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The rest of my mini-reviews for April ūüôā

 

Alien: Covenant

I had originally been determined not to watch this because of how disappointed I expected to feel after Prometheus (I still can’t get over the allegedly experienced biologist who took his helmet off and all that followed), but it was on TV and I succumbed. It was pompous and over-explained everything. Despite a good cast I really didn’t feel there was anything new here so I should have gone with my first instinct. Mr Fassbender’s career choices have been a bit flaky recently…..

A Cure for Wellness

This was a weird one and almost certainly far too long but I kind of enjoyed it. Dane DeHaan is sent to bring his errant boss back from a sanitarium in Europe but after a car crash finds himself a patient in said asylum, and then it all kicks off. There are creepy villagers who fall silent when anyone walks into the pub. There is a weird floaty girl wandering about barefoot. There are dark corridors and lots of tanks filled with water used for nefarious purposes. There is the legend of an evil Baron. There is Jason Isaacs as the head doctor with a cool accent and a big sign above his head with the word baddie flashing on and off. Evil Jason is the best Jason IMHO. It’s beautifully Gothic and fairly intense but not at all scary.

Avengers: Infinity War

I’m not going to say too much about this because reams have been written already. I loved it. It was amazingly well-balanced considering the number of major superhero types involved; the best bits for me involved interactions between characters who are not normally in the same movies, especially Thor and Peter Quill, and Iron Man and Doctor Strange. Also worth noting that everything in it is huge, and that it works because Thanos is a properly rounded character; his plan may be evil, but it is logically evil (from a ¬†certain point of view). Shout out to bits of Edinburgh actually playing themselves rather than pretending to be Moscow or whatever. Can’t wait for the sequel.

All caught up now, and hoping to have a more stable posting pattern soon.

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The Shape of WaterWhat’s it all about?

At a top-secret research facility in the 1960s, a lonely janitor forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held in captivity.

Why did I want to see it?

I have been an admirer of Guillermo del Toro since seeing Cronos in the early 1990s, and I am a sucker for a grown-up fairy-tale with horror overtones so this was a no-brainer.

What did I think about it?

I loved this film so hard, and I can’t stop thinking about it. Images pop into my head without warning and I am very keen to see it again (hoping that a Film Club outing can be arranged but I’ve already flagged the DVD release just in case). I think the reason it works so well is how fully rounded all of the characters are, from Eliza’s morning routine which shows her as a woman with needs and desires to Strickland and his anger and extreme views. One of the triumphs of the film, I think, is how Strickland as the villain is given a background and a personality that explains but doesn’t excuse his behaviour; his fear and hatred of the other in the shape of the Amphibian Man.

Sally Hawkins is amazing as Eliza, defiant and open-hearted and compassionate, and Octavia Spencer is a delight as Zelda, with her awful husband and her chattering away and her handling of the racism she has to face every day.

The setting of the film is also beautiful, otherworldly images of the apartments above the cinema where Eliza and Giles live underpinned by a colour palette that evokes the underwater. And water is absolutely everywhere; it always seems to be raining.

Others have mentioned the resemblance of the Amphibian man to the Creature from the Black Lagoon and I suppose you could see this as a kind of “what happens next”, and others have mentioned Beauty and the Beast, though I don’t really see that myself .¬†It should be mentioned that Doug Jones does a wonderful job (as he always does) in bringing the creature to life.

I was very glad that it won best picture and best director. It’s about time that del Toro was recognised and although Pan’s Labyrinth is still his masterpiece in my opinion, the Shape of Water certainly ranks alongside it.

If you haven’t seen this please do seek it out!

Dazzling details: directed by Guillermo del Toro, this is 123 mins long and rated 15 for strong violence, language, sex, nudity

 

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Cloverfield ParadoxWhat’s it all about?

Orbiting a planet on the brink of war, scientists test a device to solve an energy crisis, and end up face-to-face with a dark alternate reality.

Why did I want to see it?

It has Cloverfield in the title so obviously I was going to watch it. It’s a whole Pavlov’s Dogs thing, there is nothing I can do.

What did I think of it?

Well. Paradox went straight onto Netflix which doesn’t necessarily mean anything (after all they do have amazing TV series) but nobody seemed to know it was coming, which is a bit more problematic I think. It’s possible to sneak things under the radar without a complete blackout, so that’s interesting in itself.

Anyway, because we do not yet have a smart TV (I know, I know), so I watched this on my laptop late at night in the dark which was actually good fun. And the movie was nowhere near as bad as many on the interwebs have been reporting.

Is it delivering anything new? Not really.

Can you spot all of the influences from other (better) movies? Well, of course you can.

Does the stuff that relates to Cloverfield feel poorly integrated? Mostly yes.

BUT

I actually enjoyed it. The cast was excellent and played it dead straight which is all that anyone can ask. However, the law of diminishing returns is definitely applicable here – original Cloverfield is one of my Top 10 Desert Island films, 10 Cloverfield Lane was really well done but was 80% one film and 20% a completely different film. And Paradox is nowhere near as good in comparison but passes the time perfectly pleasantly.

#damnedwithfaintpraise

Dazzling details: Directed by Julius Onah, this was released onto Netflix. It’s 102 minutes long, and rated 15 for strong threat & injury detail (some of which is entertainingly gross)

life-posterWhat’s it all about?

A team of scientists aboard the International Space Station discover a rapidly evolving life form, that caused extinction on Mars, and now threatens the crew and all life on Earth.

Why did I want to see it?

Impossible for me to resist nasty monster in space terrorising extremely good looking people. Plus Ryan Reynolds, obvs.

What did I think about it?

“It’s Alien, Jim, just not as we know it.”

It’s totally impossible to watch Life without thinking of Alien (which reached me out totally when I was a student back in 1979 and had to go home in the dark in a lonely part of Glasgow, but that’s another story). The similarities are more than obvious – thing that’s alive gets on board, picks crew off one by one, has to be stopped from getting to Earth. The main differences are:

  • the crew know they are bringing potential life on board and have protocols in place to manage it (or so they think
  • when things go wrong it’s very up front and everyone knows immediately
  • it’s taking place on the ISS so just a hop, skip and a jump away
  • there is a distinct lack of grunge

Having said all of that, Life is what it is and does a pretty good job of it. Yes, it has a cast that is that is too high-powered for a glossy B-movie, it has an ending that seems to have surprised some but the Book God spotted it coming just before I did, and why does everything want to eat us?

The effects are really good, the alien in particular¬†is excellent, and it moves along at a reasonable pace with not too many “what are you doing, you’re a scientist for god’s sake” moments (though there are still some).¬†The various deaths are nasty, I did jump a few times and squinted through my fingers at least once (apparently) so it was all good fun, except there really should have been more Ryan Reynolds.

MV5BMTc2Mjk0MTM0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjgyOTg1NjE@._V1_SX214_AL_So we had this plan for Monday that after I had finished work for the day we would go to the cinema and see a film (as you do). We had given some thought to what we might see:

  • Bridge of Spies with Tom Hanks and the lovely Mark Rylance; or
  • Black Mass with The Deppster and the Boy Cumberbatch; or even
  • The Good Dinosaur which I gather is not Pixar at its best¬†but is still a good little movie

But no, I wanted steampunk style tosh and so decided that we should go and see Victor Frankenstein.

However, best laid plans in the form of life getting in the way via a fatality at a nearby station which meant that transport delays, rubbish teatime traffic and my feeling a bit under the weather (headache caused by neighbour’s builders – yes, they are still¬†drilling and hammering away) meant that we never made it.

Stayed at home and ate pizza and watched Criminal Minds instead (there is nothing that Hotch and Garcia can’t put right between them).

But I am determined to see this film at some point. How could anyone resist the glories of Professor X and Harry Potter building a monster?

Has anyone seen it? Have I missed the best thing ever and should I kick myself, or have I had a lucky escape?

MV5BMzE1NzM4MjEyNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjYzMjMzMTE@._V1_SX214_AL_What’s it all about?

A woman tries to exonerate her brother, who was convicted of murder, by proving that the crime was committed by a supernatural phenomenon.

Haunted mirror alert!

Why did I want to watch it?

I really like Karen Gillan and wanted to see her in a role that didn’t have her almost unrecognisable under blue make-up (see Guardians of the Galaxy). I like a good horror film. I love haunted mirrors (especially the one featured in¬†The Gatecrasher, one of the stories in¬†From Beyond the Grave with the great David Warner).

What did I think of it?

I think the first thing to say about Oculus is that I didn’t find it at all¬†scary. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nicely creepy and has occasional jumps intended to be frightening but it’s more of a psychological study in obsession than a traditional horror but works very well.

So Tim (Brenton Thwaites) is being released from a mental institution where he has been since he was a young boy because he shot and killed his father who had apparently murdered his and Kaylie’s (Karen G) mother after seemingly going mad. He’s locked up because of the whole “possessed mirror made my Dad do it stuff”.¬†Kaylie has managed to get access to the mirror and wants Tim to help her prove that it was a supernatural entity that caused all the bad things to happen. Cue mayhem.

When your heroine looks at a mirror and says “Hello again. You must be hungry” you can tell this isn’t going to end well.

I really liked the two lead characters in both their child and adult incarnations and I thought the structure worked very well, constantly and effectively moving backwards and forwards from the present day to the events leading up to the night of the murders. There is some interesting stuff about memory and especially how it can be affected by therapy – Kaylie is convinced that Tim went into the institution sane and they have turned him”mad” but of course the question is whether she herself, having received no help growing up to deal with all of this, is actually the one who is mad.

There was only one way this was going to end (there is some very very obvious foreshadowing) but I wasn’t quite sure who exactly was going to come out alive. And the ending is nicely inconclusive. Interestingly, the film has grown on me since watching it a few days OK and I’d be happy to watch it again.

Dracula-Untold-bat-posterWhich for some inexplicable reason I keep on referring to as Dracula: The Untold Story, which is just silly, really, as this version of Dracula is not hugely at variance with most of the other stories already most definitely told.

Anyway, here you go:

What’s it all about?

As his kingdom is being threatened by the Turks, young prince Vlad Tepes must become a monster feared by his own people in order to obtain the power needed to protect his own family, and the families of his kingdom.

Let’s revisit¬†that synopsis later.

Why did I want to watch it?

I must have considered going to see this film when it was announced because I had a jpeg of the poster in my files, and equally I must have decided at some point not to go and see it because I had heard some unfavourable reviews. I gave in because the Book God came across it by accident on one of the movie channels and thought it looked quite interesting, but was too scared to watch it on his own. That last part may be an exaggeration, if not a downright lie ūüôā

What did I think of it?

Dracula Untold is not exactly as described by the lovely people at IMDb. Yes, kingdom-threatening Turks are around, but Vlad used to be one of their warriors until he dumped them and his old chum Mehmet is just looking for what’s due to him (1000 boys to train as soldiers and Vlad’s son as a hostage.) And Vlad isn’t that young, he’s done his fair share of fighting before coming home, getting married and producing a son who must be about 9 or 10.

And it’s just as much about unleashing his inner monster (all that past impaling f’rinstance, however he may try to justify it on ‘sacrificing few to save many’ grounds) as it is becoming a vampire to deal with his enemies.

But to be fair this wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I had expected or feared, it was actually pretty OK, no small thanks to Luke Evans who was suitably angst-ridden in the title role. His wife was a bit wimpy and there was insufficient Charles Dance for my taste but the effects were good (especially all the bat stuff) and Dominic Cooper glowers wonderfully. It just felt like this was a shortened version of a much longer film and the ending smacked a little of bet hedging for a potential franchise.

So, absolutely fine and not a bad way to spend 90 minutes but can’t see there being demand for a sequel.

The_Borderlands_2013_film_posterWhat’s it all about?

A team of Vatican investigators descends upon a church in a remote area to demystify the unusual happenings, but what they discover is more disturbing than they had first imagined.

Understatement of the year.

Why did I want to watch it?

I like this sort of thing. Also any film that can disturb Mark Kermode to the point that he thought he might have to leave the screening must be worth a look. Also also, I love Gordon Kennedy, beardie Scotsperson of normally genial aspect.

What did I think of it?

Ooh, this was creepy to the max. I need to try to talk about it without actually telling you what actually happens because the development of the story and the ultimate denouement are best experienced by not knowing very much about what may be going on.

But basically there’s this church which a young priest has had reopened after it has languished in decay and disuse and shortly after it’s all been tidied up (and during a christening which now I look back on it is clearly significant) there appears to be some sort of supernatural happening which he of course interprets as a miracle. Cue the arrival of the Vatican investigation team who, to Father Crellick’s dismay, are there to¬†debunk the whole thing (that’s what they do, apparently, test potential miracles to destruction).

It’s a found footage film, made possible by the fact that the team is very high-tech, so lots of microphones and CCTV¬†and the team all have headcams¬†they (theoretically) wear all the time and when the weird stuff happens the tension builds until ooh, it all gets very unsettling and disturbing and a bit WTF at the end.

The Borderlands¬†is in the best tradition of low-budget British creepsters and it left me a bit freaked if I’m honest and, like all the best horrors,¬†in the days since I’ve watched it scenes have been popping into my head and I’ve been pondering what it all meant and picking up references I may have missed at the time but make sense now, which is all very satisfying indeed.

I liked it, can you tell?

DaybreakersWhat’s it all about?

Daybreakers takes place

in the year 2019, a plague has transformed almost every human into vampires. Faced with a dwindling blood supply, the fractured dominant race plots their survival; meanwhile, a researcher works with a covert band of vamps on a way to save humankind.

Which makes sense, although a covert bunch of vamps makes me think of a gang of Theda Bara lookalikes with long cigarette holders on the prowl, and I don’t think that’s what they meant.

Why did I want to watch it?

Vampires, obviously. And Sam Neill. And most importantly, Sam Neill as a vampire.

What did I think of it?

So where shall I start?

  • Sam Neill as a vampire ( I may have mentioned this already ūüėÄ ) – I love him deeply but he is particularly good when he is being smoothly villainous and terribly reasonable in a sharp suit, which he very much is here
  • I am developing a soft spot for Ethan Hawke, but he really is a bit drippy and tortured in this film, looking for a synthetic substitute which will allow the human race to survive because vampires won’t need to feed on them
  • Willem Dafoe is suitably craggy as the main turning point in the plot
  • it looks very noir, right down to lots of action taking place in the dark with moody blue lighting (because vampires, duh), some nifty¬†1940s style hats and lots of smoking by your man Ethan
  • there is¬†lots and lots of heavy-handed allegorical imagery here, just can’t decide which piece of human on human nastiness it’s referencing, but I winced at the obviousness at least once
  • well, that was always going to happen to (a) Sam’s daughter and (b) Ethan’s brother
  • well, he was always going to be¬†a bad’un
  • never, ever trust the man in the sharp suit who sells stuff to make lots of money for a living

Reading back on this it makes it sound like I really didn’t like this film, but it was fine, honestly, a good choice for a Saturday afternoon settled on the sofa, but not really all that ground-breaking, and bloody without being frightening. To be honest *whispers* it was a bit of a disappointment. But it had it’s moments….

IMG_0227What’s it all about?

The Babadook is an Australian horror film in which

A single mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, battles with her son’s fear of a monster lurking in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her.

Why did I want to watch it?

As I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, I really enjoy a good horror movie, and I had heard good things about this from both professional critics (it was one of Mark Kermode’s’ favourite films of last year) and friends (who assured me it wasn’t one of the quiet, quiet, LOUD fraternity). And it was a Saturday afternoon, my traditional horror-movie-watching time, so what else is a girl supposed to do?

What did I think of it?

This is a really effective film, not the scariest I’ve seen but really quite creepy and unsettling largely because of its domestic setting, playing into the fear we all have (or is it just me?) of something going wrong inside your own house, because after all that’s where we are supposed to feel safest isn’t it?

I suspect The Babadook¬†may also be scarier if you are a parent (which I’m not) because there is a strong mix of resentment about the behaviour of the little boy and your own potential loss of control and terror that something is after him which intellectually I think we can all understand but perhaps has an additional weight if you have kids of your own.

I will confess that I found Samuel really annoying for the first part of the film and my sympathies were totally with Amelia as she struggled to cope on her own, but as time passes and it still isn’t clear whether the Babadook is real or she is going mad, I started to wonder how much of the situation she had created herself and to feel a bit sorry for the kid who may actually have been getting it right all along. I will say no more than that.

As a monster the Babadook itself was very well done, menacing without really being properly seen, and all of the performances were great. I thought it worked very well, liked it very much and will watch it again.