THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB

A New Dragon Tattoo Story

Director
Fede Alvarez

Starring
Claire Foy
Sverrir Gudnason
Sylvia Hoeks
LaKeith Stanfield
Stephen Merchant



Several years after the events of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, hacker Lisbeth Salander [Foy] is hired by programmer Frans Balder [Merchant] to steal a program named Firefall, which has the ability to access all global nuclear codes and is currently possessed by the NSA. This hack prompts Agent Edwin Needham [Stanfield] to track the invasion and unofficially make his way to Sweden to retrieve it. Once Salander has the program, she is targeted by a group of mercenaries led by her estranged sister, Camilla Salander [Hoeks] and must again team up with journalist Mikael Blomkvist [Gudnason] to stop such a powerful weapon falling into a crime syndicate’s hands.

The Girl In The Spider’s Web is one of those unfortunate releases that has two extremely successful predecessors that were adapted from very simplistic source material. That isn’t a slight against the books, more an observation that the plotting and character designs are outwardly simplistic while being delivered in an extremely impressive manner. In lesser hands, we end up with a trite script, horrible editing, questionable direction and an overall watered down experience that lacks nuance, complexity and tension, saved largely by a reasonable central performance and solid cinematography. If this movie were released as a made for TV/streaming feature or bold pilot to a series, I would likely sing higher praises but as a feature length film it simply lacks all the requisite weight and presence one expects from a release of this potential scope and scale.

Despite being a soft reboot/sequel, this movie is pretty reliant on a fair amount of knowledge of the first. Granted, the story at no point demands you understand the details of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo but to appreciate the motivations between Blomkvist and Salander, it certainly helps. When The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was first released, everyone sold it on the obtuse nature of Salander, its alleged central character. Her quirks and eccentricities were a mystery to be unravelled. When I watched the Swedish adaptation of the book, I was surprised to learn that the story is actually a thriller about a journalist and a family of Nazis, with Salander merely an interesting supporting role. While Salander remains elusive and unquantified, she retains her mystery but like all misguided franchise-prolonging ventures, a spotlight focus is placed on an interesting supporting character and the result is a distinct genre shift and an ultimately hollow release.

At the helm of the misguided decisions is the casting of Claire Foy. Most critics will agree that Foy performs commendably and she shines despite the terrible script and I would completely agree with that, however, as hard as she is trying, she comes off oddly too emotive and the calculating, reptilian nature of the character is lost. In other words, this otherworldly socially-inept individual is humanised and made relatable, whereas both Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara’s versions were unpredictable and hard to read. Then we have the villainous role of Lisbeth’s sister Camilla. While I appreciate that the theatricality of Lisbeth’s persona is amped up, her unscrupulous opposite feels a little too cartoonish, veering into campy James Bond villain territory, inheriting with it the mixed message about whether Camilla wants Lisbeth dead or not before you realise that the motivation of the character plays second fiddle to the movie’s need to provide unusual visuals and setups.

As stated, the script is both predictable and bland with laughable developments and turns of coincidence that allow the plot to forward itself. Clichéd situations are presented with lazy and tired direction, peppered with bizarre quips and dialogues that make the whole film a very bizarre experience. One that really stood out to me was the claim that a device that can cause nuclear armageddon would be safer in Scandinavian hands, as Sweden never went to war. Which.. is just.. laughably inaccurate. We are also treated to a fight in a bathroom as gas is being pumped through piping in the walls but as the cast are all dressed in black with gas masks kitted-out with red lights, it’s frankly impossible to follow and feels more like an indecipherable conflict from a Transformers movie. And then we have the hideously hackneyed ending wherein Blomkvist puts his name on his latest article, like it’s his Primary School homework, before pressing backspace and slowly deleting the whole thing. It’s a moronic setup that I’ve seen in a handful of films (Daredevil ends in the exact same way) that I understand as a visual but as I doubt any writer has ever done that in practice, it’s a weird thing for a writer to put into a script.

Very early on it became apparent that The Girl In The Spider’s Web (which, now I think about it, is a bit of a misnomer as she’s never really caught in any web, she just does a job that someone else is also interested in) shares several traits with The Bourne Legacy. Both are adaptations of a deceased author’s work with vastly superior available alternatives. Admittedly both prove arguably serviceable but the story is so weak that it leaves the experience ultimately forgettable.


Release Date:
25th November 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
Despite the abundance of unimpressive, shaky-cam, rapidly edited action sequences, the scene wherein Salander breaks Agent Needham out of Swedish security in Stockholm airport is handled rather decently. A level of skill and restraint are shown and we get a glimpse of what this film could have been before it sinks back into its mire of mediocrity.

Notable Characters:
It’s very difficult to comment on the supporting cast as they are, effectively, pretty useless. But the most unusual is Camila who, as I mentioned earlier, has a combination of bad Bond villain motivation and a backstory that, while heavily linked to the lead, never explains why their paths have yet to cross despite living in the same country, operating under their given names.

Highlighted Quote:
“The past can be like a black hole. You get too close and it will pull you in. You disappear”

In A Few Words:
“A weak attempt at a franchise relaunch that will likely fade into obscurity extremely quickly”

Total Score:

2/5

THE GRINCH

Oh Joy

Director
Scott Mosier
Yarrow Cheney

Starring
Benedict Cumberbatch
Cameron Seely
Rashida Jones



Christmas is fast approaching in the town of Whoville and the populous are making ready for the festive celebrations. There is, however, a self-exiled individual named The Grinch [Cumberbatch] who lives in a perpetual state of moodiness in Mount Crumpet with his faithful dog, Max. The Grinch despises everything to do with Christmas but must descend into the town when he learns that his cupboards are bare. Angered and upset by his experience, the Grinch decides the only way to allay his frustrations is to remove Christmas entirely and thus he sets in motion a plan to steal Christmas in one night. Simultaneously, one young girl, Cindy LouWho [Seely] is desperate to tell Santa Claus her wish face-to-face, so starts a plan to ensnare Santa on Christmas night.

So, to start this review, we need to talk about Ron Howard. In 2000, Howard extended the 26 minute 1966 original cartoon adaptation to a 105 minute live action release starring Jim Carrey and it was.. fine. I personally enjoyed it for the production design, the costume and make-up work and the fleshing out of the Grinch and Cindy characters, giving the whole thing a surprising amount of heart and charm. What I didn’t appreciate, however, is how vital this kind of lead would be as this 2018 adaptation is twenty minutes shorter and somehow lacks the creative depth and wonder of an 18 year old film as well as the simple moralistic efficiency of a 52 year old cartoon. No matter how hard you try, it’s impossible not to draw comparisons and subsequently this film feels like a cheap imitation that confirms the irrelevance of its own existence. Having said that, the general absence of toilet humour was a genuinely welcome and fresh surprise.

With a lot of these animated releases there is an overriding reliance on star power to sell the feature, leading to a weird medley of mismatched actors in small or supporting roles. The Grinch is a bit of an oddity in that it doesn’t have this. In the central role we have Benedict Cumberbatch, who I initially thought was a terrible casting choice but in all fairness, he does a perfectly commendable job; putting on a distinct voice that holds throughout, he brings the character to life pleasingly but the script and lack of character interaction (outside of one-way conversations with his dog) absolutely fails him. And this feels like it could have been avoided as the townsfolk know about the Grinch, one particular character, Bricklebaum (voiced by Kenan Thompson), interacts with him regularly enough to consider him his best friend. But despite all this, the supporting roles are pretty much non-existent. The bulk of the time away from the Grinch’s narrative is spent with Cindy LouWho and her Whovian friends. Much like Cumberbatch, I could see them being obnoxiously written and painfully delivered but everyone involved provides completely serviceable performances but in truth that could be because they weren’t really on screen long enough to really outstay their welcome. The unusual thing is Cindy’s motivation. This version is given a bit more of an active, adventurous outlook and the drive for her arc is sweet enough (sacrificing her Christmas presents to wish her mother happiness) but it’s also a bit flat owing to the fact that Cindy’s mother is simply depicted as busy and the Grinch eventually sympathising with her selflessness loses a bit of the magic. I mean, it shouldn’t, the intention is noble enough, it has just been done better in a different version. But I imagine Illumination are hoping that audiences won’t have seen said version.

Putting comparisons to previous iterations and character traits aside, it’s genuinely difficult not to be cynical with a film like this. While there isn’t much in the way of actual character work, there are plenty of characters present, especially the inclusion of an overweight reindeer named Fred. I hate Fred. I would have saved this throwaway comment for my “highlighted character” section below but it spiralled too quickly, so needed to be included in the bulk of the review. Fred is introduced with a joke that receives only two call-backs but as it wasn’t especially funny, it felt like two too many. So after a screaming goat (that’s the joke by the way) scares away all the reindeer, the Grinch is left with little choice but to rope an extremely obese, dopey-looking reindeer into his service. Now, I can’t fault the film for this inclusion too much, I know it’s to pad the runtime out and release a broader range of appealing toys but that’s kind of synonymous with animated kids films, so I’m hardly surprised. What did surprise me is how little it’s actually utilised. Shortly after being introduced, it is revealed that Fred the fat reindeer has a fucking family and then fucks off before being used as a last minute ex machina. On top of that, the character performs the same role as Max and any attempt to do anything with him, from a rival for Max or a part of the Christmas heist, is ultimately abandoned. Then we have the lack of written content in the form of chase/runner sequences, of which I counted no less than five. I’m all for an exciting, fast-paced visual sequences but when you are employing frantic tracking chases through any location which adds nothing to the story, it quickly becomes apparent that it is little more than lazy filler. Need to pad out a solid five minutes for a character to get from A to B? We’ve got the answer. No real dialogue, heavy emphasis on slapstick and schadenfreude, just fling some money at the animation studio and tell them to go wild. But these runner sequences did genuinely highlight something I wanted to shine a positive light on. During the film, I noted that the score is big and rather Danny Elfman-esque before getting to the end credits and learning that it was in fact Elfman. Suddenly a work of mimicry to be praised devolved into a phoned-in weak offering. It could be fair to say this is a double standard based on preconceptions and prejudices but like most things when it comes to reviews, it is more an appraisal of the moment and what came before; specifically that Elfman’s work on A Nightmare Before Christmas is frankly iconic and this feels like a thoroughly watered down variant.

In truth, The Grinch is a passable adaptation of a short children’s book from the 1950s and is animated, acted and directed with enough competence to justify the release. The problem is, it offers nothing new. Why does the Grinch hate Christmas? He’s just lonely and grew up in an orphanage. Why is Cindy LouWho nice to the Grinch? Because she’s a good person. There’s honestly nothing wrong with these answers but like repeated adaptations of Peter Pan, Sherlock Holmes or Robin Hood, sometimes you need to explain what you’re bringing to the table and the only thing I can see here is “we can sell a bunch of toys.”


Release Date:
9th November 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
As stated, this film has very few named supporting roles. One that stood out for me was Kenan Thompson’s Bricklebaum. I will openly admit, I can’t actually justify why I enjoyed this character. He loves Christmas and genuinely seems to like the Grinch but he’s also a bit of a naïve simpleton. But none of that really matters because I really like Kenan Thompson and his jolly delivery was a gratifying treat.

Notable Characters:
I have two scenes to highlight; one in the film and one not. Starting with the latter, this feature opens with a short about a pair of Minions and acts as a follow-up to Despicable Me 3. It’s a soulless commercial bait-and-switch and is solely there for the associative nature like a hype-man or introduction from a bigger artist. It doesn’t help that the short itself was incredibly dull. Secondly, at the beginning of the film proper, which shows the Grinch wondering around the town, sneering at the Christmas celebrations. It all seems fairly grouchy until he is hunted and pursued by a gang of carol singers in a surprisingly traumatising and vindictive sequence that generates sympathy for the Grinch’s plight – but that’s probably because, deep down, everyone hates carol singers.

Highlighted Quote:
“Have you ever seen a picture of Santa with a flashlight?”

In A Few Words:
“For all its good intentions, The Grinch lacks any real creativity in its execution, giving us a fairly flat rerun”

Total Score:

2/5

THUGS OF HINDOSTAN

Fight

Director
Vijay Krishna Acharya

Starring
Aamir Khan
Amitabh Bachchan
Fatmia Sana Shaikh
Katrina Kaif
Lloyd Owen



Years after her family were killed by British officer, John Clive [Owen], Princess Zafira Baig [Shaikh] and her loyal general Khudabaksh [Bachchan] roam the high seas, striking at British operations in the hope of one day liberating their country and restoring native rule. Playing both sides is the roguish Firangi Mallah [Khan] who sells out Indian thugs to the British for reward in the hope of one day emigrating to Great Britain. Firangi is charged with delivering Azaad (Khudabaksh’s alias) to Clive in exchange for a handsome reward but despite his cowardice and treachery, Firangi is conflicted by both the cause and Zafira.

I respect Bollywood runtimes. Too many features are cut down to appease contemporary audiences but with all the slow motion and musical numbers, three hours feels like a standard given. Having said that, the intermissions helps no end and I always walk away from these movies feeling the western trend of splitting one long film split into two parts could take note from this format. But I digress. Unlike most Bollywood films, this feels like a real hybrid of both traditional Indian cinema and big budget American films but by inheriting the overall flaws and tropes of both, the outcome is probably not what anyone involved was hoping for and for the most expensive Bollywood film produced to date, there isn’t a great deal to show for it.

One of the main appeals of this release is the opportunity to watch Khan and Bachchan as co-leads for the first time and this highlights one of the movie’s truly shining qualities: the wealth of charm and charisma in the central performances which are strong enough to hold the whole thing together. Khan is delightfully cheeky and clowns wonderfully, giving a performance that commands a great deal of presence but is far from the best performances of his younger years. The exact same can be said for Bachchan who never breaks from his angry-man persona and grumps his way through the film without ever really being challenged as a performer – except for dancing but I’ll come back to that later. But as positive as the male roles are, the female roles leave a great deal to be desired and in truth, Thugs Of Hindostan has chosen the wrong character to make its lead. From the promotional material, one would be forgiven for believing this was a high-seas romp about two male pirates at odds with each other but it should be the story of a princess reclaiming her kingdom. Subsequently, Fatima Sana Shaikh’s role is completely diminished and her conflict with Lloyd Owens character would feel more personal (as is attempted) but in trying to replicate the Pirates Of The Caribbean format, they have committed the same error of making the joker the lead. Suraiyya Jaan (played by Katrina Kaif) is even more underdeveloped as a character. I think Kaif had about three scenes and the last one at the end of the film, wherein she stows away with Firangi to partner up with him – is incredibly dumb and out of place. On the other hand, we have the villainous Lloyd Owen whose sneering hits all the beats one would expect but his goals, motives and hierarchy are never explored; he’s just a dick because he’s a dick. But it’s always masochistically amusing to watch an international period film that serves as a reminder that, to a great deal of the world, British people are oppressors and the source of a great deal of misery. And Owen admittedly delivers the requisite level of condescending arrogant bastardry that audiences need from a bad guy.

If I’m being perfectly honest, this movie is a lot of fun at times and is easily better than the last 2 Pirates Of The Caribbean outings. All the practical scope and scale give a sense of old Hollywood spectacle to the world building and dance sequences, highlighting something that is lost in CGI-dependant releases. Equally, the production design is genuinely fantastic, with an exceptional amount of detail and craft going into the costumes and sets – but in truth, like many blockbusters, the contents will appeal to the untrained eye but with so many vastly superior South Asian films, this initially fun and well-constructed release is far from representative of the quality of its peers. Nowhere is this more apparent than the script, direction and editing; all of which do not have the weight to back up the sizeable budget. A lot of this stems from the simplicity of the story and the fact that so many obstacles are overlooked or side-stepped with minimal effort. Case in point, the thugs are continually accepting of Firangi despite his open treachery, there is a complete lack of suspense or surprise and the whole story unfolds in a painfully obvious and predictable manner. Paired with lazy sound effects – every single shot of Khudabaksh’s eagle has to be accompanied by the exact same copy-and-paste sound effect, executed as if under legal obligation and the general musical themes and motifs are a little unforgettable and repetitive.

When compared to two of the highest grossing films in India, Baahubali: The Beginning and Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, Thugs Of Hindostan lacks the stakes, emotional core, glitz and flare of those fantasy epics. What’s more, it is severely lacking in any form of subtlety or restraint, offering a self-aware irreverent romp that ultimately feels like a wasted opportunity.


Release Date:
8th November 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
As stated, this film should have made Zafira’s story the central focus and with so many other Bollywood films with powerful female roles, this feels like a completely avoidable issue that could have been addressed in the scripting phase; especially because Fatima Sana Shaikh feels largely wasted but when she is given something to do, shines.

Notable Characters:
As an example of everything this film is and could have been, the song/dance sequence in the middle of the film tells the story of the Thugs celebrating in their hideout with a big boozy bash. At times, it’s a feast for the eyes with some great musical moments and impressive dancing. At other times it feels surprisingly uninventive and limited in its execution and direction with Bachchan’s singing unparalleled but his dancing leaving so much to be desired – and I’m not blaming an old man for not being as quick on his feet, I’m blaming the director for making me notice.

Highlighted Quote:
“This wound will heal in a few days but don’t allow the wound inside you to ever heal”

In A Few Words:
“An entertaining and serviceable enough outing but hardly worthy of the calibre of the sum of its parts”

Total Score:

2/5

WIDOWS

Left With Nothing. Capable Of Anything.

Director
Steve McQueen

Starring
Viola Davis
Elizabeth Debicki
Michelle Rodriguez
Cynthia Erivo



After a heist goes wrong, four criminals are cornered by the police and killed. It later transpires that the man they were robbing was gangster-turned-political-candidate Jamal Manning (played by Brian Tyree Henry). While trying to keep himself semi-distanced from his criminal background, he expects the robber’s widows to repay the debt of two million dollars. Desperate and fearing for her life, Veronica Rawlins [Davis] comes into possession of her late husband’s journal and unites the crew’s partners to pull off his next planned job which would clear the debt and give them enough money to buy them a new life.

On the surface, Widows is a fairly disposable heist film. In truth, on paper, it could quite easily be a Saturday evening mini-series on TV or a straight to DVD feature. The difference here comes down to the brilliant writing, razor-sharp performances and the jaw-dropping direction. It may not sound like much but one of the reasons Christopher Nolan is a great director is that he plays to his strengths and creates films that seem a lot smarter than they are while delivering a digestible story that seduces the audience through flattery. McQueen’s films to date are not that, each feature is prime independent cinema but either the subject matter or the presentation ostracises many. With Widows, McQueen boils down all these creative components and delivers them to an unsuspecting audience who don’t even realise they are watching something that is so incredibly layered. This is where you go from a great director like Nolan to a truly phenomenal one like David Fincher and McQueen has proved himself more than capable of drawing such a comparison. From the amazing long-running tracking one-shots to the subtle directorial nods like the multiple uses of reflections, so many beautiful directorial and cinematographic flourishes have been utilised, injecting elements of high art into a straightforward action crime thriller for the mainstream to comfortably process. Essentially, surreptitiously elevating the audience without them realising. As a little aside, I was rather surprised that Hans Zimmer composed the score. In retrospect it shouldn’t have come as a big surprise as Zimmer also scored 12 Years A Slave and his contemporary signature is all over the music but the score itself is actually quite a restrained and subdued turn for a man we now associate with big, bombastic musical presence. Instead, we have a great and thoroughly tense score that pairs itself magnificently with the pacing.

The entire first act is utilised to really ground this world. With elements of a criminal underworld and corrupt political officials, the stage is set to both highlight how distant these women are from their husband’s work and establish how unpleasant said men are. Granted, this could have been terribly mishandled, really beating audiences about the head with it but this simple glimpse tells us everything we need to know: these men have created a problem and now those who are associated, whether complicit or unaware, are paying the price. But the truth is, the more you tug on these threads and look for character patterns, the sheer complexity of the writing comes to the fore. This is a film about generational differences, legacies, separation from mistakes of the past, betrayal, loyalty, background, commonalities and the nature of alliances. But on the surface, this is a celebration of endurance and willpower; forced through circumstance to take action and refusing to be pigeon-holed, written off or walked over, the performances reflect the same unfair verdict delivered to women from different ethnicities and walks of life. In a strange way, it’s worth drawing a comparison with something like Ocean’s 8 which, although I still enjoy, feels like a sterile assembly, whereas this heist drama offers real people in an all-too relatable compromised situation – and it’s only at that point that you realise that nothing about this film is relatable, we simply want these criminals to succeed because the initial onus of responsibility wasn’t on them and that feeling of bailing out guilty culprits, for better or worse, really resonates with a modern audience.

**spoilers discussed within this paragraph**
As much as this movie is a fantastic thriller, it isn’t without its flaws. Most notably, some of the characters and threads trail off a little but the nature of the semi open-ended conclusion is one that means a lot of these questions do not necessarily require answer. For some this will be satisfactory, for others it will feel unresolved, leaving them without closure. On top of that, some of the events are incredibly predictable. While the details themselves are never clearly laid out for the audience, the way the opening heist is shot blatantly sets up a third act return from one or all of the male criminals. That being said, the finer details were nice to watch unfold and subsequently, you almost don’t care that the signposting felt so overt.

Taking something familiar and reworking it against the expected trend is worthy of commendation. More than that, this film is set up with so many memorable interactions and vignettes that it takes on an insidious quality, working its way into your mind, leaving you pondering the events long after its release.


Release Date:
9th November 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
Without meaning to spoil too much, the title is a touch misleading. As seen in the marketing, one of the crew’s widows is not involved in the preparations for the heist. There are reasons I won’t go into, as they are spoilery, but it was unfortunate because the role in question was played by Carrie Coon, who I rate exceptionally highly and was very disappointed that her arc never really went anywhere and was one of the aforementioned loose threads that could have had a better conclusion.

Notable Characters:
There are a great many scenes that play out like tense character building exercises. Some of these don’t necessarily give us any further detail or insight into the events of the story itself but the kind of person a specific character is; from their temperament to the lengths they will go to in order to achieve their goals. One such example is Daniel Kaluuya’s character, Manning’s brother, punishing the guys who let Harry Rawlins get away with the money. In one way, it doesn’t really move the story along at all, the entire sequence offers little to no plot points or narrative boosters, it merely to serves how ruthless Jatemme is and the whole thing is shot and performed superbly.

Highlighted Quote:
“Ignorance is the new excellence”

In A Few Words:
“A film with a point to prove and does so outstandingly with zero substandard elements”

Total Score:

5/5

THE OLD MAN & THE GUN

This Story Is Mostly True

Director
David Lowery

Starring
Robert Redford
Sissy Spacek
Casey Affleck



Forrest Tucker [Redford] is an elderly bank robber who utilises manners and courtesy to calmly elicit bank managers to empty their registers. His charm and cool-headedness is a breath of fresh air and his age affords him an anonymity that allows him to slip in and out, virtually undetected. So much so that Detective Hunt [Affleck] is in line at one of the very banks that is robbed by Tucker. So begins the story of tracking Tucker’s various hits over the years in an effort to uncover the thief’s identity and apprehend him.

From the opening shots, it is very apparent that a great deal of influences and homages to heist films of the 70s and 80s are at play. Evocatively shot in the perfect locations, this movie looks and feels like something discovered rather than something produced, as if some long lost reel of footage has been processed and revealed this feature. To say the cinematography is nostalgic is putting it lightly but it is genuinely a masterclass in reproduction; extracting the best of the decade while incorporating contemporary cuts and angles to produce something altogether thoroughly pleasing. On top of that the hair, makeup and costume design are all fantastic and really bring the period to life in a way that many “in our lifetime” period films seem to fail at.

The majority of praise for this movie will come down to the central performance. Without malicious intent or defined backstory, Tucker is a folktale-esque creation; a real-life criminal but one draped in enough whimsy to elevate him to that of a cheeky good ol’ boy unlike, say, Michael Mann’s portrayal of John Dillinger in Public Enemies which was injected with a dour level of seriousness throughout. This isn’t just attached to Redford’s character, however, every performance has a simple innocence to it and a powerful level of shared charm and charisma to create this impossible time and place in history. In truth, it feels like everyone connected to Tucker is in some way sleepwalking through their life until he enters it and perks them up. Nowhere is this more present than Detective Hunt, who starts the film tired and miserable at the prospect of turning forty but by the time the film closes, is a rejuvenated man, his energy reborn anew. Sissy Spacek is also magnificent as Jewel, who enters Forrest’s life by chance but proves herself an independent, capable individual who relishes Tucker’s company but has no qualms lightly taking him to task over his chosen profession. And this smooth chemistry is really what sells the whole film. Tucker is a rascal, Jewel is a lady and Hunt is a good man but they all seem to respect one another. And it’s that attitude that will both enthral a certain generation and really ostracise another. Of course I’m not saying there isn’t a place for this type of story but in a time where we are addressing issues of inequality in the execution of justice, this rapscallious jaunt feels antiquated and horribly rose-tinted. Sure, certain audience members will love the wily “still got it” attitude of Tucker as he politely asks for money to be emptied from registers and effortlessly escapes custody but others will see it as a slap in the face when those of other ethnicities would be gunned down for less. This is why films like Hell Or High Water cut a more accurate feel of how bank robberies in Texas would go – even if the events depicted here are true.

But putting that aside for a moment, the film has a few issues that stem from its effortless style. The first being just that: everything feels effortless. The stakes are low, the tension is entirely absent and the pacing is horrifically sluggish; for an hour and a half film, the runtime feels like an extra hour has been squeezed in there somewhere. Another comparison is the incredibly tense, fast paced, hyper-cut American Animals which allows the audience to empathise with and pity the central criminals but never cheer them on. Everything about this film is the opposite, it knows what it’s trying to say and the more you listen, the more you seem to realise it has nothing to do with robbing banks and more to do with an actor’s swan song. But the film is far from offensive and in truth, never gets to the stage where it becomes boring, it just dodders along, doing its thing and for a lot of people, this steady-paced treatment will be a welcome sight.


Release Date:
7th December 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
There are a host of prominent faces in very small supporting roles from Keith Carradine’s two minute background role, John David Washington’s practically non-existent role and Elisabeth Moss’ single short scene. They are all perfectly serviceable and there’s nothing unusual about their character’s screen time but the actors in their shoes feel somewhat wasted and underutilised. Even Danny Glover and Tom Waits, who are Tucker’s partners are given so little to do that their (arguably more interesting) stories never really get resolved, simply left open to interpretation.

Notable Characters:
While out shopping one day, Jewel tries on a bangle and while the cashier assists another customer, Tucker takes his friend by the arm and leads her out of the store. In the thrill of the moment, Jewel laughs and is momentarily thrilled at the prospect of theft before rolling her eyes at Tucker, grabbing his elbow and dragging him back to the store. She plays on her age, offering an apology saying she left without realising it was still on and then forces Tucker to pay for the item. The whole thing is very light hearted but the perfect example of how a trite setup can be made entertaining and rather delightful by two seasoned pros.

Highlighted Quote:
“I know what I’m doing and what I’m capable of. And these days, those are two different things”

In A Few Words:
“Like its central character, this film’s calm collected manner will take you by surprise but fails to walk away with a huge score”

Total Score:

3/5

THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS

Let The Mystery Unfold

Director
Lasse Hallstrom
Joe Johnston

Starring
Mackenzie Foy
Jayden Fowora-Knight
Kiera Knightley
Morgan Freeman




On Christmas Eve, Clara Stahlbaum (a name certain actors take great issue proncouncing), played by Mackenzie Foy, attends a party with her father and two siblings. Disobeying her father’s instruction to stay and mingle, she sneaks away and meets with the host, Drosselmeyer [Freeman], who is also her godfather. They discuss a silver egg created by Drosselmeyer and left to Clara by her late mother and how it must be opened with a special key. Clara follows a thread to her Christmas present and enters a magical Narnia-esque realm, only to have her gift, the key she desires, stolen by a mouse. From here, Clara learns from a nutcracker [] that she is in fact a princess and heir to the four realms.

Throughout cinematic history there have been behind-the-scenes dramas and fall-outs that oust certain prominent creatives and every now and then they are very publicly displayed with the crediting of an extra director or writer. While that may not be the exact case with Disney’s big-budget The Nutcracker And The Four Realms, a month’s worth of reshoots under the care of a different director is never a good sign and tends to create an uneven, sometimes soulless production.

Despite not being an adaptation of a previous Disney release (for which Disney should be commended) it is overtly desperate to be Alice In Wonderland; from the structure to the characters, elements of Tim Burton’s quasi-sequel are present but whereas Alice was intentionally aloof and ditzy, with her head in the clouds, Clara is established as an extremely well-informed woman of science but never investigates the logic of the fantastic she is introduced to; in earnest, I genuinely can’t recall a moment where Clara questions her circumstances and surroundings as anything but true. This lack of agency, paired with a painfully simplistic and formulaic story (with an extremely obvious twist) makes the whole thing very panto – for anyone unaware, a panto or pantomime is an annual theatrical Christmas show for children in Britain that is notorious for its double entendres, cheap gags, bright colours and terrible acting.

Speaking of the acting, we have to talk about the appalling writing and uninspired performances. As a story, the Nutcracker is incredibly straightforward and marches along without any real hindrance, following a beat-by-beat formula, peppered with a medley of one-liners pinched from superior releases and truly bizarre lines like “Nutcrackers are very loyal”? What does that mean? What are you backing that up with? And yet I have to offer a semblance of leniency to the lead performances as they are young actors and it can feel incredibly spiteful and unfair to review them harshly. Admittedly, they do what they can but at no point was I captivated by either Foy or Fowora-Knight. But the same cannot be said for the rest of the actors who were completely squandered. From small supporting roles to key parts, a host of exceptionally talented individuals were given either little-to-nothing to do or tragically elementary and predictable responsibilities.

When analysing the technical aspects of this film, my review effectively splits down the centre. On one side, a gaudy, cheap-looking mess, on the other a resplendent celebration. Let’s deal with the latter first. The reason this movie isn’t a complete write-off is a combination of two factors. First we have the score benefitting from the ballet origins but regrettably this only serves to highlight how mediocre James Newton Howard’s original work is by comparison; and this is coming from a more than capable composer. Secondly, we have the stellar production design and costume work. The sets and outfits are truly magnificent and show an attention to detail that this film both needed and displays well. A mixture of turn of the 20th century military pomp with fantasy whimsy, it is an altogether thoroughly pleasing treat. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for the digital elements. The film itself opens with a completely lifeless impossible camera movement, flying through the Christmas festooned streets of “jolly old Victorian London,” regurgitating memories of 2009’s A Christmas Carol This unfortunately never really improves as are treated to a CGI mouse-man, CGI clowns bowling over CGI tin soldiers on a CGI backdrop that looks as plasticy and fake as a poorly rendered video game.

In truth, this is a wholly forgettable affair that says and does nearly nothing of interest, despite the insane amount of money that has been sunk into it. it is a sad sorry addition in a long line of heartless, vacuous big blockbuster releases but it could have been so much more. From the very first teaser, I was moderately intrigued, solely because this wasn’t the run-of-the-mill live-action remake of a Disney animated feature, it was something new. More than that, it has so much to draw on from the source material but instead we end up with a horrible disappointment and the first Christmas release of the year turns out to be one that seemingly forgets it’s a Christmas film.


Release Date:
2nd November 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
The Stahlbaum family is made up of five members, one of whom is deceased. But in all honesty, Clara might as well have been an only child or sole survivor as her siblings are afforded zero importance. Her older sister Louise is a young lady trying to keep the household running (and that’s me being generous with that description) and Fritz, an excitable precocious child who acts out but never enough to actually merit talking about. And yet neither of them were considered of enough importance to warrant inclusion in Marie’s fantasy world – the origin and location of which are never actually explained or referenced! The film, is full of these incoherencies that simply hurry the story along to the next unimportant set piece before reaching the hideously trite conclusion that “the answer was inside you all along.”

Notable Characters:
The exposition of the state of the four realms is depicted to Clara through the medium of ballet. This entire sequence is a real celebration of the craft and is genuinely enjoyable but for a film based on a ballet and one that could have served as a gateway to a different type of theatre experience for young viewers, there simply isn’t nearly enough dancing, which is an absolutely shocking wasted opportunity.

Highlighted Quote:
“When you miss someone, you remember them”

In A Few Words:
“A brightly painted but ultimately gaudy hollow tin soldier of a film”

Total Score:

2/5

MANDY

Crazy Evil

Director
Panos Cosmatos

Starring
Nicolas Cage
Andrea Riseborough
Linus Roache



Red [Cage] and Mandy [Riseborough] are a couple living in the Californian Shadow Mountains. An artist and a lumberjack, they lead a quiet and simple life with little to no contact with others. While out walking Mandy is seen by cult leader Jeremiah Sand [Roache] as his van drives by her and he becomes fascinated by her. Inconsolable, he orders his followers to contact a sadomasochistic biker gang named the Black Skulls and retrieve her for him. The cult and the gang enter Red and Mandy’s home and this results in a long, painful and violent quest of revenge for Red.

At its core, Mandy is an extravagant and extremely well-constructed but wholly unironic, earnest grindhouse release. Unlike the standard fare, this is a schlocky film that is assembled and shot with keen precision and vision, following a Mad Max formula and pacing, starting with a long, drawn-out establishment before ramping up to a manic bloody tale of vengeance. But for all its late seventies wild-eyed mania, Mad Max is very much an approachable narrative that a mainstream audience could get behind. Mandy goes out of its way to be the opposite, it knows what it wants to be and the kind of audience it will attract and directs itself, full throttle, to that niche group. As an effect of this, Mandy is a very unique release, unabashed with only limited sources for comparison. Case in point, the animated almost chaptered segments, reminded me of Southland Tales whereas the LSD revenge trip felt eerily reminiscent of Only God Forgives and the rich, vibrancy of the visuals and intentional disorientation of the narrative gives a Suspiria vibe. Yet it doesn’t really feel like any of the films I’ve just listed.

From a technical standpoint, there is a lot that is masterfully done but, again, with that very exclusionary attitude. The cinematography is a thing of hideous beauty, with its mix of deep, rich saturation and excessively grainy shots as well as clearly lit moments that feel separate from the bulk of the dreamlike state. This is mirrored by the aural pairing of Johann Johannsson’s guttural score and the animalistic sound design (especially with the “black skulls”) giving a subhuman demonesque tone to the whole nightmarish ordeal. Finally, the production design takes the setting of the early 80s and runs with it to a degree of fantasy and otherworldliness that explains to the audience that certain very realistic elements are taking place outside of the realms of normality as we understand them. As mentioned earlier, this is a very competent and well-made grindhouse release and usually with this type of release one of the three key points is extremely budget or ineffective but all three are working in such unified harmony that it makes the film a technical marvel; but these are the aspects to a film that most people initially absorb or appreciate, they are things that ferment and linger with time.

Which brings us to the immediate, kneejerk observations – specifically the acting. Linus Roache is a great embodiment of the Charles Manson-esque cult leader, an unhinged but enigmatic individual with delusions of grandeur. It would be all too easy to veer into the absurd but Jeremiah is a terrifyingly grounded and insecure individual who wields an uncomfortable amount of power and influence. On top of that, as eccentric as he is, it is a very difficult challenge to go up against the eccentricities of someone like Nicolas Cage and not appear like you’re competing too much or underperforming but Roache strikes a happy medium. Then there’s Riseborough whose portrayal as Mandy is deep and nuanced, giving her a haunting, almost ethereal quality. Throughout the whole film there is a feeling that there’s something unusual about her, something different, which is purposefully designed to allow the audience to see a glimpse of what Jeremiah sees in her.

But the real point of discussion will be Nicolas Cage himself. In truth, without him, I don’t feel Mandy would have gained half of the momentum and praise it has garnered. Many will talk about the performance being quintessential Cage, the wide-eyed, untamed, screaming energy that people have come to either love or hate. In truth, I think it’s actually a much more restrained and layered performance than some may be expecting; if we take something like his role in Face/Off, the levels of manic zeal are far more wild and reeling but the difference here is that every aspect of this movie is operating on the same level, allowing Cage to merely inhabit the world without his style feeling out of place. As an interesting comparison, Nicolas Cage recently appeared in the generic Season Of The Witch, a fairly big-budget medieval story with high-fantasy elements but while that movie couldn’t utilise Cage’s talents to the degree it wanted, here we have a similar medieval fable that exists in such a heightened reality that it can be told effectively. So we have all the fairytale story beats without the familiar surroundings: the wronged knight who ventures out, killing orcs then reaching a tower, consulting a wizard with a magical animal, descending into a dungeon or cave and killing the dragon inside. Even the cross above the altar in the cultist’s church is presented with a sword in the stone aesthetic.

Ultimately I had a very difficult time deciding on how to rate this movie. It has to be acknowledged that without Cage, this film wouldn’t have the platform or prominence that it received but are we then in danger of simply assigning merit based on name, a case of hype breeding acceptance. I personally really enjoyed this film but is it necessarily good? On more than one occasion it roams wildly into the ridiculous without care or apology, often delving into (possibly) accidental comedy while brazenly committed to the central vision. I feel this sheer force of will and personality will enthral critics but ostracise audiences. I can tell the sum of this movie’s parts are magnificent but being more indulgent than Beyond The Black Rainbow, is it a good narrative? Is this just an example of style over substance or is the execution such that we accept this as a positive for the very fact that it’s done so well? Hard to say but I would argue that a little less strobing and probably trimming and refining a good twenty minutes of content would have made this an incredibly lean and spectacular release rather than a mix-toned one. Reviewing anything dispassionately and without bias is as good as impossible but I am fairly confident that this is a case of analytical thinking and emotive impressions aligning and assuring me that this film is good, it just happens to be incredibly weird and rejects the concept of being liked or approachable because it’s on a mission and I can’t help but respect that.


Release Date:
2nd November 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
As I mentioned earlier, I really enjoyed the animated sequences and segmented titling of the story. In one such hallucinatory experience, Red sees the vision of a radio tower, wherein, he meets with the chemist producing the extremely potent drugs used by both the cult and the gang. This whole scene is peak Mandy. The location is bizarre, there’s a caged tiger, Red says nothing and maintains the same pained expression, the music is pulsing, the dialogue is incoherent and the camera is carving an intense yet mucky image. Yet it works to not only sell us on this underworld but furthers Red’s journey and moves the story along; a key example of the surreal being used in a way that most blockbusters tend to miss.

Notable Characters:
One of the supporting roles is played by Bill Duke; a man named Caruthers who is an old friend of Red’s who has been housing a crossbow named “the reaper.” So little is touched on as to the past these two share but it is clearly an interesting one and Caruthers acts like the last sane face that Red sees before his world descends into genuine madness.

Highlighted Quote:
“She’s still burning. She burns. She burns”

In A Few Words:
“A unique and powerful vision that will immediately divide audiences straight down the middle but a clear work of a powerfully driven director nonetheless”

Total Score:

4/5

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

Fearless Lives Forever

Director
Bryan Singer

Starring
Rami Malek
Gwilym Lee
Ben Hardy
Joseph Mazzello
Lucy Boynton



Opening with a hint of the worldwide broadcast of the Live Aid concert in 1985, we quickly flashback to 1970 and are introduced to Farrokh Bulsara [Malek], and follow him as he attends a university gig, meeting fellow student Mary Austin [Boynton] and jumping in as replacement singer for Brian May [Lee] and Roger Taylor’s [Hardy] band. With the addition of bass guitarist John Deacon [Mazzello], Queen is formed. The group gain fame and success but are unruly, continually wanting to change their style and Freddie himself struggles with his excessive lifestyle of alcohol and drugs while coming to terms with his own sexuality.

Despite depicting people’s lives, there is a distinct formula to success and excess. We see the unassuming but talented youth struggling before getting a big break or two, their conflict with those from their life before fame and those during it, the hedonistic lifestyles, the bickering between authoritative figures and the artist and finally a redemption arc before one final performance and a series of photos and title cards detailing the individual’s fate. Like suits of a different cut and colour, they are unique creations but they but still share the same structural components and often present difficulties for creatives to pen something fresh that will appeal to those outside the established fan-base. A bi-product of this is having the accuracy and timeline of events re-worked and manipulated to fit the film’s pacing and structure rather than reflecting reality. There is also the occupational hazard of squeezing in the inception of all the hits, which leads us to arguments or conversations broken up by a musical beat or melody rising over the top before everyone unites to create the song (which is almost never how songs are written). But this is a point of parody that was perfectly lampooned in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story when he is arguing with his wife before the title character stares off and she threatens him by saying “you better not be having an inspirational moment for a new song” to which he replies that he is and the song is then performed.

No matter how well any other aspect of this film works, none of it would succeed without a believable lead and in Malek, we have been given a truly terrific Freddie Mercury. Admittedly, you will never believe this actor is the man, obviously, but as an exercise in mimicry, it’s marvellous. And that goes for the other members in the group as well who are spectacularly spot-on. Although, having seen interviews with the cast outside of the film, it is so very apparent that the costuming, hair and make-up and production design all play a crucial part in the illusion. Iconic looks, performances and moves are recreated magnificently throughout. With the spotlight shining so intensely on centre stage (i.e. Mercury), the supporting roles leave much to be desired but this is another of those aforementioned unavoidable clichés. A great example of this is that of Freddie’s former girlfriend Mary Austin, portrayed by Lucy Boynton. She is an incredibly complex individual with a fantastic interaction where she wants to lash out at Freddie but can’t because she understands his sexuality isn’t his fault and their love is something very different. But in spite of this, she isn’t given much else, merely shuffled in and out of obscurity as-and-when the story requires her. One could argue this is merely telling the story from Mercury’s perspective but it feels more like an undeveloped character.

Another central aspect is the music itself which is presented with enough bombast to create a wholly thrilling experience but as with all musical biopics, this will largely depend on your personal love of the music itself. If you are a fan of the songs, you will love the CGI-charged lip-synching performances and happily welcome the film’s final scene; on the other hand, if you’re not a fan of the band, this could play out like an incredibly painful, never-ending exercise in peacocking. In my opinion, the entire Live Aid section is an exceptionally indulgent but arguably necessary sequence. I feel that it played out the hits people wanted to hear and celebratorily revelled in one of the major peaks of the band’s career. But it also serves to highlight one of the major flaws with this movie which is the overall lack of complexity to the issues that initially drove the band apart, everything is watered down and implied rather than explicitly explored. Admittedly, this will be seen as both a positive and a negative. Some may feel we are only gleaning partial truths, settling for a simplified version but others will see it as a jubilant honouring of the group’s heyday. What has been left out (things that would probably have been included in Sacha Baron Cohen’s version before he departed the project) will frustrate and irritate those already familiar with the story but for those who have a surface level understanding of the history of the band, these elements won’t be nearly as important and won’t be overly missed. But more than that, the legacy is never challenged, giving us a rather sterile analysis of Queen and what made them a success in the first place.

But in truth, all of this is probably quite irrelevant. The movie explores the release of Bohemian Rhapsody with on-screen quotes denouncing the song as a mediocre mess. The irony being it is one of the most well-known and anthemic songs of the last century and the band left EMI because of it and were vilified by the court of public opinion. Much like its namesake, this iteration of Bohemian Rhapsody will no doubt rise above the critical analyses solely because it gave the people what most of them wanted: an unchallenging, nostalgic romp chock full of great songs.


Release Date:
26th October 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
As a supporting role, Tom Hollander’s appearance as the band’s lawyer-cum-manager, Jim Beach, is a surprisingly sweet one. His involvement and impact on the story is limited but he acts as a supportive voice of reason who genuinely seems to have the band’s best interests at heart.

Notable Characters:
Before Freddie announces his solo contract, the band are discussing the reaction to the music video for “I Want To Break Free” in the US, specifically that the press’ assumption that it was all Mercury’s idea, despite the fact that John Deacon wrote the song and the cross-dressing concept was instigated by Roger Taylor. This fight is reasonably filmed but escalates a little quickly and cleanly (another example of conflating several conversations and encounters into one bust-up) but highlights that Freddie’s grandiose personality not only took the spotlight but also acted as the band’s bulletproof vest.

Highlighted Quote:
“Statistically speaking most bands don’t fail, they break up”

In A Few Words:
“In trying to be a celebration of the band and its greatest hits, it succeeds, despite the glaring flaws”

Total Score:

3/5

POSSUM

Can You Spy Him Deep Within? Little Possum. Black As Sin

Director
Matthew Holness

Starring
Sean Harris
Alun Armstrong



Puppeteer Philip [Harris] has returned to his home town under an air of scandal. He moves back into his derelict childhood home with only his step-father Maurice [Armstrong] for company. Through nightmarish visions and cutaways we learn that Philip carries with him a hideous puppet, a contraption with a blank human face and long, spider’s legs. Despite his best efforts to destroy it, it seemingly returns to him. As the story unfolds, we learn more about Philip’s troubled past and that an investigation is underway to find a local boy who has gone missing.

Matthew Holness’ feature debut is very much a bold statement that he is done with comedy. Audiences familiar with his previous works may expect a heavy dose of tongue-in-cheek nods or winks to the audience but said individuals will be sorely disappointed as there is intentionally absolutely zero levity throughout, creating a very tense, atmospheric and uncomfortable narrative. Set in the flatlands of Norfolk, the austere landscape reflects the bleak internal workings of Philip’s psyche giving the entire film a very British feel, indicative of the grim works of Ken Loach or Paddy Considine. This Britishness is amplified with the use of a score by the Radiophonic Workshop, utilising a soundscape of eerie themes that would have been used throughout the 70s and 80s on British television – formative years for Philip, still in a state of arrested development.

With such an absence of dialogue and event, the film relies heavily on its symbolic and slow-burn visuals. This serves to highlight the grimy, grungy detail of the areas Philip inhabits, from his barren, rundown castle-like home to the deserted barracks that torment him. Everything is steeped in a depressing sense of decay and neglect which is an amazing testament to Holness’ crew. Then we have the puppet itself, which is only fleetingly seen in the first hour and even when it is completely revealed, its simplicity is part of its power. Much like the various masked killers of slasher films, the blank, emotionless face that the audience can project onto is more terrifying on a psychological level than any grimacing, toothed visage.

Holness has stated that he was inspired by German expressionism and the classic silent horror movies of early cinema and nowhere is this more apparent than the two lead performances. Both Harris and Armstrong deliver two very different but equally troubled portrayals, heavily reliant on a physicality. Maurice is a wheezily cackling villain who has so many spider-like qualities, barely moving or reacting with anything or anyone until he eventual has a sudden and violent burst of energy. Philip, on the other hand, is such a refrained character, inwardly focusing so much that his shoulders pull forward and his hands often sit neatly in front of his thighs. Almost everything about Harris’ character is seemingly driven by fear, manifested by the puppet himself.

There aren’t a great deal of negative things to say about this film, merely a few caveats catering to people’s respective tastes. As stated, the film has a very British post-war decline feel, with plenty of evidence of degradation of once happy things and places; there is a reoccurring visual of colourful balloons being engulfed in smoke and replaced by solid black balloons, which is clearly representative of the corruption of youth through traumatic events. But this will very much not be to everyone’s liking. A lot of people will watch the film and scratch their heads at the jarring editing or be put off by the long hanging shots or slow-burn pacing. Personally I feel these things all work in the film’s favour, creating something as surprisingly elegant and monstrous as the puppet itself. The only downside I could find is that the bread-crumbing for final confrontation was a touch obvious and yet could have done with a bit more of a build rather than having so much delivered in one quick scene. I appreciate this is a lot of how horror delivers its exposition but the on-going mystery of the missing teenager and Maurice’s history with Philip could have been ramped up a little neater. Furthermore, we understand that Philip has had a scandalous experience prior to the start of the film but it is never really addressed. While it was not completely necessary, some sort of explanation may have helped.

Either way, Holness’ first step into the foray of horror direction is an incredibly strong one and I have no doubt that whatever he does next will be equally unnerving and devilishly delightful.


Release Date:
26th October 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
The majority of this movie is told in silent stillness, the contemplative self-reflection of an unreliable narrator. But when dialogue is used, it is brilliantly written in how haunting it is and how menacing in its delivery. Maurice questions Philip and asks him to recall a childhood story about a fox. The whole experience makes Philip incredibly uncomfortable, regaling how he and fellow students had kicked and killed a dying fox, only for him to be bullied by his friends and watch the fox supposedly get up and run away when his friends were gone. It’s not clear if this was a hallucination or if the fox itself was playing possum but the simple exchange between the two actors is genuinely enthralling and utterly appalling.

Notable Characters:
**spoilers within**
With the way the film is presented, seeing events through Philip’s eyes, it is very difficult to tell whether the character of Maurice is an actual human being or merely another manifestation. In truth I imagine he is a person but the way the film is shot and presented, it would be impossible to argue either way with absolute certainty.

Highlighted Quote:
“He were messing with you. Sly bugger”

In A Few Words:
“A wholly unsettling and incredibly impressive debut”

Total Score:

4/5

HALLOWEEN

Face Your Fate

Director
David Gordon Green

Starring
Jamie Lee Curtis
Andi Matichak
Judy Greer



Forty years after the events of Halloween, two podcasting journalists pay a visit to the asylum where Michael Myers is being held. He is set to be transferred but they want answers. Getting nothing from the silent, stoic figure, they visit Laurie Strode [Curtis], the sole survivor of the incident. From here we learn that her relationship with her family is fractured and she has become a recluse hiding in a fortified property behind fences and walls, armed to the teeth for the day her attacker may return. Sure enough, the transfer does not go according to plan and Michael escapes to return to Haddonfield and finish what he started.

One key take-away from this release is how well it has been assembled. The direction and cinematography pick a lane and stick to it, giving us a very moody release with some extremely pleasing shots and uses of lighting. The editing on the other hand, leaves a lot to be desired; disorientating, restrictive and unnecessarily erratic, it occasionally gets a little confused and really fails to capture the distinctive style that made Carpenter’s original so iconic. Speaking of Carpenter, the score has received a nice, subtle revamping, tastefully recycling the classic themes with a contemporary presentation. A good example of this would be the solitary guitar riffs that punctuate Allyson’s fear when first face-to-face with Michael.

Watching this movie, it becomes very apparent that it is a product of its time; seemingly deliberately so. Acting as a time capsule, Halloween deals with several subtle incidents of progressive younger characters dealing with older generations. This can take the form of two cops discussing a Vietnamese packed lunch over standard PB&J, a young boy forced onto a hunting trip by his father when all he wants to do is to focus on dancing, the difference between how Tommy Doyle interacts with Laurie in the original compared to the incredibly sassy but lovable Julian (played by Jibrail Nantambu) and Allyson [Matichak] and her boyfriend dressing up as Bonnie and Clyde but with a gender-swap twist, keeping that element a secret from Allyson’s parents. But the movie really shines with its portrayal of Laurie Strode. Curtis has always been a formidable acting force but here she goes full Sarah Connor as we explore the mind of a victim who has led a torturous existence waiting for something that may never come. Equally, the portrayal of her daughter finally gives an opportunity for someone to take Judy Greer and do something more with her than Jurassic World or Ant-Man, offering us an equally tormented individual who was drilled constantly by an over-protective, paranoid mother, while simultaneously living with her own trauma from her unorthodox raising. Also, the combined performance for Michael Myers is fantastic; the shape moves as he should and is just as terrifying and unstoppable a force as he has always been.

**Spoilers at the end of this paragraph**
But we also have to address the weaker elements to the cast. Starting with those stupid stupid podcasters. I genuinely hated these characters. I wasn’t entirely sure what they brought to the plot other than buckets of exposition and to effectively bring Michael his mask. There is possibly the slightly interesting question of whether their need need to understand him brought him back, or whether he was genuinely waiting for this moment to strike but ultimately, they are unlikeable, annoying and painfully twee. I’m sure there’s some sort of statement there about society’s desire to humanise villains (*cough* “balance” in political coverage *cough*) to the degree that they become sympathetic, taking the viewpoint that certain evils are just evil but it’s never really addressed or followed up to have a lasting impact. It is also worth mentioning that all the men are utterly useless. This is far from a complaint, just an observation; I have absolutely no need to raise a fist to the sky and decry this movie for making men look bad, it simply presents men as men and they happen to be bad. From Allyson’s wise-cracking but ineffective father to her straight-up abusive boyfriend to Allyson’s rather pathetic friend and back to that podcasting journalist who somehow acquired evidence in a murder case, held it up to the killer and screamed “Say something!” repeatedly. Which brings me to Doctor Sartain, played by Haluk Bilginer. He is taken out fairly early in the story and put into a coma, giving way for the rather decently acted role of Officer Hawkins [Will Patton] but then he comes back and is the most suspicious motherfucker. It was odd that he survived the bus crash but then every line he is given is delivered like a cackling, moustache-twirling classic Universal horror mad scientist. He even goes so far as to say “remember, he’s property of the state, he mustn’t be harmed.” At that point, the man has killed several people, it’s blatantly obvious he has his own twisted agenda and the fact I was unsurprised by this was criminally disappointing.

It is my opinion that Halloween II, Halloween H20 and Rob Zombie’s remake Halloween all have very interesting ideas and concepts but are, overall, flawed films. It is also my opinion that this latest Halloween sequel is on a par with these releases, stuffed with some really great notions, characters and setups but failing to really satisfy in a way that has the same impact as the original. But in truth, the encompassing issue any Halloween sequel faces is that they end up trying to explain Michael. A familial element was introduced but that robbed the terror of the lack of a reason the Annie, Laurie and Lynda were targeted, the next generation was also explored, one impatient with his mother’s paranoia but that also fell a little flat for the same reason, ensuring the Myers attacks were simply driven by some bloodline vengeance. Finally, the 2007 remake tried to get into the headspace of Michael, exploring his slide from innocent child to cold killer due to his abusive home life. I personally really enjoyed this portrayal but the problem is, it maintained the family connection to Laurie and essentially had to tack on the entirety of Halloween to the final act. The best comparison I can give is that of Scream 4 which united a lot of the original cast and crew and delivered something that was both pleasing yet largely mediocre, giving us an entertaining new experience with a new satirical, conversational drive but it didn’t have the same lasting impact. Unfortunately, for all the good it does and as pleasing as it is, it still hits the same old familiar notes and pumps the nostalgia gas enough for people to not realise they’re watching the same film again.

A lot of hardcore fans will hate this release while many more will enjoy it and laud praise upon it. While not wholly unjustified, I would be curious to see how long that lasts as I can almost guarantee that another sequel will be punched out off the back of this movie’s success and it can only serve to be just as disappointing as the lower tier sequels in this franchise. But hopefully I’m wrong.


Release Date:
19th October 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
On Halloween night, Michael begins his killing spree by stalking the neighbourhood, moving from house to house, remorselessly executing people in his path. It’s presented in an incredibly orchestrated continuous one-shot and offers an insight into Michael’s movements and efficiency. And that’s part of the problem. Myers sees a woman returning to her house so picks up a hammer, enters the home and kills her, then he takes a knife, ignores a crying baby and moves to the next home. There he peers through the window then goes inside and stabs a woman then leaves. At the end of the day, it’s honestly difficult to enjoy because we don’t know why and that should be part of the thrill but all we end up with is a healthy dose of confusion. Either that or at the very start of the film, I was trying to ascertain when the movie was set. The asylum Michael is housed in has an eclectic mix of things from really old record players to CRT screens but the visitors have a fairly new looking zoom audio device. Not to mention the fashion is all over the place – but that’s pretty reflective of contemporary trends and styles. But all of that fell away as a printed sign was taped to a window that said “Please ensure all..” except it actually read “Please insure” and from that point, I had real issue focusing on the film and before the simple but impressive title sequence brought me back round, I got the feeling this entire release might irk me.

Notable Characters:
**spoilers**
One of Allyson’s close friends is babysitter Vicky. In the scene above, I mentioned Michael going from house to house, randomly killing people with speed and efficiency. The next house he calls on is the one Vicky happens to be in. Suddenly his relentless attacks are substituted with a cat-and-mouse game and while this could easily offer us insight into Michael’s predilection for stalking young women, it became obvious that her character was a little more charming and interesting to watch than Allyson’s. Sure, Laurie is very much cast as the goody-two-shoes virgin labelled as boring by her friends but Vicky’s just a nice kid who feels more like a Strode than Allyson. But I feel this is to do with the script’s pressure to include the PTSD-affecting family element that denied Allyson of any innocence. As stated earlier, this isn’t exactly a complaint, just an interesting side-effect of the nature of the script and direction of the story.

Highlighted Quote:
“There’s nothing new to learn. No new insights or discoveries”

In A Few Words:
“A completely solid sequel-reboot but the same problems that afflicted the others are just as present and for some will be unavoidable”

Total Score:

3/5