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Friday, March 31, 2017

The Bye Bye Man

The Don't Bother, Man.

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

A guy moves into a new house with his girlfriend and best friend but when strange things start happening in the house and tensions rise between all three of them, it becomes evident that a powerful evil is residing among them.

What we thought

If you think that plot synopsis sounds generic, just wait until you've seen the film.

Drawing heavily from every haunted house thriller you could think of, along with everything from Nightmare on Elm Street to the Ring to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bye Bye Bad Man is a highly derivative horror flick that fails miserably to live up to even its humblest of inspirations. And the worst thing is that though it is an abject failure on every level imaginable, it's not even notably bad enough to be interesting on that level and nowhere near rubbish enough to be so bad that it's good. It's just... meh, taken to the extreme – which you might think would be an accomplishment in and of itself but, as it turns out, “meh” to the power of three hundred is still just “meh”.

The only thing remotely interesting thing about this barely made-for-DVD supernatural thriller is it's director Stacy Title, who not only holds the distinction of being one of the very, very few female directors out there to tackle the horror genre (Katherine Bigalow is the only other name I could think of, off hand) but that, after making a couple of not particularly noteworthy but perfectly OK films in the 1990s, she seems to come out of nowhere, roughly once every decade, with the kind of film that steadfastly refuses to make much of an impact on either critics or the box office.

That's honestly about it for the interesting aspects of the film. It does explain why the Bye Bye Man manages to come across as both the work of someone who has seen (and apparently made) enough horror films to know how to adequately put one together and yet has seen too many to actually come up with something even remotely fresh or original. For a filmmaker who works so rarely, you might expect something with a bit more of a personal touch but this is Horror 101.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Ghost in the Shell (2017)

I definitely couldn't let this one go without at least a quick - or not so quick - look in. 

The first thing that's worth mentioning about this not particularly eagerly anticipated remake of the classic 1995 anime is that it's really nowhere near as bad as it could have been. The second is that, as someone who liked the original anime but is far from a diehard fan of it, my opinion might not matter all that much to those who greeted the news of this remake with the most trepidation.

I also haven't read the original manga and my only experience of the ever-widening world of Ghost in the Shell (there was a new animated film released as recently as 2015) beyond the original anime is catching an episode of the Stand Alone Complex TV shows back when they were shown quite regularly as part of an anime block on one of South Africa's long-defunct Sattelite channels. I know enough, however, to know that a different take on Masamune Shirow's original manga is pretty much par for the course right now. Even the original anime was apparently a huge departure from its source.

I mention all this because, though it might be interesting to view the latest version of Ghost in the Shell through totally new eyes, it does undeniably stand in the shadow of the original. At the same time, though, that hardly means that it is automatically worse just because it doesn't follow the original beat for beat.

The best way to describe what director Rupert Sanders and screenwriters Jamie Moss and William Wheeler do with their take on the beloved anime is that they take a number of the most iconic scenes from Mamoru Oshii's original and remixes them into a rather different story.

Monday, March 20, 2017

John Wick: Chapter 2

I'm sorry, but really: ho freakin' hum.

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

Picking up a few days after the first film, John Wick: Chapter 2 finds our eponymous hero once again drawn out of retirement for one last job but when that job doesn't go as planned, he ends up at the top of the hit list for every assassin in the city and beyond.

What we thought

John Wick, released way back in 2014 (it seems more recent), was one of that year's most surprising hits, scoring big with both critics and at the box-office, but having the kind of geeky appeal that resulted in the emergence of a bonafide fan movement for the quietly lethal killer at its centre. The unimaginatively titled Chapter 2 has, if anything, been even more of a success, with sky-high rating from critics and audiences alike and an even bigger box office take.

Frankly, it's all a bit of a mystery to me.

I'd almost credit the huge success of these films as simply being the product of a Hollywood that has largely lost interest in such straightforward action films but that's far less accurate than it might appear at first glance. Yes, most action films these days are wrapped in other genres like science fiction or superhero fantasy but that does a disservice to charismatic action stars like Jason Statham or the Fast and Furious franchise, which has only become more and more enjoyable as it has gotten more and more bonkers. More than that, only a fool would write off major 21st century action films like Haywire, Dredd or the Raid, which easily stand as major milestones for the genre.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Kong: Skull Island

The Ape is back.

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

The year is 1974 and a group of explorers head out to map one of the last unexplored pieces of land on earth: the mysterious Skull Island, but when they get there they find things beyond their wildest imaginings.

What we thought

Rather than picking up where Peter Jackson's overly indulgent but ultimately rather spectacular take on King Kong from, shockingly, over a decade ago, Kong: Skull Island is a whole new take on the classic character that jettisons the more familiar story for something that plays more like a cross between Jurassic Park, Apocalypse Now and the more tangential moments in Jackson's King Kong. The result is an effortlessly fun monster movie but one that definitely pales in comparison to its most obvious influences.

Aside for being hopelessly derivative, almost by definition, the film's main problem is that it is kind of a bloated mess. An enjoyable mess but a mess nonetheless. Along with Kong himself and the half-dozen other types of monsters we meet on Skull Island, the film is overflowing with human characters – most of whom doing very little to add to the story around them. It most especially does a grave injustice to Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston, two dependably top-notch actors who are presumably supposed to be the focal human characters of the piece, but who tend to get lost among the thousand and one elements that the film tries to juggle.

Worse still, Kong himself may be an exceptional creation that not only dwarfs all previous Kongs in size (he's something like four taller than Jackson's King Kong) but also as an artistic and technological achievement (think the latest Planet of the Apes movies but ballooned one-thousand fold), and yet he often feels like a guest star in his own movie.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017


Pretty much everyone else has had their say on this so, despite not disagreeing at all with the general consensus, here's my own undoubtedly quite disorganized take on the X-Men movie none of us knew we wanted.

After the all around terrible X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the thoroughly-lacking-in-its-own-convictions the Wolverine, Logan gives us a Wolverine movie that does the character justice - and then some.

Drawing more from existential westerns like Shane (which actually appears on screen during the movie) and Unforgiven than from the typical superhero narratives we have mostly seen on screen, Logan is a tough, brutal and moody meditation on a life of violence, shot through with an unconventional family drama and healthy helpings of action, humour and sci-fi weirdness.

The story itself is as simple as the title character needing to get a young mutant who is, for all intents and purposes, his daughter across country to the Canadian border where there is a hope of a new and better life for her and other young mutants like her, but entrenched in that stripped down narrative is complex characterization, a rich thematic canvas and, presciently, many a parallel to the United States' current political climate.

Keeping the basic road-trip structure, the western trappings and at least some of the larger themes of Mark Millar and Steve McNiven's Old Man Logan comic book miniseries, Logan still mostly feels like a film with its own very particular vision; one that is presumably much closer to what director James Mangold was able to achieve with the second Wolverine film; a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster that was clearly mired in compromise, especially in its idiotic third act that betrayed everything that came before.

Sunday, March 5, 2017


Almost definitely not the film you're expecting.

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

Following the assassination of her husband, John F Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy is left to pick up the pieces as she is forced to confront both the past and the future and what it means for her family, her faith and her role as the protector of a legacy violently ripped apart on that fateful day in Dallas.

What we thought

Jackie is sure to disappoint you if you go in expecting anything even remotely approaching your average Hollywood biopic. It really is nothing of the sort. Directed by acclaimed Chilean director, Pablo Lorrain (No, Neruda), and, unbelievably, written by Noah Oppenheimer whose only other screenplay credits to date have been Maze Runner and Allegiant, Jackie clearly hews much closer to the work of the former than the latter, as neither its major Hollywood lead actress nor its being in the English language ever manage to obscure just how much it feels like a foreign-language art-house film.

It's a film that has very little in the way of an external plot; focusing far less on the events going on around the widow Kennedy than on her state of mind at the time. It's a thoroughly internalized look at the mind of an undeniably complex woman struggling to make sense of world-altering events that left her personally adrift, on the one hand, while shaking an entire nation, on the other.

Yes, there are tidbits about Kennedy's vice president, Linden Johnson, being sworn as president; the hunt for (alleged) assassin Lee Harvey Oswald; Mrs Kennedy's needing to vacate the White House to make way for the new First Family and even a brief but brutal look at the assassination itself but, intriguingly, the one historical event that the film primarily focuses on is the decision of whether or not to have the funeral preceded by a walking procession in the streets. For a normal historical drama this might seem a rather odd decision but, for the sake of a fiercely character-driven work like Jackie, it provides all the impetus that is needed to explore the mind of its protagonist in rich thematic detail.