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.

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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.

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.

Spider-Man Homecoming Review

There was plenty to like about Captain America: Civil War, but one of the biggest highlights was Tom Holland’s performance as Spider-Man, even though his role was a small one. Loveably dorky and awkward was he, and it made several viewers want to see him in his own movie. And here we have it.

Spider-Man has been battling street-level crime using the suit Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr)  gave him, but wishes for a greater challenge. That arrives when he comes across a group of bank-robbers using high-tech weapons supplied to them by Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton). Assisted by his friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), Peter attempts to put an end to Toomes’ operation, even though it might mean Stark losing trust in him.

The film begins with scenes from Civil War, and Stark does play a significant role. He does not, however, dominate the film, and enough is explained that those who haven’t watched previous MCU movies could follow. It’s certainly refreshing to watch after Amazing Spider-Man 2, which seemed only to exist to set up regular movies. There’s no origin shown this time (though mentioned) but this does have all the elements of a good Spider-man film; not only do we have Peter chasing down villains, we have him dealing with teenage angst.

Tom Holland is once again perfectly cast as Spider-Man, making him likeable, funny and sympathetic; possibly the best on-screen Spider-Man yet. The film’s second most memorable performance comes from Michael Keaton, who may not have been as fun as DeFoe’s Green Goblin but is certainly a threatening villain, made even more so by the human elements of his character. A lot is happening in this movie, yet it never feels overpacked or overlong.

2017 has certainly proved itself to be a good year for superhero flicks. Spider-Man: Homecoming is not as funny as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 or as engaging as Wonder Woman, but is still a tonne of fun.