October 2022 Roundup
The Woman King
Sony Pictures Releasing // Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood // Starring Viola Davis, Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, John Boyega
Set in 1823, The Woman King takes us to the Kingdom of Dahomey in West Africa. A young new king, Ghezo (Boyega), is threatened with the prospect of colonialism and annihilation by the mighty Oyo Empire but in his corner are the fearsome and unrelenting Agojie - an all-female tribe of warriors led by the formidable Nanisca (Davis). Gina Prince-Bythewood’s historical epic may not be entirely historically accurate, but it carries many truths of the time and the spirit of the warriors with it. Part-action, part-drama, part-commentary, The Woman King manages to conjure the feel and spectacle of an epic whilst managing to retain an intimate atmosphere throughout. The action scenes are captured and choreographed excellently and deliver a raw and realistic experience without ever feeling the need to stray into gory territory, and how these sequences weave with the dramatic elements of the narrative are handled wonderfully. The commentary revolves mainly around colonialism, slavery, and sexual abuse the warriors and women faced, but the bulk of the drama focuses on a young girl, Nawi (Mbedu), who is enlisted in the Agojie after refusing her fathers wishes to marry an older man. We follow her rise, setbacks, and eventual truths thanks to a superb performance from Thuso Mbedu who nearly outshines the spectacular Viola Davis, who, alongside her terrific acting ability, is able to show off just how much of a badass she is. Seeing these two warrior women thrust together on opposing ends of their journeys was a highly intriguing element of the movie powered by two tremendous performances. The rhythmic and pounding score from Terence Blanchard further accentuates the scope of the story, and also provides a lift for the sequences or moments that don’t quite feel as balanced or well-defined - though they are fairly few and far between. The Woman King exists to celebrate the brave warrior women of the Agojie and to humanize them along the way, there is no sexualization or slack-handed messages of empowerment here, just strong yet vulnerable, fearsome but not fearless fighters who fought back against their oppressors and stood up for their beliefs. The Woman King is a first-rate epic combining commanding performances and storming action with a powerful story.
Hulu // Directed by David Bruckner // Starring Jamie Clayton, Odessa A'zion, Brandon Flynn, Goran Višnjić, Drew Starkey, Adam Faison, Aoife Hinds, Selina Lo, Hiam Abbass
David Bruckner has such sights to show us. Well, that was my hope anyway. Hellraiser, a reboot of Clive Barker’s 1987 genre classic, becomes the latest horror staple to be reimagined for contemporary times, though I’d argue that the Hellraiser franchise as a whole isn’t quite as revered as, say, the Halloween series. Not to say that that brings less pressure but potentially less expectation - having said that, this is how you reboot a franchise. 2022’s Hellraiser is not a perfect film, or a perfect horror movie, but it goes out of its way to not simply be the original Hellraiser whilst delivering new lore and fresh takes on an established world. The narrative again focuses on the Lament Configuration being toyed with, paving the way for the hellish Cenobites to come to our dimension to deliver their unique brand of pain and pleasure - here, Odessa A’zion’s Riley attempts to harness the power of the box in order to resurrect her brother who disappeared in mysterious, Cenobite-y circumstances. Where Barker’s Hellraiser was dripping in leather and sex/BDSM, Bruckner’s instead deals with addiction, loss, and the lengths they send us to and it ends up as a successful combination alongside the more standard horror and gore that one would expect from a Hellraiser affair. In doing this, Bruckner ensures we spend more time with the characters ahead of the hellish headliners appearances, and A’Zion is very strong in her performance, however, the same can’t really be levied at the supporting cast around her. In terms of the nasties, Jamie Clayton’s The Priest (Pinhead) is badass, she manages to capture the characters ethereal evil presence whilst also delivering a unique spin on an iconic character (all whilst being used sparingly) - the overall design of the Cenobites is excellent, their fleshy, wet, sinewy appearance feels more unsettling than the biker gang approach of before and the character designs are spot on. The production design of Hellraiser also is strong, this is a great movie to look at visually and technically, the in-camera effects holding up more often than not. Now, Hellraiser clocks in at around two hours and it probably didn’t need to, there are moments where it begins to run the risk of outstaying its welcome, and, whilst it never reaches that point, it was definitely noticeable - and to be picky, I would have liked a few more kills for the list here. For a movie that could have easily gone the way of the more recent (and awful) straight-to-DVD franchise efforts, Hellraiser delivers admirable restraint at times and an exciting take on a flagging franchise - it has its flaws, granted, but there’s also emotion, mystery, some great gore, and an ace turn from Jamie Clayton as The Priest.
Universal Pictures // Directed by David Gordon Green // Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Andi Matichak, James Jude Courtney, Will Patton, Rohan Campbell, Kyle Richards
Regardless of how bad the last installment was (as is usually the case with the Halloween franchise), there’s always an air of excitement when a new Halloween movie is released - maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s the fleeting hope, maybe it’s just simple genre reverence. Whatever the case, with Halloween Ends I was open-minded and hoping for a cohesive and satisfying end to David Gordon Green’s trilogy. Sadly, but predictably, this was anything but. Set four years after the events of Halloween Kills, Michael Myers (Courtney) has vanished and Laurie (Strode) has decided to move on with her life to bake pies in her new ‘normal’ home with her granddaughter Allyson (Matichak). We’re also introduced to Corey (Campbell), who is the new town outcast after he accidentally killed the kid he was babysitting years prior - he also (ludicrously) turns out to be the co-lead of the movie. The spiral he finds himself in leads him to Myers and an altogether different direction for his life, a direction that Allyson finds sexy and irresistible. Honestly, that happens and it is eye-gougingly bad to witness, Andi Matichak plays a totally different character here than in the previous two movies - Allyson loses all of her independence and development for a pair of infected evil eyes belonging to the town outcast (that is sadly literal). In an admittedly admirable attempt to deliver something different, Green opts for a study of a life of trauma rather than a straight-up standard slasher, but it’s simply not well done or well-written (it also includes Hallmark-esque narration with fades…). To be positive, the opening sequence is very good, Ends includes a few good kills (including one with a blowtorch!), and the idea that the town’s paranoia and fear almost created another killer is actually very good, but Green decides not to bother following through on that in this messy narrative that’s devoid of any tension or atmosphere all leading to a ridiculously sanctimonious ending. Jamie Lee Curtis does everything in her power to imbue this with some gravitas and she is as solid as always in her Strode swansong, and, honestly, everyone involved does their best with the material but then you run into the band kids and wish it would all end. The question everyone will be asking throughout though is “where’s Michael?”. Well, Myers is just an old punk now (after brutally wrecking shop in Kills…), his presence in this film feels like the franchise as a whole - tired. People grow old, granted, and it’s cool to see Green acknowledge this with Myers (he would be in his seventies now, surely?) but the lack of Myers throughout is glaring and the story that took his place was not engaging enough to fill the void. Owing to COVID, Ends was rewritten from the original idea of having all three films take place over one night but it’s apparent now that this did not need to be a trilogy, the ideas just were not there to stretch across three films in a coherent manner. If you like Halloween III, maybe you’ll enjoy this more (and the intro credits), and there are plenty of worn-out, eye-rolling callbacks to other entries aimed at satisfying franchise fans but Halloween Ends does not really offer much else. Green’s attempt at creating something subversive is to be applauded, but the execution and delivery of this finale are wholly disappointing. If this is how it all ends, then what a shame…
Warner Bros. Pictures // Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra // Starring Dwayne Johnson, Aldis Hodge, Noah Centineo, Sarah Shahi, Marwan Kenzari, Quintessa Swindell, Bodhi Sabongui, Pierce Brosnan
The hierarchy of power in the DC Universe is about to change. That’s according to Dwayne Johnson, the star of Black Adam when asked to describe…Black Adam. The million-dollar question is, of course, will the hierarchy of power actually change following the release of Black Adam? In short, probably not, no. But, Black Adam is certainly not a disasterpiece - it may not be particularly special or unique, but it has enough. A lengthy opening exposition dump tells us that Adam was once known as Teth Adam 5000 years ago and was a slave in the city of Kahndaq before he was bestowed with God-like powers that led him to enact justice born solely from rage. After being imprisoned (...sigh), he is finally released by mother and son Adrianna (Shahi) and Amon (Sabongui) but his presence doesn’t go unnoticed - the Justice Society (titter...), comprising of Hawkman (Hodge), Dr. Fate (Brosnan), Atom Smasher (Centineo), and Cyclone (Swindell), rock up to try and put an end to Black Adam’s rage whilst a group of angry, gun-wielding nuts are also after a demonically-infused crown that would grant the wielder…God-like powers. It’s a bit heavy in terms of exposition and OTT comic book lore and at many points it all started to feel a little silly, but some fun action sequences and character interactions help prevent this from smelling like Batman vs. Superman. The majority of the movie’s success falls on the beefy shoulders of Johnson, his natural charisma carries the performance, and, despite Black Adam being an antihero of sorts, it’s nigh-on impossible to dislike The Rock - plus his introduction was a nice slice of badass. Similarly, the connection between Brosnan and Hodge was strong, delivering a solid double-act performance that only made the sidelining of Atom Smasher and Cyclone even more egregious. On the other hand, Sabongui’s Amon was bestowed with every bad sequence, line of dialogue, and decision throughout the movie, that character was not a highlight. To be fair, the dialogue throughout is mostly rough but the comedy (outside of Amon) worked well. Many of the action scenes were satisfying, though the repetition became noticeable as did some dodgy CGI but it was hard to shake the feeling of enjoyment throughout. Maybe it was simply seeing a new set of heroes that made Black Adam palatable, I’m not sure, but whilst acknowledging the movie’s flaws, it still remained a fun watch even if the big bad of the movie was a bust. I can’t say whether the hierarchy of power in the DC universe has changed or not, but I can say Black Adam delivers just enough to be on the right side of entertaining. Just.
20th Century Studios // Directed by Zach Cregger // Starring Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, Justin Long
2022 has been a great year for horror movies (except for you, Halloween Ends, Jeepers Creepers Reborn, Dashcam...) and Zach Cregger’s Barbarian is next up to the plate - but do we get a horror home run or simply a horror show? The story revolves around Georgina Campbell’s Tess who, after arriving at her reserved Airbnb, finds Bill Skarsgård’s Keith already at the property - the issue is that she has no idea who he is. She spends the night there with socially-awkward Keith only to later find that the property harbors nasty secrets that weren’t on the listing. There’s so much more to the story, but Barbarian is absolutely one of those movies where you need to go in blind, and when you do, you’ll be in for a treat. Barbarian is another 2022 horror home run and is packed with atmosphere, tension, gross-out moments, and surprises throughout - it falters at times in the finale, but the vast majority is a dark delight, the movie’s unpredictable narrative elevating what would have otherwise been a strong movie on its own given the setup. The movie is full of twists and misdirects to ensure no one feels too familiar with proceedings and the dark (sometimes satirical) comedy that simmers beneath the surface only adds to the feeling of unease - Cregger excellently balances any levity with real chills. Across the board, the performances are strong, at times playing on the audience's own experiences with the actors, but generally, just performers going all-in for their characters - the impressive Campbell especially. Another impressive aspect of Barbarian is that it received a wide theatrical release as opposed to being dumped on streaming and respect goes to 20th Century Studios for having the confidence to go big on what is not a mainstream horror movie - The Conjuring franchise, this ain’t. To say more about the movie would be to begin giving away too much about a cleverly structured affair, but if you’re a genre fan who doesn’t mind it going a bit further, Barbarian will satiate your needs. A constantly swerving thrill ride, Barbarian is one of the year's strongest horror movies and one that is as wickedly entertaining as it is unnerving.
The Banshees of Inisherin
Searchlight Pictures // Directed by Martin McDonagh // Starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan
The boys are back in town. Well, an island, actually, and a fictional one at that - Inisherin. The Banshees of Inisherin reunites director Martin McDonagh with Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson for a fantastic film that explores friendship, anger, depression, rage, and sadness but all doused with some deliciously dark McDonagh humour. The narrative revolves around Brendan Gleeson's Colm who one day decides he simply does not like his one-time best friend Pádraic (Farrell), the reason being Pádraic’s apparent dullness is preventing Colm from enjoying his final years and leaving behind a musical legacy (he’s a fiddle player). Pádraic takes umbrage with this, alongside a huge dose of confusion, and his attempts to regain his friendship lead to some dark places. Set against the backdrop of 1920s Ireland in the midst of civil war, The Banshees of Inisherin boasts two of the best performances you’ll see this year, both Farrell and Gleeson delivering sumptuous performances that cover so many emotions - Colm is both melancholic and menacing, Pádraic is appealing and frustrating all at once, and their odd couple double act is intoxicating to behold. Both performances carry a sense of fortitude, sadness, and stubbornness that will leave you either smiling, wincing, or crying with the characters. Similarly, Kerry Condon’s bookish Siobhan also delivers excellently as Pádraic’s sister who dreams of more than this small island that offers nothing but beautiful views. Those views are captured wonderfully by returning McDonagh DoP Ben Davis, the rolling hills of Inishmore doubling for Inisherin and providing a beautifully rural slice of the world to set this hard-hitting tragicomedy. Alongside the performances, McDonagh’s fizzing screenplay further elevates the story and simultaneously allows for many scenes of laughter and moments of awe - every aspect of the film is simply strong and everything combines to create a starkly profound, and sometimes devastating, experience. A story of alienation and mortality, this meditative and dark dramedy delivers sensational performances, high emotion, and one of the year’s best films - if not the best.