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.

BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE (2018)

An abandoned motel straddling the California/Nevada state lines plays host to six strangers with dark pasts.

The cast is inspired, the production design is excellent and the stagecraft is fantastic. Cinematography is creative and makes the whole production feel like an elaborate stage play. Soundtrack is stacked with 50s bops.

Pacing’s a little off and it drags some in the back half, but its style and character performances really elevate it as a solid, well executed Noir thriller.

Recommended.

NARCOS (s01-03)

A little late to the party on this one, sure, but better late than never.

The sort of prestige crime drama usually reserved for HBO, it marks a period of Netflix when they were trying especially hard to establish themselves as a viable rival. It really shows.

Usually I avoid discussing plot since I often prefer myself to be able to start watching something without knowing where it’s going, but that approach is kind if moot here since Narcos is explicitly about the burgeoning cocaine trade in Medellín, Colombia during the 1980s and 90s — most notably charting the rise and fall of legendary cartel kingpin Pablo Escobar.

Performances are fantastic. Story is tense, engaging and frequently horrifying as the drug war escalates and corruption seeps into everything. Interests become conflicted, power shifts, lots of innocent people get caught in the crossfire.

A dark and depressing tale, the effects of which are still being felt to this day.

Recommended.

BLOOD RED SKY (2021)

Terrorists hijack a plane and unwittingly set off a vampire hiding onboard.

If nothing about that premise makes you immediately say “fuck yeah” then I don’t know what more I can tell you to sell it. It’s ridiculous and it’s fun and it takes itself just seriously enough to stay firmly a horror movie with an emotional core rather than to devolve to a trashy comedy like it easily could have.

Makeup work is great, cast is solid, execution is exactly what it needs to be.

An A-grade B-movie.

Recommended.

THE STAND (2020)

Ironic that this released just as the world was dealing with a very real pandemic, so understandable that it was largely ignored or passed over given the circumstances.

Stephen King stories are best treated as limited series such as this, as it gives the characters plenty of room to exist and be human within the story.

As post-apocalyptic tales go, this is more mythical forces of good and evil acting through human conduits than say, your standard meditation on the nature of humanity in a world gone to hell.

Plus, the production quality really sells the end of the world and the casting is all excellent.

A solid and faithful adaptation of King’s epic, tweaked and modernised just enough to play to modern sensibilities.

Recommended.