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.

Candyman (2021)

Quick Synopsis: An artist delves into the Candyman mythos and it starts to slowly take over his life.

I will freely admit, I haven’t seen any of the original Candyman films, so I am going into this mostly blind. Pretty much all I know is the basic plot, and that Tony Todd is in it (or to give him his full name: Tony Freaking Todd). That might have made it harder for me to enjoy this film as there are quite a few returning characters who I just didn’t get. On the other hand, if I did know, then it might have ruined one of the “twists” as it would have been obvious what had really happened, so it would have been only an internal reveal, the audience already aware.

I’m not really sure who this was aimed at, the lengths they go to to include all those references to the original make me think it’s aimed at seasoned fans of the franchise. But the fact it was advertised based on creating something new, that it didn’t talk about a “return” made it seem new, even the name made it seem like a new start and a reboot. Compare this to Halloween. Which firmly established itself as a sequel that ignored all but the first film. I also hadn’t seen any Halloween films before I saw that one, but that did a much better job of establishing who the character is, and what he does. This doesn’t really do a good job of establishing what it is the character can actually do. It focuses a lot on “say his name and he’ll appear”, but it doesn’t establish whether he feels physical pain, whether he can be reasoned with, or even deal that much with the mirrors. The character mostly exists in mirrors, unable to be seen in the real world. This means that the film is missing that core aspect of a horror film: the fightback. At no point does any character even begin to look like they can fight back, there’s no “will they survive” to any of the deaths as you know they won’t. So there’s no tension, every death is the equivalent of a train approaching somebody tied to a railway track, you know they’re going to die so the slow nature of it just draws out the inevitable.

It’s not as though the film itself is slow and drawn out, there are moments where it’s painfully rushed. 90 minutes is not long enough to tell a story like this. The film has to do A LOT. It has to introduce the main character in his normal life, then introduce the lore, have the character be uncertain then be presented with evidence, then research it more etc. You need to do a lot for a film like this, and that requires time, and this film just doesn’t have it.

The third act in particular really suffers from the rushed nature. The third act reveal could really work, and the concept itself is exciting and could lead to a great sequel. But the way it’s handled in this is shockingly bad, with REALLY important details rushed over in a sentence or two, so the true implications of the reveal don’t have time to breathe. I’m not asking for a five hour horror film, just another 15 minutes or so would have really helped this.

Now onto the good, it looks amazing. Nia DaCosta is lined up to do The Marvels film, and I’m really excited about what she could bring visually to it. There’s some very cool concepts in this, the idea of the shadow puppets being used to tell some of the stories is interesting, bringing to mind the works of Lotte Reiniger. Her use of angles too are interesting, making even standard scenes have a sense of dread. It’s also suitably gory, and the score is pretty damn intense too. Would I recommend this? It’s hard to say, I feel if you go see a few films a year, maybe skip it. If you want to just sit and be scared, go see it. Also, if you’re interested in film-making I’d go to see it purely so you can study the techniques they use. I’d say it’s more important than it is good.

It did give me one of the stupidest comments I’ve seen on film twitter though:

Yeah, stupid woke Hollywood, taking a story about a former slaves son who was lynched and tortured for falling in love with a white woman, and somehow making it about race. What’s next? Making a film where we actually are supposed to sympathise with the creature in Frankenstein? Or a Nightmare On Elm Street film where it turns out Freddy Krueger is actually the villain just because he kills people? Snowflakes!

12 Hour Shift (2020)

Quick Synopsis: A drug-addicted nurse needs to find a spare kidney to stop her sister being killed.

By all rights I should have loved this. It’s an interesting plot, bloody, funny, and it has Mick Foley. For some reason it inspired no bigger reaction than “it was alright”. It was good, but it never felt better than that to me. It never fully grabbed me like I needed it to. I’m not sure why, the performances are great, I’ve only seen Angela Bettis in the 2002 version of Carrie, a film which had many problems but she was not one of them. I think its an issue of the film over-reaching, it attempts a lot more than it needs to. It has so many plates spinning in the air that it never spins them quickly enough. If it cut down some of the unnecessary characters I feel it would be stronger. Because it has so much going on it never really gathers enough momentum to be truly satisfying.

It’s written and directed by Brea Grant, who also gave us Lucky, which was more disappointing but probably had more potential. It’s a shame because she’s obviously really good, it’s just her stuff seems more like stuff I’d see shorts of than features. Not to say this film is bad though, like I said the performances are great, and it’s really really funny when it needs to be.

It’s still weird to see Mick Foley drop the f-bomb considering I always assumed he was allergic. It also looks great, has a kind of washed out greyness too it that really suits the tone. Praise must also go to the uniqueness of the the film. It’s hard to compare it anything because there’s really not much else like this. There’s not nearly enough horror films set in a hospital, especially not one over the course of a nightshift, which is weird as that kind of thing is ripe for horror movie fodder. I feel that may also slightly work against this film, you get the feeling that it’s not quite making the most of the setting and timing. There doesn’t seem to be much in this film that couldn’t be accomplished over the course of a few nights instead of just one. It doesn’t have that race against time that would be great for a film like this. It does seem to do a lot with the location, there are few places this could take place in other than a hospital, although again, it doesn’t make the most of the fact that it’s a night shift. Compare this to something like The Power, which made the most of the creepy nature of hospitals late at night.

Maybe that’s my issue, it doesn’t feel like a horror movie full of darkness and creepiness, it feels a bit like a cheap slasher movie, but the story doesn’t lend itself to that so there’s a real disconnect between tone and story. Also it feels a little too polished for such a scuzzy tale. It needs to feel dirty, but it comes off just a bit too clean. Overall the film suffers a real struggle for tone throughout, and that really hurts it.

This is a film I feel I will like a lot more on a second watch, and I will watch it again someday, just not for a while. Worth checking out though.

Black Bear (2020)

Quick synopsis: Audrey Plaza plays an actress in her partners film, and gets jealous of how he acts with the woman playing his wife. Weirdness ensues (in shoes)

This was not what I expected. I expected standard Plaza snark. I heard it was a slight head-fuck so I was expecting something like Life After Beth. This is nothing like Life After Beth. This is…..it’s something else. It’s something unique. There’s not way I can talk about this without spoiling it so here goes. For the first third of the film we see Plaza walk into a guys house that he shares with his wife, and seduce him. It then turns out that was part of a film-within-a-film and in reality she’s the guys partner. As the film progresses we realise she’s worried that he’s cheating on her with the woman who plays his wife, an idea that he pushes as he thinks it will help her performance. That’s a very telling piece of character work as it highlights how he’ll put his work over his wife’s own mental health. This causes her to drink heavily (and the rest of the crew to be horrified with him).

That’s the most normal way I can describe it, and it still involves pointing out that a third of the film is a film within a film. It’s a weird film, but in an incredibly normal way. It’s not weird in what happens, there’s not really any “wow, that’s a freaky special effect” moment. It’s more a weirdness in terms of atmosphere and feeling. The whole film FEELS incredibly tense. You know when you’re drinking with people and it all feels normal, until two drunk people disagree? That feeling that hangs in the air, even when one of the two people leaves you still get that tension in the air, that tension where it feels almost certain that they’re going to come back and shoot everyone. It’s a heavy energy that weighs everyone down. THAT’S what this film is, and it’s a fantastic watch. Weird thing: I can’t remember that many individual moments. But it’s not a film of moments, it’s a film of tone. It’s almost like you take it all in at one moment like the characters in Arrival (fantastic film by the way). If it was an album it wouldn’t be one full of hit singles, but one you put on and listen to in full with headphones in the corner of a room.

It helps that it’s directly beautifully. Lawrence Michael Levine has the talent to let scenes breathe, going on longer than other directors would until it becomes uncomfortable to watch. Now I’m going to have to be very careful with how I phrase this next sentence, just go into it knowing it’s a compliment. It feels cheap. It doesn’t feel like a slick big budget film. It has the air of someone just grabbing a camera and filming something with their mates one weekend. It kind of feels like a documentary at times. Actually now I think about it it feels more like you’re hiding in the bushes watching it. There’s an incredibly voyeuristic quality to the film-making that makes it seem like you’re peeling apart the lives of these characters, witnessing things you shouldn’t be seeing. It’s wonderful and I love it. The type of film-making that makes you want to go into the directors back catalogue and see what else they’re capable of.

So in summary I think you should check it out, but be aware there is a chance that you will absolutely hate it.

In The Heights (2021)

Quick Synopsis: A musical about the lives of people living in Washington Heights, a neighbourhood in Manhattan.

I haven’t seen that many musicals. Usually when I do they’re either heavily gimmicked (Repo: A Genetic Opera, for example), or a jukebox musical (Rocketman). I think the last straight-out musical I watched at the cinema was La La Land back in 2016. It’s not that I actively avoid them, it’s just they’re not released that often. When they are they’re usually aimed specifically at a young teen audience, and I can’t really go to see those at a cinema without being put on a list.

It’s a shame as musicals can be really fun to watch. I like a film with a good soundtrack, it’s a good way for a film to stay in your memory once you leave the cinema. So a film with an original soundtrack that stays in your head for a long time is a film that’s likely to end up on my positive side. The quality of the music in this one ensured it will be in my good graces for a long time. The songs are insanely catchy, well-written, and wonderfully performed. Usually in a musical you end up with at least one weak link (Russell Crowe in Les Mis), one person who has a singing voice that isn’t up the standard required (Russell Crowe in Les Mis), who are so untalented that it makes you wonder how they got it. But everyone in this gives great performances, with fantastic harmonies and incredibly clear enunciation (which for a musical dependent on the songs to advance the plot, is something you kind of need).

The downsides of musicals is that it can be difficult to stay fully immersed, it can be hard to watch people singing about doing something, and NOT think “then shut up and just do it. You’re singing about your hidden plans, how are people not seeing that? You’re shining a spotlight on yourself for fucks sake, how are people not seeing that?”. It takes a good musical to make you forget that. This does that. It entraps you from the opening number (at least I’m assuming it’s the opening number, I stepped in the cinema about 20 seconds late). The universe the film creates is one where people randomly singing makes sense. It’s one where everything has a certain flow to it which suits this genre.

The performances? Really good. Almost all of the performers in here are new to me (with one notable exception). I mean, I KNOW I’ve seen some of them in things before, but this is the first time they’ve all stood out. It seems like most of the cast are from musicals, which is a much better way of doing it than going for people from a film background. The casting choices are all fantastic, to me anyway. There has been some criticism for the lack of Afro-Latino actors, cutting out a large demographic of the actual Washington Heights. I’m not sure whether that will effect it internationally, but it does look like it could effect it in the US.

I have no idea about the demographics of the area, so it didn’t really make a difference to my enjoyment of the film. And I did enjoy it. I saw this film just before seeing Supernova, a film about someone coming down with early-onset dementia, and one that really hit home hard. I should have had that on my mind for the walk home, but all I could think about was this. The way this film made me feel outlasted the sad aura of Supernova.

A lot of the trailers (Well, the one trailer I saw a lot) focused heavily on the Lin-Manuel Miranda, which makes sense as Hamilton was huge and he did the music for both. I must confess, I still haven’t seen Hamilton (this is the closest I’ve got), so I don’t know the similarities in musical style, but this has made me want to watch Hamilton even more. I feel the work of Jon M. Chu deserves praise too. His part in the publicity was “the director of Crazy Rich Asians”, which, to be honest, didn’t really mean anything to me. I’ve looked at his filmography, and it seems like this was the film his career has been building to. The colour of Crazy Rich Asians, obviously. But also the playfulness and creative set-pieces from Now You See Me 2, the large scale scenes which require multiple moving parts from G.I Joe, and the knowledge of how to shoot dancing scenes from Step Up and the Justin Bieber movie. His next project is the film adaptation of Wicked, which could be good, but it does make me worry that he will be known as “musical guy” when I’d be interested in see him try new and weird things. He was lined up to do a live action adaptation of Lilo And Stitch, but sadly he’s left those duties. That’s a shame as a live-action Disney film is something I feel he could do very well. Something else I think he’d do well: Goosebumps. Not even specifically that franchise, but that kind of film, a horror movie aimed at kids. He directs in a way that is visually striking, with all the pieces flowing together beautifully. It’s almost the cinematic equivalent of an ocean with the expansive nature and glistening look. Yup, that’s a weird way of describing it, but it’s the best way I can think of it. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a film that can best be described as “a holiday in Spain” with how it made me feel. It reminds me very much of those holidays when I was younger. The sense of wonder, the warmth, and the feeling of being invited into a world completely different from your own. It made me feel nostalgic for things that never happened to me.

Now onto the negative. The narrative is a bit weak. It tries to do so much but doesn’t have the length to do them all justice. Certain plot points don’t seem to have been followed, and certain things which should be important don’t seem to have the effect they do. There are a few songs which possibly could have been cut. There’s one near the end which I wouldn’t say needs cutting as it leads to an emotional moment where a character dies, so the song itself is needed. But that being said, it could stand to lose a verse or two. Some of the songs go on for what feels unnaturally long, and for those moments the film seems to stand still. It doesn’t happen often, and it’s not like every song is like that. It’s just one or two moments where songs could have been cut down a bit.

Overall, a fantastic film and one I know I need to see again .

Together (2021)

This is available on iplayer, so if you’re in the UK right now it’s available easily and for free. It’s worth more than that. I actually messaged people before it was over, telling them they need to watch it. The opening is essentially two characters (played by McAvoy and Horgan) arguing with each other via you, so they’re just talking to you about how much they hate each other. So yeah, just two characters talking, that should be incredibly dull, yet the writing and the performances draw you in beautifully.

The way the characters interact is masterful, the genuine anger between them is there for everyone to see, but it’s not cliche anger. It’s not the anger that comes from a misunderstanding, it’s anger that comes from philosophical differences. They have the kind of arguements that long term relationships have, it all feels so real. Amongst that, it is incredibly funny, with some of the best dialogue I’ve heard in a long time. For a stretch of this film I considered this one of the funniest films of the year.

And then it’s suddenly very not.

They start talking about the government response to COVID, about how their inaction led to deaths and the disease spreading out of their control. About how everybody could see the warning signs and the government continued to do nothing. The film becomes less funny, but much more important. It feels like film as a way of protest, as art, as a timepiece of when our government took the worst possible choice in every scenario then wondered why the situation won’t get better. The anger switches at this point. Well, it doesn’t really switch, so much as infect. The anger of the characters start effecting you. You start realising a lot of things. Everything starts connecting in your head and you get incredibly pissed off. But the good kind of pissed off. Not the kind of anger where you need to drink, but the kind of anger where you rise up and shout that shit needs to change. We can’t go on like this, we can’t allow what happened to happen again, and we can’t allow the people who allowed it to happen to continue to act in the way they did. You realise decisions were made for the betterment of their careers and finances, they never gave a shit about human lives or the general economy as long as their personal bank statements grew. As long as their friends companies got given multi-million pound contracts for things they had no experience in, it was acceptable for small businesses, the lifeblood of communities, to fail. It was okay to screw over millions, if they made millions.

I have hated a lot of films before. I have ranted about how much I detested things about certain films. About how the ending ruined it, about how the plot made no sense, about how the film has such an ugly soul that it’s impossible to like. And those films annoyed. But I have never, in my entire life, been as fucking furious as I was when I watched this. And you need to feel that anger. You need to hear some uncomfortable truths. And you need to start questioning a lot of things.

Things are not okay, and it’s up to films like this to help us change that.

Nomadland (2020)

Knew nothing of this film going in, that’s becoming a running theme with these reviews lately. Truth be told I don’t actively seek out films, I don’t go onto film sites and search for recommendations. My knowledge of what films to see come from four sources:

  1. Trailers at the cinema
  2. Personal recommendation (is why I watched Love And Monsters)
  3. If it gets nominated for a lot of awards (Sound Of Metal)

My fourth one is the one I’ve used the most this year. And if you ever wondered how the hell I found some random films, it’s likely to be from this. I go onto https://filmdistributorsassociation.com/release-schedule/this-weeks-releases/ every week to look at the films that have been released that week, if I haven’t heard of it at all I’ll quickly google it and see if it intrigues me. That’s why I end up hearing about films such as Come True (very much yay), Blithe Spirit (very much not yay), and I Blame Society (I don’t know yet as I haven’t seen it, but it looks great). When I say “it intrigues me” I mean that I read a quick one line synopsis, if that hooks me I usually just add it to the list. So there’s a lot of films where I haven’t even seen the trailer (if I had then I wouldn’t have seen Mouthpiece as I’ve since watched the trailer for that and it did nothing for me, which is a shame as it would have meant missing out on one of my favourite films of the year).

So yeah, despite it being one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year (well, technically last year. I’ll stop using parenthesis soon I swear), I went into this knowing very little. Highly recommend going into it this way as seeing everything unfurl in front of you is a delightful experience. I say “delightful”, it’s actually horrible. This has the tone and look of an apocalyptic future. It resembles a word in the near future left ravaged by war. So when is this film set? 2011. That’s a stunning indictment of American capitalism.

But that’s not really what this film is, it’s not about dystopia and bleakness. It’s ultimately about humanity and hope. It’s about beauty and life. It’s about everything and nothing all at once. It feels all too real, but sometimes that realness gives you a warm glow inside.

The feeling of reality is helped by the cast, mainly because Chloe Zhao decided to cast non-actors, instead reaching out to people who actually live the nomadic life. Risky strategy, but it definitely works. These characters know the perfect way to play every single piece of dialogue, bringing the characters to life in a way that few other films could. I should also mention the way that Zhao shot a lot of it. She doesn’t go to make it look like a dramatic film, it’s shot almost like a documentary. Again, this makes everything feel real. It doesn’t often feel like you’re watching a film, but more like you’re standing there alongside them, it truly makes you feel like part of a community (then the film finishes and you’re back to a reality where you’re alone with just a cup of tea for company, and you cry). Considering this film stars Frances McDormand, one of the best performers around, making you forget that she’s an actor is something incredibly difficult to do. But both the talent of the film, and the talent of McDormand herself, make that easy to do.

I suppose it is also helped by being based on a non-fiction book (Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century) which I now need to read I think. You’d think being based on a non-fiction book would mean it lacks narrative. It kind of does, but also doesn’t. It’s not a standard “A leads to B, which leads to C” style plot. It’s the cinematic equivalent of just wandering around somewhere (almost nomadically you could say) and observing. Sometimes you meander, taking stock of what’s in front of you at that moment, sometimes you move forward quicker, and sometimes you stand still. It’s the moments where characters just sit around talking which are the highlights. A key example of this is a guy explaining how his son committed suicide. He talks about how living on the road means you never say goodbye, because you know you’re going to see everybody further down the road. That’s why he does it, because he feels it means his son hasn’t said goodbye, they’ll always meet each other later on. Just writing that bit and remembering it almost brought me to tears just now. That’s how powerful it is.

In summary, you really need to see this. It’s one of the most compelling things I’ve seen all year, and it deserves everything you could give it. Plus it’s available for free on disney+ right now so….yeah.

The Father (2020)

This film is a mess. The way it’s edited means it lacks any sense of cohesive structure. It’s incredibly difficult to figure out what the hell is going on and you sit there for most of the film being confused and trying to make sense of it all.

And I love it. That’s the best way to tell this story, it’s certainly the most effective. It’s all well and good telling people about the horrifying effects of suffering with dementia, but this is the best way to actually SHOW it, to put you in the shoes of someone with it. The confusion, the mixing up of times and characters (there are moments where the characters are suddenly played by different actors). I’m a big fan of when narrative structure suits the film. If this was a standard A-B film it probably still would have been good, but that’s all it would have been, good. It wouldn’t have been as great as it is. It wouldn’t have been as impactful as it is. It wouldn’t have caused almost everybody in the cinema to break into tears at the end.

Jesus, the end. Spoilers here I guess, but this isn’t really a film you watch for the narrative, you watch it for the experience (and it’s certainly an experience). You may survive the rest of the film untouched (you monster) but I doubt you’ll make it through the ending feeling nothing. For the rest of the film you’re confused, bewildered, and trying to ground yourself (damn I love how it puts you in his shoes), but for this moment? You know what’s going on, and it devastates you. It’s just Anthony Hopkins saying he feels his mind going (or as it’s brilliantly put: he’s losing his leaves), and he cries and begs for his mommy. The helplessness and weakness he shows is heartbreaking. Especially since Hopkins normally plays characters who are not just in control, but usually the smartest person in the room. So to see him do that really hits home how bad it can get.

Olivia Colman also knocks it out the park, as she usually does. When exactly did she become that damn good? It’s still weird to see her as this acting behemoth capable of making you feel every emotion, when I still can’t unsee her characters from Mitchell And Webb. I never would have guessed when she was doing comedy like that that she’d turn into what she has, and I’ve got to be honest, I’m still not entirely sure when it happened, was it Broadchurch?

The downside of this film? The directing could be a bit stronger at times. The director (Florian Zeller) has a history in theatre, and that shows in his directing choices. There are a lot of static shots, there is not a lot here in terms of shot composition that you couldn’t do on a stage. Compare this to something like Mouthpiece (yes, I’m mentioning that film again, because I know you haven’t seen it and you really should), also based on a play, but did things in the film that would not be possible on stage, and was all the better for it. He did some things which were great, but I feel a lot of that (changing the set subtly between scenes) is taken from the play. Controversial opinion: maybe should have had someone on set who’s experienced in horror movies. Not to add lots of jump scares and threatening chords, but just to amp up the fear factor the character is feeling. If you’ve got someone who is experienced in making characters seem more helpless in certain situations, it might have improved certain scenes and helped them achieve more.

That’s a very small niggle though, you still need to watch this film. Either see it at the cinema, or wait until it’s shown on Channel 4 at Christmas. A truly powerful piece of cinema that deserves watching.

Although it does seem weirdly French for some reason. Just tonally.

Nobody (2021)

I went in with relatively high expectations for this. All I had heard is it was John Wick-like, and I loved those movies. So I expected greatness, but I also thought there was a chance it wouldn’t live up to the hype.

Thankfully it does. It takes longer than you’d think to get going, there’s a few moments where you think you’re going to see him being violent but he doesn’t, but he later explains why and it’s perfect. It also means when the inevitable finally does happen, it’s beautifully cathartic, it had been building up to it beautifully. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t take the entire film to do that, in reality it probably takes about 15-20 minutes so it’s a good length, you don’t get bored waiting around for what you know will happen (like what happens while watching Ma, as you can see in this wonderful review by the smartest and sexiest person alive). The scene where it happens is truly superb, and gives a good indication of the difference between this and John Wick. Whenever you watch a John Wick film, the way he fights seems almost superhuman, so you’re amazed by what that person can do physically. Here, he doesn’t fight like he’s a superhuman god, he just fights smarter. He takes random opportunities to commit violence against them using unexpected ways. It’s not as flashy, but it’s definitely effective. It’s the way someone who’s actually training to fight would fight, not the way someone training to make a fight look good fights.

I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t expect Bob Odenkirk to be able to pull this off, I mainly know him from comedies, and in them he usually has a certain character he plays: someone quite smarmy who you can imagine avoiding physical confrontation. The kind of guy for whom when he’s married his most common phrase seems to be “yes dear” before being forced to do something he doesn’t want to do, the very definition of milquetoast. That characterisation plays into this though, everybody sees him as some meek person who’s incapable of defending himself. To the point where even the police chew him out for not killing someone.

I’m kind of conflicted on that aspect. The film has people say he’s not a real man because he doesn’t fight, but then they respect him when he does. So it’s saying the people are wrong, and that he is a man, but only BECAUSE he fights, if he didn’t do that, he’d still be nothing to them. So while it’s saying stuff about toxic masculinity, it is still weirdly perpetuating the followings of it.

It feels like action movies have moved more towards featuring older leads, especially since the success of Taken. But there are times in some of them where it stretches disbelief to see someone that much older (and sometimes out of shape) easily match fitness levels with groups of professional assassins much younger than them. This manages to make it believable by having him get the crap kicked out of him, but just keep going, and yet not fully recover from the injuries. Also, he makes mistakes while fighting, he misjudges distances slightly and hits his head on things. It makes it seem real. That’s what puts this film over the multitude of other action films, just how real it all feels.

I mean, it does go bombastic when it needs to. The scenes of him and Christopher Lloyd (yeah, he’s in this too) defending their building from a group of invading Russian gangsters (I’ll admit, the plot for this isn’t exactly original, it not only wears it’s influences on its sleeves, but also fashioned a tie out of them) are pretty badass. Actually all the action scenes are fantastic, but it spreads them out REALLY well. It’s not a constant barrage of fight scenes, it places them strategically when they would serve the narrative best, it’s one of the best examples of how to handle writing action movies, the film is not just an excuse to go from one action set-piece to the next, with the rest of the film just being filler. It uses narrative to justify the action as opposed the other way around. It does help that the non-action bits are still really good. They’re funny, interesting, and show great use of characters.

So yeah, go see it. It’s only 90 minutes too, the perfect length.

A Quiet Place Part 2 (2021)

FINALLY! I got “out next week” style trailers for this before the first lockdown. Buses have had the poster for this on them for so long they’re starting to fade. I’ve been waiting for the cinemas to reopen, and this film is the reason why. I should point out, because of the delay, it’s been so long since I saw the trailer, I actually can’t remember much from it. I remember how it made me feel, excited, and a little creeped out. The idea that in some ways the surviving humans would be the villains in this is strangely compelling, and it has a hint of truth to it. To survive in this world, it would have been an advantage to be a complete prick. I was really looking forward to seeing that play out in this.

But…..it doesn’t. Not really. There’s one scene where a group of people trap two of the characters, rob them, leave one of them to be killed, and will (probably judging by how they acted) rape the other one. That scene lasts I’d say about ten minutes. After that we see a community that has survived and thrived by helping each other. That lasts much longer. I suppose in some ways that’s nice, it shows a glimmer of hope for the world. But to look at it another way: this wouldn’t be the film I’d chose to watch if I was looking for something nice, that’s not what I want from this film, especially with how it was marketed.

Not my biggest issue with the film. My biggest issue is the sound. Now, I LOVE the sound design of the first one, the use of silence helped it stand out in a crowded field, and it’s a great film to watch in a full room as you can sense everybody in the audience trying their best to not make a noise. It modified viewer behaviour, and you don’t get that in this film. You don’t get that in this film for one simple reason: it uses music. Yup, over dramatic scenes, it plays suitable music, it seems like the film is scared of letting films be silent, which considering that’s what made the first film stand out, is a weird choice. It would be like making Saw II and having all the traps take place off-screen. It’s weird as it’s the same director as the first one, but it feels very different. The only major difference is that Krasinski wrote this one, whereas he only directed the first one. That explains the difference in tone of the script, but it doesn’t explain why it feels so different to watch.

Maybe it’s the age difference as well. It’s been a few years since the first film, but it’s set very soon after. Sadly it means at least one of the kids looks very different. That kid gets caught in a bear trap really early on, personally I think he should have died there. It would have taken him out of the film and done away with one of the most distracting sub-plots. It also would have made the characters feel more panicked, so add to their suffering. Plus, imagine that scene playing out. Unlike the death of the child in the first film, which was quick, this would be slow. The family would be hiding, too scared to make a noise in case they attract the aliens, they’d have no choice but to sit and watch, knowing what is going to happen but being too powerless to stop it long term. It would be an incredibly powerful scene, and would impact every decision made from then on.

So yeah, this film is kind of a disappointment. It is still a very solid piece of film-making. It still does everything it needs to. If this was a new franchise it would be a solid 8/10. But as a sequel to one of the most unique horror films of the last few years, I can’t help but feel a little cheated.