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The_Silly_Sibyl
The_Silly_Sibyl
Jack Thomas
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Old

So I just saw Old, and it got real old, real fast. Sorry, couldn’t resist, especially as it’s true. This latest science-fiction/horror film from M Night Shamaylan is lighter on some of the excesses of his post-Signs work, but that doesn’t make it a good movie, just marginally more tolerable. The premise is that a bunch of middle-class tourists, including two families and a couple, are on holiday at a tropical resort when the manager offers them a once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit a secluded beach. Pro-tip: if a hotel manager offers you a freebie that he only gives to guests he “likes”, grab the kids and make a run for it. Terrible things are going to happen to you.

But I guess these people don’t watch horror movies, because soon enough they’re being bussed to the beach. (The bus driver is played by Shamaylan in one of those cameo roles that he probably thinks are Hitchcockian, but the thing is, Alfred Hitchcock didn’t play characters in the film, he just passed by for a second or was glimpsed through a door.) The proverbial starts going down when the body of a young woman washes up on the shore, and her boyfriend, a rapper who thankfully doesn’t rap and therefore spares us the embarrassment we got from the rapping little boy in The Visit, is left standing by with a mysterious nosebleed. Then a little boy and his sister start filling out their swimwear as their bodies rapidly mature. (In one amusing continuity error, the girl’s swimsuit changes once puberty accelerates.) The tourists find themselves trapped on the beach as their bodies begin to mysteriously grow and then deteriorate with age.

One thing that really struck me in the early part of the film is that Shamaylan can’t write children. The siblings here have exactly the same dynamic as the ones in The Visit, just aged down a bit more. There’s the boy with “quirks” that I guess are supposed to be cute and funny but are just awkward and cringeworthy. Here it’s asking random people their names and what they do for a living. (Search me...) Then there’s the older sister who’s slightly embarrassed by her less mature brother and just on the cusp of young womanhood. These characterisations are straight out of a Goosebumps book, though even RL Stine wrote more believable sibling dynamics, and he churned those books out at a rate of one per fortnight.

Though I’m not sure that Shamaylan can write adults, either. The character types in Old should be obvious, but the writing is so graceless and disjointed that they become confused. A doctor played by Rufus Sewell is I think supposed to be a status-obsessed, workaholic snob with a racist streak and schizoid tendencies, but the script doesn’t establish or develop any of this enough to give the character dimension or definition. You pick it up more through clues in the performance.

Also, it needs to be said that Shamaylan does not understand mental illness. In several films now he’s used it as a motivator for character actions - it was pretty much the entire premise of Split and Glass - but his grasp of the complexities of different mental illnesses is embarrassingly, offensively poor. I didn’t recognise how much of a trend and how bad it was before, but looking back after Old, he really seems to equate “being mentally ill” with “being a ticking time bomb of violence”.

Brain disorders as a cheap motivator for villainy is an old trope in pulp fiction going back to Hitchcock’s Psycho, but Shamaylan tries to give it an air of scientific credibility that’s pretentious at best and pig ignorant at worst. At least Norman Bates’ violent insanity was grounded in his character and situation. Shamaylan’s schizophrenic doctor lashes out seemingly just because that’s what mentally sick people do, in this filmmaker’s view. Perhaps someone on set should have reminded him that such people are more likely to be the victims than perpetrators of violent crime.

None of the characters are well-written, though, and that one sticks out just because of its offensive nature. The doctor’s wife is a shallow, self-obsessed socialite, based on the little development she gets, and the parents of the siblings are going through a marital crisis. Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps play these roles as well as they can be played, though the screenplay doesn’t support them. A couple of body horror scenes break up the tedium, though they’re too sanitised to be truly gross or shocking. We almost get there during a scene of impromptu surgery on the beach, but then the shot spares our vomiting. Really, for such a silly concept as Old to work, the film needed to be shorter and grislier. There’s probably a great 90-minute surreal shocker to be made with this material, one which abandons the conclusion and scientific angle, never explains what’s going on with the beach and why it ages people, and focuses instead on the tense unreality of the situation. Instead we get another science lesson from a man who doesn’t understand science.

I watched the film with a friend who does understand science, and chuckling to ourselves throughout made it a worthwhile experience, though that’s barely an endorsement. My general rule of thumb is that if I as a total layman am picking giant holes in your logic, you’ve got a problem. For instance, one little girl gets pregnant after rapidly ageing into a woman, and then almost immediately goes into a relatively quick and painless labour. To be fair to Shamaylan, he’s not the first sci-fi writer to assume that the human womb is elastic, and that an accelerated gestation period wouldn’t destroy the woman’s insides, or at least cause enough complications to prevent her from being able to climb a sheer rock-face half an hour later. Other examples include an early episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, where Counsellor Troy is impregnated by an alien orb, and an actually effective sci-fi horror film, Xtro, in which a woman gives birth to a middle-aged man, her belly distending like a car’s airbag.

My friend made mincemeat of the ludicrous physics involved with “explaining” the beach’s ageing effects. Honestly, however, science-fiction is naturally speculative and a good writer with an ear for dialogue could have made something of these characters and their tragedy, which is ripe for horror. The dialogue here is hilariously stilted and awful, as when a character starts giving expository details about her life back home for no reason. It’s Shamaylan doing what Shamaylan does, working at a B-grade level while thinking he’s better than that. He’s too pretentious to make a decent shocker, and too lazy to put the work into understanding half the concepts he bandies about. Old is therefore neither good trash nor great art, it’s just a bland compromise between the two, though leavened with unintentional humour.

1/4

JohnnyBlaze
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^ Now, THAT was a comprehensive review! Whew!

I actually had no desire to see Old because it didn't sound the least bit compelling. This makes me look forward to catching it on Netflix someday and seeing how on the money you were.

The_Silly_Sibyl
The_Silly_Sibyl
Jack Thomas
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I felt a bit bad going as hard as I did on Shamaylan, as it’s not as if I could make a movie myself. But, on the other hand, you don’t need to be a chef to be annoyed that the chicken dinner you just paid for tastes like taint.

JohnnyBlaze
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The_Silly_Sibyl said:I felt a bit bad going as hard as I did on Shamaylan, as it’s not as if I could make a movie myself. But, on the other hand, you don’t need to be a chef to be annoyed that the chicken dinner you just paid for tastes like taint.

Ever since The Sixth Sense, Shamaylan earned a reputation.  Unbreakable and The Village proved his intent was to continue onward with these Twilight Zone-esque endings. Signs was the beginning of the streak proving his storytelling ability doesn't always measure up to the standard he sets for himself.

He needs to try his hand at different genres and grow out of his pigeonhole.

The_Silly_Sibyl
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The Suicide Squad

Leave it to James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) to make a good Suicide Squad movie. Salvaging the DC Comics franchise from David Ayer’s abysmal 2016 effort, he pitches the new film at exactly the right level, evincing an acute understanding of the material. Gunn started out in self-aware trash cinema, under the wing of beloved schlockmeister Lloyd Kaufman (Poultrygeist), and with The Suicide Squad he’s been given free reign to move the story more towards the anarchic, nihilistic, relentlessly gory, darkly comic, and just plain irreverent territory where it belongs. In a nutshell, it does right everything that 2016’s Suicide Squad did wrong, to a point where it sometimes seems like Gunn’s kidding Ayer’s film, especially in a prologue which establishes and then dispenses characters at a dizzying rate.

The plot is one of those simple-but-needlessly-convoluted jobs common to superhero capers. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), the sociopathic US defence director, assembles a second Task Force X to infiltrate a human experimentation facility on a South American island. Nicknamed the suicide squad, the force is made up of criminals and genetic abominations, injected with an exploding tracker in their skulls which will detonate if they disobey orders. Margot Robbie returns as Harley Quinn, Idris Elba replaces Will Smith as Deadshot, and John Cena is the ironically named Peacemaker. Sylvester Stallone also turns up to grunt pigeon English as a childlike shark man.

The improvements are manifold, but perhaps best represented in just how better written and conceived the characters and plot are. Gone is the ridiculous End Times plot of the first film, which had everyone asking “why aren’t Superman, Batman et al dealing with this?” Gone too is the bloated and cringeworthy characterisation. Viola Davis was probably the best thing about the first film, her steel sociopathy having been developed by Davis, a genuinely great actress, into a semi-believable figure. Here she’s confined to one room for most of the action, and is all the better for it, the script allowing Waller to be the cold-hearted puppet-master she is.

Robbie’s a lot better too, liberated from shrill and over-sexualised caricature to an actually engaging presence, with her own thoughts and agency. And Idris Elba is just a much, much better choice for the Deadshot role. He’s older, grizzlier, and just more convincing as a hardened career criminal than the lovely Will Smith could ever be.

The film has too many characters, just as it goes on for too long and is too overstuffed with plot elements that feel almost incidental. That’s a requisite for superhero films, and I’m flogging a horse’s grave in criticising it. Still, if given the chance, I’m sure that Gunn could have made a 90-minute version of this movie, in line with Roger Corman’s dictum that all movies be that length and have at least one scene set in a strip club. (Gunn meets the second requirement, though no bare breasts are on display.)

His character work is so strong, though, that you get an impression of an actual person with even the minor characters. A superhero called Polka-Dot Man, for instance, has a funny arc about his evil scientist mother and how he sees her everywhere. The gore quotient is high, as it should be in a movie like this, and we get lots of grisly slashings, shootings, dismemberments, and so on. It’s an exploitation flick by a funny and intelligent writer, who just about manages to bring a little of the B-movie spirit to a boilerplate studio behemoth.

3/4

JohnnyBlaze
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Gunpowder Milkshake on Netflix

While visually appealing, this movie totally flatlines in the script department.  It has both a modern fairy tale vibe and a statement about feminism that the director fails to capitalize on, presenting a highly unrealistic story and mostly female characters with zero depth. Slow motion action scenes in the style of 300 drag the film out longer than necessary.

I can't for the life of me recall a single character's name? That's how uninteresting the portrayal was of each individual person, with the exception of one of the "fairy godmothers" played by Carla Gugino.

At least her role as a prim and proper, quiet librarian type was juxtaposed with a machine gun toting heroine, creating a false sense of depth to her character and impressing upon the viewer that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. And with that, the concept of feminism becomes a surface that is barely scratched.

You can actually feel something akin to sympathy for her outcome and root for her survival, whereas you could care less about everyone else.

The_Silly_Sibyl
The_Silly_Sibyl
Jack Thomas
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JohnnyBlaze said:I can't for the life of me recall a single character's name?

Never a good sign

The_Silly_Sibyl
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Jack Thomas
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Candyman

Despite some powerful themes and elements, Candyman 2021 ultimately doesn’t deliver much in the way of exciting horror. Which is a real shame, since with Jordan Peele on the production team and the promise of a more thoughtful, socially engaged approach to the storytelling, the film was an exciting prospect. It begins with an extremely promising prologue, set in the real-life Cabrini-Green Homes (or “projects”) of ‘70s Chicago. A young boy has an encounter with a strange man who lives in the walls of a laundry room, and there the story begins. It’s a great cold open, believable and sinister. Cut to the present day and we learn that the story is a direct sequel to the ‘92 film. (Which was based on a short story by Clive Barker, “The Forbidden”, name-checked in a scene where a character is shown reading Weave World.)

The events of that film are referenced as we get to know a small circle of friends in the art world, mostly Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his girlfriend, Brianna (Teyonah Parris). Anthony is a painter and Brianna the gallery director handling his work. (Talk about nepotism!) Anthony becomes obsessed with the Candyman legend after hearing of it in a scary story, and soon the art starts to merge with the artist, as his paintings inspired by the legend encourage people to say Candyman’s time five times in a mirror, supposedly summoning him.

The running time goes by pleasantly enough and some of the deaths are creatively conceived and shot, but it never really goes anywhere. It’s hard to put your finger on what exactly stops it achieving lift off, but it might come down to a couple of things: a lack of a solid Candyman persona, and not enough authenticity in the setting. Ironically, in the latter case, since an important theme of the film is community and how it survives or dies based on the wider society around it. The original film was about a relatively wealthy and privileged white woman, a scholar, stepping into a poor Black space to investigate its myths.

Though this new film is supposedly more engaged with racial and social issues, outside the prologue you don’t see a lot of poor Black people, living in the projects, getting by, passing on their stories. When you see the projects, they’re just an abandoned neighbourhood of empty houses, which ties in with what the film wants to say about gentrification and the destruction of Black spaces, but doesn’t give viewers a strong reason to care when what’s being lost isn’t all that established.

Regarding the lack of a definitive Candyman, this is also likely a deliberate part of the film’s approach, but weakens the overall effect because you end up with an undefined and thus less frightening antagonist. Tony Todd, the original Candyman (who shows up in a cameo here), is a horror icon to stand alongside Freddy, Jason, et al, because he’s a big, imposing guy who can pull off a menacing leer.

Tragic though Candyman is, you get a sense of an individual and malignant personality with Todd. That’s not really so in this film. It makes a similar mistake to 1985’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge’s, in that it tries for a psychological approach where the main character isn’t sure whether or not he’s Candyman. That approach can work in a more straightforward crime story, but Candyman is essentially a monster movie. And you go to a monster movie to see, well, a monster.

The scenes are interspersed with shadow puppetry depicting the history of the legend, and these are easily the best bits of the film outside the prologue. They would have been more effective if they were diegetic - meaning “in universe”, so that a character is performing the puppetry as opposed to it appearing as just a stylistic device for the audience - but they’re still fun and atmospheric.

Other neat stuff includes a very Alfred Hitchcock moment where a murder is viewed from a distance, through a high-rise apartment window, and what feels like a nod to Dead Teenager movies of the past. (If you don’t know, Dead Teenager movies are slashers which utilise a set of archetypes. The slut, the virgin, the jock, the nerd, etc.) A gaggle of mean girls play the Candyman game in the toilets at their high school, and make themselves late for class, let’s say.

Elements like these make the film worth watching if you’re a Candyman fan, or browsing a streaming service, but without a strong narrative core it doesn’t end up anywhere. It needed a better developed antagonist, more time spent establishing the social milieu that it wants to comment on, and a feeling of scale, or stakes.

Although lots of murders happen and the satirical aspect is always there to remind us of the larger social themes, Candyman 2021 doesn’t feel big enough as a story. Rather, it feels like a story about a small group of characters we don’t get to know very well, having things happen to them which are less exciting than they should be.

2.5/4

The_Silly_Sibyl
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Jack Thomas
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Leprechaun franchise

With Halloween due in a month, I thought I’d review an infamous horror franchise currently available through Prime. Of all the slasher series that were birthed in the last decades of the twentieth century, Leprechaun is at the bottom of the board. If the Friday the 13th movies are trash, the Leprechauns are just crap. Any one Friday movie is better than the best Leprechaun. Even Jason X. The series owes its longevity largely to Warwick Davis, who was smart enough to interpret the role comedically. The Leprechaun character as written isn’t all that funny, and certainly not scary, but Davis injects it with a memorable energy. An energy which, coupled with some amusing death scenes, was enough to spawn eight films.

For context, the highest ranking Leprechaun film on Rotten Tomatoes is its most recent - Leprechaun Returns (2018) - at 50%. The lowest? Numbers two and seven at 0. Number seven, Leprechaun: Origins (2014) - a title which sounds like it belongs to a lower-tier Marvel movie - tried rebooting the franchise with a more “serious” approach to the horror, but wound up feeling like bottom-end, straight-to-streaming junk. Returns was a bit more successful in that direction, re-adding some of the gore and black comedy.

None of the Leprechauns are worth watching, though if the series was wholly worthless it wouldn’t have been so prolific, since a franchise about a killer leprechaun motivated by retrieving his pot o’ gold lives or dies based on how much affection a cult fanbase has for it. If you like (very) silly horror films, the early entries have a minor charm. Especially given their window on the world of early ‘90s, low-budget schlock.

Plus, Leprechaun (1993) stars Jennifer Aniston pre-nose job and Friends, so that gives it some added historical value. The fish-out-of-water rich girl she plays isn’t a million miles away from Rachel Green, and considering that Aniston’s nose job was an in-joke on that show, I like to imagine that she had an encounter with an evil leprechaun before moving to New York to escape the trauma.

Warwick Davis had bowed out by the time Origins entered production, citing a wish to move on from horror after the birth of his children, though being sick of the franchise by that point might also have played a part. With him went the only reason to watch the films, although Returns is apparently an efficient gore flick with some black humour. The original Leprechaun has some gore (though nothing you’ve not seen elsewhere), a memorable murder with a pogo stick, Davis trying his darnedest (bless his heart), Aniston providing clips to be roasted for post-fame, and that’s about it. The budget is so low that much of the film takes place at an abandoned farmhouse, and looks like a TV production.

The plot, if you really need to know (spoiler alert: you don’t), begins with an elderly man bringing a pot o’ gold home to his wife, who’s killed by the evil leprechaun while trying to retrieve what’s his. The man traps the creature in a crate with a four-leaf clover on top, but when Aniston and her dad move into his former home, the little green fiend is soon set free to cause havoc.

The second (1994) and third (1995) films follow the same story template of “young lovers accidentally release leprechaun, shenanigans ensue” (that old chestnut), only the second’s set in Los Angeles and the third Las Vegas. The latter setting gives some colour to proceedings, although the casino hotel feels less Caesar’s Palace and more “games room at a low-rent holiday camp”. Both films have some amusing deaths, like a man’s belly distending as a pot o’ gold grows inside it, and a woman’s Botox addiction turned against her until she looks like Jackie Stallone cross-pollinated with Donald Duck. They’re better than the first film, but then so’s a kick in the four-leaf clover.

The best of the Warwick Davis era is Leprechaun 4: In Space (1997). (You know a franchise is sludge when its obligatory “in space” entry is its best one.) It’s still embarrassingly poor in just about every respect, but the sci-fi element at least gives it a theoretically interesting background, the effects are enjoyable in a so-bad-it’s-good-way (weak even for the ‘90s, the CGI is comparable to PC stock art), and there’s a slapstick quality to the deaths which achieves a mild cartoonish appeal. One rips off a gag from Rik Mayall’s Drop Dead Fred and is probably the most memorable part of the movie, alongside Gary Siner. Siner plays a Nazi cyborg in a wheelchair reminiscent of ‘60s Star Trek, and gives essentially the same performance that he did for a decade in 'Allo 'Allo!, the British sitcom set in German-occupied France which ended five years prior.

The prize for worst entry could go to either of “the ‘hood” (ugh) titles. Bizarrely, they don’t lean in to the obvious blaxploitation approach, but instead aim for a more “real”, Boyz n the Hood atmosphere. In movies called Leprechaun 5: In the Hood (2000) and Back to tha [sic] Hood (2003). Words fail me. Presumably facing a monstrous debt of his own, Ice-T appears in 5, as a gangster seeking a debt from three aspiring rappers who inadvertently release Leprechaun while trashing Ice-T’s office.

The story’s so completely inert that it’s only memorable for its very worst aspect, namely an added emphasis on a weird strain of homophobia in the series, which had been developing since number three. That film had a couple of goons who kept inadvertently ending up in homoerotic positions (sigh), and here we get a transvestite character who may or may not be transgender. It’s hard to tell what the writers were going for beyond general gay-panic jokes.

You’re daft if you expect sensitivity from a film already exploiting the Black experience for slasher/comedy set-pieces, but there’s a hatefulness to how the trans character is treated that goes beyond lame, even bigoted jokes. I rarely feel offended by “offensive” comedy, but the trans person’s death scene - in which their screams are misinterpreted as sex noises - made me uncomfortable. That’s the early ‘00s for you, I guess. Almost as offensive? Warwick Davis rapping.

And that’s the Leprechaun franchise, an unsightly pimple on the rear end of the slasher genre, pitched at the level of camp and received at a level of “why? Just... why?” Though Davis’s lep’ is no more for now, there’s been talk of a possible reboot by Darren Lynn Bousman, who’s known for several Saw sequels and a couple of horror musicals. Bousman’s vision would take the leprechaun back to the Colorado Gold Rush, and I’d honestly be excited for such a campy idea by a director with established credentials in both gore films and comedy, working with an actual budget. Given time and effort, the Leprechaun franchise could be more than just the butt of jokes at every Movie Monster mixer, better killers like Freddy and Jason giving noogies to our little green fiend.

Best entry (of the original six Warwick Davis films): Leprechaun 4: in Space - 1/4
Worst entry: Leprechaun 5: in the Hood - 0.5/4
Overall franchise rating: 1/4

JohnnyBlaze
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Good God, Man! You are a trooper! I haven't seen any, but would have certainly given up after 1.

The_Silly_Sibyl
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Jack Thomas
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JohnnyBlaze said:Good God, Man! You are a trooper! I haven't seen any, but would have certainly given up after 1.

I’m an insomniac and was very, very bored one night

Ahavati
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You're a natural at this! Always enjoy your reviews.

The_Silly_Sibyl
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Ahavati said:You're a natural at this! Always enjoy your reviews.

Thanks! Although I’m sure the ghost of Roger Ebert is gonna kick my arse for having seen and reviewed all the Leprechaun movies, but not La Dolce Vita

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The_Silly_Sibyl said:

Thanks! Although I’m sure the ghost of Roger Ebert is gonna kick my arse for having seen and reviewed all the Leprechaun movies, but not La Dolce Vita


LOL! You could be easily the new Roger Ebert!

JohnnyBlaze
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Ahavati said:

LOL! You could be easily the new Roger Ebert!


Oh, hell yeah! Two thumbs up to this. Or worm tails. Slug butts ..?

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