Better Watch Out Review

What holiday works better for the world of horror then Christmas? You might say Halloween, but that holiday’s a little too obvious. Christmas works well for horror because not only do the usual cheer and festivities make great contrast with blood and terror, the holiday itself has a little sinister side too (see 2015’s Krampus for a film that makes fun use of one of Christmas’ more sinister characters).

It seems every year brings forth a new Christmas horror flick, and so here we have Better Watch Out. Now that does seem a rather generic title for a Christmas-themed horror, bringing to mind the “All Through the House” episode of Tales From the Crypt somewhat, and like that episode, deals with home invasion.

Don’t let that fool you, however. Better Watch Out knows what came before it and subverts the viewers’ familiarity with the genre wonderfully. It’s not unlike Cabin in the Woods in that regard, and like Cabin in the Woods, it’s best to go into this one blind. Thus I don’t really want to go into too much detail with this one, but let me just say Better Watch Out offers great suspense, excellent performances, and a despicable, monstrous villain, and all with a sense of twisted humour.

Some people may like watching nice, heartwarming Christmas movies, but for those who prefer a little bit of gore in their Yuletide flicks, Better Watch Out is a good choice.

Advertisements

The Man Who Invented Christmas Review

There have been so many adaptations of A Christmas Carol over the years that a film about the book’s creation seemed a no-brainer. However, I suppose The Man Who Invented Christmas could be considered a “version” of the classic story itself, as in some ways Charles Dickens’ (Dan Stevens) story mirrors that of Ebenezer Scrooge. The movie isn’t exactly subtle about it either; Dickens is frequently visited by his miserly creation (Christopher Plummer), as well as the four ghosts, most of them made to look like people Dickens has encountered.

Indeed, subtle isn’t the right word to use for The Man Who Invented Christmas. It sadly doesn’t include the famous story about Dickens misreading a grave to come up with his main character’s name, but there is a sequence where Dickens hears a man talk about the “surplus population”, then sees two children resembling Ignorance and Want, then comes across an unmourned death. Scrooge represents Dickens’ dark side, and his redemption means Dickens’ own, which is more or less firmly said in the film’s finale.

That is not to say this makes it a bad film; the original Christmas Carol wasn’t exactly all that subtle itself, after all. The film still manages to be fun and festive, capturing some of the holiday cheer of the original novel. Stevens is a delight to watch as Dickens, and Plummer is a fantastic Scrooge. Like Michael Caine in The Muppet Christmas Carol, I would like to see him play the role in an actual adaptation, along with Donald Sumpter as Marley, who I would have liked to see more of in this film. The film has some creative ways of bringing the ghosts to life, as it were, like making the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come a gigantic, gangly figure that creaks when it moves.

On a side note, Plummer also appears as King Herod in this year’s The Star and the Jesus of Nazareth miniseries, and voiced Barnaby the crooked man in an animated adaptation of Babes in Toyland, so he’s an actor who’s played Scrooge among other Christmas villains. The only other actor I can think of off-hand who can also boast that is Jim Carrey.

The Man Who Invented Christmas isn’t perfect, but with its fine acting and visuals, it’s a good film if you’re looking for something to get you into the spirit early.

Thor Ragnarok Review

Spoilers may follow

Another day, another Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I fear that when writing this review, I’ll be repeating my reviews of previous entries in this franchise. It’s fun, the characters are well-played and have good dialogue etc. Indeed, while I did find Thor: Ragnarok entertaining and enjoyable, there was still the sense that this universe has almost run its course.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to like about Thor: Ragnarok. Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston again do commendable jobs as their respective Norse gods, and Mark Ruffalo is a hilarious highlight, both as a battle-loving Hulk and a confused Bruce Banner. He gets the lion’s share of the most memorable scenes, proving that Hulk is indeed the one when you want to have fun.

There, however, still exists the typical MCU problem of an uninteresting villain, especially annoying given this villain had potential. Hela (Cate Blanchett) is Thor’s older sister and goddess of death, so she could have been an interesting antagonist, but sadly, she just comes off as your typical evil sorceress, the type you’d find in abundance in, well, Disney films.

There is still a lot of fun to be had, and some of the jokes really work well, like utilising “Pure Imagination” of all songs. Yet there still is the sense of “second verse same as the first”, that so much of this has been done before and done better in previous MCU films. It’s a space adventure like this year’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol II, yet doesn’t have as much heart as that film did. The villain, as said before, isn’t as interesting as the Vulture was in the last MCU film.

So I am recommending you give Thor: Ragnarok a watch; you’ll enjoy yourself, it’s good to watch while munching on a big bag of popcorn. It just feels like something’s missing.

Halloween Review: The Addams Family

What are you planning on doing this Halloween? You may be too old for trick-or-treating, and you may not be in the mood for a party, but the best way to spend Halloween is watching a fun spooky movie or binge-watching a fun spooky TV show. If you want a TV show or a movie to get you in the Halloween mood, you could certainly do worse than The Addams Family.

Based on characters created by Charles Addams for a series of cartoons in The New Yorker, The Addams Family hit TV screens in 1964, running until 1966. The characters were nameless in the cartoons, but the TV show was when they became known as Gomez, Morticia etc. (One suggested name for Pugsley was Puberty, which would later be the name of the Addams’s third child in Addams Family Values). A family with bizarre tastes, living in a Gothic mansion with a torture room playroom, a lion as a pet and a zombie-esque creature as a butler. Yet despite their quirks, the characters remained strangely likeable.

True, there are some elements of the TV show that are pretty dated. When a robot assistant is made for Lurch, the robot is “played” by Forbidden Planet‘s Robbie, and the Addams even have a big B-Movie sci-fi computer. Though an episode featuring said computer – where Gomez runs for mayor – is strangely relevant today, given that Gomez learns in order to defeat a sneaky, underhanded politician, he has to be sneaky and underhanded himself, and people are willing to vote for Gomez because he makes ridiculous promises and politicians are known not to keep promises.

Still, the show is pretty easy to binge, given the zippy pace of most episodes, the simple and easy-to-follow stories and how much they actually managed to get out of the characters. It can be seen as something of a one-joke premise – they’re weird and everyone isn’t – but they’re so well-acted, so many jokes still land. Lisa Loring’s Wednesday isn’t as sardonic as her movie counterpart, but still makes some twisted lines work; a guest jokes that the Addamses might have Satan over for dinner, and Wednesday says ‘No, that was last week’ like it was the most normal thing in the world. John Astin’s Gomez perfectly mixes eccentricities with a romantic and fatherly nature (Astin would reprise the Gomez role twice, once for a Scooby-Doo crossover and again for an animated series based on the movies).

Another highlight is Ted Kassidy as butler Lurch. Lurch was originally a mute character, but Kassidy’s ad-libbed ‘You rang?’ went over so well, Lurch got more lines. Episodes with Lurch as the focus are some of the funniest, with Kassidy doing so much with so few lines. An episode has Gomez and Morticia wanting to sell Lurch’s prized harpsichord to a museum, with Lurch’s response to the plan being ‘I quit.’ Then Gomez and Fester build a new harpsichord for Lurch to have, planning for the delivery men to take the real one on Lurch’s day off. The delivery men arrive a day early and when they explain what they’re here to do, Lurch let’s out a brilliant ‘Betrayed!’

It may be old but the 1964 Addams Family show is still a lot of fun to watch, as are the later movies The Addams Family and Addams Family Values.

Charles Addams’s original cartoons were a little darker than the TV show, and so is 1991’s The Addams Family, actually recreating some of the cartoons, like the Addamses pouring boiling oil on the carol singers at the beginning. The house is a lot more sinister-looking than back in 1964, and even personified, with a gate that acts as a guard dog and books that can conjure up storms. The implication with Thing originally seemed to be he was a creature we only saw part of, but here, he’s an actual disembodied hand.

In this, Fester (who, while Morticia’s uncle in the TV show, is Gomez’s brother here, a change that helps the characters have a greater connection) has been missing for years after a disagreement between him and Gomez. However, a man named Gordon (Christopher Lloyd), who has a stunning resemblance to Fester, shows up at the mansion, pretending to be Fester to help his criminal mother find the Addams fortune. The plot is a rather typical one for a family movie, but it remains interesting, thanks to Lloyd’s performance as both Gordon and Fester.

Another highlight is Christina Ricci as Wednesday, a humorously macabre and quotable character. However, all of the family get their chance to shine, with Morticia reading fairy tales to children and making them think about the pain the villains went through, and Gomez’s inquiry to a call-in show.

The Addams Family is an enjoyable movie, but Addams Family Values is even better. One reason this is is because two of the best actors from the first film – Lloyd and Ricci are given a bit more to do. The film features the birth of a third child in the Addams family – Puberty – and after that, Fester falls for Debbie (Joan Cusack), a Black Widow murderer who wants to kill Fester and take his money, reckoning without his apparent indestructibility. Cusack is another enjoyable performance, a character just as deranged as the Addamses but in a different way.

This also features Wednesday and Pugsley being sent off to summer camp, which is where most of the highlights of the film happen. Of course, carnage happens when they come there, but you better believe the camp deserved it.

So be it movie or TV programme, what better way to spend Halloween than with the ooky, kooky family?

The Snowman Review

While watching The Snowman, I couldn’t help but think about that classic Christmas special of the same name, and how delightful it would be if that were reimagined as a thriller movie. Imagine Raymond Briggs’s wintry hero using his powers of flight to help track down a killer or him being pursued by a detective about a murder he committed over a can of Irn-Bru. I suppose it shows how interesting The Snowman is if it makes me into Homer Simpson and has me paying more attention to a movie in my mind than an actual one.

The Snowman is based on the Jo Nesbo novel of the same name, and features a killer who goes after women in broken families, using snowmen as his calling card. At one point a snowman is made with a woman’s severed head. That may sound silly but it also makes The Snowman seem a more interesting film than it actually is.

It’s not the worst movie ever made, mind, and I’d even hesitate at calling it the worst of the year. It’s just simply too slow-paced and not all that engaging. There’s nothing that hasn’t been done better by other movies or the average episode of Hannibal. It’s supposed to be a game of cat and mouse between killer and detective, but never really picks up speed. It’s hard to be invested in, and halfway through, you’ll lose interest and start daydreaming about The Snowdog of the Baskervilles instead.

Dunkirk Review

Chris Nolan is a director that knows how to take advantage of the medium of film. From the brilliantly non-linear storytelling of Memento to the wonderfully bizarre sets of Inception, Nolan knows how to emphasize the elements and emotions of his stories through visuals and audio. In The Dark Knight, for example, the Joker’s vicious nature was reflected in his makeup and Hans Zimmer’s discordant theme music.

Nolan’s mastery of the film medium is certainly reflected in his latest, Dunkirk, a film portraying the Dunkirk evacuation during World War II. Now, I can’t really say this film gets into the characters’ heads as much as Nolan’s previous films have, but Dunkirk is more about the event itself than the people involved in it, but does expertly portray what the people involved must have been thinking, how they were feeling. Fear, paranoia and hope are all on display here, and shown exquisitely.

Again Hans Zimmer’s score perfectly reflects the action on screen, though here, the most successful scenes have little music at all; the best score is the ticking of a clock, as if we are listening to the very fear that time may be running out itself. Very little dialogue is used here, which only adds to the tense atmosphere of the piece. It’s a film that truly immerses the viewer in its world, so it’s a film worth seeing in Imax.

I wouldn’t go as far as say Dunkirk is Nolan’s best film, but it is a fantastic showcase of how he uses the qualities of film to their fullest.

Baby Driver Review

Using popular songs in films can be effective in helping to set the scene and reflect the characters’ personalities, but it’s a trope that’s easy to mess up. Done wrong, it can feel like a substitute for creativity and even turn the film into a glorified big-screen music video (see Sucker Punch for an example). An example of this done right can be found in recent release Baby Driver, which writer/director Edgar Wright even described as being “kind of like a musical”.

The titular driver, Baby (Ansel Elgort) was involved in a car accident as a child, which causes a permanent ring throughout his ears. In order to drown out this ringing, he always makes sure to listen to music as he acts as getaway driver for a group of criminals. When he’s listening to a song, the audience listen to it as well; the song gets fainter when he takes one earplug off and stops when both earplugs are removed.

He even listens to the music during the more intense moments of the movie, and the action on screen matches up with the beats of the songs, creating some unique and enjoyable setpieces. This is definitely a film where the music enhances the experience, and even lets us know a bit about our Baby too, as the opening credits see him dancing down the streets mouthing to a song.

There’s plenty of impressive action, including a scene rather reminiscent of this year’s Free Fire, but this is an Edgar Wright film, so there’s plenty of comedy as well. Highlights include a scene where the criminals wear Michael Myers masks, and a quote from, of all things, Monsters Inc.

Baby Driver is a fun and fast-paced films, one that knows how to grab your attention and immerse you in its world. And it’s got good music too.