October 2021 Roundup

Halloween Kills

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Universal Pictures // Directed by David Gordon Green // Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Anthony Michael Hall, Robert Longstreet, Kyle Richards, James Jude Courtney

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Traditionally, nothing has been able to stop Michael Myers. That is until COVID-19 reared its head and ensured Halloween Kills became another victim of release delays (plus a day and date Peacock drop). However, the time has now come for Haddonfield to feel the unbridled wrath of the masked slasher once more. Picking up immediately following the events of 2018’s Halloween – after a fabulous prelude that returns us to the events of the original 1978 movie – the residents of Haddonfield decide vigilante law is the only way to deal with the impending return of Myers. Those residents include Tommy Doyle (Hall), Lindsey (Richards), and Lonnie (Longstreet) from Carpenter’s original (remember them?) and the story of Laurie Strode’s survival against Myers provides the inspiration for them to tool up and prepare for battle. Laurie herself is recuperating in hospital from her Myers-inflicted injuries whilst her daughter and granddaughter Karen (Greer) and Allyson (Matichak) have differing ideas on how to deal with the masked problem that’s coming. The trouble with a movie about corralling a mob is that there is only so much time that can be dedicated to it before it becomes stretched – especially when the actual search for Myers is...slightly lacking. Disappointingly, Halloween Kills devotes much of its runtime to tubthumping and cringe-inducing moments of easily-swayed crowds chanting “evil dies tonight” or characters dramatically stating “tonight...he dies” over and over. Of course, Green is taking aim at mob mentality and ubiquitous topical attitudes but it all feels far too melodramatic and tedious. It is obvious that many people watching Halloween Kills are interested mainly in Myers and Strode and, well, one of those gets short shrift...spoiler: it’s not Michael Myers. Whilst remaining aware that Kills is the second part of a trilogy, there’s a noticeable lack of Jamie Lee Curtis throughout which proves detrimental as her absence is keenly felt throughout and other performers with greater screentime aren’t as...strong shall we say. Myers, on the other hand, is let loose in Kills and he delivers sequences that will satisfy those expecting to see brutal kills and the Shape in full bloodthirsty form. This isn’t the same Michael from 1978 but it was hard not to be entranced with his acts of pure, unhesitant evil. It’s easy to say Halloween Kills shouldn’t be measured by story etc as the popular idea is that people just want to see Myers unleashed, but Kills proves that you need more than just inventive deaths to keep things interesting. The shallow dialogue, uninteresting characters, and lack of any real narrative direction leaves Halloween Kills in the shadow of its predecessor and delivers a disappointing new chapter given where the story left off. Every scene with Michael Myers is either ferocious, solid, or fun (or all three?!) but outside of that, there isn’t much to admire about Halloween Kills.

 

Venom: Let There Be Carnage

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Sony Pictures Releasing // Directed by Andy Serkis // Starring Tom Hardy, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris, Reid Scott, Stephen Graham

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2018's Venom was a bit cack, but it was cack that I enjoyed. You could say...it wasn’t a good movie but I had a good time with it, and, having been delayed by a year, its sequel has arrived. Venom: Let There Be Carnage continues the story of the uneasy but requisite relationship between Eddie Brock (Hardy) and the alien symbiote known as Venom - only this time the trouble comes in the form of deranged serial killer Cletus Kasady, AKA Carnage. The key to Venom not being a total bomb was the self-awareness and the all-in duel performance of Hardy, and, as fate would have it, those two factors also saved the sequel from bombing. Let There Be Carnage is not a great film, I would say I preferred its predecessor, but the glue holding it together is strong enough to sustain its thankfully swift runtime of ninety minutes. It not being great doesn’t mean it isn’t fun because it is. Granted, not all of the gags land but the majority do and almost all of the laughs again come from the bickering between Eddie and Venom (and they certainly go heavier on the relationship between the two). Woody Harrelson is game as the wide-eyed maniac (offering a greater presence than Riz Ahmed’s Carlton Drake/Riot) as is Michelle Williams in a supporting but nonetheless plucky performance. Additionally, Stephen Graham appears as a Mark Wahlberg-lite cop named Mulligan who will have a greater part to play in future installments. The movie breezes along at a decent pace without any real lulls, however, Let There Be Carnage follows genre conventions to a tee - especially in the elastic-ey, CG laden finale - so don’t expect anything original or refreshing here. It’s true that the two Venom movies do feel like a different breed compared to their more illustrious counterparts and it’s that vibe that keeps me interested. These aren’t great movies but they know what they are and happily run with it. Let There Be Carnage carries a message that tells you to be yourself and tolerate others, and, if you can tolerate some daft fun and a movie full of knowing glances then you’ll be just fine. Yes, that’s right...Let There Be Carnage is not a particularly good movie but I did have a good time with it.

 

The Last Duel

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20th Century Studios // Directed by Ridley Scott // Starring Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Ben Affleck, Harriet Walter, Alex Lawther

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Four years have passed since Ridley Scott delivered the double-header of Alien: Covenant and All the Money in the World in 2017 – two admittedly decent films. Making up for lost time, Scott is back with the historical drama The Last Duel (and House of Gucci mere weeks later). The movie is told from three perspectives and stories the rape of Marguerite de Carrouges, wife of respected and grizzled knight Jean, by the squire Jacques Le Gris and the subsequent duel between the men that placed all their fates and destinies in the hands of God (a framing device not overtly dissimilar to Kurosawa’s Rashomon). Based on a true story, The Last Duel unsurprisingly is not the easiest of watches given the subject matter at hand or, simply, the overall treatment of Marguerite throughout. Divided into three chapters, The Last Duel depicts the events leading up to the sexual assault from the perspectives of Jean, Jacques, and Marguerite; all of whom have their own accounts which, of course, all vary. However, they all end in the same manner, two men fighting to the death to decide the fate of a woman – or, more realistically, for their own honour. Prior to the duel, we are faced with the harsh reality that Marguerite could have been “better off” by remaining silent, a frightening scenario that Scott is all too aware is relevant right now. Marguerite is very much living in a world controlled by men, one where men wield all the power, including the control over the bodies and lives of women. At one pivotal point, Marguerite’s cold mother-in-law Nicole de Buchard (an excellent Walter) grimly exclaims “There is no right...there is only the power of men.” Having three chapters keeps the movie from having any real lulls at over two-and-a-half hours long, though it's worth querying whether Marguerite’s version of events (i.e., the definitive account) is afforded enough time? Scott handles the assault scenes in an assured manner and never veers into exploitative territory (thankfully), however, he certainly captures the stark brutality of the disgusting act – though having to witness it more than once is not enjoyable. As Marguerite, Jodie Comer is given a tough assignment but she carries it off expertly showing a commanding composure within the role. Damon, Driver, and Affleck (as the morally repugnant Count Pierre d’Alençon) are all strong despite their collectively odd accents and only Driver escapes with his looks intact as Affleck sports a horrific blonde goatee/hair double act whilst Damon is punished with a mullet of rock and roll proportions. Also, Alex Lawther has a small but entertaining role as the young King Charles VI that fully embraces his jittery on-screen persona. Scott is no stranger to historical dramas so it will come as no surprise that the costume and sound design are top level and the battles feel raw and gritty as the camera takes us right into the thick of the action – we feel, see, and hear every slash, slice, and stab and it all leads to the titular duel between de Carrouges and Le Gris which does not disappoint in its execution. An admittedly tough watch, The Last Duel is a compelling and bruising movie fuelled by a fearless performance from Jodie Comer. Strong writing from Affleck, Damon, and Nicole Holofcener and the smartly-utilized framing device help deliver an extremely strong and frustratingly relevant epic. It’s also Ridley Scott’s best movie for a good few years.

 

Antlers

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Searchlight Pictures // Directed by Scott Cooper // Starring Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Jeremy T. Thomas, Graham Greene, Scott Haze, Rory Cochrane, Amy Madigan

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Four years on since the very decent Hostiles, Scott Cooper has delivered something somewhat different in the shape of Antlers - a smaller scale supernatural horror about a detached young boy who harbors a disturbing secret hidden within his house. Cooper has brought Hostiles alumni Jesse Plemons and Rory Cochrane along for the ride alongside Keri Russell and the impressive Jeremy T. Thomas in a cast that is solid across the board with their committed performances in a movie that required a cast willing to fall in with the heavy atmosphere. It’s part-monster movie, part-abuse story, part-small town folklore tale. Antlers features no moments of levity or humour, instead opting for a gloomy, grim atmosphere that is matched by the purposely muted visuals. This approach won’t be to everyone's tastes and when you take into consideration the fact that Antlers really isn’t a scary movie then it would be easy to feel disappointed after viewing. However, what it lacks in tension it makes up for in well-placed jump scares. Jump scares have long been the bane of horror fans' lives but there is no denying the satisfaction of an effective jump scare that is more than simply loud music and conventional setup. Antlers delivers one of the year's most jolting jump scares that had everyone in my screening jump out of their seats (it genuinely was a sight to behold) as well as a handful of other good scares and some convincingly grisly imagery (practical makeup and models too) - it’s just a shame the movie doesn’t quite stick the landing and lacks that gripping tension that is desperately needed. Whilst it may not be terrifying, Antlers remains an extremely solid horror flick that hits most of the necessary beats but stumbles on a handful of other key requirements.

 
 

Last Night in Soho

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Universal Pictures // Directed by Edgar Wright // Starring Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Terence Stamp, Diana Rigg

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Thriller. Horror. Mystery. 60s London. Anya-Taylor Joy. Thomasin McKenzie. Edgar Wright. That’s a whole lot of YEP right there. It feels like an eternity ago since Baby Driver was released (it was only four years ago with a documentary on Sparks released since) but Wright has returned with Last Night in Soho following a COVID-enforced delay. The intriguing premise centres on Ellie Turner (McKenzie), an aspiring fashion designer from the countryside who moves to London to achieve her fashion dreams. Once there, she is plagued by visions of Sandi (Taylor-Joy), a talented singer taken under the wing of seedy talent manager Jack (Smith) in 1960s London and begins to experience Sandi’s highs and lows that culminates in a complex murder plot leading up to present day. Intriguing is the keyword as Last Night in Soho brims with it for the most part. Early scenes of Ellie moving from her family home in Cornwall, experiencing a totally different way of life (and people) in London and the beginning of the cross-decade mystery tease a twisting, exciting story that ultimately the movie fails to deliver. For all of Wright’s lofty ambitions for Last Night in Soho, it descends into a convoluted, messy thriller with a third act that proves to be the final nail in the coffin. It’s a third act that is telegraphed throughout but that in itself cannot save it from being groan worthy and substandard - especially when you consider its extremely ropey/ill-served concluding take on the feminism angle the movie attempts to deliver. What’s more disappointing is that the performances of McKenzie and Taylor-Joy are terrific and constantly elevate the material alongside a suitably slimy turn from Matt Smith and the final performance from a great Diana Rigg. Add to this that Last Night in Soho is visually sublime and boasts a great soundtrack and what’s left is a classic case of what could have been. The narrative becomes confusing as the lines become blurred and the story begins to sag as Wright attempts to piece together the threads - in attempting to do so, the movie begins to slow and the momentum seeps away gradually leading to the ultimately naff conclusion. Many questions and strands remain unanswered or unfulfilled, and, whilst you cannot fault Wright’s ambition, Last Night in Soho ultimately ends up as a disappointing thriller that was packed full of potential.

 

For further discussion, listen to the Bloody Awesome Movie Podcast (November 4th 2021)

The French Dispatch

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Searchlight Pictures // Directed by Wes Anderson // Starring Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Jeffrey Wright, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton

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Oh, Wes Anderson. You delightfully meticulous, romantic and frustrating man. Anderson’s filmography holds a special place for many people thanks to his (here comes THAT word) whimsical take on otherwise fairly heavy subjects, his visual trappings and scrupulous attention to detail that has delivered such delights as Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel. It’s also fair to say that his movies can divide critics and audiences alike (this critic couldn’t stand his prior work, Isle of Dogs) due to the aforementioned reasons and more. In The French Dispatch, Anderson has once again cobbled together a who’s who of acting talent, including Wes veterans Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Tilda Swinton and newcomers Timothée Chalamet, Jeffrey Wright and many more, and it’s hard not to get excited by the prospect of such quality bouncing off of each other. However, Anderson does not allow for excitement to really develop in this five-piece anthology as his painstaking approach takes over and sucks the life out of the majority of the stories. The narrative revolves around a fictional weekly newspaper (The French Dispatch, heavily influenced by The New Yorker) and features three specially curated articles developed for the final edition following the passing of its owner and editor Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Murray). Each story is well-conceived and interesting as a premise, the trouble is they don’t really develop beyond that. Sure, there are good ideas but they never seem fully realised - there is a lot of promise without payoff. You already know The French Dispatch will be visually alluring and it is, it’s beautiful, but visuals alone cannot save a movie and this one feels half-baked once you wade through the visual and audio delights and the typically punchy dialogue. The movie also moves at a consistently snappy pace which doesn’t add to the feeling that we’re rushing to a conclusion that never comes. The French Dispatch has all of the traditional Anderson conventions but it feels less...fun this time, it feels too neurotic to enjoy, too indulgent to ever feel welcoming.

 

Army of Thieves

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Netflix // Directed by Matthias Schweighöfer // Starring Matthias Schweighöfer, Nathalie Emmanuel, Ruby O. Fee, Stuart Martin, Guz Khan, Jonathan Cohen

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I distinctly remember saying after watching Army of the Dead and hearing that prequel movies were being produced that I was not interested. After all, AotD was a perfectly serviceable (if overly long) zombie flick but did the characters and story really need explaining further? Zack Snyder thought so and here we have Army of Thieves, directed by Matthias Schweighöfer who played the role of safecracker Ludwig Dieter in AotD. Thieves tells the story of how he later came to become part of the crew and his affinity for the safe in AotD - if you haven’t seen AotD, that statement will sound very odd. Less heightened than AotD, Thieves plays more as a straight up heist movie with plenty of comedy thrown in alongside the safecracking, heist-planning hijinks, and, is a surprisingly entertaining one at that. Schweighöfer’s Ludwig (or ‘Ludwig’) is an affable lead alongside the delightful Nathalie Emmanuel’s Gwen; Ludwig’s wimpy nerdiness plays nicely alongside Gwen’s action-fuelled role. The remaining crew are all interesting enough to ensure the movie has certain stakes in a narrative that’s fairly standard but executed stylishly (Schweighöfer shows slightly more restrained than Snyder, who acts as writer and producer here). Similarly to AotD, Thieves begins to overstay its welcome at times though it never fully becomes stretched, and, some sequences aside that weren’t as strong as others, Thieves is a surprisingly decent and superior effort in the ever growing Armyverse.

 

The Beta Test

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IFC Films // Directed by Jim Cummings & PJ McCabe // Starring Jim Cummings, PJ McCabe, Virginia Newcomb, Jessie Barr

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Thunder Road and The Wolf of Snow Hollow presented Jim Cummings as a writer-director to watch, his movies taking aim at toxic masculinity and psychological and social issues whilst being armed with sharp humour, dialogue and flashes of horror (certainly in the latter of his movies). The Beta Test is a satirical mystery, erotic thriller focusing on a Hollywood talent agent Jordan (Cummings) who is lured into a night of no-strings sex with an anonymous woman which leads to a rapid descent in his mental state as his search for the mystery woman leads him to realise that other recipients of the lurid invitation are ending up dead. Add to this that he is an engaged man and, well, you can imagine his panic and desperation. The Beta Test throws the viewer into the thick of things almost immediately and doesn’t loosen its grip as the frenetic and kinetic pace and energy takes hold. Cummings is again effervescent in the lead role, his dwindling state just remaining restrained enough whilst his suffering fiancée Caroline (a game Newcomb) attempts to keep their flailing engagement together in the face of lies, deceit and manipulation. The Beta Test isn’t perfect, at times it’s many messages of corruption, toxic masculinity, power complexes, and varying social commentaries become slightly diluted as Cummings and McCabe struggle to maintain a balance. However, the mystery is a constant source of intrigue in a movie that thunders along through its snappy ninety-minute runtime and, happily, The Beta Test sees it through and sticks the landing. If you’re looking for a taut, energetic thriller then you’ll find a lot to admire and enjoy about The Beta Test. The biggest surprise is Jim Cummings isn’t playing a cop again - see Halloween Kills for the last Cummings cop appearance.