YELLOWJACKETS // s01

Brilliant.

Kicking off with one of the strongest pilots in recent memory, Yellowjackets splits a narrative between a girls’ soccer team whose plane goes down in the mountains during the 90s, and the lives of the survivors in the present day.

It’s ominous, foreboding, and gives you enough information upfront to know that things are going to get bad, before expertly dancing back and forth between the time periods.

The soundtrack is fantastic, the production value is top-notch, the editing is masterful.

The performances too deserve special mention — the cast are excellent, but Juliette Lewis and Christina Ricci are bringing career-best character work to their roles.

There’s a tonne more intrigue left, with plenty of clever misdirects and setups. Some of the gore is not for the faint of heart.

An absolutely stellar first season, here’s hoping it can maintain.

Highly recommended.

THE EMPTY MAN (2020)

A pretty solid horror/mystery/thriller with a creepy pretense, good cinematography and an intriguing plot.

This is one of those ones that benefits from knowing very little going in and just seeing where it takes you.

Not altogether scary, but has its moments all the same. Not sure how strongly it all sticks together by the end, but for a long, slow sort of mystery it does more than enough right to maintain an eerie tone and try for something seldom seen in horror films.

A cult favourite waiting to happen. Worth checking out.

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.

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.

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.

NO TIME TO DIE (2021)

Flat.

Some beautiful shots that prop up a meandering narrative that’s a full hour too long, without any really distinct thrills of its own in a franchise that usually defines itself by unique thrills. There’s no memorable sequence that compares to anything from Casino Royale through Skyfall. There’s nothing here that holds a candle to the more recent Mission Impossible films.

And that’s the problem, really. Skyfall felt like a very natural conclusion to Craig’s James Bond, but now we have another film having to re-tie things up, unfortunately now including loose threads from the terrible Spectre. It feels anticlimactic and played out, especially since we kind of already did this dance already, and better.

The highlight is a brief Knives Out reunion with Ana de Armas, who blusters in to kick ass and be absurdly charming for about 15min before vanishing from the film entirely.

All the classic Bond tropes are present: a gadget car, a transforming vehicle, a fancy trick watch, a henchman with a gimmick, a villain with a visual hook, a stylish island lair, and a monstrous global plot.

But it keeps forgetting to have fun and just be a Bond movie, rather choosing to focus on lackluster relationships with Léa Seydoux and Christoph Waltz. It’s making the same mistake as Spectre of trying to force engagement by tying things together retroactively, but that’s not what a Bond film is meant to be.

The fourth best Craig Bond film, or the second worst depending on your perspective.

MIDNIGHT MASS (2021)

Mike Flanagan has definitely picked up on Stephen King’s skill with small town communities and horror, giving this the feel of a King tale, though it’s not an adaptation.

The trick, of course, being to centre the emotional core each character around the theme of the series — in this case, faith and fanaticism versus morality; the absolute of God versus actual, practical right and wrong.

And, of course, guilt.

There’s a supernatural hook too, one that’s very easy to pick up on early and that thankfully reveals itself quickly enough to get on with the important business of the consequence of it’s premise, rather than any sort of cheap shock. It’s the type of creeping, human horror that Flanagan absolutely excels at, and even still the later episodes have some brilliantly executed terror.

On theme, it was refreshing to have a series centred around Catholicism take the time to sit with the atheist and Muslim characters too, and to show them as not being definitively in opposition to the church. The show, after all, isn’t about any religion specifically, but rather about faith, and allowing these outsider perspectives to be poetic and beautiful in their own right does a great service to the character drama at the heart of it.

There are some great extended dialogues, fantastically shot sequences, and yes, excellent horror. Better still, it took what could have very easily been a trite and worn concept, and wrung some genuinely compelling, tragic storytelling out of it.

If you enjoyed Hill House/Bly Manor you’re unlikely to be disappointed here. Mike Flanagan has fast gone up the list of people to watch whenever they drop something new, as he always has something distinct and thoughtful to show.

Highly recommended.

MALIGNANT (2021)

Starts out seeming like THE GRUDGE before taking a couple of left turns into campy, ridiculous, and absurd. Your mileage may vary.

It’s definitely entertaining, fantastically shot, and will either intrigue or baffle with its originality.

It’s also strangely melodramatic, frequently silly and the actual twist is so hilariously weird that you’ll either find this to be a work of genius or throw the whole thing out.

Feels like modern day 80s horror trash, a solid three-star film. You already know by now if this is your jam.

So, recommended. Or not. Your call.

But if you just HAVE to know the twist:

Continue reading “MALIGNANT (2021)”

Whatcha been readin’?

Since the pandemic started I’ve been leaning harder into setting wind-down time in the evening aside specifically for reading, and as a result have made my way through around twenty-seven books in the last eighteenish months. A couple of these were re-reads, but of the new ones I’ve compiled a couple of highlights below:

THE NAME OF THE WIND / THE WISE MAN’S FEAR — Patrick Rothfuss

Wonderfully written “traditional” fantasy with one of the best modern voices in the style, imbued full of wonder, intelligence and a deep love of the genre by its author. The only problem being that the third book is close to a decade past due with no release date in sight so while I highly recommend the first two books they come with the caveat that you’ll be joining the ranks of disappointed fans stuck waiting for a conclusion.

CIBOLA BURN (THE EXPANSE) — James S.A. Corey

The best modern sci-fi series, hands down. I read this, the fourth book, as a refresher for season five of the show last December. Book five will be the same for season six at the end of this year and then I’ll be able to read the last three without fear of spoilers. It’s less complicated than it sounds. I rave about this series a lot, it’s got everything.

SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE — Kurt Vonnegut

One of my all-time favourite books got a graphic novel adaptation that both serves its source beautifully while also bringing its own flavour and style. Probably better appreciated if you’ve read the original novel, but nonetheless a worthwhile pickup.

THE THREE BODY PROBLEM — Cixin Liu

Heady, cerebral sci-fi that’s both wildly imaginative and coldly mathematical. Considered one of the greatest novels of the modern era and for good reason — a slowly unfolding scope puts its vision on timescales akin to masterwork Foundation while making the human elements much more compelling. Currently reading the sequel, The Dark Forest.

RAYBEARER — Jordan Ifueko

African magical realism via YA, with political intrigue thrown in for good measure. The world is incredibly distinct and well realised, and this is just the first in a series well worth following.

THE DISPOSSESSED — Ursula K LeGuin

An anarchist physicist is brought to a Capitalist society so that he can realise his great unifying theory, but quickly becomes disillusioned with the falsity and exploitive nature of their culture. Hard biting political commentary draped in planetary science-fiction and social satire. It’s dense, but it’s faaaaaaar ahead of its time.

DAWN — Octavia E Butler

After the world ends, aliens abduct a small handful of surviving humans to help them rebreed and repopulate, but this also means intermingling their DNA with their new benefactors. Very strange, and also the first in a trilogy. I plan to come back to see where it goes, this first one was great.

DOCTOR SLEEP — Stephen King

How do you follow up something as iconic as The Shining? With pretty much exactly this book. Explores other creatures from King’s multiverse, while tying it back to the Overlook and the Shine in new and satisfying ways. Adult Danny might not have the same problems as his father but hooboy does he have troubles of his own.

HOUSE OF X / POWERS OF X — Hickman, Larraz, Silva, Gracia

Fantastic recalibration of the X-Men universe by way of a looping time cycle, a living island and multiple possible realities (most of which end in some variation of terrible apocalypse). Makes mutantkind feel fresh and new again, full of big ideas, which is an impressive feat. The main problem is that it immediately sprawls out into half a dozen plotlines so I have no idea how to follow up from this collection, but as a standalone “reboot” of the X-Men this was great.

THE IMMORTAL HULK — Ewing, Bennett, Garbett, Hotz

Similarly, this run takes the concept of the Hulk and turns it into a Cronenbergian body horror nightmare. See, Bruce Banner can die, but the Hulk is immortal and no matter what you do to the man the monster will always come back. It was a brilliant move to take this character and make him terrifying, and the series looks like it’s only getting darker.

JURASSIC PARK / THE LOST WORLD— Michael Crichton

Pulp fiction at its best. I first read these twenty-five years ago and somehow still remembered every detail like I’d read them just last week. Quite a tonal departure from the first film and far more critical of the Capitalist aspects of genetic patenting. The second book and film are almost completely unrelated aside from a few character appearances. Still, easy to understand why they were so popular, I blew through the two of them inside a week.

BRAND NEW CHERRY FLAVOR (2021)

Part Cronenberg body horror, part Lynchian psychological trip, part weirder-bits-of-TrueBlood.

Incredibly well shot and put together with a great specificity of vision that conjures a distinct and uniquely nightmarish take on 90s L.A. drenched in neon and black magic.

Some truly disgusting visuals anchored by a fantastic cast of strange, funny and rich characters.

Not for those with weak stomachs, but horror fans should definitely find a lot to love here.

Wonderfully weird, highly recommended.