The Babysitter: Killer Queen


Viewed – 17 October 2020 Netflix

I wasn’t exactly blown away with the surprise sleeper hit that was the first movie, but it was still fun if trashy entertainment with a break out turn from Samara Weaving. However it clearly was popular enough to spawn a sequel. Set three years after the first movie, nerdy kid Cole is now in High School and labelled a bit of a nutcase as he told a lot of people about his babysitter’s satanic blood cult. So yeah he’s having trouble fitting in. One day though his best friend invites him to a getaway on a boat out in the wilderness – yeah, isolated in the middle of nowhere, nothing bad is going to happen, right?

If looks could kill…

Directed again by McG (Terminator Salvation) this is trying sooooo hard to be a self-referential horror version of Scott Pilgrim vs The World. It has the crazy editing, video game references, and a funky soundtrack. Oh and plenty of CGI gore. The deaths in the last movie were a major plus, and the same goes here – even if they often look incredibly fake. This is not helped by a script that is painfully unfunny, which really needs to be funny. The cast, with many returning faces from last time, are constantly spouting what they think is clever, pop-culture fused dialogue but it has very forced delivery that just falls flat. It all screams of trying too hard.

Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed some of McG’s movies in the past, and his style can work given better material … but this just feels lazy. There’s times when it looks like it’s happening on a cheap sound stage, and I could have sworn one bit looked like terrible green screen, and it even has a jump scare that makes zero sense (a peeing gag). The ending was a slight step up, with an interesting twist – but overall this really wasn’t worth it.

Verdict: Avoid

Easy Rider


Viewed – 10 October Blu-Ray

Everyone knows the song… ‘Born To Be Wild’ by Steppenwolf – it’s probably the most famous thing about this 1969 classic road movie, and along with its cast of Hollywood rebels like Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson – the movie was destined for the history books. Yet does it deserve to be there? Fonda & Hopper play Wyatt and Billy, two bikers travelling across America to New Orleans to watch the Mardi Gras festival. Along the way they bump into hippies, smoke a lot of pot, annoy the locals and muse on life on the road.

Get your motor running…

There’s no real story here. It’s just two guys driving around, not really encountering much of significance, doing drugs and meeting folk. In fact I found it rather boring. I’ll admit some of the outback scenery is beautifully shot, the camera work is occasionally creative, the soundtrack has some memorable songs and Fonda & Hopper (who also directs) are likeable. An appearance by Jack Nicholson is a fun diversion but short lived and the ending pretty much makes everything that comes before rather pointless.

It’s frustrating as this is regarded as a classic, but there I found little evidence on screen to support that status. I’d heard it was one of a bunch of movies made outside of the ‘Hollywood system’ and is clearly all done on a shoestring budget – which I can appreciate, but when the movie looks like it barely has a script, I have to ask … why bother?

This release, from the U.K. division of The Criterion Collection boasts a decent, newly restored image quality, that whilst grainy is colourful and has depth. The movie is presented in DTS HD Master Audio in both 2.0 and 5.1 options, and there’s also an uncompressed mono soundtrack. Dialogue is generally clear and the various music cues sound great. Extras as with many Criterion releases are plentiful: two documentaries, footage from Peter Fonda & Dennis Hopper’s appearance at Cannes, as well as trailers. The cream of the crop though is two commentaries, one from Dennis Hopper, the other from Hopper, Fonda and production manager Paul Lewis. The release also comes with a fold-out booklet with a new essay from Matt Zoller Seitz. Pretty great for a movie that has a fascinating history which for me was more worthwhile looking into than the movie itself. This release is therefore a must for fans and probably still worth picking up for enthusiasts of cinema history. Yet, if you’re neither I’d give it a miss.

Verdict:

(the movie) Poor

(the Blu-Ray) Recommended

Incident In A Ghostland


Viewed – 08 October 2020 online rental

Horror fans will possibly draw comparisons between this and disturbing 2008 French horror Martyrs, due to it being from the same director Pascal Laugier … yet that would be unfair as Martyrs is a polarising movie and this, despite similar themes, is a little more conventional. Following a home invasion when she was a teenage girl, successful horror novelist Beth (Crystal Reed) finds herself having to return to the house where the incident occurred after receiving a phone call from her traumatised older sister, who seemingly has never recovered. However once back in the family home, Beth begins to realise the nightmare of that night may not be over.

“We just want to play with dolls…”

Laugier has delivered an intense experience that’s dripping with foreboding atmosphere. It dabbles in the horror conventions of The Texas Chainsaw Masacre and Hostel but also turns such conventions on their head with a strong focus on psychological trauma along with some clever twists. The two characters that invade the family home sent chills, especially the tall thin one with long black hair. The constant imagery of dolls may be a genre cliche but manages to feel freakier than usual, especially with how it plays out.

Creatively shot throughout, with an unflinching tone (even if the score is a tad too in-your-face at times), Laugier does not hold back. This goes for it with a number of frantic, very violent encounters Some of the smaller details do get lost in the chaos at times, with motives and background left to one’s imagination. However as a slightly more mainstream horror, this is probably the director’s best work to date and certainly a must for horror junkies.

Verdict: Recommended

Onward


Viewed – 03 October 2020. Disney+

Its difficult reviewing animated movies, because the quality is often so high, it’s tempting to just rate them all the same. So I tend to be a bit harder on them that some other movies. This unusual story presents an enchanted, fairy tale world that turns its back on magic, favouring technology to develop very much like the regular world. So people have jobs, there’s police, shops, fast food restaurants etc. On his 16th birthday, young elf Ian is given a present from his Dad who died of an illness before he was born, and it turns out to be a wizards staff. After reciting a spell that’s meant to bring the dad back for one day only … the spell goes wrong and only half of the dad’s body comes back – literally from the waist down. However his big brother Barley says there’s a way of completing the spell and so a quest unfolds to resurrect their dad before the sun goes down.

Like Monsters Inc and Inside Out before it, this presents a world full of character and personality. Again it’s a feast for the eyes and full of memorable side characters, pop culture gags and references – but it’s the unique idea that’s the winner; a caper comedy that’s weirdly a lot like 80s comedy Weekend at Bernies. Some moments, especially the freeway chase with the biker sprites certainly had me laughing out-loud. Yet underneath the visuals and gags lies a great deal of heart – something Pixar have always been masters of.

Tom Holland as Ian is perfect, but is overshadowed by Chris Pratt’s Barley who turns a potentially irritating loud mouth of a character into someone I really cared about. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is also good as the two brother’s Mom. The ending also turns the story on its head to deliver an emotion-heavy and wonderfully bittersweet conclusion. So there you have it – damn, another Pixar gem that shouldn’t be missed! Sigh.

Verdict: Essential

First Man


Viewed – 29 September 2020 Netflix

I have never really known that much about the true story that lead to landing on the moon. Other than the names Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin being cemented in my brain from a young age. This fascinating drama tells the story from the perspective of Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) offering a very personal angle, focusing on his own tragedies and his relationship with his wife (The Crown’s Clare Foy), with the Astronort mission(s) almost background.

One small step for man…

Considering the aim of landing on the moon became an egotistical race against Russia to be the first, I was surprised with the lack of that usual American patriotism and vitriol, especially in the final act, leading to a rather downer ending. Also the eventual moon landing is a bit under-played, fitting with the more somber tone of the rest of the movie – but by that moment it should have felt epic.

Gosling is great, one his best performances I’d say and carries the movie well. Foy doesn’t fair quite as well, awkwardly trying to shake her Queen Elizabeth accent for an upper class American one. Also considering his status in history, Buzz Aldrin is simply ‘there’ with very little focus. The movie kind of portrays the man as a bit of a joke too. Yet the impending dread of each mission, the clear insane danger of it all, and the attention to authentic detail has to be applauded. Worth a watch but not quite all it could have been.

Verdict: Good