Movie Review: SUN CHOKE – Exploitative nudity and a deliberately evasive screenplay make for a frustratingly hollow movie.

It’s unfair to say I disliked Sun Choke, because it has a few good things going for it, but after getting around to finally watching it after about six months, I came away from it mostly unimpressed and though I wasn’t angered by it, it prompted me to take to Twitter to get a couple of things off my chest.  I’ll preface this review by letting you know that it’s being written in the immediate aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.  What does that have to do with this dark psychological drama?  Read on …

Continue reading “Movie Review: SUN CHOKE – Exploitative nudity and a deliberately evasive screenplay make for a frustratingly hollow movie.”

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Movie Review: THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER – as far as debuts go, this is pretty striking, unfortunately, the reveal is a cheat.

Osgood (Oz) Perkins is a new name on the scene, but not an unfamiliar one.  He’s the son of Psycho star Anthony Perkins, so it’s fair to say that unlike other first time moviemakers a lifelong connection to the movie business ingrained within him some valuable moviemaking tips.  It shows here in his first movie, which is a taut, suspenseful indie horror, starring Emma Roberts (American Horror Story), with fine supporting work by Lucy Boynton and, in particular, Kiernan Shipka.  It’s well directed for sure, but the story itself depends on one particular conceit that doesn’t work,  It’s a giant black hole and for me, the entire movie collapsed into it.

Continue reading “Movie Review: THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER – as far as debuts go, this is pretty striking, unfortunately, the reveal is a cheat.”

Movie Review: MOTHER! – Darren Aronofsky returns with a terrific, polarizing, dizzying, genre-confounding tale heavy on allegory that will command your full attention.

Three people told me the same thing about this movie.  It’s super weird, and I wouldn’t like it.  Now, I’m the guy who devoured the recent Twin Peaks and enjoy things like Bottom Of The World (though admittedly, Jena Malone was the main reason I watched it!), so weird … kinda my thing, right?  I could never get a straight answer to why, though.  The other thing they told me: you need to go and see it!  So I did, partly to recover from the system shock of Kingsman: The Golden Circle!

Continue reading “Movie Review: MOTHER! – Darren Aronofsky returns with a terrific, polarizing, dizzying, genre-confounding tale heavy on allegory that will command your full attention.”

Movie Review: IT – Very enjoyable adaptation of Stephen King’s iconic novel, but Super 8 and Stranger Things have stolen its mojo.

I read Stephen King’s seminal novel It as soon as the paperback dropped in Scotland, which would be around 1987.  I’d been on a voracious King kick ever since discovering his work in 1980, following the BBC broadcast of the Salem’s Lot miniseries.  King’s work was the perfect reading material for my teenage years, and with the exception of The Dark Tower series (which I’ve still never read), I consumed his books like fire engulfs dry wood.  I have a strong memory of being excited when I read of the then-upcoming novel.  Even the title – It – was evocative to me.  I was already well versed in the works of HP Lovecraft by the time I was 16, and the title, this one, simple little word, was something that Lovecraft would have used.  Oddly enough, as excited as I was to finally read the book, very few memories of actually reading it have remained (and I haven’t read it since), so my review of It, the 2017 movie, is probably going to sound ignorant to some of you.  🙂

Continue reading “Movie Review: IT – Very enjoyable adaptation of Stephen King’s iconic novel, but Super 8 and Stranger Things have stolen its mojo.”

Movie Review: IT COMES AT NIGHT – hugely underwritten script lies beneath a grimly fascinating exercise in tension

If you’ve seen this movie, maybe you felt the same way I did after watching it, maybe not.  It polarized many a watcher when it was released opposite Tom Cruise’s mostly unentertaining The Mummy on the back of a minimalist advertising campaign, because as well as minimalist, the advertising is borderline misleading.

Ostensibly billed as a horror movie, it essentially gives away all of its salient images and lines of dialogue in the trailer, as well as adding a somewhat leading blurb about turning “men into monsters”.  Hand in hand with the title, the goal was clearly to lead people into the cinema feeling as if they were getting the kind of horror movie promised by the trailer and eerie posters – some kind of apocalyptic story about retreating to the winderness to escape … something.

I’ll be honest, I expected a tired old alt-zombie story, and I was only half interested and uninspired by the trailer.  I’m not a huge fan of Joel Edgerton, but he’s a watchable enough actor, and I enjoyed The Gift just fine.  But I never intended to see this one in the cinema, and this was bolstered by mediocre headlines, and a lukewarm response from my daughter, who did see it during its limited theatrical release.  Having now seen it, my critical reaction to it matches my prior expectations, even though the actual movie turned out to be far different than what I imagined.

Edgerton plays Paul, the head of a three person, multiracial family living in a large house deep within a thickly forested region of the USA – it looks like Oregon or Washington.  The house is boarded up, and Paul, who (if I’m remembering correctly) was a CPA prior to the current, mysterious situation, keeps the house so buttoned down that there’s only one exit/entrance door, and he keeps the only set of keys on a string around his neck.  This early on in the movie, it suddenly struck me that I could be in for a lot of underwriting.  Paul is the only white character in the beginning scenes, and I couldn’t readily accept that Kelvin Harris’s Travis was the actual biological son of Paul.  There’s nothing about this actor that looks remotely biracial, so I’m choosing to assume that Paul is actually a stepfather – this is a big deal to me when I consider the script to have been underwritten, because the movie is, essentially, one long exercise in tension, yet there is none of the inherent conflict one would reasonably expect between a young man and an assertive stepfather, in light of the situation.  Travis is a bewilderingly passive character throughout, even though much of what little plot there is revolves around him.  The characterization is one of the few things I genuinely liked about the movie, unfortunately, even this aspect is underdeveloped.  Does Travis have a crush on Kim?  Not enough to fuel any following scenes with the sexual tension one might expect would naturally arise from that kind of seclusion – though in fairness, Travis is written with the emotional maturity of someone aged eight, not seventeen.  Carmen Ejogo, who plays Travis’s mother is barely sketched in, and Riley Keogh’s Kim gets better service from writer/director Trey Edward Shults but fails to be anything other than a moderately developed character.  Christopher Abbott plays Will, the other father figure, and there’s always the feeling of inevitable conflict between both men, but Act 2 does very little to ratchet that up.  It isn’t until the Act 3 conclusion where this happens, but not enough foundation was built on which to let this play out, and it felt hollow to me.  I didn’t feel any great sense of either building cameraderie between the men during Act 2, and there’s not enough ambiguity created in the Act that tries to justify Paul’s mild, internalized paranoia.

Kim is the wife of Will and mother to their young son Andrew, and after a tense confrontation toward the end of Act 1, both families come to share the big house in the forest.  Act 2 is full of dramatic moments for sure, but there is very little actual story to be found here.  Aside from some nightmares experienced by Travis and one overtly mysterious happening, there is just not a lot of material here, and watching it I was reminded of another seemingly-post-apocalyptic drama, Z Is For Zachariah.  In fact, it’s fair to say that both movies could easily take place in the exact same situation, but while Z unfolds as a pastoral, slow moving tale of loneliness, It Comes At Night is the flipside, where almost every minute drips with tension.  This is VASTLY helped by Brian McOmber’s stunning score, because without that particular element I feel the movie would be very flat indeed.

I’ve more or less mentioned the positive things I took from the movie, but the negatives are very big.  For one, the story exists almost out of context.  We know something happened outside of the forest, and it involves people getting sick – but at no point do any of the characters speculate as to what is happening, or how widespread it is, or indeed why it’s so bad that fleeing the cities seems the only viable option for survival.  No need to spoonfeed plot, but Shults seems determined to pry mystery from the omission of something so simple as logical human interaction.  At no point in the movie does the greater context come into play, and I found that to be baffling from a writing point of view.  I read a brief interview with Schults that revealed this as being a choice of his, knowing that some audience members would feel “frustrated” – I was only frustrated by the end result being unexplained and mysterious only because of omissions like this, not because of what was actively written.  Just because a movie has no answers, doesn’t mean the questions the audience asks are not valid, and I felt that some of the questions I had were due to things being vague and unclear, sometimes breaking the movie’s own sense of internal logic.  If Paul has the only set of keys, for example, and the small group are tensely debating how, at a major plot point, the only door was opened, placing them ALL in danger, Paul is never asked by anyone if he opened the door.  That’s bad writing that springs from the Deus Ex Machina school of drama.  There are plenty of badly written movies out there, and It Comes At Night never scrapes any barrels, but the underdeveloped plot elements are striking.  In fact, when there ARE so many good elements (the movie is very well directed, and looks terrific, and the dialogue was pretty sharp and naturalistic), the only thing that left me with a profound sense of mystery at the end was why on Earth Shults made the writing choices that he did.

2.5/5.0

© Andrew Hope, 2017

Movie Review: A DARK SONG – overlong and repetitive with a “WTF?!” ending, but pays dividends for those with knowledge of the occult

Immodestly, I have a pretty wide knowledge of what’s considered “black magic” – it’s been an interest of mine since my very early teens.  I say this as someone who, simultaneously, has no belief whatsoever in the supernatural or magic, it’s just a subject that I’m endlessly fascinated by.  Recently, I saw a blurb on the internet claiming that a horror movie explored the Abremalin ritual in detail, so I had to see it for myself.  That movie is 2016’s A Dark Song.

Continue reading “Movie Review: A DARK SONG – overlong and repetitive with a “WTF?!” ending, but pays dividends for those with knowledge of the occult”

Movie Review: THE MUMMY – a horrendous script could jeopardize Universal’s “Dark Universe” franchise before it even gets going.

Like me, you were probably wondering WHY?! When you heard Universal was going to make The Mummy, with Tom Cruise, even.  I remember hearing the news two years ago, and I didn’t believe it at first.  Other than the original Karloff classic, and Christopher Lee playing the title role in the 60s, the most memorable version is the Stephen Sommers trilogy headed by Brendan Fraser – and when I say memorable, I don’t mean in a good way.  I didn’t like these lame PG-13 CGI fests whatsoever.  The first one is the best of the series, and the others are not worth talking about, but I really objected to the content.  To take a recognized, classic horror property and beef it up into a plot-driven, faintly Indiana Jonesesque action movie was an awful idea.  This latest version is no better.

By now, almost everyone knows that this is Universal’s first movie in their prospective Dark Universe franchise, an attempt to muscle in on the action currently being carved up by Marvel and DC,  to varying degrees of success.  To me, the idea is utterly stupid – but not just because I’m a huge fan of the classic era of Karloff, Lugosi, and Lon Chaney Jr.  The first thing that came to mind was: in the last few years we’ve seen multiple versions of Frankenstein (I, Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein, the miserable bastard of TV’s Penny Dreadful) and a Dracula movie as recently as 2014 (Dracula Untold) – I’m even writing one myself!  My point being these characters are filmed so frequently, what can Universal bring to the table to prevent the public from yawning at the concept?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but I know that the right thing to do is not to turn the stable of classic monsters into would-be action movie villains, and I know that because I watched Alex Kurtzman’s The Mummy just the other day.  If you read my review of A Cure For Wellness, you’ll know I complained a lot about overplotting in movies, and with the involvement of Kurtzman on the story side, I knew going in it would be an overstuffed piece of fluff.  Along with fellow hacks like Robert Orci, Damon Lindelof and Simon Kinberg, he has somehow been able to turn a stupendous lack of writing talent into bank balances with lots of zeroes.  What they all have in common is an inability to create meaningful characters to populate their formula works, with the end result being forgettable, generic garbage propped up by tens millions of dollars spent on CGI.  Their characters don’t so much have dialogue, they speak sentences that are cobbled together from other people’s action movies, and as plot-driven as they are, many of the plot points are uninspired and serviceable at best.  Kurtzman and Orci co-wrote The Amazing Spider Man 2 – nuff said, True Believer.

In this latest version of The Mummy, Tom Cruise stars as Nick Morton, who is picked by the villainous Mummy, Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) as the guy who will help her rule the world, or something.  In order to do this, she has to complete the process that was interrupted back in ancient Egypt, which involved allowing Set, the Egyptian god of death to walk the Earth via a human sacrifice, mostly for no reason to the story other than it would be pretty bad.  After a series of mostly inane scenes chronicling the conveniently quick and easy discovery and extraction of Ahmanet’s sarcophagus, The Mummy then shifts location to England, via a decent plane crash scene.  The movie isn’t completely terrible up to that point, but then it gets there quickly.  Cruise wakes up in a morgue, toe tagged in a zippered-up body bag even, but when he’s discovered as being alive (presumably the toe tag and body bag meant he had already been declared dead) by three people, the next scene suddenly switches to Cruise and bland costar Jennifer Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) taking off in search of the action.  See, this is what I mean by shitty, plot-driven writing.  There isn’t a real human emotion anywhere to be found in the movie.  It’s all about getting from one action scene to the other with minimal fuss, something that this group of writers are experts at.  By default, of course.

After that, there are numerous scenes of Cruise whacking Ahmanet’s undead slaves that all feel the same.  While the plot points come thick and fast, there’s no real sense of the stakes being raised.  Sure, we’re told how bad things are getting, but visually, and in terms of plot, the feeling of escalation just isn’t there.  In fact, the plot actually halts a couple of times in order to gratuitously seed the movie with elements of future “Dark Universe” entries, mostly revolving around the character of Russell Crowe’s Henry Jekyll and his secret organization that feels like a completely Xeroxed version of the BPRD from Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy movies, only much less interesting.  This isn’t really a spoiler, but when Jekyll eventually turns in to Hyde, it is completely underwhelming.  From an earlier scene you might be expecting something dramatic, or visually impressive (given the nature of the movie), but what you get is Russell Crowe with what looks like a dirty face and a Cockney accent.  I would have hated a retreaded version of the character from The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie, but this version is rubbish too, for different reasons.

That’s just one of many creative mistakes made in this movie.  Cruise’s dialogue is horrendous at times – especially when he verbalizes events that we have already seen happening, and things that we can see ARE happening.  It might be how regular people might talk, but movie dialogue is not how real people talk, and when Morton and Halsey find themselves unintentionally returning to a location, we don’t need Morton saying words to the effect of “I can’t believe I drove back to this location”, we need him to yell “WHAT THE HELL?!” in complete astonishment, something to let us understand just how much Ahmanet is messing with his mind.  It’s also a misstep when Cruise’s arc comes to an end, especially in the way things are concealed visually.  It’s the moment that is likely going to be the thread that ties the Dark Universe together, but after all that’s come before to get to this point, there’s no payoff.

There’s also an element to this movie that’s maybe the worst of the lot – throughout, there are a number of scenes that are meant to play as humourous, but to say they fall flat is a disservice to that particular cliché.  Jake Johnson (from TV’s New Girl) is given the plum role of Jack Goodman, who pops up after death to mess with best friend David Kessler’s mind now and – oh wait, sorry, that’s from An American Werewolf In London.  The barely-disguised plagiarism momentarily confused me.  There’s a scene where Ahmanet’s hands crawl over Morton’s torso.  It’s a fairly dramatic scene … but he laughs because it’s ticklish.  Scenes like this – badly written scenes like this – imbue the movie with a schizophrenic quality to its lasting detriment.  There’s no rule that says horror movies can’t have humour – there absolutely should be, but it should come from character, not situation to have effect.  Though as noted, there’s almost nothing about this movie that makes it horror, but it doesn’t mitigate “funny” scenes that are not funny whatsoever.

So yeah, the movie is pretty awful, and with mediocre box office, it could do for Universal’s Dark Universe what Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur flop did for that would-be six-movie franchise.  I also question Cruise’s choice to topline it too.  I won’t deny that for a guy his age, he makes other men in their 30s look bad, and he’s in fine form in this movie too … but how long is he going to be able to look the way he looks and act the way he acts over the course of a franchise, especially when there doesn’t appear to be any other movies actually being filmed right now.  As of me writing this, only Bride of Frankenstein has been given a release date of February, 2019, and that gives cause for concern.  Marvel got it right by releasing their movies close together, and Warners/DC look to be finally using the same business model, but it already looks like Universal’s concept doesn’t have the power of faith behind it, and that could ultimately prove deadly to it’s chances.  One last thing – don’t bother sitting through the end credit roll hoping to see a lead-in scene, because there’s none.  Sure, Marvel have turned this into an art form, but it works tremendously well with audiences, especially for this kind of shared universe concept.  By not having one for The Mummy, it’s just more proof that Universal is just not committed to their own concept.

1.0/5.0

© Andrew Hope, 2017