Monday, 30 April 2018

Other April viewing

Here's a run-through of other stuff I consumed this month.

First Match (Olivia Newman, 2018)
In an attempt to get her father's attention, a young woman joins her high school wrestling team.

Though it follows a familiar trajectory, First Match benefits from committed performances from lead actress Elvira Emanuelle and a solid script that gives all the characters clear, understandable motivations. A great showcase for its writer-director and cast.

Scandal (Michael Caton-Jones, 1989)
A dramatisation of the 1963 Profumo Affair which almost brought down the British Government, focusing on the woman at its centre, Christine Keeler (Joanne Walley) and her friend Stephen Ward (John Hurt).

The end of an era, viewed from the POV of one of its romanticists, Scandal is a fine drama featuring a great performance from John Hurt as the doomed Ward, who ended up as the scapegoat for the the titular scandal.

The theme song by Dusty Springfield is a belter.

Night Owls (Charles Hood, 2015)
A one-night stand turns complicated when Kevin (Adam Pally) discovers a) his paramour Madeline (Rosa Salazar) trying to kill herself and b) that the home they just did the dirty deed in belongs to his boss...

Set in one location for the entire runtime, Night Owls is a solid character piece, featuring compelling performances from Pally and Salazar.  

Atlanta (S1, 2016)
The story of Earn (Donald Glover), as he tries to manage his relationship with his kinda-ex Vanessa (Zazie Beets) and the career of his cousin, upcoming(?) rapper Alfred/Paper Boi (Bryan Tyree Henry). 

I was so happy when this popped up on Netflix, and totally worth the hype. Glover is great, but Beetz is the real standout as the grounded Van. The Juneteenth episode is excruciating and the TV debate about Paperboi's use of transphobic slurs is hilariously on-point 

Nailed It (Netflix, 2018)
Every episode, a group of amateur bakers attempt to re-create the most ambitious and eye-popping cakes. 

Cakes. Nicole Byer. An Italian cop named Sal. Nailed It is the cooking show for people who don't like cooking shows.

I Know What You Did Last Summer (Jim Gillespie, 1997)
A year after accidentally killing a man, a group of teens are stalked by a mysterious figure in a rain slicker.

Well, that was a movie I watched. While not terrible, there is something so lifeless about this  late 90s slasher. In its favour, Ryan Philippe is good as the douche-y ex-football prospect and it features one great stalking sequence in a closed store. Other than that, a little blah.

If Looks Could Kill (William Dear, 1991)
High schooler Michael Corben (Richard Grieco) finds himself mistaken for a secret agent and forced to go on a mission to save Europe from a fascistic mad man intent on... continental domination.

This is one of those movies that I remember vividly from  childhood - Linda Hunt and her extendable collar; the interchangeable bus drivers; the beautiful femme fatale who gets blown up. All those things are great, but not much else is.

The World Is Not Enough (Michael Apted, 1999)

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer (Alex Gibney, 2010)

Directed by Alex Gibney, this doc chronicles the series of events leading up to the fall of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, and the hypocrisy of the men who brought him down. Worth watching for a supporting performance from future Trump booster Roger Stone. 

    BITE-SIZED REVIEW: Command Performance (Dolph Lundgren, 2009)

    Joe (Lundgren) is the veteran drummer of a heavy metal band. Booking a slot as the opening act for pop starlet Venus (Melissa Molinaro) at a Moscow concert attended by the Russian president, it looks like the band is about to finally hit the big time.

    Sadly the festivities are interrupted by a group of rogue dissidents thirsting for vengeance against the president for actions he committed during the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

    It falls to Joe to save the audience and the president before it is too late...

    Die Hard is my favourite action movie. There is something about action in a confined space that gets my juices flowing. When I heard the longline for Dolph Lundgren's Command Performance - heavy metal drummer saves the Russian president from terrorists at a concert - nine years ago, it sounded right up my alley. I finally found a copy floating around and watched it.

    I haven't seen that many Dolph joints, but then ones I have seenI really enjoyed - I Come In Peace is a fun mashup of buddy-cop movie and science fiction, with Dolph as a cop going after an alien drug dealer; Men of War is a solid men-on-a-mission riff about a group of mercenaries who turn on their corporate employers to protect an island tribe who refuse to give up their mining rights (the script was co-written by John Sayles).

    This is a long way of saying my expectations might have been too high going into this movie.

    DTV releases like this do require a different set of expectations in terms of aesthetics. You cannot expect the same production values as a theatre release, but DTV action subgenera does have its compensations: more violence, fewer special effects and pretty short runtimes. If you are a fan of old-school action movies, or just fancy a palette cleanser from the excesses of modern blockbusters, these movies are great (and if you take the time, you can find talented filmmakers like Isaac Florentine, director of the Undisputed sequels and Ninja franchise, who has made a name for himself as a talented genre filmmaker).

    The biggest problem is the direction. The movie was released during the height of the 'shaky-cam' craze, and it really shows here. The camera whips around so much, and features so many unnecessary cuts to different angles that it is hard to follow what is going on, even during dialogue scenes.

    The big problem I had with Command Performance was that it did not lean on the more ridiculous aspects of its story - drumsticks as murder weapons; the shallow headliner Venus (Melissa Molinaro) who has the hots for our over-aged hero; the hero's baffling, half-remembered backstory involving a dead brother and Colombian cartels (or something like that). With these elements, there is a version of the movie that brings them together in a more satisfying way.

    The movie's biggest sin is that it is boring - once the terrorists take over the concert venue, the movie just slows to a standstill with all the principal characters scattered. In any other Die Hard-style movie, either characters would band together to - if they were captives - try to outwit the villain to save the other hostages until the protagonist can get to them.

    Watching the trailer, there was so much focus on the 'relationship' between Joe and Venus that I was expecting something like Under Siege (Navy Seal + Playboy playmate(?!?) taking on terrorists), with Lundgren and Molinaro teaming up to take down the terrorists with their murderous musical talents.

    The movie even sets her up for a fall as a spoilt pop star - sadly the catalyst for bringing her down is having her watch her brother take a million bullets to the face and chest. Molinaro does a good job of conveying Venus's utter despair and blind rage in this moment, but it sets the tone for the rest of the movie. You can't really have an escapist action movie and have characters deal with serious trauma like this. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

    In the fun version of this scenario, Venus's brother would be wounded, and Venus would spend the movie trying to save him. On the way she would learn to grow up by killing 10-15 terrorists (as you do).

    Nope. Instead we get people wandering around not killing people, or planning to kill people, and a couple of unnecessary subplots involving traitors within the terrorists' ranks (great way to undermine you bad guy, movie!).

    And we only get one scene of Dolph Lundgren impaling a bad guy with a drum stick. And if you are thinking it is the terrorist leader, you would be wrong. It's just some random cannon fodder. For shame!

    Here's hoping Isaac Florentine rips this movie off and casts Scott Adkins as a hard-bitten SAS man-turned-dance choreographer who has to team up with a self-obsessed pop starlet (insert flavour of the month here) to save the Chinese President from hardliners intent on World War 3.

    Saturday, 28 April 2018

    BITE-SIZED REVIEW: Guilty of Sin (Sidney Lumet, 1993)

    High on the victory fumes of her latest case, lawyer Jennifer Haines (Rebecca DeMornay) is ready to conquer the world. She takes on a new client, David Greenhill (Don Johnson), a professional ladies man who has been accused of throwing his wife out of their apartment window.

    Seeing this case as a test of her talents, Jennifer takes him on as a client. She quickly realises how hubristic this decision is when Greenhill begins to act in bizarre and vaguely threatening ways. Unable to get out of the case, Jennifer becomes Greenhill's unwilling confidant as he confesses his past history of manipulating and killing wealthy women.

    Torn between her duty as a legal professional and her monstrous client's real nature, Jennifer has to figure out a way to defeat Greenhill and not wind up going down with him...

    Written by b-movie luminary Larry Cohen (Q the Winged Serpent) and directed by Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men), Guilty of Sin is a fun movie that walks a weird line between terrible and great without ever tipping either way.

    The big draw is the premise: can a defence attorney sabotage her own case when she knows her client is guilty? There is potential for some great subterfuge and mind games as DeMornay tries to outwit Johnson, but the movie never fulfils its potential.

    Which is not to say the movie is not entertaining. Johnson is having a ball as the oily homme fatal, and Cohen's script throws in some entertaining (but increasingly ridiculous) twists that give the movie a certain trashy charm.

    My big problem was ultimately how respectable the movie is, for how lurid the story is. Lumet is a great director, but his good taste and unobtrusive style wind up dampening the movie's cheesy elements, leaving the movie feeling a little lifeless. If this movie were directed by someone who could leaned into the movie's more florid sequences, this movie could have been great fun instead of merely watchable.

    On the flip side, if the script had been punched up to really hone in on the mental struggle between the main characters, it could have been a great psychological thriller. The movie is filled with potentially great scenes - Greenhill confessing his guilt to Jennifer in the middle of her firm's office building; the sequences of Jennifer solving the murder; Greenhill's frozen reaction as Jennifer's falsified evidence is presented to court, unable to do anything without implicating himself; Greenhill's fiery confrontation with Jennifer's detective (Harry Warden). These scenes never come off quite right - either because the script is not as smart as it thinks it is, or because Lumet doesn't give it some flair.

    As far as the acting goes, it's Johnson's show. Completely self-involved and arrogant, he knows exactly what kind of movie he is in. While he is believable as ladykiller (in both ways), there is a sense of weakness to his performance that was really compelling. There is something almost... Trumpian to the way he folds whenever he is caught out, which makes him more interesting than just a one-dimensional villain. Greenhill's only power is the psycho-sexual hold he has over women - without that he literally has nothing.

    I wish the script had done more to develop his character - it often feels like Johnson is doing more of the heavy lifting to make his scheming feel even vaguely credible.

    As the ostensible lead, DeMornay is a wash. There is a  stiffness and lack of charisma to her performance that undermines the character. Partially this is the result of a script that keeps undermining her intelligence and mental toughness at every turn, but DeMornay's performance is not strong enough to cover these deficits.

    I would like to say that this is one of those movies that could use a remake, but this type of court-based erotic thriller is not exactly the stuff of multiplexes nowadays. Like the last movie I reviewed, Guilty of Sin feels rooted in particular time and place.

    Overall, there is a lot of stuff that does not work about Guilty as Sin, but if you take it as a weekend time-waster, you won't be disappointed.

    AFS Screening: The Adventures of Prince Achmed

    After he is fooled into riding a sorcerer's flying horse, Prince Achmed is hurtled far from home. On his journey back, he runs into demons, a mountain witch and a man with a magic lamp called Aladdin...

    The earliest surviving animated film, Lotte Reiniger's The Adventures of Prince Achmed is a purely visual experience that underlines the ways in which characterisation and tone can be conveyed without sound or close-ups.

    Animated in silhouette animation, the film resembles a shadow play with the key characters and environments resembling black outlines against tinted backdrops. Since the process made it impossible to realise facial expressions, Reiniger crafts characters with remarkably nuanced body language that immediately delineates them from each other.

    While Reiniger's designs for the creatures (and the people who conjure/transform into them) are great, it is her ability to convey character that is the most remarkable aspect of the film.

    The film's story is fairly familiar if you have seen any Arabian nights fantasy - I caught a couple of echoes of Alexander Korda's production of The Thief of Bagdad (1940) - but the real draw is Reiniger's animation.

    Her portrayal of her magical realms is an Orientalist fantasy reduced - by the nature of the medium - to its most basic and identifiable elements. The story is basically a series of set pieces, which become showcases for Reiniger's imagination, and some of the clever simple methods she used to realise her vision. There was one set piece where Reiniger realises a character's abilities by literally pouring water over the animation cell.

    Whenever the story threatens to flag, Reiniger pulls the rug out from under her hero and drops him - literally - into a new environment with an entirely new cast of supporting characters. The one section that feels a little odd in its placement is the introduction of Aladdin, which comes just before the climax. He is established as a deus ex machina to help resolve the story, but in the end it is up to another character - the Witch of the Flaming Mountain - to defeat the sorcerer.

    It is a flaw if you are a fan of clear story-telling, but because of how elastic and varied the diegesis is, it also feels of a piece with the film as a whole. It's also an excuse to take in more of Reiniger's world-building and economic characterisation: Aladdin's story, and own betrayal by the sorcerer, is surprisingly tragic, considering his late appearance and lack of screen time (and facial expressions).

    As stated previously, the film is does feature some problematic stereotypes (the most overt is the portrayal of the Chinese Emperor and his court, but the African sorcerer and hula-skirted sprites that Achmed has a dalliance with are no better). Because of Reiniger's technique, the movie does feel a snapshot of attitudes about the world outside of Europe at a specific point in time.

    In a world where the dominant ideas of animation has been defined by traditional cell animation (ala Disney), The Adventures of Prince Achmed feels positively avant garde. Reiniger's animation is comparatively crude, but part of the joy of watching the film is seeing the ways in which she navigated the limitations of the medium. In that way, the movie is kind of magical.

    Check it out.

    Previous AFS reviews

    Purple Noon (2015)

    The Servant 

    Eyes Without A Face 

    Night of the Demon (2016)

    Grand Central

    Tales of Hoffman


    The Last Command & Ministry of Fear

    Tuesday, 24 April 2018

    Coming soon: The James Bond Cocktail Hour podcast

    Despite my attempts to make it as broad a church as possible, The Midnight Ramble is known for a few familiar themes: Action movies, weirdo genre flicks, RnB music and James Bond. 

    At the end of May, you will be able to hear my ramblings on The James Bond Cocktail Hour, a  podcast covering the full gamut of everything James Bond: the books, the movies, the games, the parodies and everything in between.

    Every episode we will cover one book and one of the movies - now there are more books than movies, but never fear, we are going to jazz things up by reviewing other topics like the video games, the comics and the various parodies (Messers Flint, Helm, Powers and OSS 117) that have popped up throughout the years.

    I'll drop more details as we get closer to launching. In the meantime, you can peruse my old Bond reviews.

    Diamonds Are Forever

    The Man With The Golden Gun


    For Your Eyes Only


    A View To A Kill

    The Living Daylights

    Licence to Kill


    Tomorrow Never Dies

    The World Is Not Enough (2010)(2017)

    Die Another Day

    Casino Royale

    Quantum of Solace

    Spectre (2015); (2016)

    Saturday, 21 April 2018

    Welcome to Gondwana (dir. Mamane, 2016)

    In order to legitimise his hold on power, Gondwana's long-serving president acquiesces to a UN observer mission to monitor the latest election. The youngest and most idealistic member of the team, Julien (Antoine Gouy), falls for Betty (Prudence Maidou), a member of the activist group Mungaji (We're fed up'), who questions his beliefs and forces him to confront the hypocrisy of western intervention in Africa.

    When he accidentally uncovers the government's plot to rig the election with international backing, Julien finds himself drawn into Betty's fight to free her country from the dictator's grasp.

    Niger-born comedian Mamane's first movie Welcome to Gondwana is a dark comedy about Africa's relationship with the (western) international community.  A portmanteau of tactics and episodes from various rigged elections, the movie is a hilarious subversion of the white saviour narratives Hollywood releases around Oscar season.

    It is s fascinating viewing experience because Julien is the entry point, but his agency is never privileged over anyone else's. Despite being our 'protagonist', Julien is constantly reacting to events and people around him - he is never an active participant in advancing the plot, at least until the climax. He is just a well-intentioned but ignorant white man stumbling into a situation he cannot understand without making (a lot of) mistakes.  

    This is a movie about Western colonialism, and how the economies of the former coloniser remain intertwined with their former colonies, perpetuating their power imbalance and preventing the democratic reforms that Julien, our 'hero', believes he is helping to secure.

    While Julien and Betty's relationship forms the basis of the movie's critique, the supporting cast of incompetents provide the film's biggest laughs. The UN team's government minders, Gohou (Michel Gohou) and Digbeu (Digbeu Cravate) 
    Gohou and Digbeu 
    Their ongoing argument about what the term 'international community' means is brilliant, as Julien and his gormless boss Frederic Delaville (Antoine Dulery) are increasingly incapable of providing counter-arguments to the duo's paranoia about Western intentions and hypocrisy in thinking they can be the bastions of human rights.

    On the surface, these characters are engaging in a game of 'whataboutism' to discredit the UN and show their support for the government. But they are also puncturing the idea that the Western Powers underwriting the mission are paragons of virtue - like the president of Gondwana, they are more concerned with maintaining the status quo so that they can take resources and capital out of the country, rather than serving the people.

    Frederic Delaville
    No one exemplifies the pointlessness of the UN mission more than Dulery's Delaville. A French MP who is more concerned with winning his next election than ensuring the legitimacy of this one, he spends the movie trying to sell his region's only major agricultural product, white asparagus. 

    In this movie, none of the movie's supposed heroes are doing anything in Gondwana for the reasons they are ostensibly there: the French want to put an offical stamp on the Gondwanan president's reign so that they can maintain the economic benefits; the UN team are more interested in the size of their hotel rooms; and Julien is no different - he becomes interested in Gondwanan independence because he fancies Betty.

    About halfway into the movie, I became depressed. After last year's festival, where I was unable to find the films on any kind of home media, going to these movies feels weirdly precious. I am really hoping this movie finds its way onto Netflix, because it is really great (and I want to watch it again) 

    The movie manages to be extremely specific and incisive, yet it never feels niche - I saw the movie with a crowd of mostly old white people and they were laughing pretty hard throughout. If you can find it, Welcome to Gondwana is a fun, smart comedy that deserves a wide audience.


    Review of the 2017 Festival

    Friday, 20 April 2018

    BITE-SIZED REVIEW: Navy Seals (dir. Lewis Teague, 1990)

    During a rescue mission in the Middle East, a Navy SEAL (Michael Beihn) discovers a consignment of Stinger missiles but prioritises the mission over destroying them. When a terrorist group starts using the missiles, he becomes obsessed with hunting them down and destroying them before more innocent people are killed.

    This movie comes from an era of action movies that I love, with certain qualifications. When you watch an 80s action movie, you expect a certain level of sexism, racism and right-wing paranoia underpinning the whole thing. Navy SEALS makes two mistakes which mean these elements are front and centre, which makes it hard to watch.

    The first problem is that as an action movie, Navy SEALS is not good enough to take as a brainless action movie. Director Lewis Teague never has a handle on how to set up or shoot a set piece. Wide shots are from the wrong angle, the lighting is too bright and the editing is just clumsy.

    The first action sequence, in which our 'heroes' smash into the bad guys' hideout and blow them away is ridiculously confusing. We start with a tight shot of a SEAL crashing through a window, followed by a series of clumsily edited shots showing the SEALS shooting the villains. All this action could have been covered in a wide shot that allowed the viewer to get a sense of the geography, but instead it is over-cut and shot from angles that do not allow the viewer to piece it together.

    Later sequences, such as the SEALS rescuing a boatload of hostages, and the finale in Beirut, are better, but suffer from a lack of obvious stakes. The big problem is that - despite my plot synopsis - the movie does not really have a clear plot.

    We get introduced to the villain and his missiles in the first mission, but then it takes the rest of the movie for this threat to really crystallise. We never see the missiles used on anything, just a passing news report, and the missions in between never feel that connected to the central threat.

    And then there are the stateside scenes...

    I mean, what is going on here? It feels like an attempt to make these guys feel like friends ala Top Gun, but they either end up coming off as clowns (like the above clip) or straight-up high school bullies. Charlie Sheen is meant to be the wild man of this movie, but his schtick boils down to racial slurs and sleazy sexual come-ons. In this respect the movie feels a little more believable to how Americans regard the rest of the world, but in terms of creating sympathetic action heroes, the movie fails hard.

    Joanne Whalley-Kilmer plays a journalist with contacts in the Middle East who Curran romances in an effort to figure out where the missiles are. This subplot is the point where I start to wonder whether the filmmakers were sending up the Seals as trigger-happy psychopaths. Curran takes his 'date' on a tour of a Seals training course. He stages a surprise ambush on her with his buddies and the terrified woman runs away - somehow this scene brings the couple closer. Ugh.

    You can say most 80s action movies don't treat female characters well. Navy SEALS really goes out of its way to make its major female character feel like an intellectual obstruction to its heroes' violent pragmatism.

    The movie was made at a point where awareness of minorities was growing more mainstream, yet the film's sense of humour is the same as your drunk uncle at Christmas. This movie thinks women are dumb and all the brown people are either psychopaths or extras from a Mad Max movie. To be honest, that is not too far from Commando or Cobra, but the people behind those movies seem to recognise their primary mission is to work as dumb action movies. Navy SEALS has pretensions to be something better than it is, which makes its politics harder to take.

    I can see why Navy SEALS has a cult following, I was kind of bored through the whole thing. Boiling it down, it is just not good enough on a pure action level, which prevents it from qualifying as a guilty pleasure.

    Tuesday, 17 April 2018

    BITE-SIZED REVIEW: Eyes of Laura Mars (Irvin Kershner, 1978)

    When photographer Laura Mars (Faye Dunaway) has a nightmare about a murder from the POV of the killer, she dismisses it as a dream. But then she begins to experience these visions during the daytime - and people are turning up dead...

    A glossy Hollywood run at an Italian giallo* thriller, based on a script (co)written by horror luminary John Carpenter and directed by the guy behind The Empire Strikes Back? From the outside, Eyes of Laura Mars sounds great. As a big Carpenter fan, Eyes... was one of those movies that I have always been curious to see. I had heard mixed things, so I never felt a great urge to seek it out.

    The Academy held a screening of this movie the other night, so I finally had an opportunity to check it out. Maybe it was because I watched it an hour after another movie, but I was a bit let down by this one.

    The acting is good, most of the technical elements are fine, but there is something underwhelming about this movie that I can't really put my finger on. For a thriller it is not very thrilling, and as a romance it is a little bland.

    The big miss for me is how it flirts with being an Americanised giallo without ever committing to the genre's less 'mainstream' elements: the ultra-violence; the perverse sexuality; the surrealism.

    Granted, from a Hollywood perspective I can see certain elements that might seem hard to take, but the movie is so staid I spent the movie waiting for some kind of turn or shock that elevate the movie. NOPE.

    One element that the film could have used was a more convoluted plot-line: my favourite giallo generally have a nightmarish quality, a sense of unpredictability that you would not find in a conventional Hollywood thriller.  Eyes of Laura Mars is too clean and sanitised for its own good. There is something inherently weird and unsettling about the central concept, but the movie does nothing with the potential implications of the idea. The movie winds up as a 70s update of the female entrapment thrillers of the 40s and 50s (think Gaslight, The Spiral Staircase or Midnight Lace).

    The movie might have worked as a moderately compelling thriller if the killer's POV shots were executed well. Sadly, they are the killing blow that throw the movie off completely. These visions are accomplished by a handheld camera rather than a steadicam. At the time, this was a relatively new invention, but it is ironic that, in the same year this movie was released, original scripter John Carpenter's Halloween delivered a seamless POV sequence on a sliver of the budget.

    On the bright side, the photography (by The Candidate's Victor J. Kemper) is mostly slick, and the score by Artie Kane does the heavy lifting to make Laura's visions feel vaguely disturbing.

    Eyes of Laura Mars is the kind of movie that could probably benefit from a re-do. Check it out if you are a Carpenter completionist, or want to see Tommy Lee Jones, Brad Dourif(!) and Raul Julia(!!!) as young people.

    *Giallo is the name given to a run of (generally) super-violent murder mysteries made in Italy from the mid-60s to the late 70s. Key films include Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace, Dario Argento's Deep Red and Lucio Fulci's Don't Torture A Duckling.

      Friday, 13 April 2018

      IN THEATRES: Rampage

      Evil corporation makes a thing that makes animals huge, and it falls to one steroidal primatologist/poacher-poacher (Dwayne Johnson), a disgraced science person (Naomi Harris) and a cowboy cosplayer (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to save the world from the animals' RAMPAGE.

      I am not going to spend a lot of time on this move. It's not that kind of movie. But it is far better than it has any right to be.

      I cannot believe this movie is good. A movie based on a video game - from the 80s - should not be this good. The reason may be that the game's premise - a trio of super-sized monsters destroying a city - is so simple that you can build a story out of the components without disturbing any story structure or gameplay specifics.

      It helps that the story is about a sympathetic gorilla named George. The opening act of this movie is like a remake of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, with the Rock as James Franco. It's not as good as that, but the opening sequences with the Rock's primatologist(!) Davis and George do a good job of building up empathy for this unlikely duo.

      After Jumanji - Welcome to the Jungle Dwayne Johnson has found another movie that successfully adapts a shaky property into an entertaining flick. It will take a few more solos vehicles for this theory to stick, but I think the Rock has finally cottoned on to the kinds of movies that suit his out-sized presence.

      Cannily blending his 80s-style machismo to animal rights, this is probably the closest the Rock has gotten to the macho action stars of the hardbody era - military past? Check. All the women love him? Yep. Pokes fun at other man's lack of traditional masculinity. Yep. Sexual reticence as a sign of his badassness? Yep.

      This movie is no masterpiece -  the rest of the cast are all over the place. Naomi Harris is saddled with an unnecessary American accent and a line of jokes that she cannot carry off in said accent. She is totally fine otherwise, but those moments clank. The scene in which they reveal their tragic backstories is ridiculously melodramatic, but it works for this story. I REALLY liked that there was no attempt at a romance - there's a crass joke at the end which undermines it a wee bit, but it's fine otherwise.

      Jeffrey Dean Morgan is making a whole bunch of choices as a government black ops guy with a heart of gold. They are not good choices.

      Malin Ackerman is completely toothless as the movie's big corporate baddie. The character is meant to be a sociopath, but there is no bite from her performance. The script does give her a load of clunky exposition, which would be fine if it  was peppered with some spiky one-liners. The person who walks away with the acting honours is Jake Lacy as her dim bulb brother, who is totally onboard with her plan to cash in on the super-growing thingy, but is totally incapable of contributing anything.

      This movie does very well at two things - animal centred melodrama and big scary monsters jumping out of the darkness. The wolf and the crocodile are CGI, but director Brad Peyton does a pretty good job building them up, and focusing on quick glimpses and ramped-up sound design. This is not Spielberg-level in any respect, but if you are in the mood for giant monsters smashing things and killing people in PG13 ways, it does the business.

      Rampage, kids.  It is exactly what you think it is, and that is no bad thing.

      Sunday, 8 April 2018

      IN THEATRES: A Quiet Place

      An unknown race of creatures who hunt via sound have taken over the earth. On an isolated farm, parents Lee and Evelyn (John Krasinski and Emily Blunt, respectively) attempt to raise their children, all the while trying to protect them from the creatures outside...

      What a great little movie!

      That may sound condescending, but I mean it with the highest of praise.

      a simple scary idea, solid character development and a tight 90 minute runtime. It's like a cool glass of water on a hot day. A Quiet Place is just an exceptionally well-crafted movie that deserves all the success in the world.

      Top to bottom, it is just so well done! I’m thinking back to Godzilla (2014), a monster movie that tried to build suspense without showing the monster that much, and this movie smokes it seven ways to Sunday, on a sliver of the budget - and the dialogue. The movie does so much visually and through the performances that you never miss the spoken word. 

      The movie is also nerve-shreddingly tense - the sequence involving a pregnant Emily Blunt trying to give birth while trying to not make a sound is absolutely terrifying.

      As far as direction goes, Krasinski never puts a foot wrong. Everything is paced so well, and he manages to turn his unseen monsters into tangible threats. He shoots them the way  they should be shot the way they should be - out of focus or half-glimpsed, Krasinski avoids revealing too much of their anatomy, ensuring the viewer never has time to get a good look.

      There's an analogy Stephen King used in Danse Macabre where he talks about the fear of the unknown. In his example it is a monster scratching at the door. When the door is opened and the monster is revealed as a 10 foot tall bug, the reader/viewer will immediately process and reframe the image: 'Well, at least it wasn't a 100 foot tall bug." When you don't know what is behind the door, your brain cannot contextualise it and your imagination runs wild. 

      And your imagination is going to be doing a lot of work in Quiet Place.

      Emily Blunt and John Krasinski are great as the parents Evelyn and Lee. Krasinski could have come across as a post-apocalyptic cliche - the strong silent hard ass. But he finds a vein of empathy that feels more real and interesting. He is a survivalist who recognises that his single-minded focus is affecting his children, and attempts to re-connect with them. 

      Blunt, by contrast, is trying to give her children space to be kids. Their performances create  an intimate, believable counterbalance that feels lived-in. They convey a sense of familial warmth and unspoken history that works as a juxtaposition against the monster element of the movie. That's the movie's real success - because this family is so well-drawn it augments the tension. 

      As far as the cast goes, the real standout is Millicent Simmonds as the daughter Regan.

      After raking Shape of Water for its casting, it is great to see a mainstream genre movie include a disabled character played by a disabled actor. On top of that, it is nice to see a disabled character who is not reduced to their impairment, and has a character arc that is not based on it.

      Her character spends the movie guilt-ridden after a fatal error at the beginning of the movie, and Simmonds is excellent - if the stars align, she will be getting more roles after this.

      I cannot think anything that this movie does wrong - there are some obvious character beats, a few instances where characters make obvious poor choices but the whole thing is so solid these are minor quibbles. The film is so well-made it even gets away with a heroic death/goodbye that could have been a pile of stinky cheese - this movie earns every moment.

      A Quiet Place is one of the best movies I have seen so far this year.