Category Archives: Film & TV

Review Hellboy (2019) by Jonathan Evans

2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

Remakes and reboots are a bit of a tricky subject for reviews. Reviews themselves should be relative not absolute but you still need to take into account better or worse movies within the genre or subject matter. We have a new Hellboy movie that is not a continuation or has any involvement from what Guillermo Del Toro started back in 2004 when it must also be noted there were far fewer Superhero movies. A movie that carries the same name as the original has to stay true to the spirit and tone of what it is adapting or remaking while still distinguishing itself. It’s a delicate act, but some have done it right.

What helps Hellboy be distinct is Hellboy himself. He has an obvious, distinct visual to him but also his mentality, he is essentially a blue-collar Superhero. He wants to do the job in as short a period as possible, then kicks back and watch the latest sports game and enjoy a beer. When he goes in and investigates and it turns out there’s a monster his thoughts are “Ah hell, this is gonna take a bunch more hours.” One of the strongest elements of this movie was the casting of David Harbour, he comes with a deep voice, dry humor and a nonchalant attitude that fits for the character and this world. 

Anyway, the movie kicks off with an opening voice monologue spoken by the character Trevour Bruttenholm (Ian McShane). About the old days in King Arthurs time when an evil witch Vivian Nimue (Mia Jovovich) was about to unleash demons upon the land but was betrayed by her own witches and King Arthur impales her and cut her into pieces, but she does not die, so each of her body parts is sent far away to be hidden. While this is playing out it is in black and white except for anything that is red and a few swear words are thrown in. It sets up the movie as a whole well, some sort of cool stuff, a bunch of violence and a few swear words in the mix in an attempt to be cool.

Apart from Harbour, McShane and a few others in the background, these are bad actors. Well, not so much as they are bad but these are bad performances. I’ve seen some of these actors in other things and know they’re capable, but they do not do their best work here. Their line delivery is flat and unenthusiastic. Perhaps this is a case of the director not spending enough time with them, or they were uninvested in the material I don’t know and at this point, it doesn’t matter, we have two actors doing a good job and the rest just don’t care. 

Speaking of line delivery something went wrong with recording during filming or during ADR because we can hear all the actors reading their lines crystal clear. You would think that this would be good but there’s no leveling going on. If a character is in a close-up or far away it’s still like they are right next to us and rings of artificiality. Maybe if they had some supernatural, all-powerful specter on screen speaking then there would be a reason for this but for every character, it is one of those finer details of post-production that goes a long way if you do a good job on, which they haven’t.

Special effects do not make a movie but they are needed so you believe something is really there. These are terrible special effects. Whatever digital company did these effects are not up to scratch, they are poorly rendered and obviously artificial that this whole movie could be mistaken for coming out in the early two-thousands. There are a few effects where they linger on them for a long time so you can get a good long look at it as if they were proud of it, but it reeks of fake.  Even then some of this could be forgiven if you cared about the people/demons that were within the scene, but we don’t, it’s the worst kind of narrative, where you aren’t invested, nothing clever is happening and so it’s just stuff happening on-screen.

Editing is one of the most essential elements of movie making. It is what defines it from theater or literature. It is the art of taking the raw footage and carving it into something defined and with shape. Timing the cuts right and sometimes not cutting so you can let the actor’s expressions really sink in and to mood resonate. This is neither of those. What has come with the fast format of digital is the ability to cut willy-nilly and go crazy without thought or reason. The editing within this movie is a mess, they cut and cut not because one thing leads to another but because they want to keep the audience paying attention and think that by editing it within a blender is the way to do that. this isn’t cutting the footage, it’s hacking at it so now you just have a mess.

If you are going to compare this movie to Del Toro’s movie then Del Toro is the winner. If you let this movie stand on its own then it still isn’t very good.  It is still unique amongst the now much more crowded competition of Superhero movies but even then they are of a much higher quality.

Review Orpheus Descending by Tennessee Williams, Theatre Clwyd and Menier Chocolate Factory by Karis Alaina

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Tamara Harvey  – hot off her Olivier award for Home I’m Darling’ could have played safe – and ran a nice little Ayckbourn – instead she plucked a little known Tennessee Williams play that was in the main considered a flop, set in a convenience store in the Deep South of America –  no doubt she could have had her West End and Broadway, Tony Award winning designer Jonathan Fensom create a replica 1950’s American store, instead it appears she asked him to design as little as they could get away with… this could look like an ‘A’ level workshop production – a set from what’s lying around – on the surface minimal direction and caricatured characters – and in principle that is what this is – but I mean that as an incredible compliment.

Some of the best work I have seen has been from peers in workshops. The actors are able to use the words, their skill and their craft and although the characters are caricatures these actors did not act them in this way.  By being basic, the set took no focus away from the actors – yet gave them enough to do on stage, the master piece of the design was the hues of the lighting by Tim Mascall and the use of smoke – which was only noticeable by it’s absence . Finally the lack of direction – I find two reasons for noting the lack of direction one because the actors look awkward or lost on set and direction is missing – or direction is lacking because it is perfect and you feel as though you have just watched characters as the author intended. There was no apparent direction present in this play, it was perfection.

It took me a good 10 minutes to acclimatise to the tone of the play – the accents (although spot on) took some adjusting too – and a lot of information was thrust upon you from the start – this is not a play you can attend – to just half watch and unwind at the end of a long day – it is not light relief – although peppered with humours moments – in the main it is an intense reflection into the complex nature of humanity….. or lack of….

We hear  about the owners of the store (Lady and Jabe)  through the brilliant gossipy narrative of  Belulah Binnings, the main form of the light relief comes from Catrin Aaron (previous TC production  –  Little Voice) – before we even meet the couple the past 15 years of their unhappy marriage is laid bare in 10 minutes and secrets that have been hidden are revealed to the audience hinting this play will not end well. This is a clever use of narrative instantly we take sides, and as an audience we are willing Lady to know the truth.

The first part is in the main tone setting – and it sizzles with the introduction of snake skin wearing, guitar playing Val – the beautiful Seth Numrich – who honestly if he had walked off set and asked me to run away with – I would have! He wooed every woman, possibly every man in the theatre – especially when he played his guitar and sang. His character I was unsure of except until the very end – he claimed to be on a journey to reform from his past – which kept coming to taunt him in the form of the flesh baring makeup wearing Carol Cutere ( Jemima Rooper)– who  created as much hysteria in a room as the local black man, as we learn during this production. The play had a large cast who all had an important role to play – no role was small – and all expertly executed. However the main hook of the play was the heat between Lady (Hattie Morahan) and Val (Numrich) they share a lot of stage time, long looks, desire and the occasion interruption from the phone or from above – leave every word dripping with sexual tension or hidden connotation to an unhappy past (on both parts) There is a delightful scene near the end of the second half when both are truly happy and the audience is lost in that moment with them which enables the audience to be as shocked by what happens next as the Lady and Val.

Do not come to watch this play if you are after a giggle with the girls and want to see the Full Monty – watch this play because you love theatre, because you want to know what clever set design is, because you want to know how a good actor can be a great actor. Come and watch this play if you like tension and drama  – if you are a theatre student of any description you need to see this play before it heads to the West End.

I have struggled with why the play wasn’t a hit when first produced –   but my knowledge of Williams is not strong enough to judge – however if I had to comment I think Carol (Roopers) Character could be the answer – addressing racism in 1950’s America was risky but a white women defending black men in 1950’s America was perhaps too big a pill to swallow . Thankfully Sami Ibrahim and Carys Lewis (TC’s residents in writing) have brought a forgotten gem back to life and the Williams play will finally get the credit it deserves.

A brutal insight to self righteous 1950’s slavery, intensely acted, perfectly directed and dripping with sexual tension.

Orpheus Descending plays at Theatr Clwyd, Mold from 15 April – 27 April 2019. It then plays at Menier Chocolate Factory, London from 9 May – 6 July.

Review The Bodyguard, Wales Millennium Centre by Rhys Payne

All images credit Paul Coltas

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Before watching ‘The Bodyguard’, at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff I was very excited. The songs are many of my favourites and so I knew it would be an enjoyable performance, but this show did not disappoint. At first, I thought it would be similar to Motown in which the songs are great and popular, and people would sing along to, but the narrative is somewhat less important, but I could not have been more wrong. In fact, I would consider ‘The Bodyguard’ as one of the best all-round productions that I have seen. Having some of my ‘guilty pleasure’ songs included in this production was the icing on the cake.  The last time I saw Alexander Burke in a production was in ‘Sister Act,’ which I felt she didn’t suit but this powerful ballad-based character was a lot more suited to Alexander and her singing style.

The production’s opening was a striking shadow-projected scene, which had loud sound effects, which caused audible gasps from the audience. This was a fantastic way to grab audience attention in the first few minutes of the show. It was easy to spot that this scene would be book-ending the whole production and a similar scene would take place at the end of the show. This is the first time, in my experience, that this type of structure is used which made me keep the image in my head to see how the plot would lead to it again in the end. This meant the entire time I was thinking about this opening scene, which was not a distraction in any sense but would be considered an effective opening scene. The opening number however was flawless. The production values of staging, light and pyros was superb and the dancing was incredible. I don’t know if it was intentional, but I instantly drew comparisons of the character ‘Rachel Marron’ both are super successful artists, costumes show similarities to one another and the ‘performance’ of their songs (especially this one) were of the highest quality. However, I believe that this performance topped the Beyoncé performances I have seen live and this number could have easily been a show in itself. It would not have been out of place as a concert/performance in somewhere like the 02 Arena. The one small drawback to this number was, Alexander Burke, who played Rachel Marron, is an incredible singer and actor but her dancing is the weakest of the three (all of which are obviously of a high level but her dancing is not quite as good as the other two) which could be noticed through the big dance numbers such as this one and also during the opening number there was a short scene of dialogue which took place. Due to everything that was happening on the stage (lights, dancers, music etc.) I missed a lot of this dialogue which was clearly not what the directors would have wanted. The bold opening scene and awe-inspiring opening number contrasted each other perfectly and ‘set the scene’ for the rest of the production. This show alternates between these amazing, popular songs and tense dramatic scenes, which the opening sequences set up for the rest of the show beautifully.

Many of the supporting characters in this production were very relatable and believable which is important for productions like this. The young boy who plays Fetcher was an incredible dancer, which was shown in one of the dance rehearsals scenes towards the beginning of the musical. He was amazing and I would say upstaged some of the other dancers. They used the young boy to perform lifts and flips which obviously would have been easier due to the size of the actor. Although, during this scene the character crawled through a table which I believe did not quite fit the rest of the choreography, but this is a minor detail. This character would have primarily involved to provide an ‘awww’ factor as he is the young son of Rachel who gets caught up in the events of the stalker. This did build the sympathy toward Rachel and ‘hatred’ toward the stalker. The stalker (played by Phil Atkinson) was a key character although he is barely on the stage, even when he wasn’t on stage his presence could still be felt. When he was on stage when he is silent and is in almost darkness, which was an extremely effective way to build tension, and it is only in act two that he speaks. The whole presentation (including casting) of this character was perfect and this character-built fear from the audience. Although it was a bit strange that this character spent a lot the time without a top on.

One of the most enjoyable scenes in the whole show was a karaoke scene not because of dramatic staging, of phenomenal singing or whatever it was just a fun scene. It opened with three girls drunkenly singing ‘Where Do Broken Hearts Go’ it was really funny and I felt like I have seen the same scene in real life. A group of girls singing a popular song like that in karaoke while ‘butchering’ the song, but the difference was in this show these actresses were doing it intentionally. This seemed to be a common theme in this production. Later in this scene, Frank Farmer, the bodyguard (played by Benoit Marechal) goes onto karaoke to take on Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ which I have personally been tempted to do but never have had the guts to due to the power of the song. However, Frank combated this by ‘talking’ the song, which had the whole audience rolling in laughter. Which was really nice to see the softer side of frank. This scene was ended by the iconic song ‘I Have Nothing’ which was beautifully sung by Alexander. Which was obviously sang to and about Frank as we found out they have an attraction between the two of them.

The final scene of this act was in a club. It revolved around Frank and Tony Scibeli, the security guard (played by Craig Berry) protecting Rachel from any potential threats in the club. In this scene the spotlight illuminates the stalker. This meant my eyes were following the stalker’s track around the stage, which only added to the tension and drama. IThis scene looked more like it took place in a nightclub due to the flashing lights and music rather than a normal club but apart from this the scene was well staged and executed.

The beginning of Act Two had a big dance number to the song ‘I’m Every Woman’, which is a song I know very well. The dancers in this scene were excellent and the acrobatics were a spectacle to watch. However, at certain points in the number there were movements that were supposed to be done at the same time and were actually out of time with one another. But I really enjoyed this opening, as its ‘over-the-top ness’ was a perfect way to regain the excitement after the intermission. There was a few people in the audience singing along with the music which I personally find great as it shows they are enjoying the song etc., but I know some people are against this, so this is worth noting.

In one scene the staging changed from a luxurious mansion to a log cabin. I really liked the concept of the staging as a log cabin suggest warmth and safety, which was exactly what it was supposed to do within the story. The contrasts between these two setting also helped shift the focus from Rachel and her fame/money etc. to family. This is added to be a heart-warming rendition of ‘Jesus Loves Me’ between Nicky Marron, Rachel and Fletcher. Fletcher however did struggle with this song as it is a complex rhythm and strange vocals but as he was a child this was somewhat ignored. The lights and effects were continued to be used to make the Stalker actually terrifying as he appears from nowhere at points and disappears quickly after.

Probably the biggest and best number in the entire production is the classic ‘I Will Always Love You.’ This song was kept right until the end to act as an emotional tribute to everything that happened throughout the narrative. As the earlier ‘rendition’ by Frank in karaoke, was comical this final number was show stopping. The staging, costume and lights worked perfectly to add to the emotional nature of the song and Alexander’s vocals were outstanding. She did change some of the vocal trills from the original, which were fantastic. During this song there was a montage projected onto the stage of the Rachel and Frank and their story so far. I found this to be somewhat distracting from the song and could have done without it, but the montage was not a cheesy and unnecessary  it was heartfelt and emotional. After all this happened the entire cast sung ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody.’ This involved solos from different members of the cast, including the Stalker (which was a nice inclusion in my opinion), dance sequences and ‘party’ lighting. This was when the audience were encouraged to sing and dance. The two songs (I Will Always Love You and I Wanna Dance with Somebody) obviously contrasted each other and helped cement the pairing of drama and fun.

This production was well thought out and planned. Everything from music, lighting, costumes to props used all worked perfectly together, which was really nice to watch. The production aspects of the show were fantastic and one of the best I have seen. Alexander Burke’s portrayal of the iconic role is on par with Whitney’s (which is high praise) and this a show not to miss.

Review Missing Link by Jonathan Evans

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Laika likes to be grand, go ambitious and portray the unconventional. They latch onto stories about characters that don’t quite fit in and meet other such outsides and plots that take them to unique places. They also are not content with doing what they know they can do, each time they want to be challenged with their craft and artistry in some way. So here is their next feature, Missing Link, a story about an odd pairing if ever there was one and all the other trails and characters they meet along to way for them to reach their goal.

From the opening, we get a firm understanding of who the main character is and what kind of adventure we are in for. We open on a footprint of a large creature, then it wipes to a skinny boot print then the camera glides above the water of a lake to a little boat, it rises up to a fancy tea set being poured and then up to the man having it, he complains that it’s gotten a bit cold. His assistant apologizes but sets things up for capturing evidence of the Loch Ness Monster. The creature does appear, with the encouragement of bagpipes, and proceeds to eat the assistant and dive down, but through some bold adventuring by the gentleman, he saves his assistant, however, the camera which would have captured proof of the monster gets smashed.

This gentleman is Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman), an explorer of the strange, unique and often dangerous. Which leads to his latest assistant quitting. While browsing through his pile of mail he finds one crudely written letter saying that if they follow their directions then he will find proof of the legendary Sasquatch.

He goes to the Gentlemen Explorers Club that is filled with stuffy, pompous, thickly mustached, or bearded or sideburned old men in black and white suits that gather around a fireplace and a reminisce about how they shot an animal or killed some foreign people. They have no interest in granting Frist membership because he is unconventional and he always failed to bring back proof of his oddities. So a wager is made, if he can bring back proof this time then he will be granted membership,

Within this scene, you can see Laikas talent for not just animation but comedy. This scene serves as pure exposition, needed to spell out his motivation and what will be the goals going forward. These scenes are usually the dullest and slowest parts of any movie unless they are done right. While these men are standing around talking they really on unique character movement, visuals and fun inserts of comedy that keep us looking and listening. This is something essential yet you’d be surprised at how many movies have these scenes and put nothing unique or even fun in it to keep you interested.

When he arrives at the specified location and does indeed find the Sasquatch (Zach Galifianakis), however, he is most surprised to find out that he is able to speak, English! Rather well and also that he was the one who wrote him the letter. The Sasquatch is all alone in the forest, which is being diminished by trees being cut down, and believes that he has relatives in the snowy mountains, the yetis! Frost agrees to help him reach his relatives if he gives him proof of his existence so he can join the Gentelmens Explorers Club. However the sasquatch needs a name, Frost suggests Mr. Link which is also humorous because it’s like missing link, the sasquatch doesn’t get it.

Mr. Link has very little experience with people or interactions of any kind. He takes things at face value and is very literal so he needs tuirns of frazes explained to him and if asked to do something he literally does it. Take one scene when he is passes a rope and a grappling hook and asked to “Throw this over the wall” he does, all of it in one go. This is the main type of jokes we get from him and you eventually get wise to it and they become the weakenst part of the movie. 

While traveling they realize they’ll need a map of the Himalayas, luckily Frost knows where to find one. Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana) has it, her and Frost were a couple years ago but he was more interested in his adventures and so she married his best friend. As you would expect his just showing up after not being in contact after years and only doing so to get a map that her late husband died for does not go over well. But they desperately need it so they come back in the night to steal it, she isn’t happy of course but she also realizes she hasn’t been living her life, so this duo becomes a trio.

It seems like they went for sheer impressive spectacle with Kubo of the Two Strings and here they want to try out some more subtle things. Not to say that this movie is devoiud of a grand ambition or has scope, far from it, but they want to get smaller details down. Take one scene that takes place on a boat, theres a conversation between Frost and Adelina, it’s goining through some harsh waves so it rocks, while the conversation unfolds the room itsef is swaying ever so gracefully, so the characters have to adjust their footing to balance and furniture slides around, sometimes very slowly others abrubtly. Other times when they have a camera that moves along with the character and shifts angles when they change direction. All of this must be discussed, planned, built, painted and then finally animated, one frame at a time. Or other times when Mr. Link is standing with the wind hitting him and every chunk of his fur blows in the wind.

Laika operates as Disney did in the old days. Art challenges the technology, technology informs the art. They constantly embrace and seek out the odd and fascinating. Like Mr. Link himself there is nothing else like this movie, flaws yes, but why be safe if you can be bold and beautiful.

Review Shazam! by Jonathan Evans

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

What world am I living in? If you wound the clock back to 2012 and say that there’s a new DC cinematic universe coming and Batman and Superman will be the disasters but Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and now Shazam! will be the winners of the bunch, I’d have looked at you like you were bonkers. Yet here we are, a movie about a beloved character from the comics that I’d thought would never get his own movie and if he did it would be forced through that dark or complex filter that DC movies seem to put most of their characters through. I am so happy this is not the case and we’ve got what we got.

Side note, this character was referred to as “Captain Marvel” for a long time, but due to legal reasons, it has been changed to Shazam which adds a whole lot of complications to it. I guess obviously if this movie was out and Captain Marvel that would lead to a very confused audience, both in the movie theaters and in the comic stores.

The setting is not of the dark gritty crime-ridden streets of Batman, the high tech science fiction of Superman, the mythological scale of Wonder Woman but a realm of magic, as in true fantasy magic, wizards, words, robes, and staffs. This gives the character and now the movie it’s own unique tone and personality to distinguish itself amongst its competition.

Our tale begins on a dark snowy night where a little boy is in the back of a car and his father is driving and elder brother is in the front.  The elder brother and father clearly get along and care very little for him. But suddenly the little boy is transported to a deep cave with statues and an old man with a long beard, covered in long robes and holding a staff. This old man is a wizard (Djimon Housou) that offers this little boy great power, but the statues (that represent the seven deadly sins) tempt the boy to take an evil eye, this was a test and he has failed so he is cast out. Back to his old, loveless relatives.

We are then taken to years later and a little boy is at a carnival with his mother, trying to win him a toy tiger. She can’t win the tiger but does get him a compass. While walking through the crowd the two get separated, the boy is taken in by the police and his mother never comes for him, he is alone. Skipping again to years later, now present day and the boy has grown up a few years into an early teenager and his name is Bill Batson (Ashner Angel), he’s been in and out of foster homes for years always looking for his mother. Now he is in Philadelphia and put into another home. This one of the Vazquez, who have adopted many foster children. One of which is Freddy (Zack Dylan Grazer) who requires a crutch to walk but certainly never lets that get his spirits down. 

Now in the present, the little boy in the car has grown up to become Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong). he has been searching for years for a way to get back into that mysterious realm of the wizard, fortunately for him he has now found it and takes the dark power for himself, unleashing the seven deadly sins from captivity and upon the world. So now we have our villain!

So, in his desperation, Billy Batson is taken to the cave and offered the power f the wizard known as Shazam! The powers are mean to be bestowed on a person with a pure heart but Billy is simply a good enough person. So when he speaks the wizards name a bolt of lightning hits him and he is transformed into a full grown man in his very own super suit, light up logo, cape and everything.

It is the casting of Zachary Levi as Shazam that is the cornerstone for the movie’s success. He is so unashamedly a big kid, from his energy to his broad expressions you believe that there is a child working this adult body. 

This movie takes place in the winter and within the gray streets of a city, but it is the characters clothing that makes them pop. Each character has their main color, Billy is red, Freddy is blue, another is purple, another is green and the villain wears black. This is a color move and a stylized superhero one so naturally, people are color-coordinated.

So now that he has been granted the body of an adult and has superpowers what to do now? Test them out! In a montage set to Queens Don’t Stop Me Now where Billy along with Freddy test out his new body and see what its capable of. This sequence is for the audience to learn what powers Shazam has too as well as a simple serving of fun. These are children that have been handed these amazing abilities, of course, this is how they’d go about it.

This movie knows what it wants to be. It knows that it wants to tell a superhero story from the perspective of a child that isn’t taking this all too seriously so neither are the filmmakers. It knows to insert it’s tongue firmly in its cheek. However, this is probably the movie the be the most emotionally heavy, some filmmakers believe that dark equals emotional, it does not, something does not have to be dark it just needs to mean something of great importance to the characters and for you to be able to connect to it. If it’s all dark then it’s just unpleasant, but with the right amount of balancing between colorful and heavy emotional moments, then you have a truly whole experience.

As a fan of Superman and Batman, I am saddened by them getting poor treatment movies, but they have already had their good treatments and left their cinematic mark. It is time for new characters to get their time in the sun and for people to learn about their unique mythos and characters. I wholeheartedly embrace the renaissance of the underdog superheroes getting the treatment they deserve. This movie is fun, dark, emotional and well crafted, like an Ablin movie at their peak.
R

Review Pet Sematary by Jonathan Evans

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Grief is a powerful emotion. It can cause the most crippling loneliness and make us seek out all possible alternatives to fill the gap that is left when a loved one is gone. But what would it take to bring something back and if they do come back, will they ever be the same? This is the main theme running through Pet Sematary, one of Stephen Kings most acclaimed and celebrated works.

Like nearly all horror movies this opens with a family, in a car, moving to a new home. There is the father Louis (Jason Clarke), his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz), daughter Ellie (Jete Laurence), son Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavourie) and cat Church, these are the Creeds. They are moving away from the city to Maine where life is less busy and simpler. They arrive at their new home and take it in along with the forest behind it, that is cut short when a speeding truck rushes pasts them.

One day while walking through the forest they hear a bang of some kind, then they see children walking inline, one has a little drum, they all have masks of animals on and one is pushing a wheelbarrow with a dead dog in it. They follow the children and see that a few trees have a spiral carved into them and they come to a place called “Pet Sematary” where the local children bury their departed pets. This is when we also meet Jud (John Lithgow). An old man that lives in the house next to them, he’s lived around here all his life and knows about some of the ancient traditions and lore of the land. He quickly becomes a friend to the family.

One day Jud needs to have a private word with Louis, Church has been killed in a road accident. They decided to keep it from Ellie deciding to tell her that he ran away. They go to bury him amongst the other pets but Jud says he knows a better place to bury him. So they climb a wall of trees behind the cemetery, walks through a swamp and climb up to a hilltop where he tells Louis to bury Church and mark it with stones. The next day Louis and Rachel tell Ellie about Church but she says he hasn’t run away, he came back yesterday, he’s in her closet right now, which indeed he is.

We learn that, for whatever reason, when you bury something in that hilltop they come back. There are ancient folklores about a creature called the Windego and other stories and theories but it doesn’t matter, the cat has returned, but not the same, more violent. And so begins the whole macabre affair and the ultimate sentence of the movie “Sometimes dead, is better.”

This is a world of old, dark trees, where mist rolls in and things can emerge and disappear within it, where much is primitive so crosses and signs are held together with knots. it invokes an ancient, ritualistic atmosphere to the whole movie. But keeps it’s shaping simple so they are easily recognizable and can become symbols for the movie.

King wouldn’t be so celebrated if his work didn’t have some kind of merit. He has produced his share of goofy or even not very good products but he is still undeniably a man of talent. He works best when he creates characters with deep emotional problems and a situation that highlights human insecurities and layers it with something supernatural. This is such a material.

As an adaptation, I cannot speak for because at the time of writing this I have yet to read the book. However, I don’t believe this is a detriment to my ability to review the movie. A product should be able to stand on its own, a novelisation of a play should be perfectly enjoyable as it is and not have to depend on its source material. This is a complete story as it is, there may be more details in the book and it may, in fact, be the more well crafted and better version of this tale or maybe the movie improves upon it, I don’t know but either way, it doesn’t matter.

Ironically I recently reviewed Us and wrote about how horror at its best is not like a hatchet but like a scalpel. Well, I would say that there are moments of shock within this movie and they did indeed make me jump with fright. This isn’t the worst thing but it won’t age the movie well, shocks work once and maybe two more times after initial watching but after that, you know what’s coming and can prepare yourself for them. What lingers with you in horror movie, or really just movies in general, is the buildup and the unseen and the feeling of dread and anticipation before anything happens. This has those and they rely upon what the characters have said, the sound and the unseen before something comes out of the dark and goes bang.

This is a horror movie with a chilling concept at its center, some creepy visuals and terrifying moments, other times when it just goes all out and yells at you with something gross on-screen. King fans will either like it or nitpick the way the material was handled. But from the acting to the production, to the sound and even the ideas that fester within you afterward, I say this is a solid piece of work.

Review Mary Queen of Scots by Jonathan Evans

2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

Two sisters, one is already the Queen of England, the other, younger to be the Queen of Scotland. They could have both ruled peacefully throughout but pride and the manipulation and other greedy men forced conflict and led to the death of one. Mary Queen of Scots tells the story of Queen Mary (Saoirse Ronan), her arrival in Scotland and most of the events that lead to her execution, that wasn’t a spoiler, by the way, its the scene that opens the movie.

Mary’s boat pulls in on the isle of Scotland and her and her followers set up in a castle. Greeting her is the Erl of Moray (James McArdle) her half brother, also there is John Knox (David Tennant) the protestant cleric, he is against Mary taking up the throne because she is Catholic and after he makes this very clear and shows her little to no respect she dismisses him from her court. 

As portraits and historical accounts tell us Mary was a great beauty and Elizabeth had harsher features. This is how they play it in the movie but we can clearly see that Margot Robbie is a very attractive woman in her own right. Even after she suffers an illness and has to be caked in heavy gaudy makeup we can still see through that and know she is beautiful. This is a case of the movie saying one thing while we can clearly see that this isn’t the case. To Robbie’s credit, this is a role where she challenges herself and does something different.  Throughout her career, she has not been content with simply relying on being one thing. She made her name as a sex bomb in The Wolf of Wall Street, became the bouncing mad Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad, a manic colorful killer in Terminal and a very rough around the edges figure skater in I, Tonya. She is usually the best thing in whatever movie she’s in even if the movie is less than stellar. Her she plays the iconic queen that was by all accounts fastidious and kept composure at all costs, along with her flawless English accent this is another notch on her impressive and diverse filmography.

All the actors are very good here. These are accomplished actors that have to go through multiple moods within the movie, except for Tennant who is a grumpy bearded man throughout. They adjust themselves depending on who they are talking to. Whether they are talking to an equal, someone below them, someone they’re attracted to or someone who’s trust they are trying to gain and after they’ve gained it speak to them differently.

For the historical accuracy of the movie I cannot attest to, it is one of the many periods I have a blank space on. I know a little but not in any way to call foul on. However I do not believe that matters so much, history is history and a movie needs to tell its story, for as much historical accuracy as we can get seek out of book or documentary. I have no issue with a movie taking the overall tale that really happened and tweaking it for narrative purposes, only when they insult the spirit of the real people or make something so different that they might as well have just made something original, to begin with. There is a scene near the end which I know is completely fictitious but it’s fine because it serves as a correct narrative climax. 

In the end, things are said and we end on the black card with white text that reads to us what happened afterward. These characters and this world never really seems to come alive, striking cinematography and intricate costumes and hair, but it’s all show. The elements for a good movie are here, it just needs a breath of life within it.

Review Vice by Jonathan Evans

From the opening few minutes, we get a sense of what to expect from the rest of Vice. It opens with news footage of 9/11, the towers have been hit and are going down, then we have people in suits and in offices being guided around. In a safe space with no windows people are on phones and talking to each other trying to get a handle on the situation. One man, who is not the President, picks up the phone and tells the army that they are allowed to shoot down any planes they deem a threat. Then it cuts to black and the text appears, it reads out that this is a movie based on a real person, but also Dick Chaney is one of the most secretive modern politicians ever so there will be times when they embellish then it reads “But we did our fucking best!” So now we know that we are watching a movie based on a real-life man but because of the limited information they decided to absolutely go with their own thing and they apologise for nothing. 

When we first meet Dick Chaney (after the opening scene previously mentioned) he is driving home on a dirt country road with the sun beginning to rise, or maybe set? A cop pulls him over and he is clearly very intoxicated and lights up a cigarette. We then get helpful and playful narration in the form of Jesse Plemons as Kurt the narrator.  Chaney started off as a no good slacker that worked a blue-collar job, anything he could find, he got into a good school but was kicked out because he was more interested in drinking beer than attending class. But his girlfriend Lynne (Amy Adams) that believes in him and want him to be a man of worth, he says that he’ll never let her down again.

So years later he goes back to school, get his diploma and is in Washington, when they have their induction ceremony a man named Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) gives a speech about making sure you serve yourself, always align with whoever the winner is and there’s no one taller than the last man standing (well essentially this is what he says). Chaney asks what party he is with and when he learns he’s with the Republican party he says that his party. So under Rumsfeld’s tutilage Chaney rises through the ranks and halts any decisions that most Liberals would vote for. Never the less he gains power and works some of his family and friends into his circle and every once in a while he gets a heart attack and reacts to it like he has a bad knee that’s playing up again.

He asks Trumble “What do we believe?” which is met with a hearty and long laugh. What a concept, a politician who is there to serve the interest of the people believing in something, ha! but over the course of the movie it becomes a big recurring theme, there are many other figures that they meet and in order to move forward with their career they will have to put aside whatever their loved ones feel or what would hurt the majority or even long times friends so they can get the next step. It seems that, at least in this world of the movie or certainly these characters we follow, none of these high profile, very powerful politicians believe in anything.  

Bale is known as an actor that truly dives deep into his characters to bring them to the screen, many times throughout his career he has drastically dropped or gained weight for a role. Sometimes to his doctor’s great worry. For this role, he almost definitely put on quite a bit of weight but also has great make-up team manipulating him to resemble the actual politician. He also adds the nice touches of having his characteristic left eye squint, raise of the right side of his mouth and shake of the head. He also has a great handle on the man’s voice, being able to manipulate it for whatever he needs for a scene, whether it be intimidating, slightly tender, menacing or relaxed. It is truly realised but also stylised performance.

Writer-director Adam McKay is not the person you would expect to handle this kind of material. He made his career on goof-ball comedies, probably most notably Anchorman. But he broke that chain with The Big Short and now seems to have a talent for penning dramatic material. Though to be sure there are laughs to be had to hear too. It is probably his experience with comedy that makes this movie so unique, A writer or director that specializes in this material would go for a flatter colour pallet, documentary feels and more reality-based dialog. McKay allows himself to be stylized and have a little more fun, taking the real people and styilizing them into charactures.

Vice tells a serious story in a funny way that is probably more memorable than any other more accurate obsessed bio that we could name about politicians. It seriously casts comedic actors for serious roles and serious actors to deliver absurd lines. It wants to do so much that you can eventually catch on that your being played with and we should probably double check all the “facts” presented in this movie. But it has such undeniable panache and enthusiasm you can’t help but be charmed. 

Review Dumbo (2019) by Jonathan Evans

“DUMBO, a major, major work. Yeah the perfect film, each sequence is totally self contained, totally complete and still pushes the picture forward.”

Sidney Lument, in conversation.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

After rewatching the original DUMBO fairly recently I can attest to this statement. It is one of the most accessible and clear storytelling examples in cinema, every shot and emotion they intend to convey both from the characters and the scene rings perfectly clear.

So the question is “Why remake it?” The answer is, no real reason. really I guess I should end the review here but I should fully explain everything. A remake should take the ideas and feeling of the original but still make it it’s own thing or at least introduce some new elements and update it appropriately. But when you have something so timeless and so close to perfect your only real place to go is down.

So our story opens in 1919, and two children, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) they run through a circus which is their home and run by Max Medici (Danny DeVito) the ringleader and to the train station to their father Holt (Colin Farrell) who’s back from the war, it cost him his left arm but he’s happy to be home with his children, unfortunately his wife died while he was away. You shouldn’t really care, the movie and the characters don’t so let’s move on.

Medici has made an investment, he bought a big elephant by the name of JUMBO, who is expecting to give birth any day soon. One night she goes give birth and the little baby emerges from hiding within a stack of hey. However, it is not what they were expecting, because this baby has unusually large ears. They do their best to cover them up but during one performance the people see his ears and due to a rather clever accident with the sign he gets named DUMBO. However, the children then learn that, with the encouragement of a feather, his big ears can be used as wings, they have a flying elephant, that’ll attract paying customers.

Being that DUMBO is an elephant and this is not a talking animal movie he is entirely silent throughout the movie, conveying his thoughts and emotions through his big blue eyes (this is how it should be). But being that they can’t let too much time go by without dialogue so we have two children explaining things to the audience and guiding him on his journey. This isn’t really necessary and these children just aren’t very good actors, they are either overacting or just being stonefaced throughout as well as their poor dialogue that flat-out, directly tells the audience everything.

Being that Tim Burton is behind the camera I would expect one thing before anything else, a strong visual flair. He brings that here, he has made a career out of skeletons, clowns and theme parks. He sinks his visual teeth into these images creating elaborate, slightly frightening and elaborate images that make them seem like something more out of a fairytale than real life.

One of the movies greatest strengths is also one of it’s greatest weaknesses and that is Michael Keaton as the villain V.A. Vandeverer. Keaton made his name by working with Burton first in Beetlejuice then in his two Batman movies. His career has made a resurgence recently with Birdman and Spider-Man: Homecoming, where he flexes his theatrical and sinister muscles like a man that sells joyous wonder to the people while himself is only driven by greed and narcissism. This character is a clique and is given lines that would fit a forgettable villain during the nineties but even then he is able to take them and make them wonderful zingers. However, no matter how much Keaton elevates it, the question remains, why does DUMBO need a villain? It’s DUMBO, one of the simplest stories ever told and was devoid of a villain because it was not necessary, it was composed of the problem of separation, not all this greed and contract complexities. Plus some of his character’s decisions simply don’t make sense, in one point in the movie everyone (including him) is given a chance to get everything they want and he turns it down simply to be the villain. This doesn’t make any sense, making a decision against the characters needs is one thing but this would serve him too so whys would he do this? No real reason, besides poor writing.

This wouldn’t really be DUMBO without the inclusion of the Pink Elephant sequence. Well, to be sure they do make an appearance but in their own unique way that is quite stylized and fun (I’d be disappointed if it was mundane, especially with Tim Burton behind the camera).

This movie is distinguishable from the original which shows that there are thinking independently. So far out of these movies, I would say the laziest is Beauty & The Beast. This is not a terrible movie and children will most likely be entertained and probably everyone will think the elephant is cute. But still, I have yet to see one of the remakes where I would say they improved on…well anything. For this movie, it’s not a waste of time but a much better use of it is to see the original again.R

Review Us by Jonathan Evans

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Horror at it’s best and most profound is when it takes deep lurking insecurity within nearly everyone and fully realizes it through its images, colors, sounds and scenarios. In 2017, Jordan Peele made one of the greatest cinematic debut with Get Out, confident in its theme, refined in its layout and masterful in execution. Now he comes with his follow-up Us, about another base fear and brings his unique and refined vision to the table. 

Our tale opens years ago, in the eighties. A little girl named Adelaide is on vacation with her parents, they are in Santa Cruz on the beach and enjoying the boardwalk, she wanders around and looks at the people and the rides, her mother goes to the bathroom and her father plays a shooting game and doesn’t pay her much attention so she wanders off by herself. She wanders through the boardwalk, to the beach and then into a hall of mirrors, inside she wanders and realizes she’s lost, she goes for the exit but it is a mirror, she wanders and wanders and then has her back to a mirror, only it isn’t a mirror because it turns and faces her. There is another girl, that looks just like her, but is not her. 

Cut then to years later and, we are in the present day and Adelaide has grown up and is married with children. Her husband Gabe (Winston Duke), daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and son Jason (Evan Alex). They are going on one of their family vacations, to the same beach from that night long ago, whatever happened there has clearly caused her great trauma and is none too interested in going back. They meet their “friends” the Tylers, Kitty (Elizabeth Moss) and Josh (Tim Heidecker) along with their twin girls. 

One night while she recounts the night in the hall of mirrors to Gabe, Jason comes in and says “There’s a family standing in our driveway.” They go to take a look and sure enough, there is, holding hands and just standing. Husband tries to go out and start a conversation then tries intimidating them but Adeline has a gut feeling that they mean harm and indeed they do. One forces his way through the door and the others scurry around back, they all gather in the living room with the fireplace on and in the light they can see the intruders, they are them.  

Yes, they have doublegangers, that look just like them but some are slightly different and wear red jumpsuits, have one gloved hand and all carry their own pair of uniquely shaped scissors. What do they want? To kill them and take their lives for their own. Not the most complex motivation but certainly a scary one.

There is very little fat in this script. Peele constructs his scripts meticulously and efficiently, years working as the comedy duo Key & Peele definitely gave him a talent for efficient and clear writing. Almost no element of what is introduced or said goes to waste, if a character has a hobby or a bad habit then it will come into play in some way later in the movie. 

This movies biggest success and biggest accomplishment is Lupita Nyong’o and her performance as Adelaide. All the actors have to portray one character and their double which are all brilliantly competent at. Playing a regular person but then playing that person again, but moving and reacting in an off way, which is fantastical mime acting. But Nyong’o is able to take all these intense and subtle emotions that her characters to go through and unifies them into her character, as well as that she plays a twisted, disturbing presence that will most likely be imitated for year to come, which her disturbing way of speaking by breathing in and wide eyes that stare and never seem to blink and her all too efficient way of walking that screams “Not right!” It is a performance that would be great with just one of these characters, by playing both it is a triumph.

In a horror movie, the characters need to be afraid and convey that. If the characters aren’t talking something seriously then we won’t. In an action movie, you can have the hero blast monsters and face dire circumstances with a stern look on their face throughout, but if the characters are faced with something unnerving and are unfazed by it then we won’t engage with it. These people are afraid but more than that they portray many facets of fear. However, even with that, these are not just people that are afraid throughout the movie, there are also a few laughs to be had.

Peele reunites with conductor Michael Abels to create another deep, memorable, unnerving score. Like with the last one he uses voice to invoke a deep, almost spiritual feeling within the movie but they are also singers that sing high pitched and in unison, this adds to the theme of double and the high pitched matches the strings which are sharp and shrieking, reminding us of both a scream and stabbing. Adding to the tension he will sometimes have one note continue on for too long, like a whistling kettle, giving the feeling of high pressure. 

Throughout this movie, I was feeling everything the filmmaker wanted me to feel while watching it. While the family were bantering and was laughing when there’s a tense moment I was watching attentively and was horrified and stimulated when the moments of fright were playing out. The only weak link is the ending which makes sense poetically, but not logically, I usually wouldn’t hold that against the movie but this was the one time I was thinking “Wait, that doesn’t make any sense.” 

Bad horror is a cray loud guy with a hatchet. Great horror is surgen with a scalpel, knowing exactly where to cut and doing so with precision. Jordan Peele is a surgeon that cuts deep, efficiently and leaves us bleeding long afterward.