Review: Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022)

Preamble

Truth be told, I’ve never really been into murder mysteries. Despite feeling that I was raised on a subtle diet of them with David Suchet’s Poirot being on constant loop (via ITV re-runs), they’ve never appealed to me. Whether it’s because of a lack of patience or not really feeling the excitement of the central mystery (or something altogether sillier), I have no idea. However, this seemingly lifelong apathy has somewhat been thawed recently with the excellent Agatha Christie-themed film, See How They Run (a review for another time). With that in mind, does Rian Johnson’s follow-up to Knives Out seem like an enticing notion? Does it keep the audience hooked with its mystery? Have you seen Glass Onion? Let me know the comments below.

Review

Despite admiring Rian Johnson’s efforts over the years, I did not entirely appreciate Knives Out. While I found it sharp and stirring in places, I could not quite get a handle on what Johnson was trying to get at in his deconstruction of the genre. It comes as something of a relief that Johnson’s follow-up engaged me a lot more. In fact, at times, Glass Onion plays like a potent social parable that unravels within the confines of the murder mystery genre.

Taking place in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Glass Onion is about billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton), who invites his closest friends to a murder mystery-themed party at his Greek island retreat. The illustrious group, who are known as “The Disrupters” comprise of aspiring Senate candidate, Claire (Kathryn Hahn), Bron’s chief scientist, Lional (Leslie Odom Jr.), men’s rights activist, Duke (Dave Bautista), fashion designer, Birdy (Kate Hudson), and Bron’s ex-business partner, Cassandra (Janelle Monáe). While the trip seems lighthearted at first, things take a turn when Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) solves Bron’s murder mystery challenge.

Much like the titular object, Johnson’s second Knives Out mystery is made with a Hitchcockian confidence about making the audience believe a certain thing until it’s revealed to be something else entirely. At the same time, the screenplay also takes its object as the north star in its exploration of its central theme.

By itself, a Glass Onion feigns a sort of depth due to its many layers, but at the same time it’s ultimately quite shallow because you can see right through it. This tension between depth and shallowness exists in the narrative in how many of the players are various influencers and the effect they have on the world as disrupters.

The central question of what is a disrupter and the various guises it can take on a personal and global scale was fascinating in its implications and emotive resonance. At the same time, I do think Johnson’s screenplay makes some points about our perception of celebrities in the social media age. In a sense, there can be a collective fawning and adoration for someone who has massive wealth (or followers) that we can get lost in holding them to account. And while the central figure in question is not a one-to-one likeliness of Elon Musk, some moments (particularly a line about wanting to be remembered in the same breath as the Mona Lisa) feel quite current and biting towards media moguls with huge power and sway.

Likewise, a climactic scene involving the breaking of many objects feels like a raw moment of real-life Twitter outrage that spurs on a collective outrage against the establishment that can’t punish real criminals.

While Daniel Craig carries this ethos of righteous indigitation in the latter parts of his performance, my favourite moments of him as Blanc were the ones where he portrays surprise and humbleness as a bystander whose been acknowledged by a huge star. Edward Norton gives his most fascinating performance in years as an affable and visionary tech billionaire. And Janelle Monáe in her poised, controlled and subsequently loose performance struck a chord with me.

In his direction, Johnson uses slow panning and top shots to create a sense of foreboding about Bron’s Glass Onion construction. However, his best moments come near the end, with the use of long shots and close-ups to create scenes that evoke classic Hollywood in their scope, contrasted with the euphoric feeling of breaking contemporary social ills.

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Review: Is That Black Enough For You?!?

Preamble

I honestly don’t have a pithy or particularly insightful preamble this time around. The long and short of it, this documentary has snuck up on me like a ninja. And it’s with a considerable amount of anticipation and delight that I quickly watched it as soon as I heard of its existence. Elvis Mitchell has always been a formative critic in my mind whether it’s viewing vintage clips of him sparring with Roger Ebert or listening to his insightful interviews with filmmakers on his podcast (The Treatment). It almost seems silly at this point to pose a meaningful question after this adoration and gushing. But here goes, shooting straight from the proverbial hip. Have you seen Is That Black Enough For You? What did you think of some of the topics in the documentary? Let me know in the comments below.

Review

Much like the phrase is used in Ossie Davis’s Cotton Comes to Harlem, the documentary, Is that Black Enough For You is a potent lightning rod for Elvis Mitchell’s exploration of black cinema. Part love letter to the sub-genre and part critical essay for the depiction of African Americans, Mitchell’s documentary is ambitious and powerful in its message about black representation.

Told through a combination of many famous talking heads (including Samuel L Jackson, Lawrence Fishburne and Harry Belafonte) along with archival footage of many films and news footage, Mitchell’s documentary is seemingly about the rise and fall of black cinema in the 1970s. However, the cultural critic expands the focus to hit on several issues that have permeated black representation throughout the medium.

One section in which Mitchell lays out his personal criticism about 1939 and how many of its beloved movies depicted white actors taking on black parts or regressive portrayals of African Americans is a formidable takedown of a much treasured time for Hollywood movies. There were even sections where I was shaken by some of Mitchell’s points.

A great example is Mitchell juxtaposing footage from the end of Night of the Living Dead with real-life footage of riots. I’d always known about the great effect and meaning of Duane Jones’s casting in Night of the Living Dead along with the harrowing ending. However, to see how much art had imitated life in such a nightmarish manner was earth-shattering in my appreciation of the true horror of George Romero’s freshman zombie film.

Likewise, Mitchell’s point about how Robert Downey Jr (who played an actor who became black in Tropic Thunder) may have been inspired by his father, who did the dubbing for one of the black actors in the film was sharp in its generational implications.

The most surprising aspects of the documentary were the mini threads that Mitchell inserts throughout. Chief among them is one about sexuality in black cinema, not only from how women and interracial encounters were perceived but also how leading men grew in their sexual appeal. In his discussion of Shaft, Mitchell’s point about the camera work speaks to this, “The camera wasn’t spying on the star.” It was staring at him.” This point about how the camera goes from paranoid to interested in its leading man is a great example of the vividness of Mitchell’s writing.

While the documentary makes a lot of great points about black pride (particularly expressed in a personal and moving coda) and many other topics, the picture suffers from its lack of debate around Blaxploitation. While one contributor makes a salient point about how the genre exploited African Americans, I did not feel much pushback or much of a rebuttal to this point. I wish the documentary dug into this more as it’s a fascinating prism to view representation both behind and in front of the camera. This in turn provokes the question of whether this form of representation was a cynical Trojan Horse for a large cross-section of the American populace.

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Review: Clerks III (2022)

Preamble

Despite the sheer omnipresence of Kevin Smith (via various podcasts and shows) in my life, I’ve never written extensively about his work. This is due to being so ingratiated by his affable persona that being critical of his work can be tricky. However, this stance changed with Clerks III, which on the face of it appears to be the director’s most personal film to date. Does it succeed? Have you seen Clerks III? Let me know in the comments below.

Review

For better or worse, Kevin Smith’s movies have been deeply personal, whether it’s a body horror movie inspired by a podcast (Tusk) or an obnoxious teen movie that felt like a lashing out against his critics (Yoga Hosers). Smith’s movies have lived and died by the emotions he’s trying to explore. With this in mind, Clerks III is a fascinating addition to Smith’s directorial catalogue. It’s sweet and endearing, but also highly indulgent, with moments that occasionally veer into the realm of cinematic navel gazing.

The third instalment sees the central titular characters, Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) continue to serve customers with a detached and healthy dose of quoting pop culture references. However, this seemingly peaceful existence is thrown into disarray when Randal suffers a sudden heart attack. After surviving the ordeal, Randal feels inspired to make a movie about his time as an employee at the convivence store. Meanwhile, Dante is dealing with the loss of his wife, Becky (Rosario Dawson) and unborn child, as one of the film’s shooting locations is the place where he met and worked with his lost love.

If Clerks was the cinematic equivalent of mooning at the prestigious establishment and Clerks II was the middle-age hangover from this course of action, then Clerks III exists as the malaise that kicks in the tail end of life. To Smith’s credit, the central two characters do confront in very real ways, the choices and life that they have led. In the case of Randell, it’s someone who’s trying to justify a mundane life by giving it celluloid immortality. As for Dante, he mourns the life he was meant to have as he’s haunted by visions of his wife, Becky.

While I appreciated these scenes between Becky and Dante (particularly Rosario Dawson’s cheeky and fun performance), they fall into the trap of many sequels that relegate previously established characters to the dead or forgotten realm. This is compounded by the dead wife or lover troupe that’s old hat and is not quite as interesting as if the character was alive etc.

The screenplay also stumbles in some of its self-referential moments. This is particularly apparent in a protracted scene of celebrity cameos, who give line readings of the famous line from the first movie- “I’m not even supposed to be here today.” There are also instances where the movie lingers too much on recreating scenes from Clerks. This is counterbalanced by subtle moments that poke fun at Clerks 3 itself. One charming moment is when Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) expresses his artistic intent of shooting in black and white by citing that the current colour scheme is rubbish.

I wish the movie had more moments like this. But as it stands, Clerks III coasts on its wistful spirit, occasional goofiness (particularly in regard to Elias converting from a Christian to a Satanist) and excellent use of music. The highlight is the opening sequence that depicts a day in the life of the Clerks (via various medium shots) to The Black Parade by Chemical Romance. The mix is sublime moments of melancholy at the Clerk’s tedious day-to-day job and playfulness with their rooftop hockey antics. It’s an excellent reminder of how Smith defiantly makes movies to the beat of his drum with tenderness and gusto.

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Brief Consideration: Don’t Worry Darling (2022)

Preamble

If there’s one film where the behind the scenes drama has nearly overshadowed the final product, then it’s Don’t Worry Darling. From clashing claims about acting and directorial behavior to drama about a possible spitting incident, this movie has it all. But what remains to be asked at this time, is the final film as interesting as the making? Have you seen Don’t Worry Darling? Let me know in the comments below.

Brief Consideration

As I sit here, a day on from seeing Olivia Wilde’s sophomore effort, Don’t Worry Darling, I’m still not sure what I think about it. Wilde’s screenplay is about a love-struck couple, Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles), who live in a quaint 1950s-styled town called Victory. Despite the veneer of comfort and routine, Alice soon finds cracks in the seemingly perfect lifestyle as she fears its founder, Frank (Chris Pine), has sinister intentions of control.

To its credit, Don’t Worry Darling’s direction is dazzling. A spirited series of camera moves capture conversations as though they’re a free-flowing slice of Americana that feels entrenched in screwball comedy. This aspect is coupled with tense dreamy sequences whereby symmetry and guilt work in tandem to disturb the viewer. Darling’s intrigue is its secret weapon, guiding us through a pristine puzzle that eventually unravels into something altogether sordid and nasty.

In its subtext, Wilde’s movie has the sense of the 1950s American stereotype of the nuclear family and father knows best mentality. This is coupled with dramatic scenes that in spirit try to capture the social commentary of Henrick Ibsen’s plays, whereby the female characters felt trapped by the social malaises and men of their time.

Despite this, I don’t think Wilde is saying anything particularly groundbreaking or potent on a thematic level. Part of this comes from very rushed third-act plotting that pulls down the curtain of its mystery box in ways that mystify the audience in its thematic implications.

In this way, I was reminded of another 2022 movie, The Batman. Like that film, I wish Don’t Worry Darling was more subversive and interesting as opposed to feeling like it’s pulling its punches in its meaning. However, Florence Pugh’s powerhouse central performance and Wilde’s direction kept me engaged.

But as it stands, Don’t Worry Darling is just not that interesting compared to similar movies that explore disenchanted and paranoid female protagonists such as Black Swan, Spencer and The Invisible Man.

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Review: Hellraiser (2022)

Preamble

Hellraiser to me is what The Exorcist is to Mark Kermode. It’s a film that I treasure, adore and have written about extensively. While it’s not my favourite movie, it’s unquestionably the pinnacle of the horror genre with its transgressive depiction of a marriage in its last throes (among other themes). With this in mind, my eyebrows were raised with sheer curiosity about a reboot that’s had Clive Barker’s blessing and gender flipped Pinhead. Does it reinvigorate the horror franchise? Have you seen the film? Let me know in the comments below.

And if you like my ramblings on all things horror then you can check out more of my work at my second home, Horror Obsessive. My recent piece examines how Clive Barker adapted his novella, The Hellbound Heart into the 1987 film, Hellraiser.

Review

Despite having an almost limitless and transgressive premise, the Hellraiser series has crashed and burnt much quicker than other horror movie franchises. It went to space in its fourth entry (Bloodline), lived in direct-to-video infamy since its fifth instalment (Inferno), and even had time to create a cynically made rights retainer with its ninth movie (Revelations). Despite having a considerably bigger budget, the new Hellraiser proves to be a slick and ultimately empty experience, that plucks and tries to add to familiar strings without saying anything interesting.

The 2022 reimagining of Clive Barker’s 1987 film tells the story of a recovering drug addict named Riley (Odessa A’zion) who stumbles upon the deadly puzzle box after breaking into an abandoned storage warehouse. After being thrown out of her brother’s apartment and taking some pills, Riley solves the puzzle box. The act starts a chain of events that results in the disappearance of her older sibling, an encounter with an eccentric and mutilated millionaire, and the demonic Cenobites he’s been trying to summon (beings who have an inhuman definition of pleasure and pain).

Hellraiser exists in a strange purgatory, which straddles the line between the elevated horror trend that has engulfed the genre in recent years and a drastic reconceptualization of the original material. The result is an odd tug-of-war that’s straining between an overexplained mythology and an undercooked thematic exploration. Conceptually, the film is attempting to make the puzzle box (aka The Lemarchand Configuration) a metaphor for Riley’s addiction and some of her encounters with the Cenobites as a result of her drug taking (via quite trippy and almost boozy pov shots). However, the film undermines these points due to a third-act reveal of manipulation (as opposed to an organic downward spiral that feels in keeping with the additive personality of the character) and the same point of view shots given to other victims of the box.

What remains is an expansion of the mythology via a series of configurations of the puzzle box, ultimately leading to a host of wishes that the user can request from the Cenobites. By itself, it’s not a bad idea, but the screenplay is vague, often treating the narrative like a puzzle that the audience has to solve, much like the central object. This is compounded by many scenes that feel contrived in how the puzzle box hurts the people it comes into contact with. With this in mind, many of the revelations and mythology changes feel crowbarred into a rushed third act, which speedily gets to its point, undermining the emotional truth of many of the scenes.

This is a far cry from the original film that effortlessly in its filmmaking made wry points about marriage, had an atmosphere that blurred the line between the mundane and supernatural as well as depicting taboo material with ease. Even the sequels remained campy fun and mildly interesting in some aspects they added to the mythology and franchise.

This is an aspect that the 2022 film lacks, straining in its po-faced earnestness to say something important, but ultimately stumbling so much that it loses the essence of what it’s trying to explore. Despite these problems, I still found things to like about the film. Jamie Clayton proves to be a magnetic and formidable screen presence as a reinterpreted Pinhead (aka The Priest) that feels more faithful to Clive Barker’s original text. In particular, Clayton’s commanding voice emphasizes the religiosity and gender neutrality that pervaded the Lead Cenobite character in Barker’s novella (The Hellbound Heart).

And some sequences, including the aforementioned scene where Riley first sees the Cenobites, are a chilling combination of framing and camera moves that seek to illustrate the potential horror of drug-induced visions. Plus, there’s an extended sequence involving the mocking of a woman with breathing problems that are blood-curdling in its implications.

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Review: Halloween Ends (2022)

Preamble

If my blog was dormant before, “It’s alive” now, to quote Henry Frankenstein from Frankenstein (1931). Horror movies are to my blog what mushrooms are to Mario. Terrible use of quotes and analogies aside, there’s been some small measure of anticipation (on my end) for Halloween Ends. Regardless of the franchise’s future, there’s something poignant about seeing Jamie Lee Curtis playing and ultimately closing the book on a character that’s defined her career. But is the film a worthwhile swansong for Laurie Strode? Have you seen Halloween Ends? Let me know in the comments below.

And if you like my ramblings on all things horror then you can check out more of my work at my second home, Horror Obsessive. One of my first pieces for the site was about the primal themes of Halloween that I examined through Michael Myers and Laurie via the 1978 film, H20 (1998) and the 2018 Halloween film.

Review

Much like some of the previous Halloween sequels, the current crop of Michael Myers’s films have been a mixed bag. The 2018 film was an occasionally subversive and straightforward piece of franchise clearing, using homage to paint a fascinatingly monstrous picture of an aged Laurie Strode. Halloween Kills swung for the fences conceptually, by depicting the ills of mob rule after it perceives a lack of action from authority. However, it was marred by sloppy execution, cynical use of nostalgia and writing that become meme-worthy (in all the wrong ways). It comes as something of a surprise that Halloween Ends worked for me. It’s audacious, ambitious, and comes the closest to the original 1978 film insofar as feeling like a potent horror fable.

Taking place four years after the events of Halloween Kills, Ends sees Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) living in relative peace with her granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak). However, this seemingly quiet existence is disturbed by the introduction of Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell). The young twenty-something was involved in a tragic incident while babysitting one night. After getting trapped in an upstairs attic, by a young boy called Jeremy, Corey aggressively kicks down the door, which results in Jeremy tumbling to his death over a flight of stairs.

Despite being cleared of charges, the young man is hounded and mocked by being called a child killer and general psycho. Despite entering a relationship with an empathetic Allyson, Corey finds himself pulled into the darkness, something that’s accelerated when he survives an encounter with Michael Myers, who has been hiding in the sewers since the events of Halloween Kills.

If Halloween (1978) was a horror fairy tale about the awakening of a shy young woman’s maternal instincts then Halloween Ends is a horrific fable about the awakening of a young man’s capacity for violence and evil. Ends’ screenplay attempts to parallel Laurie and Cory (their names rhyme) by contrasting their tragic plights and how they changed them. Laurie’s encounter with Michael Myers made her fearful, paranoid and a monster (in some ways) who over-protected her daughter and relatives. Whereas, Cory’s encounter with Myers awakened a deep-seated sense of frustration (manifesting in sudden actions such as his flipping all the medical equipment in reaction to Allyson being called cute by her boss at her workplace).

These subtle instances that illustrated a loss of control were all too relatable to me and imbued the character with a genuine sense of pathos. At the same time, the screenplay is also possibly giving us a glimpse into the psychology of Michael, someone who in the original snapped and killed his sister after she slept with her boyfriend.

Ends’ choice to focus on Corey is not new for the slasher genre. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy Revenge was about Freddy Kruger possessioning a young man and getting him to enact his will. Friday the 13th: A New Beginning was a murder mystery in which a copycat killer is unmasked as Jason Voorhees. Even the Halloween sequels flirted with the idea of Myers’s evil being transferred (and possibly him being an accomplice) via the ending of Halloween 4, which had Myers’s niece, Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) who killed her stepmother like her uncle (even wearing the same clown mask).

The difference is the execution. In his performance as Corey, Rohan Campbell is charming as the shy, goofball kid who transforms into a downtrodden, cold and violent being who lashes out at those who put him down. In an extended role as Allyson, Andi Matichak is charming, lighthearted and tragic in how she cannot connect with Corey (at times). In one scene, she holds out her arms as though she’s about to hold or embrace the young man. To me, the moment was near tear-inducing in showing Allyson’s constant search for connection.

In her lighter scenes, Jamie Lee Curtis comes closest to embodying Margot Kidder in Black Christmas. However, her most outstanding moments as the character come near the end, where Laurie is almost engaged in a silent play, contemplating her life, what she lost and the demons that have defined her.

John Carpenter once again in collaboration with Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies delivers an interesting and rich score. The standout track is “The Procession”, which is experimental in its industrial tones that underscores the will and resolve of Haddonfield as it unites to see Myers finally die.

David Gordon Green really impresses in his direction whether it’s these dizzying push-pull shots of a long and ever-expanding staircase that references Vertigo, and greatly juxtapose the past and how characters are still lingering in it. Or his homage to the end of Halloween (1978), in which the movie itself is almost looking for Myers via a series of medium shots of various rooms in a house. Whilst those ending shots were bathed in darkness, the cinematic homage has them engulfed in light, with a subtle placement of Myers’s mask. The choice suggests that the slasher has been found, but will always linger in our collective consciousness.

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One Great Shot: No Time to Die (2021)

Preamble

Well, “Hello there.” It’s been quite a while since I last blogged. I could sit here all day explaining why I took a long leave of absence. But suffice to say, sometimes motivation for producing posts can be blighted for whatever reason. For now, crosses have been beared, inner demons have been extinguished, and the warm fussy feelings from writing god awful preambles have been restored. In fact, I intended to return with a review of Rob Zombie’s feature length adaptation of The Munsters. However, I’m still processing that film and where it sits with Zombie’s other films. Perhaps one day. Perhaps…

Despite loving the season of Halloween, I have longed to complete my One Great Shot series on Daniel Craig’s James Bond movies. However, the time never felt right, until now. Today marks Global James Bond day and I could not find a better reason to discuss my favourite shot from Craig’s swan song effort. What’s your favourite shot from No Time to Die? How are you celebrating James Bond day? Let me know in the comments below.

One Great Shot: No Time to Die

Daniel Craig’s Bond looking out at the shore of his Jamaican retreat feels like a homecoming moment. This is not only because the character is in a part of the world that directly aligns with the place in which much of the stories of his literary counterpart were written (Jamaica). But it’s also a shot that reminds us of the appeal of Craig’s interpretation of 007. Steely, stern, but all too human with flickers of subtle emotion, the shot harkens back to the actor’s moments of silent acting in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

The true power of the shot actually jumped out to me with its use in Billie Eilish’s music video for No Time to Die. All the images used from the film have a desaturated look, giving the impression that we’re watching a near monochromatic series of moments from the movie. The subtle shift in colour gives Craig’s Bond a lot more weight. No longer are his blue eyes conveying a portrait of hard edged callousness.

Instead, there’s a sense of deep-seated woundedness and loss as the retired agent considers if he should get involved in a mission that’s been dropped into his lap. The choice of the above shot being shown after a moment whereby Madeline Swan (Bond’s long time love) emerging from the water, reinforces this emotion.

In this way, this silent moment of introspection plays like Luke Skywalker looking at the twin suns in A New Hope. However, instead of a naïve young man looking out to the horizon to consider what his purpose is, we have a veteran considering his place in an occupation that’s clearly not done with him.

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Review: Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)

Preamble

It’s just occurred to me dear reader, that I’ve never actually reviewed a MCU Thor movie on this humble blog before. That’s not been out of any avoidance or a sense of spite. But before this becomes a Taika Waititi esque rambling on intention, have you seen Thor: Love and Thunder? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below. And if you happen to enjoy my musings on the horror genre, then you can find out more at my second home, Horror Obsessive. https://horrorobsessive.com/author/sartaj-singh/

Review

Despite being the longest-running solo character franchise in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Thor has felt like he’s being rebooted the most. He starts out as an arrogant fool in the intimate and Shakespearian-inspired 2011 entry and ends up as a space Viking that’s depicted in tall tales. With this in mind, Love and Thunder is a heartfelt and barmy deconstruction of its title character.

Taking place after the events of Avengers: Endgame, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) finds himself unfulfilled in the pursuit of spirited adventures after his break-up with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). Unbeknownst to the God of Thunder, Foster has recently been diagnosed with Stage 4 Cancer. When Jane hears murmurs of Thor’s old hammer (Mjölnir), she travels to New Asgard to commune with the mystical object. Meanwhile, across the galaxy, a being called Gorr (Christian Bale) rises after killing a God with a deity-slaying sword. All these three elements converge when Gorr makes his way to New Asgard, and Thor returns to the haven; shocked to find Jane as the newly-minted Mighty Thor.

Despite thinking that Thor Ragnarök closed the book on Taika Waititi’s beguiling cosmic comedy interpretation of Thor, Love and Thunder prove Waititi still has plenty left in the tank for the character. Crucially, he depicts the central hero as a felon entity who can no longer find excitement in the adventures he partakes in.

These early scenes with the Guardians of the Galaxy play like a meta-commentary on the nature of monthly comics and how they can become stale, with the hero becoming detached from the adventures they lead. At the same time, these early scenes introduce the theme of the film, namely the power of myth and how it can provide hope and comfort for people. Thor’s arc is of going from someone who perpetuates his own myth as a form of armour for loss to someone who uses myth to inspire the next generation (in reference to the children of Asgard who get kidnapped by Gorr during the early part of the movie).

Waititi has a lot of fun with riffing on myth. One extended scene depicts the son of Heimdall, Axl (Kieron L. Dyer), telling the story of how Thor got Stormbreaker and cut off Thanos’s head with it. This is contrasted with Gorr putting on a freak show where he takes the head of a shadow creature. I also think Waititi is making a larger point about how Gods use myths as a form of control. This is illustrated by the opening prologue in which Gorr (in human form) seeks salvation from his God after the death of his daughter. But Gorr is strangled when he pricks and pops the mythical balloon by renouncing his God.

This aspect is also shown in the first post-credit sequence where Zeus (Russell Crowe) asks his son Hercules (Brett Goldstein) to redeem him when he finds the presence of superheroes troubling because they make people cease to believe in him.

Waititi has always been an underrated director in the MCU. He adapts and depicts comic accurate imagery with ease. But he’s also able to create impressive visuals in engaging ways. One example is an extended scene when Thor, King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Mighty Thor reach the Shadow Realm. It’s done entirely in black and white, with slight flickers of colour, resulting in a foreboding atmosphere.

I also adore how Waititi moves the camera in Love and Thunder whether it’s these dizzying 180-degree paparazzi shots that reveal Portman’s Thor or surreal point of view shots from quite bewildering but nevertheless amusing objects, such as a cuddly toy in the third act. But he’s also quite subtle with the camera, whether it’s Stormbreaker slowly coming into the frame or these pristine Wes Anderson-esque shots that punctate some of Thor’s actions.

Chris Hemsworth has always been good at playing the pure arrogant bravado of Thor. However, in this film, he’s best when he’s trying to reassure and calm people around him, as the bravado becomes a touching exercise in heroism. Christian Bale’s performance plays like a Red Bull-infused pinball game of horror impressions, that vary from The Nun to Pennywise the Clown. But my favourite moments of his were his loose moments of pure comedic expressions that are on full display in the third act. They were akin to seeing Klaus Kinski’s Nosferatu by way of the silent facial expressions of the ancient vampire in ‘What We Do in the Shadows.’

Natalie Portman surprised me in an amusing turn as a hero in the making, who attempts to carve out a no-nonsense superhero identity on an eternal search for the perfect catchphrase. And Tessa Thompson is a cheeky delight in a performance that’s equal parts teasing and tough.

Love and Thunder resonated with me in ways that were unexpected and delightful. Above all, Waititi captures the sheer sense of loss one can feel after a breakup, and the lies we tell ourselves to keep going, in the vain hope of developing some armour for our broken state. It just so happens that this universal feeling is delivered on a colourful, bombastic and often humorous stage.

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Review: Nope (2022)

Preamble

For the first time in a while, Nope has felt like a genuine event movie. With minimalist and eyebrow raising teasers and the promise of Jordan Peele tackling the alien invader sub-genre, there’s been a palpable eximent on my part for its release. Does it live up to the hype? Well, you can find out after the jump. What did you think of Nope? Let me know in the comments below.

And if you like this post or any of my other horror-related ramblings, then you can find more at my second home- Horror Obsessive. I recently did a piece about my top five horror movie shots, which featured Jordan Peele’s Us. You can out, which one by clicking the link below.

Review

Ever since his barnstorming debut feature, Get Out hit screens in 2017, Jordan Peele has become a celebrated director whose efforts can make audiences squirm, think and laugh. Additionally, they’re often interesting riffs on classic movies, and concepts that greatly speak to our times; whether it’s Get Out’s underhanded racism in a post Obama America (via the premise of Guess Whose Coming to Dinner) or a fable about the class system in Us (via the theme of the blurred line between the civilized and uncivilized in The Hills Have Eyes).

Nope represents Peele’s most ambitious horror film to date. It’s expansive, intimate, occasionally harrowing, and subtextually fascinating in how it depicts two distinct ways in which horror movies are made.

Jordan Peele’s latest film is about a pair of siblings, OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya) and Em Haywood (Keke Palmer), who attempt to keep their family’s business afloat six months after the passing of their father, Otis Sr (Keith David). The elder Haywood was renowned for training, looking after and ultimately handling horses for various television and film productions.

To make ends meats, OJ has been forced to sell some of his large stock of horses to Ricky Park (Steven Yeun), a former child star who now runs a theme park called “Jupiter’s Claim.” However, an opportunity arises for the Haywood siblings when OJ catches a glimpse of some spooky activity in the skies above his ranch. Armed with new cameras, the siblings, with the help of a conspiracy-loving tech adviser, Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) and a veteran cinematographer, Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott), attempts to capture a perfect shot of the UFO.

In contrast to his previous films, Peele’s Nope feels much more grandiose. Part of this comes from the approach and chosen landscape, which feels in spirit a homage to John Ford Westerns, which shot areas like Monument Valley with a seductive Technicolor flair. Moments from Nope capture this similar quality of sweep, with the characters often feeling small in the frame, compared with their barren desert surroundings. This is contrasted with an ominous quality to many of the languid moments that plays with sound like wind and creaks with the same precision as Sergio Leone did in his later Western films.

However, the best moments of filmmaking come from these low-angle shots that are often framed in handheld tracking shots as OJ hides in a barn with limited visibility, catching small looks at the alien threat from the skies. These moments of camera movements, which depict OJ going from one side of the barn to the other are visceral in capturing the sheer dwarfing and frighting nature of the central ship.

At the same time, Peele’s theme is equally ambitious in its scope and presentation. Given in an almost flickering, piece meal manner, the filmmaker takes his time to lay down the tracks for where his horror train is going.

Crucially, Peele introduces the film with a scene that depicts the aftermath of a sitcom called “Gordy show,” in which a Chimpanzee has murdered nearly every one of his co-stars in an act of bloody carnage. With close-ups of a little girl’s shoes and the sheer surreal nature of the scene, Peele channels Italian filmmakers like Dario Argento, not only from the sense of portraying something so gonzo and alien (no pun intended), but also from the vantage point of playing with the idea of something innocent being corrupted. With the glitzy and silly nature of a sitcom contrasted with the sheer shock of a bloody act being committed, Peele taps into the same juxtaposition that made Argento’s Deep Red so unsettling.

Despite seeming out of place for much of the movie, this side plot point proves to be an intriguing contrast with the main plot. In fact, they both represent two ways of horror moviemaking. Park chooses to capitalize upon his trauma of being a child star who survived a crazy attack by franchising it via creating a museum of memorabilia that people come to see and engage with the lost episode and show.

This aspects plays like a metaphor for a horror movie franchise where the original comes from a pure place of wanting to explore quite vivid and particular fears. But as the franchise goes on, it becomes watered down, that those concerns cease to be scary and potent. In particular, I was reminded of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, where Wes Craven took many different aspects and concerns and distilled them through a central villain who was a metaphor for a nightmarish bully who would sadistically kill kids. When Park cites an Saturday Night Live (SNL) sketch of his traumatic experience, it reminded me of how Freddy Kruger became a clownish and goofy figure in an era where the songs from the soundtrack were given airtime on MTV (around A Nightmare Elm Street 4: The Dream Master).

In stark contrast, OJ’s and Em’s motives for capturing an image of the spacecraft feel in keeping with a horror director who wants to capture vivid truth with his movie. If Park’s plight is an analogue for the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise then OJ’s and Em’s storyline feels like an analogue of The Exorcist insofar as being a movie that wanted to ground its supernatural horror elements in documentary realism. The lip service given to how the image of the craft is going to make a difference also feels in keeping with horror moviemaking that has artistic value as its foremost intent as opposed to popularity.

Daniel Kaluuya gives an affectingly understated performance that relies on observation and subtle gestures such as eye movements and hand gestures. Keke Palmer lights up the screen with a lively and amusing performance that contrasts well with Kaluuya’s earnest character. And Michael Wincott provides a genuine sense of world-weariness in his turn as a famed cinematographer.

Michael Abels’s score also surprises with how adventurous it is, with some moments sounding like electronically infused outtakes of the theme for The Lone Ranger. But much like the film itself, it’s patient, exacting and gets under your skin.

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Brief Consideration: Prey (2022)

Preamble

If there’s one movie that can get me of the proverbial couch to board the chopper (that is my blog) then it’s Prey. For years, a period centric Predator film has been on the cards, and it’s so surreal that it’s finally here. Does it work? Before I get to my brief thoughts after the jump, have you seen Prey? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below.

Brief Consideration

The Predator franchise has always felt shackled in a perpetual cycle of being one-note. Conceptually, the franchise is about humankind embracing its primal side to combat a creature, who finds our race prey in the grand scheme of things. However, because its origin is rooted in the machismo of an eighties action film, the execution of this premise has never had complete lift off. With its unique emphasis, minimalist approach and patient filmmaking, Prey comes closest to fulfilling the promise of the Predator franchise.

Prey is about a Comanche woman, Naru (Amber Midthunder), who aspires to be a great hunter. However, she’s discouraged by her older brother, who believes she hesitates too much. But when a series of grisly murders start appearing near Naru’s home, the young woman’s curiosity and hunting are put to the test, when she comes face to face with the Predator (Dane DiLiegro).

Despite existing in a franchise that’s prided itself on action, Prey instead plays like an exacting and rich documentary that depicts the Comanche life style and the wider activities of the surrounding wilderness. This quality imbues the already known elements of the franchise with a newfound freshness that feels immediate and terrifying. One example is an early scene where Naru sees the cloaked Predator ship. It’s hidden behind clouds that are swirling in the sky akin to the rhino in the clouds, featured in Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach. This quality of the central creature being given mythical weight is further reinforced when Naru refers to what she saw as a Thunderbird, a creature of legend she heard from childhood stories.

This aspect is coupled with the notion of Naru being a nascent hunter. With this choice, there’s an inherent tension as Naru is challenged in many ways before she faces the Predator. The most memorable being an extended sequence that involves an encounter with a bear. At the same time, there’s some scenes dedicated to placing the central creature in the existing food chain, which seeks to use the nature documentary esque style to establish something we’ve seen in a unique way.

In her performance as Naru, Amber Midthunder is impressive. These are not only in the moments where she holds her own, but also in instances where she hesitates or gives subtle hints of frustration. Likewise, Dane DiLiegro’s precise and dominant physicality make the Predator a formidable presence.

Sarah Schachner’s score prove to be bombastic with its use of percussive elements and experimental with some electronic strings that provide some sharpness for some of the fight sequences. And in his second feature, Dan Trachtenberg shows promise with subtle camera moves, whether it’s a deep focus shot to establish a foreboding atmosphere or a use of 180s degrees shot to create a subdued sense of immersion.

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