The Bow is Strung in Marvel’s Hawkeye, Now’s the Time to Shoot

We’re a couple of years down the track in Marvel’s latest Avengers spin-off series, Hawkeye — set in the bustling and Christmassy New York City in the years post-snap. It’s a fitting setting given the opening sequence of episode one takes audiences back to the alien infested, war-torn New York City of 2012’s Avengers in order to establish the character of Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld).

That opening sequence quickly introduces audiences to Kate in her adolescent years as she experiences the fateful events of the Avengers battle with evil, from the ravaged apartment she and her family reside in. In the distance on the roof of another building, the shows eponymous hero, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) tusks it out with the aliens before eventually saving and inspiring Kate through a swift shot from his bow — changing the course of her life forever.   

We eventually fast forward to present day (which is a few years ahead of 2021) where Kate is now 22, living in her own apartment, and her mother Eleanor Bishop (Vera Farmiga) has become acquainted with Jack Duquesne (Tony Dalton) following the death of her husband all those years ago. On the flip side we have Clint Barton who is living a more steady life with his family as he seemingly still struggles internally to come to terms with the aftermath of Thanos’ wrath. It isn’t until a gala auction event goes sideways, that the story begins to pick up. A Russian street gang known as the Tracksuit Mafia infiltrate the auction where among many items, a Ronin suit from one of the Avengers is present. Kate nabs the suit and legs it, unaware that her actions will bring her face-to-face with Barton, the Tracksuit Mafia, and further trouble.

These first two episodes are much more measured and simplified than Marvels other shows from earlier this year like Loki and WandaVision. Director Rhys Thomas takes a much more playful approach to the storytelling here, never really subjecting viewers to a myriad of complex information (timekeepers and worlds-within-worlds) and instead opting to focus on the banter and push-pull dynamic between Steinfeld and Renner.

To much surprise, that approach works in the shows favour as Thomas lays all his cards on the table from the outset and builds on Steinfeld’s energy and Renner’s reluctance to help her beyond the amount he requires. It makes for some amusing back-and-forths and on-the-nose one liners.

Hailee Steinfeld in Hawkeye

The plotting feels a bit inadequate in comparison to the actors chemistry as it’s almost built on a ‘as you go’ basis rather than as something worth stimulating an audience members curiosity. Essentially, not much happens that couldn’t be predicted by casual audiences and not much is left to an audience members imagination. For those that have read the comic, perhaps that approach works, but hopefully the episodes that follow will provide a little more intrigue, albeit not to the extent that Loki did (especially with the sublime Florence Pugh scheduled to make an appearance).

It has to be said that Renner is side-lined by Steinfeld who channels her teen charisma from Bumblebee (2018) & The Edge of Seventeen (2016). She injects the show with a Tom Holland-esque charm seen in the Spider-Man films, as she brings a likeable on-screen presence that is hard not to buy into. Renner plays that more reserved, subduedness that he carried with him in the Avengers films and it makes me realise how my desires for him to take the forefront in this show wouldn’t have worked to the shows advantage judging by these two episodes.

Both episodes keep you engaged through Steinfeld’s performance and the consistent humorous tone that has become a staple of Marvel, but rarely hits home. The fact that Thomas leans into that tone from the get-go while building our engagement with this peaceful, yet disrupted New York setting through the leads, means that the occasional comical comment from a Mafia henchmen for instance, doesn’t feel out of place. Too often a Marvel production will fluctuate tonally from episode to episode which can work given that no two directors are the same if multiple directors are directing, but Thomas has set a sound, but somewhat tilted foundation to build on from these two episodes.  

Marvel has always looked to the future with its work and for ways to pass the torch onto its new recruits, and Hawkeye will be no different in that regard. With Steinfeld playing the protagonist in a show about Hawkeye, it’ll be interesting to see whether that sentiment will carry true to its entirety or whether Hawkeye himself begins to play a more active role as the events of the show unravel. Either way, there’s plenty to look forward to in Hawkeye over the coming weeks.

Hawkeye is now streaming on Disney+

Red Notice is a Discount Indiana Jones & Mission Impossible Mess

Rating: 1 out of 5.

What happens when you put three lead actors, with completely different acting chops, on the screen together? The answer is a hodgepodge of nothingness. It’s hard to know whether that fault lies with the A-list trio of Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot, or whether it’s because Rawson Marshal Thurber’s Red Notice (2021) is a film wrought by the same inadequacies that have plagued similarly awful films before it.

Being one of Netflix’s most expensive films at $200 million (I believe Scorsese’s 2019 gangster film The Irishman might still hold that title) and their most viewed opening ever, you’d think that the next 115 minutes will be something that’s sure to be worth your time. Unfortunately, this film manages to look both expensive and cheap at the same time as it’s ridden with unflattering CGI, flat performances, and contrived storytelling.

The film wants to be a mix of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Mission: Impossible (any from that franchise), but ends up becoming something more akin to Tower Heist (2011) and basically any of the films Johnson and Reynolds have been in prior.

It’s a film that centres on a historical artifact (instead of the lost ark, you have three golden eggs once gifted to Cleopatra) and sends three different, albeit similarly minded characters on a goose chase to locate all three eggs. The characters in question are John Hartley (Dwayne Johnson), Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds), and The Bishop (Gal Gadot). Hartley wants to secure the eggs and put Booth and Bishop behind bars for their thevious crimes, while Booth and Bishop are out to find the eggs in time for an Egyptian billionaire’s daughter’s wedding for a large pay-out.

Ryan Reynolds & Dwayne Johnson in Red Notice

Honestly, the actual premise isn’t what drives this film into the dustbin of film history, it’s everything in-between. The filmmaking doesn’t have any flair and is really banking on the chemistry between the three leads who all seem to be playing the lead in their own movie here. Reynolds is channelling his inner Deadpool and really every character he has ever played with those cheesy one-liners and shtick that never lands; Gadot is popping up when you least expect her to and kicking everyone’s butt like Wonder Woman; and Johnson just seems to be there for the ride as the big stiff brute with zero charisma that reaffirms why his desire to be Bond would be a kick to action’s figurative groin.

The film is clearly inspired by the aforementioned films, with comparisons also coming in with the likes of the James Bond and National Treasure films, but Red Notice is also equally uninspired. It’s a film thwarted by all the cliches that subsume Reynolds and Johnson’s recent films: from a level of incessant self-awareness to the worn out buddy-cop plotline that should be retired at this point (I’m looking at you, the soon-to-be acquired Jason Momoa & Dave Bautista buddy-cop film).

Not to mention, that self-awareness becomes so intolerable that at one point Reynolds’ character even sarcastically calls the final egg in the journey the MacGuffin. If you’re blatantly going to point out the unimportance of a plot device that is supposed to be driving the events of the narrative, then you might as well break the fourth wall while you’re at it. In other words, the audience is treated like they’re the ones silly enough to watch this film — which I guess we are.

Netflix and the big studios have become too comfortable in churning out money for pop-corn cinema that really could have been used better in more capable hands. I’m certain that 60% of this films budget went to the star trio alone and in turn, you’re left with characters that don’t captivate you, performances that are drab, and a plot that deviates too much like a zig zag road. The recent Netflix feature Army of Thieves (2021) at least had something that separated itself from all the heist and artifact films before it, but Red Notice doesn’t even try to be different.

Red Notice is now streaming on Netflix

Companionship Between Man, Dog and Robot Encompasses the Endearing Finch

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Man and dog almost always seem to go hand-in-hand when post-apocalyptic settings come into question — they’re like buddy-up cop films minus all of the cheesy one-liners and recycled cliches. From I Am Legend (2007) and Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) to the more recent Love and Monsters (2020) and now Finch (2021); man’s best friend has had a long spanning place in this genre of films.

The film marks the second feature that Hanks has starred in for Apple TV following last year’s Greyhound (2020), and the second feature from Miguel Sapochnik following Repo Men (2010).

Like the aforementioned films before it, Finch focuses on themes pertaining to companionship and surviving, but it is also a much more quiet and reflective post-apocalyptic film that digs into the importance of trust, honesty and loyalty — values exhibited by man’s best friend.

It sees a former engineer and all round tech guru Finch (Tom Hanks) and his dog Goodyear, scavenge for food and supplies in a world where most life has been wiped out due to a sun flare which has resulted in large amounts of radiation infecting the world. Finch’s own health has been impacted by this radiation so he decides to create a robot companion whose main directive among all others will be to take care of Finch’s doggo should he die. That robot, who becomes imbued with vast knowledge through some tech savvy work by Finch, decides to call himself Jeff (voiced by Caleb Landry Jones) and develops an interesting, if not coy relationship with Finch. The three companions eventually set out to San Francisco as a deadly storm closes in on their haven in St Louis.

Tom Hanks and Goodyear in Finch

Hanks begins to play Finch in a similar way to his iconic Chuck Noland from Cast Away (2000) where he’s often talking at something (his dog) as opposed to with someone. This is where the talking robot Jeff comes into play as he helps steer the film away from Cast Away territory to something more involving as opposed to a version of this film that would bank on Hanks’ performance for its entirety.

Jones gives Jeff a level of complexity that becomes more revealing as the trio trudges on in their motorhome and interact with each other. Hanks adopts a more paternal presence as he literally brings this robot into existence whilst also having the job of feeding and taking care of Goodyear and another little non-speaking robot compadre.

For what it’s worth, the trio of man, dog, and robot is actually quite endearing and heart-warming that makes me think of this film as Chappie (2015) meets I Am Legend but without the boxing and killing, respectively. It’s very much a tale of companionship that pays respect to the importance of man’s best friend and celebrates that relationship by seeing Finch echo the values of trust, honesty and loyalty at the robot he has made, so as to help Jeff build a relationship with Goodyear that is comprised of those values once Finch is gone.

While the film doesn’t necessarily offer much in the way of unique spins on the post-apocalyptic genre, it does retain a sincerity and truth that can be felt through the script — especially the dialogue. When all is said and done, it looks like the biggest winners in a world with minimal human existence will be man’s best friend — given they’ll still have someone to play catch with.

Finch is now streaming on Apple TV+

Dune is a Movie Experience that Beckons to be Lived

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s widely beloved novel of the same name, Dune (2021), is a remarkable feat in blockbuster filmmaking that reaffirms why Villeneuve is one of the best working directors today. Villeneuve’s adaptation honours Herbert’s writing by matching it with visual splendour and creating an on-screen world that feels lived-in — something that hasn’t been felt on the big screen since the director’s last film, Blade Runner 2049 (2017).

There’s a reason why Frank Herbert’s science fiction novel had always been deemed unfilmable in the same way as J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Like The Lord of the Rings, Dune is comprised of a level of detail that captures the minutia of the world it creates and the characters that occupy it; whether that be through numerous internal monologues, vivid imagery through carefully selected wording, or just the fact that the ‘hero’s journey’ isn’t approached in a way that would seek to validate the protagonist’s actions.

That protagonist is the Muad’Dib, Lisan al Gaib, Kwisatz Haderach, Messiah — Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet). Mentioning all of the ways in which Paul is referred to in the book and film is important because it highlights just how nuanced of a character he is. Paul is many things to many different groups and people, be it the Bene Gesserit who are a sisterhood conditioned in superhuman ways; the Fremen who are the desert people of the planet Arrakis; and to those that know him across the story like Chani (Zendaya), Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), and Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa), to name a few.

When it comes to the plot, two houses (House Atreides and House Harkonnen) have been feuding with each other for ages. It isn’t until the Padishah Emperor requests that Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) and the rest of House Atreides move to and oversee the desert planet of Arrakis (Dune), that tensions begin to further boil between the houses as deceit and betrayal ensues. On the planet is the galactic currency known as the spice (a melange like substance) that is the source for discontent, power, and wealth, and as mentioned in the novel, “he who controls the spice controls the universe”.

Timothee Chalamet in Dune

Alongside all of this is Paul who has a unique destiny that will change the lives of all of those around him. Paul is viewed as a messiah of sorts that has been bred and trained by the Bene Gesserit for the purpose of leading people into a better future, though at the expense of bringing about a potentially worse future known as the jihad (or ‘war’, as the film westernizes the term).

The story itself is a rather complex one, if not for Herbert’s aforementioned approach to writing the book, then for its emphasis on ideas pertaining to feudalism, mysticism, perennial truth, and a plethora of other nuanced ideas and leanings. Jon Spaihts, Eric Roth, and Villenueve do a good job of dissecting some of Herbert’s ideas for the screenplay, and adapting them for the screen through visual cues, motifs, and worldbuilding.

They take the heart of the story in Paul Atreides, and allow him to guide us through each given moment using visual storytelling and the affordances of the cinematic medium. In this way, for anyone that hasn’t picked up the novel, it’s relatively easy to follow the film and pick up on some of the concerns and ideas that penetrate Herbert’s telling through visual cues.

Villeneuve is a master of using visual storytelling to tell a complex story while leaving his own print on that story; It’s a large reason why Blade Runner 2049 worked so well and why Dune works just as well. The world he creates on-screen speaks for itself with its own visual language through setting, colour, visual effects, and cinematography. For instance, there is a scene involving the Sardaukar (the Padishah Emperor’s specially trained elite force) that captures the very essence of this force by using no dialogue. Rather, Villeneuve utilises framing, composition, visual effects and sound in a sequence that lasts barely a minute, but is able to depict the very ruthlessness of the Sardaukar in this short sequence. That’s just one of the many examples where Villeneuve shows and doesn’t tell — everything you need to know about this force is shown to you in this condensed form.

What Villeneuve isn’t able to do with Dune like with Blade Runner 2049, is give you a reason to care about the characters in this film. The first half of the film is paced incredibly quickly which is understandable given there is a lot of ground to cover in Herbert’s novel, however characters are what audiences latch onto for emotional support. The character of K (Ryan Gosling) in Blade Runner 2049 was multifaceted for an android, and the scale of the film never overwhelmed that connection built with him.

Some might view Villeneuve’s treatment of character as one that is reflective of Herbert’s own reluctance to provide overly accessible characters, however films need that connection otherwise you’re relying on visual bravado to take you where you need to go (which it does, but that aspect is a shortcoming nonetheless). I’d make the case that Herbert’s own novel offers characters like Gurney Halleck, Duke Leto, and even Paul to an extent, for emotional support and for connection.

(From left to right) Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Javier Bardem, and Timothee Chalamet

That said, as with any adaptation of a novel or novels as rich in detail as Dune, Villeneuve has to sacrifice key aspects of the novel in favour of an adaptation that is worthy of a 155minute feature. Certain characters like Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin), Thufir Hawat (Stephen McKinley Henderson), and Liet Kynes (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) become side-lined more than others where in the book they would play a much more pivotal role in understanding Paul and the motifs that underpin the film.

Some of those motifs include the significance of water on a planet where water is like its own currency. A film like George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) did a stellar job in capturing the significance of water in a largely desolate desert setting where it is treated as a controlling tool. Villeneuve’s Dune has moments where its significance is brought to light, but it never fleshes that out in a way that would make an audience member (unless you had read the book) realise the significance of the still-suits that the characters wear, or the cannibalistic like re-purposing of a deceased persons water.

But at its core, Villeneuve’s Dune is a film that pushes what the medium can achieve at this scale and is a masterful cinematic experience that epitomizes blockbuster filmmaking. The score composed by Hans Zimmer is piercing and fitting, and makes for an enthralling soundscape (which one would hope it would be given how long he has been sitting on it for a modern Dune film); the visuals are breath-taking and unlike anything I have seen in a film before where the world feels like it exists or will exist (as though Villeneuve is his own messiah who has seen the state of the world in 10,000 years); and the cast is incredibly talented and exciting to watch (especially Stellan Skarsgard as The Baron Vladimir Harkonnen in a role that echoes the muteness of his character in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise).

For those that haven’t read the books and even those that have, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune part 1 is a breath-taking feat in filmmaking that deserves to be seen. It’s a film that places emphasis on worldbuilding and scale at the expense of some characterisation, but it is an experience that is unlike any you will have this year. It would have been great to have had a trilogy greenlit in order to explore the complexities of Herbert’s novel in greater detail, however the fact that there will be a sequel at all is a win for fans of the book, Villeneuve, and cinema.

Dune is now streaming on HBO Max until the 22nd of November and in Australian cinemas next month

Pig Sees Nicolas Cage Shine in One of the Year’s Best Films

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

There seems to be a trend of films and film titles revolving around farm animals in the last 18 or so months. From Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow (2019/2020) to Valdmiar Johansson’s Lamb (2021) and Michael Sarnoski’s Pig (2021); each of these films places these animals at the forefront, but each one tells a vastly different story and to different avail.

Pig is a film that centres on themes of grief and loss, but it is also about acceptance and surviving. It sees a truffle hunter, Robin (played by the unsurprisingly great Nicolas Cage) have his pig companion stolen in the middle of the night while living off-grid in some cabin. This results in him setting out to find his pig with the help of Amir (Alex Wolff) who pays Robin for his truffle work.

For what it’s worth, the premise is deceptively simple as it plays on audience expectations that Robin will go out on a killing spree until his pig is found. This deception is particularly true given that the man playing Robin is Cage, who audiences almost expect will go on a killing frenzy comprised of outbursts and sadistic rage like in Mandy (2018), Color Out of Space (2019), or Vengeance: A Love Story (2017), to name a few.

While there are moments of rage bubbling beneath the surface (with the most extreme outburst seeing Cage kick the crap out of a yellow Camaro’s door), Sarnoski never goes down that predictable rabbit hole (which would be a great name for another animal film). Rather, Sarnoski uses Robin’s loss and grief as a catalyst for exploring how sometimes we can’t control what happens to us — sometimes our efforts are in vain even if we think there is a silver lining at the end of the tunnel.  

What is especially interesting to note is that Robin isn’t just some weirdo who drew the short straw and is now out to exact revenge, but he is a renowned former chef whose name is uttered like a long lost legend. He’s had his share of fortune, has mingled with the city folk, and has lived under the false pretences of success that capitalism masquerades as — ultimately seeing him swap city lights for green bushland. What this approach allows Sarnoski to do is to paint capitalism as a grotesque construct that can tear down even the most successful people if they aren’t willing to adapt to the changing world around them.

Nicolas Cage in Pig

There’s a particular scene in a high end restaurant where Robin — in his rugged, beat-up state — calmy rips into the chef of the restaurant (who happens to be a former intern of his) for allowing himself to forgo his dreams and settle for a world built around falsity and conformity. It is one of the many profoundly moving scenes in the film that gets to the heart of selling ones soul and settling — ultimately forgetting about what it is that we really care about. Robin asserts to that chef that “we don’t get a lot of things to really care about”; In essence, the pig and the lengths Robin goes to in order to find it, represents that pursuit for what we really care about, which is often quashed by settling.

In a sense, you’d be forgiven for thinking this film plays out somewhat semi-biographically for Cage where he sees his own past mistakes and strives to protect and salvage what he cares about, but may have ignored in the past. There’s the whole ‘fall from grace’ type approach where Robin is an esteemed chef (Cage is an esteemed actor) who disappeared from the spotlight only to re-emerge out of nowhere and still cook (act) like a pro. Heck, a character asserts to Robin that “I remember a time when your name meant something to people, Robin”.

It makes for a resounding 90 minutes that gives Cage a platform to showcase why he is among the top 10 actors of all time. Cage himself asserted in recent interviews that the acting came easy for him here because he didn’t need to act as much due to having dreams and thoughts about losing his cat — which he channelled into Robin. In this sense, Cage plays Robin with a degree of verisimilitude that many (including yours truly) will be able to relate to. Whether someone has lost an animal, a loved one, or just an inherent desire — it’s about finding what you care about and protecting it at all costs, no matter the outcome.

The comparisons between John Wick and Pig have been plentiful due to the nature of messing with one’s animal companion and then hunting down the perpetrators. However, Sarnoski’s take on the revenge storyline plays out in a resoundingly different light. Robin is the one that gets beat down (physically and mentally) throughout the whole film without so much as throwing a punch. It’s a unique take on what we might expect to have happened, but it adds a level of humanism and honesty that captures how things don’t always end up the way we want them to.

The film is a masterclass in exploring how we deal with grief and how we learn to live with it in a system that encourages people to forget about what they truly care for and move on. Nicolas Cage delivers one of his most subtle and sublime performances ever, and the result is one of the most touching, sombre and best films of the year.

Pig is streaming on Palace Home Cinema

9 Campy, Schlock Horror Films to Watch this Schlocktober

It’s that time of year again when people across the world start getting their pumpkins ready for carving and their costumes ready for wearing. It’s also that time of year when horror fanatics dive into their favourite horror films as Halloween nears. To prepare you for Halloween on the 31st of October, I thought I’d make a list of 9 campy, schlock-horror films to watch before the 31st. Most of these films are about as B movie as you can get with their small budgets, practical effects, zany plots, and comical performances. So lets look at some of the titles.

Bad Taste (1987)

As a life-long devotee to anything Peter Jackson related (given I’m a Kiwi), Bad Taste is about as great a debut feature as one can make. Not only was this film made with a small budget, but it was able to do so much with how little it had. Jackson made this with his friends and shot most of the film at his parents NZ house, with a documentary somewhere online showing his mum handing out sandwiches in-between takes.

The film has some structure for about the first 15-20min and then just quickly goes off the rails as practical effects subsume all coherency, and all out carnage ensues. There’s a scene involving barf drinking, there’s blood squirting almost consistently, there’s dudes in ninja costumes, guns galore, and there’s RPG explosions.

The film is really a testament to Jackson’s creativity and it’s far from his best schlock induced work (Braindead would follow), but it is a thrilling and outright enjoyable 90 minutes that never gives you any respite. It’s crazy to think studio executives would give Jackson The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) to direct, but boy did they make the right choice.

The Evil Dead (1981)

It’s hard to make a list like this without including Sam Raimi’s ever celebrated The Evil Dead. In its 40 years, the film has withstood the test of time to become a cult classic in the horror genre. The film, while definitely more of a professional, serious production, would go on to inspire and pave the way for a wave of 80’s and 90’s schlock horror and campy films.

The premise revolves around a bunch of college students, a cabin in the woods, and a mysterious book that unleashes a demonic force to hunt the students down. It really is a premise with three signature horror elements that has been parodied and done-over countless times.

It’s another example of making do with what you’ve got, and boy does Raimi make do. Plenty of gore to be had and also scares, which is something that this film has over the others on the list as it is more of a nuanced horror that happens to fall into this schlock category as well.

Frankenhooker (1990)

Frankenhooker is just as its name suggests — a Frankenstein zombie made from the body parts of prostitutes. Made by Frank Henenlotter, known for such titles as Basket Case (1982) and Brain Damage (1988), Frankenhooker is about a guy that blows up some prostitutes and stitches them back together to create his dead fiancé (who was killed by a lawnmower).

The film is a comical exploitation film that leans into physical humour for laughs. Though the film falls under sexploitation and is no doubt misogynistic, it has retained a cult status for its nonsensicalness and bemusing premise. The film gets more wild as the scenes roll on, with Elizabeth (the concoction of those prostitute parts) eventually getting a greater consciousness and exacting revenge.

There is evidently a lot of love and care that has gone into the film which give it that rewatch status and it’s no doubt a trashy 90 or so minutes to be had.  

Braindead (1992)

If I haven’t made it obvious, I’m a sucker for anything Peter Jackson related. Braindead is no exception and is one of the best films in the schlock horror, B movie category.

New Zealand humour and LOTS of blood subsume the film in this gore fest where Jackson is pretty much set on just destroying any and all human costumes and props. From the outset, Jackson is set on entertaining the audience as he leans into chaotic scenes involving intestine like creatures, zombies, swinging babies, and all while injecting the film with delirious gags and infectious humour.

Braindead is to the comedy-horror genre what Blade Runner (1982) is to the sci-fi genre.

Night Train to Terror (1985)

I don’t know where to start with this film. It’s like if Snowpiercer (2013) met Zoolander (2001) and Step-Up (2006), and even then that would still be an understatement. The film is quintessential viewing if B movie, schlock horror comedies are your thing.

Everything takes place on a train and the stories are absurd with multiple different ones intertwined throughout. The acting is bonkers, the humour feels out of place but works because it is, the practical effects are a staple of the time, and for some reason God and Satan are just having a casual chat amidst all the chaos.

It’s really an experience to be had rather than one that can be articulated as, like Sean Baker says on Letterboxd, the film is “Such an insane mess of a movie”.

Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)

As its name suggests, the film is about some killer clowns from space that come to earth and terrorise those they meet.

There really isn’t much to say in the way of what to expect or what works. Everything works because it doesn’t — the absurdness of the plot and performances lean into a humorous telling, and there is just a bunch of nonsensical killing that many would find is “so bad it’s good”.

I’m usually not good with horror movies in general let alone horror movies with clowns, but because this film (like most on this list) are as crude and bizarre as horror movies go, it was worth a mention.

Chopping Mall (1986)

Aside from having one of the greatest simple titles of any film on this list, Chopping Mall is also (from memory) the only film on here (save for Death Spa) that brings robots into the equation!

I like to think of this film as The Breakfast Club (1985) meets WALL-E (2008), only WALL-E is a killer robot. Teens basically get trapped in a shopping mall after the mall goes into lockdown, only for security robots to go on a killing spree to rid these ‘intruders’. That’s really it.

The film is about as 80’s B movie as they come, with lots of satirical elements (particularly pertaining to mall culture and how prominent that was among teens at the time), scenes involving electrocution and also laser death.

Death Spa (1989)

Like Chopping Mall but also unlike Chopping Mall, Death Spa sees the spa computer system turn the workout equipment and other facets of the spa (including steam rooms and hair driers) against the spa goers.

It’s a ludicrous film (but what film on this list isn’t?), with garbage acting and a forgettable premise, but it keeps people coming back for its absurdity and how it doesn’t hesitate to knuckle down on its trashiness. The props and practical effects are lacking in comparison to most of the films on this list, but it has that 80’s vibe and colour palette that seem to be enough to keep viewers coming back.

The only thing missing from the film is Arnold Schwarzenegger and this would have been the Mr Olympia training film of the century.  

TerrorVision (1986)

Rounding off the list is a film where a family’s newly installed satellite dish attracts alien signals and eventually, the aliens themselves.

The film is a bizarre delight with cheap set designs, a very satirical undertone (basically ripping into everything 80’s), goofy characters, a surprisingly diverse cast (including Gerrit Graham, Jon Gries, and Bert Remsen), a very cartoony feel, and practical effects that get the job done. 

Essentially, if you wanted to get an idea of what the 80’s looked and felt like (from the hairdo’s, fashion, music and comedy), then this is the film for you.

Coupon Comedy Film Queenpins is all but Funny

Rating: 2 out of 5.

With Paramount + starting to kick into second gear with more content being released, it seemed fitting to check out the streaming providers latest original title, Queenpins (2021).

As its name suggests, in a rather unsubtle manner, the film is a take on the kingpin story that has been tried and dried since cinemas inception. To elaborate, there’s an idea that hits the protagonist, which ultimately leads to an illegal business involving money laundering, and then a culmination of a series of events that either see the protagonist get away with their dirty work or end up caught.

That ‘idea’ is what the film leans on for support and uses to try and differentiate itself from more serious films in the sub-genre. Connie Kaminski (played by the ever delightful Kristen Bell) finds a loophole in the supermarket coupon system where, after having complained to companies via email over the quality of their products, she is sent coupons to obtain those items for free. It isn’t until her YouTube-wannabe-star friend JoJo (played by Bell’s The Good Place co-star, Kirby Howell-Baptiste) suggests the potential to resell these coupons for half price, that Connie sees the potential to make some dough.

This is what directors Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly use to try and incorporate the more comical side of the film whilst also retaining a level of seriousness of the real life events that inspired the film. For the most part, the concept of the film is actually quite comical in and of itself. Evidently, Bell’s presence brings a level of warmth to this character that works alongside the premise of the film to make her not fall into the standard anti-hero of kingpin criminal films.

Connie’s backstory also helps to bring a level of sympathy to her character as she struggles financially due to undergoing expensive IVF treatments with her husband Rick (an incredibly underutilized Joel McHale). Subsequently, while her actions of counterfeiting coupons never really becomes something that sends fear down her spine should she be caught (particularly due to the naivety shown during the laundering process), it does give a more playful version of events.  

Paul Walter Hauser and Vince Vaughn in Queenpins

Joining Bell and Howell-Baptiste in this very buddy-up style comedy is Paul Walter Hauser and the quintessential serious-funny-guy type in Vince Vaughn. Hauser plays Ken Miller, a supermarket Loss Prevention Officer, while Vaughn plays Simon Kilmurry, a U.S Postal Inspector. Ken and Simon are the other side of the coupon counterfeiting coin as the FBI effectively demotes the issue as unimportant, and it is up to the two of them to crack the coupon case.

When spending time with Ken and Simon, the film leans into that buddy-cop type telling where the humour lies. Most of this humour comes from the very fact that the duo aren’t FBI agents, they’re serious about a coupon crime, and they have small gags that are aimed at drawing a laugh (Ken defecates in the car while out scouting Connie and JoJo with Simon). Most of these gags will either bring about a laugh or two, or simply just fall flat seeing as they just spontaneously pop up seemingly for the sake of a cheap laugh (a sign that the humour just isn’t great).

It’s easy to see that pairing the female leads together and the male leads together gives the film a lot more to work with as the actors play off of each other quite nicely when we do spend time with them. The problem with this duality is that we end up with two perspectives that seem to play out as two separate films. In essence, both the Bell/Howell-Baptiste and Vaughn/Hauser dynamic would really have worked better had they been two separate versions of this story or had we spent more time with Bell and Howell-Baptiste.

At the end though, the film banks on those back and forths between the female and male pairings. The actual coupon issue doesn’t carry enough weight behind it and just simply never feels like it raises the stakes due to how measured and composed Bell and JoJo are, even when they’ve been caught (an issue on the part of characterisation that is lacking). When all is said and done, Queenpins is a light-hearted but hardly humorous two hours.

Queenpins is now streaming on Paramount +

Annette is a Whirlwind of Ideas Mashed into one very Unique Feature

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Few films of recent memory have been as visually abstract and wavering in their focus as Leos Carax’s Annette (2021). It’s one of those films that leans into art-house conventions of filmmaking and asks its audience to latch onto them for dear life as the film zig-zags through a minefield of ideas, set pieces, and oddness to provide an experience unlike any other in 2021.  

So where does one start with a film that is more interested in keeping its audience guessing than providing them with a clear cut narrative? Well for starters, Annette unfolds in an operatic-like showcase that echoes early French Avant-Garde filmmaking (particularly that of Jacques Demy whose influence is definitely felt). For instance, dialogue is often sung throughout the film, scenes are choreographed to play out like live theatre, and there is a particular emphasis on the unnaturalness of how the actors move through space and time.

With a screenplay by the Mael brothers (Sparks Brothers) and Carax, Annette is never short on surprises and wackiness as it leans into a romantic-fantasy-musical akin to what I can best describe as Beauty and the Beast (1991) meets A Star Is Born (2018).

At its core though, the premise of the film is a relatively simple one revolving around romance and the struggles of stardom. Henry McHenry (Adam Driver) and Ann Defrasnoux (Marion Cotillard) are both performers — a comedian and soprano, respectively. As with most celebrities, their life and personal affairs cannot escape the public eye, and Henry becomes more agitated and narcissistic as the film progresses, while Ann gradually begins to pull back and become somewhat of a muse. This is particularly true for both characters as they welcome their baby daughter Annette, into the world.

Annette herself is presented in puppet form which raises interesting ideas pertaining to artifice, especially when it comes to how Henry and Ann see the world around them. Both characters seemingly awaken following Annette’s birth in that they realise the life they have been living up until now has all been a farce so as to maintain the illusion of contentedness. Annette’s presence sees that illusion be torn down as the film spirals into a hodgepodge of visual cues, symbols and motifs that are really difficult to grapple with (oh and did I mention Annette is gifted with an incredible musical voice?).

Marion Cotillard in Annette

The music of the film is also a big reason for why its zaniness works — perhaps because it was conjured up by the equally zany Sparks Brothers. With lyrics that penetrate and carry over between each set piece (especially “We Love Each Other So Much”) Carax is able to nurse the film into a level of tenderness that becomes crucial to living up to the films tragic finale. The repetition of music and lyrics has a level of sadness that brings to light the illusory truth effect where, the more something is repeated, the more likely it is an individual will believe it to be true.

But for Henry and Ann, there is a level of truth to their repetition no matter how much it seems to divide them. Carax makes this apparent by intertwining the aforementioned lyrics into very physical actions and events (i.e. Henry performing oral sex on Ann, Ann giving birth while those in the birth theatre sing). In this sense, Henry and Ann aren’t repeating for the sake of wanting to believe that they love each other, rather, as Henry lyrically asserts to Ann’s former partner The Conductor (Simon Helberg), “that song was our song”. In the same way, that love was their love — it was born out of truth and remained so, even as Henry continued to descend into a deeper low (which I won’t spoil).

The film isn’t without its shortcomings though. Carax is less interested in drawing an emotional response from audiences due to the lack of avenues from which to draw that response (at least for the first two acts), and is instead interested in using symbols and motifs (Annette in her puppet state, Ann’s distinct vocal pattern etc.) to build up the audiences understanding of events. For most of the second act, the film relies on these cues to give some sort of structure and direction to an otherwise unruly narrative. Sure, fans of Carax will band together to point out that Carax’s style is less about narrative coherency as it is about using the affordances of the medium in a Lynchian fashion, but it’s an absence, nonetheless.

Most of Annette relies on the audiences desire to be in equal parts submissive to the subversive form of the film, and to experience the film through its wandering structure. It’s a unique experience that can often feel exhausting which I have no doubt is intentional as Henry and Ann’s relationship is an exhausting one, but it’s worth taking the ride.

Annette is currently screening in select cinemas, and on Palace Home Cinema

Greyhound: Tom Hanks Writes and Stars in WW2 Thriller

Rating: 2 out of 5.

With WW2 and war films continuing to permeate film culture, it is no surprise that Tom Hanks would find himself at the helm of a war destroyer in open seas. Greyhound (2020) represents Apple TV’s first proper dip into distribution of a large scale film, and for the most part, it is a clear and simple adaptation of C.S. Forester’s 1955 novel, The Good Shepherd.

The film centres around Ernest Krause (Tom Hanks), a US Navy Commander who has the mission of escorting a large convoy across the Atlantic during WW2 while German U-boats (submarines) stand in the convoys way. With air support unavailable in the central part of the journey (known as the ‘Black Pit’) due to the range, it is up to Krause and his crew to keep the convoy afloat as they carry their supplies to Allies.

Unlike Hanks’ prior performances in war films Saving Private Ryan (1998) and sea escapades like Captain Phillips (2013), Greyhound sees the two-time Oscar winning actor play a more fixed and vocal role. This isn’t necessarily a drawback of the film as Hanks’ screenplay cuts out all of the fat and exposition that often subsumes most war films, and instead settles on the action at sea and the man at its centre.

Director Aaron Schneider, known for Get Low (2009) and Two Soldiers (2003), complements Hank’s more vocal and contemplative temperament by focusing in on the tension of the battles and the ferocity of the sea. Schneider keeps most of the film centred on the bridge of the ship in order to effectively heighten the tension of each given moment and capture the spacial limitations and helplessness of being out at sea. This makes for plenty of thrilling moments as the German U-boats circle like a pack of wolves (as they assert) while Krause and his crew yell out bearings and directions.

Tom Hanks in Greyhound

In terms of some of the production aspects, the action and battle scenes are predominately CGI’d, but they hold up for a budget of US $55 million. Also, Blake Neely’s score complements the CGI’d battles in its low tone that has a constant sonar echo, and the dull green/grey colour palette is fitting for the period being depicted.

When comparing the film to other war films of recent like Dunkirk (2017) and Hacksaw Ridge (2016), Greyhound is more limited in its scope and ambitions. Not much is known about the character of Ernest Krause; there is a brief insight into his past as a commander at Pearl Harbour as well as a pre-Greyhound scene involving his significant other. However, for the most part, Hanks and Schneider want to keep the attention solely around the ship itself in order to immerse audiences in the Greyhound ship experience.

For what it’s worth, that on-ship isolation works in removing all the weight of narrative expectations that some might see as being essential (including yours truly). However, unlike something like the aforementioned Dunkirk, the same level of practicality that comes with a Nolan war film and the diversity of tense moments isn’t the same here. That might be due to the lack of space that comes with being at sea, or it might be the repetitive nature of the films events that Hanks and Schneider knuckle down on. Regardless, there isn’t much leg room to wiggle into backstory and character building that one might expect.

For a first major feature on Apple TV, Greyhound is rife with Navy lingo and sea battles, and with Tom Hanks at the helm, it makes sense that it received Oscar nominations this past year. As a war film, it isn’t as compelling as some of the films mentioned, but it is clear in its focus and objective and for the most part, it manages to provide an engaging viewing experience.

Greyhound is streaming on Apple TV

Infinite: Reincarnation has Never Looked so Boring

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

With film studio Paramount having launched its streaming service Paramount +, it seemed fitting to watch its first drawcard feature Infinite (2021) starring the ever bankable Mark Wahlberg. This comes some months after Amazon Prime’s recent sci-fi thriller The Tomorrow War (2021), starring an equably bankable Chris Pratt in the lead role. While The Tomorrow War had a relatively tolerable premise, Infinite is an insufferable mess that proves studios are willing to throw their money at just about anything as long as Wahlberg is in it.

To say that Mark Wahlberg is the problem would be an oversight. His performance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights (1997) is as iconic today as it was over 20 years ago, and he seems to have found a resonance with Michael Bay — having shone in Pain and Gain (2013) and the last of Bay’s two Transformers films. However, Infinite reduces Wahlberg’s often fast-talking and physical performance to a dreary and tedious display that can only be summed up by Wahlberg’s own confused facial expressions as events of the film unfold.

Antoine Fuqua is known for his action packed films like Training Day (2001), The Equalizer (2014) and frequent collaborations with the likes of Denzel Washington (who won an Oscar for Training Day), Jake Gyllenhaal, and now Mark Wahlberg (both of whom he has worked with twice). However, Infinite represents a departure from a simple action premise to something more akin to Doug Liman’s dreadful action sci-fi, Jumper (2008). It is adapted from D. Erik Maikranz’s 2009 novel The Reincarnationist Papers (which is, by all accounts, equally underwhelming).

Infinite is essentially about a small group of people known as the infinites who are pretty much reincarnated after they die, in the sense that they can eventually remember their past lives and skills obtained in those lives. Evan McCauley (Mark Wahlberg), who is known to the other reincarnated as Heinrich Treadway (one of his past reincarnation names), lives most of his new life never really knowing he is one of the reincarnated and is instead diagnosed as a schizophrenic. What Evan doesn’t know is that somewhere in his memories lies the location of an object known as the egg, which the infinites are trying to find before Ted (Chiwetel Ejiofor), another infinite who goes by the name of Bathurst, finds it.

Mark Wahlberg in Infinite

Fuqua essentially orients his film around this plot device and creates a goose chase for his characters in the process. This plot device is desired by Bathurst who wants to harness it to destroy the world so that there is nothing left to reincarnate to — effectively rendering the reincarnation process as finished. The problem with the film is that it relies too much on this specific object as a catalyst for creating cause and effect, and this leaves the events of the film lacking substance.

Mark Wahlberg looks confused and bored for most of the film, with his real flair coming during the action set pieces, which themselves amount to nothing as they are too few and far. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s character is also incredibly underwritten and exists purely for the sake of being an antagonist — he delivers some lines about his purpose, kills off some equally underwritten characters, and is waterboarded with gasoline for some reason. In essence, both the protagonist and antagonist are uninspired, especially when compared to The Tomorrow War’s protagonist and alien entity which are miles better for an action sci-fi.

Perhaps Antoine Fuqua should have found a way to incorporate another 40minutes for greater clarity (seeing as Paramount already seemed set on going all in on this) or perhaps he should have focused on releasing one feature this year instead of two, seeing as The Guilty (2021) arrives later this year. Regardless, Infinite is a forgettable viewing experience and is a reminder that Michael Bay is still the only director to get the best out of Wahlberg in the last 20 years. Lets hope Paramount can bring its lacking streaming service some content worth audiences time and money.

Infinite is now streaming on Paramount +