A Quiet Place


Viewed – 04 November 2018. Online rental

Few. I’m just trying to catch my breath. Well, if this wasn’t one of the most tense and gripping movie viewing experiences I’ve had in a long time, I don’t know what is. The always dependable Emily Blunt leads this sci-fi horror drama about a small family trying to survive in a wilderness where ravenous creatures (aliens?) hunt and kill anyone and anything that makes a sound. So this young couple and their children live a life of silence, sign language and dread. You see, to add to their plight the teenage daughter is deaf,which makes her highly vulnerable and Blunt is pregnant.

This is a film dripping with tension, impending doom and director John Kransinski squeezes every ounce of emotion and fear from the characters, making me care so very much for them. This movie does an incredible amount with hardly any spoken dialogue, relying instead on the rawest of human expression and the threat of death to pummel home its situation that only gets more desperate as the movie progresses. That labour scene alone is one of the scenes of the year for me. The sound here is also pretty much a character in of itself and a decent sound system is recommended to get the full experience.

Occasionally the characters do make some stupid decisions considering the situation and the creatures are nothing that imaginative. However for a concept where I went in expecting just another gory survival horror … what I got was a whole lot more. A must see.

Verdict: 5 /5

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Hereditary


Viewed – 02 November 2018. Blu-ray

Its easy to be skeptical these days when a horror movie gets a lot of hype. However this was getting some very good word of mouth and even Oscar buzz for its lead Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense). So I took a leap of faith and picked up the Blu-ray. This story follows a family coming to terms with the death of the grandmother which casts a matriarchal shadow who’s passing proves polarising to family members, especially Annie (Collette) and youngest daughter Charlie. However as grief and tragedy sinks its claws in, a disturbing past reveals itself.

The directorial debut of newcomer Ari Aster this carefully observed and eerie family drama-come-horror feels like the work of a seasoned pro, not a relative newcomer. The camera work, shot framing, set design and atmosphere is all first rate. It’s a fairly simple tale and may not exactly go places we haven’t seen before, but boasts several top-tier performances and brilliantly staged scares. Toni Collette may be a tad OTT at times and well, Alex Wolf can’t cry for toffee, but with a subtle, understated but convincing dynamic of a troubled, dysfunctional family’s descent into madness … I was left punch-drunk as the credits rolled.

It gets a little hokey at times what with some bizarre CGI and some plausibility going out the window in the final act. Yet the writing plays cleverly with expectation and cliché, leading this viewer in one direction with genre staples like creepy kids and miniature model houses, before sending expectations spiralling to a conclusion filled with nightmare-inducing imagery. It however failed to completely get under my skin and isn’t as scary as it thinks it is … but in all other aspects this was incredibly effective.

Verdict: 4 /5

Escape From New York


Viewed – 25 November 2018. Blu-ray

Director John Carpenter remains one of my favourite directors of all time. That’s not to say all his movies are masterpieces, but he firmly places his signature on all of them and I usually come away enjoying many aspects. The same can said for this cult favourite from 1981.

Kurt Russell plays Snake Plisken, a legendary soldier who on his arrival at a maximum security prison facility thats taken over Manhattan island in a futuristic version of New York … is about to be incarcerated for armed robbery. However after the President’s plane gets hijacked and he’s forced to board an escape pod launched into said prison island, the government call on Snake to go on a rescue mission. I remember loving this concept as a kid and hell, nobody looks more bad-ass than Kurt Russell with an eye patch and a semi-automatic. However I also recall not really being that into the movie itself.

Not much has changed. This is a particularly moody piece disguised as an action-thriller. It has all the required ingredients of pure popcorn entertainment, but somethings missing. The movie takes its time throughout and lacks any real thrills (not helped by what appears to be a tiny budget). However Carpenter helps by sprinkling several colourful characters here and there (with a stand-out Harry Dean Stanton) and along with Dean Cundey’s atmospheric and gloomy cinematography mixed with Carpenters own synth score, this still held my attention. Donald Pleasance, a Carpenter regular also pops up as the President, although lacks his usual presence. Overall this is Kurt Russell’s show and he’s great as a character way cooler than the movie he’s in, and every second the character is on screen, I couldn’t help but be mesmerised. One of those cult favourites still worth a watch, but not as memorable as its reputation might have you believe.

This new Blu-ray from Studio Canal comes in deluxe fold-out packaging boasting a poster, art cards and a detailed booklet. The movie is in decent shape (offered up in both 4K and HD editions) boosted by two soundtrack options that includes a new 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack that although far from a surround showcase, sounds heftier and sharper than the otherwise acceptable stereo score. The picture whilst understandably gloomy is detailed and does the job marred only by an overly soft presentation. I didn’t get to check out the 4K transfer as I don’t have access currently to a 4K screen. Extras consist of a 52 minute documentary, deleted scenes etc. and four commentaries – which round off a very impressive package. Oh and they threw the CD soundtrack in also.

Verdict;

(the movie) 3 /5

(the Blu-ray). 5 /5

Solo – a Star Wars Story


Viewed – 20 November 2018. Online rental

I was disappointed and somewhat annoyed by The Last Jedi, so like many others I suddenly felt cautious about a Star Wars movie the same way I’d felt cautious going to see Revenge of the Sith. This spin-off gives us an ‘early years’ snapshot of none other than Han Solo, which I’ll admit was an intriguing idea. Solo (a perfect Alden Ehrenreich) is from the off a likeable rogue who unwittingly gets signed up for the imperial infantry after getting separated from his love interest in the shape of Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke. However once amongst a rag tag group of soldiers he teams up with Woody Harrelson’s smuggler and also makes a new, hairy friend.

Directed by Ron Howard this is immediately entertaining and slickly made. It starts off energetically and barely lets up, with a sharp script that throws in several nods to the classic franchise as well as introducing us to a fun, twist filled caper. The banter between the characters is great, and I especially enjoyed the new droid L3, and how she’s a sort-of girlfriend to notorious womaniser Lando Calrissian! That train sequence is first rate also. However with a focus on smugglers and thieves and not so much the empire or any sort of rebellion, this has a different vibe than what we’ve seen before. The plot for what it is is simple though and the transporting of a valuable item from one group of people to another is only their to bring certain characters together. Yet the origins of the Millennium Falcon and some of Han’s boasted escapades (the kessel run?) was certainly fun to see play out.

A final twist proves overly confusing (unless you have indulged in any of the expanded universe), and Emilia Clarke is surprisingly bland. Thankfully then, this still nails it where it counts … adding its own flavour whilst managing to retain the feel of what a Star Wars movie should be.

Verdict: 4 /5

Thoroughbreds


Viewed – 19 November 2018. online rental

What attracted me to this was actress Anya Taylor-Joy who first impressed in the unsettling horror The Witch and was also one of the better aspects of Split. She’s quickly grown to be a go-to actress for me. So sitting down to this I was also pleased to discover that Olivia Cooke was also in this, who was great in the Bates Motel television series as well as Ready Player One.

Two high society girls, Lily & Amanda who are brought together after a time apart rekindle an unconventional friendship and soon conspire to do something that may just improve their disaffected lives. This takes it’s cue from similar mean-spirited movies like Heavenly Creatures and Heathers and portrays two troubled girls with subtlety and solid performances. Although a tad slow at first, the direction, complete with effective use of what is pretty much a single location, is what excels. One scene especially plays out with a threat of violence thats almost unbearable, and it’s brilliantly done as is a final act that left me rather shaken. It’s not a showy movie but plays cleverly with anticipation and gradually getting to know two characters, and as a result for a slow burner this packs the required punch.

I’d have liked a little more back story and the motives behind certain actions were vague at best, causing me to lack sympathy. The oddball soundtrack is also a little too bizarre to be all that effective. However, for one of those movies you may not be aware of, this is well worth checking out.

Verdict: 3.5 /5