Tusk (2014): Comedy / Drama / Horror

An arrogant podcaster is flying to Canada for his show, but ends up a prisoner by a mentally deranged old man who wants to turn him into a walrus.

I had to watch it again. Well, not really. But I did, anyway. It is a film that my mate Ben and I were discussing years ago and it was most definitely… challenging! Everything about Tusk is beyond understanding. The concept first and foremost: An old man kidnaps you with the intention to make you a walrus. Still, it’s not The Human Centipede (2009) but that’s meant to be a sick, disgusting, stitching-ass-to-mouth horror. Something that brings me to the another beyond understanding point which is that… this is a Kevin Smith film. The guy who brought us the Clerks franchise, Chasing Amy (1997), and Dogma (1999). But then he also brought us Red State (2011) so, I don’t know why I act surprised.

Tusk is a film that if you know nothing about it, it’ll shock you and disgust you. There is nothing I can say to make it make it more appealing or more difficult to watch. One thing I can say is that the cast nails it! Shockingly amazing team!!! Kevin Smith has experimented over the years. Cop Out (2010) was not my thing. If you asked me, it’s probably his most indifferent work to date. But all the rest of his work is very much appealing and interesting. He is a comic book nerd who has challenged and defied a lot of Hollywood taboos over the years. You’re gonna love it or loath it. Regardless, think about this: Punishment for being a pompous a$$hole has also its limits.

Ben, that’s for you my mate. I hope my review makes it to the land of the rising sun…

I bid farewell to the one and only Sean Connery. Rest in peace, sir!

Happy Halloween and stay safe!

Hubie Halloween (2020): Comedy / Fantasy / Mystery

A man who has always been mocked and bullied in his hometown takes it upon himself to save this year’s Halloween.

I hadn’t watched an Adam Sandler film in a while but I watched Uncut Gems (2019) last year, I was happily surprised, and I said “why not”? Well… now I’m saying “why”?! Hubie Halloween‘s audience is very, very, very, very restricted. The film’s level of humour barely scratches the bottom from start to finish but that’s not what bothered me the most. Hell, it wasn’t even Sandler’s voice.

The film’s theme is walking on thin ice. 99.7% of an American town, with a dark history of hunting down people with pitchforks and torches, in 2020, is making fun of and is brutally bullying someone having a mental illness – whatever that is. It gets worse though… That town’s once most beautiful woman – Julie Bowen, who still is that town’s most beautiful woman – happens to be that very same town’s nicest girl and part of that 0.3% that actually likes him; with the 0.2% being her nerdy son and the girl he wants to get who also happens to be as merciful and that town’s most good looking high school girl. The rest of the characters are just caricatures. Seriously messed up characters in regard to their role in society, sank at the dark pit of Hollywood’s cliché.

Sandler and Bowen worked together in Happy Gilmore (1996) and admittedly they are A-list actors. Ben Stiller, June Squibb, Michael Chiklis, Maya Rudolph, Shaquille O’Neal Rob, Schneider, Ray Liotta, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, for better or for worse, become part of it. Almost everyone from Grown Ups 1 and 2 but also other films too. Sandler is a great collaborator and top-shelf comedian. Sometimes though, he just seems to be signing for everything under the sun, and Netflix seems to constantly condone such mentality. The movie is dedicated to the late Cameron Boyce who was meant to be part of it. It’s shuttering he’s not with us…

For films that can easily get misconstrued or go under the radar, I always advise to spend a couple of hours forgetting about the real world’s real problems and enjoy these films regardless of their flaws. This is not the case here. Go for all-time horror classics instead. The film’s message seems dumb, but deep down is actually mean-spirited, and I’ll dare to say harmful.

Stay safe!

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992): Horror

When Count Dracula comes to London from Transylvania, a series of ungodly events follow him, and a group of men unites to stop him from claiming his future bride.

Which Dracula is your favourite? I guess your answer depends on how old you are. I grew up with Francis Ford Coppola’s and, admittedly, it is my favourite. And how could it not be… Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Cary Elwes, Richard E. Grant, and Tom Waits. The late Michael Ballhaus’ haunting photography and the team’s meticulous editing synthesize one of the greatest Gothic fairy-tales of the 90s. Two years before that there was Edward Scissorhands (1990) – once again with the one and only Winona Ryder. See how shadows are cast, how the match-cuts stitch the sequences together, and how the narrative patiently unfolds. Also, what is not to be discounted is the amazing costume design and the brilliant makeup (Oscar winners).

There is an enormous amount of information regarding the film’s production, revealed at the 2007 Collector’s Edition DVD audio commentary. One of the most interesting information is the fact that, other than the blue inferno, NO digital visual effects were used in post production. Coppola was adamant and his vision paid off (it also paid for his production company’s debt and saved it from bankruptcy).

In all honesty, of course, I am not posting this to actually review the film. I am doing it for two reasons: Its brilliance lies in the storytelling and I really want to bring it to the newer generation of moviegoers or film lovers’ attention; to appreciate and understand that visual effects should be used only as a means to enhance the narrative rather than overshadow it or compensate for the lack of it. Also, to remind mine but also older generations that films such as Dracula still exist and, hey… it’s Halloween time, why not dust the old scary DVD’s and enjoy something from the past. For nostalgia…

Enjoy Halloween and stay safe!

Books of Blood (2020): Drama / Horror / Mystery

A man looking for a priceless book, a young girl looking for redemption, and a mom looking for answers cross paths in a dark journey, leading to the unknown.

Have you ever wondered what distinguishes a film from a TV movie? Is it the narrative; the way the story is told? Is it the photography? The editing? The acting? Something else? Despite of what I believe or I may know, give it some thought while watching this one.

Books of Blood has the 80s scent, and how could it not? It is from Clive Barker after all. Well, the source anyway… The first story is ultimately all over the place. It seems that there is no beginning middle or end. And what disguises as an end does not give enough justice to what could have been a true Barker story on screen. The sound somewhat annoyed me. I know it was meant to be disturbing for Jenna but literally, on occasion, it was getting on my nerves. The night terror is, arguably, the best sequence even though the tribute to The People under the Stairs (1991) was quite suspenseful.

The second story is a lot tighter. No one deserves to die from cancer, much less a young kid. So yea, a single mom having to deal with that qualifies it as a strong drama. But strong is also the horror of what happens at the end of it. Shame that digital visual effects take away the atrocity it was meant to deliver. Regardless, think of the punishment’s gravity, especially, in regard to what he says afterwards. Did he deserve it?

The third story smartly stitches everything together and while watching it you might realise that my review as misleading as the stories themselves, and that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Or not. As I said, it is from Clive Barker after all…

Enjoy Halloween and stay safe!

P.S. You would never think to see Seth MacFarlane sitting at the producer’s chair next to Barker’s. It must be 2020…

The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020): Drama / Horror / Mystery

A young traumatised American au pair is hired to look after two orphan kids living in a mysterious manor, in the English countryside where reality is nothing but deceitful.

As I was watching, I couldn’t help but think ‘how am I supposed to write about it without giving away spoilers’? I have tried to avoid hearing or reading anything about it but sporadic negative whispers managed to find their way to me. I would presume that the audience that has, is, and will be watching the Bly Manor is the same audience that has already adored the Hill House. Thus, a line must be drawn between the two.

Mike Flanagan, who once more proves to be a great filmmaker, as well as Amblin Entertainment and Netflix are still behind the mini-series – even though, past the first episode, Flanagan is not wearing the director’s hat. The same applies for most of the cast who we get to see in different roles. Also, both of them are parts of the same anthology, marking Bly Manor’s 35th adaptation for the film or TV of Henry James’ novella The Turn of the Screw – Flanagan pays a lot of tributes to The Innocents (1961). Due to the similarities, please don’t think or try to find connection between the two. The producers have announced more series and they have stated that there is no link whatsoever – if they go down the American Horror Story (2011- ) road or not, that is a different story.

Bly Manor’s directing, photography, editing, costume design, and make-up department win the impressions from the first episode and you’ll get no grief about their quality. The Newton Brothers have also done an excellent job with the film’s score and I guarantee you, you won’t be able to shake off the “O Willow Waly”; it will be humming in your ears for days. Furthermore, all actors deliver top-notch performances that will knock your socks off. All of them get enough screening time to unfold and develop their characters and make sure that each and every one of them will make your heart, one way or another, skip a beat. I mean, how can Amelie Bea Smith act this way is totally beyond me.

The narrative is left deliberately for the end because it is the source of comparisons, contrasts, controversies, and contradictions. I can understand all four of them but imagine if the Bly Manor was like Hill House. What would be the point? Some might prefer the latter because behind the ghosts there is a strong family drama that pins you down. And Flanagan’s protracted shots are giving that drama the justice it deserves (that’s why I missed his directing on this one). But here’s what I think it happened…

Convoluted narrative that will end up to a mind-blowing resolution requires hiding clues and overall information BUT, even while misleading with the fabula and syuzhet’s timeline, the filmmakers need to make sure they don’t leave their audience completely bamboozled. Because this is where they lose interest and even when something big happens in the end, they will have already missed a lot and, eventually, will not understand it or not care about it. That’s my two cents anyway. I highly recommend it and look forward to the next haunting.

Oh, before I go, there is actually something connecting the two; love or the lack thereof…

Stay safe!

P.S. Victoria Pedretti shone as Nell Craine, shines as Dani Clayton, and she very much reminded me of Piper Perabo when I first watched her in Coyote Ugly (2000).

P.P.S. My beloved Ioanna, as promised, this one goes out to you!

One Night in Bangkok (2020): Action / Crime / Drama

A man arrives at the airport of Bangkok, gets a gun, hires a young female taxi driver, and people with no obvious connection between them start dropping one by one.

One Night in Bangkok is more or less what you expect it to be. Producer/writer/director Wych Kaosayananda builds up the narrative slow enough for the audience to get to know Kai and Fha to justify the film’s denouement. The editing’s rhythm and pace put the film together harmonically, but quite early into the film one can realise that Kaosayananda doesn’t want to get rid of anything he has shot. And that becomes quite problematic. There is too much dialogue that could have been avoided, firstly, to tight the script up and reduce the film’s duration, and secondly, to edit out everything that the audience would have understood anyway without the heroes and villains saying it. The latter is a greater issue simply because, personally, I felt as if I don’t get enough credits as a viewer. I truly believe that about twenty minutes could have been cut out, leaving much to the audience’s imagination and also focusing on the action.

The action is another issue though that could have been done better too. By now, we have seen action films in the last couple of decades that are equivalent to a cinematic miracle. Prachya Pinkaew and Gareth Evans have offered us Thai and Indonesian productions that have left us gobsmacked. Ever since, action sequences have evolved and raised the bar sky-high. Going back to mediocre action scenes, especially starring Mark Dacascos, an avid martial artist, coming from a family of martial artists… lowers the expectations and generates mediocre reviews. Shame really.

The thing is that Dacascos is a good actor and I really hope that, even now that he is nearing 60 he can still impress us with something better written, directed, and produced. Lastly, Vanida Golten, who appears for the first time in a film, does a magnificent job. Lets hope that we see her in more projects.

Stay safe!

The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020): Comedy / Horror / Thriller

Brutally savaged bodies pile up in a small mountain town during full moon and an alcoholic sheriff must solve the crimes, keep the town in order, and his estranged daughter safe.

Comedy/horror… How does one put the two opposites successfully together? I don’t know if there is a universal answer but, in this instance, it’s how actor/writer/director Jim Cummings puts them together. The comedic acting contrasts the dark and haunting photography and the soundtrack either adapts to the tone or interestingly causes antithesis. My round of applause though goes to the editing team not for the impressive flash forwards during the killings but for balancing Cummings’ vision on how to find humour in dramatic but also horrific situations.

I’ll deliberately keep this one shorter than usual. Turn the lights off and give it a go. Films such as The Wolf of Snow Hollow can be the escape we need against the depressing and abhorrent reality we currently live in even though we have to return to it eventually.

Last but definitely not least, rest in peace Robert Forster. You will always be remembered.

Death of Me (2020): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

After a night they don’t remember anything, a vacationing couple finds a video of them where the husband kills the wife.

The Hangover (2009) meets The Wicker Man (2006). Yes, the Nicholas Cage version.

Death of Me… a film where everyone aimlessly is running around. I’ll cut straight to the point, there are significant issues with the story development but also the editing. The story itself is more than decent but then the project collapses by the minute as it unfolds. The acting is also decent – considering, but the film is beyond saving. I think the intentions were good but the execution was bad. I mean… bad! I don’t want to slag it off more because, regardless, a lot of people put in a lot of effort and work. It just didn’t come out right, unfortunately. Maggie Q and Luke Hemsworth are really good actors so, don’t let that film define their skills.

Stay safe!

12 Hour Shift (2020): Comedy / Horror / Thriller

In a local hospital, a drug-addict nurse and her small organ trafficking business “partners” find themselves in dire straights when a transaction goes awry.

Should ever anything happen to you and you end up in the hospital, that is the nurse you need… NOT! And that applies to the rest of the staff, police, family, patients, villains, and every other caricature that decides to appear on screen and lower the IQ to the extreme. But don’t cast any stones yet…

Writer/director Brea Grant spent every penny she had in her pocket, and it wasn’t that many, very wisely. She knew exactly the kind of film she wanted to make and she did. 12 Hour Shift is (almost) as funny as it intended to be, maintaining the horror level to the point that it doesn’t overshadow the main genre – comedy. The editing is the first indicator of this, effectively controlling the pace and rhythm, and keeping the story’s development very tight. Angela Bettis, David Arquette (also the main producer), Chloe Farnworth (who you wouldn’t believe she’s British), Nikea Gamby-Turner, but also the rest of the cast, are meant to be funny and they most certainly are. Amazing chemistry between the actors that will make you, at times, laugh out loud.

Now… I will say that producer/cinematographer/composer Matt Glass knew what he was doing while composing the film’s score. I can see how the soundtrack could potentially come across as annoying, accompanying every sequence of the film but it is there to serve a purpose. And that is none other than to exaggerate on something that it is far-fetched already. The story’s level of implausibility is sky-high, the plotholes are lurking in every corner, and the acting is over the top… DELIBERATELY!

I really do recommend you to watch it. We live in abhorrent times where death is first news. 12 Hour Shift is a horror that will make you laugh, and certainly, for just less than an hour and a half, will make you forget about what’s happening out there. Grant’s intentions are noble and I for one admire her for making such a film.

Stay safe!

Open 24 Hours (2018): Horror

Having just been released from prison for setting her deranged boyfriend on fire, a young woman gets a night job at a petrol station, where her past catches up with her.

Promising opening shots that become too explanatory, too soon. The type of shots that fully increase the plot’s predictability. Keep watching and you’ll see that they also become repetitive too so, even if you spot a good one, chances are that you’ll watch it again (and again) minutes later and it will lose its authenticity. Do not be alarmed though because as you’ll keep watching, you’ll realise that the film is inundated with clichés that are the outcome of the aforementioned shots. Unfortunately, it all starts with the script which just borrowed parts from loving horrors of the 80s and 90s and stitched them, unnecessarily, together. I have the utmost respect for indie films as they do their absolute best for the tiny money they have managed to procure. And here, the film’s budget is not the issue.

The issue is that writer/director Padraig Raynolds decided not to leave a trademark on his film. Other than the above mentioned copies and pastes, the composer shouldn’t have tried to copy Psycho‘s (1960) staccato and the Raynolds shouldn’t have used music throughout the whole film. The power of the diegetic sound is immense, especially in narration, and it should have been used a lot more. Unfortunately, Raynolds raised the implausibility levels sky-high.

Full disclosure: I found Vanessa Grasse, who I first noticed in Leatherface (2017), very attractive so I’m a bit biased. I believe she has a lot to learn about acting and with the right guidance she’ll do really great. I for one, look forward to seeing her in more projects and I hope her natural beauty doesn’t get in the way of her promising career.

To cut the long story short, the story is original but its development screams all the cliches Scream (1996) is on about. Only “virgin horror eyes” will fall for these jump-scares and not even them won’t bother asking (more than they can count), “how the f@!$ did that happen?!” On the flipside, me counting the innumerable gimmicks, momentarily, forgot all about real life’s miseries so what the hell…

Stay safe!