Saturday, 21 March 2020

Review: M.O.M. (Mothers Of Monsters)


This post originally appeared at SetTheTape.com


M.O.M. (Mothers Of Monsters)
Cert: TBC / 98 mins / Dir. Tucia Lyman / Trailer


M.O.M. (Mothers Of Monsters) is the feature-debut of writer and director Tucia Lyman, having honed her craft in television for over a decade. Set in 2018, the film follows Abbey Bell (Melinda Page Hamilton, God Bless America) as the 40-something single parent of 16 year old Jacob (Bailey Edwards, Bright), struggling to cope with her son’s surly and erratic attitude. Abbey finds evidence that Jacob is planning a school shooting, and installs covert CCTV throughout the family home to monitor his behaviour. Initially this is to be passed to the authorities who have so far declined involvement with her concerns, but Abbey eventually begins posting the clips to an online support group for mothers in similar situations.

It’s this collated and edited video (with the addition of sequences from phones and laptops) that forms the presentation, a found-footage movie for an age of digital surveillance*1. Overall, the film is noncommittal as to who has assembled this final cut and through whose eyes the audience is watching, but it’s a smart move as Lyman is great at establishing and raising tension through a combination of fisheye lens claustrophobia and uncomfortably long scenes.

PRIMARY



Melinda Page Hamilton and Bailey Edwards give very strong performances in their primary roles, bolstered by a small cast earnestly playing friends, family members and counsellors. Most notable among these is the near-legendary Ed Asner, literally phoning Skyping in a single scene which feels for all the world like a favour being done to secure a high-profile name for the DVD cover.

The support-group background allows for a lot of to-camera explanation of behavioural tendencies that would otherwise seem clunky, yet there’s still a disconnect between the dialogue feeling heavily scripted and a visual style that leans on realism. Found-footage may not be an original methodology, but it’s probably for the best; had this been shot and assembled as a traditional thriller, the whole thing would have the air of a daytime TV movie.

DOLLYPARTON'SCOATOFMANY


As it develops, M.O.M. becomes less about adolescent criminal psychology and more the dysfunctional relationship between a mother and her son, a study of PTSD as secrets are slowly uncovered. References to self-harm and suicide follow the thematic drift of the screenplay but are in danger of seeming exploitative. As Jacob cycles through teenage irritability, conspiracy theories, sadism and outright racism*2, the portrayal of heavyweight subject-matter borders on cliché, but the conviction of the cast pulls it back. Just.

For its small scale, this is a bold production with plenty to admire. Tight editing and a punchy 98 minute runtime work in its favour, yet it becomes increasingly unclear where the focus of the story actually lies. The film doesn’t seem to have the courage of its convictions when it comes to being morally provocative; not claiming to hold all the answers, while seeming to forget what questions were being asked to begin with.

M.O.M. (Mothers Of Monsters) is interesting.

But with issues this emotive, interesting isn't quite enough…



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
If you enjoyed Searching, this is better.
But it's not as arresting as Unfriended: Dark Web
.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
This one's straight-to-domestic, I'm afraid.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Definitely stream it before hunting out a hard-copy.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
I can't make that call, but I hope not.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
That's possible.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: The voice of Jabba The Hutt in the Return Of The Jedi Radio Drama is in this.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 The film's 'laptop-screen' framing device works well until the (initially) unseen viewer drags forward through some footage, complete with FFWD scan-lines. While this is a perfectly serviceable visual cue, they're a throwback to the days of analogue tapes which don't appear when viewing digital files on a computer. And sure, that's a very small point to pick up on, but it happens so often as to be distracting. [ BACK ]

*2 I confess, dear reader, to raising something of an eyebrow when Abbey is completely aghast at discovering that her son has a gasmask with a swastika on it, around five minutes after she's shown introducing his pet lizard, "Adolf". Well, quite. There is the thought that the film may be paraphrasing Jojo Rabbit with an undercurrent of "He's not really a nazi, he's just a deluded arsehole who likes swastikas." Until you realise that's what nazis are anyway. [ BACK ]




DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Review: Bloodshot



Bloodshot
Cert: 12A / 109 mins / Dir. Dave Wilson / Trailer

'Ooh look!' shrills the marketing, 'it's made from off a bestselling comic book!!'. Yeah mate, so was Men In Black and Valerian, what's your point?

So, a larger-than-expected turnout*1 for Bloodshot, the latest Sony-punted vehicle for Vin Diesel as a nano-tech reconstructed super-soldier with a wipe-clean memory, working for a shadowy private security operation and in-turn the highest unethical bidder.

Playing out like Robocop watched Iron Man 3 and Total Recall then hate-fucked xXx, there's not a mortal foe our hero can't pound into submission, nor a plot-marker which will cause him to develop one single iota...

The most acting our man has to do here is that constipated look when Mrs Bloodshot gets Fridged before the title sequence has even landed*2. No small part of the problem is that the star apparently won't allow (or perhaps choose) roles where his character possesses any actual flaws that can be resolved during the story, being saddled instead with the unfixable one-dimensionality which only Diesel™ can bring to the screen*3.

To be fair, there is an interesting reality-shift in the film's second act. Well, it's interesting until the film uses this to segue into an even more hackneyed version of itself instead. For a story this linear it sure as hell drags along, refusing to admit defeat until what is essentially an animated finale leaves no deus exes machina'd.

Oh, and 12A-friendly dick jokes are the worst dick jokes.

Across all cultures and media, science-fiction is a means of exploring humanity's limitations by creating futures without boundaries, of revealing the fantastical potential and pitfalls within our mundane form. Bloodshot however is a two hour VFX demo-reel of lensflared bullet-time; a pixel-y, entry-level action sci-fi b-movie with recycled plot-lines, more explosions than IQ points and a testosterone level which would be lethal in humans, all told with primary colours, white noise and reassuringly small words.

Bloodshite.




So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Remember that time Vin Diesel made a laughably bad movie about his own D&D character? Bloodshot is somehow worse than that, but very much on the same shelf.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
It is not.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
It is not.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It is not.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Go on, have a guess.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I heard.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Toby 'Additional Voices In The Old Republic is in this, and while I can't quite tell if the accent is meant to be Brisbane, Cape Town or Bethnall Green, he certainly seems to be having more fun than I did...


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 No shut-in virus paranoia for the people of Greenwich, mind you. I looked round during the trailers and thought 'blimey this is busy', then noticed that around half of the audience were kids. And that's fine, Bloodshot is a 12A after all, but Vin Diesel is basically making kids' action movies now. He's finally found an audience who'll take him seriously, if only because they haven't finished growing up yet. The question was of course, would the film be good enough to keep a fidgety adolescent audience engaged? Or perhaps more pertinently, would it be loud enough to drown them out, if not? Guess which one of these gets a "YES"... [ BACK ]

*2 It's faintly ironic that I watched this movie directly after a true story from fifty years ago pointing out that the patriarchy was ultimately making everything shit. [ BACK ]

*3 Hahaha, I joke of course.
Wahlberg, Damon or Skein would easily be able to play Derek Bloodshot to precisely the same effect. [ BACK ]



DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Review: Misbehaviour



Misbehaviour
Cert: 12A / 106 mins / Dir. Philippa Lowthorpe / Trailer

Bolstering the March schedules comes the crowd-pleasing portrayal of the infamous events surrounding the 1970 Miss World contest, touching as it does on misogyny, racism, conformity and activism. Don't worry, it's not as heavy as all that sounds. Which turns out to be a problem, if anything. The main hurdle not quite cleared by Misbehaviour is that the story is about the ongoing struggle against women being reduced to entertainment. A struggle which is, for the most part, reduced to entertainment.

The outstanding cast of Keira Knightley, Jessie Buckley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Keeley Hawes, Loreece Harrison and a criminally-wasted Lesley Manville arguably handle the story's racial politics with more dexterity than the sexism, but still with surprisingly few sharp edges. Spirited performances from Rhys Ifans and Greg Kinnear wisely resist going full-pantomime under the director's auspices (very much the point, in fact), and are better for it.

Director Phillippa Lowe just about spins the plates of highlighting exploitative behaviour and the fact that the competition does mean a lot to its contestants. It just does this in a way that's not going to challenge or upset its audience*1. In its weaker moments, Misbehaviour feels like a victory-lap for a race that's still ongoing (a point it acknowledges in closing). Awareness is everything of course, and I certainly won't criticise the film's intention, but there's a more biting, urgent and ultimately satisfying movie to be made here. With Lowe at the helm of Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe's screenplay, the film may not be bound by the patriarchy but it's still very much a part of the cinematic establishment.

This is at its best during quieter scenes, when the script has more to say and can be heard more clearly. There's some fantastic character-interplay between Knightley and Buckley, then Harrison and Mbatha-Raw. Gugu is probably better than the rest of the film in fact, although that's not unusual. But at the end of the day it's a textbook Pathé Films offering with Nina Gold casting and too many musical montage sequences; this has West End Stage Adaptation written all over it...

Misbehaviour is good.
Is good enough?




So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
It's a bit Made In Dagenham, a bit Kinky Boots, a bit Pride.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
It is.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
It is.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Sadly not.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
That's a distinct possibility.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Sabé and Commander D'Acy are in this.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Unless my wishing for a grittier interpretation of the story is the challenge, of course. [ BACK ]

DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Friday, 13 March 2020

Review: My Spy



My Spy
Cert: 12A / 99 mins / Dir. Peter Segal / Trailer

Well, with ‘that virus’ stepping up to the pandemic plate and causing increasing dents in the cinematic schedule*1, we have to take what big-screen entertainment we can get and when we can get it. Cue a stroll down to my local for a minimal-contact screening of the new Dave Bautista flick, My Spy. The short version goes like this:

Something something, Russian/French gangsters; something something, CIA undercover stakeout mission; something something, brick-shithouse action hero ends up assisted by a smart, sassy 9yr old girl who happens to be the child of a hot single mother. Cue falling over, mawkish bonding, clumsy dad-dancing, slo-mo explosions and wildly ill-judged cultural crossover references. This is a kids’ comedy with one ‘bitch’, one ‘shit’ and two ‘dick’s, just enough to pull it over the line for a 12A certificate. You have seen this before.

I went in to My Spy with moderate-to-low expectations and boy does this movie deliver. Never as awful as something like Little, there’s nonetheless a sense of gringind, underachieving autopilot*2 to the proceedings. Bautista (the second superhero currently proving his best work is within the MCU) is basically interchangeable with Schwarzenegger, Johnson and even Cena here, such is the screenplay's lack of identity. With backup from genre stalwarts Ken Jeong and Kristen Schaal, it’s tempting to think that everyone involved is better than this. Yet their paid-for presence proves they clearly aren’t.

Plot markers and callbacks to other (better) movies are shamelessly ticked off as we speed toward a literal cliff-edge finale. By this time, the film actually has picked up quite a lot, but has definitely not earned that uplift. The good news is that My Spy is exactly what you expect it to be. The knock-on is that you should probably know better by now…



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
This is Stuber meets Playing With Fire.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Nope.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Stream it for your kids.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Nope.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Possible.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There is.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Parisa Fitz-Henley's in this, and she was in that Fantasy Island (earlier this week, no less) alongside Ian 'Ganwick Trag' Roberts and Goran D. 'Lampay Fay' Kleut.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 As well as the widely publicised Bond delay, the last few days have seen cancellations of next week's A Quiet Place double-bill and a Cineworld Unlimited screening of Dream Horse. The second of those I'm basically fine with, but it's the short notice due to twitchy distribution companies that really stings... [ BACK ]

*2 From the writers of Battleship, The Meg and Red 2, you say? Well, how could I not..? [ BACK ]


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Monday, 9 March 2020

Review: Blumhouse's Fantasy Island



Blumhouse's Fantasy Island
Cert: 15 / 109 mins / Dir. Jeff Wadlow / Trailer

I was reminded this evening of a point mid-way through The Empire Strikes Back, where Yoda is trying to calm Luke Skywalker the fuck down before he steps into a cave overgrown with foliage and neglect. In his own cryptic way, the Jedi master cautions his young charge that anything is possible once he crosses the threshold, that reality is relative. That before Luke can commit to seeking any answers, he needs to fully understand the questions.

Similar to most people handed such an opportunity, Luke grasps it with both hands and little thought. And similar to most of those, he realises in short order that the deal was probably too good to be true. Typical.

Welcome, to Blumhouse's Fantasy Island*1...

CLASSIC


A re-imagining of the classic TV show*2, Jeff Wadlow's movie sees the linen-suited Mr Roarke (Michael Peña) alongside his personal assistant Julia (Parisa Fitz-Henley) and a small army of burly minions as the custodians of the eponymous landmass. We join them as The Plane*3 touches down carrying new guests; Gwen (Maggie Q), Patrick (Austin Stowell), Melanie (Lucy Hale) and brothers J.D. (Ryan Hansen) and Brax (Jimmy O. Yang).

These are competition winners come to have their deepest wishes granted by means which haven't been revealed. Melanie's involves revenge on a high-school bully (Sloane, played by Portia Doubleday), while the surrounding jungle is being stalked by (among others) private-eye Damon (Michael Rooker, expertly munching through the scenery). The only rules in place are that each guest is only allowed one fantasy which cannot be changed, and that these must be played out to their natural conclusion. And so, the protagonists begin living their heart's desires in startlingly realistic fashion, as alarm bells begin to clamour around them.

BENTLEY


So. With The Invisible Man also currently in cinemas, Fantasy Island is indicative that Blumhouse are happy to be the platform for a variety of approaches (not to mention margins of quality) to contemporary horror, rather than maintaining a position as fierce gatekeepers of the brand. Given the presence of Peña, Rooker and Maggie Q, I was quite surprised that the film received such a low-key release in the UK. Then I realised it had opened six weeks earlier in the US and had received a thorough drubbing. That I had to actively seek out this mainstream flick has 'Q1 tax loss' written all over it.

An exploration of longing, repression and contractual small-print, the film is batshit crazy and unfocused as hell and probably all the better for it.

It's a simple enough premise laced with foreboding, scripted (for the very most part) in a nuts-and-bolts way, but the intent is clear even if the direction feels erratic. Part of the problem is that after the setup, the quartet of intercut storylines feels like too many plates being spun slightly too far apart. Three may have been more manageable in terms of screen-time (particularly since two of the four deal with familial guilt), but they at least converge in the final act.

LARGE COTTAGE


One slight twist on the expected format is that this isn't just a nerfed down Saw-like morality tale. The partying brothers J.D. and Brax are meant to be boorishly hedonistic, yet I liked them anyway with their genuine affection and support for one another. Ditto Melanie's initial high-school revenge fantasy; absolutely fine by me. And who's never wished they could change a pivotal moment in their past? Because writers Jeff Wadlow, Jillian Jacobs and Chris Roach take their time in explaining exactly why this is all happening, there's little room for the viewer's brain to rail against the how. And even when that reveal lands, the only logical reaction is 'well, I've seen it working, so...'

Yet the heavily established the in-universe rules do seem to shift and change as we move along. And not in ways which develop, reveal or subvert the audience's expectation of the plot; more as if the scribes have painted themselves into several corners, and hope that the audience won't notice the walls of the maze being moved while they're still looking at them. This is a solid second-draft screenplay, but definitely not 'finished'.

Convoluted to the point of incoherence, this feels a bit like it should have been made two decades ago, but too few studio-horror movies don't, these days. The performers are having a good time and it's undemanding in the long-run. I've certainly seen a lot worse lauded as much better.


Blumhouse's Fantasy Island plays out like a dream. There are points of familiarity everywhere, even though the overall direction seems to be out of control. And there's probably some meaning among it all, but the gut feeling is that it's best not to over-analyse this many influences jostling for subconscious position.

What's in there? Only what you take with you...



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Think The Belko Experiment, Escape Room, The Cabin In The Woods and a little bit of Saw, all dusted with the spirit of Agatha Christie.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
It's likely you won't get the opportunity, but if it's your thing then yes...


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
...because this will probably lose a lot of its charm on the journey to your living room TV.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Let's not go mad.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
That seems likely, given its reception.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I heard.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Ganwick Trag and Lampay Fay are in this.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…
I mean it's not a strong 5, but I don't do half-marks and it's more enjoyable than a 4. I don't need to see Fantasy Island again and certainly have no hankering for a sequel or spinoff, but it's diverting enough for its run-time.


*1 The BBFC card and film's own title-caption state "Blumhouse's", rather than just "Fantasy Island". What manner of intellectual property wrangling is this? Is the Blumhouse tag there to proclaim the darker tone in advance for potentially civilian audiences, or have they somehow bought the rights to the premise yet not the original name?? [ BACK ]

*2 I remember the programme existing, but don't recall ever watching it. And yet as bizarre as this film iteration is, everything within does seem like 'the natural conclusion' of the overall premise, and I can't imagine things going that wrong on a weekly basis... [ BACK ]

*3 Extra cojones-points for the number of times "The plane! The plane!!" is shoehorned into the script. Like I said, i didn't watch this and even I know the catchphrase... [ BACK ]


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.