Overall this was an excellent month, with only a crappy new release horror spoiling things. A couple of really good, lesser known Craven and Carpenter films, two hilarious TV shows and some excellent recent arthouse releases provided the highlights.
- Brooklyn Nine-Nine Season 1 (2013), Daniel J. Goor & Michael Schur – Breezy as fuck. Andy Samberg has the right mix of goofball and charm. This is the ideal show to dip in and out of. So bloody well cast. Terry Crews is a great comedic performer. And I love the character of Raymond Holt. Plus there is some really good exploration of themes through that character. The homophobia and racism against him. The entire cast of characters is great. Best, pure laugh out loud comedy I’ve seen for a while.
- Prince of Darkness (1978), John Carpenter – A classic, perhaps my second favourite Carpenter film. Utilises music in a totally unique way. A guttural, driving score that is over most of the film. It’s an exceptional piece of artistry. A textural and interesting film where physics is melded in with superstition on the story front, and horror in with sci-fi on the genre front. Otherworldly, despite the contemporary setting. Also wholly engages with the very traditional evil concepts at its core. Fantastic.
- Wayne’s World (1992), Penelope Spheeris – Certainly not a timeless comedy. But the talent of the performers means it’s still decent. Dana Carvey really stands out. Other aspects such as the talking to the camera and engagement with popular tunes still hold up quite well. On the supporting front, Tia Carrera is super talented and Rob Lowe does smarmy very well. Fun breezy viewing with some genuine laughs.
- The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988), Wes Craven – This is quite ambitious from Craven, which delivers mixed results. The vision for the film doesn’t have a lot of clarity. But it’s interesting to see him playing with a story and aesthetic steeped in voodoo imagery. There’s also a sense of Indy globetrotting adventure, the exotica of Haiti. Craven always strikes me as someone interested in the world outside him which comes through in his work. Bill Pullman is decent, though it’s not the best written character. Cathy Tyson is excellent as the female lead. A lot of great, ominous imagery. The end result is kinda great. A mystical style creepiness not found in the director’s other work.
- Iverson (2014), Zatella Beatty – Doco about a singular basketball player that also functions as microcosm of America. An African-American player who embraced hip-hop lifestyle and aesthetic and refused to apologise for it or polish it. Hell of an athlete, a game changing presence. The ending is a little rushed. Doesn’t really delve into his later career well. But hard to cover everything in 90 minutes I guess.
- Deep Blue Sea (1999), Renny Harlin – Rushes totally headlong to embrace creature feature clichés. Not just the shark, everything has a fakey sheen. Rough script unabashedly steals from better films. Has all the B-movie staples – endearingly shit effects, genetic modification, Samuel L. Jackson. There’s some nice surprises tacked onto the formulaic plot. Makes you smile as all films like this should and features a contender for greatest cinematic death ever.
- Broad City Season 2 (2015), Ilana Glazer & Abbi Jacobson – Starts rough, but the first season did too. Characters don’t immediately mesh with how they were set up in the first season. Such a great portrayal of friendship though. Also really lands the examination of the millennial experience. Influence of social media. Requisite mundane day jobs and the impact of them on how people experience the world.
- Leviathan (2014), Andrey Zvagintsev – Opens with incredible, wide scenery but quickly brings the focus much narrower. Both the scripting and acting are a little up and down. The thematic concerns around contemporary Russia, close ties between the Orthodox Church & state apparatus, pervasive dis-empowering role of bureaucracy and the powerlessness of ‘the people’ are where it excels. Also a portrait of a hyper-masculine, totally male dominated society that lends itself to ugliness. Pretty horrific stuff.
- The Invitation (2015), Karyn Kusama – The filmmaking arrests from the start, even if the plot is a touch predictable. It’s really stylishly shot and the music interacts with the visuals in a way that creates such an unsettling atmosphere. The least interesting elements are those that fit into the cult subgenre of horror. It’s not all there as a genre exercise, you’ve probably seen it all before. But along with the filmmaking, Logan Marshall-Green is fantastic, finally getting a vehicle for his talents. Kusama controls the atmosphere really well, invoking other films and real-life circumstances to toy with the tension. A fantastically constructed conclusion too.
- Duke of Burgundy (2014), Peter Strickland – This is a great love story that considers the suppression by one party of being in an unhappy relationship. The S & M elements add an extra layer of complexity on a usual relationship. Everything becomes so meaningful. Who does what and when? What is rigid what is contestable? Strickland’s bold use of sound design carries over to this film and it is beautifully lit. Also feels out of time a little. No cars, typewriters. Portrayal of sexual ritual and routine also fascinate. Is there an inherent risk that will grow stale? Become too practiced?
- Cooties (2014), Jonathan Milott & Cary Murnion – A horror-comedy with a tone so light it barely counts as the former. The characterisation is a little silly early on. But there is some fun scripting courtesy of Leigh Whannell who also has a fun presence onscreen. Despite the huge doses of violence, there is certain charm to it. Cool practical effects and a really fun & playful score. Though it does drift from its solid, clean premise toward the end.
- The Nice Guys (2016), Shane Black – It’s a nothing story, but that doesn’t really matter with a script this good. There’s some really interesting shit going on here. Plus it’s legit laugh out loud funny too. Love the ethics around what makes someone good or bad, though they could have dug into that more. Crowe and Gosling are totally great. Black balances them perfectly in a comedic sense. But Angourie Rice is the standout. Most of the interesting things in the film are filtered through her character.
Not Worth Watching
- The Boy (2016), William Brent Bell – It’s lovingly made and classically pieced together. The acting is really average though and it looks butt ugly. Scares are totally standard and cheap, whilst the script delivers none of the requisite tension. Never establishes the characters or the rules of the universe. Though there is a pretty decent depiction of domestic control. And there is a late-ish twist that I’m a really big fan of. It’s well earned by the rest of the film.
If you only have time to watch one Prince of Darkness
Avoid at all costs The Boy