Cast: Ike Barinholtz, Betty Gilpin, Amy Madigan, Emma Roberts, Ethan Suplee, Hilary Swank etc.
Music by: Nathan Barr
Cinematography: Darran Tiernan
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
RKO’s movie, The Most Dangerous Game (1932), based on a short story by Richard Connell, is a genuine B-movie delight with a great villain named, Count Zaroff, plus solid lead performances from Joel McCrea and Fay Wray. The simple, but ingenious story involves the Count hunting shipwrecked humans on his remote island. This thrilling premise has been adapted numerous times over the years and the latest one, produced by Blumhouse Productions, is calledThe Hunt (2020). Arguably, the best version of this story is the Japanese classic, Battle Royale (2000), where high school kids are charged with killing each other to win a prize: their life!
Craig Zobel directs The Hunt (2020) from a screenplay by Damon Lindelhof and Nick Cuse. While The Most Dangerous Game (1932) had big-game hunting and murder-as-sport as a theme, and Battle Royale (2000) was essentially about the control of juvenile delinquents, The Hunt (2020) instils the mayhem, traps and violent deaths with a lean toward political commentary. Reflecting the division of Trump’s Presidency and the left/right and North/South divide allows the witty script to deliver gags damning both sides of the political strata. All from rich capitalists to the liberal elite and right-wing conspiracy theorists are satirised mercilessly. Having said that, none of this gets in the way of the breathless pace of shootings, explosions, stabbings and bloodletting.
Overall, what The Hunt (2020) lacks in characterisation and plot credibility, it more than makes up with several tense and funny scenes. You’re never too far away from a gory end or biting punchline or the surprise death of a relatively well known actor. The cast and director do not take this movie particularly seriously, but I must say Betty Gilpin as Crystal Creasey was brilliant. Energetic Gilpin takes a thinly written character and provides much personality, as well as an impressive physical presence in the many well-choreographed fight scenes. Ultimately, The Hunt (2020) will excite those who want something undemanding for their Saturday night movie entertainment. I particularly enjoyed several of the cartoon kills in this comedic action thriller. I could take or leave the social commentary, because for me politics is the most dangerous game of all.
“If there’s specific resistance to women making movies, I just choose to ignore that as an obstacle for two reasons: I can’t change my gender, and I refuse to stop making movies. It’s irrelevant who or what directed a movie, the important thing is that you either respond to it or you don’t. There should be more women directing; I think there’s just not the awareness that it’s really possible. It is.“— Kathryn Bigelow in 1990
Having most recently directed the searing period drama, Detroit (2017), Bigelow has been making feature films, since her debut, The Loveless (1981), for over thirty-nine years. With a strong academic background, having studied at the San Francisco Art Institute and Columbia University, it’s fascinating to review a career which has eschewed arthouse cinema and essentially been spent working mainly on big-budget genre films. However, one can see in her directorial canon that Bigelow, while striving for commercial success, is constantly testing the boundaries of genre storytelling.
Along with a powerful visual style that attains symbiosis with the core material, she intelligently explores themes relating to violence, individual freedom versus the system, masculinity in crisis, gender representations and socio-political corruption. Lastly, her characters are often outsiders, morally complex and dealing with deep personal trauma. In short: Bigelow’s worldview is one of both healthy scepticism and cynicism, but also an element of hope within the longing for control. So, here are five of Kathryn Bigelow’s most impactful cinematic releases.
***ARTICLE CONTAINS FILM SPOILERS***
NEAR DARK (1987)
While The Lost Boys (1987) is rightly regarded as a very entertaining 80’s vampire film, Near Dark (1987) is way, way superior. Despite not catching fire at the box office, this neo-horror-western contains a fantastic cast of James Cameron alumni, including: Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton and Jenette Goldstein. These great character actors inhabit this snarling gang of vampires perfectly as the film contains shockingly brutal violence and hard-bitten dialogue amidst a tender love story.
BLUE STEEL (1990)
While Jamie Lee Curtis is generally better known for her horror and comedy film performances, Kathryn Bigelow made excellent use of her dramatic acting ability as a rookie police officer caught up with Ron Silver’s psychotic commodities trader. Blue Steel (1990) is a variegated genre film which takes a standard police procedural narrative and twists it into something far more psychologically compelling. Lee Curtis excels, as does vicious bad-guy Silver, aptly named Eugene Hunt!
POINT BREAK (1991)
This classic heist meets surfing movie meets gay subtext bromance is jam-packed with classic action scenes and faux-deep philosophical musings. Keanu Reeves is the daftly named cop, Johnny Utah, who goes undercover, amidst the beach brigade to find a bunch of bank robbers. His suspicions fall on Patrick Swayze’s elemental surfer-dude-god and a dangerous “bromantic” game of cat-and-mouse ensues. Bigelow scored her first major hit with Point Break (1991), infusing it with some incredibly visceral stunt, surfing, robbery and chase sequences in an exhilarating film experience.
THE HURT LOCKER (2008)
After the box office failures of her previous three films, the under-rated sci-fi thriller, Strange Days (1995), enigmatic mystery, The Weight of Water (2000), and stodgy cold war film, K-19: The Widowmaker (2002), Bigelow’s seemingly took a career break. She would, however, come back with her most critically acclaimed and Oscar-winning film, The Hurt Locker (2008). From a brilliant script by Mark Boal and led by Jeremy Renner’s standout lead performance, The Hurt Locker (2008), put the audience right at the heart of a bomb disposal unit in Iraq. Putting aside the politics for a moment, the film is full of incredibly tense and superbly edited scenes which have your heart in your mouth. Simultaneously too, the film also shows the devastating emotional, physical and mental effect war has on the people of Iraq and the soldiers sent to fight this horrifically unjust conflict.
ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012)
Whereas The Hurt Locker (2008) had highly emotional and empathetic protagonists, Bigelow and Boal’s next film Zero Dark Thirty (2012), is a much more clinical and technically efficient cinematic experience. In parts, both a war drama and espionage thriller, the story also has a feel of an old-fashioned Western as American military and CIA operatives, led by the excellent Jessica Chastain and Jason Clarke, hunt down Osama Bin Laden. Politically speaking this is a film which makes me feel very uncomfortable for a number of reasons. It plays out like a revenge story. It also seems to both criticize and vindicate torture in the early scenes. This makes me uneasy as I understand the 9/11 attacks were just horrific, yet they seemed to get used as a motive for many more atrocities by the United States government. I guess that was what Bigelow and Boal were going for. They attempted to create a morally and emotionally complex war thriller that lets you interpret the events yourself and conclude one’s own judgements.
Cast: Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert Loggia, F. Murry Abraham, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Paul Shenar etc.
Music: Giorgio Moroder
Cinematography: John A. Alonzo
*** CONTAINS SPOILERS ***
“I always tell the truth, even when I lie! so, say good night to the bad guy!” Tony Montana
While Al Pacino is rightly lauded in the critically acclaimed Godfather Trilogy, as quietly menacing Michael Corleone, I think his spectacular performance as Tony Montana in Scarface (1983), is nothing short of cinematic gold. Tony Montana is a monstrous symbol of 1980’s excess and neo-capitalism. A product of social deprivation and cold war division. In this world, greed is not just good, but a driving force behind an evil empire which believes the extreme is only halfway. Tony Montana is small in size but big on gesture, colour and voice, both an anti-hero and villain for the eighties era. Moreover, for me, Tony Montana is the most iconic gangster ever committed to celluloid.
With a combustible screenplay written by Oliver Stone, Scarface (1983), is a cocaine driven and incendiary viewing experience. Stone himself is reported to have been battling cocaine addiction while writing it and this shows in the over-the-top world on screen. Everything is ramped up to eleven, including: the violence, shouting, swearing, shooting, politicking, drug-taking, sex, killing, avarice, money-making and corruption. There isn’t one redeemable character in the whole film. Everyone is corrupt. Actually, Tony’s mother tries her best to stay away from the darkness that follows Tony. His sister Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) seems pure, but is ultimately drawn into Tony’s incestuous glue, precipitated by her dangerous liaison with Manny (Steven Bauer).
“In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women.” – Tony Montana
Directed with operatic and kinetic power by Brian DePalma, I have to say that Scarface (1983) is probably my favourite gangster film of all time. That isn’t to say it’s the best. That is Scorsese’s masterpiece Goodfellas (1990). But I just love this film because DePalma and Stone and Pacino revel in excess, violence and tragedy. It also contains some very dark humour too. Tony Montana is horrific, but also very funny. Georgio Moroder’s brooding synthesised score pocks the Miami streets, clubs, beaches, Bolivian boltholes, and in the final hour, Tony’s fortified mansion. I love the artificial backdrops featuring palm trees and sun because their fakeness symbolises the delusory world of the characters. Indeed, even the back-projection shots used when driving add to the illusion. The characters business foundations are built on white sand, a powder which ultimately blows away in the wind.
DePalma is the best director of a cinematic set-piece since Hitchcock. That isn’t to say he’s the best director ever per se, but rather someone who just creates so many well-conceived and memorable scenes. The infamous chainsaw scene, the killing of Frank (Robert Loggia), Tony’s bitter monologue in the restaurant, and the explosive “say hello to my little friend” ending, are just a few of the jaw-dropping moments in this epic crime drama. DePalma also gets incredible performances from all the cast. Pacino obviously blows the doors off as the tough, paranoiac, angry, greedy and hyperbolic Montana. The then, mostly unknown, Michelle Pfeiffer is equally impressive as the coke-fuelled ice-queen, Elvira, who becomes Tony’s vampiric and soulless wife.
Stone’s scenery-crunching script obviously owes much to the original film version of Scarface (1932), co-written by, among others, W. R. Bennett and Ben Hecht and directed by Howard Hawks. The structure is remarkably similar charting the rise and fall of the “political refugee” from Cuba, Tony Montana. It’s a genius stroke by Stone to transplant the exodus of Cubans to America and at the same time, echo the rise of the gangster during the prohibition era of the original film. But, instead of booze, the drug of choice is cocaine. This war on drugs is bloody and unforgiving. As the money and narcotics mount up, so do the victims. Complicit with the criminals are law enforcement, South American dictators and U.S. Government officials. Stone makes many political barbs, but never preaches at the expense of the narrative. Capitalism, the law and American foreign policy has never been more ruthless than here in Scarface (1983). As the oft-seen slogan says, ‘The World is Yours’, but tragically these characters don’t live long enough to enjoy it.
“Every day above ground is a good day.” – Tony Montana
HORSE GIRL (2020) + THUNDER ROAD (2018) FILM REVIEWS
Having seen both these fascinating character studies, Horse Girl (2020) and Thunder Road (2018) recently, I was compelled to write a double bill review because similarly they feature: lower budgeted production values, a singularly powerful lead acting performance, characters who have recently lost their mothers, very uncomfortable emotionally charged scenes; as well as both exploring themes relating to mental illness. Thus, I thought it interesting to review the films with these elements in mind.
In regard to mental health, it is quite rightly being addressed more and more in society in a respectful manner. The barriers and prejudices of the past are being eroded and people are talking about it more openly. I have first-hand family experience of someone who has suffered with mental illness. Plus, I have experienced the loss of a close friend to suicide due to debilitating anxiety and have other friends on anti-depressants. I have tried to be of assistance to those people, but it is incredibly difficult to help anyone. Likewise, medical professionals seek various ways of attempting to assist, treat and counsel individuals with mental health problems.
Ultimately, it so tough to deal with such illnesses as they are powerful and invisible. I have utmost empathy for anyone suffering from anxiety, depression and serious mental health problems. It’s such a shame that I feel kind of helpless when it comes to helping people I am close to. It is not always enough to listen and understand, thus professional medical help should be sought and sometimes even that is not enough. It is not surprising therefore that cinema is also exploring such stories and themes.
With Joker (2019), mental illness was examined in a comic book genre setting in a powerful way for me. Some critics felt it trivialised mental illness. I felt that it was, while stylised and theatrical, actually accurate in the disturbing disintegration of Arthur Fleck’s downward mental spiral. Horse Girl (2020) and Thunder Road (2018) are two very different films in terms of genre, but with similar thematic trajectories as Joker (2019). Indeed, while they are independently produced and smaller in scale, they feature two frightening renditions of characters on the verge of a mental breakdown.
***THESE REVIEWS CONTAIN SPOILERS***
HORSE GIRL (2020)
Directed by: Jeff Baena
Written by: Jeff Baena and Alison Brie
Cast: Alison Brie, Molly Shannon, John Reynolds, John Ortiz etc.
Depicting mental illness accurately is a very tricky thing on film in my view. Obviously, we have over the years had all manner of psychotics and mad people chasing and killing others in horror films and thrillers. There have also been many films centred around characters in mental institutions. Some are respectful examinations, but many more could be seen as exploitation films. Horse Girl (2020) is not exploitational, but rather an oddity that falls somewhere between the gaps of arthouse drama and weird character study. Such films are difficult to assess as, however impressive the technical aspects of the production are, the strange events of the film could alienate an audience in terms of entertainment.
Despite Alison Brie’s exceptionally brave performance as Sarah, the narrative consistently disengages you emotionally, taking you to very dark and weird places. Sometimes you have to wonder whether the actor is holidaying in weirdness for the sake of it, or is genuinely drawn to characters who exist with mental issues. Given Brie is an intelligent and highly talented actor, plus she co-wrote the script, you cannot help but feel this is a very personal project. Her portrayal of a shy loner dealing with the suicide of her mother, sleepwalking, day delusions, fragmented time loss and nightmares makes Horse Girl (2020) a disorientating experience. However, in conveying the chaos and frightening nature of mental illness, the film is commendable but tough to recommend.
Mark: 7 out of 11
THUNDER ROAD (2018)
Written and directed by: Jim Cummings
Cast: Jim Cummings, Kendal Farr, Nican Robinson, Macon Blair etc.
Talking of films that are difficult to recommend, Jim Cummings self-produced, written, directed and acted film Thunder Road (2018) is another. Rather than giving us, like Horse Girl (2020), an unreliable narrator and escalating series of surreal events seemingly separated from reality, Cummings film deliver very real feelings of embarrassment and anxiety to the audience. Advertised on certain film sites as a comedy-drama, neither the comedy nor drama are conventionally enacted. The film is based around a series of hysterical monologues and stream of consciousness dialogues from Cummings grieving and soon-to-be-divorced troubled cop, Jim Arnaud.
Arnaud’s mental issue is not psychosis, but rather a circumstantial and emotional nervous breakdown precipitated by grief and a personality disorder. The opening scene at a funeral for Arnaud’s mother, is a case in point. Based on his original short film of the same name, Cummings produces a tour-de-force acting exercise in both awkward comedy and distanciation. Subsequently, the film’s narrative events find Arnaud attempting to be a good father, friend and police officer, however, he is constantly on the edge of an angry outburst or outpouring of emotional honesty. His character makes us empathise as he is in grief, but at the same time he’s very difficult to like due to his extreme reactions. Ultimately, as a low budget feature for Jim Cummings acting abilities, Thunder Road (2018) is a compelling character study. However, it’s tough to watch and the slightly misogynistic ending left a sour taste in what was a fascinating emotional exploration of grief and mental instability.
THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW
Directed by: Armando Iannucci
Produced by: Armando Iannucci, Kevin Loader
Screenplay by: Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci
Based on: David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Cast: Dev Patel, Aneurin Barnard, Peter Capaldi, Morfydd Clark, Daisy May Cooper, Rosalind Eleazar, Hugh Laurie, Ben Whishaw, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong, Anthony Welsh, Paul Whitehouse etc.
Music by: Christopher Willis
Cinematography: Zac Nicholson
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Armando Iannucci is a bona fide genius if you ask me. For over thirty years I have been listening, watching and laughing at his various collaborative comedic works. These include notables such as: The Day Today, I’m Alan Partridge, The Thick of It, Time Trumpet, Veep, In the Loop (2009), andThe Death of Stalin (2017). Now, one can include the wonderful delectation of an adaptation that is The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019). While I am embarrassed to say I am not as familiar with this Charles Dickens novel as I am his other books, Iannucci has taken his own inimitable style and married it perfectly to Dickens’ narratively opulent Victoriana vision. The result is an entertaining comedic and dramatic romp, tantamount to a quasi-greatest hits package of a Dickens masterwork.
Dev Patel stars as the eponymous hero in adulthood, while the young David is portrayed with energy and charm by Jairaj Varsani. As a child, his father passed, David is brought up by his mother, Clara and the ebullient housekeeper, Peggotty. Peggotty, portrayed brilliantly by Daisy May Cooper, encourages David’s word-smithery and youthful imagination. But this being Charles Dickens, David’s innocent and magical childhood soon gives way to tragedy and he soon finds himself at the mercy of fate. Conversely, the narrative is more of a chronicle of David’s life and contains what I call an “up-and-down” structure.
Through the rollercoaster that is David’s life he finds family love, then industrial pain via his stepfather condemning him to years of child labour. Then in an attempt to overcome his cruel fate he finds positive gain through family, creativity, romantic love, friendship and education. But destiny tests him by having this all taken away once again. Throughout, Dev Patel shines brightly. His David Copperfield is as tough as they come, as he rolls with the punch’s life throws at him. Moreover, he is a fantastic conduit and spine within the structure. Through him we are introduced to some wonderfully vivid characters; some likeable and some not so. Indeed, Iannucci’s casting is a primary joy with Peter Capaldi as Mr Micawber, Hugh Laurie as Mr Dick, Tilda Swinton as Betsy Trotwood, Ben Whishaw as Uriah Heep and Aneurin Barnard as Steerforth, all giving splendid renditions of their respective characters.
Overall, Iannucci and his scriptwriting partner, Simon Blackwell, mine Dickens’ novel for much comedy gold and there are so many hilarious one-liners and funny situations. Moreover, there’s some depth here too as it’s a story of an individual finding their soul, identity and place in a cruel world. One could argue a feature film is not enough to do the novel justice, and it would probably best be served as a television mini-series. However, for a whip-cracking, razor-sharp and heart-warming two hours, in the company of one the greatest novelists, one of the greatest modern satirists, wonderful set design; and finally one of the most impressive ensemble casts gathered in recent memory, this film is highly recommended.
FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #6 – THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (1964)
Written and Directed by: Jacques Demy
Produced by: Mag Bodard
Music by: Michel Legrand
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Anne Vernon, Nino Castelnuovo, Marc Michel, Ellen Farmer, Mirielle Perrey etc.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
I knew there were good reasons to get married. The obvious one is the positive nature of a caring relationship and not becoming a lonely, bitter old man. The other is that given my wife loves films too, she will introduce me to the occasional classic film I may have missed. Thus, we went to the BFI and watched the classic musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964). While she is a massive fan of the musical genre, I can take or leave it generally. Every now and then though I will really love a musical film. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) is now one of them.
Starting in 1957 and structured over three acts that end in 1963, we follow the lives and loves of two main protagonists, Genevieve (Catherine Deneuve) and Guy (Nino Castelnuovo). The ups and downs of their romance drives the narrative. The two struggle to keep their love alive amidst the obstacles of military conflict, social convention and family pressure. While the story is relatively simple, Jacques Demy’s wonderful script and direction warms you to the two young lovers. So much so, by the emotionally gut-wrenching ending, even a grizzled cynic like myself felt like crying.
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) is not your classic all-singing-all-dancing musical. It is more an opera of everyday life and love. The actors sing the dialogue all the way through and once I got used to this, the device really worked well for the story. Of course, Michel Legrand’s incredible score literally drenches the colourful sets and mise-en-scene with wonder. Moreover, Demy’s cinematographer, Jean Rabier, works miracles; his camera gliding around the actors in small spaces such as shops, garages, apartments and French cafes. Lastly, Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo are such an attractive, but beautifully tragic screen couple. Clearly their touching story, amazing music and Jacques Demy’s cinematic brilliance had a massive influence of Damian Chazelle’s splendidLa La Land (2016).
Written by: Jeffrey Hatcher – Based on The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle
Cast: Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, Russell Tovey, Jim Carter etc.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Bill Condon is an interesting filmmaker. His movie choices oscillate between big budget Hollywood productions such as Beauty and the Beast (2017) and mid-budget, character-led productions like Mr Holmes (2015) and his latest film The Good Liar (2019). This is, by my reckoning, his fourth collaboration with the living legend that is Ian McKellen and casting him alongside Helen Mirren is a masterstroke. In this story we get a whole different kind of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ narrative.
McKellen portrays charismatic septuagenarian, Roy Courtnay. He meets Helen Mirren’s widow, Betty McLeish, and they begin a friendly courtship. As the romance blossoms, her grandson Steven (Russell Tovey), begins to suspect Roy is after more than companionship. I won’t spoil the twisting plot, but safe to say the story develops in a compelling fashion. Indeed, I love a good con-artist thriller and McKellen and Mirren’s chemistry on-screen was particularly impressive.
Overall, there’s much to enjoy about The Good Liar (2019). I love it when London is used as a main location, as I will see places I know and have been to. I have to say that the twists in the story, particularly one second act reveal are very well handled too. By the end you could see where the story was going, but not the why and how. My only gripes were some of the banking machinations were a tad sloppy and the final reveal did not necessarily connect all the dots successfully. Nonetheless, this is an enjoyable thriller with an excellent cast and solid direction. It does not have the scintillating scripts con-artist films such as The Sting (1973) and Nine Queens (2000) do, but not many do.
Way back in September 2015 I wrote an article listing some great ensemble film casts. Please feel free to read it here at this link.
If you can’t be bothered to read it the list of films are as follows:
12 ANGRY MEN (1957) AVENGERS ASSEMBLE (2012) GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014) INCEPTION (2010) LA CONFIDENTIAL (1997) THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960) MAGNOLIA (1999) MEANTIME (1984) THE OUTSIDERS (1983) PULP FICTION (1994) SHORT CUTS (1993) TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY (2011)
Never one to worry about originality, I have decided to follow up this article with another list of great ensemble film casts.
The challenge second time round though is to EXCLUDE the films of directors or franchises ALREADY LISTED.
For those who may have lazy-read this I WILL REPEAT!!!
NO DIRECTOR’S OR FRANCHISE WORK FROM LIST ONE WILL BE ON LIST TWO!!!
It would be so easy to include all of Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino’s or the Marvel films. So I am not going to do that. Anyway, here are another TEN films with great ensemble casts (in alphabetical order).
Cast: Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Chloe Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi, Caleb Landry-Jones, Danny Glover, Selena Gomez, Tom Waits and many more.
As a big fan of Jim Jarmusch films and a big fan of zombie films I was really looking forward to the Dead Don’t Die (2019). Interestingly though, it neither works as an arthouse horror film or dramatic zombie film. There’s a lot to enjoy, especially with the deadpan wit, but overall the film felt underwhelming to me.
Set in the fictional American town of Centerville, we find out fracking or some similar stupid human being industrial act has caused a global disaster. Suddenly we get a disparate set of townsfolk including hermits, Republican farmers, waitresses, cops, morticians, College kids, all fighting the living dead. The acting led by Adam Driver, Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton is the best thing about the film. Yet, while I was chuckling at many of the dry lines of dialogue, the film falls flat with a plodding and disappointing ending. Jarmusch, in his inimitable style essentially undermines the raft of intriguing archetypes he has established with a deconstructive and knowing final act.
I think the main problem is Jarmusch, while paying lip service to the likes of George A. Romero, did not commit fully to making a proper zombie film. This is a comedic parody and satire which lost me when Adam Driver’s character become overly self-reflexive. Jarmusch sets up some great characters to fight the dead but throws them away for clever-clever-Godardian-oh-we’re-in-a-movie references which undermine the comedy, drama and horror. I love Jarmusch’s style and he has made some cult cinema classics. This, alas, is not one of them.
Mark: 6.5 out of 11
ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019)
Directed and written by: Gary Dauberman
Cast: McKenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife, Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga etc.
Having watched the Dead Don’t Die (2019), I decided to make the most of my Odeon Limitless card and watch the next instalment in a franchise which shows absolutely no sign of dying. I really liked The Conjuring and Insidious franchises, which involved horror experts including James Wan and Leigh Whannell. However, the monstrous creations such as Annabelle and The Nun are pretty thin in terms of credible horror threat and cinematic quality. Having said that this latest film Annabelle 3 film already made $200 million at the box office, so what do I know!?
The story is pretty threadbare, but it concerns Ed and Lorraine Warren’s demonic spirit room which, for some bizarre reason they entrust a teenage babysitter, Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) and their daughter, Judy (McKenna Grace), NOT to open while they’re away. Guess what happens? A friend of Mary Ellen, Daniela (Katie Sarife), opens the spirit room and all hell breaks loose due to Annabelle the evil doll causing all the devilish spirits to rise up and frighten the characters half to death.
I actually liked the cast of young actors here, most notably McKenna Grace, who is very talented. Daniela’s character also had some decent motivation for her ridiculous actions as she sought closure with her dead father. At times I was quite fearful due to some decent jump scares, deadly creatures and creepy use of lighting tricks. However, the whole thing seemed like a cash-in with new monsters being introduced to expand the franchise further. Even fine actors such as Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga seemed happy, laughing all the way to the bank with their book-ended cameos.
After the relative cinematic highs of Avengers: Endgame (2019) and John Wick 3 (2019), I’ve been choosing my battles in regard to the big budget blockbuster movies currently released at the cinema. I’m sure they are very good but I have swervedAladdin (2019) and Rocketman (2019) as they did not appeal to me.
Anyway, I’ve mixed up some of my film viewing choices so far this month with big and lower budget films at the cinema and via online streaming platforms. Here are some mini-reviews with the usual marks out of eleven.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
MA (2019) – ODEON CINEMA
Like Isabelle Huppert in Greta (2019), another amazing actress takes on the role of a disturbed matriarch figure with terrifying aplomb. Indeed, Octavia Spencer is absolutely brilliant in her role as the seemingly kind but ultimately vicious avenging angel, Sue Ann Ellington A.K.A, ‘Ma.’ The story begins with a casual encounter between some teenagers and Sue Ann. They are after illicit alcohol and somewhere to party. What starts innocently then spirals into a full-on psychological horror movie by the end.
The script slowly builds the tension as Ma’s plan carefully moves from convivial host to the unhinged nutter. I liked that they developed Ma’s character motivation beyond the standard cardboard cut-out pantomime villain. Plus, the levels of gore and suspense were darkly enjoyable. Thematically, the film has some familiar genre tropes such as: the new girl trying to fit in; rebellious teens being taught a lesson; past events creating a vengeful monster; and an element of Munchausen’s by proxy etc. However, these aren’t really developed and are window-dressing to the twisted joy of watching Octavia Spencer go into full “bunny boiler” mode and then some!!
Mark: 8 out of 11
GODZILLA 2: KING OF THE MONSTERS (2019) – ODEON CINEMA
Despite really enjoying King Kong: Skull Island (2017) I wasn’t bothered about watching this sequel to the recent Godzilla (2014), because Godzilla/Gojira is a fundamentally dull creature. I get that it’s a cultural phenomenon in Japan; one that reflects the horror of nuclear devastation; however, on the big screen it’s usually a lumbering lizard which, while presenting a strong visual image, is essentially all about destruction. The first film I found pretty boring with too little of Godzilla to make it very exciting. Thankfully, the sequel goes monster mad and you get four fantastic beasts for your money.
Thus, for sheer energy and the appearances of Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan and Ghidorah, all battling each other at various times, Michael Dougherty and his production team deserve some credit. However, the mistake they made was trying to give the story an interesting human angle. While the cast, including Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga and Millie Bobby Brown, did their best as the dysfunctional nuclear family, they were poorly established, creating an empathy vacuum that just got in the way of the monster stuff. Overall, it’s clumsy B-movie narrative is blown away by the impressive visuals, in a mostly waste-of-budget and ultimately forgettable cinema experience.
Mark: 6 out of 11
EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE (2019) – SKY CINEMA
If you have read or seen anything about the life of infamous serial-killer Ted Bundy, then this psychological drama doesn’t necessarily tell you anything you do not know. Bundy terrorized an abundance of innocent victims across many of the States in America, for much of the 1970s. A conventionally attractive, intelligent and charming manipulator on the outside, he hid a venal desire to attack, assault and murder young women.
Bundy denied these attacks until the very last, as Joe Berlinger’s solid biopic shows Bundy’s actions and character from the perspective of his girlfriend, Elizabeth Kendall (Lily Collins). The film takes a while to kick into gear but when we get to the prison escapes and court cases then the horror of Bundy’s crimes really impacts. Zac Efron is a revelation as Bundy and he owns the screen with a performance of magnetic evil. The final chilling scene where Kendall confronts him through the glass is a particularly memorable exchange.
Mark: 7.5 out of 11
THE PERFECTION (2019) – NETFLIX
This horror film started if off brilliantly. It begins with two talented musicians (Alison Williams and Logan Browning) meeting and taking time out of their schedule to tour rural China. Suddenly, one of them is attacked by a flesh-eating virus and you think so far, so nasty! However, it soon undoes the excellent opening by descending into a non-sensical revenge story full of plot-holes. To be honest the themes exploring: #MeToo and #Time’sUp combined with a critique of toxic-svengali-masculinity were absolutely fascinating. It’s a shame the sub-Cronenberg narrative fell apart by the end, as the gory events unfold with little sense of empathy or logic. Indeed, I’m still baffled what any of it had to do with classical music!!