The Last Duel (2021)

Quick synopsis: Ridley Scott directed film about the events leading up a duel between Sir Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) and Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) after Jacques is accused of raping Sir Jean’s wife (Jodie Comer).

I had heard mixed things about this. Some people had said it’s incredibly boring and muddled, some have said it’s an incredibly powerful piece of cinema. In my opinion it’s a mixture of both. It’s an incredibly powerful piece of cinema, that’s quite boring in parts. There are moments where it goes on too long, the ending in particular probably could have been trimmed. As it is the final shots are Jean and Marguerite riding out slowly on horseback through a crowd as Jacques’ body is stripped naked and strung up. It then skips forward and we see Marguerite sitting in a garden happy with her child. We’re then told she lived happily (well as happily as a woman could in those days) for another 30 years. So did we really need to see her in the garden? It’s not even mentioned on the wikipedia page for the film, that’s how unessential it is.

There are also a few moments I feel could have been longer (which in a film that’s 2 and a half hours long, is not something I thought I’d say). There’s a moment where a character essentially punches someone to death. The film cuts away just after he stops punching. Personally I’d have left it for a little bit longer so the full weight of the moment lingers with the audience, you would get a chance to sit and be truly f*cking horrified in what you’ve just seen.

That’s most of my criticisms of this film. They’re not “this film did this badly and it should feel bad”. It’s almost all personal preferences. All the flaws are “yeah that’s not right TO ME”. There’s one moment which I think exemplifies this. The rape itself. We first are aware of it from Jean’s POV, where he comes home and is told by his wife what happened. We see nothing. We then see it from Jacques’ POV, and it’s pretty clear that he did rape her. She’s a little bit more flirty than she is when we see the reality, but not enough that a normal person could justify it. That’s because we do see it. If the film stayed at looks which could be seen as flirtatious, made it so her looks back as she ran away had a more seductive air to them, then cut away as soon as the bedroom door closed, we would have a moment of ambiguity. We would wonder if it did happen as she said it, especially if they played up the pregnancy angle and made it seem like people would know the child isn’t her husbands. It would also mean that when we did see the truth, it would horrify us more. As it is we’re sitting there mentally comparing it to when we saw it play out earlier. We’re not lost in the moment, we’re thinking “okay, last time we saw this scene she stayed still, but this time she moved quicker”. Again, personal preference, and not a direct criticism of the film.

The way they this film is shown is unique, it’s really interesting to see how different people view certain events. There are a few moments where I would have liked to have seen from different angles but are restricted to just one. Not needed, but it would have been nice to get the truth about certain events we see.

It may be set in 1386, but there are some moments which are depressingly relevant in modern times. There’s a moment where people say that it’s impossible to get pregnant from rape, that a woman has to orgasm for pregnancy to occur. An idea that is, yes, woefully outdated, but also one that American lawmakers still believed in 2012, actually let me rephrase that: one that American dickheads still believed in two-thousand and fucking twelve because they’re cunts (for those asking why I didn’t censor that, but I did censor f*cking earlier I should clarify what the house style is for swear words: whatever I feel like at that particular moment is the rule).

So in summary, I feel you probably should watch this, but there’s a high chance you’ll be bored shitless. But you should admire parts of it.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021)

Quick synopsis: Venom/Eddie Brock have to deal with Cletus Cassidy, a serial killer who develops his own symbiote after biting Eddie and drinking his blood in this not-MCU film directed by Andy Serkis.

There are a lot of things that give me bad feelings about films. Sometimes it’s the trailer making me feel they’ve got the tone all wrong (How To Deter A Robber), sometimes it’s the casting notice making it clear they had no idea what the character was (Artemis Fowl, describing him as warm-hearted), but this is the first time that the length of a film made me feel uneasy. 97 Minutes. Now I don’t know if any of you have read the series this is based on (Maximum Carnage), but it’s LOOOOOOOOOONG. It’s longer than Civil War and Infinity War. Condensing all of that into 97 minutes is not easy. Their was a game based on the series released on the SNES back in the day, that’s longer than this film. Considering that Carnage wasn’t really introduced in the first film, we saw a brief glimpse of him but no details.

The short run-time means we don’t really get a glimpse into the character, but also weirdly we’re given too much. They’ve tried to give him a sympathetic edge, showing that he’s doing it for love or some shit. Just…….just let evil people be evil. Not everybody needs good intentions. They need believable intentions yes, and they need to make sense, but stop trying to insinuate that under every mass murderer is just a frustrated person who needs a hug.

Also, a weird thing to say considering how I talk about how the film is too short, but there’s a lot of wasted time here, especially at the start. The subplot of Venom and Eddie Brock splitting feels like it could be a film on it’s own (I mean, Separation Anxiety was a thing in the comics, right?). Here it resolves itself incredibly quickly. Do we at least get a good glimpse into Carnage the serial killer? Nope. It’s really strange actually. The film pretends there’s some deep personal relationship between Cletus and Eddie. Cletus specifically asks for Eddie to interview him. Doesn’t really explain why he’s so obsessed with him when he doesn’t know he’s Venom. It would have been SUCH a simple fix too. Just have a moment where he witnesses Eddie/Venom so knows the truth. Instead, no he’s shocked, and he bites Eddie just for the taste of it (diet coke). Honestly I don’t think this should have had Carnage it. This should have been about Venom and Eddie trying to co-exist whilst trying to catch someone else, and have him and Cletus have a Hannibal/Clarice style relationship for this film. Talk about how Cletus is a sociopath, but connected (maybe the home for troubled youths is the same one that another villain went to) so useful. Use this to build up the relationship between the two, then when the next film comes out you have Cletus become Carnage. That way when it happens you think “oh no, this sociopathic killer is now even MORE dangerous”. We have no idea what he was like as a killer because we don’t see him as that, we don’t know how dangerous he is really.

Although for that to happen, the rating would have to change. Venom is a brutal character, that’s never put across in these films due to the rating. I’ve heard people say “the one f-word the rating allows it is the greatest I’ve seen in years”, which is bullshit. I’m not saying a film like this needs every other word to be a swear word, but it should have a rating that would allow it to. The violence should make it an 18-rated film. Every time this film goes close to being violent, it cuts away. Characters die bloodlessly or off camera and it’s just not satisfying to watch at all.

On the plus side, the performances are all great and it’s directed beautifully (although it does seem a bit like Serkis is aiming for shots which will look good on a poster). And the post-credits scene could be a genuine game changer. So maybe see it, but you don’t need to rush out.

No One Gets Out Alive (2021)

Quick Synopsis: An undocumented woman from Mexico moves into a dilapidated building run by a guy who is obviously hiding something sinister

This film is an acquired taste, I’ll say that upfront now. There’s a chance you won’t like this. Maybe you won’t like the pacing, maybe you won’t like the horror style, maybe you’re an asshole and won’t like that the main character is an undocumented citizen. Either way, there is a lot that could possibly rub you the wrong way. I dug it though. There’s something so weirdly timeless about this movie. I think I’ve mentioned in the past that some horror films seem more like ghost stories read by candlelight. This is definitely one of those. Also, despite it being set in America, it feels weirdly British. Maybe it’s because of the “ghost story” like feeling to it. Maybe it’s the architecture. Maybe it’s something as simple as the fact some of the other people are Romanian etc, which seems more like something you’ll find in England than the US (or maybe it’s because it’s based on a book by a British author. Who knows?)

I’ll admit, I’m not that familiar with the work of the director, Santiago Menghini, but now I want to be. He makes some great choices in this which really enhance it. There are some decisions where nothing was needed, but he did something anyway, and it makes it better. The best example is when someone is being killed on the other side of a door, and a tooth flies under the door. Most people wouldn’t think to do that, but it really adds to it and shows a great attention to those little details that make a film great.

It’s not just him though, the performers are all great too. It’s a cast of people I’m unfamiliar with and that helped it. It felt less like a movie, and more like we were witnessing these events. Cristina Rodlo, in particular, is a revelation, giving her character the broken strength needed to make it work (and make the flashback make sense with her characterisation).

This is an incredibly powerful story. The basic set up and characters would work in a drama series. It’s only the specific situation that is definite horror. That helps it as it makes it feel like the story is happening in reality, as opposed to some horror films which seem to take place in a horror movie universe.

I think this is a film you need at watch at some point, but not one you need to rush out and see immediately. It’s not as good as, say, The Power, but it’s not as frustrating a watch as Lucky. It’s a netflix original, so hopefully will stay on the platform for a very long time. So if you want something to watch with your friends who don’t enjoy gorey or incredibly disturbing horror films this halloween, it would be hard to go wrong with this. The non horror parts are engaging enough to keep everybody watching involved.

Minari (2020)

Quick synopsis: A Korean family move to an Arkansas farm. I’m really underselling it.

Confession time: I nearly deleted this off the list of films I need to watch this year. Actually there’s no “nearly” about it, I did delete it. I just felt might not be for me. Might be too “arty” and slow. Only added it last month when I thought I’d give it a shot. I was a minute in and thought “I immediately regret my decision”, the decision to delete it, I mean. The fact I denied myself something so beautiful as this for so long is not great. I can’t even explain why the opening is good. It’s literally just the family driving to a new home, no dialogue, just soft music playing. But there’s something about it that’s just so damn cosy and warm that you immediately love it.

I can’t really go into the plot, mainly because it’s not important. There was one character point that made me panic about how the film was going to end, that it was going to get really depressing and bleak as it went on. It didn’t do that. There are moments of emotional frustration, where you just want to grab the characters by the shoulders and start shaking them until they realise what they should do/say. But the character moments aren’t “well I need to do this for the story to develop”, they are believable mistakes for humans to make. This is probably because it’s a semi-autobiographical film, based on the upbringing of writer/director Lee Isaac Chung. It’s a deeply personal story and one that’s told beautifully.

It says a lot about people too. There’s a moment where the family go to church. The other adults are really friendly, and the other kids are kind of dicks (the phrases “why is your face so flat?” and “I speak koraen: jing jang ying low” are both spoken). But then it twists it almost immediately and the kids start getting on once they’re corrected, something as simple as “my face isn’t flat”. Whereas the facade the adults are putting on starts to slip and they start to feel really disingenuous and condescending. It’s incredibly smart and so well done.

It’s not perfect though. The sister character could have been fleshed out better. It feels like if you took her out then it wouldn’t effect the film at all. She’s the only character who doesn’t seem to have their own arc and agency within the film and I had to check she was actually in the film and I didn’t get this film mixed up with another one. But nope, she’s in it, just really ineffective.

It’s weirdly difficult to talk about this film because it didn’t feel like a film. You weren’t sitting there focusing on the story or the acting. You don’t so much watch this, as experience it. It reminded me very much of Nomadland. Which is good, as I loved that film. I should probably do them as a double bill at some point. They’re both really good films with similar colour schemes.

All of this was a long way of saying, watch this film.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021)

Quick synopsis: Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren help a man suspected of murder who claims he was possessed by demons.

It would be unfair of me not to preface this with the knowledge that I am not happy with the very existence of this film. Fine, you can do schlocky horror films about demon possessions, but this is based on a real event. And not just “these people claimed their house was haunted, here’s what happened”. It’s a murder. Someone died, there are people in that town who remember that event. The victim probably still has living relatives so to trivialise the murder seems super sketchy. It’s presenting as fact the notion that the murderer was possessed by demons. I’ve had similar issues with these films in the past. They uncritically present the “yup, what this family said was definitely true” side without exploring whether they were in fact bullshitting or not. Fun fact, when someone called the Warrens out on their BS, they responded the problem with the skeptics is “they don’t base anything on God”. That’s their default position, so it’s already coming from a place of bias.

So, what about the film itself? This is technically only the third, but there has been numerous spin-offs too so it’s more like the 8th. I have seen all except the last Annabelle film, and I can barely remember anything from them except for bits and pieces from the second one (probably because I reviewed it). I remember enough to say that these films have no idea about escalation, every single case is presented as “the most deadly they have ever seen”. This has happened a lot now and I’m starting to get bored of it. There doesn’t seem to be an endgame, it’s all the same thing again and again.

This film itself? It’s not great. As I’ve said, I can’t remember too much of the previous ones, but this has been the worst of the main series by a long way. Part of it is the directing, this is the first of the main three not directed by James Wan (who was probably busy with Malignant), so it’s lacking the one thing you can normally depend on for this franchise: a slick style that glosses over a lot of the cracks the series has.

Without Wan’s directing to distract you, the flaws are more apparent. It’s just not an engaging story. It’s muddled with no clear idea of what the focus is. It’s also weirdly frustrating at parts. Shying away from things you actually want to see. The murderers lawyer points out that claiming demonic possession as a defence is a stupid idea, the Warrens tell her “come to our house for dinner and we’ll show you the evidence, we’ll prove it to you that demonic possession is real and dangerous”. It then cuts to the courtroom. So we don’t see what convinced her. What a fucking cop out.

There’s another moment which was a little odd. The film has a doctor utter the words “Yes it was a heart attack, and not a mild one I’m afraid”. Something about that line seems weird and I can’t put my finger on it. It just feels like it’s downplaying it somewhat, a really weird sentence that sounds wrong somehow.

There’s a moment where they go straight from “we need to find him, he’s in danger” to Blondie. I was going to criticise the use of Blondie as the segue as it was an incredibly bad use of it and ruined a tense line. But the director makes up for it by using it for a REALLY good jump scare, bringing the music WAY down until the character is approached and bringing it up again. Masterful and shows what the director can do. But then they use it in another scare and just slow it down, and it’s not as effective. There are some good directing ideas here, but not enough to sustain it to the end.

And lets talk about the ending. They convince the court of the possession so the guy only gets manslaughter. Everybody cheers. We then get text telling us what happened and it’s like “Yaaay this person who definitely killed someone got released after serving only 5 years, and didn’t receive any medical help.” This is supposed to be a happy ending. Knowing that a killer is now living a happy life is not a happy ending to me. Especially since the “he was possessed by demons” robs him of taking any responsibility for it.

The Addams Family 2 (2021)

Quick Synopsis: The Addams Family drive across the country, Wednesday thinks she’s not a proper member of the family, somewhere there’s an evil scientist.

I have seen the first one of these, but I didn’t review it for this site. If I had it would have just been me shouting the word “nooooooooooooo” for a few minutes. I had multiple issues with that film, none of which have been really fixed in the sequel. There has been a slight improvement in character design. The first one had almost every human character look more like a bratz doll, every step making it look like they’re going to break an ankle. The human characters look a bit more human here, but there’s still something wrong about them.

The casting is still wrong, but also weirdly right. Charlize Theron and Oscar Isaac would be absolutely perfect in a live action version, but having just their voices feels wrong, especially when the way the characters look doesn’t really seem to suit them. None of this is helped obviously by the casting of the live action ones in the 90s being near perfect. Occasionally a film has one or two perfect castings, those ones had the fortune to have the perfect Gomez, Morticia, Wednesday, and Uncle Fester. So any castings will be compared to those, and are unlikely to come off favourably.

Some castings are just the wrong choice. Nick Kroll as Fester for example is just not a good choice. Know who would have been a better choice? Danny DeVito. It would be much less annoying a voice than Krolls is. Also, as much as I love Chloe Grace Moretz, her Wednesday leaves a lot to be desired. Instead of coming off as calm and calculated, she just comes off as flat and bored.

As you can tell by now, I did not enjoy this film. I feel part of that is because it never FEELS like an Addams Family movie. It feels like an animated movie starring them. Like it’s trying way too hard to be cool, way too much music aimed at a younger audience. And yes, I do know the 90s series had MC Hammer in it, but that was mainly restricted to “a song played at some point”. It didn’t do with him what this film does with Snoop Dogg as Cousin It: have him dropped into the plot by private jet, do absolutely nothing, get lifted off again, and then appear at the end to do a rap. You could remove his scenes entirely and you wouldn’t notice they’re not there. They add absolutely nothing to the narrative.

Well I say narrative, it’s mostly “stuff happening”. The plot (that Wednesday might not be an Addams) is predicated almost entirely on Fester juggling with the babies in the hospital, causing a possible mix-up. But the villain, how does he know this? He doesn’t. All of the things that convince Wednesday that she doesn’t belong to the family are things out of the villains control (not just the juggling babies, but also a DNA hair test Wednesday performs coming up “no relation” because Gomez wears a wig). Unless those things happen, the plot doesn’t move forward, but he has no idea those things will happen, he just lucks out. The screenplay is based almost entirely on you not thinking about it for a second, and just hoping you’ll go along with the lazy nature of it.

Great films inspire you to ask questions. The only question I have after this film is: Why?

Don’t Breathe 2 (2021)

Quick synopsis: A blind veteran has to defend a young girl from people who want to kidnap her.

I went into this knowing there was a chance I wouldn’t like it. I didn’t like the first film, mainly because I saw it as just a group of terrible people being awful, I had nobody to root for and my main hope was that the winner would be a gas leak under the house.

It was clear that the reaction to The Blind Man from the first one meant that a sequel would turn him into an anti-hero. It’s a bit weird as the first film tried so hard to make him hateful so when you’re watching this that is always in the back of your mind. It’s like in Cruella where no matter what she does you know she’s capable of attempting to skin dogs alive. Only for it to be comparable to this she would have had to have kidnapped and raped them too, now I haven’t seen the original animated 101 Dalmatians, but I’m fairly sure she didn’t do that (maybe in the original book).

This feels like it’s trying very hard to give him redemption. It even has a character say

“you’re a bad man, a man who’s done terrible things. At least you think that, I’m the same”.

No, but he actually is evil. He’s not an anti-hero. The previous film, again, had him forcibly impregnate someone. I’m all for morally ambiguous characters but there is a limit. There are some evils you can’t be redeemed from, and what he did is one of them. It would be like having a film called Hitler 2: Electric Boogaloo, where it turns out he faked his death and now runs a dance club in Argentina where he helps youths stay out of trouble and fall in love.

Now, onto this film itself. It’s……it’s so forgettable. I would have rather it be bad than be as bland as this is. It’s nothing. It’s a film which if I didn’t make notes I would REALLY struggle to come up with a summary at the end of the year. The characters aren’t that memorable, the situation is cliche, and most of the dialogue seems very first draft.

On the plus side, it’s quite well directed in parts. This is the directorial debut of Rodo Sayagues, and he already seems experienced in it. The best parts of this film are due to him. There’s a tracking shot in this which belongs in a much better film. There are a few issues with cohesion and clarity, but for a first-time film this is incredibly strong and great showcase for what he could do.

Stephen Lang continues to do a great job as the lead, but he still reminds me too much of Kevin Nash for me to be entirely comfortable.

Overall, it’s hard to recommend this, but I do say as someone who went into the film with expectations to dislike it. Maybe if it was a standalone film I would have been more appreciative of it. But as it is it’s so incredibly nothing that it’s hard to overcome my expectations.

Malignant (2021)

Quick synopsis: Madison (Annabelle Wallis) is a pregnant woman living in Seattle with her abusive partner. She starts receiving visions of people being murdered and………..actually you know what? A synopsis would not help you that much here. Just watch the trailer, then watch the film. It’s fucking strange.

I watched this on the 25th September, and I still haven’t properly gathered my thoughts about it. It’s something unlike anything else you will see this year. One of the most unique films and I’m still not sure how it got made and given a wide release. It’s unlike anything else I’ve seen this year, but also has a weird sense of familiarity. It’s the kind of film I may not buy, but I do want to see again just to experience it.

It’s a really strange film, incredibly uneven. There are moments where it looks slick as hell and incredibly well produced, but then moments where it looks really cheap and kind of silly. I have never both enjoyed and been disappointed at the same time as much as I have with this. Some of it feels like it’s a tribute to horror movies of time past, there’s a definite air of the giallo horror movies of the 70s and 80s, but also very reminiscent of the early horror movies of Peter Jackson or Sam Raimi. It mostly works, but there’s one moment which is supposed to be horrifying but I heard laughter in the screening I went to.

One thing that is pretty even throughout is the tone. It’s consistently uneven. There are some sub-plots here which definitely could have been cut. Chief among them is a romance sub-plot that felt so unnaturally shoe-horned in I wanted to hit both characters with a cheese grater and tell them to stop being so damn horny. It might work if the performances are better, but they’re incredibly flat a lot of the time. So wooden it might they might as well be an IKEA shelving unit.

Now onto the good. The music is great. Both in terms of the of the songs picked, and the original score. It’s incredibly brutal in parts, not shying away in situations when lesser films would.

And the third act? It’s the cinematic equivalent of throwing lasagne against the wall and playing in the mess it’s created. It’s chaotic, it’s strange, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

The visuals are brilliant in parts. Some of the effects aren’t great, but the actual look and colour schemes are beautiful. It says a lot about both this film, and how much of a pretentious dick that I am, that there are a few scenes in this where I thought “wow, that use of focus and shadow is very Citizen Kane”. There are so many shots here which could have been a poster.

So in summary go see it. You may love it, you may hate it, but you will be fascinated by it and feel yourself unable to turn away. I am so glad something like this can get made, I am all about this kind of big-ish budget experimental cinema. A truly risky move from director James Wan, but one I feels pays off.

Dark Night: Episode 1 (Update 2)

For those unaware, read this and this first.

So, I’ve actually finished it. Not showing the whole thing yet as there’s a plot point that at the moment is left unresolved and I can’t find a narrative place to fix it without pausing the story for unnecessary dialogue. Also I changed my mind on how one of the characters operates so I need to go back and modify that, tweak some of the traps to make them more on-brand etc. I’m not sure whether to show any reactions to it from the outside world or not. On the plus side it would allow me to cut between times easily, and getting reactions from people is the easiest way to nudge the audience towards certain things. But another part of me feels that cutting away from a trapped house will make it feel less trapped. I’ll figure it out. But until then, here’s the ending.

Quick summary of what’s happened before this that you haven’t seen: Terri has lost an eye and has had to resort to cannibalism after being locked in a room with a dead body for 63 days, she saved Anna and the two are the last survivors.

Now, as someone else pointed out, Harley Quinn isn’t a nurse, and that’s not her name. In my head her visual aesthetic is the same as from the Arkham Asylum games which just seemed more “nurse” to me. In the second draft I’m likely to change it to a hospital room. The downside of that is it wouldn’t feel as trapped as it is in an ambulance. Although it being set in an ambulance does raise one question: Who’s driving? I need an answer to that in my Harley Quinn episode, and if I can’t think of one I will definitely have to change it. And I’m still not sure whether to actually have the Joker in it more. At the moment he’s almost a cameo, I need a way to remind the audience that this is his doing, and he’s overseeing it all. But it’s hard to figure out a natural way to do that. There is a really obvious way, I know, but I need to realise what it is. Also, I’m still not completely sure whether Harley was lying about whether Anna survived. In my head I had two endings: one where Terri thought she got away with it but then found out Anna survived, and had the realisation of what that meant, and the Harley Quinn one. This was my way of kind of doing both, but I need to pull it off better.