The Unholy

The Unholy is a throwback to horror movies from the Seventies, like The Exorcist and The Amityville Horror.  Its present day inspiration would be the Conjuring movies, with their focus on normal, everyday people confronting evil from a Christian perspective.  Unlike the Conjuring movies, The Unholy takes a more humanistic approach for most of its running time, focusing more on the characters trying to understand the mysterious events happening around them and less on evil beings and bombastic displays of satanic power. Its message of mistaking evil for the divine is a timely one. Recommended.

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Come Play

“Once you take Larry’s hand, you’ll never be alone again.”

Misunderstood Monsters

Come Play is a very effective low-fi scare movie.  The movie is the first I’ve seen where the haunted is portrayed as autistic.  Oliver is a young autistic boy who has unwittingly attracted the attention of Larry, a ghoul from another dimension.  Larry wants Oliver to be his friend, and creates a picture book that, when someone reads it to the end, allows Larry to cross over into our world.  As Horror movie hooks go, the one used by Come Play is as incredulous as any other.  What elevates this movie above others is its excellent pacing, realistic direction and solid acting.  Similar to Insidious and Lights Out, what you don’t see is scarier than what you actually see.  Highly recommended.

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Lupin (Netflix)

Lupin stars Omar Sy as Assane Diop, a Senegalese immigrant in France who models his life on the twentieth century thief Arsène Lupin. Known as the “gentleman burgler”, Assane has a gift as a chameleon, able to change his appearance and slip into various roles with ease whenever necessary. The sudden reappearance of a necklace that lead to his father’s incarceration and death spurs Assane to both steal it and prove his father’s innocence. Sy has charm to spare, the various heists are exciting to watch and every episode feels like a feature film. Lupin also addresses the racism that lead to the death of Assane’s father, and that he still deals with in modern France twenty five years later. Lupin is solidly entertaining, with a message that is as deftly delivered as it is timely. Highly recommended.

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The Courier

The Courier is a well made and well acted cold war spy movie, but it doesn’t make the impact that it should.  Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Greville Wynne, an everyman recruited by the CIA and MI6 to act as a courier for a high-level contact within the GRU.  I appreciated the production values used to recreate Sixties London and Moscow.  Several performances, including those by Rachel Brosnahan as a CIA agent and Merab Ninidze as spy Oleg Penkovsky stand out. The movie becomes affecting when both heroes are in prison, but before then, it’s a very slow boil.  Lightly recommended.

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Soul

Soul is a clever examination of the nature of being presented in the guise of an animated feature.  The movie delves into what comprises our souls, from how we get the different aspects of our personality, to what gives our lives its spark (or inspiration).  As expected, the animation in Soul is exceptional, and its depictions of the Great Beyond (and the Great Before) are a treat for the eyes.  Soul’s main story focuses on one man’s dream to become a professional jazz pianist, and how that may or may not be his calling in life.  While Soul doesn’t reach the same emotional height as Inside Out, it is insightful, thought provoking and very funny.  Highly recommended.

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Freaky (2020)

Too bad Freaky couldn’t have called itself “Freaky Friday the 13th”, since that’s basically the concept behind the movie.  Freaky is a mashup of slasher movies (Friday the 13th, Halloween) and body swapping movies (Freaky Friday, Big).  The combination of those two genres proves to be an original and rewarding one, producing scares, gross-out moments, tender moments and plenty of laughs.  Highly recommended.

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Promising Young Woman (2020)

Promising Young Woman is an in-your-face story of a woman taking revenge on men who take advantage of women.  Carey Mulligan stars as Cassandra, a woman whose motives become clear as the movie progresses.  Her performance is unlike anything she’s done before, and easily elevates her to the upper-tier of actresses working today.  If you’re a woman, I’d think there’s plenty in the movie you can relate to.  If you’re a self proclaimed “nice guy”, the movie is a splash of ice water to the face.  Highly recommended.

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Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel (Netflix)

This limited series focuses on the mysterious disappearance and death of Elisa Lam while staying at the Cecil Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.  This story could have served as a fascinating single episode of Unsolved Mysteries.  Unfortunately, what we get is four overly padded episodes that eventually confirm what I suspected all along.  Worse still, significant time was devoted to talking head commentary that is irrelevant to the case, especially the commentary made by several self-described “YouTubers”, “web sleuths” and “journalists”.  The commentary they made online at the time was entirely baseless speculation on what happened to Ms. Lam.  The decision to include them along with the interviews of the actual detectives and forensic specialists involved in the case was a decision that turned what could have been a serious examination into the case into laugh-inducing material.  Not recommended.

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