2021 In Film: Day Six (The Good)

Cruella

I will freely admit this film is a bit bloated, but it’s still a lot of fun. Probably the best of the live-action Disney villain explorations (okay, that’s not saying much I’ll admit). It all depends on what they do next though, a sequel could make or break this. There’s a huge gap between the Cruella of the 101 Dalmations film and the Cruella in this, and I’m not entirely sure how they can manage to bridge the gap. They somehow need it for a character we support and like, to become a puppy killer. Or they could just leave it, that would probably be the smartest choice in terms of avoiding watering down this film.

+ Slick, stylish, and just a pure joy to watch.

– Doesn’t have the best use of music. Sometimes uses songs just for the sake of using them.

Best Moment: Cruella’s roaring rampage of revenge. Great fun to watch.

Worst moment: Almost all the bits with her friend from school who is now a journalist. Feels like it’s building up to something big, but never really happens.

Best Performer: Not going to go with Emma Stone. I know most people would, and she is really good. But to me, Tipper Seifert-Cleveland was more important. She set the tone early on, dropping the baton for Stone to pick up.

Worst Performer: Jamie Demetriou, his performance seems a little out of place for this movie.

Best Line: “you killed my mother” “you have to be more specific”

Original review here

Here Today

The first of three dementia-based films I’ll mention in these round-ups, all three having incredibly different tones. On the downside that does mean that you’ve seen a lot of this film before, but it has moments of Billy Crystal being incredible and those moments are soon forgotten. There’s great chaotic energy to the whole thing. It’s great to see Billy Crystal lose control. He’s normally so in charge comedically that it’s jarring to see him lose it, but it’s perfect. There are moments where it feels like it’s going into rom-com territory, and that’s when it’s the weakest. Also when it goes into the “look, a young cool black person has come in to shake up the white establishment” tropes a bit too often. But it has so much heart that it’s forgivable. Like I said, there are three films about this topic out this year. They are all very different, and The Father is technically better, but this one feels more personal to the writer.

+ A film about this topic shouldn’t be this funny.

– There’s a plot point that seems to have been dropped and could have provided a lot more emotion if it was properly explored.

Best Moment: The 180 his family do when they find out the truth, believable and completely heartbreaking.

Worst moment: The very end where he has a vision of his ex-wife sitting nearby. A bit schmaltzy and silly, doesn’t really gel with the rest of the film.

Best Performer: Billy Crystal. He owns this film.

Original Review here

In The Heights

Magic. That’s the best way to describe this. It truly transports you to a different place. This is the first straight-up musical I’ve seen since 2016’s La La Land, and I much prefer this. For starters, the characters are more likeable, the standard of songs across the board is better (although La La Land did have some crackers), and the choreography is consistently solid. I know normally it’s expected to compare musicals to other musicals, or to compare films by minorities to other films by minorities (algorithms consider Boyz In The Hood and Spiral the same, despite being wildly different they’re both “black movies so if you like one you have to like the other, right?”). This? This is more like The BFG from a few years ago, which anybody who knows me knows I absolutely love. It has that same sense of warmth and love to it. But there’s also a darker edge, it’s a film about worry, about family, about legacy. But it’s wrapped up in sun-kissed songs so delightful that you don’t notice how dark the subjects they’re talking about are.

+ The warmth and magic this fills you with.

– There are moments where the song just seems to be there to delay the narrative.

Best Moment: The opening song, a great way to introduce the characters.

Worst moment: There’s a song near the end which could stand to lose a verse or two.

Best Performer: Logic dictates it should be Anthony Ramos as the lead Usnavi, but Melissa Barrera is truly the MVP of this, providing the real emotional core.

Original Review here

Last Night In Soho

This is a joy to watch. The colours, the music, it’s incredible to watch in terms of directing. The downside is the pacing. It’s a pretty big downside though. There are some incredibly repetitive moments, particularly in the middle section. It’s a shame as otherwise, this is a fine film, and if it wasn’t for how tiring that section this, this would be rated much higher. But it really killed all momentum the film had up that point. I would still say you need to watch this though, the performances are great (although Anya-Taylor Joy isn’t in it as much as the advertising may make you think), and like I said, it looks phenomenal. Plus these are the best written female characters he’s ever had in his films.

+ The truly inventive and unique visuals. Really makes you annoyed that his version of Ant-Man didn’t work out.

– The pacing. Kills it

Best Moment: The club set pieces.

Worst moment: Jack murdering Sandie. Turns out not to have happened so is only really there to confuse and set the audience/Ellie on the wrong path. It’s like telling a deliberate lie to someone, and then mocking them for believing it.

Best Performer: Thomasin McKenzie. Scarily good.

Best Line: “This is London. Someone has died in every room in every building and on every street corner in the city.” Really dispels the myth of London as a place where dreams come true, reminds you that it was pretty shitty for most of its history.

Original Review here

Malignant

When I came out of this I actually had to message someone “have you seen this yet?”, I needed other opinions, this film did a lot well, but the thing it did best was staying with you after it ended. After watching it, it will bounce around your head for a while. So why isn’t it listed higher? Mainly because of how uneven it is. There are some effects which just look a little bit silly compared to the rest of it. Plus the romance sup-plot does not work.

But what does work is almost everything else. It looks great a lot of the time, there were so many times when I was watching this and thought “that would make a good poster”. Most of the performances are good, and the music is solid. It’s also pretty f*cking weird, especially the third act which is just sheer glorious insanity. I’m doing a disservice to this by ranking it this low, I am aware of that, but the subplot really hurt it. You still have to see it. Plus it features both Madison Wolfe, and McKenna Grace, which means the odds of the two being in a road trip movie together in a few years time has increased slightly.

+ Even if you hate it, you won’t be able to turn away.

– The main “couple” have no chemistry at all.

Best Moment: The third act. It’s longer than most moments, but trust me.

Worst moment: When the thing is revealed, built up as really shocking and strange, but the budget lacks it down.

Best Performer: Annabelle Wallis.

Worst Performer: George Young.

Original Review here

Ninjababy

A refreshing pregnancy comedy. The main character, Rakel, never thinks for one second about raising it as her own, and the film never judges her for this decision. She recognises she is not in a position to do it, so it’s best she doesn’t. It helps that she’s played by Kristine Thorp, who I’m not familiar with (probably because I haven’t watched any other Norwegian comedy-dramas before). Thorp does a wonderful job of making her character likeable. Helped by the writing though, the way the character interacts with everyone around her is delightful.

+ The use of animation overlays gives it a unique visual style and cool punky energy.

-The music choices seem wrong.

Best Performer: Kristine Thorp, obviously.

Best Line: “Blood and suffering!” Never thought that line could be delivered in a weirdly heartwarming way.

Original Review here

Promising Young Woman

If I had to use only one word to describe this, it would be “harrowing”. I imagine this is a more disturbing watch to women, as they’ll recognise a lot of this. I am definitely watching this as an outsider, and even then this is a disturbing watch. It does so much right though. Films have a strange view of rapists. They’re nearly always shown as the creepy guy, or the sociopath, a stranger in the night who breaks into your house and forces themselves on you. They don’t often display them as the “nice” guys who help a drunk woman home and then take sex from them while they’re passed out. A lot of the guys in this film are not good people, even the background characters. At one point she gets cat-called, the standard “show us your tits”, she just stares at them and says nothing, their response to this is “fuck you”, obviously. Just shows how they don’t really want any sign of accountability.

Moments like that have led to this film being called “anti-men”. It’s not, it’s clearly not. It’s anti-rapist and anti-rapist supporters. If you think being against rapists means you’re against all men, that says a lot about you and your friends. The only way you can take this film as a personal attack against you is if you’re the kind of person who needs attacking. The kind of guy who makes sure the drinks his female friends drink have a little bit more alcohol in them than they think, in the hope they’ll be drunk enough to make bad decisions with you later. You’re not a rapist, you’re a nice guy. You’re her friend aren’t you?

Die in a fire.

Back on point, the ending of this where she dies (spoilers) is hauntingly long. Incredibly uncomfortable as it happens in real-time. This is apparently realistic, that is how long it would take for someone to die by that method. It also completely absolves the guy doing it of any innocence. To do something for that long is not a “spur of the moment”, you have to be a calculated scumbag to do that. So it’s so satisfying when he then gets arrested at a wedding. It did originally end with the murder, so glad they changed it. It now has a much more satisfying ending. not quite as realistic, but it means you end the film with some sort of closure.

+ Such an important movie, as some of the responses to it have proven.

– It’s weird for a near two-hour film to have this many underdeveloped themes and characters.

Best Moment: The opening, sets the tone perfectly.

Worst moment: Not really a moment, but the romance with Bo Burnham’s character feels underwritten, so the reveal near the end doesn’t land.

Best Performer: Carey Fucking Mulligan. Obviously.

Best Line: “It’s every man’s nightmare to be accused of that” “do you know what every woman’s worst nightmare is?”

Original Review here

Supernova

The second of three dementia-based films, and probably the one I’m least likely to go back to. It is still very good though. This one is more focused on the coming storm, somebody who knows what is going to happen and is scared of it. The downside to this approach is it means you don’t really FEEL what he’s going through. You don’t see what he’s fearing that much. Compared to Here Today or The Father, where you knew exactly what they were going through, here he mostly seems composed, with a moment every so often to remind you, but moments which are said rather than shown.

+ The relationship between the two.

– When the two aren’t on screen together, the film seems to lose a step or two.

Best Moment: The dinner party

Worst moment: When Tucci’s character is talking to someone about stars going out in a blaze of glory. Very unsubtle.

Best Performer(s): Tucci/Firth. They work so well together as a couple.

Best Line: You know what the hard part is? It’s that you’re… you’re just… you’re not supposed to mourn someone while they’re still alive.

Original Review here

The Night House

This really sucked me into it. I felt like I was inside the film and it was all happening around me, rather than seeing it on a flat 2D-screen while pet-watching for someone (for some reason my brain thought I saw it at the cinema, that’s how much it sucked me in). The director, David Bruckner, also gave us The Ritual, another highly recommended film. He’s a director you really need to keep an eye on in the future. He’s doing the next Hellraiser film, so it might be time for me to actually watch one of those.

+ The look. The whole thing looks like a damn postcard.

– Some may find it a bit dull. Plus, the “good guy” still murdered a lot of innocent women. And the film never really focuses on that.

Worst moment: When it reveals that her husbands suicide note saying “Nothing is after you” meant “there is a demon called Nothing, he is after you”. That’s just deliberately vague and unhelpful. Purely to drive the plot forward.

Best Performer: Rebecca Hall. Easily.

Best Line: “I was the depressed one, he was the one there helping me. Maybe I infected him”. Damn, that’s…..that’s worrying. It’s beautiful though in how it captures the thought process of someone with depression. You feel guilty about being depressed, and that you’re to blame for any bad things that happen to anybody. It cuts deep, too deep.

Original Review here

The Power

There’s a line in this “I grew up in Our Lady Of Grace, a children’s home”. Okay, not a great line, but the utter contempt on the face of the nurse opposite when she gave that line was great and summed up societies attitudes on children from them. Especially since it came straight after the nurse said there’s no link between poverty and health it’s just “people round here live like animals”. That’s what this film is, it’s a magnifying glass on injustice.

+ The general sense of dread

– The editing could be better in some of the ending moments. Plus the character seems to be written just to garner sympathy at times, could be better written.

Worst Moment: Screaming match at end, comes off a little silly.

Best Performer: Rose Williams. The physicality is incredible, and there’s something of the Natalie Portman to her

Worst Performer: Diveen Henry. Purely because for one line her accent wavered.

Best Line: “A place people die in should never be allowed to get that dark”

Original review here

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.

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.

I Blame Society (2020)

Quick Synopsis: A struggling film-maker (Gillian Horvat) realises that the skill set to make a movie is the same to commit a murder.

Obviously I had to see this. From the first time I saw the tagline, I knew I had to watch this. The concept was unique, being dark and twisted in a way I really appreciated. It could only go one of two ways: one of my favourite films of the year, or one of the most disappointing.

Thankfully this is squarely in the first camp. It makes the most of the concept, it’s something new and exciting, and the script is incredible. I say that with certainty because it passes one test on whether I love a film or not: it annoys me that I didn’t write this. It seems very me as a concept, and I’m so glad it was handled by someone as talented as Horvat (who directed/wrote this film as well as starring in it). Her background is in short films, and I guess the concept here is best suited for that, there are a few moments where the film seems uncertain of what it’s doing, the ending in particular doesn’t quite hit as it needs to. It also feels quite low budget, but personally I think that works for it. It feels home-made. That’s something that would put a lot of people off, but it really appealed to me and helped bring me into the world. It’s shot like a documentary (of which Horvat has a lot of experience in as a director, and it shows), and it’s not exactly a subject which would allow a big budget as a documentary. In universe, the documentary is not funded by a studio, and she doesn’t have a large crew on which to fall on, it’s pretty much just one woman and a camera. So you do have moments where she sets up a static camera, then people move out of the centre of the frame. There are awkward setting up of shots, the camera isn’t always steady when she’s moving and the lighting isn’t always great. But that all makes sense in universe. It doesn’t seem like “oh, this is low budget and the film-makers don’t know what they’re doing”, it feels more like “this was a stylistic choice to improve the believability of the film”, and I love it.

Now onto the performances, there are a lot of performers in this, but it’s definitely Horvat’s showcase, and she carries it off well. There are a few moments where she doesn’t seem sure what she’s doing, but that feels more like character-work than bad performance. It’s not the best performance of the year by a long shot, but it is one of the most believable. I have no idea what she’s like as a person, but her performance makes me think she’s almost exactly like the character in the film (just less murder-ey, maybe). Again, it’s not something everybody will like, but it really worked for me. It helps with how well-written her character is, so that even when she’s doing horrible things, you root for her. And even when she’s doing stuff that shouldn’t make sense, you can see her logic for it. It’s all very well done.

Another polarising aspect will be the plot. It’s very feminist, and isn’t shy about displaying that. That will be off-putting to some, but I doubt those people will be watching low budget movies anyway because they’re too busy crying that “I displayed basic human dignity to a human female, and she didn’t fuck me. I hope she dies”. With films like this, Lucky, The Power, and Promising Young Woman (which I still really need to see), this is definitely a year of women fighting back in films. A year where they are displaying how fed up they are with dealing with the bullshit they have to on a daily basis, and want to power back against the systems that hold them down. On the one hand: it’s brilliant that those voices are now being amplified and listened to, so that’s great. But on the other hand, it’s depressing that those things still needed to be said.

So yeah, I loved this film, as you can tell. It’s so damn funny and brilliant. It’s a film that will split opinion, but those who like it will really like it. A cult hit that needs a bigger audience, and I genuinely think it deserves it. A film that continues 2021’s streak of fantastic womens films. I will freely admit that Mouthpiece was a much better film, but I have more love for this (and considering how many times I’ve put that film over this year, that says a lot).

The Power (2021)

There are many ways you can get a gauge for a nations identity: through food, through sports, and through film. One of the most interesting ways (and the most convenient for me writing this blog) is through the myths and monsters of a country, and the urban legends. Due to the terrain, Bigfoot makes sense in a country like America, but wouldn’t work in a place like England, where there aren’t really that many places it could logistically hide without running into a bunch of drunk teenagers. Countries with more woodland are more likely to have creatures of the night that hide in the trees, due to the way that a mix of darkness and the ambient noises can cause your brain to form shapes which aren’t there in the shadows. Whereas in the city, you tend to get more urban legends around specific places, “oh, that’s the house where this girl was murdered”.

City ones are the ones I find most interesting, and they’re definitely the ones where you find out more about the history of the place. Every condemned building has a story about the past and the horrors that took place, sometimes these horrors are true, sometimes they’re just stories told by people to scare others. A lot of British ones that take place in those locations are about institutional horrors, historical cover ups that were later exposed. Children’s Homes which turned out to be slave labour camps, hospitals which were doing inhumane procedures, and schools which hid child abuse scandals for decades.

It’s for that reason that this is possibly one of the most British horror films I’ve ever seen. Obviously the location. But also the political subtext. The film is set during a time when the power had to be turned off at night, even at hospitals (this, by the way, is the “good old days” people refer to. Idiots). This is perfect as it explains why this horror film is is set in the darkness. FINALLY a horror movie heroine has a good excuse for not just turning the lights on. It’s also wonderfully multicultural, with a lot of the divides coming not from race, but from class (and also a little a bit from race). The disdain people the management feels for people is not based solely on race, but also because a lot of of them are poor or come from orphanages. If the child is Sri Lankan, then yeah, they’re also going to refer to them as “animals”, but if the child is white, they will also get insulted, just with 10% less disdain. That’s kind of what you need in this movie, you need certain characters to be so damn hateful, but also have the charm to win people over to their side. They need that innate sense of superiority which causes them to think of themselves as untouchable, and all their actions justified.

Spoilers coming up in next paragraph btw

Like a lot of good British horror movies, there’s a sharp social commentary to this film. It’s essentially about how systematic power structures do their best to keep people down, particularly women. The main character is a woman (played brilliantly by Rose Williams, seemingly acting as a mix of Brie Larson and the really good looking guy from a few episodes of Scrubs) who was abused whilst younger, and forced by the police and school to recant the accusation, so now everybody thinks of her as someone who lied to get a poor innocent man in trouble. This is something which happened a lot back then, and sadly, still happens today. Institutions like that will always protect their reputation before protecting people, and part of that reputation is with the people they employ. They will do their best to silence and discourage anybody who dares speak up against the systematic abuse that happens in these places. It’s a fucking depressing way for the world to work, and it’s a way that’s accepted far too readily by a lot of people. So while it’s not nice to see a depiction of it in a film, it is important.

Two nurses sitting opposite each other in an interview setting. One is saying to the other "I'd like to think I have a feel for children"
In the 70s this sentence didn’t set off any alarm bells

Horror is often described as a director’s medium, with that in mind, I’m going to need to keep an eye out for more work from Corinna Faith. I’m not that familiar with her work, but after seeing this, I want to be. Her use of space and light in this film is the perfect use of the location and the story, intertwining them in a beautiful marriage of delightful cinema. There’s something so wonderful about how small yet expansive this film is. It takes place almost entirely within the hospital, so you feel kind of trapped. But the corridors seemingly go on forever, so you also feel lost and disorientated. It’s a great mix which adds up to one of the creepiest films I’ve seen in a while.

Corinna also wrote the film, and did a great job too. Even characters who only appear in one or two scenes seem to have their own motivations and feelings. Everybody in it feels like they exist outside of this film. The character dynamics are great too, they’re not set, and also aren’t only effected by massive events. It’s not like they’re all friends until one moment, then they hate each other, or vice versa. Instead, the dynamics are fluid and ever-changing, every conversation changing the relationships between the characters involved.

If you’re a fan of “jump scare” horror, you won’t like this, if you’re a fan of gore, you won’t like this. This is a film based not on moments, but on atmosphere. It’s a film I truly wish I managed to see at the cinema. It is available on shudder, so if you have that service (and if you’re a horror fan, you really should) then you definitely need to check this out.

Plus, it gave us this for an opening:

Text: Trade Unions And The Government Are At War. The economy is in crisis. Blackouts have been ordered to conserve power. Plunging the nation into darkness every night."