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I Am Mother (2019)
This mother passes the Bechdel Test and the Turing Test
With I Am Mother Debut Writer and Director Grant Sputore's Sci Fi offering tackles big ideas with a small budget. Set in a post-apocalyptic 're-population' facility, a teenage girl is raised by a robot "mother" until a stranger interrupts their unique bond.
In the tradition of Ex Machina (2014) and 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016), I Am Mother (2019) narrows the scope of storytelling in order to explore wider themes, utilising a minimal cast and primarily interior shots to get its messages across.
Despite appearances, I Am Mother is actually as much a coming of age tale as a high concept Science Fiction story. For all its twists and turns the tension is derived primarily from the jeopardy in which our young female lead is cast after the arrival of the stranger. To this end, the film offers up an interesting take on the concept of the other, with this role filled in turn by the human stranger and the familiar but strange robot Mother.
Yet there is an inescapable feeling that the tension is sacrificed for plot twist after plot twist, perhaps down to an issue with pacing and there's a sense that after a lingering first act, the final third seems rushed. Much of the action feels unnecessary and doesn't serve at all to ratchet up the tension.
Still for all its flaws, I Am Mother is recommended viewing for anyone who is interested in a different take on well-worn Sci Fi tropes. It is a film of big ideas that works best during its slowest moments. It is also one of too few movies to easily pass the Bechdel test*.
*The criteria being: 1. The movie has to have at least two women in it 2. who talk to each other, 3. about something besides a man
They Look Like People (2015)
The rise of 'Buddy Horror'
There is a sub-genre of Horror which IMDB calls "Alien Infiltration" and a cursory keyword search of 'the database' suggests it is a potentially rich yet largely untapped theme. Notable entrants include Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and its various remakes as well as the much loved yet now quite dated John Carpenter film They Live (1988). Carpenter's film was based on Ray Nelson's very short story Eight O'Clock in the Morning with Nelson himself employed to write the screenplay.
Perry Blackshear's Directorial debut feature They Look Like People (2015) is still perhaps the latest entrant into the sub-genre, focusing more on the psychology of its hero-come-antihero as he struggles to distinguish reality from fantasy (read 'nightmare'). Yet Blackshear's film is several iterations away from any of the aforementioned efforts.
In fact stylistically, They Look Like People is akin to the work of Blackshear's comtempories Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. By this I mean the film is part of a movement which places relationships between characters at the forefront of Genre storytelling. The duo's films Resolution (2012) and The Endless (2017) are both as concerned with the endurance of male friendships amid horrific circumstances as they are with staples of the Genre. We may now come to define this 'Buddy Horror' as its own sub-genre.
Far from derivative, Blackshear's debut is suspenseful and atmospheric, containing minimal gore yet just enough half-seen body horror to keep one white-knuckled. Its dramatic question is less about whether or not it's main character is mentally ill than about whether or not the relationship between its two 'buddies' will endure in spite of this challenge.
They Look Like People is not perfect by any stretch. It lives and dies on its portrayal of the relationship between its two leads. Relative newcomers MacLeod Andrews and Evan Dumouchel do a fine job in both the portrayal of the central relationship and in service of suspense. Yet generations of Horrorphiles raised on jump scares and gore may not find what they're looking for here. The suspenseful moments are truly suspenseful but there is as much time spent on portraying the key relationships as on anything else.
Yet considering its budget and the relative inexperience of all concerned They Look Like People more than exceeds expectations. This film is evidence of a unique vision and cinematic craftsmanship. It is also evidence that 'Buddy Horror is here to stay'.
Better than 'Hush'
When her younger brother is finally released from a psychiatric facility years after his conviction for the murder of their parents, a woman seeks to prove the existence of the malignant and supernatural force she believes actually responsible. Conveniently, the locale of said force is a mirror and therefore easily transportable back to the family home-come-erstwhile crime scene.
Playing out less like the haunted house story one might expect from the outline above, this interesting take on psychological horror initially subverts expectations by presenting us with a brave and capable heroine with a well thought out (though necessarily flawed) plan. Writer and Director Mark Flanagan who later made the derivative and lacklustre Hush (2016)* and valiantly attempted the 'unfilmable' Stephen King adaptation Gerald's Game (2017), has made female protagonists with agency a feature of his work.**
There is some real artistry in the way Oculus employs the storytelling technique of constantly shifting between flashback and present day. Over and above using this device as a clever short cut to character development, it is in the moments where past and present seemingly overlap that the viewer receives the most vivid portrayal of the characters' fraying mental state.
Yet it is perhaps these intriguing elements which become the film's worst enemy. In allowing these glimpses into the mind of the characters, there are hints of a rich vein of storytelling left unplundered and therefore 'setup' without payoff. Rather than leaving us wanting more, the untapped potential of Oculus has the unintended effect of relegating it toward mediocrity.
Oculus is not without gore nor jump scares and most fans of the horror genre will therefore find it serviceable. Yet in setting up something truly unique and promising a subversion of the genre, there is the abiding feeling that the film lacks the courage of its convictions.
* Specifically derivative of the excellent Wait Until Dark (1967). ** Deaf and Mute or handcuffed to a bed though they may be.
Atomic Blonde (2017)
Adapted from the graphic novel "The Coldest City" and helmed by one-time Stuntman David Leitch, Atomic Blonde (2017) sends Charlize Theron's Badass MI6 agent to Berlin to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover a missing list of double agents.
Set against the backdrop of the fall of the Berlin Wall the soviet-era spy plot is all but subsumed by a soundtrack of garden variety Eighties Singles found on any mass-market compilation. While the aesthetic is largely true enough of the era, Theron's outfits themselves often seem to leave as little to the imagination as possible without heed for retro trends. The dramatic question of Atomic Blonde is not so much "will Charlize succeed in her mission" as which will win, style or substance.
This film is not without merit, however. Theron is engaging as an action hero, albeit not a British one and the fight scenes are well choreographed and believably perilous for the female lead, standing out not just for the fact that they are mercifully free of music but they are perhaps the only element of the film without a hint of pastiche.
The thin spy plot is would have been serviceable for the film the filmmakers seemingly wanted to make but style 'uber alles' only really works if the style is consistent and the soundtrack builds or at least contributes to atmosphere, rather than containing 'on the nose' musical choices. No prizes for guessing which Nena song plays over scenes in Berlin or which Clash song plays over scenes of London. In the end, the film doesn't quite hang together and is more exploitative than engaging with disparate elements fighting each other for second place behind action set pieces.
Manchester by the Sea (2016)
Says so much with so little...for the most part
Manchester By The Sea is a naturalistic, character-driven Drama which punches you in the guts and leaves you breathless. It's a film which hinges on its trust in a lean cast to deliver complex emotions with minimal dialogue and, for the most part it delivers.
In a film which conveys so much with so little exposition, the less said about the actual plot the better. Suffice to say "A depressed uncle is asked to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy's father dies" is about the limit of what you need to know up front.
Describing Manchester By The Sea as a bleak to gut-wrenching Drama is no understatement yet along the way it manages to strike upon moments of genuine comedy which derive naturally and believably from awkward interactions. Manchester By The Sea's occasional missteps are stylistic; Namely, one jarring and unnecessary dream sequence and a strange choice of non-diagetic music which accompanies a pivotal flashback.
Yet thankfully overall, Director (and writer) Kenneth Lonergan and Crew take a back seat to a career-defining, powerhouse performance from Casey Affleck and a more than capable supporting Cast.
The film packs one hell of an emotional punch when it needs to, yet there is universal hope to be found in its portrayal of a set of circumstances so unique that it is testament to Affleck and Co that Manchester By The Sea remains all-too believable.
Extremely Insipid, Shockingly Banal and Facile
In order to get the most out of Netflix's latest take on the Ted Bundy story, you should do the following:
1. Be born after 1989 2. Be born outside the USA 3. Not watch Netflix's own Conversations With A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (2019)
If you fit this criteria, you may just be able to buy the films unusual through-line that Ted Bundy was an innocent man, wrongfully pursued, harangued and harassed by the Authorities due to their own political agendas.
But this is only one through-line of a confused narrative which seems to have forgotten two basic principals of storytelling. That is, the answer to the questions:
1. Who is the intended audience? 2. Whose story is it?
The latter question seems to be answered within the First Act in that we follow the perspective of Bundy's girlfriend, Liz Kendall (Lily Collins). And this could have been an interesting take on a story that everyone but a technology-deprived Millennial orphan knows at least on some level. Yet bafflingly the story jumps a large chunk of time and the perspective inexplicably shifts to the point that we end up with a straight biopic whose mediocrity is reinforced by the tired technique of showing actual footage of the Bundy trial during the closing credits.
Zac Efron is serviceable as Bundy, capturing in particular the charismatic charm of the chameleonic sociopath. Lily Collins' does well with what she's given but the lack of screen time provided for the relationship between Bundy and Liz is a major barrier to the suspension of disbelief required to support a seemingly central premise that Liz didn't know of her boyfriend's misdeeds.
In choosing to keep the details of the Bundy's crimes to a minimum and in shifting between perspectives, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019) essentially only serves to portray the least interesting aspects of a sickening yet incredible story.
Director Joe Berlinger's own limited documentary series, Conversations With A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (2019) is a much more worth-while watch.
The Highwaymen (2019)
Adept as a police procedural drama but forgets to add jeopardy
The Highwaymen (2019), in which a pair of Texas Rangers come out of retirement to catch the infamous outlaws Bonnie and Clyde is not your typical buddy cop movie. Nor is it your standard Bonny & Clyde fare. In fact, there's a sense the film doesn't quite know what it is.
It is at its best when it is essentially a police procedural with the Rangers relying on experience and instinct, methodically hunting down the ruthless killers. And their ruthlessness is laid bare here, juxtaposed unsubtly yet occasionally powerfully with evidence of their celebrity status.
While this perspective is valid and indeed interesting, Highwaymen at times gets lost when seeking to justify excessive methods used by the authorities. In particular, the more exposition of the Rangers' violent backstories, the more it comes unstuck. Primarily, this is because the Rangers are never setup as anything other than the heroes of the piece.
There are solid performances from Costner and Harrelson as the leads and the film is well-crafted from a technical standpoint yet in the end, The Highwaymen tries to do a bit too much with a relatively simple story and ends up feeling overlong.
Unicorn Store (2017)
Debut Director gets in her own way
Unicorn Store (2017) is an oddity even among oddball comedies. Sitting somewhere between corporate satire and a coming of age comedy, the story centres on Brie Larson's child-like character and her (very late) journey into adulthood.
Working behind the camera for the first time, Brie Larson conjures strong comedic performances from her Cast. Funnily enough however, her own screen time is primarily what lets Unicorn Store down.
Old hands such as Joan Cusack and Samual L Jackson produce some of the best moments of this quirky, fantastical, coming-of-age 'indy' but Larson's portrayal of the naïve-dreamer completely misses the mark. She seems to have drawn too much on her role as Kate Gregson in United States of Tara here and the cutesiness is dialled up to such levels that it is at times excruciating.
Given Brie Larson has established herself as a tremendous dramatic Actor - Room (2015) is testament enough - this misfire therefore gives rise to the question of whether she can actually Direct. Given the inherent and almost tectonic tonal shifts of Unicorn Store's narrative, I'd say we should give her the benefit of the doubt on this one.
American Animals (2018)
Bart Layton is no imposter!
With American Animals (2018), writer / director Bart Layton deploys techniques he introduced in his excellent documentary The Imposter (2012) to create a biopic like no other, one that's actually entertaining. The true-crime story itself is interesting - 4 college boys who devise a plan to steal and sell priceless books from a college library - yet in lesser hands it's easy to see how it may have worn thin.
It's not a documentary. Layton instead takes the opportunity to create a heist movie, revelling in the naïve and inept protagonists' discovery of the genre's tropes. Many an homage is paid to classics of the genre as the protagonists "study" for their heist by watching these films. Comedy ensues.
The technique of intercutting talking head footage of the actual perpetrators and their family throughout the film at first seems gimmicky while setting up a comedic tone. However, the same technique provides for empathy with the characters involved and continually serves as a stark reminder that the events actually happened - and to seemingly ordinary people. It is far less a gimmick that it is a welcome short cut to the necessary insights required to tell a story from the point of view of the anti-heroes.
Triple Frontier (2019)
Focusing on an "illegal" mission to steal a drug lord's fortune, Triple Frontier (2019) initially appears to be more than just your typical heist movie. In setting up an assassination plot against a violent and oppressive criminal, things start to look especially interesting when it is revealed that our heroes' motivations are essentially based on greed.
Yet the promise of an interrogation of the human soul is never truly paid off as the film broadly shirks the moral investigation with which it flirts. This is not to say there aren't numerous situations in which our heroes ostensibly become anti-heroes. However, as much as their behaviour is morally dubious, the filmmakers have taken pains to make the central characters empathetic.
There is some great action and genuine suspense during the second Act amid the heist proper. There are even some would-be iconic scenes which are the result of some genuine craft from all concerned.
Yet with a great cast and a promising setup, the film is ultimately less than the sum of its parts. In the end, Triple Frontier is wholly forgettable.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
Withnail & McCarthy
Several of the ingredients of a waste of celluloid can be found in Can You Ever Forgive Me. Namely, a debut feature* from a relatively unknown female director** which is a Biography*** about an author no one remembers, starring Melissa McCarthy****.
Yet by casting against type, Director Marielle Heller has unearthed a performance from a comedic Actress whose genius is evidenced by three magnificent feats.
Firstly, McCarthy's portrayal of literary forger Lee Israel is heartfelt enough that we feel empathy with an alcoholic misanthrope who uses and abuses everyone around her.
Secondly, McCarthy becomes Lee Israel to the point that we forget we are watching Melissa McCarthy. This may seem like damning with faint praise yet, in a reversal reminiscent of Adam Sandler's turn in Punch Drunk Love, the Actress demonstrates her dramatic side with aplomb. This cannot be said of Adam Sandler nor Steve Carrell, Jason Bateman, Will Smith nor myriad other clowns turned consequential.
Thirdly, McCarthy's subdued performance is in no way upstaged by Richard E Grant essentially reprising his role as the flamboyant drunkard from 1987's Withnail and I.
Against all odds, Can You Ever Forgive Me successfully delivers an intriguing story and an engrossing character study.
*Okay not quite, but has anyone actually seen The Diary of a Teenage Girl?
**Of the top 100 grossing films of 2018 only 4% were Directed by females. While this may seem like an alarming statistic, it should be noted that there is no proven link between Box Office success and quality. In fact, it could be argued that the inverse may be true.
***I defy you to name me one great biographical film which isn't a documentary.
****The star of Life of the Party - a truly awful film
Sorry to Bother You (2018)
From the sublime to the ridiculous
Rapper / Producer Boots Riley's directorial debut is evidence of a singular vision, years in the making which is completely unique in style. Ostensibly a Comedy about the moral dangers of greed, Sorry To Bother You sets out its stall early as a kind of dream-like hyper-reality which becomes increasingly twisted. "From the sublime to the ridiculous" may be a well-worn cliché these days but has never been more appropriate.
LaKeith Stanfield (Get Out) takes a telemarketing job out of financial necessity and, discovering his "voice", climbs the corporate ladder and in turn discovers some disturbing truths.
It is perhaps a testament to the Cast that the on-again off-again romantic plot line involving Stanfield and Thompson is the least believable aspect of a film in which voluntary slavery is no longer oxymoronic. Tessa Thompson does her best with the little she has to work with and Armie Hammer is perfectly cast as the antagonistic coke-fuelled captain of industry.
Sorry To Bother You is not a perfect film by any stretch. Yet while its oddness may lose some viewers, it is genuinely funny and utterly different. Why not see something you've never seen before.
Money Monster (2016)
Clooney playing an unlikeable character? This I've got to see...
Money Monster has an interesting premise. The arrogant, show-off Anchor of a popular Financial TV show is taken hostage live on air by a viewer who followed the advice of the show to a ruinous end. Initially it seems there's a chance to see something different here. Chiefly, Clooney playing an unlikeable character. Very soon however, the promise of the premise fades.
The movie seems to want to be many different things and comes up short on all of them. The main problem is that everything about the film is convenient. It doesn't work as a Thriller as the various moments of real tension quickly evaporate through our realisation that characters will have a change of heart for the good or that the show's crew can access any people or technologies they need, just in time.
The ending of Money Monster is 'broadcast' right from the off and none of the pay-offs are truly earned. The central characters don't develop as much as turn on a dime and by the end, what we're left with is a mundane vehicle for Clooney completists.
How long have you got?
Hi, Let me take your coat. Sit down, relax. Would you like a glass of wine? So how was your day? Sounds tedious. Yeah, I can't wait to Netflix and chill either. I'm glad you mentioned it actually, I was thinking we might try something a little...'different' tonight. Now it'll be uncomfortable at first, maybe even jarring. Wait, hear me out. That's just the first time, but the next time, the discomfort won't be there because you'll know what to expect and you'll find it rewarding...well I guess I just assumed there'd be a next time... Oh come on, it's only 9 o'clock. Really? You have to go now? Can I call you?
Marc Forster's Stay is a unique and ambitious film which appears to sacrifice narrative coherence and naturalism in service of an exploration of the unconscious. The film breaks conventions of story structure and 'crosses the line' in the cinematographic sense. While increasingly askew framing and scene repetition at times make for an uncomfortable watch, yet if you blink you may miss something crucial to the plot.
This is both the central problem with Stay and the reason it has garnered a cult following over the years. It often seems as if the filmmakers are daring the audience to stay with it but by the end, upon reflection, everything is as it should have been. Everything, down to the most minute detail is there for a reason.
Stay is a difficult film to recommend because its genius is not revealed until its end, or even perhaps until its second viewing. For those who don't make the journey, it's easy to see why it may be dismissed as self-indulgent or pretentious.
A Cure for Wellness (2016)
May contain traces of eel
It's difficult to tell whether Gore Verbinski's tongue is planted firmly in his cheek throughout A Cure For Wellness but given the film's running time of 2 hours and 26 minutes, such a feat would likely require the meddling of a twisted surgeon.
The film is true to its billing as a 'Gothic' thriller with the grand architecture of an old castle come wellness centre explored inventively through myriad camera angles and stark colourisation and a forboding score endlessly permeating the halls. And this is part of the problem. So much time and effort is spent on building suspense through the technical process that the film forgets to actually further the story on several occasions. The pace becomes too ponderous to sustain any tension it manages to build.
In its homage to Gothic horror A Cure For Wellness often strays into pastiche, with trope on a rope seemingly installed in every therapeutic bath. Yet if there is any wryness intended, it is submerged beneath solemn performances and a story which crawls from the sublime to the ridiculous.
There should be much to like in this wildly ambitious modern take on a genre which predates film and almost every aspect of the film-making process is exquisite. Yet the film amounts to less than the sum of its parts and is ultimately a hollow experience.
High Flying Bird (2019)
Small camera, big issues
Soderberg's latest experimentation with the iPhone focuses on a struggling idealistic player agent during an NBA "lockout". You may wonder how so small a camera manages to capture or at least replicate the drama of fast-paced sporting action, particularly the pinnacle grandstand moment of that ole rags to riches sports tale. Without spoiling anything, let me tell you it doesn't. Or more to the point, High Flying Bird is less concerned with the sport of basketball itself than it is with "The game on top of the game".
Instead of an arena, the game is played out in offices and instead of action, there is dialogue. Considering the constrained budget and production schedule, it is a testament to the cast and to the screenplay that the film holds together at all. And yet it does. The performances are naturalistic while the story moves along at pace, generally eschewing exposition.
In keeping its focus narrow, centring on a small cast of characters, Tyrell Alvin McCraney's screenplay cuts to the core of issues of race and power in the NBA without a whisper of melodrama. In fact, considering the wider story it is telling High Flying Bird remains upbeat and inherently promotes a message of positivity.
High Flying Bird will not be for everyone, it could be accused of being a little dry. However it is an intriguing experiment in film-making which finds a new way to tell a story which needs telling.
Hold the Dark (2018)
The wolf changes his coat, but not his disposition
With Hold The Dark Director Jeremy Saulnier and Writer/Actor Macon Blair (Blue Ruin, Green Room) leave little to the imagination in terms of violence while leaving just enough to the imagination in terms of plot, affording us the opportunity to discover a wider story.
Ostensibly a tale of revenge akin to Blue Ruin yet much darker and colder, the prevailing ambiguities of Hold The Dark serve to provide the audience with a choice of interpretations.
The fact that the film is billed as a 'Mystery' by the distributors is perhaps misleading though, while not a 'Mystery' in terms of Genre, there are certainly mysteries to explore beyond the film's running time.
Perhaps Saulnier and Blair's greatest achievement with Hold The Dark is in balancing ambiguity and symbolism in such a way that the tonal shift from the macabre to the melodramatic is almost imperceptible. No dialogue is wasted and just as the audience is piecing together seemingly throw-away lines from earlier with later developments, new plot points emerge.
Hold The Dark will not be for everyone, but fans of the duo's preceding projects and those of a mind to reflect during and after the film will find this a rewarding endeavour.
I was a fan of George before he got big!
The creators of Rampage (the film) should be ashamed of themselves! As everyone knows in the original game the monsters were originally humans who were turned into a giant gorilla, lizard and wolf by a vitamin, a radioactive lake and a food additive respectively. However in the 2018 film, we're supposed to just except that they were animals to begin with until pesky science went too far. Not to mention the fact that Lizzie the lizard has been substituted for an alligator and Ralph can fly now!
To add insult to injury, the whole first act of this utter charade is focussed on Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's special bond with his gorilla pal. Now he may have been around a while but I honestly don't remember Mr Johnson being anywhere near the original (game).
Is it just me or does anyone else long for the days when it was just about smashing buildings!? Speaking of which, why are there so many buildings!? The original had about 6 buildings per city which were either green or grey and now Hollywood gets it's grubby hands on the license and we have a whole city with a whole colour palette! Not to mention the fact that the whole thing now seems to exist in three dimensional space...
Actually this is exhausting. I don't know how Star Wars fanboys do it. Rampage (2018) is a lot of ridiculous fun with great CGI, huge action set pieces and a little more heart than you may have expected.
How do comic books work?
What happens when a criminal mastermind, an indestructible hero and a man with 24 distinct personalities are captured and locked in a facility together? What happens when the director who gave us 'The Sixth Sense' is on the verge of his own cinematic universe?
The answer to both questions is very little. Glass is largely a talkfest of 'on the nose' dialogue which effectively comes to serve as blunt narration of how comicbooks work. It's patronising. In the end, Samuel L Jackson could just as well be auditioning to be the next Morgan Freeman.
M. Night Shyamalan is striving to subvert the superhero genre which is a feat he managed with Unbreakable. Yet with Glass as with Split, the only redeeming spectacle is James McAvoy's turn as 'The Horde'. M. Night has once again proven that while he may not be the master of subverting expectations, he is certainly a master of lowering them.
Subtext is important after all
Not your typical jingoistic Hollywood action movie but lacking some key ingredients. A believable performance by Noomi Rapace and some strong action set pieces are let down by a lack of subtext* and a frustrating co-star.
The relatively short running time is both a blessing and a curse in that it remains palatable yet doesn't provide scope for us to invest in the characters.
*The security file literally spells out "abandonment issues".
Velvet Buzzsaw (2019)
Malkovich as the final girl
With Velvet Buzzsaw, Dan Gilroy succeeds in simultaneously subverting melodrama and slasher film as devious and deluded characters are slowly consumed by the art around which their world revolves.
While installations, paintings and ghastly portraits pervade both scene and story, Gilroy's double helix of character arcs, drawn from a clique for whom Art is a business, provides a satisfying juxtaposition. While caricatures to begin with, farce turns to melodrama as hubris turns to hamartia as characters evolve and interweave. Here is the comedy and the tragedy.
Walking always a fine line between the profane and the profound, elements of horror lurk in almost every frame. Gilroy shows he is as well versed in Horror as he is in Greek Tragedy.
Long before the end of this film, you'll know you need to watch it again. It will be studied in film schools for years to come. A modern day masterpiece.
Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)
Not a prison movie
As every schoolboy knows, Jaws is not a film about a shark. While we're on the subject of films not being about what you might think they're about, Midnight Express is not a film about a train, (it's a "prison word for escape"). Brawl in Cell Block 99 is not a film about a prison. It's also not a film about a train or a fish. Though this statement may be a red herring. For as Jonah entered the 'belly of a huge fish', Vince Vaughan's Bradley Thomas is compelled to enter literal and metaphorical depths to save his unborn daughter who is in the literal and metaphorical belly of his wife.
I'll pour cold water on the aquatic metaphors for the remainder of this review, so please excuse the shift in tone as I speak seriously about BCB99's...well...shift in tone. For the first 3rdof BCB99 I was intrigued to see Vince Vaughan in a serious role, however, having spent the first act establishing the tone of a gritty drama, setting up the story of a good man beaten down by society, it wasn't until the first gratuitously graphic snapping of bone that I realised I was watching a black comedy.
I'll concede I was concerned that the film was about to become silly when the paper-thin character of VV's wife (pun intended) was kidnapped, but given the eventual trajectory of BCB99 I'm not sure that the first third of the film was warranted.
Did we need to know that Vaughan's Bradley Thomas is a victim of circumstance, a man of principal who would "rather knit baby booties with pink yarn than hit people for no reason"in order to earn the right to indulge in what is essentially a revenge flick dripping with 70s style grindhouse gore?* Especially when the stakes are ratcheted up to eleven by the visitor he receives during his first night in prison. Perhaps the filmmakers, for the sake of empathy felt they had to throw as much adversity as possible at a protagonist with all the expression of a sardine.
Which brings me onto VV's casting. The role doesn't stretch Vaughan - standing as he does at "six four", stretching is most likely something Vince Vaughan is not used to - he is believable enough as the tough guy with a southern affect. However, with the film's tonal shift such that it is, I can't help thinking Nicholas Cage would have been more at home.
Still, tonal shift aside the final third of BCB99 is a bloody good romp. Perhaps suggesting that this film is two thirds of a great film is unfair however, for better or worse, the over-the-top head stomping will be the memory which endures.
*I suspect that "Jaws 2: The Revenge" is probably not a film about revenge but I haven't seen it so can neither confirm nor deny.
Did J.R.R Tolkien write the Bible?
In the beginning, God created Heaven and Earth. It's unclear from the original text as to when he created giant rock monsters but fast forward to 2014 and Darren Aronofski released the film, Noah. While God took 7 days to create the World, Aronofski's reboot of God's epic took 14 years (screenplay to release) and cost $130 million. We can only speculate over God's budget for the original but given his work was antediluvian, we can assume it must have been on a relative shoestring.
Perhaps a direct comparison is not fair. While Darrenofski is one of the few modern Directors to be consistently given a sizeable budget to fulfil a singular vision, God had complete autonomy (and omnipotence).
So comparisons aside, does Darrenofski's flick sink or float? For all the epic scale, special effects and aforementioned giant rock monsters of the first act, Noah is most engaging when it develops into a story of a family rent asunder by a father's will to do what he believes is right.
It is this second act, set wholly within the ark in which all supporting actors shine in their portrayals of various family members torn between ultimate sacrifice and the protection of innocence. Crowe's performance is adept as the conflicted-come murderous father and far more rewarding for me than the well-trodden fight scenes of Act 1.
But as engaging as the second act is, it will remain for me the only memorable element of a film which is hindered more than helped by its epic scale. Perhaps both auteurs could have benefitted from reigning in their vision slightly, after all God did create Michael Bay.
The Commuter (2018)
Runs off the rails after a promising setup
Imagine you're on the same commuter train you've ridden to and from work day after day, year upon year when something very suspicious happens. A woman who looks really similar to the love interest from Scorcese's The Departed offers you a large sum of money in exchange for finding a passenger who "doesn't belong". Suddenly the commute is intriguing and you're glad you bought the ticket, right?
Wrong! It's only a few stops in before you realise you're inside another Liam Neeson vehicle. Its an express train to actionville when you were promised you'd be stopping at mystery falls.
By the end, you're just glad you can walk away from the wreck which follows the inevitable derailment. You just hope the next train you board will be driven by Duncan Jones.