BLASTED (Norway 2022) **1/2
Directed by Martin Sofiedal
BLASTED is a Norwegian sci-fi alien film, perhaps the first shown in North America. The premise is a bachelor party intruded by an alien attack. When a former childhood friend Mikkel (Fredrik Skogsru) crashes Sebastian's (Axel Boyum) bachelor party, the two join forces and put aside their differences (the cliched part) to fight the aliens. Mikkel makes it all about himself, while Seb invites a promising business investor to his party. Seb hopes to impress the business investor, who wishes to have a super time equivalent to having his balls squeezed, in order to win the contract. But the two are a kick-ass laser-tag duo and Mikkel makes use of some special gun he had purchased from Japan to shoot the invaders. When shot by this weapon, the aliens that have inhabited human bodies turn green and gooey. Somehow, humans are not affected. If all this does not make sense, nothing does, but the action comes really fast and furious so that one cannot help but keep watching to see what will happen next- like a pregnant woman’s water broken while fighting the aliens. The special effects are not too bad which include one big mother of an alien at the film’s climax.
BLASTED is THE HANGOVER meets ATTACK THE BLOCK. The film is so outlandishly silly that one cannot help but watch it to the very end. BLASTED opens this week on Netflix.
DRINKWATER (Canada 2021) ***
Directed by Stephen Campanelli
If there is any film that achieves the ‘honour’ of having the largest number of cliches, DRINKWATER is it. But director Campanelli tries so hard and his two performers are so good that one can forgive his errors. The film, to his credit does have some fresh ideas though predictability is the film's weak weak point. The protagonist of the film is an outsider in a remote British Columbian town. While his jobless father, Hank, makes money from insurance fraud schemes, Mike has to navigate the awkward teenage experience alone. To make matters worse, high school bully Luke Ryan and his father Wesley are a constant source of problems for the Drinkwaters. However, when Wallace, a young American girl, moves in next door Mike’s life is changed forever. Deciding to help Mike train for an upcoming cross-country race provides Wallace with the perfect opportunity to learn about life in remote British Columbia. Through their shared experiences of feeling like outsiders, Mike and Wallace discover what it really means to belong. The actor playing Mike looks like a young version of Andrew Garfield. Don't expect much from this one and you will not be disappointed.
THE FORGIVEN (UK 2021) ****
Directed by John Michael McDonagh
The Forgiven takes place over a weekend in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco, and explores the reverberations of a random accident on the lives of both the local Muslims, and Western visitors to a house party in a grand villa.
Who best to direct a wickedly delicious black comedy about the clash of the wealthy British aristocratic and the poor Muslims (described in the film by a Muslim as God’s cruel joke) than John Michael McDonagh who also wrote the script based on the novel of the same name by Lawrence Osborne. When the Arabs are referred to as staff, David, the main character, says that they should not be called staff but servants. McDonagh made one of the best black dramas in 2014 - the film CALVARY in which a priest had to fight the evil around him after being threatened by a man during a confession.
Consider the following main characters in the story, all ripe for social satire and black humour: There is firstly, the lead, a pompous, alcoholic doctor David Henninger (Ralph Fiennes) who drinks half the time while making racial slurs at poor Muslim locals, boasting of his fondness of royalty. This is David’s take on the dangers of the land: “Camels bite stomachs. Do you know that this is the leading cause of death among Arabs?” he says to his trophy wife. He also describes the place as a country where wealthy men can be useless and that he is glad to be in this place. Then here is his wife Jo (Jessica Chastain) who pretends to be the loyal wife, but in reality cannot wait for the husband to go off into the desert to pay penance for his sin, so she can shack up with a stud, Tom Day (Christopher Abbott), a man who claims that the women he has had all hate him and only likes those who can take it from behind. Then there are the gay hosts of the grand party, Richard Galloway (Matt Smith) and his lover Dally (Caleb Landry Jones). Richard just wants his big party to be successful, while wishing the accident to just go away while his annoying and boisterous lover makes comments that would put Dame Edna to shame.
For those who hate the British aristocracy, this is the film that would satisfy their desire to see these people get their comeuppance. Filmed with stunning desert surroundings including a night scene in which the jeep is the only thing seen travelling on the desert in the darkest of night, the images are as impressive as they come, courtesy of d.p. Larry Smith is to be commended.
The best scene - irony at its peak - has the father load his dead son into the jeep, preparing to take him back to his village when in the background the fireworks begin to highlight the grand party.
THE FORGIVEN is a film that contains a deliciously wicked black story about very bad people that should never be forgiven - the kind of premise that makes the best movies.
HIT THE ROAD (Iran 2021) ***
Directed by Panah Panahi
HIT THE ROAD is an Iranian film that arrives with accolades after winning Best Film at the London Film Festival. If the director’s name Panahi sounds familiar, it is because Panah is the son of famed Iranian director Jafar Pnahi who was jailed in Iran and banned from making films for a period of 20 years. Yet Jafar made TAXI TEHRAN and THIS IS NOT A FILM, smuggling these films out of the country. Needless to say, Panah has gained lots of his experience from his father’s filmmaking and HIT THE ROAD shows it. Like his father’s films, HIT THE ROAD is simple, entertaining and full of meaning. But the film is not without flaws.
The film follows a family’s road trip in a borrowed car. A chaotic, tender family is on a road trip across a rugged landscape, but where to? In the back seat, Dad (Hassan Madjooni) has a broken leg, but is it really broken? Mother (Pantea Panahiha) tries to laugh when she is not holding back tears. The kid (Rayan Sarlak) keeps exploding into choreographed car karaoke. All of them are fussing over the sick dog and getting on each others’ nerves. Only the mysterious older brother (Amin Simiar) is quiet. There are no names given to the family members, indicating that what transpires could happen to any family. It is a sort of road trip from hell, in which no one seems to be having a good time. They argue about everything from the kid bringing his cell phone when told not to, to the mother confiscating it and hiding it under a rock. But all they have is each other and have to make the best of the situation.
Director Panahi keeps a lot of the film’s story ambiguous. This can be quite frustrating. The audience learns through the family dialogue in the car, that the family has lost their house and borrowed this car. Borrowed the car from whom? And the reason for the family losing the house is never addressed. All that can be guessed, owing to the quiet nature of the driver and older son, is that he could have done soothing against the Iranian government - a government not known to be tolerant to criticism. Perhaps director Panahi is addressing his father’s problems with the government being extra cautious so that he will not run into trouble himself.
It can be noticed that as the family in their vehicle comes closer to the border, the landscape becomes more inviting. There is more green and less desert, though director Panahi also celebrates the beauty of the desert at the film’s beginning. This could be a sign that things are looking up for the family, but again Panahi keeps the film’s ambiguity.
HIT THE ROAD, not a bad movie for a first time director, succeeds in demonstrating the family’s odd dynamics. The actors portraying the family are convincing enough, and the actor playing the boy is annoyingly charming. If only the director would have made clearer what the family or film’s aim is.
THE LONG NIGHT (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Rich Ragsdale
During A LONG NIGHT of the weekend, a devoted couple's quiet weekend takes a bizarre turn when a nightmarish cult and their maniacal leader come to fulfill an apocalyptic prophecy.
Grace (Scout Tylor-Compton) needs to see out her parents she never knew from the south. She gets hope from someone who tells her to meet him in a house and if he is not present, to find the keys under the doormat out front. Grace goes, accompanied by her Ivy-League boy friend, Jack (Nolan Gerard Funk). Arriving at the house, there is no one present so they let themselves in and settle in for what appears to be a very long night of horror. They discover a cult. The house has a few references to Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. “Is the placer by Nrman Bates?” is Jack’s initial remark on the house. The house comes complete with at the head of a moose having on the wall and a rocking chair, like the one Bates rocked on in PSYCHO.
Cult films have always been interesting, the most famous ones being the British 1973 cult classic THE WICKER MAN directed by Robin Hardy and the more recent MIDSOMMAR (2019) directed by Ari Aster. THE LONG NIGHT aims to be one. Told in six chapters, with titles like ‘Seduction’, Encounter’ and ‘Experience’, THE LONG NIGHT is not bad even though it never reaches the heights of the two aforementioned films Most of the action takes place at night, with the exteriors lit often just from the fire of forces and the darkness adds to the creepiness of the film’s subject and atmosphere. Director Ragsdale has built up a couple that the audience cares about, despite little arguments they have, being of different backgrounds. When the cult members appear. Jack remarks to Grace: “These are your people!” When she rebukes him for the outrageous remark he says, hilariously though in a dead serious tone: “They don’t teach you this at Princeton”. Still, he says to her early in the film: “Don’t worry - everything is going to be fine.” which in cinematic language means: “Watch out, something is going to go wrong.”
The special effects regarding the snakes/serpents are scary and convincing and the totem pole prop is also impressive.
Director Ragsdale (a noted film score composer, EIGHT-LEGGED FREAKS) and writers Robert Sheppe and Mark Young reverse the roles of the male and female occasionally in the star. It is the male, Jack who does the shower scene. Jack is quite a looker, with a handsome face and well-built physique. Other than the female being the damsel in distress, Grace is seen to take control of the situation. In one scene he hacks an attacking cult member to each at the top of the stairs, much to the surprise of Jack. The Master of the cult is also female, played by Canadian actress Deborah Kara Unger (CRASH, SILENT HILL) though her performance is a bit laughable and over-the-top.
The cult horror chiller debuts on Shudder this week.
MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Dean Fleischer-Camp
The protagonist of this stop-motion animation is a shell that looks dis-proportionate as he has an eye on one side and a mouth on the other. The shell, supposedly a snail, has shoes on. Though classified as a ‘he’ in the film, Marcel, short for Marcello, as the audience learns later on in the film, is locked bya female, Jenny Slate. The result is that the shell sounds like a young male boy, a boy that is searching for his lost parents as a result of an adult couple quarrel.
Marcel is an adorable one-inch-tall shell who ekes out a colourful existence with his grandmother Connie and their pet lint, Alan. Once part of a sprawling community of shells, they now live alone as the sole survivors of a mysterious tragedy. But when a documentary filmmaker discovers them amongst the clutter of his Airbnb, the short film he posts online brings Marcel millions of passionate fans, as well as unprecedented dangers and new hope at finding his long-lost family.
The idea of MARCEL in reality began as a short film about Marcel, an anthropomorphic seashell outfitted with a single googly eye and a pair of miniature shoes. It is a collaboration between director Dean Fleischer-Camp and writer/actress Jenny Slate. The film premiered theatrically at AFI FEST 2010, where it was awarded Best Animated Short and was an official selection of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. It won the Grand Jury and Audience Awards at the New York International Children's Film Festival.
The plot of the full length feature follows the end of a marriage. Documentary filmmaker Dean moves into an Airbnb and discovers Marcel, a one-inch-tall talking shell living in the home with his grandmother, Nanna Connie and Alan, his pet ball of lint. Inspired by Marcel's whimsicality, resourcefulness, and fascination with the world, Dean begins filming Marcel's daily activities, most of which consist of gathering resources from the backyard in order to support himself and Connie, who tends to her garden and is beginning to show signs of dementia. Marcel and Connie bond over their mutual love of 60 Minutes and Lesley Stahl. Dean uploads his first video about Marcel to YouTube, where it quickly becomes a cultural phenomenon. Marcel is both flattered and overwhelmed with his newfound popularity, lamenting that his family is not around to celebrate it with him.
However, the expansion into a full length feature suffers a few problems. The film takes the already over-used mockumentary path and has a predictable ending of Marcel finding his family amidst the typical obstacles. A really fresh idea that is stretched a bit too long its a full length feature, the film still has its charm, mild humour and odd-like animation, thus garnishing it at the time of writing a 100% approval on Rotten Tomatoes.
LES PASSAGERS DE LA NUIT (Passengers of the Night ) (France 2021) ***12
Directed ny Mikhael Hers
The film begins with celebration on the streets of Paris. The date May 10, 1981 flashes on the screen. To those unfamiliar with that, it is election might and the Parisiennes are celebrating a new air of hope and change.
But it is a different change in store for the film’s protagonist. For Elisabeth (Charlotte Gainsbourg), her marriage is coming to an end and she will now have to support herself and her two teenage children. As she tells her father, she now has to look for work. She (not too tech-savvy) is first hired and fired on the same day because she forgets to save a file after entering all the inventory data. Her daughter tells her that she should have remembered what she taught her - using autosave. There is a slight problem in timing of this scenario, as in 1984 there were little or no PC’s around. How could the daughter be familiar with computers and most data entry were done on main frames. The auto-save feature in 1984 was unlikely to be invented yet. But other props like the older looking television set look authentic for the year 1984.
At the time, radio talks shows were still popular. She finds work at a late-night radio show and encounters a troubled teenager (interviewed for the program PASSENGERS OF THE NIGHT, named Talulah whom she invites into her home. With them, Talulah experiences the warmth of a family for the first time. Although she suddenly disappears, her free spirit has a lasting influence. Elisabeth and her children grow in confidence and begin to mature.
Emmanuelle Baert who rose to fame after MANON DES SOURCES has an important supporting role as Vanda, Elisabeth’s chain smoking radio boss. Vanda shows strength and vulnerability, often controlled by her moods affected by forces beyond her control. Beart is a pleasure to watch, especially when she is delivering her performance demonstrating strong screen presence, especially stealing the club scene where she is seen still with a cigarette in her mouth while grooving on the dance floor.
Cinema plays a big part in the film’s narrative. The first instance he two teenage children learn about independence is when they go for an evening at the cinema. They’re taught and shown how to sneak into the theatre after not being allowed in, after being more than 5 minutes late. Talulah also tells them that he loves the cinema and it makes her forget who she is.
Director Hers moves his film at a casual pace, allowing his audience to let the events of the story of the action and behaviours of the characters sink in.
Major classics stories include a stranger that comes into the lives of a family, then disappears while making a distinct impact. Among these are of course MARY POPPINS and the stranger in George Stevens’ classic SHANE. In this film, Talulah is the stranger who disappears right after having a sexual encounter with Elisabeth’s son.
PASSENGERS OF THE NIGHT is an easy flowing yet effective family drama in which a family hears and grows from a stranger in their lives.
THE PRINCESS (USA 2022) **
Directed by Le-Van Kiet
The PRINCESS is a new 20th Century Studios (new name for 20th Century Fox after Disney’s takeover) movie that debuts on Disney+ streaming service. The innocent sounding title implies a kiddies film similar to FROZEN. The film opens with a princess locked up in chains on a bed at the top of a castle. When two guards show up, she breaks off the chains and kills them both. So much for Disney-style family entertainment. After a spike in the eye of one guard and the other tossed from the window of the castle, the princess brutally fights herself free of the room she is in. She begins fighting her way down the castle. THE PRINCESS is clearly an action film, not a fairy tale, so don’t let the title fool you. The princess is imprisoned because she refuses to wed an evil suitor arranged by her father.
When a beautiful, strong-willed princess refuses to wed the cruel sociopath to whom she is betrothed, she is kidnapped and locked in a remote tower of her father's castle. With her scorned, vindictive suitor intent on taking her father's throne, the princess must protect her family and save her kingdom. The audience’s learn of all these events through clumsy flashbacks intercut with the present situation - which is the princess fighting her enemies.
What is an action pic these days without Martial-Arts? If one wonders how the princess can fight with Martial-Arts, she is supposedly trained by her royal teacher, Linh (Veronica Ngo). Instead of teaching her the classics and etiquette, Linh teaches the princess how to fight. Linh later turns up in the film to help her fight the enemies.
The princess with no name is played by Joey King and the villain is Julius, played by British actor Dominic Cooper who deserves better roles than this one.
The princess naturally out fights and wins all the battles with her foes, inevitably leading to the climactic brawl with Julius.
With all the fighting, it is puzzling that the guards should know that as if she is killed, she is unable to wed Julius. Julius needs the marriage in order to secure the Kingdom. So why do all the guards try to slay the princess? The basic question does not make any sense at all. With the plot so basic and lame, the film is nothing more than a series of action pieces, and quite boring ones at that. The Martial-Arts choreography is so-so and there is a lot of clanging and banging with swords and armour in what ends up as quite monotonous fighting.
THE PRINCESS should just marry Julius, who is actually quite dashing, secure her kingdom, thus saving herself of all the trouble and deaths as well as sparing the audience this awful ordeal of a film.
THE PRINCESS opens on July 1st and without much competition for new openings for July the 4th, it might get a wider audience than expected.