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This Week's Film Reviews ( June 4, 2021)

24 May 2021

FILM REVIEWS:

 

CAVEAT (UK 2020) ***

Directed by Damian McCarthy


The word CAVEAT in Latin means let the reader beware.  And indeed the reader in this case is the protagonist, a lone drifter who goes by the name of Isaac (Jonathan French) who takes up a job that turns out to  be more than he bargained for.  Isaac suffers from some memory loss.  Being offered two hundred a day to babysit a woman, he says to his employer, Barrett (Ben Caplan) that there must be more to it than that.  And indeed there is, as the film slowly reveals.

Isaac accepts a job to look after his landlord's niece, Olga (Leila Sykes), for a few days in an isolated house.  When taken there, he is flabbergasted that the house is on an island.  I told you it was a remote house, says the landlord then adding: “Is there a problem”?” to which Isaac relies that he cannot swim.  

The landlord talks Isaac into wearing a leather harness and chain that restricts his movements to certain rooms.

A cat and mouse game begins once Barrett leaves the house.  Olga comes into possession of a cross-bow and then uses it.  As things get more complicated, Isaac’s memory slowly comes back to him.

CAVEAT is a psychological horror that works well, thanks to writer/director Damian McCarthy’s handling of the material.  Though his film is a little bit too slow moving for horror fans, he keeps the suspense and horror maintained at an even pace.  McCarthy makes good use of space, lighting, sounds, props and camera placement and angles to elicit solid creepy moments and scares.

Both wide open and confined spaces can be scary.  It is the claustrophobia of Barrett’s brother that caused him, in the film to commit suicide by shooting himself.  The camera shows the narrow staircase going into the dark basement that causes him to go crazy and commit the suicide act.  McCarthy paints many scenes in a greyish red that makes the atmosphere a little creepier.  The use of lights and shadows work as well, the camera often given just enough light to reveal the side of a subject’s face with the audience wondering what is there in the dark that cannot be seen.  Weird sounds in the night like the screeching of a fox can be heard on the soundtrack.  Props like the harness, ball and chain, a toy bunny playing drums add to the scares.

The film also comes with a solid story with a few twists at the end.

CAVEAT was filmed at the Bantry House, Cork, Ireland.  The Bantry House and Garden is a stately home situated on the Wild Atlantic Way overlooking Bantry Bay in the south west of Ireland.   The House has been home to the Whites since 1739 and was opened to the public in 1946.   The home contains a private collection of furniture and objects of art.  Though likely magnificent to visit, only the sinister parts of the grounds and house are on display.

CAVEAT will be released on SHUDDER on June 3, 2021.

Trailer: 

 

THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT (USA 2021) **

Directed by Michael Chaves

There have been so many sequels and spin-offs from the successful CONJURING franchise that the filmmakers have decided to do away with CONJURING 3 and come up with the  neat title THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT.  The film delves into whether the devil really made Arnie a lead suspect, Arnie (Ruairi O’Connor) guilty of a rash of killings.  His lawyer pleads him not guilty due to demonic possession.  If you are on the jury would you acquit or convict Arnie?  The jury's answer comes during the closing credits according to what occurred.  The film, though seemingly incredible in the unfolding of its events, sets out to establish that Arnie is not guilty as a result of possession.

THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT is the third in the CONJURING series and 8th in the extended franchise.  The first CONJURING was directed by helmer James Wan who now sits in the producer’s chair to grab the rewards from the cash cow.

This American supernatural horror film is now directed by Michael Chaves (who impressed Wan with his 2019 THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA), with a screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick from a story by Johnson-McGoldrick and James Wan.  The film is basically a standalone.  The only thing similar are its lead characters the Warrens played amicably Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga.  The Warrens are a loving couple who have gone through a lot as paranormal investigators as well as authors Ed and Lorraine Warren.  They seek to prove that Arnie was indeed possessed by demonic forces.

The best thing about CONJURING 3 are its lead characters.  After the first two CONJURING films, audiences are familiar with these two faces.  They also form a strong couple that audiences can relate to thus forming the root of the story.  (The real Lorraine passed in 2019, and she provided input as a consultant to the series).  The script includes many moments of intimacy between the two, especially when Ed suffers is hospitalized and she sits by his bedside.

Director Chaves appears eager to prove himself an apt director from the film’s start.  He mimics William Friedkin’s THE EXORCIST, obvious from the misty night scene when a priest arrives in the shadow of the huge house of the possessed child, immediately recognizable from THE EXORCIST, even if one is not a film buff.  As this priest is a minor character, he just stands around and says nonsense compared to the Warrens.  “You exorcise here, not at the church,” the Warrens tell him the obvious, when the demon gets nasty right away.  This exorcism scene is so extreme and over-the-top that one wonders what Chaves is trying to prove.

Where Chaves and the script fail is the messy and confusing story telling.  It takes a while to figure out that the initially possessed boy is the brother of Arnie’s girlfriend.  The flashbacks are confusing either.  When the story moves back years earlier, when the Warrens try to find the source of the evil, the film does not mention when it returns to the present.  The intercutting of the images of the younger Warrens and the present also breaks the flow of the narrative and serves little purpose but to strengthen what the audience already realizes - the  strong bonding of the couple.

The film’s soundtrack alternates from the extremely loud (lots of screaming) to soft and quiet, and the volume of the device streaming the film had its volume adjusted constantly.  The film’s scares, though nothing fresh, are sufficient to satisfy horror fans.

Originally slated for a September 2020 release, the film was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT is scheduled to be theatrically released in the United States on June 4, 2021, where it will also have a month-long simultaneous release on the HBO Max streaming service.

Trailer: 

EDGE OF THE WORLD (UK/USA/Malaysia/China 2020) **

Directed by Michael Haussman

The EDGE OF THE WORLD is where the huge jungle island of Borneo can be found and along its northern side is the state of Sarawak.  They make up what is currently known as Malaysia and in the time setting of the film, East Malaya.  Many tales of primitive tribes abound, even heard from countries close by like Singapore where this reviewer comes from.  I have heard of the native tribe called the Dayaks and tales of the Wild Man of Borneo, a creature akin to Bigfoot in North America.  To have a British film shot in Borneo, which is at the edge of the world to the British is quite a welcome treat as many know very little of the land called Borneo.

The film opens with the luscious jungle vegetation of the island.  As untouched by man and pretty as it is wild, it can be considered a paradise with its wildlife and landscapes.  To this reviewer, I prefer the clean cold and crisp snow and ice of winter compared to the hot, wet and muggy uncomfortable climate of Borneo.  Yet we see the British soldiers  in the film wearing their thick tunic British uniforms in the scorching heat.

The film turns out to be the story of Sir James Brooke (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, the first white (Rajah, which means King in Malay) to rule in the region.  Sir James Brooke was a British soldier and adventurer who founded the Raj of Sarawak in Borneo. He ruled as the first White Rajah of Sarawak from 1841 until his death in 1868.

Not shown is the part of his life before arriving in Sarawak.  Brooke was born and raised under the Company Raj of the British East India Company in India.  After a few years of education in England, he served in the Bengal Army, was wounded, and resigned his commission.  He then bought a ship and sailed out to the Malay Archipelago where, as seen in the film, by helping to crush a rebellion, he became governor of Sarawak.  He then vigorously suppressed piracy in the region and, in the ensuing turmoil, restored the Sultan of Brunei to his throne, for which the Sultan made Brooke the Rajah of Sarawak. He ruled until his death.

The script is quick to omit Brooke’s bad qualities.  His mistreatment of the locals that resulted in a trail in Singapore is omitted.  He is treated as a white saviour and a saint who can do no harm.

EDGE OF THE WORLD looks totally horrid and false.  Meyers is terrible in the role, acting as if he is one of the greatest actors on the planet.  The fight segments look staged and the confrontational scenes are over-dramatized.  The film comes across as another white man saves natives unable to rule their own land.

EDGE OF THE WORLD looks like an ambitious effort in coming up with an epic history lesson.  It only shows how difficult it is to create an epic.  One must pay kudos to directors like David Lean who can muster up consistent epics yearly like  LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, RYAN’S DAUGHTER, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO and  A PASSAGE TO INDIA.  EDGE OF THE WORLD, does not even come close.

Trailer:

Trailer: 

 

KATE NASH: UNDERESTIMATE THE GIRL (USA 2018) **
Directed by Amy Goldstein

One of the increasingly popular film genres is the bio-pic documentary.  It seems that anyone who has a life can have a documentary made on her or him - whether the person is famous or not.  Who is Kate Nash and why are they making a documentary about her?   I asked two of my musically inclined friend if they knew who this young artist was, and neither knew.

Kate Marie Nash (born 6 July 1987) is an English singer, songwriter, musician, and actress.  Nash launched her music career in 2005. Her 2007 single "Foundations" became a hit and brought her to public attention in the UK. Her debut album, Made of Bricks, peaked at No. 1 in the UK and was a moderate international success. Nash subsequently won the award for Best British Female Artist at the 2008 Brit Awards. Her second studio album, My Best Friend Is You, was released in 2010 and reached the top 10 in the UK and Germany. After her departure from a major label, Nash self-released her third studio album, Girl Talk, in 2013, but it failed to match the commercial success of her previous records. Her fourth and most recent studio album, Yesterday Was Forever, was also released independently in 2018, funded by her fans via a Kickstarter campaign.

Director Amy Goldstein has the task of proving to her audience that Kate Nash is a person deserving of 90 minutes of documentary film.  Opening Wikipedia on Nash, there is a extensive coverage of her, detailing her career in and out of the recording industry.  Everyone knows how difficult it is to work with a record label, but this doc shows it for real, thus providing insight which makes up the more intriguing part of the story.  According to the words of Nash, the record industry can make you a star one day and drop you from their label the very next.  And this was what happened to her.  Nash was dropped from her record label and forced to finance herself for her songs and career.  The doc shows how tough it is, with her constant fights with her manager.

Aside from music, Nash has starred in films such as the drama Greetings from Tim Buckley (2012), the comedy Powder Room (2013), and the comedy-drama Syrup (2013). She played Rhonda "Britannica" Richardson in the Netflix series GLOW and also participated in TV Wrestling.  The doc includes clips from a few of these outlets.

One wishes director Goldstein showed more of Nash’s LGBT activism.  She appears to be out of material with the shot of her dog barking at the end of the closing credits.  The film might be more interesting to those both in the recording industry and for singer/songwriters, but the doc is only somewhat interesting for the others and director Goldstein does not appear to try to make Kate Nash a more interesting subject.  Nash’s pop songs are a good listen though.

The film opens VOD/Digital June the 8th.

 

Trailer: 

 

SPIRAL: FROM THE BOOK OF SAW (Canada/US 2021) **
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman

The film SPIRAL has the phrase attached ‘From the Book of SAW’ for two obvious reasons.  One is to capitalize on the box-office success of the SAW franchise and the second is that SPIRAL’s director, Darren Lynn Bousman has directed 23 of the SAW films, SAW2, SAW 3 and SAW 4.  To his credit , he has won director awards in a few horror film festivals.  He has also made ABATTOIR and REPO THE GENETIC OPERA.  SPIRAL is as graphically violent as any of the SAW films.  The opening scene where a murdered detective has his tongue sliced off, for the reason that he has used it to bear false witness in court for criminals unfairly put away sets the tone for the rest of the film.  Her violent scenes follow.

Warning that a few of these scenes are too troubling to watch  The most intense of these involve Captain Angie strapped in the basement with hot wax dripping from a pipe above her.  As muffled screams can be heard from her , her head wrapped in plastic, the only way to top the wax is if she severed her spinal cord with a spike that has been placed behind her neck.  As she is screaming in agony, Zeke is rushing to find her in order to rescue her.

SPIRAL contains a plot that prompts conflicting responses from its audience.  The audience  is informed at the start of the film that the detective victim was a bad cop.  The vigilant killing would be considered justice.  But the rest of the film has Detective Zeke seeking the cop’s killer.  Would the audience then root for Zeke or the killer, known as ‘Jigsaw’ in the film.  In one scene of the film, Zeke asks the killer;” I thought Jigsaw is dead.”  “He is,” comes the reply.

Chis Rock adopts a totally serious mode for his role of conflicted Detective Zeke Banks.    “How do you take your coffee in the morning? '' asks a fellow officer.  “Alone” is Zeke’s reply.  He looks older and wiser than in his other roles.  Zeke’s father, Narcus Banks is played by none other than the formidable Samuel L. Jackons, one of my favourite actors today, who in every film he is in, including one in which he plays the President of the United States, never fails to use the words, ‘mother fucker’.  These words come out in Jackson’s first scene in the film.

The film will have extra appeal for Toronto audiences being shot in the city.  The subway scene is clearly shot at Bay Station, recognizable immediately for its second middle staircase going down to the trains.  Other signature TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) vehicles can also be seen in other scenes.  The film was shot entirely in Toronto, Ontario as the closing credits indicate.

SPIRAL is not an easy film to watch.  The occasional funny dialogue written into the script by writers Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger alleviates some of the horror.  An exciting and ultra violent no-nonsense crime thriller that does with the explicit warning - See if you dare!

SPIRAL will be on PVOD June 1st

Trailer:

UNDERCOVER: PUNCH & GUN (UNDERCOVER VS. UNDERCOVER)

(Hong Kong 2019) ***1/2
Directed by Liu Koon Nam and Frankie Tam

The odd title UNDERCOVER: PUNCH & GUN tells what the new Martial-Arts action film is about.  It is about an Undercover cop.  The fighting involves punching and there are lots of firing of guns in the film.

UNDERCOVER is another excuse for another Martial-Arts movie from Hong Kong.  These studios churn out dozens of these flicks often indistinguishable from each other.  UNDERCOVER attempts to be differ in two aspects - one it is an undercover cop involved in the action (though do not expect anything close to the Masterpiece INFERNAL AFFAIRS) and the second dealing with smuggling on the high seas.

While an elite cop, King Wu (Philip Ng, ENTER THE FAT DRAGON) is working undercover to infiltrate a notorious drug ring, his plan is compromised when a rival agency with a grudge attacks during a trade, killing the gang’s leader. Their cover blown, both teams are forced to unite and take to the high seas in an attempt to overthrow the ruthless smuggler behind it all.

When the story shifts into the high seas  mode, the film starts to lag.  One reason is that it seems obvious that the filmmakers appear running out of material and dumping anything in.  The second is that it is more of the same hero vs. villains, so why put in something else into the plot?

One thing to note is that all the young guys from its lead actor, Philip Ng are all extremely good-looking - lots of eye candy here.  There is also one joke on who is the most handsome Wu or his side-kick, Tiger (Van Ness Wu).  Wu deserves an award for Best Clown Performance seen in a film this year!

The film also aims to be stylish from the  catchy soundtrack to the art design, like the ultra-colourful meth lab.  The characters are colourful as well, most notably Madam Ting, the old lady meth cook with her multi-coloured dyed hair.  There is also some cool editing as can be seen in the car chase seen with Tiger on the roof of the vehicle.

The film’s humour and elaborate action segments are what makes this action flick more enjoyable.  Everything is taken tongue-in-cheek, even the death of Bob, the fat boss who wants to get high one last time before kicking the bucket.  The script also comes up with three basic rules for an undercover cop.  First is to never reveal your undercover, the second never to commit any crime white being undercover and lastly to never get personally involved.   Unlike the Jackie Chan action comedy flicks, the main character, the mole or undercover is a serious cop, never joking around while always keeping a straight face.  The antics around him, like his side-kicks, Tiger, his encounters like Madame Ting and other assorted villains are all played for laughs.  Even the opening scene is funny and the voiceover line has been used in many crime noir films: “If you are listening to this, I am probably already dead.”

UNDERCOVER is not the best of the recent Martial-Arts movies, but it tries.  From its humour, action and style, it succeeds as a better than average Hong Kong Martial-Arts action flick.

UNDERCOVER is available on Digital, Blu-ray & DVD June 8th!

Trailer: 

 

UNDINE (Germany/France 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Christian Petzold

UNDINE is a take of Hans Christian Andersen’s THE LITTLE MERMAID, German director Christian Petzold’s (TRANSIT) style.

Undines are a category of elemental beings associated with water, stemming from the alchemical writings of Paracelsus.  Later writers developed the undine into a water nymph in its own right, and it continues to live in modern literature and art through such adaptations as Danish Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" and the Undine of Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué.

Director Petzold plays UNDINE with a constant air of mystery.  He keeps the audience guessing as to what is really going on - including the story’s mythical element, which is not disclosed fully until the very end.  To this effect, the film has credibility and succeeds as a mythical love story.  The film opens with what is a break up between Undine (Paula Bee) and her current boyfriend, Johannes.  Petzold also keeps it vague whether the two are just boyfriend or a married couple.  One assumes the former as it is hinted that they are not living together.  “We have to meet,” is one of their dialogue lines.  When Undine threatens Johannes, “If you leave me, I will kill you.” It is unclear at this point whether she really means it or whether these are the words of a somewhat psycho and desperate rejected lover.  Petzold’s film moves at a slow snail’s pace but this is not to say it is not without its rewards,  The answer to the question is revealed to the audience half way through the film, Hitchcockian-style.

Whether UNDINE is a tragedy or not is left to the viewer to decide (not to reveal any more of the film’s plot).  But UNDINE is a terrific romantic drama, similar to, say, Jacques Demy’s LES PARAPLUIES DE CHERBOURG, another incredibly romantic film about mis-matched lovers.

The metaphor of Berlin’s new architecture clearly forms the metaphor of the love story, which is a bit beaten to death by Petzold.

Director Petzold’s characters bear similarities with almost very person in that everyone wants to be happy or live happily ever after, as in fairy tales.  Undine wants to be in love and to be loved forever.  The obstacle of her ‘curse’ on having to give up her human life is a tragedy that affects not only herself but the others she encounters.  So is the real life of many where real unfortunate events prevent happiness.

The film’s shifting of focus from Undine, the protagonist to Christophe in the later part of the film, is a risky play works well in the film’s favour, just as Undine’s lover shifts from one lover to the next.  The use of The Bee Gees hit dog “Staying Alive” is a bit tacky considering the serious theme of the film.  The soundtrack, however, has a steady stream of Bach.

UNDINE is not the first film paying homage to Andersen’s THE LITTLE MERMAID.  Japanese animator Hayao Mizayaki did likewise in his successful animated feature PONYO.  This proves the universal appeal of love stories that overcome great obstacles in the name of love.

Filmed in German, a German-French co-production.

Trailer: 

THE UNHOLY (USA 2021) **

Directed by Evan Spiliotopoulos

There are two stories being told here.  One is of Alice, the silent girl who now can hear out of a supposed miracle.  Is she a Holy saint or UNHOLY demon?  The failed journalist, Gerry Fern (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is the second story who sees a second chance with Alice (Cricket Jones).  He might do a great story on Alice and her miracles.  The script by director Spiliotopoulosn attempts to blend the two stories together, which it does aptly.

The film contains scary images like the devil doll with the cracked head.  Another is the tree that has the shape of a human with claws.

This is a rare horror film that introduces a romantic element as a prominent side plot, budding romance between the journalist and the local doctor.  It does not really work, distracting the horror by the romance.  The story plays on the Catholic faith of miracles and the Virgin Mary.  One chilling segment has a priest trapped in a confession box as he is victimized by a confessor who turns out to be a demon.

The horror benefits from many startling and scary images, like the sight of Father Hagan (William Sadler) hanging from the ceiling of his church, the silhouette of the church against the night as scary music is heard on the soundtrack. Various camera angles are deployed to enhance the weird sequence of events.  The forest and dark woods with its mistiness  and mystery also help.

The script includes, successfully, the element of guilt as felt by Fern.  Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense frequently uses guilt to explain trauma that results in his films such as in the scene in the garage restaurant in THE BIRDS.  He is told that he is largely responsible for the shrine of the town, but with that shrine comes the evil.  It could be argued that Fern brought the evil to the place, but making him responsible then to rid the evil from the place.

The film clearly has little respect for Roman Catholicism.  Despite having the main theme set against the Virgin Mary with the equivalent of an evil Mary stealing human souls, many of the priests depicted leave much to be desired.  This can be seen as an asshole priest, the one sent to disprove miracles.  The believers are treated as stupid sheep following the wrong path.  When the flock is asked: “Do you offer your souls to Mary?”  Answers are unquestionably negative, even when challenged.

The climax that takes place in the town shrine emphasizes the eternal fight between good and evil.  It would help if the script had made all the events more believable.  Instead the film reaches a height of silliness at the very end with the demon chasing after Fern with an explanation that needs credibility as if the filmmakers made up the story as the film goes along.

THE UNHOLY is under tough competition now streaming or playing currently with CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT.  THE UNHOLY is the better looking, fresher but ultimately not necessarily a better film that its competitor.

Trailer: 

 

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