Hereditary (2018)

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Hype springs Eternal, especially with horror films, as the 2017 reboot of IT would testify, and it rings true with Hereditary, too, unfortunately. Thinking about it, I suppose it really depends upon what you want from a horror film. Scares, sure, they would seem a prerequisite, but anyone can do scares in movies (well, jumps anyway) – it’s mostly a question of manipulation, timing and throwing a loud ‘boo!’ on the soundtrack. Trickier, really, is establishing a sense of mood and dread, and here Hereditary scores pretty highly. This is a horror film that drips mood and the threat of scares, delivering plenty of creepiness and shocks, which is likely why it received all the hype and positive word of mouth it did.

But for me it lacked any logic, any sense, and the increasing hysterics of the family started to descend into farce long before the film reached its rather Pythonesque conclusion. I think any horror film works best if it can establish some sense of normalcy and then raise the stakes as things go wrong but right from the start the main characters are over the edge, nothing really seems normal and it just goes wilder as it goes on. Okay, here be Spoilers, so here’s a warning, although I’m one of the last few to get around to having seen Hereditary:

A text card states that Annie’s mother has died and the film opens on her family at the funeral. Annie (Toni Colette) is really rather unhinged from the off, and while Colette’s performance has been widely praised it just seemed too crazed for me, leaving her nowhere to go but further Out There. Gabriel Byrne is cast as her husband Steve and he’s utterly wasted here, and fails to have any discernible chemistry at all with Colette, not the only casting crisis of the film (which I’ll turn to later). Events get increasingly nuts (sic) around Steve and he just does nothing in particular, really. The couple’s two kids are frankly peculiar- ten year old Charlie (Milly Shapiro) behaves very oddly cutting off dead birds heads (foreshadowing there, I think) and making odd clucking sounds with her tongue, while teenage Peter (Alex Woolf) mopes around looking permanently terrified, stares forlornly at a girl he fancies and gets high on pot. Normal?

Would any mother insist on sending a ten year old girl with a deadly food allergy to an unsupervised high school party with Peter, and would Peter, intending to smoke pot and hook up with girls at said party, so easily agree to his sister going along? How many high school parties take place in huge luxurious mansions and how many teenage hosts bake fresh cakes in the kitchen (loaded with nuts, naturally)? So without Annie insisting that they take an Epi Pen along with them, when his sister eats the wrong kind of cake and starts to react badly, instead of calling for an ambulance Peter, having already smoked some pot, decides to put his sister Charlie in his car and race through the night to hospital.

So Peter has an accident on route, decapitating, no less, his sister. He then calmly drives home, and goes to bed, leaving his sisters headless corpse on the backseat and her head at the roadside. So next morning whilst he is still in bed Annie goes out to the car and finds her daughters corpse (well part of it) and screams her head off (sic).

Where are the cops in all this? Surely someone finds poor Charlie’s head on the roadside? Surely Annie and Steve have to explain to the police, or even more likely, demand an explanation from the police, regards how Charlie lost her head and died? Manslaughter charges anyone? Driving under the influence? Poor parenting taken to task? Peter’s punishment seems to be that he has to bike to school in future. Indeed, he returns to school soon enough, has a seizure and is sent home having nearly smashed his head to a pulp on his desk. Hello? Hospital anyone? Counselling? Maybe the cops would be interested?  Do they do Social Workers in America, are they a thing over there?

What really sent the film off the rails for me was the frankly bizarre casting of Ann Dowd as Joan, a woman who befriends Annie and sets her on the course of amateur seances and chatting with the dead. I mean, after stints in The Leftovers and The Handmaids Tale as crazy women with dark deeds in their minds, it’s like putting up a red warning light as soon as she appears. Terrible casting- I like Dowd and she was excellent in The Leftovers as a leading figure in a dangerous cult, but this is taking typecasting to some other level. Its lazy and its predictable- is anybody in the audience remotely surprised when it transpires that Joan is up to no good? Its getting so that everytime I see Dowd in something I audibly groan. She’s great at that kind of role but come on, she’s gone to the well too often, its run dry, it’s getting boring now.

It later transpires that Annie’s mother was a Satanist and she spent her life trying (and failing) to bring a demon to the world. It would seem that her Satanist colleagues dug up her body (when Steve is informed of the grave desecration, he decides not to tell Annie- I mean come on, someone’s dug up her mom for goodness sake) and somehow put that body in the family attic without anyone in the family twigging that strange Satanists have been in the house (other than somebody at one point wonder about a bad smell in the house).

Now, I may have it wrong, the film is obtuse to the point of making no sense at all, but it appears that said Demon is inside Charlie and this is why she behaves oddly and she has to die so that the Demon can escape her body, and that Peter has to die so that the Demon can enter his. One person has to die to lose the Demon, another die to be possessed by it? Did Charlie have to die before the Demon could enter her body in the first place, and was it a Satanist that put the nuts in the cake? When you really think about it, nothing in Hereditary really makes much sense. Annie’s mothers decomposing body up in the attic (for whatever reason) is apparently headless and for some reason Annie starts crawling on ceilings acting really unusual after begging Steve to burn one of Charlie’s notebooks and set himself alight in the process. He burns like a Human Torch but doesn’t singe the wooden floor much less burn the house down.

hered2DId I mention that the family also just happen to have a big treehouse across the drive that doubles as a ritual meeting room for the Satanists? DId I see Annie decapitate her own head with cheesewire and then her headless body float through the air into said treehouse?Is that her mom’s also-headless body kneeling alongside her own before the now Demonic Peter?

People took this film seriously.

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Sully (2016)

sully.jpgIt seems to me, particularly with films such as this, that Tom Hanks is our modern-day equivalent of James Stewart- an actor whose onscreen persona is one of moral integrity and doing the right thing. I don’t think we have screen icons like there used to be in the grand old days of Tinseltown (empty and false as they might have been in reality), but Hanks seems to buck that – the cynic in me rather suspects it might just be Hank’s crafty choice of projects/collaborators, or maybe his publicity team, but the other part of me just thinks he’s a genuinely nice guy which reflects on his roles.

I still think he would make a fantastic Bond villain, if only for the shock of casting him against type.

Anyway, I often thought about the great James Stewart whilst watching this film- had this been made back in his day it would have been the perfect role for him. As it is, it’s perfect for Hanks, and possibly the easiest piece of casting for any movie project this decade.

I’ve obviously come to this film rather late, but I must confess it was much better than I had expected, which had been a dry, by-the-numbers account of Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s heroic aversion of an air disaster. I well remember the events of January 15, 2009, when a US Airways flight was struck by a flock of birds soon after takeoff from New York’s LaGuardia Airport. With both engines destroyed, the stricken plane’s veteran pilot glided the stricken plane onto the surface of the Hudson River, the first-ever successful water landing of a jet airliner, and saved the lives of all 155 passengers and crew.

It would have been easy to just introduce some of the passengers back-stories, and that of the crew, prior to the flight and then let the events unfold like any other disaster movie (indeed like those old Airport movies of the 1970s). But the film wasn’t the simple retelling of those events that I had expected, as I didn’t really know the full story; instead the film focuses on the days afterwards and the air investigation into the near-disaster, which threatened to lay the blame on Sully and end his career as a passenger pilot- completely at odds with both the public perception of him as a hero and the idolization of the press who loved the ‘feel-good’ story. As the film’s narrative of the investigation progresses we see the graphic account of the fateful flight I’d expected, but broken into sections/perspectives as its framed by the investigation and scenes of Sully trying to come to terms with the traumatic event.

Commendably the film, directed by Clint Eastwood, doesn’t idolize Sully, but rather portrays him as a guy doing his job in extreme circumstances and somehow coming through. Sully certainly seems a reluctant hero overtaken by events. It is, no doubt, still a feel-good story but it’s grounded with some drama and surprising twists. Much better, and more balanced/complex, than I had expected. Nice one.

Beast (2017)

beast.jpgBeast is a surprisingly fascinating, low-budget UK thriller with a great cast and some lovely location filming. The synopsis however makes it seem more hysterical than the subdued drama it really is- Moll (Jessie Buckley, who is really excellent here), a somewhat rebellious young woman with a traumatic past in which she, ahem, nearly killed a fellow classmate at school, falls for a charming young stranger, Pascal (Johnny Flynn).

Oh dear. Sounds pretty awful teen-angst romantic nonsense, doesn’t it? Well, that’s what I feared, although from the off the execution is pretty great. So it earns a pass and we press on-

Troubled souls sharing a feeling of isolation from the island community around them, the two of them have an affair at odds with the wishes of Moll’s domineering, restrictive mother (Geraldine James channeling all sorts of Queen Bitch of the Universe stuff) – but the island has been troubled by a series of murders of children, and when Pascal is named as a chief suspect, Moll confounds the police by giving her lover a false alibi. Pascal, being an isolated young man with a criminal record, might just be an easy target for the police, who are under all sorts of pressure to arrest someone, but could they be right? Already emotionally fragile and reacting against her controlling family, Moll starts to breakdown under the pressure of her growing suspicions of Pascal and the frenzy of suspicion from the villagers around her who believe she is knowingly protecting a murderer.

Yeah, I had trouble writing that synopsis and making it seem something serious and intelligent, which it is, really, rather than the pulpish romantic potboiler it might seem. There is a sense of darkness throughout, something more in the vein of the Hannibal tv series, say, or even perhaps Blue Velvet, in which the dark underbelly of civilised society is threatened to be lain bare. Its not as subversive as those two examples I’ve mentioned, but there’s certainly, as the film progresses, a growing disquiet that makes the viewer start to wonder what he/she is watching. Moll may not be the reliable witness we think she is, her character and past deeper than might be expected. Jessie Buckley is really great in this- Moll is pretty and intelligent but she’s broken, too, visibly fracturing and at times literally screaming at the world around her. Beast is more of a character piece than might be expected and ultimately succeeds largely due to the two central lead performances. Its a great little UK thriller and certainly worth a watch.

 

Incredibles 2 (2018)

incred2There was a time when Pixar films were something really special. I suppose a part of that was the sheer joy and ‘newness’ of watching fully CG-animated movies, but beyond that, the films themselves were often so finely crafted they were almost, well, perfect. I often remarked in reviews that I truly wished that live-action films were given the level of craft and scrutiny that Pixar films were. Every shot, every paragraph of a script, every mannerism exhibited by the CG characters, the story arcs… I think the Pixar filmography reached its zenith with Ratatouille, which is my personal favourite.

But I really did like The Incredibles, which came out way back in 2004 and it has always surprised me that it didn’t get an immediate sequel – perhaps that should be applauded, that we didn’t get a cynical cash-in, but it does leave the weight of expectation for when this sequel eventually arrived rather high and really, a little unfair.

The Incredibles 2 is perfectly fine but I did think it rather inferior to the original. Maybe it’s just so hard to capture lightning in a bottle, maybe it’s that we just see so many CG-animated movies these days- it’s no longer just Pixar cranking these things out, sometimes it feels like everyone is doing it, and maybe it’s unfair but technically they all seem to look very similar. I suppose they are all using the same CG animation software, in just the same way as so much CGI in live-action films have tended to look very ‘samey’. The only way, perhaps, for Pixar to differentiate itself from the pack, so to speak, is for a Pixar film in theme and craft to distinguish itself by being something special and unique- but everyone else seems to have learned the Pixar game and the ensuing familiarity breeds, if not contempt, then perhaps something approaching weariness.

I am likely being unfair expecting Incredibles 2 to be something exciting and new, but it is surely not unfair for me to have hoped for something less familiar and predictable. Nothing surprised me here. Again, I realise it’s just a family animated movie and not something arthouse or leftfield but still, the lack of ambition here was disheartening. Ratatouille was such a breathless joy, the characters, the heart, the humour, the music, it was so perfect, and the original Incredibles movie was a close second to that film. It felt fresh and… well, maybe too many Marvel and DC superhero capers have put paid to that particular quality.

Incredibles 2 was not incredible. That’s the main issue I have. It was perfectly fine and polished but it wasn’t surprising or enthralling or indeed incredible. It felt almost like a rock groups contractoral second album mimicking their previous hit platter. Hardly surprising in itself but still, disappointing.

(That being said, I will qualify this post with a comment that I watched it on a HD stream that was inevitably lacking what a good blu-ray would look and sound like.  This was mostly because I originally intended to buy a 4K UHD version which Disney here in the UK seem to think we are unworthy of, and well, I decided to be stubborn and vote with my wallet so a cheap £1.99 rental is all Disney get out of me. Not the best way to enjoy this movie then and another strange turn in the story of physical media vs streaming/downloads. I really don’t know what Disney are thinking here, but a worrying sign of the times.)

The 2019 Selection?

I didn’t do it last year (partly because I was consciously trying to limit buying discs), but back in 2017 I ran a regular series of posts entitled ‘The 2017 Selection’ which was a tracker of all the discs I was buying – taking photographs of the expanding number of discs on the shelf and noting when I managed to watch them (or not- one of the first discs I bought that year, which was John Carpenter’s original Assault on Precinct 13 on Blu-ray, ended up being one of the very last titles I actually watched in the tail end of December).

exp3So anyway, let’s resurrect this old beast, shall we? Hopefully I’ll manage to keep the numbers down and quality-level up. Just arrived today through the letterbox has been The Expanse Season Three on Blu-ray, which I bought during a timely sale on Amazon (its since gone back up in price already).

I saw the first season back in 2016, so yeah, way back really, and thoroughly enjoyed it, and then eventually bought the season two set when that fell in price on Amazon, but didn’t get around to watching it. Which would infer I didn’t really enjoy that first season all that much, but that’s really not the case. My problem is that the show is really quite elaborate and complicated (refreshingly so, infact, as I love the idea of a big sci-fi space opera to get my teeth into) but of course separating seasons of it over more than twelve months makes it harder to remember who’s who, what’s what and still get the most out of it. And frankly, there’s just so much stuff to watch it’s easy to get lost in the noise, which is what happened here as I intended to rewatch season one before jumping into the sophomore outing, but got distracted by all the new stuff out there etc… and here we are again, with me still procrastinating over season one with now two seasons  on the shelf.

Well, we’ll see what happens. Hopefully I’ll demonstrate more self-discipline this time around and actually watch season one again and progress onto those later seasons. Its funny though, coming at a series with this kind of delay (I think season three was originally aired several months ago now) and the distance it brings. The Expanse of course actually got cancelled and eventually saved by Amazon, with a fourth season airing on Prime sometime late this year which I’ll probably have to watch via streaming. I do hope a physical release is forthcoming somehow, I’d hate my disc collection to be rendered incomplete, but Amazon don’t have a brilliant track record for allowing some of its programming to be given physical releases (The Man in the High Castle a particular offender- which reminds me I still have to watch season three of that).

Agh, here we go again. The New Golden Age of Television can be a right inconvenient bugger sometimes.

2018 Review: October

Alas, October marked the passing of Judge Dredd artist Carlos Ezquerra, but also the anniversary (a year already!) of watching BR2049 at the cinema, and a busier month for new reviews-

Spectral – Unexpectedly sharing shooting locations with BR2049, I quite enjoyed this dumb slice of action sci-fi and its well worth anyone’s time, especially with a few beers when in the mood for a 1980s-feel film.

The Neon Demon – Well, this one has finally sworn me off any future Nicolas Winding Refn pictures.

R.I.P.D. – As loud and dumb as they come, complete with a horrifying waste of Jeff Bridges. Has film finally come to this, that they can waste an actor like him in trash such as this?

Solo – Mostly harmless, and not a complete disaster, but hardly worthy of the franchise. Likely hampered by terrible casting of the lead, who never really convinces as Han Solo.

Hold the Dark – Beautifully shot, well-acted horror-cum-thriller that frustratingly fails to maintain the grim fascination of its first half.

The Post – There’s not much worse than Oscar bait, unfortunately. Its like watching Hollywood talent devour itself.

Apostle – Timely Netflix horror, admittedly a poor-man’s Wicker Man, it was nonetheless quite enjoyable.

Tomb Raider – Latest reboot/videogame movie. Maybe they should give these things a rest?

Red Sparrow– Very silly spy caper, or something like that, without the espionage or anything resembling a convincing lead character (in this case a ballerina who turns into a cunning female Bond).

Mary Magdalene – Much better than I had expected. I was drawn to it by the Johannsson score (one of his last) and it really elevates the film, but it’s very notable regardless. Reminded me of another great historical drama, the sadly-overlooked Agora.

So ten new reviews, a better return than September, anyway. Hey, it’s getting closer to Christmas, and 2019…

 

 

 

2018 Review: July

July was marked by me starting a number of lengthy posts analysing BR2049 that took up far too much time and nobody read. I got a third one nearly ready to go but never posted it. I figured I’d return to it sometime as I enjoyed doing them (any excuse to rewatch BR2049 is officially A Good Thing in my book), but it was taking too much time to justify, and besides, there’s sure to be actual books about it coming out soon or similar stuff up on the internet already.  Surprisingly, really, I didn’t do too bad with new reviews in anycase:

Mission– French sci-fi must be an acquired taste, it was pretty sour to me. Funnily enough another Mars adventure, The First (which I reviewed a few days ago) was coming up that was much classier/serious than this silly nonsense- maybe my high evaluation of The First owes much to how daft this was.

How It Ends – An ironic title, as it turned out.

Calibre- Scottish Deliverance.

The Frankenstein Chronicles Season One– This was a great period horror series, I was a bit late catching up with it but glad I did.

Wind River – One of the best films I’ve seen this year, I think.

The Foreigner – A pretty fun, low-demand thriller that was more entertaining than I expected.

Resolution – This was fantastic, alongside its sequel/part two which follows next. A low-budget Lovecraftian sci-fi/horror that is genuinely disturbing and fascinating.

The Endless – Follow-up to Resolution, which it accompanies on Arrows excellent double-bill Blu-ray.  Not quite as good as the first film, but really, both are better than most sci-fi films coming the mainstream route. Anybody who got a kick from Annihilation would enjoy these two.

Eight reviews then, two of which were tv shows that take longer to watch for obvious reasons. July also unfortunately marked the passing of author Harlan Ellison and artist Steve Ditko, both of which I wrote posts about. I also wrote my first 4K review, which was a rewatch of the first Deadpool movie. Busy month, all told.