Mike Flanagan, the creative force behind The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor, returns with Midnight Mass, a new limited series on Netflix. Similar to his two previous series, Midnight Mass is a combination of earnest performances, thoughtful, introspective dialog and stealth horror elements. This time around, Flanagan has decided to de-emphasize the scary stuff, and the result is incredibly underwhelming, to the point where the series should have been titled Tedium.
Unlike his previous two series, Flanagan declines to scare us and instead spends nearly all of its run time on a) dialog that would feel right at home in a Philosophy 101 class and b) Catholic religious practices. I think it is the first horror series that feels like it was written for NPR. While the acting is fine, and there are a few disturbing scenes here and there, the overall effect I got from watching it was an overwhelming urge to check how much time was left. The only thing scary about Midnight Mass is how boring and self-satisfied it is. Not recommended.
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For the record, I’m a casual Bond fan. How casual? Of all the actors who’ve played Bond, the only one where I’ve seen all of their performances in the role is Daniel Craig. I’m nearly there with Pierce Brosnan, but I have yet to see Goldeneye. I’ve only seen a couple of Roger Moore’s movies. The only Sean Connery movie I’ve seen is Never Say Never Again. I’ve never gotten round to watching From Russia With Love, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or The Spy Who Loved Me. Maybe I’ll get caught up after I’ve retired. The 007 movie canon is definitely on my bucket list.
Since No Time To Die is Craig’s finale, I want to say that I really enjoyed his turn as Bond. Craig’s entries have eschewed the desire to become live-action cartoons, an impression I’ve had with the movies that preceded him. The raw physicality he brought to the part, coupled with an almost pathological desire to confront mayhem head-on, made even his lesser entries watchable (I’m looking at you, Quantum of Solace and Spectre).
So how does No Time To Die stack up with the previous four Craig entries? I’d put it behind Casino Royale and Skyfall, but above Quantum of Solace and Spectre. The pluses outweigh the minuses, but those minuses are difficult to ignore. There is a great Bond movie in No Time To Die, but it treads water in the last act, and overstays its welcome by at least thirty minutes. The movie is watchable and enjoyable, though, and as a grade I’d give it a solid B. Recommended.
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Venom: Let There Be Carnage is one of the best comic book movies I’ve seen. There, I said it. Damn me to hell, or force me to have breakfast with Venom. How can I make this claim with a straight face? Notice that I said “best comic book movie”. Unlike the vast majority of superhero movies put out by Marvel and DC, Venom: Let There Be Carnage (a.k.a. Venom 2) isn’t striving to be taken seriously. That doesn’t mean that the movie wasn’t created with skill, it certainly was. Venom 2 has no pretenses about wanting to be mistaken for a great dramatic experience, filled with angst, paint, guilt and self-doubt intermixed with fistfights. No, Venom 2 only wants to entertain you, and it succeeds so thoroughly I hope the other superhero movie factories take notes. Highly Recommended.
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Malignant is a combination of horror movie references, James Wan’s usual bag of tricks and other things that he likes thrown into a blender and pureed together. The resulting mixture is slick and very entertaining, but not as engrossing as Wan’s previous horror movies. The movie is a creepy funhouse, relying on paper-thin characters to drive the plot. The movie works, and horror movie nerds will find it’s fanboy signalling endlessly entertaining, but the movie lacks the emotional connection that elevated The Conjuring to more than your average horror movie. Recommended.
A detailed summary and analysis follow. Spoilers abound. You have been warned.
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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A lonely man who lives on the fringes of society seeks to atone for his sins by helping someone else. This is Paul Schrader’s bailiwick, and with Taxi Driver, First Reformed and other screenplays he’s written throughout his career, he’s created a genre of films all to himself. (His body of work could be called a “franchise”, a commercial connotation that I’m sure he would find darkly humorous.)
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Trying something new here. This is a short, two-paragraph review. A longer analysis will follow.
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After the creative and dramatic pothole that was Black Widow, Marvel returns to form with Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings. Simun Liu stars as Shawn, a slacker (by choice) who spends his days as a valet with (platonic) best friend and fellow karaoke enthusiast Katy (Awkwafina). The past Shawn ran away from tracks him down, resulting in a bus ride that would have made even Sandra Bullock nervous. From there, Shawn reunites with the sister he abandoned, Xialing (Meng’er Zhang), and the father he ran away from, Wenwu (Tony Leung). After spending years hiding from his past, Shawn is forced to accept who he is, as well as confront his father, who’s plans may put the entire world in danger.
Like most Marvel origin stories, Shang-Chi follows the template, down to the obligatory training sequences that confirm what we already know. Fortunately, Shang-Chi colors outside the lines in ways that make this MCU entry exciting and engaging. Most importantly, the movie takes its time and gives scenes (and the audience) a chance to breathe, letting us become immersed in its world before the fireworks arrive in the end. The acting is exceptional all around, and supporting turns by Michelle Yeoh (as Shawn’s aunt) and Ben Kingsley (as misfit actor Trevor Slattery) add texture and humanity to the proceedings. Shang-Chi leaves the funny business to Awkwafina, who’s career ascent has been nothing short of remarkable. The special effects here are truly special, creating a sense of wonder instead of merely underpinning action sequences. Highly recommended.
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Candyman ignores the inferior sequels that preceded it and instead acts as a direct sequel to the 1992 movie of the same name. As in the original, Candyman features a hook-wielding ghost who is brought to life by saying his name five times in a mirror. Director Nia DaCosta and producer Jordan Peele have upgraded the Candyman legend deftly for modern times, contextualizing his gruesome origin story as the starting point of decades of systemic racism and violence. And instead of having the requisite white woman be the audience surrogate, two African American men take center stage. The first is a young artist (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) seeking inspiration from the notorious history of the now-gentrified Cabrini-Green projects. The second is a middle-aged man (Colman Domingo) who never left, still seething from an unjust killing he witnessed as a child. The end result is riveting, scary, insightful and moving. The (white) victims are written a bit thinly, but turnabout is fair play, as they say. Candyman is a horror movie by definition, but it has much more up its sleeve than shocks and gore. Mind that ending–it’s not the triumph it appears to be. Highly recommended.
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The premise of The Night House, that suicide irreparably damages the lives of the survivors, is a compelling one for a horror movie. For Rebecca Hall’s Beth, her husband’s death understandably leaves her an emotional wreck, unable to control her anger at work and her despair at home. The night brings no solace, with Beth possibly being haunted by her husband’s ghost. After an engaging first act, the movie shifts our attention to the mystery of Beth’s husband’s death and the secrets he kept from her. Was he having an affair, or affairs? Why was he reading books about the occult? What do all those strange architecture diagrams mean? One twist gives way to another, and then another, until the movie lays on a heavy dose of the supernatural in a strained attempt at tying everything up. The final reveal is logical, but nagging questions remain unanswered. Hall delivers a compelling and convincing portrayal throughout, possibly a career highlight. David Bruckner’s naturalistic direction gives the movie a disarmingly creepy vibe, at least until the final confrontation. Recommended.
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A blood-soaked horror movie that asks us to choose the lesser of two really evil characters. Unlike the original movie, suspense is built wile we wait for the next gory beat-down. Recommended, but proceed with caution. Continue reading Don’t Breathe 2