Recent Films

Don’t Worry Darling (2022)

Don’t Worry Darling is a film that dares to ask the question ‘What if VR Stepford Wives but done by failed men?’.

Florence Pugh’s Alice Chambers is memory-wiped and trapped in a Disney-fied rehash of the 1950s (where creed and colour have none of their historical real world baggage), serving as a stay-at-home housewife to Harry Styles‘ Jack Chambers, a workaholic technician on an undefined pseudo-military project, embedded in a community that tells her this is the happiest, best life she could be leading.

And then, of course, cracks in the facade start to appear…

The reveal – that Pugh’s character was, in fact, a more than capable doctor in the modern era rather than a 60s housewife – was oddly understated, and the film – like Chambers – actively seemed to resent todays grey reality when it was having much more fun with the chrome and colours of it’s faux 1950s. The period scenes are knowingly shot in a pastiche of period and Pugh works tremendously hard to carry the film against both the the wooden Styles and a baggy edit but, alas, Don’t Worry Darling ends up not quite measuring up to the sum of it’s parts.

Chris Pine, however, looks to be having a great time as the cult leader who’s boy-ish good looks to be on the cusp of hitting a wall.

High Fidelity (2000)

Possibly the most early 00’s trailer imaginable for High Fidelity.

After yet another breakup, John Cusack’s music-obsessed, what’s-your-top-five Rob Gordon take stock of his past relationships via the classic medium of every obsessive – the list. And thus follows a mild romp through Rob Gordon’s past where he soon discovers that he was not always the main character of his past partners lives and that he never fully committed to anyone he was with as he was always looking for a new number one. With a supporting cast that is willing and able and a filming style feels somewhat modern, High Fidelity is, ultimately, a reasonable Americanisation of a very 90s-London book.

It’s Such Beautiful Day (2012)

Poor Bill

A minimalist animated piece following a stick-figure (Bill) as his mind slowly betrays him and his objective reality collapses in on itself. The main character’s slow decent into illness is wonderfully captured and brief interruptions of non-animated footage really add to the overall feeling that Bill’s mind is slowly slipping away. A darkly comic undercurrent helps to keep the story from crossing the despair event horizon and a magical-realist refusal by the narrator to accept what is otherwise seemingly inevitable helps to draw It’s Such a Beautiful Day to a deeply satisfying conclusion.

Don Hertzfeldt’s It’s Such a Beautiful Day is a tour-de-force of storytelling and remains one of my favourite films of 2012.

The Ghost Writer (2010)

There was, in the gap between the collapse of Tony Blair’s dream for a post-invasion Iraq and the start of the Great Recession, a trend in some of the more fashionable quarters towards imagining that the former Prime Minister would either be fully investigated for war crimes or that he would be formally revealed as a US patsy.

The Ghost Writer – along with the book it’s based upon – goes for both.

A plodding piece, the plot is thinly spread over more than two hours, with Ewan McGregor’s un-named Ghost Writer slowly investigating both the death of his predecessor and how it links to Pierce Brosnan’s Adam Lang. Lang – a fourth generation photocopy of Blair – is initially accused of war crimes and then, in the finale, shown to have been lead by his CIA agent wife into serving the interests of the US over those of the UK, thus fulfilling the masturbatory fantasies of those who had once been under Blair’s charm and later came to actively reject him.

Late to the party – and slow to watch – The Ghost Writer is very much a 2007 film released in 2010 and, frankly, is not worth your time or mine.

And Ewan McGregor’s London accent is terrible.

Scream (1996)

Starring Drew Barrymore… possibly.

And onto Scream, the film that is generally credited with kicking off the mid to late 90s slasher resurgence and a film I have not personally seen since the turn of the Millennium. The premise is fairly simple and one seen with similar pieces from the 70s and 80s – take attractive young people and, one at a time, kill them off in a way that is visceral enough to titillate but not horrific enough to get an average, somewhat sheltered 17 year old to want to turn it off. Scream‘s twist, the one that made it new and refreshing, was to run the whole thing through a post-modernist, deconstructionist lens.

And it set out to do this from the start.

Opening with the surprise execution of Drew Barrymore – an actress who, at that point, was far more famous than anyone else in the film (including Courtney Cox) – Scream was aware of its genre in a way that no mainstream slasher flick had been before. Indeed, not only had in-universe characters seen slasher movies, they made jokes about the implicit rules of these kinds of films and what they might need to do to survive. It was also – like The Faculty (see below) – lucky enough to be both filmed and to reach mainstream distribution before the events of the Columbine High School Massacre. A film with a teacher stabbed to death within a school complex was just not as risky as it would have been only three years later. It’s also firmly of it’s time, the lack of cell phones is noticeable and the ownership of one marks the character Billy Loomis out as atypical – a situation that, in the real world, would be firmly reversed within a decade.

Scream is well cast; Courtney Cox especially appears to be enjoying playing against type and her news reporter Gale Weathers feels far less wholesome than her better know character of Monica in Friends and is well back up by the sweet but hapless David Arquette as deputy Dewey Riley. Skeet Ulrich’s curtained killer Billy Loomis is ice cold and Matthew Lillard – as second killer Stu Macher – continuously hams it up until he is manically dripping spit in the denouement. Only Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott gives the impression she is treading water until a piece of real cinema arrives.

Scream 2 (1997)

The first Scream move had a knowing obsession with the rules of horror movies and how those rules play out. And if there was only one firm horror movie rule then that rule would be thus:

Any financially successful horror movie must immediately beget a sequel.

And, for Scream, Scream 2 is that inevitable sequel. And, like all horror movie sequels, Scream 2 is older, baggier, and saggier. Transposed from the original’s high school environment to a generic US University campus, Scream 2 core attempt to ape the originality of the first film’s post-modernist tendencies is the use of ‘Stab’ – the in universe film adaptation of the first movie. Alas, they fail to fully embrace the possibilities of ‘Stab’ and, instead, Scream 2 decides to embrace it’s increasingly famous cast – including, this time, a fully-formed roll for Liev Schreiber – and push them through a poor reflection of the first film. The famous cast are, unlike the first film and it’s initial killing of Drew Barrymore’s character, treated as untouchable from the off – killing any sense of tension or drama and reducing the film to almost a generic paint-by-numbers slasher sequel.

Scream 3 (2000)

Scream 3; the film in which the Scream franchise fully becomes what the original film set out to parody. Primarily based around the film set of the Scream franchises’ movie within a movie ‘Slab 3‘ (because there’s nothing Hollywood loves more than Hollywood),

By now Courtney Cox, backed by the behemoth that was Friends, was firmly the biggest star in this production, leading to the rather odd situation where – with oddly little screen time – Neve Campbell’s Sidney appears to cameo in her own film, not fully turning up until almost an hour into the movie. Soggy and slow, the plot becomes increasingly dependent on increasingly unlikely co-incidences it hopes to gloss over by quickly moving on whilst hoping the viewer fails to notice these cracks.

And there are odd moments of slapstick comedy; first a Jay and Silent Bob cameo and then, later, the Dewy character somehow fully embracing the slapstick idiot mantle he’d avoided during the previous two movies.

Most franchises quality break down as the desire to turn out new product rises; Scream in spite – or, perhaps, because – it was so self aware, seems to have done it at a pace.

The Courier (2020)

Set during the time of the Cuban Missile crisis, Benedict Cumberbatch – for once resisting the urge to fall back on Sherlockian gurning – has a good turn as Greville Wynne, a business man recruited by MI6 and the CIA to carry messages between Moscow and London. Merab Ninidze plays Oleg Penkovsky, a high ranking GRU officer-turned-informant and the Moscow source of Wynne’s messages, who is horrified at Khrushchev’s attempts at war-baiting the West.

A solid, suet pudding of a spy movie, The Courier is quietly competent whist not being particularly outstanding or notable. Not nearly as deep as Cumberbatch’s other recent period spy thriller, Tinker, Taylor, it does have the rather more impressive pedigree of having an historical basis. Indeed, whilst liberties are taken in the adaptation to the big screen, they do not seem to have been particularly egregious.

Alas, The Courier was a victim of the pandemics effect on cinema scheduling and viewing and seems to have been overlooked by it’s target demographic.

The Faculty (1998)

A self-aware, post-modern rehash of 1956’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1998’s The Faculty remains a film that – thanks to having seen and enjoyed it via VHS rental the first time around – I have retained something of a soft spot for.

Slower than I remember, it’s derivative nature is far more obvious with this rewatch, presenting a plot knowingly stolen from Invasion… and a set of characters that are, if not pinched from, then are firmly inspired by The Breakfast Club. Even the opening song is a cover of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2) as performed by the ‘supergroup’ Class of ’99. This borrowing is, however, firmly and fairly acknowledged within The Faculty’s narrative and feels strongly affectionate rather than an act of ugly and crude theft.

CGI use is sparing and, what little there is, has aged reasonably well. The high school politics feels reasonably real and, having been filmed in 1998, the film is thankfully free of the shadow of 1999’s Columbine High School Massacre. Indeed, The Faculty may be the last mainstream high school horror film not to have to carry the burden of Columbine and, even if the rest of this short review hasn’t convinced you to give The Faculty a watch, it may be worth a viewing purely for that reason alone.

Ticket to Paradise (2022)

George Clooney and Julia Roberts play a formally married couple who, after an unsuccessful marriage, now successfully hate each other as divorcees. Meanwhile, their Little Empress has run off to a Hollywood-generic South Asian location and promptly decided to get hitched to one of the locals – an otherwise decent chap to whom the parents take an instant dislike to. There follows a soft Comedy of Errors as Clooney and Robert’s characters learn to understand both why their daughter wants this life and to remember what they originally saw in each other.

Ticket to Paradise is a fairly milquetoast piece of inoffensive filler that will likely fill airline playlists for decades to come.