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Black Christmas (2019)
Misguided attempt at updating a classic
One of horror's biggest horrors in this current age is the updating of classic material to fit modern social issues, or to reflect new processes in storytelling. It has produced some decent material ("Halloween," Child's Play"), some excellent material ("The Invisible Man,") and some absolute tosh ("Pet Sematary"). You can add this update of "Black Christmas" to the latter.
In the original Black Christmas, an unseen menace called the vulnerable sisters of a sorority, and as the calls increased in frequency and madness, girls began disappearing. The denouement and climax wherein Jess finds herself alone in the house with the madman is a short orgy of horror, a classic build up of tension and a twist that has since been repeated all too often.
In 2006, Glenn Morgan took on the legend of Black Christmas and created a messy, silly confection that took the premise and turned it into a throwaway, fun horror with eyes being popped, icicles falling indiscriminately and a hilariously tasteless backstory for the killer. It was not liked by critics at all.
But history might look fondly upon that addition when comparing it to the 2019 addition.
As a girl struggles with her masked assailant in the snow, her efforts result in a snow angel being created as she is stabbed to death. Dragged away, the camera stays on the remnants of an angel murdered. Can you say "basic"?
In "Black Christmas 2019", college girls are still receiving text messages from an anonymous source threatening death, but it's given a feminist twist (and a trailer that gives it all away). It manages to reference the original, remake (along with blatantly stealing one of cinema's biggest scares from Exorcist 3) without any of the tension of the original or fun of the first remake. The makers also made the confounding choice to remove all gore "to ensure young girls can see it." The hubris is astounding.
When taken alone, some moments do pop - the first home invasion is a fun bit of female violence and one attic scene does manage to drum up some menace - but it collapses under its pompousness as it tries to re-balance the scales of horrors that have befallen helpless women over the past 40 years in slashers. Perhaps had this been released without the connections, the creators could have found a fun quasi "Your're Next"/"Girls with Balls" with the same message but instead it just comes across as a humorless bit of tripe.
I watched, so you don't have to
Don't drink poison just cause you're thirsty. Related, don't watch ATM even if you're bored. It is terrible. Three bankers act like idiots, allow themselves to be terrorised by a guy who has all the charisma of a doily left out in the rain, and are let down by a security system so naff it somehow captures only their indiscretions on camera, not the moments that would prove there was someone trying to murder them. The cast don't even try; they know they're collecting a pay check and that's it. Then to close we get a nice 5 minute montage of the killer prepping his next attack, as if we needed it spelled out any clearer. Awful, Awful movie. And for fans of gore, avoid. You get a smattering of blood about two thirds of the way in.
stirring sexual drama celebrating women
Ryo finds women to be dull and his life to be pointless. He has boring encounters with girls, refuses to engage with them, then stalks off to his part time job at a bar. One night, his colleague brings in a mysterious middle-aged woman who is as taken with him as he is intrigued by her. Mido-san runs a prestigious male escort club and wants Ryo to try out. Almost failing the first test, she takes him on and he begins his work as a male escort.
"Call Boy" is a fascinating look at sex and gender roles in a country where sex mostly caters to men. Women, so often overlooked in Japan, are rarely allowed to say their desire aloud, lest they appear to be loose. Sex in the media for women is often traumatic or sees many women sharing one man. Here, director Daisuke Mimura gives respect and wonder to women of all ages and desires. Ryo, a blank canvass of immature ignorance and apprehension, is our gorgeous, dreamy pair of eyes and our own escort through this unexplored part of femininity. Each scene so explicitly laid out, taking time from the first kiss to the final throes, the mess and the beauty. Each female autonomous and self-realised, making demands to increase their pleasure in the moment, or educate Ryo to be a better lover.
The movie is shocking. Frank in its depiction of sex in a country where fantasy is favoured over realism, the roots of the movie (a novel from 2001 and stage play in 2016) are on show throughout. The hazy, dreamlike hues of darkened bedrooms where light slips in just a crack, or the stuffy, dim banality of a love hotel in Shinjuku beautifully bounce light off of bodies while various fevered jazz and instrumental music riffs in the background. Mimura refuses to turn away from desire and why should he? His cast give their all to bring the sexual desires of women legitimacy.
Tori Matsuzaka, who plays Ryo, is undeniably beautiful. His blank stares giving way to eager understanding, his body lithe and vibrant. As he learns about the women who pay him, he learns about his own wants. The cold, indifferent mask slipping to show warmth and kindness. Sei Matobu, as the leader of the agency, gives a good, conflicted performance of refrained desire and mothering love. The various women Ryo encounters each offering different facets of modern Japanese women.
While the film is erotic, steamy and made me blush throughout, it also deserves to be seen for its efforts to bring light to something so long ignored in Japan. It is also a heady mix of subdued colour palettes, bold cinematography and fine acting from its multigenerational cast. Definitely recommend.
Decent descent into a demented mind
"Joker" is good. Joaquín does an excellent job as lifelong punching bag, Arthur Fleck. He lives with his unwell mother, caring for her and working as a clown for hire. He dreams of being a stand up comedian, working with his hero, Murray Franklin (played by Robert de Niro). But life has other plans. A childhood of abuse and neglect has caused Arthur some serious mental and social issues. But is it his ill health or the ill health of society that will be change him into the clown prince?
"joker" played well with ambiguity throughout its runtime. Besides the obvious laugh at inopportune moments, Arthur's mental state, heritage and fate are all cataclysmically mixed up in truth and lie. Where the joke begins and ends depends on the viewer. Even in its final moments, red footprints contrasting the dizzying peace of the blissful scene, its hard to know what has happened just moments before. Todd "the hangover" Phillips keeps a tight hold on Arthur's story throughout in his direction. The beautiful colour palettes and wondrous gaze of a camera lingering on moments of extreme violence is captivating, to be sure.
However, Phillips' style over substance can onyy take him so far and where the film flops is in its decision to dig through the dirt of joker's origin story. Far too streamlined, the film seems to be more interested in ticking boxes on its way to a conclusion, rather than doing anything new. Perhaps his accidental rise to figurehead of a generation disillusioned by disparate wealth is a realistic approach instead of "falls into toxic vat, comes back as criminal mastermind" but none of the charm of the established Joker is present here. Hes just a sad sack with mental health problems. Even a turning point at the beginning of the final act in which he states hes "not wrong, this is who I've always been" feels untrue. Joker is a maniac and genius. I wish there had been more hints at his troubled but wonderfully corrupt mind throughout, instead of a final rant that gets cut short.
Phillips aimed high, and the cast certainly pulled their weight, but the story, for such an enigmatic, charismatic villain of lore just does not do the source material justice.
Exceptionally creepy haunted house fare
The writers of "A Quiet Place" are back, this time with the blessing of torture porn artiste "Eli Roth." unlike their previous outing, they arent trying to reinvent any wheels, or push any boundaries. All theyre interested in doing is scaring the hell out of their audience. For the most part, they succeed.
Harper and Bailey are roommates and friends. Harper is nursing a fresh bruise from her abusive boyfriend, so Bailey persuades her to avoid him, and join her for a Halloween night out. The friends all gather at a club but, soon enough, one obnoxious guy has decided it's lame and time to hit a haunted house up. You'd think young adults would know by now that when a silent clown requests your handheld device, something is not right (in their defense, they do sign disclaimers first: scam artists truly are upping their games everywhere). Soon enough, a descent into madness and torture begins as the group is stalked by a witch, Satan a ghost and a madman with a chainsaw.
"Haunt" succeeds in the beginning and up until the final bloodletting, it doesn't let up. The biggest thrill here is the writers' ability to test your nerves, with moments of ambiguity, dangling hope at all times that none of this is Actually real. As the group move from situation to situation, with all sorts of horror scenarios playing out like the best sort of candy haul after a night of guising, you are right there with them as they panic, reassure themselves and try to outwit the monsters they may be trapped with.
The film, unfortunately, loses momentum as it switches gears in the final reel but for the first two thirds, it manages to unsettle in a way Tobe Hooper or Rob Zombie would be proud of. The villains are all startling in their own rights, masked and unmasked, and their little traps and tricks are simultaneously horrific, dastardly and fun to watch. A subplot about domestic abuse and the wicked web it weaves is never developed far enough for the pay off, coming across more as a deus ex machina than a true character exploration. However, by splitting up the two heroines Early on, and giving equal time to both during the early stages, it's never certain just who the "final" girl will be, creating a source of tension whenever either finds themselves in peril.
After a few years of directors taking horror, and themselves, too seriously, it's so nice to just see a horrific haunted house flick in the style of Hooper, Zombie or Wingard. It's fast, it's scary, it's brutal, it's satisfying.
The Good Fight: Day 485 (2018)
Humorous Episode Targeting Hypocrisy in the White House
When Melania's photos showed up in the final act, I knew exactly what was being skewered here.
Jay finds himself facing deportation after being pulled over by state cops while transporting a witness to a case. Thanks to the presence of Liz Reddick, the intent of the state to arrest Jay is discovered to be a ruse when Liz recognises ICE lawyers lurking. So begins a frantic chase to keep Jay locked up in state holding until they can prove he is American.
This episode resembles many previous great episodes of The Good Wife. Alicia, Diane, Kalinda and Will were always at their best when working against the clock. The same can be found here with Diane, Liz, Adrian and Marissa all doing their best to find ways to prevent the state releasing Jay while figuring out how they can prove Jay is American. Along the way are some absolutely hilarious gags (Jane Alexander reprises her role as a tough, fair judge who won't be cowed by the ICE), and brutal critiques on Trump's selection process of judges (the useless judge that Diane so masterfully buttered up a few weeks ago reveals himself to have been selected personally by Trump, and therefore loyal to whatever the federal government wants, all while struggling with the buttons on his robe).
Lucca continues to be the funniest person on this show. Cush Jumbo was magnetic on The Good Wife, but in every scene of The Good Fight, she gets to shine so wonderfully. Every beat she hits and every joke or emotional moment lands.
Eventually, the firm uses some dirty tricks to beat the ICE, but it's impossible to blame them. The hypocrisy exposed in the "Einstein" Visa program is deserving of being taken advantage off and everyone involved from the judge, the staff of Reddick, Boseman & Lockart and even the ICE realise this.
On the other side of things, Mia and Julius are battling to win a case for Colin Sweeney's new wife which, although is played mainly for gags, finds itself tied up with politics and threatens to spill out into the finale next week. The Good Fight is gathering some fantastic steam as it plows into its season 2 finale.
The Good Wife (2009)
Sexy, classy legal drama
For five years, during its original runtime, I avoided watching "The Good Wife." I didn't see the appeal in a show about a corrupt official and his lawyer wife. Even with the constant adverts from More Four, it just never appealed to me.
Then, in early 2014 I worked abroad and had no access to internet. A friend gave me the first three seasons and, after having given up on "Downton Abbey" during the second season premier, decided to give "The Good Wife" a shot.
"The Good Wife" is one of those quiet shows. It's rarely melodramatic, despite the potential for melodrama in its storylines. You get a better understanding of how Alicia is doing by how much we see her drink in an episode, than how often she screams at colleagues.
Alicia Florrick is the wife of disgraced DA, Peter Florrick. Despite the fact he maybe traded the law for sex and drugs, Alicia continues to stick by him. She actually goes further when, due to his assets being frozen, she returns to work after 16 years. How'd she get a job? Well, her ex-flame is now a named partner at a law firm and he hires her on the (secret) condition that his partner also gets to hire a new start, with only one being kept on after a year's probation. While she deals with duking it out with a boy half her age for a job in an office that makes her uncomfortable, she deals with her husband's mess through the tabloids, the blackmailers and, worst of all, his mother. Drama, no?
"The Good Wife" manages (for its first 6 and a half seasons) to find surprising and satisfying ways to remain exciting. Alicia, played by Julianna Margulies, is just such a power house of emotion and remains magnetic throughout. The creators often stumbled with the periphery characters, but Alicia is so perfectly created, from her dress sense, to her walk, to her little laugh. Even when the show dipped in the final season, Alicia remained worth watching.
That's not to say the side characters aren't pulling their own weight: Cary Agos (Matt Czuchry), Will Gardiner (Josh Charles), Diane Lockart (Christine Baranski), Peter Florrick (Chris Noth) and Kalinda Sharma (Archie Panjabi) all put in excellent work and each have arcs or moments throughout that often rival Alicia's ongoing story. My favourite story, involving Cary's false imprisonment, is one of the best montages in the show and it doesn't occur until Season 6.
Throughout the show, guest actors pop up repeatedly as judges, lawyers, family members and I don't think a performance was ever squandered. Alan Cumming, who appeared as Eli Gold, was so damn good he became a regular. Michael J Fox, Stockard Channing and Nathan lane all show up throughout the run, alongside some other surprising special guests.
My love of the show stems from Alicia's character arc. She's a tragic character who learns, unfortunately, that power comes with a price. Throughout the show, she is named "good" or "saint," but as her confidence and ability grow, and as she steps out of her husband's shadow, she becomes what she hates. Despite never losing the namesake "Saint Alicia," her actions from season 5 onwards see her use her power for selfish and mean reasons. What's interesting is that she never once sees herself as the villain. Not until the very final moment of the show when it comes full circle. She wants to get ahead in the game, who can fault her for that?
If you're on the fence about The Good Wife, I recommend jumping right on it. It's a sexy, sophisticated procedural with some stellar and exciting character arcs throughout.
Family horror at its best
Something I've found myself asking over the years is: what's passed down to us from our parents and their parents? What unlucky numbers did we inherit, which bad gene or nasty outlook did we have no choice but to accept from those who came before us? "Hereditary," Ari Aster's first full feature length takes that question and delivers one of the most disturbing answers through a highly stylised, tightly created descent into madness.
Annie has lost her mother to, what sounds like, ill mental health. The grief of the loss, the blame she feels, and the pressure of keeping herself together for her family's sake are causing her severe stress. What begins as a slow burn family drama that sees her despondent son, Peter, turn to drugs for comfort and her daughter, Charlie, to obscenely isolating acts of art, takes a brutal curve ball and from that moment begins to unravel every member of the family.
Horror works at its best when you don't see it coming, and "Hereditary" works hard to keep you in the dark until the final act without losing you to confusion or boredom. It does this by offering up the flawed and human family going through a traumatic loss. Annie and her brood are relatable in their desire to work through the issues, all while their worlds collapse around them. The tones and themes explored are all troubling and difficult to approach, but Aster and the cast work so well to keep it all together from start to finish.
Before the acts of gore and violence begin, the film works well to create an uneasy filter to see the family through. As Annie, Toni Collette looks like she's barely together from the very start, so to see her bad parenting and her own husband's suspicions of her actions doesn't ever feel improbable. The use of close ups and quick cuts gives a palpable sense of terror that builds throughout endless scenes of school hallways, entrance halls, a tree house and Annie's workshop. Everyone's grief and despair adds on and on into every scene and bad decisions are not hard to understand.
The light in it all is Joanie, a friendly face who offers Annie a listening ear and the knowledge to contact the dead in search of answers. Ann Dowd is perfect as the grieving homebody, nurturing, if a little needy and imposing. Contrast her light scenes with the family dinners, or Annie's inability to articulate at all with Peter, Charlie or her husband, Stephen. There may not be villains within the family, but they're all far too damaged to support each other when it's needed.
"Hereditary" really pays off all its meticulous efforts to twist the screws. By the time the horrors are coming out of the shadows and blood is flowing, it feels mightily cathartic, yet still deeply harrowing thanks to so much care put into developing the suffering family. The final tableau of horrors, juxtaposed with the caring voices and joyous score is one that could remain spoken about in horror circles for years.
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
A Massive, Glorious Spectacle, but wondrously incomplete
It's finally here. He's finally here. As the Hulk crashes back to Earth, and Bruce Banner returns, he gasps ,"Thanos is coming."
Back in 2010, Scream 4 was announced (Scream is my favourite horror movie), and I spent every day hungrily watching trailers and spots over and over, trying to figure out what was gonna happen. 7 years later, Infinity War released its first teaser and I had the same sense of excitement that came with the knowledge of a new Scream film. Finally, all the characters and stories would be coming together in one almighty show down of good vs evil. But just like the false starts in Scream 4, and the false endings, I was not ready for this. I don't think anyone can be.
The action begins where Ragnarok left off; Thanos has discovered the refugee Asgardians and attacks them, hoping to get the Tesseract. Thanos is not playing around. The scene is barely over before New York is under attack again and that feeling of finality hurtling toward you doesn't let up until the credits roll.
Marvel definitely took a gamble and I think it paid off. I'm amazed at the negative reviews I'm reading because it truly informs how spoiled we are that this movie received anything less than critical acclaim. It is bombastic and filled with characters that over 10 years have developed, the acting is stellar, the various tones of the different directors over the past 19 movies seeps into every detail from the colourful and playful Guardians, Thor's off beat humour, Iron Man's cripplingly humane sense of responsibility, Spiderman's youthful and exuberant laissez faire, Captain America's seriousness and Dr. Strange's mystical mind melting graphics. It's all here. Not to mention the sheer ecstasy of the return to Wakanda. Black Panther may have just come out but there's no denying the impact T'Challa and company have had on the Marvel universe.
What's more, these characters are so fleshed out and clearly defined that to see them work in tandem, and there are some surprising team ups, is just cinematic joy at a different level than I've ever experienced. Somehow, within all of this, there is even time to deliver character development and true pathos to characters such as Thor (whose story, on reflection, truly is devastating, even if he is a God), Gamora (Zoe Saldana deserves massive credit for delivering some great work against what I can only assume is a man covered in green screen during filming) and Groot, who has so little to do, and yet so much to do with the story.
The movie, however, belongs to Thanos. He is present in every scene. Even if not physically, his presence is felt as the Avengers and Guardians do everything they can to prevent his goal of gaining all the stones. In all honesty, the movie should have been called "Thanos." If Ms. Mojo was naming it, it would be "Top 10 Avenger Fails."
But, there are problems. Big ones, actually. First of all, if you have not seen many (and I mean many, not just a few) of the Marvel films, you may really struggle to join the ride. There is a lot of story involved and even though there is a small bit of exposition at the beginning, every scene is crammed with different characters with motivations that without context will feel alienating to many. Many characters are sidelined and it's hard not to believe that they are given lines just to remind us they're there. If you're a fan of Black Widow, Bucky or Shuri, check your expectations at the ticket booth. Further, it reveals itself to be a first part in a two parter towards the end which ultimately delivers a fatalistic and very depressing note. When "Empire Strikes Back" ended, it was on a message of hope. When "Infinity War" finishes, you know there's a sequel planned but that doesn't mean the writers should be let off the hook for how they end the first part.
Still, this is an amazing accomplishment and deserves to be seen at the cinema.
Better Watch Out (2016)
Warning: May Leave You With Whiplash
Found this on Netflix, having no prior knowledge of what it was about, I saw that two of the leads from "The Visit," who I thought did well in an otherwise mediocre film, were starring. So, with little expectation, and fully prepared to switch to Archer at a moment's notice, I turned it on.
Better Watch Out lies about everything. I don't even think the name is appropriate for the title. That title conjures up ideas of Santa Claus going on a rampage, or clueless teens getting their comeuppance for past transgressions. Bizarrely, Better Watch Out, upon finishing the film, I noticed, doesn't actually even try to hide what is about to transpire and that's what makes it so good.
Young Ashley is about to go off to college and takes on one last night of babysitting her favourite charge, Luke. Unbeknownst to Ashley, Luke and his best friend, Garrett, have planned to get Luke laid in the most immature way possible (seduce the babysitter with a horror movie and some moet chandon). Not only that, but her current beau is picking fights with her over the phone and her ex has been spreading some vicious rumours. She's in for a rough night. Things get far worse when she receives prank calls, and before you can say "When a Stranger Calls," she and Luke are running for their lives, trying to evade a psycho whose motive remains completely absent, but makes good on his threat to kill anyone who leaves the house. At this point, I was prepared to continue for the cast, only, because all three leads are adorable and cute, even as the situation becomes stale and predictable.
Then, and I can't stress this enough, things got switched up. Things, which already seemed pretty bad, get worse in a way that is so difficult to comprehend, I spent a good 20 minutes trying to figure out what sort of film I was actually watching. What appears to be an innocent act quickly spirals into one of utter depravity and filth, something I've not seen, ever, in a mainstream horror. Even as my brain was trying to catch up, I kept thinking "Surely this is a mistake, things can be fixed, right?"
Better Watch Out pays homage to a vast variety of horror directors, from Michael Hanneke to Joe Dante. There's a cloyingly sweet Home Alone feel to the proceedings, with a very real reference to that movie's take on self-defense,, that may ruin further viewing of Home Alone at Christmas for any viewer with a queasy stomach. Even as the leads are crumbling to violence and horror, it's hard not to watch them, they're that good. Even the supporting cast give layered performances (Luke's mother and father are comic relief, but there are cracks under the suburban happiness) and not since "Orphan" have I seen a child actor carry a horror on their shoulders.
There are some misgivings. I found it hard to believe the complicity involving certain characters, and I assume that it is just their way of coping with trauma, but I didn't believe that there'd be as much support for what occurs between those stuck in the house. Furthermore, two of the main cast are playing 12 year olds which is disturbing enough as it is, yet is further compounded by the fact the babysitter looks younger than them. It's difficult to believe there'd be such penchant for violence (physical, sexual, emotional and mental) against and perpetrated by 12 year olds.
Thankfully, the whole thing moves so fast that you barely have time to register one horrific reveal before another nasty, twisted little cut has been inflicted. It's a marvel for horror fans and, for me, will be an excellent addition to my annual christmas horror show!
The Invitation (2015)
Journeys and Destinations
I was intrigued by The Invitation due to the (seriously) glass of red wine on the poster. It looked at once mature and alluring but also incredibly dark. I convinced my brother to watch it with me one night and this is our story.
The Invitation sets itself up as a dark tale from the opening scene. A car ride ends in disaster and our hero, while going to his ex- wife's home for a dinner party, has to put an animal out of its misery. Will is unreadable, clearly suffering some form of PTSD. His girlfriend is supportive but it's obvious she's kept outside of his thought processes.
When they arrive at the dinner party, it's hard to believe they know any of the guests. Actually, they've all been friends for years but, as anyone who's ever gone to a dinner part would know, it can be hard to be comfortable when there is a giant, dead elephant in the room. Everyone is at once eerily cheery but also naturally superficial. Is it Will's attitude that's causing conversation to stop dead every time people are reminded of his presence?
Eden enters and you realise she's struggling just as much as Will. Eden is Will's ex, newly remarried and eager to show off the lifestyle that has brought her peace. It's revealed that their son died in an accident and that the grief and blame tore the couple apart. The difference between Eden and Will is, she's trying (not very well, mind you) to get over it.
And so there you have it. A middle-class dinner party that is about grief and madness and red wine. The guests are trying hard to forget the ugliness of the tragedy that rendered all their lives and Will is doing his damndest to drag the corpse into the light for everyone to gape at. Who's really crazy here? Is it the middle-class manners that mean avoiding harsh topics and not allowing your friends the chance to really grieve? Is it the grieving father who wants to find horror in everything just to cope? Or is it the grieving mother who has turned to a specific religion to help her understand life and death?
As the tension mounts and conversation topics become darker and harder to avoid, Will's becomes increasingly paranoid. Both he and Eden are looking for answers to their son's death and perhaps they could be found if they weren't too busy with one trying to blame the other and one doing all they can to forget.
The director does a stellar job in maintaining a mundane and banal tone to the first half of the film. These people are dull but their situation has forced them to be. As the evening continues, though, the sense of screws turning, pennies dropping and clothes shedding becomes palpable. People are not who they seem and it's difficult to tell who is being honest with their intentions and who isn't just plain crazy.
The movie builds to a dazzling final act that is satisfyingly violent. Not only that but it offers a devastating look at grief and how easily those grieving can be manipulated.
So when we started watching, my brother was complaining about the banality of the conversations. The lack of anything compelling. As the story continued, he began to quieten down. When it finished, he told me, two days later, that he couldn't stop thinking about it. Such was the impact that a story steeped in humanity gone awry had had on him. And myself, for that matter. I'd recommend it. EVeryone is talking about Get Out right now but The Invitation was there first. Go on, accept the invitation.
If you truly like the original, you'll like this one, too.
I've just returned from watching a film I was skeptical about. Having four women lead a film originally led by men gave me the impression I would be watching some trendy, PC, equal opportunities mess. Instead, Ghostbusters is a mess of fun, scares, truly unPC antics.
A mad man has found a way to break the wall between the living and the dead. As he releases ghosts and ghouls on the unsuspecting people of Manhattan, it is up to a group of disgraced scientists and a lonely MTA worker to put a stop to it.
Ghostbusters works because, rather than cast four women to play the exact same roles as the ones made famous by Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson and Harold Ramis, they are allowed to create their own chemistry and characters. They're all strong comedians and they're all given the chance to show off. The film doesn't feel like a retread of the old material, rather a hilarious, modern take on a hilarious, once modern spectacle. Of course, a lot of the original shock and awe is missing here because, as an audience, we know what to expect, but in the one of the films funniest scenes involving a mannequin and a rock concert, Feig and co prove they've got cause to be here.
I was familiar with McCarthy and Wiig. Their work on Bridesmaids was stellar but I've found McCarthy's humour to be far too coarse (except in Spy) and I've not seen Wiig since. McKinnon and Jones are an added blast of crazy cool.
As for the unPC nature, Chris Hemsworth is sexualised beyond belief. Playing dumb as a coot and as fit as Adonis, he shines and almost steals the show from the girls. Not to mention, one of the Ghostbuster's almost flagrant touching of him and you're amazed no one has called in social services. The film isn't man hating, it's not "feminist" propaganda. It's a movie that just so happens to have women kicking ass.
The film is messy, though. Like the original, it's kind of all over the place. However, it's amusement more than makes up for it. Kristen Wiig running helter skelter down Manhattan telling people to evacuate whilst a possessed McCarthy rotates her head a la Exorcist elicited big laughs from the audience I saw it with. There were also moments of collective gasps. The 3D is some of the finest I've seen in film, yet. Although the ending is flat and runs out of steam before the final ghost has been apprehended, it still manages to find a source of entertainment.
By far the most fun I've had at the cinema since Captain America, I'd give this 4/5.
X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
An utter mess, a complete disappointment
I'm being kind by giving it 6 stars.
While not the worst in the X-Men franchise (that accolade still goes to Origins), Apocalypse is a film that never makes it out of the starting gate and stumbles towards a dull, fantastically messy end.
I waited two weeks after the release to go watch. Having heard nothing but bad reviews, I said to myself "These people have high expectations after Civil War and Days of Future Past." Obviously, I too had high expectations but I reminded myself to accept it at face value: as entertainment.
It was clear from the very beginning when Xavier (James McAvoy) began his speech about mutants and humans that this series had run aground, was out of steam. Everything about the film has been done in previous ones and has been done better. The action is limp, the special effects are bombastic but uncharacteristically unimaginative. Characters dissolve into puddles of nostalgia and dreariness. What remains of plot is nothing but a hodge-podge of half-baked strands from the previous films - Jean Grey and her worrisome dark Phoenix power, Xavier trying to convince Magneto not to be evil, Magneto trying to be good but ultimately letting evil win over, Cyclops trying not to blast Jean Grey. Hell, even Wolverine turns up just long enough for him to escape from Stryker and get his memories back (cause that already happened in X-Men, X-2 and Origins, right?).
In the previous 3 films (Wolverine, First Class and Days of Future Past), a lot of effort was put into location and setting. Part of the fun was the attention to detail as these established characters navigated various periods or cultures. The groovy spy flavours added to First Class and the mind bending, time bending disaster epic of DOFP helped elevate those films beyond simple superhero fare. Sadly, Singer has dispensed with setting or detail and plays this simply as a monster of the week episode of Buffy. And while we visit Poland, USA and Egypt in the 1980s, they could be anywhere. The closest we get to the decade is a throwaway conversation about Star Wars and the Eurythmics "Sweet Dreams" in another Quicksilver set piece.
The direction, and this is a major upset for me because I think Singer is fantastic, is dire. At no point does he even bother to build tension or ratchet up suspense towards the inevitable conclusion or good vs evil. His villain, Apocalypse, spends 3/4 of the film trying to get his team together and the final quarter losing. For all his apparent smarts, he chooses the worst possible horsemen in Storm (a self-confessed fan of Mystique), Magneto (who apparently has tried living in communist Poland with disastrous consequences), Angel (a drunk) and Psylocke (apparently a great fighter). None of them interact with each other, none of them do much other than stand around, gurning at the camera. Needless to say the twists as members turn on him and others get defeated easily doesn't come as a surprise. There's little offered that suggests that Apocalypse is a force to be reckoned with and his team do nothing but grin and stand behind him for majority of the film. Bizarrely, Stryker turns up halfway through but his appearance is confusing and does nothing to propel the story. So far the story seems to be that Apocalypse wants horsemen and that seems to be it for plot.
None of the cast get much to do. The new additions are quiet and behave in a confused manner. Apocalypse wanders around like Emperor Palpatine but with all the menace of Father Jack. Oscar Isaac tries to chew up the scenery as Vincent Price, it just made me want to watch Vincent Price. Much excitement was incited when Jubilee turned up in the cast list but clearly she isn't Singer's type because she has even less to do than some Egyptian fanatics at the very beginning. There is a repeat of Quicksilver's hilarious power but it serves only to highlight the lack of ideas present. Sophie Turner and Tye Sheridan do get more to do than most others but Turner still has a long way to go until she's as captivating as Famke Jansen. Her relationship with Xavier is barely explored so when he begs her to "let loose! Unleash your power!" you'd be forgiven for wondering why she would when she has probably zero trust in him and he in her.
Ultimately, the film is a fail. There's very little to get excited about here. The returning cast deliver their lines with a cringeworthy manner that suggests they're ready to move on and the lack of detail to character, setting and themes proves that Singer has gotten all he can out of the X-Men. Perhaps Fox should bite the bullet and return the X-Men to Marvel before they attempt to "reboot" the franchise again.
'Twas the Night Before Christmas...
and we all fell promptly asleep out of boredom.
Krampus is the story of a family (and a society) that has lost its Christmas spirit. While relatives gather and children bicker, one kid has had enough and gives up what remains of his Christmas cheer. Unsuspectingly, he summons Krampus, the less friendly of Christmas heroes and suddenly the family home is under siege from dark elves, demon goats and monstrous toys.
What starts out as a possible thrill ride with an abundance of black humour and scares slowly reveals itself to be a completely confused mess of horror, comedy and drama. Not scary enough to maintain the energy or suspense, not funny enough to cut through the slower moments and not enough real reason to care for a family that doesn't really seem to have any problems other than the fact that they all find each other slightly annoying. The pacing is far too slow for a horror - its plodding and bloated with far too many things happening in between scary moments, consistently dampening any terror you may be feeling. About halfway through we're treated to an animation of Krampus' history which is neither interesting nor originally animated and comes straight after the kidnapping/murder of a child... not really the time for storytelling, is it? It's not entirely made clear what happens to any of the caught victims so it's never that scary if they're caught - they could be taken to a spa for treatments or forced to watch "It's a Wonderful Life" on repeat for all we know.
Saying that, there is some fun to be had. The adult cast are great and seem to be having a lot of fun. Conchita Ferrell is hilarious as an alcoholic, acerbic aunt and David Koechner does what he does best.
The biggest disappointment arises when the mania finally sets in. Having given no real indication of what Krampus or his minions are capable of, it's rather confusing when a bunch of demonic toys wreak havoc. Although it's a hilarious (and at moments scary) scene, this should have been a manic release of all the tension so far built. Instead, the poor direction and editing has just led us into the event with no real giddiness.
Gremlins this is not. Nor is it Black Christmas (2006). Unhappily, it occupies some squalid straddle over Bad Santa, The Grinch and Nightmare Before Christmas. A lot of good potential squandered on a dull and unoriginal script, lazy editing and unfortunate direction. If you can't sleep on Christmas Eve, watch Krampus, it'll send you off in a second.
Jessica Jones (2015)
A great addition to the Marvel Canon
Jessica Jones has problems. She wants to be a hero but can't seem to get over her disastrous past. She has a drinking problem. She has no friends. She hates herself. She was manipulated into killing her lover's wife. She's also super-strong and can jump high. Between her constant self-loathing, she finds out others' dirty secrets and gets paid for it. She really hates herself.
And it's into this World we are slowly submerged. The story telling a slow drowning into her horrid life. When we first meet Jessica, she's on the case to find a young girl who may have been abducted. Before the first episode is over, things have gotten pretty bad. Really bad. We are also introduced to the movers and shakers and a few of their problems: Trish Walker, Gerry Hogarth, Luke Cage, Kilgrave, Malcolm.
As Jessica tries to redeem herself and keep an innocent girl out of jail, the show goes from film noir to horror. A bit like Chinatown or Angel Heart except with superpowers and far more violence. The show really hits its stride in the second act when a game of cat and mouse plays out with some horrific consequences and dirty mind games. The horror the show has only hinted at comes out of nowhere and the pace doesn't let up til the finale.
However, the finale is a bit of a letdown after such a strong climb. It seems the writers or producers had no imagination (or not enough episodes) to really bring about the destruction they wanted their incredible villain to rain down. It's rushed and a little clunky and a little unbelievable but for everything that has come before, you can almost forgive it.
The cast are great. Krysten Ritter flexing muscles I didn't know she had. She plays sarcastic bitch well but I didn't know she could also do incredibly vulnerable, self-hating soul. Her best friend Trish is played by Rachel Taylor and their chemistry is great. They are a really good antidote to all the masculinity Marvel indulges in. Two very realistic women who are having to fight twice as hard. The supporting cast including Carrie Ann Moss is a delight. Moss' character, a shark of a lawyer, is a great foil to both the villain Kilgrave and Jones. She's in it just for herself and while she is happy to help Jones, her decisions to get something out of it are purely believable and the consequences for her and others are deserved. However, the star of the show is David Tennant as Kilgrave. A delightfully unhinged psychopath whose only motive is to make Jessica fall in love with him. Not interested in blowing up a city or gentrification or making money (his power supersedes all desires) the only thing he can't have is Jessica and he really, really wants her. Watching him manipulate everyone to get her attention and watching him fail to keep her time and again is a remarkable thing. When he finally launches into a series of violent murders, it's almost like some twisted explosion of sexual tension and his idea of a love letter to her.
The other attraction is the story. It starts slow but as we move along, we learn that every little detail meant something. This adds a severe level of gravitas to the final episodes and rewards your viewing. Not a contrived story or moments of shocking revelations, everything is pulled together as their mind games are played out.
I've heard a lot of complaints and I suspect it's due to the show being focused on females. I think, compared to all other superhero shows around, Jessica ranks in the top. A believable hero. A cast of interesting and flawed humans. The ability to shock without resorting to tricks. Some kick ass action and a nasty, nasty villain. I'd heartily recommend Jessica Jones.
How to Get Away with Murder (2014)
I don't usually use the term guilty pleasure...
This is definitely a time to use it. Unlike other ABC shows I used to watch like Desperate Housewives, I never heard a good word about HTGAWM. When Desperate Housewives first appeared there were plaudits and comparisons with Six Feet Under and Sex & The City. Much like DH, this show centres on a mystery (who killed Lila Stangart and how are the main characters going to get away with murder?). Add to that some of the horniest students and professionals I've seen on television since Queer as Folk, you've got a great mix of intrigue, hysteria and mystery. It doesn't pretend to be a good show. It's overblown, it's riddled with over-acting, the plot is paper thin and the court scenes are like cheap episodes of "The Good Wife." And it works in the shows favour. It's so good because it never once puts on the front of being a good television show. It's trashy and dirty and Viola Davis is absolutely amazing. If you're needing to wind down after a hard day of actual work, tune in to How To Get Away With Murder and enjoy the petty dramas of an oversexed, over-thinking, overdressed cast. The jury is out - How To Get Away With Murder is guilty! Guilty of being pleasurable.
A show celebrating life in all its glory
I was interested in the idea of this show when I first heard of it. People from all over the World, connected psychically and chased by an unknown assailant. What I was expecting was something akin to Heroes Series 1 but what you get are 12 perfectly created episodes that do more than just revel in abilities and the unknown.
The show begins ominously with Daryl Hannah talking to a the devil and angel on her shoulders. She's just given birth to 8 people and it seems the army have caught up with her. As she struggles with choices, we see her eight children (not children but adults given a gift) witness something they shouldn't be privy to and so begins the show.
Thankfully, the show slows down a lot after that. The eight children of Angelica slowly begin to realise what has happened to them and amidst the confusion and fear there is a lot of joy and wonder as these strangers learn the beauty and quality to be found in different lives. Balancing out this character drama is a hefty bit of action as two of the main eight are continuously hunted and a further few are involved in severe acts of violence.
Part of the show's appeal is the globe trotting as each of the characters live in different continents, countries and cities (Chicago, San Francisco, Mexico City, Nairobi, Mumbai, London, Reykjavik, Berlin, Seoul). The beauty of the show is in the reactions when they find themselves sharing moments they can't even begin to describe. In one scene, an Icelandic girl living in London remarks "I've never been to America..." when she first meets Will, a cop. In another, an Indian heiress is overwhelmed by the climate in Berlin "It rains like this in Mumbai but it's never this cold!" They slowly gain confidence in one another, sharing their histories and loves. Some of the best scenes are when they share their music or ceremonies with one another and you are allowed into a place that feels private and wonderful. Other moments are life affirming.
The characters are also fully realised. Not all of them accept their new circumstances right away and others treat it as a mere diversion. Some are ready to help and others have absolutely no idea what is going on. There's true craft in the story and it's more than shows such as Heroes ever were. The subtlety to the actions taken show real thought went into every character. They are all creators and destroyers. The inclusion of scenes of reflection and beauty allow the moments of badassery to be far more effective and important to the overall story.
Add to that some incredible photography and great montages and you have yourself a winner. Stand out scenes include a psychic orgy, a Bollywood wedding ceremony, the decimation of a gang in Nairobi, a painful birth experience in Iceland. It'll be interesting to see if the following seasons can maintain the shows quality, I truly hope it does. This show is one that celebrates life in all its forms and should be watched by everyone
Jurassic World (2015)
Jurassic World sees the fruition of John Hammond's work come to life when, 21 years after Jurassic Park opened (and permanently closed) its doors, a new park is successfully up and running. Sadly, for all those involved, humanity is so bored of T. rex and velociraptors that attendance is down and so is sponsorship. Therefore, thanks to Henry Wu (B.D. Wong reprising his role from the original), the lab have created a monster to woo back guests and moolah. Obviously, much like John Hammond's first attempt at messing with nature, things don't turn out as they planned.
Chris Pratt is a velociraptor trainer (what?) who is brought in to inspect the fence surrounding this new investment by Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), who just happens to have family visiting for the week who are currently going through a crisis. She's far too busy to hang out with her socially misguided nephews and dumps them with her PA. Naturally, they promptly run off. Owen, the trainer, is being wooed by InGen (remember them?) to use these trained velociraptors as weapons of war. The scene is set for carnage. Or is it?
What follows is so mind-numbingly dull, obvious and really rather badly put together that you will be forgiven for believing you're watching a cartoon or magic show.
The main issue is that, unlike its original predecessor (or even Lost World) it can't make its mind up if its family entertainment or adult horror. This new dinosaur has every ability to terrify and yet instead the characters are faced with these horrific situations in which they remain entirely stoic or consider with mild curiosity. Contrast that with the girl in the original wetting herself before she'd even set eyes on the T-Rex and then entering a fit of cerebral palsy when confronted by a bronchiosaur. Here, two children are brutally attacked and barely a minute later are having a wander around the old jurassic park site, enjoying the murals and technology on show. Not to mention having the wits to hotwire and refuel a car that's over 20 years old. If these horrific acts occur and the characters who are facing them don't care, why should the audience?
Part of the problem is pacing. The Indominus Rex escapes 20 minutes into the film, we see it in all it's glory five minutes later and then for another 2 hours watch it tear the park apart. That is far too long a time to watch a set piece implode. Therefore scenes of exposition and moments of incredulity occur to further the plot and push the I. Rex towards the park. When it finally reaches the park, 20,000 guests seem undisturbed by the massacre occurring. One very nasty moment sees a woman repeatedly drowned and bitten by pterodactyls only to be eaten by a much bigger dinosaur and the characters watching do nothing but enjoy the show. Could they actually help? Probably not. Would they watch like it was an episode of Sex and the City? Doubtful, also.
And the CGI... the CGI! Good God, the first thing you see is a CG bird and my first thought was "obviously this is a simulation at the park," but no, this is real, this is a bird generated by computer graphics that is meant to be in the real world. Great to know that in a movie redolent with CGI that it is going to be rather bad. It really, truly is. No scope, not one iota of attention devoted to realism, this is a cartoon through and through.
However, not all of it is bad. The dino fights are brutal and the few new ramifications for the park are wonderful to mull over and talk about after. Chris Pratt, despite playing the worst possible character ever (a velociraptor trainer?!?!?!) manages to remain charismatic and heroic. Bryce D. Howard is also compelling as a control freak watching her World be destroyed bit by bit.
All in all, however, my advice is to go home, by the original on blu-ray or 3D, invest in a good TV and sound system and just scare yourself silly with the original. You'll be pleased you did.
Higurashi no naku koro ni (2006)
Decent Anime - Questions and Answers
In the town of Hinamizawa, a group of young friends violently die shortly after the annual Wataganashi festival. For four episodes, these kids have been your eyes and ears into a World where paranoia and murder lurk just below the surface of a cute and loving exterior.
And so the cycle begins again and again. Each time with different results.
The story of Hinamizawa begins quite confusingly. As the chapters of each cycle develop, more hints as to what is really going on are dropped and it becomes more of a puzzle in which the audience has to put things into perspective. In almost a David Lynch manner, people are not who they appear to be, bizarre goings on are never fully revealed or solved (perhaps they never even happened) and a seemingly innocent act can descend into a massacre.
I found the story to be a bit too kitsch for me in the beginning but it quickly finds its momentum and continues to build strength. When you first encounter the show it's all very scary and hard to understand. However, as it progresses, the edge of the show moves from violent horror to psychological terror. Knowing the fates of each of the young people from the beginning and seeing them struggle to survive or overcome their mistakes becomes increasingly depressing and tough to watch so even though the camera begins to look away when they're being murdered, it hurts even more.
Truly disturbing at times and a testament to the strength of storytelling, I'd recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good story or just unfiltered gore. Because there is a lot of it. Season One is by far the more violent of the two seasons so viewer discretion is advised. I'd also recommend that you source the second season for it explains fully the mystery of Hinamizawa. Also, watch it with subtitles, the dubbing is really rather poor.
Hunter x Hunter (2011)
A great series, more than your average cartoon
First off, a disclosure. I am no anime expert. My interest in anime is fairly new and it's very superficial so perhaps I am not the best person to review this title. However, having watched all available episodes on Netflix and then begging friends for the final 48 episodes I feel moved to give my opinions as to why I will quite likely re-watch it, and recommend it unequivocally.
Hunter begins simply by introducing you to it's main protagonist and his companions as they undergo a tough series of challenges to gain their Hunter license. In the World of Hunter x Hunter, bizarre creatures exist and, apparently so just magic. Gon Freecss is a 12 year old boy who has grown up around nature. Having learned that his father is not at all dead and had abandoned him to live a life as a Hunter, Gon sets out to learn why his dad cares more about his job by becoming a Hunter himself. In the process of finding this out, he also hopes to gain the skills and intel necessary to find his dad, Ging.
Essentially, what separates this show from other cartoons is the narrative and incredible use of characters and histories. It is a fully realised World and the characters are all flesh and blood and believable. Although it starts slow and Gon may be a hard character to get behind (seemingly never being bested by anyone and terminally optimistic), the show eventually shows its teeth and begins chomping at the naivety of its young cast. Themes of bad overcoming good, child exploitation, drug cartels and the socio-economic effects of nations run by weapons and drugs and dictatorships (with some thinly veiled attacks on North Korea and the USA's dropping of atomic bombs on Japan thrown into the mix), not to mention hinted at themes of paedophilia and statutory rape, the show gradually reveals an ugly side of the World to young Gon and Killua. The show is also never short on gore with some truly disturbing moments (the aftermath of a character's torture in the 4th arc, the Bomber's Little Flower ability in the 5th arc and a lot of the penultimate arc are quite horrific).
Gon and Killua eventually make for a great couple of companions in which to visit this World. Gon, naive and simple, and Killua who is much too wise beyond his years offer contrasting views on the good and bad within other humans. Their friendship strengthens believably throughout the series and the underlying homosexual tones are sweet and never overblown or gratuitous. As Gon becomes more spiteful towards the World (or aware of the fact that being nice won't always win out), Killua seeks to become kinder and connected to other people. As the series draws to a close, both of them are much stronger and mature with Killua capable of companionship and Gon capable of making hard decisions.
The other stand out characters are Kurapika and Hisoka. Kurapika, whilst being in probably less episodes than any of the other main cast is given an entire arc when he comes face to face with those who murdered his family, "The Phantom Troupe." Consisting of some of the most strongest, deadliest thieves and villains in this World, Kurapika is forced close to heartlessness and devastation to bring about his revenge. What's fascinating about Kurapika is his yin and yang - for the most part he is by far the most stable and sensible of the cast and yet there are flashes of the rage and blind fury that propels him. In the arc we see him become so committed to his cause that he is confronted with the choice to sacrifice Gon in order to win or be satisfied with waiting til another opportunity presents itself.
Hisoka, on the other hand, is chaos incarnate. He lives for no one but himself. This makes him a great ally but also, for majority of the show, a constant pain in the foot for Gon and every other human alive. He has no qualms about killing people and although he is sexually attracted to Gon and Killua, if the situation called for it, he'd kill them.
The animation, especially within the fights, is outstanding. As the show's more complex details are brought to light (the case of magic or aura), the animation in fights becomes even more breathtaking. The climactic fight between Kurapika and a member of the Phantom Troupe is insane. The use of colour and sound help push the fight into territory I've never seen before in standard cartoons or even live action. Other stand out moments include Gyro's tale, the fight between Gon and Hisoka and whenever Killua uses his Godspeed.
The other beautiful aspect of the show is the music. Expertly used and heightening many moments, it changes the show from just a cartoon to a serious and deserving series. The songs that are used to close the episodes are thought out and a lot of important moments are amplified (the death of Ponzu has a seriously creepy riff playing underneath before the moment and then after, most of the Phantom Troupe's maniacal damage is even scarier due to the choral music and Killua finding Gon inches from death's door in the final moments of the Chimera Ant arc is made even more heartbreaking by the lamento for piano).
All in all, I'd recommend Hunter X Hunter to anyone who enjoys action and drama. It contains all the right ingredients to be compelling viewing, subverting expectations and shocking at times whilst being tender and honest at others. Not to mention some incredibly directed and animated fighting. And, let's be honest, it's what you're watching for, isn't it?
American Horror Story (2011)
unbelievable disappointment awaits
Over three seasons, this show continues to come along with very exciting premises, and then (at varying times throughout each season) falls apart at the seems.
Ryan Murphy seems to be incapable of reigning it in. Rather than focus on all the good he has, especially in season 3, he manages, in 13 episodes to throw even more in, discarding stories he might find boring without tying them up, writing things into a corner so that they're forgotten about the next week to allow the story to continue, killing and reviving and killing and reviving, not to mention the stupidly confusing choices the characters make along the way.
So let's begin with the biggest waste this season: Fiona Goode. Jessica Lange has created, until now, two successful anti-heroes. Both were twisted and cynical but also possessed a capacity for love (albeit of a bizarre manner). Fiona Goode, her character in this season, is nothing but a tired rehash of those two women; same mannerisms, same accent, same attitude. She murders a young girl in one instant and then revives a still-born baby the next. Then she repeats the cycle again. There's only so many times a viewer can be bothered sympathising or hating someone. Along the way, one just gets bored.
The next biggest disappointments occur in two new additions to the cast: Angela Basset and Kathy Bates. Both do so much with what they're offered (Kathy eventually just reprising Annie Wilkes and Angela as the sassy black sidekick) that it ruins the entire season (how, if a casting director or even show creator can find nothing more to do with two gifted veteran actors can he possibly have had any idea of what to do with the show in the first place?). It's sickening, really. Kathy plays the villain Madame LaLaurie who was cursed by Angela's Marie Laveau to live forever. Entombed beneath New Orleans, LaLaurie is released by Fiona to discover the secret of youth. However, when Marie Laveau discovers that LaLaurie was released, she sends her demon army after the coven.
LaLaurie, clearly a psychopath, spends most of the season repenting and learning from the African American witch, Queenie. So it's bizarre that she spends so long repenting when she's devoid of feelings (what a waste of ten episodes to discover what we already knew). Marie Laveau, probably the most grey of the characters in this season, laments the passing of her minotaur pet who she set out to kill the Salem witches. She then bangs on about a truce being broken by the Salem witches. Honey, I don't want to go all first grade on you but you broke the truce first! Apparently, she had been breaking it for a while. So, who exactly are we supposed to support in this cluster-mug?
Surely it must be the young students of the Coven?!? Four young women all nearing the edge of reason who require nothing more than a wrong look to kill someone? Who kill and revive one another and then eventually just kill one another? Who love to soliloquise the end of the Coven and of the Witch line whilst they maim and murder and brutalise themselves and others publicly? Yeah, they seem a safe bet...
Maybe it's the supporting cast we should root for? Misty Day, Chordelia SpiritFingers or Myrtle? Whilst the least offensive of the cast, they also seem the most useless. Misty has the power to revive people and spends her days dancing to Stevie Nicks in a swamp until a Witch Hunter tries to kill her. Then she just gets killed at the coven, anyway. Chordelia SpiritFingers is the headmistress of the school and Coven and daughter of Fiona. She seems nice. I mean, she spends her days in a garden doing nothing but crying about how useless she is whilst her charges burn down houses, flip buses, shag men to death and force the neighbours to ingest bleach... Then she gets the power of sight (you might think she'd become proactive) but can't even figure out that her husband is a Witch Hunter (maybe it's poetic that she's blinded by her love of him, I just found it sloppy writing). Myrtle, Myrtle Myrtle Myrtle. Frances Conroy is the one thing I like about this season. She's batty. She's cookie. She's just plain nuts. She's also highly entertaining. However, like the other two, she kinda just dies and then comes back only to die again. She also melon balls some eye balls and looks peachy doing it. Guess that's alright.
So, to cap this off, this season is a mess. If you read this and thought "Gee, he sounds messy," I won't take responsibility. I've tried to linearise the plot strands. It's impossible. It's messy. It's confused. It's full of style and contains no substance. I applaud an almost all female cast but when they're reduced to bickering over men, murdering children for their youth or backstabbing one another for power, I can't help but feel they must all be ashamed. I know I'd be.
Fairy Tail: Fearî teiru (2009)
lather, rinse, repeat! But it's ohhhh so shiny!!!
I really don't know how best to write this...
I just binged on the first 48 episodes thanks to Netflix.
Fairy Tail is the story of a wizard guild set in a World a lot like ours. It begins with Lucy, a young user of celestial magic who wants to join the Fairy Tail guild. After meeting Natsu, she is inducted into the guild and meets (amongst others); Gray, Erza, Loke, Elfman, Mira, Cana. What follows is the relationships, surprises and histories of majority of these characters.
The show essentially, after the first few episodes of meeting everyone, follows the same patter; the team accept a mission, they meet some impossibly hard foe, the foe has henchmen, the minor characters defeat the henchmen and are rendered incapable, Natsu defeats the big bad (sometimes with help/ encouragement from others). In amongst the fighting, or just before/after, we'll be introduced to the next big bad, or it will be hinted at, and then we'll have a nice reprieve before it all begins again.
So, due to this, the character development can be a bit lousy - the only 'development' I remember is Elfman and his history with Lisanna which builds to the unleashing of Mira's true powers in the penultimate episode. We never see the characters training, they usually just get better when they need to. Lucy's celestial guardians seem kind of lame when we first meet them all (Taurus looses against a monkey) but then they just keep getting better because the enemies just keep getting (apparently) harder. Natsu always seems to fight like someone who's never been in a fight when he first encounters a bad guy but then, after being pummelled (and after a reminder of the true strength that lies within him from Erza or Gray or Makarov or Gajeel or Happy) rises up and, using the same technique that just had his butt handed to him, wins.
Then there's the illicit details of how the magic is working. I mean, really, I can't be bothered to here for the umpteenth time how that magic spell will obliterate everything in its path. I can figure out why Natsu is shooting flames out his feet to act like a jet and penetrate a forcefield, thank you very much... is this a Japanese thing? The need to be so heavy with exposition?
Add to that the very confusing dialogue (I watched with subtitles) which never seems grammatically correct and you're sometimes confused as to how Erza's armour just happens to be the right combination... and how did Gray just? Oh never mind.
Because this show is awesome.
The magic and action sequences are always a lot of fun and very high energy. Some of the magic abilities are really cool (one summons a demon that tears its way into our reality, that one was spooky). Even if they do talk so much. My favourite is probably Juvia (as in Lluvia, the Spanish for rain). She's an elemental, or so they say, and has complete control over water. She can create it, manipulate it, transform into it... some of my favourite fight scenes involve her, so it's always a shame when she gets knocked out or incapacitated before even getting started. The animation is some of the coolest I've ever seen. I love the character and the magic, not to mention the scenery and moods that the animators create.
Then there's the soundtrack, if only they put the same energy into the writing as they did the soundtrack! The score is just breathtaking. Hooks all over the place. Strings to make a grown man weep at just the right moment. It's very folksy and reminds me of the Game of Thrones theme tune. Perhaps the person who wrote for GoT got the inspiration from Fairy Tail?
The other awesome factor involves the characters. Although they're criminally underused at times, they are all different and all memorable. Each of them have strengths and weaknesses and quirks and, surprising for a serial cartoon (or any series for that matter), they're yet to become plot devices. They remain true to themselves throughout. The only issue I have is that, when one of them seemingly sacrifices themselves for the good of the guild (and it happens a lot), the awesome soundtrack kicks in and it seems like someone is about to bite the bullet. But then it turns out they were only knocked out... I mean, if you're gonna be knocked out, you probably don't need to make such a song and dance of it.
So, despite some bad writing flaws and a fair bit of unoriginal writing, Fairy Tail is still one of my favourite animes. I'm constantly saying, "just one more" so they must be doing something right, right?
The Purge (2013)
confused and not fully explored
Such a terrific idea gone to waste. It's happened before and it will probably happen again. Sadly, with all its "Funny Games," "Assault on Precinct 13" and "Them" influences, it manages to be nothing more than a boring, cliché-ridden, confused mess.
The premise is simple; one night a year, for 12 hours, the population of the USA have the legal right to commit any crime they desire, including murder. One man and his family have gotten rich off this programme by selling security systems to his rich neighbourhood. This year he's going to get his comeuppance.
what could follow is a film that explores the money made on fear and the conspicuous consumption ideology of middle class America and Europe. It's also fun to watch the bourgeoisie get what's coming to them. Instead, shortly after the 'Purge' commences, most sense and ideas go out the window: the writers can't even come up with a decent villain.
As soon as the 'Polite Leader' of the freaks arrives, gurning at the Ethan Hawke's terrified James through CCTV, all tension is lost. We know exactly how it will pan out and, unsurprisingly, that's exactly how it pans out. Except, well, the whole Ethan Hawke having awesome combat skills for some lily-livered business man. There's barely a whiff of danger and no game of chess played between hunter and hunted. Unlike other home invasion films (the aforementioned ones as well as "Panic Room," in particular), the main characters here seem to have every idea of what is happening and every idea of how to prevent it. There's also very little to fight for in this film; Jodi Foster and Naomi Watts were both fighting for their families in their films and the poor couple in "Them" were fighting just to stay alive. Ethan Hawke, however charismatic, isn't fighting for the justice or injustice of "The Purge," his belief in the system is never clarified and he certainly doesn't seem to be fighting for his family seeing as they all seem too cosy and miserable in their massive home.
Sadly, the writers don't know what to do with their cast and characters disappear and reappear on a whim, doing very little but pushing the film towards an inevitable climax. There's a homeless man who puts the gears in motion and some neighbours who are/aren't the family's saviours but they're all so inconsistent. This could have played like a more violent Hitchcock film or at the very least a smarter version of "Mother's Day" but fails in both aspects - too loose and underdeveloped for Hitchcock and too lacking in conviction and horror to be "Mother's Day." The fact that the main antagonist is cornier than Blowfeld makes the whole thing even harder to stomach - was he aiming for Michael Pitt in "Funny Games?"
All in all, the film ends criticising the violence it is based on making the protagonists nothing more than a bunch of cowards who are too afraid to stand up for their convictions. I sincerely doubt that this is the film they wanted to make.
Superb drama held together by the leading lady and director
"Gloria" is one of those rare films; a female lead film that doesn't deal in hysterics or cattiness. The eponymous heroine dives into life and all its glories and miseries with such gusto that it's impossible not to be swept away with her.
After 12 years of being single and dancing in single bars with men in their 60s, Gloria meets a nervous but lovely and loving man, Rodolpho. He's recently divorced and still largely involved in the lives of his ex-wife and their two daughters. Can Gloria, who's children are fiercely independent and whose only real relationship seems to be with her maid, overlook this gentleman's problems and find happiness? Paulina Garcia is so candid in her acting that at times I was just completely shocked by her realistic approach. Gloria wasn't a parody or morality tale, she was a woman. And a woman a lot like my mum. Having been single for so long and having built a life for herself, she struggled to let this man with his weaknesses into her life. Her scenes with Rodolpho and on her own contrasted so shockingly.
At times sad and at times happy but never melodramatic or hysterical, "Gloria" took a mature and beautiful approach to life after 50. The nuances and psychological differences between Gloria and Rodolpho were prevalent but never overplayed or preached to the audience. Her scenes between her children and her highlighted her role in their lives - she was free of their dependency and, although Rodolpho seemed desperate to have that in his life, Gloria was desperate to be more a part of theirs. The one scene in which both children are together at a birthday party with Gloria and Rodolpho gives the audience so much. Needless to say, the tension and energy created when Rodolpho comes face to face with the competitors for her affection is incredible and destructive and so very, very real. The beautiful photography around the dinner table creates a visual feast of anxiety, jealousy, love and pride.
I went to watch this film with my mum. That was slightly awkward. The film contains some serious sex scenes between two middle aged people entering old age. The degree of passion present in them also took me aback. I started to look at my mum a bit differently after this film...
Finally, you probably won't see a more euphoric end to a film. When Gloria gets up to dance to the disco stormer of the 80s named after her, you'll be hard pressed not to join in.
Quite possibly the most fun I've had at the cinema in a long time.
Scream 4 (2011)
Great opening, great closing, really rather bad in the middle.
Kevin Williamson, or Ehren Kreuger, must have paid attention in English class; open an essay with a strong introduction and close with a persuasive conclusion and you can be forgiven for the middle part (heck, markers hardly pay any attention to that part so what the Hell). This is the case with Scream 4. The not so anticipated sequel to the freshest slasher film of the 90s offers an opening so shocking that you'd think they've struck gold once again. Sadly, after an incredibly brutal murder a quarter of the way into the movie, it loses a lot of steam and becomes a confused puddle. It builds to a suitable conclusion and ends how it began but there are quite a few problems getting there.
Craven's direction isn't as slick as it once was. He still plays with lights and shadows very well but the chase scenes (if that's what they're called) aren't half as satisfying or tense as, say, Sidney in Stu Macher's house in Scream or Nancy in her 3rd nightmare in the original Nightmare on Elm Street. He seems quite happy to get the murders out of the way as quickly as possible. His editing skills are also a bit out of touch - he's kept the most cringe worthy line of the movie in and thrown out a lot of (possibly) interesting scenes. He has forgotten to build suspense or present a feeling of foreboding; a total of 11 are butchered before the final party but at the rate they die and with the lack of any other outcome visible, you are left feeling a bit bored.
The writing suffers from tampering. It's easy to see the differences between Williamson's script and Kreuger's. Williamson presents some sparkling, bitchy prose and finds the humour in the demise of characters. Kreuger takes a sledgehammer to subtlety and gives us closing lines like "F*** Bruce Willis" and "I'm gay, if it helps?" which effectively kill any suspense that could have been built. Kreuger also hasn't learnt to find inventive ways to kill people (you can see his murders coming a mile away and they all happen with such ease you'd think murder was easy). Majority of the middle comes from his pen which means majority of the kills are boring and uninspired. Apparently, 15 years after the original said "Kids know their horror movies," they've all forgotten about the biggest clichés (don't leave a party on your own, don't play dead to spook someone, don't investigate a strange noise or think you're too old to be one of the victims). He also allows his killers to be revealed way too easily.
The sound is another problem - Marco Beltrami's score in the original was hip, spooky and had some really nice moments. This time around, it seems Marco Beltrami was smacked by the wand of excess and has managed to fill out the original sound with so much junk that it's completely distracting. Horns herald the end of almost every single character whilst a choir chimes in whenever someone is giving their slow, death gaze.
The return of Sidney, Gale and Dewey is handled well. Williamson uses them to flesh out his themes whilst allowing the younger cast to shine. Haydyn Panettierre as the bitchy, best friend steals most of her scenes until the finale where Emma Roberts really breaks out. The always cute Rory Culkin and Erik Knudsen make a good pair as the Randy substitutes but aren't half as cool as the film store geek. Marley Shelton gives deputy Hicks a creepy side that I never would have thought possible.
The movie is cynical. Williamson is cynical. There's no doubt about it. He hates young people; he finds them stupid, callous and happy to make the same mistakes the older generations did. He hates horror films. He hates this movie. It manages to parody itself better than Scary Movie did. The older characters (Gale and Dewey) are taken out of the picture early and have trouble keeping up with the changed times. Sidney is as brave and thoughtful as ever, it's just a shame that the younger generation are too selfish to notice. Themes of ageing are presented with such cynicism, it must be that Williamson wrote the film for those of us who hate youngsters. He also hates critics - his comments on 'meta, post-modern bullshit' are exact and display his frustration over those who climb all over movie's meanings.
In closing, the film manages to redeem itself with a killer reveal that beats out that of the 2nd and 3rd movies. Even if you did realise who the killers were a half way through the movie, the motive is sooooo twisted and cynical (there's that word again) that it makes the whole thing almost fresh again. A scene of self-mutilation is so shocking you have to laugh at it's audacity. There's also a nice 'meta' moment in the hospital where the killer remarks "it was supposed to end at the house; this is just... silly." There are some great ideas floating around at the end but it's closed a bit too neatly for it to have any real effect. This prevents it from becoming a rival to the original.
The film, as a 4th in a series, is the best 4th in a series ever; it beats Hallowe'en 4, The Final Destination, Friday 13th part IV, Saw IV, Star Wars Episode 1, Scary Movie 4 and every other 4th part ever. But I think it's best that Scream goes out now. Williamson said he had planned a new trilogy but with the shape of the script, it would seem utterly impossible unless they did the exact same thing for 5 and 6. That would be a crime.