BLOOD QUANTUM (2019)

BLOOD QUANTUM: a measure of the amount of indigenous blood in an individual, expressed as a fraction such as one-half or one-fourth. This amount is used to determine and prove the individual’s tribal belonging and legal rights.

During a zombie outbreak, a lone indigenous reservation discovers that its bloodline is immune to the infection, and so becomes a kind of refugee camp for outsiders (read: white people) from the plague.

But as is often the case in zombie fiction: people are worse than the creatures.

It’s a solidly clever spin on the genre, propped up by some brilliantly gruesome special effects and great cinematography.

If you’re an indie horror fan at all, this one should be on your must-watch list. It’s a little rough around the edges, but all the more charming for it.

Lots of gory fun. Recommended.

VENOM: Let There Be Carnage (2021)

I don’t even have much to say about this one.

It’s a tight ninety minutes worth of weird creative decisions, bland monster stomping action and awkward melodrama strung up around what barely passes for a plot.

Doesn’t even have the decency to be outright terrible, it’s mostly just uninteresting.

Sony really doesn’t know what they’re doing with Venom as a character, starting with having his origin separated from Spider-Man and running right through two films now where the primary antagonists are just gooey monsters of a different colour.

Venom is meant to be a body horror creature, and Carnage is that idea taken to the extreme. Some of the effects are wonderfully gristly and meaty, but it’s completely wasted on a bloodless PG-13 rating.

Nothing really happens. Players just move from scene to scene and then there’s a CGI fight that’s generic, but worst of all, forgettable.

Not worth the time.

ARCANE // s01

A high water mark for animation, bringing fantastic art design and execution to a rich and detailed fantasy world.

From my understanding, knowledge of League of Legends (the game franchise this is based on) is unnecessary, and it certainly seems interested in making itself both accessible and engaging.

Action is kinetic and complimented by exceptional VFX work. Characters are complex, and their relationships shift and change to keep you wondering who will survive, ally, betray. It’s a big cast, but it’s very well balanced, even when it occasionally feels like it’s spreading itself thin across too many threads.

Plenty has already been said about the stunning visual style, and it’s all warranted. Better though, the story feels like it barely scratching the surface of a huge world.

Already renewed for a second season, and incredibly promising.

Highly recommended.

FORTITUDE // s01-03

Starts out as a prestigiously cast Scandinavian Noir mystery before taking a left turn into body horror, then another left turn into a supernatural conspiracy thriller, and then running right through the wall of credulity and off a cliff into the sea.

By the end of the third season it’s lost its plot so thoroughly and bafflingly that it’s hard to know exactly what the overarching intention had been. Was it always going to devolve into Twin Peaks wannabe territory, without the coherence of vision at David Lynch can manage?

The sudden third act introduction of de-aging billionaire strangers, BDSM jokes, absurd changes in characterisation across the board and a saxophone score that feels ripped right from the hammiest 80’s soap opera all stands in stark contrast to the self-serious dramatic tone of the first season.

Thing is, that first season is an absolute banger. It’s got all the atmophere and mystique you want in a small town murder mystery, propped up by the likes of Stanley Tucci, Christopher Eccleston, Michael Gambon and The Killing’s Sofie Gråbøl.

Season two sees Dennis Quaid, Michelle Fairley and Robert Sheehan join the cast, but things start losing their way. You’ll probably be able to ride the goodwill from the first season’s execution right through to the end of part two—a bizzare conclusion involving weird swings at both shamanism and Russian life-extension experiments.

Still sounds kind of fun, right?

Problem is, none of this is leading anywhere. Season three is mercifully short at only four episodes. Half of the primary cast is dead or moved on by now, and those who remain are trapped in a bizzare exercise in removing any likeability from their personas and having everyone behave entirely out of character for no reason.

At least Richard Dormer looks to be enjoying himself, chewing scenery as he goes from grizzled sheriff to reindeer-juice tripping madman to utterly unhinged, monologuing murderous lunatic.

Shame it’s not nearly as much fun for the audience as it clearly was for him.

Check out the first season, skip the rest.

CRUELLA (2021)

Actually pretty fun!

Wasn’t expecting this to have a huge heist film element to it, but it was a welcome surprise.

Not sure how far it goes to justifying the outright monster she becomes, but it doesn’t seem too interested in trying to do that. So, credit to it.

Drops a few eye-rolly explanations for things that didn’t need an explanation, same as any of these prequels tries to do, but they come so late in the game that they’re fairly inconsequential to enjoying the ride.

One of the better live-action Disney tie-ins, your mileage will vary based on your taste for those.

Does it need to exist? No.

Was it entertaining? Sure!

MARVEL’S ETERNALS (2021)

So different to the usual Marvel fare that it’s understandable the audience reaction is so mixed.

I really enjoyed it though! Don’t believe the haters, there is really something distinct here.

A cosmic epic spanning millennia, centering on a group of immortal beings sent as caretakers for humanity to gently guide their development.

Yes, it’s very slow and often dense with exposition. I would argue it might have been better served as a prestige series to allow it more time to breathe, but it does a lot with the time its given even if the pacing is uneven. Even at two and a half hours it feels like some decent sized chunks were lost in the edit.

The characters are great and their “family” dynamic is full of well executed moments and humour. Their powers are all distinct and visually striking, some of the most interesting in the MCU. The visual design is on a whole other level, there’s a kind of scope and scale here that’s wonderful to behold. The lore, while heavyhanded, is fascinating and rich.

Not without its problems, but I’m willing to forgive a lot for the sake of ambition on display. Doesn’t require any pre-existing knowledge of Marvel stuff to get into it, this is actually impressively standalone for the most part. It’s taking chances I want to see more blockbusters take.

Not for everyone, but certainly not the disaster some are hyperbolically painting is as.

Recommended.

LAST NIGHT IN SOHO (2021)

Edgar Wright doesn’t miss!

A surreal horror/thriller trip with enough clever twists and misleads to keep you guessing right to the end.

Pitch-perfect twin lead performances from Tomasin Mackenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy anchor time-bending shenanigans through a descent into madness, switching effortlessly from the modern day Soho to the 60s and back again.

Possibly the least “Edgar Wrighty” of his films, though still offering a tight and refined selection of his usual exceptional camerawork and brilliantly executed staging. There were several sequences where I was at a total loss to explain how they’d achieved some of their effects so seamlessly and subtly. It’s a true mark of a master not to draw attention to your best tricks and instead to let them totally serve the narrative.

Loving vintage aesthetic drips from costumes, prduction design and nods to Dario Argento — a true love letter to filmmaking style with substance to back it up.

A modern classic.

Highly recommended.

DUNE (2021)

The granddaddy of modern sci-fi finally gets its (partial) due on the big screen.

Yep, it’s probably worth knowing going in that this is very much Part One of a gigantic epic. For all the political machinations and galactic prophesies, it only covers around half of the first book — pretty much right before things get weird.

This is prestige science fiction: incredibly shot, full of iconic design and a thundering soundtrack, political subterfuge, stacked cast. It’s slow and contemplative and absolutely dense with cryptic worldbuilding; there’s a lot to take in and someone unfamiliar with the classic could find themselves kind of lost.

There’s a depth and a complexity to the visual design and lighting that makes it feel both jaw-droppingly fantastical and tangibly, organically real. It feels like a totally realised world on a galactic scale — an immense achievement and a high-watermark for blockbusters.

So yes, it does feel incomplete, but it absolutely lays an amazing foundation for sequels. It will be an utter tragedy if Villeneuve doesn’t get to continue his vision because he’s knocked it out of the park yet again, and we’ve only just scratched the surface of what the books have to offer.

EDIT: Part Two was announced as greenlit between my original post and the following morning. Hooray!

Now that things are safe, go out there and see it big and loud. A true cinematic experience, even if it’s only half of the first part of an epic story so far.

Highly recommended.

TED LASSO s02

It’s back!

We actually let the season mostly play out before binging it all in the week leading up to the finale — it’s the kind of show that brings such a good mood with it that you want to savour its short run but also hook as much into your veins as you can manage at once.

How to adequately describe Ted Lasso? From the outside it looks like a fairly boilerplate sports dramedy, but it very quickly reveals itself to be fundamentally about caring, support and growth. Season one was such an absolute burst of sunshine for 2020, and earned all the praise it received for its smart, brilliant character work while retaining a wonderfully high degree of emotional intelligence and a refreshingly blunt approach to conflict.

And this season doesn’t disappoint.

Interestingly, this actually marks something of a slightly darker tone than season one. Jason Sudeikis has described this as the Empire Strikes Back before we get to Return of the Tedi for the third and final season next year.

The infectious sincerity and kindness is still present, but it’s not trying to sell you something saccharine or hollow. There are plenty of big emotional moments and they always feel true and genuine, even to a bitter old cynic such as myself.

Honestly, if you haven’t gotten on board I can’t push it on you strongly enough. From someone who couldn’t give two shits about football, I am incredibly invested in this wholesome show.

Highly recommended!

CANDYMAN (2021)

A modernisation/continuation of the 1992 original, but lacking any of its iconic tone or atmosphere.

Tells its themes rather than showing, and kinda wastes a great idea for connection to the first film that really only materialises in the final minutes.

A couple of cool looking kills, but let down by a disappointing absence of Tony Todd in the title role.

Ultimately, it feels more defined by what it lacks in comparison to the original than by what it brings as a reimagining of the legend.

Sadly, forgettable.