INVINCIBLE s01

It’s tough to really discuss what sets this apart from any other coming-of-age superpowered story without utterly spoiling the thing that sets it apart.

So more generally I can say that it has fun takes on a lot of well-worn tropes and has a couple of refreshing things to say on the way these sorts of stories play out.

The voice cast is incredible and the action is visceral, even if the animation outside of the grand set pieces can tend to sway on the cheaper side. Still, it didn’t detract.

You’ll know if you’re on board by the time the credits on the first episode finish rolling.

Absolutely not for kids.

Recommended.

SPOILERS AHEAD

Continue reading “INVINCIBLE s01”

MORTAL KOMBAT (2021)

Is it a bad movie?

Yes.

Is it the good sort of entertaining?

Also yes.

Some brilliantly ridiculous action stacked in around long stretches of flat exposition and some weird character choices.

The plot’s a mess and the acting’s stilted but it’s also fun when it’s chewing scenery and revelling in being the most Mortal Kombat it can be.

Highlights are the Scorpion/SubZero sequences (which sadly only stack up to around 20min of runtime bookending the main story), and some gloriously, hilariously gruesome FX.

Unfortunately it doesn’t really manage to keep the same gleefully ridiculous momentum it starts out with, but it does ultimately end on the right side of a good time and works as a decent enough setup for a completely bonkers sequel if they really go for it.

Worth a watch if you’ve got no higher expectations than some schlocky, trashy fun.

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY s01 (2020)

A total masterstroke of modern genre television.

Less the Cthulhu mythos elements of Lovecraft’s stories, but rather taking small, weird tales of scifi, cosmic horror, occult organisations, time/space travel and wrapping them all in post-Korean wartime black United States.

So of course, all the supernatural darkness and horror that comes with the magical side of things is frequently less terrifying, threatening and horrible than the everyday racism the protagonists face in their ordinary lives.

It’s brilliantly done. Each episode takes this lens and focuses it through the tone and genre of classic pulp novels — one time a haunted house, one time an artefact heist adventure, one time a body-swapping life-in-their-shoes story, one time a time-travelling historical lesson, one time a mythological fable crossed with a wartime romance.

The cast and their performances are fantastic, the VFX are cinematic quality (not to mention impressively visceral and disgusting) while the choices to use anachronistic modern elements of black culture only serve to further elevate and enhance the experience.

There’s just so, so much packed into only ten episodes that it puts many other shows to shame with both its ambition and execution.

Highly, highly recommended.

THE THIRD DAY (2020)

A decent entry into the “creepy isolated cult” sub-genre, told with plenty of breathing room over six episodes.

Not as fantastical as I was hoping it would turn out, but nonetheless a fairly effective thriller told in two parts: three days (episodes) each of someone arriving on the island of Osea and things getting progressively worse for them, they things tend to do when you ignore all signs telling you to leave immediately.

Of course, the causeway connecting the island to the mainland floods over with the tide so the windows of escape are always narrow, but it’s often hard to sympathise with someone who sees creepy, bloody paintings on the exteriors of buildings and gets extremely chilly vibes from the locals and doesn’t just nope right the hell out of there immediately. There were too many points, especially in the second half where I was yelling “Fuck this place! LEAVE DAMMIT!!” at the television and yet the characters always managed to miss their chances to escape again and again.

Unfortunately, it does a bit more telling rather than showing us why this place holds such mythic portent. We hear it a lot but it’s never really explained or justified why it’s special or how it’s special.

In the end it comes down to the two leads of each of the sections (titled “Summer” and “Winter” ), and their emotional through-lines are what keeps it from falling off the rails thanks to Jude Law, Naomie Harris and the excellent supporting cast. Much is shot in a disorienting, uncomfortably close style that makes the character journeys harrowing and anxious to follow.

Supposedly there was an interim “Autumn” section which was broadcast as a 12-hour single-take live event between the two parts during the Osea festival that we only saw the lead up to and the fallout from in the show itself. It does feel as though something is missing, though if I hadn’t looked it up you’d never know it was missing.

For me it didn’t quite tip over into being really excellent, since something like Midsommar or the original Wicker Man handled similar material in a much more unsettling way.

Still, it’s a pretty decent little thriller, I was just expecting some elevation or reinvention of the genre when all it was offering was a good execution on worn ideas with nothing dramatic to reveal at the end.

GODZILLA vs KONG (2021)

Y’know what? I had fun with it.

It’s kinda funny how this franchise went from the tonally grounded, disaster movie feel of Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla to the high-tech Hollow Earth kaiju showdown extravaganza here.

It’s a big step up from King of the Monsters (2019), partly because the runtime is pared back and because they finally worked out that nobody cares about the human elements beyond serving to string the giant monster battles together.

And that’s more or less it for the plot. Something something energy source, something something Hollow Earth, something something Big Corporation biting off more than it can chew.

Cue the modern take on the most famous giant monster showdown in cinematic history complete with neon lighting, handwavey science and so much destruction you’ll wonder why anyone would ever risk living near a city in this cinematic universe.

It’s big, schlocky blockbuster spectacle and it does a fine job of delivering exactly what it promises on the box.

It also has a surprisingly bangin’ synth soundtrack in parts which is always welcome.

Probably closest to Kong: Skull Island (2017), if you enjoyed that you’ll have a good time here.

SAINT MAUD (2019)

What can a horror film ponder on religion or biblical themes that wasn’t already covered by The Exorcist?

Well, if SAINT MAUD has anything to say about, it some fairly damning critique of blind faith through the eyes of a wildly unreliable narrator.

Heavy content warnings for self-harm, as Maud believes suffering is all in the service of her faith, and that she is on the path of redemption from sin as saint and saviour of the atheist she has under palliative care.

There’s an impressively grounded realism that only further heightens the discomfort when what we see as Maud’s delusion contrasts with what she believes is true and real contact with God.

Small in scale but impressive in scope, this one will probably fly under most peoples’ radar which is a shame because it’s quietly challenging the notion that religious horror can only be one thing.

Cleverly done. Recommended.

JUSTICE LEAGUE: The Snyder Cut (2021)

Is this an improvement over the theatrical/Whedon cut? Yes.

Is is actually a good movie now? No.

Look, I’m happy for Snyder that he got to complete his film the way that he intended, but I really don’t like his approach to any of the characters, and the storytelling swings wildly from slow and dull to heavy-handed and pretentious. This did not need to be four hours long and it’s a shocking amount of self-indulgence that kept it above the 120min mark for what essentially amounts to a retread of 2012’s The Avengers but with barely half the charm and a tenth of the colour pallet.

Primary villain Steppenwolf gets an excellent design rework and more complex motivations, but he boils down to a grey/silver redux of Loki’s role less the mischief and wit. Hell, he’s even looking for cubes and comes complete with a mindless army and a hooded go-between to the true Big Bad: Thanos…. erm, Darkseid.

Darkseid is in this! Yep. That character nobody outside of pre-existing DC fans knows anything about is introduced in flashbacks and then shows up at the end to bait for a sequel that will never come.

Instead they burn 30-odd minutes on a weird flash-forward post-apocalypse sequence so that Batman can threaten to kill Jared Leto’s Joker (in his most Ledgery portrayal) and then angry Superman can show up again and the whole thing can end on a weird downer that undoes the victory of the final battle.

It all feels so pointless. Every thirty minutes or so is something that makes you go “oh that’s pretty cool” and then we snap right out of it when Snyder does another cringeworthy needle drop. Like, the songs themselves are good songs, but he always deploys them in the most ham-fisted, obvious way and I can’t think of another director that makes me physically recoil so hard from hearing a familiar song in a film. Oh, Aquaman is a king? Here’s a pompous Nick Cave song with lyrics about a kingdom and a king cut exactly to fit a slow-motion walk into the ocean. Like, fuck, that is about as subtle as throwing a bowling ball through a plate glass window. My eyes almost rolled out of my skull and I like both Nick Cave and Momoa’s Arthur Curry (despite the movies he’s in being mediocre at best). And there’s not one but two scenes of him walking into the sea to dramatic music within 20min of one another.

What of the other characters?

Batfleck is fine. He doesn’t show up as Batman until two hours in. Jeremy Irons is a great Alfred.

Cyborg has a significantly enhanced role this time around. Ray Fisher does a good job. Sucks to hear the shoot was a nightmare for him. But… why not make his cyberspace sequences more visually distinct from the rest of the film though? It’s the same brown/orange as all the fight sequences, the same as the flashbacks, the same as the apocalypse sequences. There’s no distinction between any of the visual design, which doesn’t make it consistent or cohesive, it makes it bland.

Wonder Woman suffers hard from the fact that her next movie to release after this was set decades before this and contained several plot points that contradict dialogue in JL, as well as making her character intensely, retroactively unlikeable.

The Flash has the best visual sequences in the film but Ezra Miller’s twitchy portrayal of Barry Allen wears thin quickly. There’s something to be said for the fact that we barely see him actually moving fast too. All his speed-force shots are in slo-mo, which gives a good sense of his perpective but we don’t get enough contrast for what it’s like for those around him or what a layperson would see. Slowing things down constantly absolutely shatters the pacing, especially when slo-mo is used at other times when Flash isn’t even present because it’s Snyder’s visual crutch.

Superman is the same as he was. The weird digital lip scene is cut, he gets a colour swap on his suit, and he basically shows up as a deus ex machina in the final fight to do some good punching and that’s all.

Overall, it’s bloated, self-important, self-indulgent and self-serious. This didn’t need to be three hours long, let alone four. The “chapters” only serve to break up the runtime but don’t have much of a narrative arc distinct to them aside from loosely clustering scenes that happen around the same time in the plot without distinct through-lines.

Now that this whole hashtag has run its course I hope everyone can just bloody move on and start making new things instead of shovelling 20 indie movie budgets at a monstrosity like this. For all those celebrating this an unquestioned masterpiece, I ask:

This?

This is what you have been insufferable about for the last four years? This is what was worth harassment campaigns and nearly ruining peoples’ lives? It’s not worth any of that. It’s not visionary or groundbreaking in any way that could justify its $400m+ budget. It’s not even very entertaining.

If you haven’t seen it, don’t burn four hours of your life on it. If you love it, I don’t understand you. Just let the Snyderverse die off now.

Shazam is still the best DC film. At least that one was fun to watch.

PS. The 4:3 aspect ratio is stupid. You’re not “getting more information” if you’re cutting a third out of every single screen this will be watched on. Want more height in the frame? Pull back further in the shot. Widescreen is standard now for a reason, dammit! It was shot for IMAX? It’s not being watched on IMAX!

PPS. What was the point of the “Unite the Seven” marketing? There are five characters in most of this film, six when Superman gets revived. The other DC characters that make appearances aren’t part of the Justic League for the entire film.

WANDAVISION (2021)

A solid start to the MCU’s new Disney+ arm.

A little slow to start for the first two or so episodes, but quickly gets comfortable playing with its concept and pushes what’s expected of a superhero show out into some interesting directions.

I’ll save the big plot twists and geekery for a spoiler section after the click-through, but safe to say there’s some solid easter eggs and fan service woven into it all.

If you’re not familiar with much of the Marvel universe there’s still a decent amount to enjoy in the satirisation of various television sitcoms over the years, and at its heart it’s fundamentally about Wanda and her sadness. If anything it could have stood to lean a little harder on the sitcom tropes, since there was a lot of good material in the supporting cast that felt a little shoved aside when the main arc needed to wrap up.

Great supporting cast, Paul Bettany imbues The Vision with a wonderful humanity, and extra accolades must go out to Elizabeth Olsen for such a multi-faceted performance anchoring it all together.

Hard to say what got shuffled out in terms of the larger MCU tie-ins since the release schedule was scrambled last year, but it’s a worthy addition to the canon and bodes well for the D+ series going forward.

Criticisms and larger discussions are pretty spoilery so consider yourself warned:

SPOILERS AHEAD

Continue reading “WANDAVISION (2021)”

HIS HOUSE (2020)

An impressive debut from writer/director Remi Weekes, centring in the experience of a Sudanese refugee couple who have settled in the United Kingdom only to find something terrible has followed them across the sea.

Some really well executed scares, quick pacing and an organic escalation into horror that makes excellent use of both characters and setting to tell a larger tale of trauma and escape.

Absolutely one of the better horror films of the last few years, well worth your time.

ISLE OF DOGS (2018)

A little late to the party on this one, but glad I got around to it.

All the charm and personality of Fantastic Mr Fox plus all the usual trapping of a Wes Anderson flick.

Positively dripping with style and meticulous production design. The plot is tight and quirky and heartwarming, the voice cast is A+.

So, yeah, again… a Wes Anderson film. You generally know what you’re in for and this doesn’t disappoint.

Recommended.