Prone to Bouts of Mania, Narcissism and Power Failure: Watching High-Rise and Snowpiercer in 2021

https://www.thefilmagazine.com/watching-highrise-snowpiercer-2021/ SSP

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Review in Brief: A Quiet Place Part II (2021)

Certainly less lean and no-nonsense than the first instalment and too reliant on stupid horror movie characters acting like stupid horror movie characters, A QUIET PLACE PART II is still a mostly solid follow-up. After a pretty breathtaking opening flashback documenting the day the aliens arrived on Earth, we pick up exactly where the first film left off as the Abbott family search for sanctuary and survivors. A bigger budget means the sonic-reliant creatures are usually shown in daylight and the film certainly doesn’t skimp on the action front. At its heart this is Regan’s (Millicent Simmonds) story and she gets to confirm her position as the franchise’s active main hero even as the rest of her family get by mainly on luck. This definitely loses something in the final act and ends rather abruptly, perhaps hinting that some plot points needed to be left open enough to pick up in the inevitable third instalment. SSP

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Review in Brief: Psycho Goreman (2020)

If it wasn’t for all the splattery gore, this would be a great feelgood Amblin-style kids adventure movie. As it is, PSYCHO GOREMAN is an unholy union between FLASH GORDON and the TOXIC AVENGER, which is admittedly odd but works well on its own terms. An alien warlord is revived by an imaginative sister and brother (Nita-Josee Hanna and Owen Myre) and is forced to be their new friend while his mortal enemies race across the galaxy to destroy him. This has a wonderful handmade feel to it and the creature designs put a lot of far more expensive films to shame, even if the tonal ping-ponging won’t be for everyone. But if you’re into this kind of thing there’s a lot to like with all the goofy-deranged humour; it’s one of those very striking oddball indies in the vein of something like TURBO KID that’s destined for cult status almost before it’s out the gate. SSP

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Review in Brief: Spiral: From the Book of Saw (2021)

Make no mistake, SPIRAL is a SAW movie, it’s not a bold new direction for the franchise. Bafflingly someone says at one point “Jigsaw didn’t target cops”, which makes you wonder how closely people have been watching the other films (including the director of 3 of them, Darren Lynn Bousman, who returns for a 4th here). A quite restrained Chris Rock is Detective Zeke Banks, on the trail of a Jigsaw Killer copycat targeting dirty cops with a connection to the upstanding Zeke. The set pieces are still flashily violent, the film moves at a pace and doesn’t waste time, but it’s not new or different or elegant enough in its storytelling to stand out much from the crowd, let alone in its own overcrowded franchise. Even the socio-political punch that is a given with a story about a black cop fighting institutional corruption lacks some much-needed bite, final loaded image aside. SSP

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Review in Brief: Oxygen (2021)

An amnesiac woman (Mélanie Laurent) wakes up in a sci-fi cryo pod and has to figure out why she is there and how to escape using her logic and an only intermittently helpful AI (Mathieu Amalric). There have been lots of claustrophobic thrillers over the years, usually the only notable thing that changes is the shape of the box. Like most of these things maintaining almost unbearable tension is only worth it if the eventual payoff is good, and the final stretch in OXYGEN doesn’t disappoint. It’s perhaps a little less bold in how it tries to tie everything up a bit too neatly, but the film is still full of ideas, director Alexandre Aja is a sure pair of hands in his tight control of the situation and the enticing information reveals and Laurent’s exposed performance is completely and utterly compelling throughout. SSP

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Review in Brief: Army of the Dead (2021)

Zack Snyder is clearly relieved to be done with superheroes for now and has returned to the genre that broke him through: the zombie movie. Unfortunately ARMY OF THE DEAD is an over-stuffed and largely ponderous affair. The promising premise of a heist in an undead-infested Vegas takes about an hour of a ludicrous 150 minute runtime to actually get going and it’s oddly lacking in tension for all the gory thrills. The ensemble cast playing all the usual archetypes are a mixed bag with only Matthias Schweighöfer and the late-in-the-day recast Tig Notaro making any real impact as they’re given all the best lines. Worth watching for the dazzling opening titles montage that’s like what ZOMBIELAND did but with triple the budget and a very Snyder-y needle drop. Whether you’ll want to stay for the rest of this only intermittently entertaining slog is another matter. SSP

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Ben Wheatley Films Ranked

https://www.thefilmagazine.com/ben-wheatley-films-ranked/ SSP

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Review in Brief: Willy’s Wonderland (2021)

WILLY’S WONDERLAND is proof positive that nobody needs to make a FIVE NIGHTS AT FREDDY’S movie now. Nicolas Cage is a silent janitor with borderline superhuman capabilities seemingly imbued by energy drinks fighting animatronic mascots possessed by a cannibal cult. The innate entertainment value of that schlocky premise is boosted by slick execution of the gnarly action scenes and the impressive realisation of the twisted animatronic characters, but is dragged down somewhat whenever the film has to focus on anyone who isn’t Cage. Inevitably a group of teenagers join Cage in the nightmare, seemingly just to act like typical dumb characters in a horror movie and to up the body count. This is a fun little tongue-in-cheek horror that may not do a whole lot that’s new but what it does do it does well and long before it outstays its welcome. SSP

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Review in Brief: The Reckoning (2020)

It’s hard to put your finger exactly on what went wrong with THE RECKONING. It’s director Neil Marshall firmly back in his comfort zone, hybridising horror with another well-trod genre (in this case a historical witchfinder film) and he still makes the most of practical effects and prosthetic creature design (here with the realisation of Lucifer). But whatever the original intention, this ends up a woodenly performed and clumsily executed exploitation film that leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Marshall perhaps imagined this was feminist, but seeing Grace (Charlotte Kirk) go through this much punishment just so she can get her own back in the end has been done with more impact elsewhere. The film’s inconsistency is its most annoying aspect: sometimes characters talk in archaic dialect, sometimes they don’t; sometimes people look dirty and uncomfortable in authentic smocks and tunics, sometimes they look like they’ve just got back from LARPing. Cool final shot, though. SSP

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Review in Brief: Palm Springs (2020)

PALM SPRINGS is a GROUNDHOG DAY-alike that actually manages to surpass Harold Raimis’ classic in many ways. It’s raucously hilarious with some incredibly dark passages but what really makes it special is its unexpected philosophical profoundness and completely earnest sweetness. Nyles (Andy Samberg) and Sarah (Cristin Milioti) get stuck in a time loop and have to re-live Sarah’s sister’s unbearable wedding day for all eternity. We ping back and forth to various loops over an indeterminate amount of time, keeping track of where we are in Nyles’ story by whether he’s in a suit, Hawaiian shirt or some alarming combination of the two. The gags come at you almost too fast to process and you’ll only be rewarded with a pounding headache if you try and apply real-world logic to the central premise, but what you’ll remember most is these two wonderful characters, lost souls given eternity to find their place and to notice each other. SSP

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