Vampire Academy (2014) My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on
the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct
Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire
Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if
you added vampires to Heathers, you
would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately
inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from
Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish
leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to
I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young
Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel
storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation
crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like,
Split (2016) (SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based
filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of
only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several
of his pictures, including his last, The
Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low
budget horror arena. Split continues
that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to
bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically
uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t
always quite gel.
Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage
girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best
intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes
and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the
end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…
Django Unchained (2012) (MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has
regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at
very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django
Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a
director in Kill Bill), I was
pleasantly surprised by Inglourious
Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in
its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular
protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic.
As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was
operating at his zenith. Django Unchained
is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his
all-important aesthetic pr…
The Favourite (2018) (SPOILERS) In my review of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I suggested The Favourite might be a Yorgos Lanthimos movie for those who don’t like Yorgos Lanthimos movies. At least, that’s what I’d heard. And certainly, it’s more accessible than either of his previous pictures, the first two thirds resembling a kind of Carry On Up the Greenaway, but despite these broader, more slapstick elements and abundant caustic humour, there’s a prevailing detachment on the part of the director, a distancing oversight that rather suggests he doesn’t feel very much for his subjects, no matter how much they emote, suffer or connive. Or pratfall.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) (SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) (SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.
Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) (SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.
Doctor Who Season 12 – Worst to Best Season 12 isn’t the best season of Doctor Who by any means, but it’s rightly recognised as one of the most iconic, and it’s easily one of the most watchable. Not so much for its returning roster of monsters – arguably, only one of them is in finest of fettle – as its line-up of TARDIS crew members. Who may be fellow travellers, but they definitely aren’t “mates”. Thank goodness. Its popularity – and the small matters of it being the earliest season held in its entirety in original broadcast form, and being quite short – make it easy to see why it was picked for the first Blu-ray boxset.
John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) (SPOILERS) There’s no guessing he’s back.
John Wick’s return is most definite and demonstrable, in a sequel that does
what sequels ought in all the right ways, upping the ante while never losing
sight of the ingredients that made the original so formidable. John Wick: Chapter 2 finds the
minimalist, stripped-back vehicle and character of the first instalment furnished
with an elaborate colour palette and even more idiosyncrasies around the
fringes, rather like Mad Max in that
sense, and director Chad Stahleski (this time without the collaboration of David
Leitch, but to no discernible deficit) ensures the action is filled to
overflowing, but with an even stronger narrative drive that makes the most of
changes of gear, scenery and motivation.
The result is a giddily hilarious,
edge-of-the-seat thrill ride (don’t believe The New York Times review: it is
not “altogether more solemn” I can
only guess Jeannette Catsoulis didn’t revisit the original in the interven…
Total Recall (1990)
(SPOILERS) Paul Verhoeven offered his post-mortem on the failures of the remakes of Total Recall (2012) and Robocop (2013) when he suggested “They take these absurd stories and make them too serious”. There may be something in this, but I suspect the kernel of their issues is simply filmmakers without either the smarts or vision, or both, to make something distinctive from the material. No one would have suggested the problem with David Cronenberg’s prospective Total Recall was over-seriousness, yet his version would have been far from a quip-heavy Raiders of the Lost Ark Go to Mars (as he attributes screenwriter Ron Shusset’s take on the material). Indeed, I’d go as far as saying not only the star, but also the director of Total Recall (1990) were miscast, making it something of a miracle it works to the extent it does.