people that Charlene can get in contact with, including her mother (Barbara Crampton), aren't being very helpful.

As well as starring in the main role, Bennett also co-directed and co-wrote this feature, alongside Justin Brooks. Making behind-the-camera feature debuts, after a number of shorts, they make great use of their circumstances and resources to deliver something that feels both timely and timeless. There are a number of classic touchstones here, with a couple of Polanski movies being the main titles I kept thinking of, but it is also recent events that stay front and centre.

Responsible for carrying 99% of the runtime, Bennett does a very good job in her lead role. She resists the urge to rely on eye-rolling and twitches, convincingly showing someone who is a bit nervous, becomes increasingly uneasy, and eventually looks set to drown in a rising tide of panic. Although there are also small roles for Dora Madison and Meghan Lane, it's Crampton who I feel is the other cast member worth highlighting, playing a mother who may just be a bit tired and sad, or who may be helping to insidiously wear down and stress out someone who is clearly not in the best place.

Starting from a place of relative normality, things quickly spiral into more surreal and strange moments, disconcerting for both the main character and those viewing her plight. Some may not appreciate the lack of logic, the lack of any clear storyline or motivation, but there's enough there to pick up on as things move towards a finale that is both a bit disappointing and yet also seemingly inevitable.

I can see why this might not be the first viewing choice for many, especially when you think of how many of us are still desperately trying to make up for what may be viewed in history as "the lost lockdown year/s", but it's an interesting psychological thriller that benefits from the fact that the film-makers really nail down that mind-clouding feeling of "house arrest" that most of us are now all-too-familiar with.


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Friday 19 August 2022

Elvis (2022)

Let’s start by mentioning what Elvis is and what it isn’t. Elvis is a look at the legendary 20th-century performer (played here by Austin Butler) and his fateful connection with “Colonel Tom Parker” (played by Tom Hanks). It shows the latter viewing the former as a golden goose, someone to be controlled and manipulated to benefit their own ends. What we don’t get here is a look, track by track, at the songs Elvis lifted, reworked, or had written for him by black artists. That isn’t to say that we don’t see him lifting from the music and people around him. We do, and those claiming that Elvis was ever coy about this are conveniently forgetting how much he spoke about it, but the film uses the development of a few key hit songs to show where his musical roots lay. What we also don’t get here is the more unsavory side of Elvis, to put it politely. We see him abusing himself, we don’t see him abusing others. We see him being groomed by The Colonel, we don’t see him being the groomer (Priscilla figures in the movie, of course, but her very young age is never clarified).

This is a film about a legend. It wants to state some truths, but it is much more interested in showing the effect that Elvis had on a generation, be it as a handsome and hip-shaking rock god or as an out-of-shape “performing monkey” who still gave it his all whenever he was on stage in front of an audience, despite also already being viewed as something of a cautionary tale.

The story is, basically, what I have already mentioned above. Things start with a young Elvis being discovered (although the structure allows for Colonel Parker to frame everything behind his own filter for a while), move through various great successes and flash points, and move towards a massively important TV comeback special, growing dissatisfaction and health issues, and the Vegas years. It’s a primer for the life of Elvis, but I would encourage those who enjoy the film, or the artist, to then delve deeper. 

Directed by Baz Luhrmann, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, and Jeremy Doner, this is a typically vibrant and kaleidoscopic slice of Luhrmann cinema. He is a man who loves putting on dazzling shows, making him a natural fit for someone who could arguably be described as one of the greatest musical showmen of the last century. While it doesn’t assume that anyone going in to the movie will know anything about Elvis, there are a lot of nice little touches scattered throughout for those who are already familiar with his story.

Key moments are given room to grab your attention, and all of the 150+ minutes of the runtime just fly by, while the soundtrack dances between classic Elvis hits, the original songs that he appropriated, and some more modern interpretations (Luhrmann being as entertainingly anachronistic as ever). If you want a film packed with just the facts and pure reality then this ain’t it. This is heightened reality all the way, although there IS an authenticity at the heart of every scene, and it’s a tale told by someone being highly subjective.

It is also a tale told with the help of one of the best central performances I have ever seen in a biopic. Butler is AMAZING as Elvis, and deserving of all the awards that I hope he ends up nominated for. It is easy to do an impression of Elvis, which would have also suited this particular film, but Butler also invests every little movement and mumbled phrase with the emotional undercurrent that shows his determination, his charm, his vulnerability, and also his turbulent mental state. Hanks is a different beast altogether, and I am still unsure about his performance. He certainly plays his greedy schemer with a twinkle in his eye, but the accent and make-up help to make his character feel like he is almost a parody villain, although it could be said that The Colonel acted in that way to wrongfoot people who would then underestimate him. Maybe. Olivia DeJonge makes an excellent Priscilla, Helen Thomson and Richard Roxburgh are quite good as Gladys and Vernon, the parents of “The King”, and there are very enjoyable supporting turns from Kodi Smit-McPhee, David Wenham, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Luke Bracey, Dacre Montgomery, Leon Ford, Alton Mason (as great at playing Little Richard as Butler is at playing Elvis), and Shonka Dukureh, as well as many others.

I do think it’s a shame that Luhrmann didn’t also include more of the bad alongside the good (a lot of bad was also missed from the TV movie, which had the excuse of being a TV movie), a decision that holds this film back from being a real modern classic, but I also can’t entirely disagree with his reasoning for it. This is a classic cinematic case of “print the legend”, and I think the legend makes for a superb movie. I know many who would agree. 

I will, however, end by once again encouraging people to seek out the truth elsewhere. There are a litany of books out there on the subject, although I recommend starting with “Elvis & Me”, the book written by Priscilla Presley, and then asking for further recommendations from those who have much more knowledge than myself.


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Thursday 18 August 2022

MTOS: Only MTOS In The Building.

#MTOS is Movie Talk On Sunday, something we try to have happen every week on Twitter, at 2000 BST.

Feel free to join in, always great to see people there. And this week I decided to take a cue from a recent show I have been enjoying immensely, Only Murders In The Building. No spoilers, please. If you haven't yet watched the show, you can still feel free to join in with many of the questions. I have tried to create a selection that are very generalised, only using the show as a springboard.

Q1. What is your favourite Steve Martin film? And recommend one that gets less attention.

Q2. What is your favourite Martin Short film? And another recommendation would be appreciated here.

Q3. Martin and Short have, of course, worked together a few times. What is your favourite collaboration between the two of them?

Q4. Selena Gomez doesn't have quite an extensive a filmography, but has she been in anything you would happily direct others to?

Q5. Amy Ryan, Tina Fey, Nathan Lane, Shirley MacLaine, Amy Schumer, Jane Lynch, and many more have had cameo/supporting roles in OMITB. Who was your favourite? If you've not seen the show, who do you always like to see (in general)?

Q6. Is there a dream project that you have always wanted to see feature Martin and/or Short? Please give us your dreams.

Q7. Who would you cast in a British version of Only Murders In The Building, and why?

Q8. Although various locations are used, this show is focused on one building. So what's your favourite one location movie?

Q9. What's your favourite murder mystery of all time, in TV or film? 

Q10. The show is based around some people who podcast. So end with giving us your top three podcasts, and why others should give them a try (and no, don't just go listing your own . . . because if you all do it then I will do it, then we're all in a messy self-promotional spiral).

And that's it. Until next week. This is Only MTOS In The Building . . . signing off.

Ratter (2015)

I don't know why I decided to give my time to Ratter, and I cannot even recall how I first became aware of it. It certainly doesn't seem like the kind of thing that I would like, having already failed to be impressed by a few other notable cyber-thrillers that seemed to be constructed around the idea of "the internet is SO bad and will snatch your children away within a matter of hours." I'm glad I did give it my time though, because it's certainly a bit better than the titles that most people will tend to mention when asked for recommendations of films in this vein.

Ashley Benson stars as Emma, a student living in New York who doesn't realise she has had her devices hacked and is being observed by an obsessed stalker. Viewers are shown the POV of the stalker, viewing Emma through the lens of her computer, phone, and any other internet-enabled device that he can access. The stalker isn't satisfied for long by just observing, and soon starts to meddle in Emma's life, especially as she starts to navigate a potential relationship with a fellow student, Michael (Matt McGorry).

Okay, not much happens for most of the runtime here. I understand that this is a film people may hate, and may find crushingly dull. I can't really pin down why it worked so effectively for me, but it did. There's a feeling of authenticity throughout, despite some tasteful editing allowing the leading lady to retain her modesty, and none of the camera views feel forced or unbelievable (unlike, for example, any film attempting to maintain a "found footage" style by having characters constantly videocall one another and do things that ensure they can be seen constantly). 

Written and directed by Branden Kramer, his only feature to date, and seeming to expand on his debut short named Webcam (co-directed with Stefan Haverkamp and Jan Jaworski), this is even more interesting and tense because it doesn't tend to aim for sensationalism. There are aspects that don't work as well as they should (I think some lighting and audio effects are there to let us know what the hacker/stalker is up to, but they also make you wonder how the people being observed don't become aware of the intrusion), but it's generally a well-constructed thriller that consistently and quietly escalates things to an ending that . . . well, you will have to see for yourself how things play out.

Benson does a good job in the lead role, acting naturally and interacting with her tech in a way that shows her often remaining oblivious of anything being out of sorts. McGorry also does well in his role, and becomes understandably perplexed as he starts to also fall victim to some hacker tricks that are designed to cause strain in any budding relationship. Kaili Vernoff isn’t present much, as Emma’s mother, but she does well, and there is a good supporting turn from Rebecca Naomi Jones, playing a supportive best friend.

If you don’t like the idea of the main premise then you are unlikely to enjoy this. It is all about that “gimmick”. I think it does the best it can with it though, and it works as a standard drama/thriller while also double-stamping things in the third act to ensure it also serves as a warning against the perils of tech (in)security.

7 /10

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Wednesday 17 August 2022

Prime Time: The Wrong House AKA House Hunting (2012)

Written and directed by Eric Hurt, making his feature debut (he has since delivered a few more shorts and at least one other feature), The Wrong House is a classic example of someone having ideas about how to bookend their movie, but not so many ideas about what to have in the main section between those scenes. It is 102-minutes long, which is far too long for something without enough decent content to fill it out.

A couple of different families, with different tensions, end up at an isolated house that is currently up for sale. Both families are interested in buying the place, but only one can ultimately keep their “prize”. Apparitions start appearing, reality becomes warped, and it isn’t long until people start inconveniently dying.

This could have been an enjoyable little horror movie. Maybe not as visually stylish and wild as Vivarium, but it isn’t a great distance away from it. People are stuck in what could be considered their “dream home”, basic supplies are provided for them to get through each day, and the potentially idyllic scenario soon turns dark and sour.

I am not going to mention everyone in the cast, and I won’t spend time picking apart the weaker performances, so it is just worth saying that nobody is painfully bad. Nobody is really great either, suffering from a script that needs to go around in circles for far too long, but at least you get the familiar faces of both Marc Singer and Art LaFleur as the respective patriarchs of the family units. Whether you like them in these roles or not is a different matter.

The special effects are as varied as the acting, but some moments work very well. Hurt accomplishes a few impressive visuals with what must have been fairly limited resources. Unfortunately, those moments are too few and far between to make up for the tiresome repetition and overly familiar selection of horror movie tricks and tropes.

Thinking objectively about it, and thinking after the end credits have rolled, this is far from the absolute worst of the many horror movies I have seen. It was hard to remember that while I was watching the thing though, with the pacing really working against it. That’s a typical first film flaw, someone having too much faith in weak material that might have played better in a much shorter form, and it is damaging enough to make this a real slog. Not one I could recommend to others.


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Tuesday 16 August 2022

Nope (2022)

I have aimed to keep this spoiler-free, talking about some general ideas that resonates with me before mentioning a few specifics about the film, but I would advise people to go into this film knowing as little as possible. Seriously. The less you know, the more you are likely to enjoy it. As long as you prepare to watch something that isn’t what you expect.

Cinema has progressed so much in the 100+ years that have passed since it began, not always for the better (we've all seen fads come and go), but it's worth remembering that all you need to make a movie is the right camera and the right level of creativity. In fact, you could argue that everyone can make a small animated movie with some drawings on a flickpad. And maybe more people should do that, giving themselves a reminder of the sheer joy that comes from creating a teeny tiny motion picture.

Cinema has also been built on the blood, sweat, and tears of many others, from the stunt performers who often risk their lives to the imaginations that were pillaged, appropriated, and simply used up as industry execs kept searching for the next big thing. Streaming may be a relatively new phenomenon, but the quest for content has always been a giant machine chewing up the lives of those who aren't situated high enough to stay out of its way. Cinema is exploitation, even when it isn't. It exploits animals, it exploits natural resources, and it exploits people. Even when audiences are being catered for, they are also being exploited, which was maybe most obvious during the blaxploitation boon of the 1970s.

And yet, and yet, despite the perils, despite the horrible history of it, cinema, and indeed the arena of showbusiness, continues to cast a mesmerising spell over everyone. There are those who want fame, those who want to seize an opportunity they know is only available fleetingly before others come along to snatch it away from them, and those who have had a taste, no matter how bitter it may have been, and keep trying to get another slice of the pie. Everyone thinks they can take the beast, until it rips their limbs off.

What does this have to do with Nope? Maybe nothing, maybe everything. With his latest film, a genre-blend of sci-fi, horror, and more, Jordan Peele has delivered a layered and thought-provoking film that provides familiar thrills and entertainment while also providing a small, but important, overview of the history of cinema.

Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer are OJ and Em, siblings who end up working together for a while after the sudden, and strange, death of their father (Keith David). The family business is all to do with training horses for movie work, but OJ has already sold a few of his four-legged assets to the nearby child-star-turned-animal-show-host Ricky (Steven Yeun). When OJ starts sensing a presence in the clouds above him, he not only enlists the helps of his sister, but also a local tech store employee (Angel, played by Brandon Perea). And Em becomes convinced that they need the help of legendary cinematographer Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott), a man known for his ability to do the impossible. That is all you need to know. In fact, it is probably more than you need to know.

With great visuals throughout, from the effects to the consistently gorgeous cinematography from Hoyte Van Hoytema (browse his filmography to see a selection of gorgeous movies that he has worked on), and a score from Michael Abels that mixes perfectly with flawless sound design to create one of the best audio-visual experiences in modern horror cinema, Nope is an audacious and thrilling experience from start to finish. It’s a thought-provoking dissemination of art, business, and race delivered in a Spielbergian blockbuster package, something that paradoxically feels like the biggest AND the most persona film yet from the talented Peele.

He is helped massively by his talented cast, with both Kaluuya and Palmer absolutely stellar in their lead roles. Yeun is also great, Wincott has what may be his best role in year, and the only weakness, for me, is the character played by Perea, the one bit of writing and acting that feels less tonally assured than any other aspect of the movie.

I have said all I want to say about the movie. A big chunk of this may not even feel like a review, but it very much is. It is everything I wanted to blurt out after the end credits rolled, and it gives an idea of how much is packed into the 2+ hour runtime. I cannot wait to see this again. I cannot wait to own it. And I cannot wait to see what Peele will deliver next, because it will be hard to top his greatest achievement yet.

I thought long and hard about my rating for this. There are a couple of minor issues that I had to mull over (mainly to do with the scenes involving Petra’s character). Then I realised that they didn’t bother me enough. You can think of a movie as subjectively perfect even while you acknowledge that there are minor imperfections. This, for me, is one of those movies.


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Monday 15 August 2022

Mubi Monday: The Sinful Nuns Of Saint Valentine (1974)

Having somehow not seen any other movies from writer Sergio Grieco (working here with writer Luigi Mordini), as far as I am aware, I must start this review of The Sinful Nuns Of Saint Valentine by saying that I look forward to anything else in his filmography that I might one day stumble across. This is a nunsploitation film that focuses on heightened emotional states and treachery ahead of simple sex and sleaziness, and it ends up being all the better for it. Not that I am a hater of sex and sleaziness in the right films. I just ended up being pleasantly surprised by this.

There are two “star-crossed” lovers at the heart of the plot. Jenny Tamburi is Lucita, confined to a convent and just days away from being forced into a commitment for life. Paolo Malco is Esteban, the man who loves her, but can only communicate with her in secret while he recuperates after a skirmish that saw him apparently kill a man. Between the two of them is the abbess (played by François Prévost), a woman who becomes aware of the whole situation, and schemes to have Esteban to herself. Meanwhile, the convent is being investigated and dark secrets are uncovered.

Taking very familiar elements of this sub-genre and tweaking them ever so slightly is enough to make this film both satisfying for those who know the tropes and more interesting than a film that might just slavishly mark them off a checklist. The power held by the abbess, for example, is soon shown to be precarious, at best, and affected by her unchecked impulses. The nuns being investigated from someone outwith the convent also shows a heirarchy of power that can ebb and flow, depending on who maintains their moral superiority (often while hiding their hypocrisy).

Malco and Tamburi are both fine, the latter doing especially good as the conflicted innocent, but the real star here is Prévost, who chews up her scenes as eagerly as she wants to chew up the man she has in her sights. She’s the kind of villain you can have a lot of fun watching, and her performance helps to ensure that. Corrado Gaipa is also good value, the “inquisitor” looking to root out evil and save the convent, if possible, and the rest of the supporting players do a good job of looking stressed, sanctimonious, or majorly struggling with their repressed desires.

There’s not much else to say about this, although it is worth noting that you watch it for the performances. The production design, score, etc. are all perfectly serviceable, I guess, but nothing stood out. That’s fine though, especially when you have such enjoyably twisted relationships and scheming to hold your attention.

Perhaps not nasty and sleazy enough for some, and I would point those people towards numerous Jess Franco movies ahead of this one, The Sinful Nuns Of Saint Valentine is still a bloody good nunsploitation flick, even if it doesn’t sit up there with the very best of them.


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Sunday 14 August 2022

Netflix And Chill: The Cleanse (2016)

Johnny Galecki stars as Paul, a young man who hasn't had a very good time of things lately. He lost a partner, his job, and his way of being able to feel anything close to happiness. That's why he ends up at a strange spiritual retreat, a potential solution in which he will be guided to a better future via the power of "the cleanse". As viewers are made aware very early on, this retreat might have something strange going on beneath the surface. Doesn't every movie retreat have a dark secret at the heart of it?

Written and directed by Bobby Miller, this is a slight film, the runtime is approximately 80 minutes, and a lesser cast would have made this unwatchable, by which I mean that I think the names attached to this were necessary to get the thing funded and actually made. It has one half-decent idea, but even that isn't as well utilised as it could be.

Tonally, Miller seems to be aiming mainly for comedy, but it misses the mark when that comedy is mixed with elements from other genres. The opening scenes work well, showing how sad and desperate Galecki's character feels, but things quickly start to go downhill once everyone arrives at the retreat for the start of their cleanse. Thankfully, some more familiar faces pop up here, but even their introductions aren't enough to make up for the major lull that happens between the beginning and the end of this.

Alongside Galecki, who does a good job of portraying that nervy guy who lacks confidence in his own abilities (not really a stretch for him, considering his popular TV work), you get enjoyable performances from Anna Friel, Kyle Gallner, and, although given a lesser amount of screentime, Diana Bang. These are the people who have put themselves forward for treatment, and they approach the program with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Kevin J. O'Connor is a staff member at the centre, and is as steadfastly Kevin J O'Connor as he usually is, but the real fun is watching performances from Anjelica Huston, as a zealous senior figure guiding individuals through their treatment, and the equally ever-welcome Oliver Platt, playing the head of the organisation looking to help people in what may be a very strange and unusual way.

There are a number of good comedies about people being shown unusual ways to improve their lives, and there are a number of effective thrillers and horror movies about facilities that seem to be helping people while hiding something dark and dangerous beneath their shiny exterior. The Cleanse certainly sits alongside the former selection, but it's worth bearing in mind that it may not belong to the latter category, despite the marketing. I don't want to spoil things for anyone, viewers can watch the film themselves and decide whether the treatment is being offered in good faith with characters just being a bit too paranoid, or whether there is something to be very wary of, but whatever you think The Cleanse is trying to do . . . plenty of films have done it a bit better. Even if they haven't had such a great cast.


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Saturday 13 August 2022

Shudder Saturday: Devil Times Five AKA Peopletoys (1974)

A film I had never heard of before. A director and writer I was equally ignorant about. A plot involving killer kids. I wanted some silly fun this week while browsing Shudder and I figured that Devil Times Five would provide it. I wasn’t wrong, although that doesn’t mean that I will ever recommend this film to anyone else.

A group of children, and one supervising nun, survive a car crash and end up at a house where a group of bickering adults have assembled for the time being. The adults are trying to make business plans, as well as sorting out some tensions between family/friends, and the arrival of the kids proves to be a welcome distraction for their own troubles. Unfortunately, the children are, and there isn’t really any other way to put this, murderous psychopaths. Initially trying to be sneaky and secret with their plans, they eventually reveal their true natures. The shocked adults know what must be done, but it might be too late for them already.

Written by John Durren, who also has an onscreen role as the child-like adult named Ralph (the kind of sensitive and nuanced performance you might expect in this kind of film *ahem*), Devil Times Five has a suitably childish glee running through it, a real sense of the adults being boring and tired out while the kids have much more energy and creativity, even if they happen to use that creativity to come up with ways to kill people.

Director Sean MacGregor might have done some good work, but we'll never really know. Fired after a few weeks of filming, his job was given to David Sheldon, who went uncredited. The end result is a film that aims for enjoyably sleazy strangeness and uncomfortable moments ahead of any real artistry. This is a down 'n' dirty movie, one determined to showcase the killer kids as maniacs with an intelligence beyond their years, and it works superbly in that regard.

The acting ranges from awful to passable, although Leif Garrett stands out, playing the nominal leader of the children, but that also just adds to the fun. Sorrell Brooke, playing Harvey Beckman, is involved in a number of the best scenes, usually dealing with Garrett's character, and Carolyn Stellar is having a ball as the kind of character you'd love to watch be catty and scheming in some glossy soap opera. It's not worth going through all of the cast list, but everyone is at least in line with the material.

If you want interesting psychological insights or layered social commentary then this is not the film for you. But if you want to see children planning to kill people in increasingly implausible ways (and we're talking about a film in which someone owns a tank full of piranhas) then this might just hit the spot. I started this with very low expectations. I ended it with a big smile on my face.


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