Assassination Nation (2018)

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When a film begins by rattling through a list of trigger warnings, you know you’re in for a wild ride and some aspects will likely sit uncomfortably with people making them #triggered, as the youths now say but if you can stomach everything from nasty slurs to torture then you won’t be disappointed.

In the town of Salem, four young friends share almost every secret. Lily (Odessa Young) has her own sordid private life which could become extremely public as a run of hacks hit the people of the town, from political figures to cheerleaders. It isn’t long until Salem is swept up by a hysteria and these four girls are its target.

Now, this visceral flick comments that it is a “1000% true story”, which it isn’t but the satirical elements which elevate to crazy heights could easily be perceived as based on true events what with the screen-obsessed world we currently live in. Sam Levinson, on only his second feature film is someone to watch because this is a bold, exploitative movie with a lot to say. There is a whole mound of style layered over the simple story of personal truths spilling over to be accessed information by all.

For a while this is a movie which looks like a red, white and blue tinged frat dream; almost a bubblegum start which greatly and swiftly pops like dynamite. It’s a revenge film ripe for our times, pumping with violence, social dramatics and a soundtrack which pulsates through you. It’s easy to say this is a film revelling in blood and shock but in fact it’s an engrossing cautionary tale of how affected by social media we are, how hear say is damaging and the struggles of what people expect of us can boil over. These themes are massively relevant and perfectly handled in a neat black comedy/thriller.

If you saw ‘Revenge’ earlier in the year, then this is a film that reminds you of the vengeful attack demonstrated by Coralie Fargeat. There’s a similar aggression soaking the narrative and amped up camera tricks and shots construct a blistering treat for the eyes. A smooth one-shot sequence which follows the red coated gals from outside a house is exceptional in terms of craft and building tension, more than this it works fantastically by making us voyeurs, the very people this film is right to judge.

It isn’t only voyeurism which is barbed, the fragile male ego from the outset is listed as an oncoming point for the film and this dangerous weapon is definitely shown off. On top of this there is the very real problem of mob mentality which is utilised within the later stages of the film and would do enough to scare off ‘The Purge’ inhabitants. These alarming issues are brilliantly opposed by the actors playing the teenage women. Odessa Young is front and centre and is a force to be reckoned with as she stands strong, even when torn apart by those around her.

Surely it’s no happy coincidence that Levinson sets this blood-fuelled story in Salem. The electrically charged events, mirror the witch trials from 326 years ago. The friends are damaged and headhunted by technology and townsfolk with no morals or thought process. Their own trial is as utterly useless to survive against unless they rise up. The female empowerment may be through thinly drawn characters but it’s evident and makes for a powerful final image before the credits appear.

‘Assassination Nation’ has some obvious story moments but there’s plenty of black humour and unsettling madness in a superb pulpy exhilarating show, one that wakes you up to the climate against women and rings social media alarm bells.

8/10

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The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018)

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The ‘Millennium’ series of books by author Stieg Larsson was first brought to life on the big screen in Swedish drama/thriller ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ with Noomi Rapace playing the lead in a trilogy, later the first story was remade by David Fincher and that’s where it ended…until now. Acting as a kind of reboot and telling a new story featuring Larsson’s characters, would this film warrant a fresh take?

Righter of wrongs Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy) is a top class hacker. She’s called to help Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant) who wants his nuclear based program moved out of the reach of potential danger. None more so than the Spiders who track Balder to grab his FireFall program for world destroying gain. Salander has more to face when she realises the centre of the Spider’s web is controlled by someone she knows.

Fede Alvarez has a small but superb track record with ‘Don’t Breathe’ and the remake of ‘The Evil Dead’ under his belt so you’d think he’d be a dab hand at kicking life back into the American re-telling of the Lisbeth saga. In a way he is, he ensures the film features a tingling amount of action but in terms of the intoxicating mystery and complex darkness it leaves a lot to be desired.

This feature comes across like a slick espionage action/thriller when it should be more focused and driven by the complicated, rebellious profile of its central character. It doesn’t help that even the opening credits are like a wannabe James Bond sequence. On top of this, throughout the narrative there are number of plot conveniences which make you roll your eyes and a last act sequence is almost laughable in how 007-like the heroine is helped along.

Honestly, the film isn’t awful, there are some great visuals and gripping moments but it would have been a darn sight better if the promotional side didn’t reveal so much through their trailers. The fact they included a substantial spoiler and chunk of a final confrontation in their first trailer is ridiculous and inexcusable and goes a long way in terms of trailer content for a lot of films these days. If you haven’t seen anything about this film then you’re in luck because the story will probably be more engaging when you don’t know exactly how everything will play out.

Claire Foy with her multiple piercings, ruffled black hair and leather trousers is a world away from her regal perfection as the Queen in ‘The Crown’, but she’s just as brilliant here. She knocks back any critics who’d deem her the wrong choice for Lisbeth as she embodies the grungy hacker with grit. Sure, her accent does slip into sounding like Elizabeth II with a Swedish lilt from time to time but aside from this Foy is a cool positive for the film.

‘The Girl in the Spider’s Web’ is a reasonably entertaining film but nowhere near as dark and riveting as the 2009 original. Everything is just polished too much that it takes away from what Lisbeth Salander represents.

5.5/10

Suspiria (2018)

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Premiering at the Venice Film Festival, ‘Call Me By Your Name’ director Luca Guadagnino’s homage to the 1977 ‘Suspiria’ is a film that has vastly polarised critics and audiences alike and is definitely an example of a weirdly hypnotising film, whether it be good or bad.

Dancer Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) has always felt an urge to be where top choreographer Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) is. This desire takes Susie to the Tanz Academy in Berlin where she quickly grows accustomed to the methods of Blanc and other madams and their front as a dance school slowly disappears to reveal them as a chorus of witches.

Off the bat I must admit I have not seen the Dario Argento original but shall definitely seek it out after watching…whatever this was. The whole look of this update doesn’t go down the usual glossier redo but keeps the film in bland, bleak tones of browns, greys and whites which makes the bursts of red all the more alarming. The entire feature has this odd pull; like it’s drawing you into a state of hypnosis which nicely mirrors the inexplicable connection Susie has always had with Madame Blanc.

Guadagnino utilises on some neat shots and clever style choices throughout this film. Whether the frame rate is slowed right down or cameras suddenly whip and zoom toward someone, there’s definitely a smart tactic made by the director in presenting this strange horror with a flair of confidence and compelling curiosity.

People will likely be talking about the near final scene for a while. A carnival of Dionysus proportions with a river of red is outlandish and mad. This creepy coven shows off a beastly display of blood and ritual that is so horrific and over the top that it’s very nearly unintentionally amusing. Better flashes of horror comes from a dance section with the ladies draped in ropes of red which is amazingly choreographed and an earlier back and forth rite of passage between a debut rehearsal and a victim trapped in her own freakish hall of mirrors. This moment is squeamish and damn effective.

‘Suspiria’ does have an abundance of flaws though, a major one lies with the screenwriter’s choice to present the narrative in a 1970’s setting with too much room spent on the aftermath of the Berlin divide and post-war anxieties and grief. This theme is fine but on the whole it drastically takes away from what could have been a more focused look at just the dance academy and its witches. Thom Yorke’s soundtrack provides a heavy dose of piano which adds to the mesmerising quality but often makes the movie like a lullaby to rest your eyelids to. Also, that carnival explosion of gore and coven craziness has a great sinister sound backing the visuals and then Yorke’s vocals come in again and make the whole thing feel dreamy and ridiculous.

Johnson definitely knocks back anyone who says she can’t act because her turn as Bannion is a fantastic journey of passion, training and a personal core of unsettling change to where she ends up. Swinton is as strangely alluring and magnetic as always, just the way she delivers her lines like a precise poet carries a maternal yet worrying edge. The likelihood is that she also plays two other characters and one is of an aged male doctor which further proves what a brilliant chameleon Swinton is as an actor.

‘Suspiria’ to the uninitiated really goes places you won’t expect and feels like a mysterious yet slow descent into hell. It’s often too drab and floaty but has great attacks of visual horror along the way.

4.5/10

Widows (2018)

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Steve McQueen is certainly an influential figure, his tiny collection of works being as powerful as a director with numerous features. This 2018 release sees the British director slightly move away from drama as he presents audiences with a smart heist thriller.

After Harry Rawlins (Liam Neeson) and his crew end up dead following an attempt to steal millions of dollars, their widows are left facing a dangerous choice. Harry’s wife Veronica (Viola Davis) is threatened by the man whose money was lost and she has a month to pay that cash back. Instead of sitting by, she stands up for the count and receives help from two of the other women, as they plan their own score.

With McQueen and novelist Gillian Flynn behind the screenplay you’d be correct in expecting a slick thriller with turns and the pair of them do incorporate some riveting unexpected curves into the narrative. That is not the be all and end all though, they’re not going down the easier route of just creating a twisty thriller for the sake of it, it’s 100% clear that Flynn and McQueen are interested in the characters and their motivations.

On reflection, there are times when you wonder why the three other ladies are sticking with Veronica but this is just a mere fraction of a niggle that is swiftly lost once the plan takes shape. As the latter stages of the film arrive and their heist takes flight, then you’re in for one hell of a ride; a brilliant burst of tense thriller perfection that latches on and won’t let go.

The characters are what keep the tension ticking, even if Veronica feels like the most fleshed out. The other three widows and a driver are less focused on but they provide a good dose of feminine smarts, will, vulnerability and engrossing power to keep us connected to their predicaments. It could be that I was expecting more, but the story amongst the character work, isn’t as magnetic as I’d hoped but there is plenty of style to make for a worthy movie.

Veronica Rawlins is so damn captivating and that’s down in most part to the dominating talents of Viola Davis. She is formidable as this broken yet unbreakable female force. Elizabeth Debicki and Michelle Rodriguez are strong too but aspects of their characters feel off, down to the development in the plot not their acting. There a couple of brilliantly heated scenes between the reliable Colin Farrell and the great Robert Duvall. Daniel Kaluuya is incredible as a wholly mean, unpredictable presence, he sells this vicious streak with masterful skill, making Jatemme Manning someone to truly fear.

‘Widows’ is perhaps not as tight knit all the way through as it could have been but the final parts are filled with adrenaline and dynamic tension. Women are in it together and they definitely have the balls to pull off a watchable thriller.

7/10

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

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All roads lead here, the poster states and this is a road I’d been eagerly travelling down as I looked forward to its release. The trailer captured a perfect sense of mystery, doom and humour which are all wonderfully present throughout the entire feature. ‘Bad Times at the El Royale’ is a mixed bag but never a bad movie.

The El Royale is a bi-state hotel situated between Nevada and California; a place that used to be hustlin’ and bustlin’ but is now a cheap stopover for random drifters. The film sees four people staying and each have their own reasons to why they’ve ended up there.

This is a film of two halves and you can really feel when the film switches up and becomes almost a very different product. A shady figure appears dripping from the rain and that’s when you could almost check out of this thriller. It’s a shame because all the subplots are captivating tales but this one spills over into the main event and lessens what had come before. It’s almost as if the movie somewhat loses its grip on the hotel as a character.

The El Royale most certainly is an interesting character and it’s glorious production design give it a great stamp of dated period visuals. The red line streaking through the middle as it splits up the pair of states is a fun starting point for this film to create a business with odd quirks. The mystery of what the hotel management may really be up to and the secrets it possesses are vaguely lost as the aforementioned subplot takes precedence.

You can definitely tell that the director and co-writer of ‘The Cabin in the Woods‘ is behind this, as he plays around with tropes of the thriller genre with gleeful skill as he did with comedy and horror in that 2012 flick. Drew Goddard doesn’t go as extreme with this movie and perhaps this is what the film lacks because there isn’t quite the desired oomph to the later stages of this feature. Goddard’s script kind of paces out in the last forty minutes very nearly making the film feel like a wasted opportunity.

All the customer interactions are ace though and the initial set up of this dual state establishment is solid. There’s a remarkable mysterious tone swirling around who these people might be and why they are there. Chapter title cards signalling the character subplots provide the film a TV serial identity and keeps the audience easily tracking the criss-cross narrative of these characters as their paths unite.

‘Bad Times’ is a great ensemble piece and a whole host of talented actors enjoy running amok in this bold story. Dakota Johnson, Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo and Chris Hemsworth are just a few of the names that round out a top tier cast. In the film there’s a nice tender moment between Bridges’ Father Flynn and Miles played by Lewis Pullman, the latter is really something throughout this film, he quivers with a knowing dissatisfaction to what the hotel can mean for people who enter. Jon Hamm is a hammy salesman with great comic delivery but he owns a serious side as his motives become clear and then there’s Erivo who has stunning vocals and balances her singing prowess with emotion and a resilient force to survive.

A thick layer of atmosphere and drip-feeding of mystery help this film feel positively original and a series of delectable performances keeps the investment at a high but ‘Bad Times’ cannot quite keep up momentum and becomes an almost vacant space.

7/10

Mile 22 (2018)

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Director Peter Berg and actor Mark Wahlberg have teamed up for the fourth time for this action outing. Their past efforts may have picked up acclaim and entertainment value in equal measures but this is the dud of the bunch by a mile…or 22.

After an operation at a Russian safe house, a strike-force are still on the hunt for caesium, before it could devastate thousands of lives. Li Noor (Iko Uwais) hands himself in to the U.S Embassy in Indonesia, claiming to have memorised the code to open a powerful disc which holds the location of the caesium. An Overwatch team led by Jimmy Silva (Wahlberg) need to transport Noor, 22 miles to a plane so he can claim asylum and tell them the code.

This so called action thriller is a nasty tolerance test of how long you can stomach watching the confusing film play on. It’s an extremely manic movie, one that makes your eyes hurt from the dizzying back and forths between scenes that seem to bear no connection. The editing resembles Jimmy’s repetitive wristband flicking; a sharp snap series of cuts which causes an unwelcome headache, so many of the fight scenes are shoddily edited that you just can’t see what’s happening.

Easily this could have been a rip-roaring short little brutal flick which sees characters heading from point A to point B, instead it feels like 2 hours when it’s only 94 minutes long. Any chance of ‘The Raid’ like antics and combat are lost thanks to the director and cast taking themselves and the dull story way too seriously. It’s a hot mess of a plot with atrocious dialogue and moments where the screenplay believes it’s being light-hearted and amusing are misfires or plainly misplaced.

In all honesty, I checked out of the movie 15 minutes in and let the rest of the near constant screaming of curse words and bloody violence play out as some cloudy filler in front of my hardly attentive eyes. It’s a film which boils down to the most simple reveal and is completely unsatisfying so I dread to think what someone who was invested in the film would think to this lazy conclusion.

One character comments that Jimmy Silva may have a personality disorder and he’s clearly meant to be different but Wahlberg is annoying quite frankly, as a fellow Overwatch member states he’s an asshole. In fact one of the major problems, amongst many, is that the entirety of the strike-force are unlikable and they lead the film to be a disengaging shambles. Iko Uwais is the only meagre redemption for the movie, his action skills are impressive but not enough to save the movie from the dire bog of rubbishness that it is.

‘Mile 22’ is simply put, a terrible feature from point A to point B. Jimmy Silva says at one point, “the end of an operation is euphoric”. Well, I experienced euphoria at the end too, because the film was over.

2/10

 

The Predator (2018)

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A lot of talk has been going on as of late with ‘The Predator’ and most of it isn’t about the movie itself, so with these dramatic revelations does Shane Black’s recent feature manage to pull through or is it not worth the time?

After a Predator ship crashes to Earth, sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) makes first contact but is soon captured and dispatched to a rag-tag of veterans by Will Trager (Sterling K. Brown). As these lethal aliens come after their armour; McKenna, the vets and evolutionary expert Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) team up to hunt the hunters.

I must admit that I have never seen any other film from the ‘Predator’ franchise so maybe that aided my amusement to watching this one. There is a great bundle of fun to be had though, if you can ignore some awful Rasta-dogs, plenty of guts, expletives and explosions fill the screen with such giddy abandon that makes this a sci-fi horror like the saga is known for but a crimson soaked comic thriller instead.

This almost non-stop action and comedy comes right out of the Shane Black book of movie-making. Sure, it isn’t set during Christmas but Black writes in plenty of witty dialogue that chips in and out of the impending danger. McKenna doesn’t just have one other person to riff with like other Black screenplays, i.e ‘The Nice Guys’ or ‘Lethal Weapon’, he has a whole bus full of characters to make this movie burst to the seams with laddish humour.

Comedy and ripped intestines don’t prevent the third act from feeling like a sore spot. The film descends into being overly ridiculous and more than a couple of times you can see really shameful uses of CGI. A sequence that is all about a blood sport of hunt and kill should have been way more exciting than it was. A big reason as to why this section doesn’t work comes down to the frantic editing and characters that just disappear or are culled which you can’t quite keep up with.

Aside from this weak final twenty minutes, the movie is a dumb joy to behold and a large feature of that joy boils down to the acting in the brotherhood which manifests between McKenna and a squad of men with extreme characteristics. Holbrook keeps up a near-constant grimace and aggression and Keegan-Michael Key is a big player in padding the film with plenty of laughter.

‘The Predator’ doesn’t really connect to the vets but there is enough wise-cracking involved that we know to root for them whereas on the flip side of the coin, which lands in Sterling K. Brown’s proficient palm, we face a charming yet despicable foe who chews up the scenery with Nicorette gum and pure craft. Olivia Munn, controversy aside, is great in softening the blows of constant larking about. She’s no boring damsel in distress biologist, she has enough smarts and skill to keep her cool around Predators and a team of men dripping in testosterone. Jacob Tremblay is a force of munchkin talent to be reckoned as per usual, his ‘superpower’ of autism may get heavy handed but he’s never irritating which other child actors can easily be.

Some may have issues with the plot development and yes the last stages aren’t so strong but watching antics of a newly formed squadron versus a beastly statuesque creature with dreads is an entertaining ride.

7/10