So I’ve been marathoning the Chucky movies for the first time lately and oh my god what a balls out franchise. I’ll start with the first, Tom Holland’s Child’s Play from 1988, because this series starts out slowly, modestly and gradually builds to such a fever pitch extravaganza of meta goofiness and deranged, Joe Dante level lunacy it has me giddy. Everyone knows the story of the first by now: Chicago serial killer Charles Lee Ray (the inimitable, legendary Brad Dourif) is gunned down by a ferocious police detective (Chris Sarandon, always awesome) in a toy factory, but not before using dark voodoo to transfer his soul into a Good Guy doll, which runs about the city on a murderous rampage, eventually finding his way to the home of young Andy (Alex Vincent, adorable), where he proceeds to make life hell for him and his mom (Catherine Hicks). Dourif is key to what makes this character work so well that we’ve gotten as many sequels as we have, I’ve rarely seen an actor do more with his voice, give more dimension, dark humour and genuine malice from behind a recording booth, but this is Dourif we’re talking about after all, this man can pretty much do anything. The first film is a great introduction into the franchise, a series that if anything gets better and better with each sequel, which is really rare in horror but sometimes does happen. The film benefits from Sarandon who is always a rugged, charismatic presence, switching up his evil vampire character in director Tom Holland’s other seminal horror classic Fright Night for a good guy role here, albeit one that’s very rough around the edges, and better for it. It’s fun watching him square off against Chucky and there is one hell of a fiery climax complete with ooey-gooey melting/burning plastic effects and a tirade of madness from the doll and Dourif that is genuinely scary, as far as killer dolls go. Stay tuned for my thoughts on each and every film in this franchise, because they are all gems, and you don’t often get that level of consistency and improvement on quality in slasher franchises.
It took me a while to finally get around to seeing 1985’s vampire classic Fright Night and I’m glad I did because this is one gorgeous, blissfully 80’s soaked aesthetic pieces of shock pop art and I fell in love with every disco fever, harlequin romance tinged, Hammer Horror inspired, gothic erotica, glistening prosthetic effects laced second of it. I think I was apprehensive because I sat through that godawful 2011 Colin Farrell remake a while back and needed to cleanse my palette of such nonsense before doubling back and going for the real thing. This is a spectacular horror film built around a ‘vampire next door’ motif in which a high strung teenager (William Ragsdale) suspects his suave new neighbour (Chris Sarandon) of being a bloodsucking monster. He’s right, of course, but no one believes him and he finds himself in a furious fight for survival, to protect his mom and girlfriend and ward off this cunning, charismatic and very evil dude. He’s also aided by a hammy Van Helsing type out of work actor played by the incomparable Roddy McDowell in a performances great spirit, gusto and theatricality. The only acting that doesn’t feel quite right is Stephen Geoffreys as the main character’s twitchy, borderline spectrum friend who I guess is supposed to just be an oddball but every choice from him feels tone deaf and awkward. Chris Sarandon is so damn good as Jerry the vampire he deserves his own spinoff franchise though, what a mesmerizing villain. He’s a super good looking dude and a terrific actor who has kind of been ‘here and there’ for decades (he was a cop in the first Chucky film and Humperdinck in Princess Bride) but I’ve always felt he’s been underused and deserved a way more prolific career. Anyways he knocks it out of the park here and has immense presence, making Jerry the kind of laidback, sardonic, low key menacing alpha male villain that just steals the damn show. The film looks, sounds and feels incredible in every way. The special effects are gruesome, tactile and worthy of the 80’s horror time capsule, I truly miss the days of slimy practical effects every time I catch up with an oldie like this. The score by Brad Fiedel is so airy, synth-soaked, ambient and uneasy in all the right places. Director Tom Holland and cinematographer Jan Kiesser have a ball photographing this thing and make the aesthetic this sort of ‘pastel suburbia’ vibe with window curtains billowing sensually in the summer wind, blood spilling elegantly when necks are bitten, sneaky flourishes of kinky voyeurism and savage vampire makeup brimming with fangs, blood and the most exaggerated, hellish contact lenses a production budget could ever hope to get. This is just so much fun, one of the sexiest, schlockiest, most deliciously tongue in cheek and opulent vamp flicks to come out of that glorious decade of horror that shall never be topped.
I can say without doubt or hesitation that The Devil All The Time is the ‘feel bad’ movie of the year, and I mean that in a good way. This isn’t a film that seeks to find the silver lining, heart of gold of light at the end of the tunnel as far as atrocious human behaviour, sickening acts of violence and degradation and overall depravity go, this is a film that displays such things without much in the way of message, theme, agenda or apology. It’s just a film about terrible people doing terrible things, plain as pasta. If you can reconcile that early on in and stomach your way through the rest, there’s a whole lot to appreciate here, namely a spectacularly star studded cast all giving superb work in a gorgeously produced piece of Southern Gothic, nihilistic, psychosexual, blood spattered, sleazed up, unpretentious hayseed pulp fiction that has no patience for the squeamish, the self righteous or those who just tuned in to see Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson and won’t know what hit them. The film is a sprawling backwater canvas that spans decades and sees a whole host of unsavoury denizens interweave devilish deeds, violent acts, religious mania and murder most foul, or in this film’s case, most celebratory. Holland is terrific as Arvin, a tough kid with a nasty past who was taught early on in life by his extremely troubled father (Bill Skarsgard, haunting) about what kind of evil is out there. He’s forced to reckon with quite a few gnarly characters including a married couple serial killer duo (Jason Clarke and Riley Keogh), the county’s most corrupt lawman (Sebastian Stan), a belligerent small town mobster (Douglas Hodge) and a piece of work preacher (Pattinson playing gleefully against type) with a penchant for sexual abuse of underage girls and not a remorseful bone in his body about such acts. Arvin anchors the whole sordid tapestry together but is by no means a hero, and as much as the violence he inflicts is justified when you consider the people he’s up against, he is still a very harsh and cruel force, made so by Skarsgard’s passing of the torch as a young boy. The narrative doesn’t always seem to flow naturally, there’s a few jerks on the pacing chain that I noticed but the film is so beautifully made in terms of production design and performance it just sweeps you up anyway. It’s based on a novel by a fellow called Donald Ray Pollock, and judging by the wistful narration provided here he approves of what the filmmakers have wrought with his work, but I also see on google that he grew up in the actual county this is set in, and god help him if any of this stuff happened in his life because I wouldn’t wish these events on anyone. This is a pessimistic film that doesn’t pretend to be some holy treatise on pain and suffering whereby showing awful things happen we attain some kind of catharsis, by distance, perspective or irony. No, this film just presents to us the absolute shittiest human behaviour it can think of, and let’s us sit with it as we will. Many will abhor it, I appreciated it for what it was, for the craftsmanship, acting, artistry and scriptwriting on display and I suppose if there’s one thing it had to say that I absorbed, it’s that violence begets violence, generationally speaking in this case, and sometimes that’s not such a terrible thing when put to good use. A tough pearl of wisdom, but then again this is the toughest sort of film to be moved by.
It still amazes me that Kevin McDonald’s How I Live Now didn’t endure to become a more widely known or appreciated film, because it’s one of my favourites and in my mind one of the strongest, most affecting pieces of work in recent decades. I guess it kind of comes across as this Young Adult Book adaptation if you check out the cover and trailer but the film therein is extremely honest, disarmingly disturbing and very, very brutally frank about how widespread disaster may hit any region and those who live within it. It’s not without poetry, authentic romance, beauty or hope though and there’s this beautiful, life affirming balance between light and dark that makes for the perfect mixture.
The always exceptional Saoirse Ronan stars as Daisy, an American girl who suffers from severe anxiety and feelings of alienation, sent overseas to rural UK to live with an aunt and a whole pile of cousins she’s never even met. Slowly, bit by bit she comes out of her shell and warms up to this family, especially local boy Eddie (George MacKay) who she begins to fall in love with. Gradually the place she’s in and the people she’s with start to feel like home… until something unspeakable happens. Hundreds of miles away in London, a nuclear bomb goes off, cataclysm sets in and oppressive foreign forces slowly invade across the land. Her Aunt is gone doing humanitarian crisis work and so herself and Eddie, the closest thing the family has to leaders, must embark on a cross country odyssey fraught with dread, misery, peril and bleakness everywhere they turn.
This film hits me hard because of how real the danger and horrific aspects feel, how potent and believable the acting and relationships are and how brisk yet dense, heavy yet wistful and dark yet light the story ultimately feels. This is not a children’s film and it is most definitely *not* one geared solely towards teenagers either, there’s scenes of abject horror (it’s got an R rating that it more than earns), children thrown into impossibly complex and harrowing situations beyond their comprehension and is steeped in the harsh reality that in life things can go horribly wrong and if you find something anywhere near a happy ending you’re incredibly lucky rather than owed one by a pandering narrative. Ronan and MacKay are incredibly heartfelt and genuine, their romance and resilience anchoring the whole family as well as the film. Few films with children and young adults in the forefront have the bravery and honesty to show that the world can be just as harsh to them as to any adult protagonist, and show in the same token how said youngsters can have a tremendous amount of survivalism, intuition, spirit and courage to overcome adversity and do the best in an unforgiving world. This film is light and dark to me; the womb-like, sun dappled meadows and rivers of the English countryside where these children play and begin to grow up and then the blackened, nuclear poisoned land they venture out into and must find their way back to the light from. Light and dark. The blossoming romance between Daisy and Eddie, a force of great light in the face of encroaching evil and callous destruction approaching them, and the decision to use that love as a weapon in order to get them through, no matter how it might change either of them. In this film, the light wins and I watch it whenever I need a reminder of that. Masterpiece.
When the credits rolled it all made perfect sense. The film had six screenwriters. Six. SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is two films. The first story is an incredibly engaging story of class warfare; an examination of how the assembly of the Avengers created an even greater economic divide between the ruling class and the common people. The second story tries to play it smart. It forgoes the origin story, it ignores Uncle Ben’s lore, yet it is the coming of age/teen angst/generic internal struggle. The film tries so hard but the two narratives never fully fuse together.
The film looks great. Salvatore Totino’s cinematography is sharp and shot with authority. Michael Giacchino delivers the best score of the MCU and director Jon Watts does a very good job juggling a film that acts as a slight follow up to CIVIL WAR whilst staying true to who Peter Parker is.
Tom Holland is great as Spider-Man/Peter Parker, but he and the film are overshadowed by the command performance of Michael Keaton. Keaton completely owns the film. He ranks at the top tier of Marvel’s cinematic villains, joining the likes of Jeff Bridges’ Iron Mongerer and James Spacer’s Ultron.
The problem is Keaton is too good a villain in the film. Not only is his storyline of a salt of the earth scrapper turned big bad supremely rich, he outweighs an untested Spider-Man. It’s apparent in their first altercation, and by the final showdown when Spider-Man doesn’t have his Tony Stark super suit it is literally a showdown that is near impossible to accept.
Keaton doesn’t pull any punches. He’s cashing in on his star power with a big paycheck from Marvel, and good for him, he’s more than earned it with his phenomenal filmography. He doesn’t go through the motions with his performance, he’s frightening yet he’s a sympathetic man pushed to the brink to provide the life that his family deserves. The best scene of the film is a brief car ride, where Keaton figures out the true identity of Spider-Man that is cued up to Traffic’s THE LOW SPARK OF HIGH-HEELED BOYS. That scene is more than worth the price of admission alone.
Marvel makes solids films. They always have. You know exactly what you’re going to get. They may change the ethnicity of a character, they may try and sex up a character (heyyyy Aunt May), but they always serve a conventional fan service. They have yet to strike the balance of giving the diehard herd of fanboys what they want while at the same time formulating an emotionally dynamic story for those who after sitting through nine years of the Marvel machine expect a little bit more.