Category Archives: 2010s

Leprechaun Returns (2018)

*. I (foolishly) went into Leprechaun: Origins with high hopes. After having them shattered by what was probably the worst Leprechaun movie to date (you might want to write it off as LINO, or Leprechaun In Name Only) I adjusted my expectations accordingly for Leprechaun Returns. Sure this wasn’t a WWE Studios production, but Syfy? Was that any better?
*. Well, maybe it’s because my expectations were so low but I really enjoyed Leprechaun Returns. It’s not exactly a sequel or a reboot, as it dismisses all of the previous Leprechaun movies except the first, which it follows up on directly, albeit twenty-five years later.
*. So now we have Lila Redding (Taylor Spreitler) the daughter of Tory Redding, returning to the house the Leprechaun had attacked in the original. As you will have guessed, he’s still down the well he had been sent into at the end of that movie. Just waiting to be revived.
*. Tory Redding had been played by Jennifer Aniston in the first movie. The producers tried to get Aniston to come back for at least a cameo here, but no dice. Warwick Davis also bowed out as the Leprechaun. Instead all they got was Mark Holton to return as Ozzie. Who comes to a messy end but at least has his moments of heroism.
*. Everything here works well enough. Linden Porco does a perfectly adequate job filling in for Davis as the Leprechaun. The comic bits, mostly revolving around Rip Van Winkle-style jokes about waking up twenty-five years later, are funnier than anything in the other movies. There are some good bits about the kids using cell phones to take selfies of themselves with the little guy. The Leprechaun marvels at their phones being both a camera and a Walkman, which leads to one of the kids asking “What’s a Walkman?” Also, as a connoisseur of fine footwear he tosses a pair of Crocs in the garbage, figuring it’s time to kill that fashion trend.
*. So there are some decent jokes. Not belly laughs, but as I’ve said before the series has never been as funny as I think it should have been and here it’s at least amusing. Also an improvement is the gore, including two really enjoyable kills (a postman having his head crushed in a mailbox and a doofus being sliced in two by a solar panel). There’s some stuff making use of a drone that doesn’t work that well, but those scenes are among the few misfires. And by the standards of most of what you see on the Syfy channel (just think of all those ghastly Sharknado movies) it all looks pretty darn good.
*. Even the basic plot is actually OK. A gang of young women are turning the old Redding place into an eco-friendly (and way, way off-campus) sorority house. They are described at one point as the nerdiest sorority ever but quite surprisingly they don’t all play as clichés and their defeat of the Leprechaun doesn’t turn into a tired statement of female empowerment. It’s just fun. In the words of director Steven Kostanski, “a goofy, ridiculous horror romp.”
*. So full credit to Kostanski (who also did The Void), writer Suzanne Keilly, and all the rest of the cast and crew. Sure we’re judging by really low standards, but this is one of the best Leprechaun movies, and one of the best Syfy channel movies I’ve seen. Colour me green, surprised, and entertained.

Leprechaun: Origins (2014)

*. Go ahead and call me an idiot, but I was actually looking forward to this one. I thought there was potential in the original Leprechaun franchise that went untapped, and in its final instalment, Leprechaun 6: Back 2 Tha Hood, even Warwick Davis seemed tired of it. Time for some fresh blood then!
*. I went in cold, not having read any of the reviews. My first tip off that things weren’t going well came with the credits. WWE Studios? Had they ever produced a good movie? And who the hell was Dylan “Hornswoggle” Postl? Apparently a wrestler. Hornswoggle was his ring name. Why he wanted it included in the credits here, or if it was his decision, I don’t know.
*. I don’t know if Dylan “Hornswoggle” Postl is a good actor. Despite the fact that he has star billing playing the Leprechaun he doesn’t actually do much. To be honest, aside from his fascination with gold I don’t think he’s much of a leprechaun. In appearance he’s sort of like a skinned chimp, or one of the troglodytes in The Descent. Instead of busting rhymes he only growls. And he doesn’t wear any clothes, so no top hat and buckled shoes.
*. In other words, he’s a kind of wild, flesh-eating animal — not a character at all much less a witty leprechaun. He also has no magic powers and it’s actually kind of hard to figure out why the villagers haven’t been able to kill him yet.
*. Gone are the fun-loving days of horror comedy. This Leprechaun movie wants us to take it straight. Which would have been fine if it were well done. Unfortunately they gave up what at least aspired to a kind of goofy charm for something ugly, dark, and stupid.
*. The set-up plugs into what had become common contemporary horror tropes. Chief among these is tourist terror. American backpackers in trouble while on vacation. I don’t know where this got started (maybe An American Werewolf in London?) but around this time such films were thick on the ground (think Hostel, Turistas, The Ruins, and Midsommar). Connected to this is the idea of visiting a village with an evil secret, in this case a place in Ireland that stole a leprechaun’s gold some years back and now has to offer up tourists as sacrifices to keep the little beast placated. At least I think that’s the back story. It wasn’t all that clear.
*. Again, the conventionality of this needn’t have been the kiss of death. They still could have made it work. But they didn’t. The script is junk, with the characters behaving, and sounding, like idiots throughout. They are also clichés. The hero boy is going into med school and the last girl (his girlfriend) is going to do a Master’s in history. That sort of thing.
*. Even where clichés are avoided the script runs into problems. Why do none of these kids have a cell phone? This gets around the usual business about not being able to get a signal, but it’s not easy to understand.
*. Then there’s the look of the movie. As I’ve said, it’s ugly and dark. Good luck seeing anything, especially with the picture constantly being jerked out of focus. Then there’s the very strange decision to shoot things from the Leprechaun’s point of view, which reveals that he has some kind of Wolfen/Predator style vision. Why? I’ve no idea. It doesn’t even look good.
*. I guess you can say there’s one decent kill, also harkening back to Predator. But otherwise even the gore goes missing. It’s hard to overstate how disappointing all this is. I was thinking that at least the Leprechaun would look good, but he’s just a troll. Not scary and no fun at all. I would have never believed that I’d miss the original run of movies so much. I have no idea what the title Origins was referring to. Perhaps a hope that this movie might reboot the franchise? At least we can be thankful that didn’t happen. The next Leprechaun up would instead pitch itself as a sequel to the original. Bless us and preserve us!

Elysium (2013)

*. I don’t think I need to spend too much time on this one. Let’s just listen to writer-director Neill Blomkamp telling us how he felt about it: “It’s not bad, but it’s pretty much a run-of-the-mill dystopian SF film, with a tired political premise, poor effects, humdrum action sequences, unremarkable design elements, and a clumsy, somewhat ridiculous story.”
*. Clumsy, ridiculous, and old. The “tired political premise” was said to have been borrowed from an old Star Trek episode (“The Cloud Minders”) but it’s been around even longer than that in SF circles. I usually refer to it as the myth of the Morlocks, borrowing from H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine. In the future there’s a wealthy uberclass of supercitizens who live in some technoparadise floating above the sweltering proles in their crowded favelas (Mexico City here). Rebellion threatens.
*. Needless to say, this is a social vision that’s been getting a lot of play recently. Snowpiercer, another big-budget dystopic SF film, came out the same year as Elysium and was nearly identical in this regard. And indeed it’s not so different from Blomkamp’s previous film, the superior District 9.
*. The myth is dressed up here to address more topical concerns. There are, for example, refugee boat people risking their lives to make it to Elysium. I’m not sure why, as there’s clearly no work for them to do there. Robots have completely taken over so it’s not like they’re going to make better lives for themselves. The only real plus is the advanced health care, which can fix everything (and I mean everything) that’s wrong with you just by lying down in a tube and being painlessly scanned for a few seconds.
*. I don’t think it’s all that well thought out. The Elysians are the usual villainous types, but one still doesn’t feel optimistic when the Earthers take over. The tragedy of the commons is coming, we can be sure.
*. I wonder what attracted Jodie Foster to such a role. The politics? The chance to speak a bit of French? The paycheque? It’s certainly not a very demanding or original part. Defense Secretary Delacourt is just a stereotypical authoritarian CEO (and the part was originally written for a man). Even Blomkamp seems uncertain what he wanted from her, as she makes a hasty exit so that a semi-articulate beast man (Sharlto Copley) can take over sole duties as the heavy. I was expecting something a little more interesting.
*. But then Blomkamp doesn’t appear to be much interested in anything other than blowing things up. It’s very much a Michael Bay aesthetic, with lots of fancy machinery and explosions. Our hero Max (Matt Damon) is even turned into a battlebot courtesy of an exoskelton that’s surgically attached to his body. Man and machine are one. Get a load of your rapture.
*. Rapture isn’t a word I use loosely either. Max is a Christ figure, sacrificing himself so that the poor can enter the kingdom of heaven. Again, this is nothing new. In fact, it’s a cliché.
*. Because what is Christ in the twenty-first century but a semi-mechanical superhero? Elysium is basically another instalment of MarvelCrap. The story arc is exactly the same: lowly Everyman figure gets a dose of radiation and is transformed into a superhuman fighter for justice. Meanwhile he has a girlfriend he has to win over while saving the world along the way. Etc. Rinse and repeat.
*. Well, I suppose I could go through it, picking apart inconsistencies and improbabilities in the plot, but there’s not much point. I mean, I didn’t even grasp the basics of exactly what all information Max had in his head, or what Delacourt wants to do with it. In the end, I suspect it was just a throwaway plot device.
*. I’ve already said more here than I wanted to. What makes Elysium so typical of the productions of this period isn’t the stale and half-baked politics or its superhero plot so much as the basic fact that this is a movie that looks great but doesn’t have a brain in its metal head.

Jigsaw (2017)

*. I took a break from the Saw franchise (as in fact the series itself did) before Jigsaw. I think this helped, though I’d grown fuzzy on the details of the Saw mythology, and had forgotten a lot of key plot points. Was it possible John Kramer was still alive? What about the last inheritor of his grisly mantle? Was s/he still around? Whatever the answers to these questions, the formula was like an old sweater, and I was sure everything was going to play out in a way that would bring it all back.
*. It does. Though billed as a reboot of the franchise, Jigsaw (originally titled Saw: Legacy) plays more like a direct sequel. That is, a direct sequel to Saw: The Final Chapter (a joke we’ve all heard before). As many critics observed, it’s yet another attempt to write an origin story for John Kramer, even though there have already been a couple of these and, as I’ve previously remarked, Kramer isn’t that interesting a guy to get to know in the first place.
*. The formula, however, has proven to be a winner. Much like the Final Destination movies (which, on the whole, I prefer) there’s that old sweater of essential elements that get repeated. The rules for these movies are as strict as those for Jigsaw’s puzzles.
*. So there’s the forbidding invitation — a bogus “choice” that cannot be refused — to play a game. This is followed by more of the same tired traps: chains, collars, needles, and (naturally) saws. More narrative trickery playing with our sense of time, and more red herrings. But by this point we’ve been trained to expect the unexpected, so the herrings scarcely even register. We know exactly who the killer isn’t, and we can be damn sure that Jigsaw is about a hundred steps (or half-a-dozen movies) ahead of everyone else.

*. I’m not sure there’s much that sets Jigsaw apart. Matthew Lucas: “The Saw movies were never a great franchise (although the series did have its highlights), and Jigsaw neither pushes the series in any new direction nor does it do a disservice to what came before. It’s simply another Saw movie.” The victims seem a bit duller on the uptake, no good at solving puzzles and slow to take instructions or hints. And for some reason Jigsaw has developed even more of a spiritual bent. As the movie begins he’s lecturing the bucketheads on atonement, confession, salvation, and how the truth will set them free. As if. Is this meant as mockery? I recall the earlier films being more existential in their morality.
*. There was some hope among critics that directors Michael and Peter Spierig (credited as The Spierig Brothers), who had enjoyed some success with Predestination, would inject some new blood (as opposed to just more blood) into the franchise. This didn’t happen. I think Jesse Hassenger nicely captures all they brought to the table: “They favor blues, grays, and, at one point, the oddly warm lighting of a grain silo over the sludge tones and frantic shot-stuttering of the earlier films (originated by a still-learning James Wan, and passed along to the first film’s art director and editor). It mostly looks slickly professional, as opposed to slick with liquefied grime.”
*. On the DVD commentary the producers give their own take on what sets this film apart but I found it a lot less convincing than Hassenger’s. They do, however, address what has to be the key dilemma in any franchise entry: “one of our goals was to make it a Saw movie and not a Saw movie at the same time.” And later: “we wanted to make a Saw movie but not just Saw 8.” But the differences they point to are mainly cosmetic. There are more exteriors, but still not a lot. The “Hello Zepp” theme is tweaked. The Billy puppet has glowing eyes. They also mention how they wanted to go back to the original Saw with more puzzle-solving and less gore, but I didn’t see this at all.
*. Not the best movie in the franchise, and not the worst. I thought the gore quite well handled, climaxing in a wonderful slice-and-dice shot at the end. The traps are unimaginative though, and the twist predictable. If you’re feeling despair or disgust at the human race and just want to turn your brain off for 90 minutes it will do the trick. It does seem though that it’s become a franchise in a box.

The Silent (2015)

*. Vague. Suggestive. A mood piece that’s only seven minutes long with no dialogue, which may have some relation to the title. A title that I can’t explain otherwise.
*. But as with any movie like this you can only attempt partial explanations. As writer-director Toni Tikkanen puts it: “The main goal was not to make a mystery which needs to be solved but just to take the viewer into this nightmarish world which is kind of being like inside the sleep paralysis or night terror episode and experience it through the child’s perspective. There is a story underneath but I don’t think it’s relevant to understand it.”
*. Well, I’d say it’s relevant, if not necessary. As I see it, and I think this appears to be the general consensus, the little girl has just died. This makes the question of “her perspective” a bit challenging. Does she know she’s dead? Is she upset? The Sixth Sense had something to say about this but I don’t know how much of it applies here.
*. And what about the adults? The movie seems structured around three reaction shots. First the mother seems to see the girl enter a room and is happy, then fearful. Which seems the right sort of response to seeing your daughter’s ghost (I’m assuming here that the woman is the girl’s mother). Then another man gives the girl a look of surprise, made all the more surprising by being rendered in a jump cut so we don’t see his head turning toward her. She is as startled as we are and runs away. Which is actually very nice, because it seems clear that it is the man who is startled by her. But does he see her, or only sense her presence?
*. Finally there’s a man, perhaps the girl’s father. He looks at her (us, the camera, this is “her perspective”) and seems to acknowledge her presence. But he may just be thinking of something else entirely. In the progression of these three reaction shots: from the first where it seems clear the mother sees the girl, to the last where it’s not clear the man sees anything at all, we can see the girl starting to fade even from memory. I think most people who have experienced the death of someone close to them know the feeling of still sensing their presence in the accustomed places. But these feelings fade.
*. Tikkanen: “So I wouldn’t worry too much about the ‘answers,’ because the film is more about the tone and emotions and trying to affect the viewer’s subconscious mind.” Fair enough. But I felt my own worrying about answers to be the most intriguing way into the film. The more purely surreal stuff, like the people appearing with drawings over their faces or the nods to Don’t Look Now didn’t mean as much to me. I’m not sure trying to be creepy here helped. And I don’t think the creepiness is all projection. Those faces are creepy, and the music nudges us in the same direction. But is this a horror story? Or a story of loss?

Black Christmas (2019)

*. First thing to say is that this isn’t a remake of the pioneering slasher flick Black Christmas (1974). Yes, if you stand a few steps back and tilt your head on an angle and squint a bit you can see some similarities. There’s a sorority being terrorized by a serial killer over the Christmas holidays. Some of the kills follow in the same sort of order, and the obscene phone calls have been replaced by less obscene text messages. But the plot is totally different and it takes a very contemporary slant.
*. It was not well received by critics and audiences, though it still made a bit of money (I think Blumhouse movies are designed to always turn a profit). The reasons for this negative reaction I’ve already adverted to. Horror fans looking for a remake or homage to Bob Clark’s Black Christmas were disappointed (or outraged), while people not wanting to be served a political message with their popcorn entertainment were put off (or offended).
*. I didn’t take exception to either of these directions the movie takes. I don’t see the point of overly faithful remakes (Psycho, The Omen) and think that any way you can change things up is usually for the better just to keep the audience guessing. I also don’t mind filmmakers adding a political message, especially in genres where you’re not really expecting it. Having said that . . .
*. The new direction taken here makes the plot of this Black Christmas even less interesting than the original, which I scarcely thought possible (which is not to knock Clark’s film, only its storyline). I guess you can see the cult of demonically-possessed frat boys as sort of like a male version of the coven of witches in Suspiria, but, that point made, it doesn’t get you very far.
*. What’s worse is that director Sophia Takal doesn’t seem to be that interested in scaring us. Some of this may be the effect of making a PG-13 horror film — just think of the godawful Prom Night remake — but I don’t think the absence of gore (there’s no blood but only a black ichor being spilled) and bad language (no fucks to give, and even the word “clit” in the line “suck my clit” was deleted) necessarily hamstrings a horror film. There are plenty of ways to be scary and smart without resorting to extreme violence. Unfortunately, I’m not sure Takal knows any of them.
*. Suspense, like comedy, is all a matter of timing. You can’t let the audience get too far out ahead of you. But two scenes stuck out for me here for how telegraphed they were. The first is a kill that is an homage (or steal) from the famous nurse scene in The Exorcist III. I guessed this was coming as soon as the initial shot was framed. Then there’s another scene in the attic as one of the girls tries to find a set of working Christmas lights. You’d be a dull viewer indeed if you didn’t guess the punchline for that one.
*. Actually there are no surprises, or even jump scares, anywhere here. When it came out there were complaints that the trailer gave too much away, but I think it was so obvious what was going on from the beginning there was no need to worry about spoilers.
*. So as horror this Black Christmas is kind of slack. But then there’s the message. Again, I had nothing against this. Takal wanted to make as feminist a film as possible, and had apparently even expressed interest in yet another entry in the I Spit on Your Grave franchise (a series that had already, with whatever degree of sincerity, been marketed as feminist manifestoes). And when it comes to the slasher genre, the resourceful last girl who triumphs at the end is another trope that has always been seen as scoring at least some points for female empowerment. So was this approach new?
*. Not new, and cruder. This is a #MeToo film that’s all about the oppressiveness of the patriarchy and rape culture and cancel culture and toxic masculinity (symbolized by the black goo that turns clean-cut kids into alpha male monsters). I don’t think this was a bad idea, but it just gets laid on so thick that you start to feel that it’s the movie’s whole reason for being. Apparently the Cary Elwes character was supposedly modeled off of Jordan Peterson. “You’re all insane,” Poots says to him at the end. “No, no, not insane Ms. Stone,” he replies. “Simply men.” Meanwhile there’s one decent guy thrown into the mix (he just “wants to help”) who’s only there to show that not all men are shit. Which is something.
*. Here’s an example of how the feminist angle is worked into the film in a way that adds absolutely nothing. The masks worn by the Cult of Toxic Bros are apparently based on some version of the medieval or early modern scold’s bridle. I’d heard about these, but didn’t recognize them here. I don’t think many people would, without listening to the commentary. So it’s a point that probably went over everyone’s head. But there are two further problems with it. In the first place, it’s not a very distinguished or iconic look. It just looks like a generic black mask. So it doesn’t add anything to the story. Second: why would the men be wearing bridles? Because, according to Takal, they are instruments of control as well. I guess, but it still doesn’t seem right. They’re supposed to be the kings of the new world order. They shouldn’t be wearing the facial equivalent of chastity belts.
*. Something good still might have come of this. I remember thinking I’d probably seen the last of Imogen Poots in 28 Weeks Later, but she’s really very good here. I look forward to seeing more of her. And Aleyse Shannon is also great. She has a fierceness in her eyes in the second half of the movie that made me think of Samuel L. Jackson getting ready to open a can of whoop-ass.
*. But I guess the whole project was somewhat rushed, and launched (not for the first time for a Blumhouse production) without a script in hand. The story really breaks down in the second half and I had no idea what the frat’s endgame was. Also, the snow may be the worst fake snow I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot. It looks like sand.
*. So not as bad as I had been led to expect by the reviews. But at the same time nothing special. I don’t see where it really does anything new or interesting with the genre, aside from including the timely references of the kind I’ve mentioned. But as is the case with most timely films I don’t suspect it will last. Those scarves are already looking a bit expired. Like the 2006 edition of Black Christmas, this one will soon be forgotten. Leaving us with a movie from 1974 that has now outlived two remakes.
*. It’s fine for a remake to take an old story and make it more up-to-date, but it would be nice if they’d put as much effort into trying to make the old movie better, at least in some way. Otherwise I’m for leaving well enough alone.

Office Christmas Party (2016)

*. Not a movie that critics or audiences fell in love with, but I managed to stay with it. It’s a bit of a three-ring circus, but there are a lot of stars and they all do their thing reasonably well, without much aid from the script.
*. It’s a movie of role players. Jason Bateman has the part of the straight man he’s been playing since Arrested Development and Horrible Bosses down pat. To the point where he only seems half-awake here. Yes, his job is to try to remain steady as everything around him descends into chaos, but he really fades into the background in this movie. Meanwhile Jennifer Aniston is back as the bitch, or Grinch, T. J. Miller steals the show as the decent-but-dopey office manager. These are all square pegs going into square holes.
*. Some of the other typecasting may come across as racialized. Randall Park is the Asian man who can’t get a date because he has issues with being submissive. Karan Soni is the Indian guy who can’t get a date and so has to hire a prostitute to take to the party, where she intimidates him. There’s a black guy (Sam Richardson) who transforms into a hip-hop DJ. There’s a large black woman (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) who is the building’s security guard and won’t take no messin’ around.
*. I don’t know if I’d call this racist so much as lazy. And I’d say the same for the plot. Yes, this is the old story where everything is going to hell so the best idea anyone has is to throw a party. Somehow that’s going to impress an angel investor to save Miller’s company. That’s a stretch, but it actually makes more sense than the turn things take in the final act, which is a literal deus ex cloud as one of the employees at the soon-to-be-terminated Chicago branch reinvents the Internet on the fly. Which saves everyone’s job, and every Jack has his Jill and we all go home together. Just as soon as we finish watching some below-grade outtakes through the credits. And yes, I’m rating outtakes now. I have to, because they’re in the movie.
*. I watched this movie right around the same time I watched Zombieland: Double Tap and I thought it interesting that both films end with the same message about how real family are a trial (and perhaps a curse) but one’s friends are a better surrogate anyway. This struck me as a familiar sentiment, as it had also been played up in The LEGO Batman Movie (2017). This is an old bit of folk wisdom (“God chooses your relatives; thank God you can choose your friends”) but it seems to have been gaining a lot more traction lately. A growing sense of social dislocation and anxiety? A wistful response to the fraying of family ties?
*. At least this movie has energy, if not a lot of laughs. As light and forgettable as most comedies of this period, which might not even be a criticism. This is what we want comedies to be: reassuring, as the world spirals into cruelty and chaos. Immanuel!

Better Watch Out (2016)

*. Colour me baffled. Better Watch Out is a complete piece of shit. This is a movie with no redeeming qualities that I can make out. It’s a holiday horror flick that has a babysitter (Olivia DeJonge) being terrorized by her 12-year-old charge (Levi Miller, in what should have been a career-ending role). That is the big “twist” in the tale, and you know it’s coming within the first five or ten minutes. And that is the only twist that is even attempted.
*. Is that enough to make the film worth watching? I’ve nothing against movies about kids who are psychopathic killers. I’ve enjoyed them all the way from The Bad Seed and Village of the Damned up through Devil Times Five and Children of the Corn. So I can’t say I find Luke shocking or disturbing in any way. Instead he just annoyed me. About the only thing I liked was the way his voice kept breaking.
*. Then there is the matter of tone. As it gets started it seems like it’s going to be a horror comedy, but that’s only because of the crude language, which I think is meant to pass for humour. Hey, the kids are as foul-mouthed as mom and dad! But then there’s the “twist” (I have to put that in quotation marks) and it turns into the usual round of torture and cruelty, which drags us through all the stations of the cross we are used to in the genre, most obviously the failed escapes and rescues.
*. So that’s the movie then. It’s awful. It’s not scary, it’s just painful to sit through. Audiences didn’t appreciate it and the box office, as far as I can tell, was nearly nonexistent. And yet here’s the baffling part: critics ate it up. Its ratings on the aggregator sites are very high, and not just because of the usual sort of puffery you find on the niche review websites. The Guardian found it “fresh and exciting” and the Los Angeles Times “a fun kind of nasty.” Other reviews said much the same.
*. I don’t get it. There’s nothing fresh or original here. There’s nothing about it that’s well done. If you’re a fan of extreme horror there isn’t even any on-screen gore to speak of. The tone of the whole things seems to have been woefully misjudged. It’s just a movie that riffs on the tired juxtaposition of all the phony suburban bonhomie of Christmas with the horrors of the dysfunctional nuclear family. Children are killing people while we hear carols being sung! How subversive! Alas we’ve been here before, with movies that were much, much cleverer and more exciting.
*. I won’t rant here about Better Watch Out. It’s no good, but that doesn’t make me angry. What does upset me is the evidence of just how degraded the critical establishment has become. Were reviewers afraid of not seeming hip enough to get it? Who could have thought this was edgy or different or fun? Such dereliction of duty is something to be upset about.

Delirium (2018)

*. The movie that calls into question the sanity of its main character, thus forcing us to wonder how much, if any, of what we see is “really” happening, has quite a long history. It probably got started with The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, but never went away all through the Gaslight dramas of the ’40s and their more convoluted Hammer descendants in the ’60s (Nightmare, for example). And it’s continued right up to the present day, with movies like Unsane and Delirium.
*. The thing about such a movie as this is that it makes you wonder if it’s worth complaining about all the improbabilities in the plot or whether you should just shrug at them because none of it is real anyway and the whole story, or at least some large part of the story, is just the main character imagining things. This is especially the case in a movie where ultimately determining what is real and not real is left open or ambiguous.
*. So the plot here has it that Tom (Topher Grace) has just been released from a psychiatric hospital, where he’s been for the last twenty years after being found guilty of murdering a girl when he was a kid. He has to spend the next thirty days in his father’s mansion under house arrest before he will be allowed to go free. Since his father just killed himself a few days earlier, he has the house to himself. But after his parole officer (Patricia Clarkson) takes away his meds he starts seeing things.
*. None of this makes sense, but is any of it real anyway? Do the police really think Tom can make it to the phone, or even hear the phone, from anywhere in such a massive house in only ten rings? What if he’s swimming? Did Tom kill the girl twenty years ago, or did his brother? Does his brother actually show up at the house? Does Tom even have a brother? Does he have a parole officer? Does a good-looking young woman really show up to deliver his groceries and immediately fall in love with him? Can he really not tell, just from picking it up, that the box of cereal is empty?
*. Whatever the reality of the other plot elements, I think Tom should have at least known about the cereal. After a while I didn’t care much about the rest of what was going on, especially as things became more and more fanciful and grotesque. The underground vault was an interesting set, but it was the only thing that caught my attention. There’s a hint of something getting started between Grace and Clarkson that had potential but it’s immediately dropped (and how Clarkson got star billing for such a small part is a mystery to me).
*. I’ve now seen two movies directed by Dennis Iliadis (this and the remake of The Last House on the Left), and neither was any good. He can’t even make the dog look threatening here. I wonder if our paths will ever cross again.
*. Delirium is a movie that dares you to like it, and I didn’t feel like taking it up on its offer. If you’re going to make a movie that asks what is real and what is fantasy you have to do it in such a way that the audience cares. For what it’s worth, I didn’t think much of what was happening was real, but I also don’t see how it mattered.

Bombshell (2019)

*. We often hear about how there aren’t a lot of good roles for women in Hollywood. But Bombshell is a showcase for three of the biggest names, which is why I was drawn to it. I think Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie are both really good actors and Nicole Kidman is usually solid. (It’s not that I don’t like Kidman, just that I’m not as enthusiastic about her. You could say I’m not a fan.)
*. The stars all play well here, but I didn’t like Bombshell. This may be in part because, according to the notes I was making while watching it, I didn’t like any of the characters very much. This, in turn, raises a bit of a problem, since the movie ends with a warning not to let the fact that we don’t like these women prejudice us against their cause. So that’s a point taken.
*. But there’s more to my dislike of the movie than its attempt to make a hero out of Megyn Kelly. I just felt it was too preachy and conventional. It’s basically a #MeToo movie with not much to say about politics (aside from the office variety) or the media. Fox News might as well be any toxic work environment. I couldn’t help but feel this was leaving out an important part of the story.
*. The style adopted by Jay Roach (veteran of several previous political dramas) is pretty much in keeping with other torn-from-the-headlines movies of this time, most notably The Big Short. I didn’t think this was wise though, since there was nothing that complicated that needed explaining (by breaking the fourth wall, for example) and it had the effect of making what was happening seem less real and impactful.
*. I didn’t even recognize Theron at first, her make-up job (which won Kazu Hiro a second Academy Award) is that good. But that also underlined one of the real problems I had with Bombshell. The characters have no depth. They are basically just their make-up, or their professional masks. This may have been part of the point the movie was making about image in the “visual medium” of TV, but combined with the obvious heroes vs. villains nature of the plot it had the effect of flattening everything out. For example, we never even get any sense of what makes Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) tick. His lechery, if that’s what it is, seems automatic, even bored. Meanwhile, Malcolm McDowell’s Rupert Murdoch only gives us a glimpse of some more profound wickedness.
*. A braver movie would have run with the ambiguity and conflict, presenting us with characters less heroic and more compromised. But given the message it wanted to carry that was a road they didn’t want to risk going down. Instead we get a newly empowered Margot Robbie (playing a fictional victim of Ailes) going full Nora as she leaves Fox News in dramatic fashion. She’s gonna make it on her own. You go girl. Submit your own slogan.
*. The message is important, but it’s put across in a simplistic way that turns the movie into more of a Public Service Announcement than an effective or thought-provoking drama. A great cast, but in this case unnecessary.