Film Reviews by BG

Welcome to BG's film reviews page. BG has written 40 reviews and rated 555 films.

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Promising Young Woman

An edgy psychological thriller

(Edit) 21/10/2021

With most of Carey Mulligan's films, the main reason to watch them is the talent of the lead actress herself, whose lead role in 'An Education' marked her as an astonishing performer of huge intensity and range. Here, it feels like she is the magnetic core of a very powerful team, as Emerald Fennell has crafted a film as enigmatic and dynamic as its lead actress.

Mulligan's 'Cassandra' is an enigma - even her loving parents (Jennifer Coolidge and Clancy Brown) can't get a handle on what she's doing with her life. Evasive, unambitious, Cassandra dropped out of a hugely promising career as a trainee doctor (hence the title) after an unspecified tragedy, and now seems perfectly content to while away her days working in her friend's coffee shop and vanishing to who-knows-where at night.

In reality, she's entered into a strange and dangerous life of laying honey-traps at bars for predatory men; pretending to be too drunk to stand, and then seeing which "nice guy" will come to her rescue in order to take advantage of a drunk woman - at which point they'll get an unwelcome surprise...

Into this unhealthy and mysterious cycle comes Bo Burnham's brilliantly played character 'Ryan' - an old med-school friend perplexed by her seeming downfall from potential medical superstar to coffee-shop worker, but harbouring a crush, and captivated by Cassandra's personality. As he faces an uphill battle to get past her hard shell of cynicism and get to know her, a chance remark about a third-party sets Cassandra's fate on a new path.

I won't say anything else about the plot, as Promising Young Woman is a movie about a specific mystery and its dramatic and damaging fallout just as much as it's about what happens as Cassandra tries to show the self-described "nice guys" who try to take advantage of her that they're really not that nice after all.

It's a brilliantly written movie, with every scene telling you more about the brilliantly played Cassandra. Mulligan is a true star-wattage performer in this role, holding the movie in the palm of her hand throughout, as she portrays a character who doesn't often pander to being 'likeable' but is always interesting, exciting or fascinating. The movie isn't afraid to surprise either, throwing in heavy doses of wry adult humour. Burnham is an incredibly likeable co-star for Mulligan's cynical Cassandra to spark off, and they have many excellent scenes together which flesh out her character and also add playfulness to the taut script (a scene in a pharmacy making use of Paris Hilton's only significant music single is particularly silly and amusing). This lightness of touch is necessary because the script goes to some very tough places. In addition to tense encounters with a handful of men, Fennell's script surprisingly holds other women equally to account for excusing or enabling appalling behaviour, reserving some of her most startling scenes for them. It's a movie that manages to convey the emotional beats of a murder mystery (anger, fury, grief) alongside the character development aspects of fallout, devastation and hope, alongside whip-smart intellect and humour. It's a miraculous achievement in writing and performing.

All of the performers are on their A-game, the dialogue is a treat (Cassandra feels like she's channelling the disappointment and rage of generations of women when a man exclaims: "We were young!" and Cassandra seethes: "If I hear that one more time...") and the plot events are built on character and nuance, making them land like prize-fight belters when they come slugging in from the side.

It's funny, dangerous, spiky, unexpected, challenging and full of the kind of brilliance that makes you hope the director has something similarly extraordinary in the pipeline.

I, for one, can't wait.

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Antebellum

A powerful thriller and nerve-shredder

(Edit) 21/10/2021

Wow.

I had encountered some middling reviews of Antebellum, and so although I was interesting in seeing it based on some captivating trailers, I sat down in the best possible state to see it; expecting little...

As a result, I was completely unprepared for the brilliant writing, directing and acting that seized me by the collar and refused to let go.

Opening on a seemingly idyllic ancient plantation house in America, we follow a little girl as she hands some flowers to her mother, the camera gradually gliding through their Civil-War plantation grounds until we begin to encounter more and more disturbing things; an unconscious woman on horseback. A black male slave being manhandled and beaten by soldiers as his wife begs on her knees...the film starts hard and builds an utterly terrifying portrait of Deep-South plantation slave life, treated with utter casual entitlement by the white folk involved, and filmed with extremely eerie beauty that somehow makes it even more chilling.

To go into the plot would be to risk spoilers for a story that manages to pull some brilliant and brutal gut-punches. Suffice it to say that if you give your full attention to the movie, it will reward it in spades with loads of little creepy details and odd, tension-building moments.

Janelle Monae is sensational in the lead, holding the film in the commanding grip of a robust, terrific performance. Gabourey Sidibe has rarely been more magnetic and engaging as her best friend, and the rest of the cast give powerful, brilliantly effective performances. Special mentions also need to go to Jena Malone, Eric Lange and Jack Huston for turns that manage to set your skin crawling, but they are actors who shine especially bright in a cast that is replete with actors playing utterly convincing detestable scumbags who only help to dramatically enhance your investment in hoping for the survival of our heroine.

The film has powerful things to say about race, gender and American History in particular, and I've never witnessed any film use such well-written dramatic writing to bring the staggering horror of black slavery so vividly and immediately to life. Maybe it just pressed the right buttons with me, and missed them with the media reviewers. But it walks an extremely clever tightrope of pulling you into a state of considerable empathy while also investing you in the fate of innocent characters in a tense thriller plot. The messages are served up purely as propulsion to the heroine's plot-line. You're aware that these appalling things really happened to people, all while you're being cleverly distracted into 'watching the magician's other hand', and wondering whether Monae's character will triumph.

It's rare that a movie leaves me stunned, exhilarated, sickened, moved and excited, and wanting to tell people about it, all at once.

This is that movie.

It may not have the same effect on you, but it had it on me. Try it - you might be as blindsided as I was.

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A Quiet Place: Part II

A thrilling and worthy companion piece to the first film

(Edit) 21/10/2021

A Quiet Place was a taut, contained thriller with such an effective premise that expanding it into the wider world was always going to be a risk. Happily 'Part 2' works pretty well, and largely that's down to the performances of a committed cast. Back for a brief 'Day one of the attack' cameo is series director and erstwhile star John Krasinski, and these scenes really showcase how these films differ from the average Hollywood monster movie, as I found myself getting so effectively sucked into the character performances by returning cast members Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe and new addition Cillian Murphy that I forgot to care about when the 'alien stuff' would start. But start it does, with some very effective and impressive sky-based special effects. Minutes later, a terrifying onslaught is unleashed and we understand how the world went to hell so quickly...

The plot then has the sense to cut to a point shortly after the end of the first movie, neatly bookending the film and then moving forward with its own energy. The tension is brilliantly conveyed as Blunt and her children have to escort the terrifying cargo of a newborn baby out into the wild in search of other survivors, encountering fresh and dramatic challenges as they go.

That's all I'll cover on the plot, as it works best when approached with little information.

Blunt is very good as the mother trying to help her family survive against impossible odds, but has far less character development to do in this film than in the first. Murphy is fascinatingly mercurial and hard to pin down as the survivor who may or may not be reliable. Jupe is terrific as a boy who isn't naturally brave, but keeps having to step up and somehow find a way to manage. But Simmonds is the golden ingredient as the deaf daughter whose resilience and bravery might just be the glue that helps to keep them all alive, facing each new situation with a courage that seems at first to be foolhardy, but invariably turns out to be sheer toughness and brilliance. The film milks many of its most anxiety-inducing moments from her attempts to propel their chances of survival forwards, and Krasinski remains a director to follow eagerly for his deft hand with tension just as much as Simmonds remains an actress who keeps growing to fill any opportunity to demonstrate her versatility.

The tension sequences remain knife-edge and squirm-inducing (you'll likely find yourself grimacing at injuries and harshly whispering "SHHHH!" at the screen whenever characters make a noise) and although the rules of silence at any cost seem to slip a little here and there, they remain just consistent enough to fill the movie with a dread of noise.

The creatures are seen a fair amount and remain very frightening, but unfortunately some slightly patchy VFX renders them a little less than convincing in one or two scenes, and there's a heinous error with an obviously CGI pool of blood at one stage. They've also lost a little of their fear-factor from over-exposure, and don't really show any new tricks apart from one interesting revelation about their capabilities.

The usually very good writing isn't always quite up to the standard of the direction (we get 'stupid decision syndrome' at least twice in order to propel the plot), but we do also get some absolute gems of moments - especially when Simmonds admonishes Murphy's character to 'Enunciate' because she can't read his lips. We also get some tropes in the plotting, as one particular finale element has been used in a great many survival thrillers.

However, movies with the invention to hand the control of the plot to a deaf teenage girl are few and far between, and it enriches the experience considerably, as does Simmonds' committed performance. The film suggests there might be potential for another sequel. Whether the franchise needs 'A Quiet Place 3: Even Quieter' or similar is up for debate, but as sequels go, this one is a success.

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Snowpiercer

A gritty and enjoyably odd blend of sci-fi and class warfare

(Edit) 21/10/2021

It's hard to distil 'Parasite' director Bong Joon Ho's 'Snowpiercer' down to a punchy description because it contains so many ideas. There's pithy criticism mankind's hubris at trying to control nature, there's social satire of conspiracy theories (the delivery method of the weather-control attempt is shown as 'chemtrails'), and after all the triumphant declarations of how this plan is going to save the planet, we're shown an armoured train blasting through a dead, frozen landscape. The train is on an endless loop of the globe on a special rail system, and we are informed it contains all that's left of humanity after their attempts to control the weather ended up killing the planet. And that's just the first 5 mins.

The rest of the film is a very punchy, dramatic and often violent class-war thriller as the oppressed 'tail' passengers living in squalor try to rise up against their wealthier oppressors from the front of the train and fight their way forward to something approaching freedom.

Anyone wanting more texture to Chris Evans after his roles as the paragon of virtue Captain America will find this a suitable tonic, as he plays disaffected rebel leader Curtis. Dirty, morally conflicted and with a haunted intensity behind the eyes, Evans convinces as a person pushed to their limits and willing to risk his very survival just for the chance of a better life. Similarly excellent but slightly more wry and sharp-edged is Jamie Bell as Edgar, his best friend and loyal second-in-command. Aiding them in their schemes is John Hurt as the wise and heavily crippled Gilliam, convincingly down to earth and more believable than most 'wise old soul' characters in similar fare.

They are up against a force that's a cross between a totalitarian police force and paramilitary army, acting in support of Tilda Swinton's fantastic character Mason, a fussy bureaucrat with a heavy regional accent of the kind not normally seen in big movies, and an array of very human and pomposity-bursting ticks. Bong Joon Ho makes great hay out of painting her as both a ridiculous figure of pathetic self-satisfaction and also a hateful oppressor who genuinely believes in stamping down the poor for 'the good of the social order'.

Elements like this greatly elevate the movie above the predictable path that such a plot could end up following, helped further by the involvement of prolific Korean star Kang-ho Song as a gifted engineer rendered dangerously unreliable due to his addiction to industrial waste, and Ko Asung as his equally wild-card daughter. Character guides everything as the tail-end passengers try to fight their way forward, encountering more and more frightening, bizarre and surprising things as they go.

Snowpiercer is excellently structured. Character histories (and the suggestion of secrets and regrets) are conveyed with story-propelling efficiency. Events constantly come along to elevate the story or flesh out the world. Things are allowed to happen at amusingly inconvenient moments which would usually be changed because they 'interfere with pacing', but which work brilliantly here to deepen your understanding of the people and way of life. It's a film full of terrifying hazards, both natural and man-made, and a highly interesting and varied location. The visuals are extraordinary, escalating as the movie progresses, and the action always tells you something about the characters (and often the design of the vehicle itself, in one beautifully effective late-stage exchange of hostilities).

The film might bounce off some viewers, with its tendency to lean quite hard into the squalor and oddness of the premise for the first chunk, but it's well worth persevering to see just how regularly and enjoyably it ramps up the tension. It's convoluted, weird, and occasionally creepy, but it's also fascinating, thrilling and original.

A brilliant post-apocalyptic thriller.

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Bloodthirsty

A slow study of character manipulation and emotional issues with a 'monster' sub-plot

(Edit) 02/10/2021

Bloodthirsty is NOT a monster movie. If you've been attracted by the wildly mis-representative DVD art, walk away now; you're not about to get an exciting/horrifying stalk & slash monster thriller, and I know how much that would annoy me if I came in with those expectations.

Bloodthirsty is actually a fairly navel-gazing character study of 'Grey' (Lauren Beatty) who we're told has had a big hit album, but is struggling with huge self-doubt and pretty intrusive mental health issues as she tries to create a follow-up. In her desperation, she accepts an offer of help from reclusive record producer Vaughan Daniels (Greg Bryk), a talented eccentric who has lived in the wilderness in seclusion ever since he was accused of murdering his partner.

Going along for the ride against her better judgement is Charlie (Katharine King So), Grey's girlfriend, who has concerns about Vaughan's motives and the effect that the pressure and isolation might have on Grey's already strained emotions.

From there, the movie largely turns into a character drama about the positive and negative tensions between the three as Vaughan tries to drive Grey to new heights, Grey tries to let go of the issues holding her back, and Charlie watches the worrying developments and tries to rein things in.

We get a lot of scenes of Grey trying to record music, a lot of scenes of Vaughan being pushy. Some of these are interesting and feel authentic, as Vaughan guides and shapes Grey's unfinished ideas into something more rounded and coherent. Others just feel a little self-indulgent. The music (by 'Lowell') is heavily featured - understandably as they helped to write the film - but it's hard to imagine that Grey has ever had a hit album. The character never seems to bring enough confidence, charisma or talent to proceedings to lend this credibility, and the music by Lowell is interesting and occasionally verges on catchy, but never into 'this character had a huge hit record' territory.

The monster movie aspects are also held back pretty hard for almost all of the film, emerging briefly for very short bursts, before emerging for the climax. Michael Ironside serves barely any purpose as Grey's therapist in a role that could've been played more cheaply by an unknown. His casting exists purely to pull people to the film.

We found it interesting as a drama, and also as a film that blends psychological illness issues and werewolf lore, but it would be disingenuous to remotely call it a monster movie; the werewolf aspects could almost just be written off as a result of Grey's fractured psyche if it wasn't for some moderate gore.

If you want an interesting slow-burn character drama, this is worth a shot. If you want a werewolf movie, head rapidly in the other direction.

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Spiral

A police procedural that veers from good to substandard, enlivened by genuinely icky gore

(Edit) 02/10/2021

Spiral is a 'Saw' movie in everything except name.

There's actually very little about it that's new. It has more humour, but that's about where the changes end. We still get characters being stalked & abducted only to come around in some horrific trap that requires them to maim themselves to survive (or requires others to get maimed to help). We still have an elusive killer uses puppets and imagery & saying they want to 'play a game' before rendering judgement on folks and telling them what has to be done to ensure survival. And we still have frustrated and badly flawed heroes trying to ineptly stop the carnage, all while the audience gets the impression that they might be too late.

Because people come to Saw movies for tension and inventive gore, we get lots of scenes of people trying to escape. The traps are quite hideous (one was so prolonged and disgusting that I did something I never do, and basically watched it through my fingers) and the gore is largely exceptional (apart from a few brief seconds of 'is it/isn't it realistic...?' that only momentarily distract). The plot, as usual, is silly and only exists to drive the gore and mutilations.

Meanwhile, Chris Rock is an interesting lead. Going full sweary in order to try to live up to the more serious tone of the movie, he puts in good effort, even getting a backstory as a 'rat' who turned on a corrupt partner in order to add conflict. Unfortunately despite some very likeable moments, he's simply not very convincing. Unlike many comedians, he doesn't seem suited to horror and drama at all. He constantly looks like he'd rather burst into laughter, and has no idea how to play a tense scene without looking manic and sweaty. Almost every dramatic scene he occupies is filled with URGENT SHOUTING (the trailer for the movie is actually a very good representation of how much he does this) and his relationships with his father and the partner he turned on are never remotely believable beyond being words on a script page.

For his part, Sam Jackson has played roles like this with his eyes closed, and near the end you start to get the feeling that he wishes he could do just that, working with almost no character development or material.

Max Minghella is a likeable, energetic presence as the rookie that Rock has to babysit as penance for some dubious actions (which would undoubtedly have gotten him fired from any precinct in the world, but hey...) and he helps give some of the scenes a heart that they would otherwise be missing.

In all, the writing is iffy. The direction is okay, but the director (series veteran Darren Lynn Bousman) seems uninterested in trying to shape the material into something better, aiming purely for the same kind of shocks and beats he hit during his earlier Saw films while upping the gore. His moviemaking history is filled with more duds than hits at this stage, so Spiral should be considered 'one of the better ones'. Writers Stolberg and Goldfinger should consider themselves luckier still that a script with this many stereotypical detectives making obvious stereotypical mistakes ever got made (clue; if it wasn't for the gore, this would've been thrown in somebody's shredder a long time ago) - especially with a mystery past scandal that is mentioned multiple times but a) never explained properly beyond a 1-line throwaway description, b) seems to be both ongoing in terms of behaviour but is always referred to as in the past (?!) and c) is so amorphous and vague that it's effects are never properly explained or shown.

Also, there's a plot hole the size of an aircraft carrier in a) how the killer is able to build his vicious instruments of torture and b) how they're able to get them into certain busy locations.

In short, it's a loud, gruesome distraction designed to prolong the franchise & if you're into gory thrillers, you're likely to enjoy this Saw renaissance.

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I, Tonya

A brilliant comedy drama that depicts a scandalous and rebellious life

(Edit) 28/09/2021

Craig Gillespie's 'I, Tonya' is a revelation for anybody expecting a dull sports movie. The 'kind of' based on reality tale of ice-skating rebel Tonya Harding's bumpy rise and startling fall from grace in the world of ice skating, it hardly sounds like killer stuff for a movie (and even less attractive for a sports-movie phobic like me), but it's a belter of a good time. Assisted by a breathtakingly sassy and sarcastic script littered liberally with punchy f-bombs (this is NOT one to watch with the kids), Margot Robbie is absolutely brilliant as Tonya Harding, helping us to admire her bravery and sassiness even when we're being astonished by how foul-mouthed and nakedly ambitious she is. Sebastian Stan (best known as 'Bucky/Winter Soldier' in the Captain America movies) also gets to deploy much greater range than ever before, portraying childhood sweetheart and occasional awful husband 'Jeff'. Providing a great many of those f-bombs (and a lot more swearing besides) is Allison Janney as 'LaVona' - Tonya's affectionless mother and frequent bully, determined to verbally brutalise her daughter into excellence even if it half-kills her.

If all of the above sounds a bit gruelling, I've no doubt that the reality probably was. However, in order to lure us in and keep us watching through all the tough stuff of what is a remarkable life, Gillespie and co give us a brilliant blend of whip-smart, startling comedy. This helps soften the hard edges, but also places us in the palm of his hand for the rarer more affecting moments, like when a desperately frustrated Tonya begs a judge to tell her why her ice-skating scores are so low despite her great technique, or when she tries to connect emotionally with the thoroughly alarming LaVona.

The filming is brilliant and kinetic, the skating sequences thrilling, and the (widely publicised) criminal conspiracy is jaw-droppingly absurd and enjoyably tense in equal measure. Paul Walter Hauser also deserves special mention as a 'bodyguard' so dense and self-deluded that it takes your breath away.

Flashy, brash as hell, clever, challenging (there are some brief but startling scenes of domestic violence), very adult and regularly very funny, 'I, Tonya' isn't really a 'sports movie'; it's a brilliant and very close-to-the-knuckle comedy drama about a very unusual sports-person. And it's terrific fun.

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SAS: Red Notice

A fun action-thriller that brings a handful of unexpected elements

(Edit) 28/09/2021

'SAS: Red Notice' is a quirky beast.

The film opens with Tom Wilkinson's character 'William Lewis' explaining that psychopaths who can show love are a rare breed, like black swans - which also happens to be the name of his family business; a Private Military Company of callous mercenaries who live up to the psychopath label as they proceed to 'clear' an uncooperative town in order to help a pipeline go through, at the behest of Andy Serkis' shadowy British military character.

Soon afterwards we meet the film's lead, SAS soldier 'Tom Buckingham' played by Sam Heughan. Buckingham is an odd character for an Andy McNab creation; unlike his usual scrappy underdogs, Buckingham comes from a very rich family, and his palatial country pile features photos of relatives posing with dead leopards, just to further emphasise the gulf between his past and the usually more likeable values of thriller leads. Which seems to be the point; because Tom isn't quite like other people. In a casual comment after an exciting and enjoyably tense raid, even his best mate Declan (a charismatic Tom Hopper) laughs off the idea that Tom could ever actually love someone. McNab is very tangibly playing with the notion of 'good psychopaths' - something that he claims he himself was diagnosed as - basically, people who possess a singular drive and focus that makes them highly dangerous to bad guys in their way, but hampers their ability to react with the necessary tact in relationships. The film highlights several moments of Tom's emotionally impervious or tactless behaviour that even his colleagues shake their heads at, without necessarily judging him - and it does add an interesting new dimension to the thriller. Especially when the UK government decides to clamp down on the activities of the Black Swans, and Lewis' son and daughter escape to freedom, attacking the Channel Tunnel just as Tom and his girlfriend are trying to get to Paris for some much needed R&R...

Ruby Rose is extremely good as lead villain 'Grace', her icy stare helping to imbue the character with an edge that is further enhanced by her charm, and having a ball as an unrepentant bad girl whose malice is debatably quite literally in her genes in the form of inherited psychotic illness. Grace is the favoured successor, and isn't above manipulating her much maligned brother (Owain Yeoman) to achieve her aims as they seize a train and try to win their escape (and riches) at gunpoint.

Andy Serkis is terrific as the cynical hard-bitten military liaison, hugely charismatic and utterly convincing in every scene he's in, while Hannah John-Kamen does interesting work at turning the typical 'girlfriend' character into something a bit more textured as Tom's love interest.

Sam Heughan does a remarkably good job as well, as the square-jawed hero whose methods and behaviour are significantly more questionable than usual. His big expressive eyes and earnest performance are just right at winning you over, amidst frequent suggestions that he may be 'wired' a little too differently to be capable of truly caring.

The story isn't entirely unpredictable, and there are silly moments and mis-steps; - the opening looks a little lower budget than the rest, and John-Kamen's character adopts a gleefully laid back approach to carnage that seems at-odds with her profession, but Red Notice succeeds fast and often in the action stakes. It's filled with regular gunfights, several dramatic explosions, frequent life or death stakes, and characters that are endearing enough to root for, or gleefully villainous enough to be intrigued by.

The film gives good bang for its buck, feeling like a high-stakes hostage thriller and including some inventive ideas that I haven't seen on screen before, and it's a high-energy action film that has a hefty amount of British actors in a UK setting for a nice change - a pretty rare breed in itself.

Well worth a look.

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The Strangers: Prey at Night

A patchy thriller let down by atrocious writing

(Edit) 11/03/2021

'The Strangers' was a better-than-average stalk & slash thriller with heavy doses of home-invasion and psychological torture thrown in. Here, the original director (Bryan Bertino) steps back into a co-writing role (with Ben Ketai) and passes the reins to '47-Metres Down' director Johannes Roberts. Roberts directs nicely and shows some flair for angles and framing, but sadly he's once again working with sub-par scripting. Bertino and Ketai's script starts promisingly; a family is traveling cross-country to pack their rebellious daughter off to boarding school , and stops off en-route to see their Uncle and Aunt. Uncle Marv lives in a holiday Trailer park which mostly empties out in September, leaving it pretty isolated.

It's a good set-up. And that's pretty much where the script throws in the towel.

Bertino and Ketai make a good effort with some character work between the rebellious daughter and her brother that is better than expected, but the dialogue for most of the movie consists of people yelling "Leave us alone!!!" as if it's some new form of self-defence technique, and there isn't a single line here you haven't heard a hundred times before. The film ditches the building of suspense pretty fast, opting for a great many scenes of people running, jump-scares that make no sense if given 5 seconds of thought, and our family in peril ignoring almost every available weapon, and almost every possible opportunity to use one, in favour of running and screaming.

The behaviour is so staggeringly idiotic that it regularly yanks you completely out of the film in annoyance. Obvious trap after obvious trap is wandered into, even once the characters should know WAY better, and at least 3 times the film is only able to continue because characters who have the upper hand decide to run away or fail to use the lethal weapons readily available to them, making you almost want to cheer on the bad guys, if only to bring a little Darwinism to events.

This is the kind of movie where people running away from a slow-moving vehicle choose to run down the centre of the road, instead of dodging around obstacles. The kind of film where it doesn't matter that the floor of a trailer is three feet off the ground if the writers need it to be at ground level in one scene, and then 3 feet up in the next...yes, it really is that dense.

It's a shame, because there are moments where you see what the film could have been; there's a fun and very nicely shot scene in a pool area lit by gaudy fake palm trees that almost embraces proper thrills. There's a nice scene of menace where one character wordlessly chooses to freak out a trapped victim for a minute or two - but instead of going for genuine terror and unnerving the audience, it's squandered almost instantly and the end to the scene feels cheap and throwaway.

Almost every trope and cliche you can think of gets trotted out, and frankly it's a disservice to the tension and nuance of the first movie.

If you're looking for a cheap disposable slasher, to watch with friends, this will do fine. You won't need to make any effort to stay quiet for the atmosphere or to focus on the plot, because frankly a lack of attention to detail might actually make it better.

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The New Mutants

Pleasantly fun, but feels like it's heavily aimed at the teen market

(Edit) 11/03/2021

Josh Boone's 'The New Mutants' is a film that's been through the wringer in terms of delays and rumours. However, Boone alleged upon release that the finished article was the film he had always intended. If so, it's an odd choice - because for the first X-Men/Marvel character universe 'horror' movie, he's chosen to make a film that's part superhero-adventure, part Twilight-feeling teen-romance & teen issues movie, and the tiniest smidgen of inoffensive and not remotely scary 'horror'. The threat level is somewhere around 'Ghostbusters'.

The story is also muddled. Blu Hunt plays hero 'Dani'. Unfortunately she's not given a particularly well-written character and her powers are skirted around/not particularly fleshed out until a climax that seems both nonsensical and contradictory.

Maisie Williams is the MVP here, showing a breadth of range and nuance that is fresh and exciting, as a shy mutant who bonds with newcomer Dani. Much has been made of Anya Taylor-Joy's performance as 'Illyana Rasputin', but for us she felt too stagey and over-the-top (although she does get some awesome powers, a sidekick that's funny and terrific in equal measure, and probably the most twisted back-story).

Charlie Heaton from 'Stranger Things' does a great job as 'Sam', pulling off a heck of a drawl, but again his character never really goes anywhere, and probably worst served of all is Henry Zaga as rich boy 'Roberto'. He gets very little character development, his powers stay undisclosed for much of the movie, and when they do come out, the climax sidelines him so fast that you wonder why he bothered showing up.

It's clearly a movie that has suffered much re-writing and interference, if only for the fact that a couple of characters' powers come across as overlapping, due to poor writing, poor editing or both. It's never adequately explained why some of the characters claim they 'can't' use their powers during crucial life-or-death moments, leaving us to assume that it's purely for script convenience, or why some of them are considered so dangerous and yet seem almost completely pointless in a fight.

There are heavy-handed hints at nefarious goings-on and a name/logo that fans of the comic books might get a lot more out of, but which are so poorly fleshed-out in the film that it feels as if they're holding back info in the hope of a sequel: - always a bad policy in this day & age of franchise false-starts.

The effects are sometimes fun, and the character interplay is spiky and enjoyable, but this feels like a 'my first horror movie' aimed at the audience range of 10-15.

Fun, but slight.

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Harpoon

A fun & twisted little horror-thriller

(Edit) 20/02/2021

'Harpoon' begins with speed and charisma, as we quickly get to a violent (almost Road-Runner absurd) punch-up between old friends 'Richard' (Christopher Gray) and 'Jonah' (Munro Chambers). Richard's partner 'Sasha' (Emily Tyra) intervenes, as a narrator chops in and out giving us punchy biographies about the characters and fun facts. The short version is that Richard is rich and uses his money to keep his friends happy, Jonah is poor and has always had terrible luck, and Sasha is tough and no-nonsense, acting as their referee.

Shamed into an apology, Richard takes them all out on his leisure boat to get drunk, only for things to take a turn for the worse...

To say any more would involved giving away several of the film's surprises, and that would be a crying shame because Harpoon is full of extremely wry humour and excessive violence, and seeing how the relationships play out without too much prior knowledge is enormous fun.

Rob Grant and Mike Kovac have written a script that is regularly very funny, has characters that are much richer and more interesting than usual, and isn't afraid to veer into genuine tension and fear. Although there are many moments of horror that are played for absurdity and appalled laughter, there are also stretches that are genuinely sweating with fear and uncertainty. This is down to some terrific writing and direction, but also a trio of amazing performances.

Gray feels like he's being doing this for decades, exuding a confidence and swagger that far exceeds his experience. Chambers is incredibly winning with a role that demands likeability in the face of seeming cowardice, and Tyra is terrific as the 'adult-in-the-room' and voice of reason.

Nicely, everybody gets to stretch their legs dramatically - these characters are not the one-note roles viewers might expect from the opening, and they go through a whole gamut of emotional tribulations before things get to the climax.

Brett Gelman also deserves special mention as the slightly 'Malkovich-sounding' narrator who delivers dryly humorous nuggets of comedy or information at regular and crucial moments in a way that's both welcome and enriching. His presence as a voiceover is never explained, but it doesn't break the immersion of the movie and the experience is enhanced by it.

The only issue with the film is that one character gets afflicted by harm that we are repeatedly shown is undeniably real, but their physicality and ability to move around with liveliness when required at several moments later on seems to forget it. It doesn't break the later scenes or significantly harm their impact, but it's a very rare moment of sloppiness in a script that's otherwise astoundingly tightly written.

Harpoon spends most of its running time as a 'three-hander' between Richard, Jonah and Sasha. Despite this, the intensity of the writing and performances and the skill of the directing ensure it never gets remotely dull and never feels constrained. Everybody brings an extraordinary A-game to bear, and it's a wickedly funny and twisted little thriller that isn't afraid to make you cringe in alarm.

A hell of a calling-card for everyone on board (sorry), all of whom remain people to watch in the future.

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Pyewacket

A supernatural paranoia drama worth seeing

(Edit) 19/01/2021

Pyewacket is an interesting movie.

'Leah' is a teen with several 'goth' friends and an interest in black magic, who finds herself suddenly moved to a new town by her erratic mother, who is desperate to move on with her life after the loss of Leah's father.

Yanked away from her life and a burgeoning (and very sweetly played) romance, Leah's pretty academic interest in black magic turns practical, and she casts a highly intricate spell to summon a demon to kill her mother.

For those viewers expecting flashy effects and a high body count; turn away now. This is not that kind of film.

Pyewacket is a moderately slow-burn horror-drama that relies on drama, unease and uncertainty to unnerve the audience. Almost no special effects actually occur (except one), with most of the strange events being conveyed by sound effects or the cast's reactions. It's also largely a relationship drama between the daughter and mother, so if that doesn't float your boat either, you'll struggle with this one.

Where it does succeed is with a lasting sense of unease. It can be 'read' several ways and explores issues of grief, mental illness and teenage angst. It also takes its subject of black magic pretty seriously, suggesting that it's seriously perilous to play with for a vast variety of reasons, and that if doesn't get you via supernatural forces it'll still mess with your head.

There are issues: - story-wise, it's uneven. The characterisations aren't always particularly fleshed out, and can feel thin. The relationships don't always particularly go anywhere or get explored very deeply...

But worst of all, Leah's reasons for acting out and deciding to unleash a death curse on her mother are nowhere near good enough. Yes, we buy that teenagers have tantrums and lash out (we've all been that age), but barring one single awful remark, her mother doesn't really do anything too dreadful. Frankly 'Harry Potter' had better reasons for wanting his adoptive parents dead, and the powers to do it ;)

It's also not very well structured. In most films, even if you tell the moments when they move from the middle into the 'endgame', you can feel it because of the pacing and the scriptwriting. In Pyewacket, the film slams to a sudden and jolting end, just when it feels like there should be another 20 or 30 minutes left to go. It's disorientating, badly executed, and caused a brief 'what the hell?' resentment and irritation. It feels like the film ends in the 'Second Act'.

However, bearing that in mind, it still lingers in an interesting way. There are scares, there is atmosphere, there is well described mythology. It's just a little brief in its conclusion.

Is it good?

Well, it's certainly worth seeing.

If that sudden ending doesn't put you off, it's an interesting supernatural drama.

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Terrifier

A punchy slasher that emphasises gore over story

(Edit) 19/01/2021

Terrifier sets out its stall pretty early with an opening act that contains it all: drama, creepy storytelling, hammy B-movie 'slasher-film' acting and luridly excessive violence and gore. The film sticks to its guns from there as two party girls encounter a creepily weird clown in a pizzeria and a night of terror begins...

The acting never escalates above 'average to below-average', and the storyline is so thin that I genuinely can't recall if it pretends to have one other than 'drunk girls try to escape clown'.

However, this is that rare thing; a low-rent horror movie where they're so committed to trying to make the bad guy creepy and the kills excessive that it somehow just works. David Howard Thornton commits to the hilt as the weird, grinning madman 'Art the Clown', and the special effects, while not always perfectly convincing, are definitely always extremely gruesome. Masses of fake blood is shed in this film, and a wide variety of cast members get sliced, diced and massacred in creative and almost laughably excessive ways.

If you're looking for a bona-fide slasher movie with a plot and sustained pacing, this is not that movie.

If you're looking for a gore picture with a charismatic bad guy and fountains of the red stuff, which somehow just about transcends its very thin plot, this is actually pretty decent.

Probably a good (and enjoyably ridiculous) movie to watch with a crowd of drunken friends, Terrifier doesn't terrify, but it does entertain.

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Mortal Engines

A fascinating slice of barmy fantasy action

(Edit) 19/01/2021

Mortal Engines struggled to grab my interest: the idea of roaming cities gobbling up smaller towns for resources felt so fantastical and daft that it felt too self-indulgently silly, and the marketing seemed to be desperately trying to place it as somewhere between The Hunger Games and Lord of the Rings. It all looked a bit much.

Luckily for me, I decided to take a punt on it because of the trailer, and I discovered it was a hell of a lot more fun that I'd expected.

Densely created and interesting mythology combined with apocalyptic threats ranging from cannibals to unstoppable killing machines that had once been human. The cities on wheels were immense feats of amazing design. The threat they posed was exciting and well realised.

Best of all, there was an engaging plot about a naive city engineer getting stranded with a vengeful and deadly girl, all leading to a conspiracy that needed to be unravelled in a strange and interesting future.

It's a well acted, beautifully designed and enjoyably tense action thriller which is full of exciting chase sequences, scary villains, sympathetic leads, captivating machines and exotic heroes.

The action may perhaps be a little harsh for very young kids (those cannibalism references, the horrific appearance of one of the bad guys) but for anybody else looking for a sweeping and enjoyable sci-fi tinged adventure thriller, this is well worth a look.

Recommended.

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Bloodshot

An intriguing idea & some flashy visuals let down by terrible writing

(Edit) 10/11/2020

Let's frontload the good stuff: -

Vin Diesel gives good growl as dead soldier 'Ray', who is resurrected by nano-tech thanks to Guy Pearce and his firm RST, where they make flashy cyber-enhancements to improve wounded soldiers, or even bring them back from the dead.

As their first trial of the nano-tech, Ray seems promising until he remembers who killed him and his wife, and sets off on a rampage of revenge. Except something seems wrong...

I won't go into spoilers here, although if you've seen the trailer you already know more, as they give away the very ingenious twist...and the beginning, middle and end. For real.

Diesel is decent in the lead, but needs to start stretching himself. This is Dom Toretto meets Riddick, but the man's no fool and the routine works here.

Pearce is also decent (except for a mystery Irish accent in the middle of one scene).

There's an impressive convoy attack that feels somewhere between a brutal game cut-scene and a music video, with slow-mo artistic violence and rich primary colours. Some of the photography is fun, and the artificial limb super-enhancements are good designs. Sam Heughan also gives good snarl as an RST colleague. However, that's where the good stuff ends.

Eiza Gonzalez (from Baby Driver) is given almost no characterisation except a navy medallion and some underwater posing, and her superpower basically boils down to 'she can breathe really well' (not kidding). Talulah Riley gets to play 'typical action hero girlfriend' by twirling in sunlight and worshiping Ray, before just being his motivation, bar one interesting scene that goes nowhere meaningful. The women get terrible roles in this.

Alex Hernandez initially seems promising as a blind veteran whose armour helps him see, but again, there his character utterly stops. That's pretty much his character's personality.

Lamorne Morris (from Game Night) gets to play an absolutely terrible IT geek who is so fake-quirky and stereotypical that it almost derails the movie with weird unamusing try-hard 'comedy' in every scene that features him.

We a joke that an IT programmer has used almost 'every movie cliche in the book' while creating a fake scenario, only for the movie to be so free of insight that it gleefully embraces almost every movie cliche in the book in all the other scenes.

We get a ridiculous foot-chase that is supposed to take place in 'London' but almost immediately (and INCREDIBLY obviously) becomes filmed in Cape Town in South Africa, simply because the buildings all become blatantly utterly different (and about twenty feet lower in height), as does the street design, the lighting and even the Police car that appears on camera. The final battle is also what can only be described as a typical sci-fi 'CGI ****athon' where they frequently move between a real person and a blatant CGI model.

Dave Wilson's feature debut after being a cinematics adviser on computer games and CGI feels like the first big movie by a new director who is too scared to challenge studio expectations, so instead uses all the flashy visuals he can in the hope we don't fall through the planet-sized holes in the story.

The "script" is written by Jeff Wadlow and Eric Heisserer. Yep, the guy from 'Arrival', paired with the writer of two of Blumhouse's least scary movies and terrible 'lions-attack-safari-goers' movie 'Prey'. We get almost no actual character development for Ray (it's never actually resolved how he really died), the women are just there to look pouty and fail the Bechdel test, almost all the amputee characters are psychopaths, all the IT characters are insecure or unstable, and the story barely bothers to explain why the bad guy's being so evil. It laughably badly plotted.

Decent designs, flashy action and interesting violence are the only things this film has to offer.

Maybe decent as background noise with a few beers, but it can't be bothered to respect your time by giving you a story.

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