The Village

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Somewhat of a conundrum among movie fans and critics upon release, The Village is no doubt about it a flawed movie from M. Night Shyamalan. But there is something about it that always sparks my mind and it does have my opinion of it being a misunderstood movie.

In the late 1890’s, a sheltered village borders a foreboding woods. The Elders of the village speak of creatures referred to as ‘Those We Don’t Speak Of’, who inhabit the woods but who not many have actually seen . No one is supposed to cross the boundaries between the village and the woods as their is a truce stating this and that never the twain shall meet. The villagers all go about their days seemingly in harmony but whenever they see a red colour they must discard of it and appointed members take a nightly watch over the village and the woods. The quiet yet thoughtful Lucius( Joaquin Phoenix )has an idea to trek through the woods in order to get medical supplies for those in need of it as recently a little boy died who could have lived if medicine was around. The request by Lucius is denied by the village Elders, which include his guarded mother Alice(Sigourney Weaver). We learn that the mentally disabled Noah Percy(Adrien Brody)has once been in the woods but supposedly wasn’t seen by Those We Don’t Speak Of. Noah also has feelings for Ivy(Bryce Dallas Howard) , who is the blind daughter of Elder Edward(William Hurt) . Ivy though loves the stoic Lucius and is determined to bring him out of his quiet shell. Things change within the village when Lucius briefly steps over the boundary before being spooked and returning home. After this breach of truce, animal carcasses are found about the village, red warnings are left on doors and Those We Don’t Speak Of appear to menace the villagers. It soon becomes clear following a near tragedy that someone must pass through the woods in search of help. But just what will be discovered when the brave Ivy does?

M. Night Shyamalan is a very skilled director and he definitely knows how to stylishly delivery creepy imagery and emotion, plus a twist ending that is always going to be debated. Sequences like entering the village and menacing the locals are appropriately creepy as is Ivy’s eventual journey through the forbidden woods. These show M. Night Shyamalan exercising immense cinematic ability in displaying the build up in pace as we get to know the dwellers and their lives/routines.  I’m going to just put it out there that The Village is an imperfect film that while intriguing, leaves a lot of things vague and sometimes it doesn’t quite make sense. In some ways it provides a watchable mystery with a human heart, but then there are areas that really don’t add up when you actually give them some thought. Saying this, I do find that The Village  was pretty miss marketed at the time of release as a straight up horror movie when it’s more of a psychological drama/thriller in period costume. I think this made the public’s idea of what it would be to be very different from the finished article. And as a study in secrecy, belief and how fear/grief make an impact on those attempting to steer away from it, The Village is different but effective in its execution of those themes.

In terms of visuals, The Village looks glorious especially throughout, owing the mood enhancing cinematography of Roger Deakins that coats a lot of the unfolding film in a golden, near sepia tone which resembles flickering candlelight . This along with Shyamalan ‘s use of long close ups that start slow and then zero in on the faces of the cast add to the creepy and uneasy atmosphere. One of the best things in The Village is the sublime score from James Newton Howard and featuring the talents on solo violin of Hilary Hahn. It is by turns menacingly creepy and poignant in equal measure as the mystery unravels and the sense of sadness comes through to the sounds of ambience from James Newton Howard and the mournful yet expressive violin of Hilary Hahn . The duo deserve every inch of praise for their haunting contribution to a confounding movie.

Where The Village doesn’t falter is in its cast , which is pretty stacked with talent from top to bottom. Joaquin Phoenix, who I find is one of the most reliable and dedicated actors out there , is commendable as ever here. Contributing a thoughtful take on a man who often finds it difficult to express himself but who has enough gumption to begin to emerge from his shell, Phoenix is thoroughly superb. In an early role that helped her get notice and show off her talent we have Bryce Dallas Howard. Radiating a delicacy and alternating iron will , she’s beautifully convincing as Ivy. Though the character is blind, Howard makes her a character who refuses to be defined by this and instead is a rather forward thinking woman, who is braver than most of the eponymous village and not afraid to show it. Adrien Brody is effectively tragic as the misunderstood Noah, who finds himself in trouble but is not really aiming for it as he is not treated with the appropriate help, except from a sympathetic and beautifully understanding Ivy. William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver exhibit stoic secrecy and a guarded authority as the village elders who are a lot more than meets the eye . Brendan Gleeson emits a melancholy and dejected persona as a man who lost his son and is wrestling with the unimaginable grief. The impressive Cherry Jones is also effectively used as a high up member of the village with her own private sadness to hide .It’s only really Judy Greer that gets shortchanged with the role of Ivy’s sister. It’s not that Greer isn’t good, in fact she’s a very talented actress. Unfortunately it’s just that the part of Kitty doesn’t leave a lot of scope to do much with.

The Village has quite a bit to recommend and is quite an eerie and melancholy film from M. Night Shyamalan with many a great performance( particularly the one from Bryce Dallas Howard) and a superlative score. It’s still got many head scratching moments that can render some of it ambivalent for the viewers. Yet I believe some reassessment is in need for The Village, as it does have some forms of merit within it’s often mind bending story.

Poltergeist

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A horror movie with a heart, Poltergeist provides the chills and thrills as a family is beset by a mysterious presence. With a strong story and a mixture of creepiness and wonder, Poltergeist lingers in the mind.

The California town of Cuesta Verde is an ideal looking suburban town of nice lawns and high standard of living. It’s a planned community where everything looks strikingly similar. We are introduced to the Freeling family; real estate developer father Steven( Craig T. Nelson) , loving and devoted mother Diane(JoBeth Williams), eldest daughter Dana(Dominique Dunne), only son Robbie(Oliver Robins) and adorable five year old daughter Carol Anne(Heather O’Rourke) . One night when the television broadcast finishes and the static appears, little Carol Anne awakes from her sleep, approaches the set and starts communicating with something. Then various phenomena start in the house like chairs rearranging themselves and cutlery bending. At first the family sees it as something funny yet unexplainable, but events soon take a very dark and sinister turn. On a stormy evening, all manner of supernatural and startling terror unfurls and Carol Anne is snatched through her bedroom closet. The family search for her, but can’t physically find her. Then they start to hear the voice of the kidnapped little girl. It transpires she can communicate at times through the static on the television as she is in another dimension. Terrified and uncertain of what to do, Diane and Steven contact parapsychologists headed by Dr. Martha Lesh( Beatrice Straight) about this . Lesh and her co- workers are intrigued and want to help but find even their open minds challenged by this haunting and kidnapping they come upon. That’s when they call in the small but powerful physic Tangina( Zelda Rubinstein) who goes about attempting to figure out what snatched into another dimension. Darkness descends as the family, Tangina and the paranormal investigators do battle with the restless spirits that have an axe to grind in order to bring Carol Anne back to them.

Tobe Hooper is in the directing chair and though it’s often debated whether he was the sole director or if Steven Spielberg was more a part of it, he deserves credit for what he fashions here. His direction is pacy and allows for the opening to appear a little spooky but innocuously wholesome and then allowing the onslaught of scary encounters that are wonderfully executed. It’s a rollercoaster that’s akin to a fun ride with added jolts of scary material. The film may be almost two hours but the content and story carry everything along to a satisfying degree that pulls you in. Long shots are used that capture the little details of the house and how the haunting envelops it with an insidious glee. It’s all in aid of the intense set pieces that show the special effects which are mainly ones that hold up now( some have dated a fair bit naturally) and are used to maximum effect. From the static hands reaching out from the television, the attack of the monstrous tree on Robbie, one of the poor investigators having one squirm inducing hallucination, a clown doll that’ll give you a many jolts terror and the filling of the swimming pool during a storm with corpses after Diane falls in, it’s dazzling and horrifying in equal measure . With a screenplay by Steven Spielberg( who you can see the influence of in the film with the blending of spectacle, awe and tension), the film while frightening and thrilling has some real depth and drama to it. Plus there’s also a deliciously ironic take on television culture and also how suburbia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be considering some of the foundations it’s literally and metaphorically built on. Also of note is how the characters act in situations; with most of them being grown ups there’s a level of maturity that’s sometimes missing in films that focus on teenagers. The family reacts in a very believable manner to the shock and mind blowing events befalling them and it adds to how much we care for their plight. Jerry Goldsmith contributes a sensational score that has a spry innocence at first before layering on the spooky vibes as the haunting continues.

As mentioned earlier, the cast is very convincing. JoBeth Williams heads proceedings with a commanding performance of maternal determination and strength in the face of adversity. She’s human and relatable, acting wonderfully alongside the stalwart Craig T. Nelson as her husband.  Nelson contributes a strong performance as a hardworking man thrown into a hellish ordeal and attempting with his wife to stay above it instead of sinking. The two stars create a believable bond as husband and wife and crucially as parents. Beatrice Straight exhibits the right amount of compassion and shock as the parapsychologist called in, while the dynamic Zelda Rubinstein  steals her scenes as the medium with a lot of power and eccentric manner about her. Both ladies contribute a lot to the film as memorable supporting characters, particularly the highly entertaining Rubinstein. By far one of the most memorable things in Poltergeist is the presence of the cherubic Heather O’Rourke. With her wide eyes and genuine sense of wonder combined with terror, she provides most of the memorable moments in the film. And considering she’s not in the film as much as you’d think, O’Rourke definitely makes a huge impact in her scenes and is iconic, especially for her delivery of the line “They’re Here” . Dominique Dunne as the eldest daughter also makes her presence felt. On a sad note, Dunne was murdered after the film was released, leading to the belief in their being a curse on the film and the inevitable sequels. Oliver Robins is also extremely impressive as the traumatised son going through one hell of an ordeal.

Spooky, thrilling and certainly memorable, Poltergeist is a great staple film as we reach Halloween. With its invective imagination and soulful story of family against the odds, Poltergeist is a must.

No Time to Die

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James Bond finally returns to our screens after many setbacks and pushbacks on release date owing to the pandemic. In No Time to Die, we say goodbye to Daniel Craig as 007 and he signs off with a fantastic, bold and unexpectedly emotional movie.

James Bond(Daniel Craig) has left MI6 and is travelling with his lover Madeleine Swann ( Léa Seydoux )in Matera . Yet his past as a spy comes back again as he is ambushed and attacked by Spectre goons. It becomes apparent that Madeleine is hiding something that could be deadly and Bond feels betrayed by her secrecy, making him part ways with her as he suspects her of leading Spectre to him . Five years later, Bond is in Jamaica attempting retirement when old friend and C.I.A Felix Leiter(Jeffrey Wright) turns up wanting help. It appears Valdo Obruchev( David Dencik) , a scientist working on something very important and deadly has been kidnapped from a covert MI6 base. Bond is reluctant to get involved but does so anyway out of a sense of loyalty to Felix who has helped him out many a time. Along the way Bond encounters the confident agent Nomi( Lashana Lynch)who has taken up his mantle of 007 in his absence. It appears both the C.I.A and MI6 want something from the mysterious Orbruchev and both are working seemingly against each other to get it. The thing in question turns out to be a biological weapon that was secretly being developed off books with clandestine input from MI6. Eventually, following leads in Jamaica and Cuba, Bond returns to MI6 as the case leads back to Blofeld( Christoph Waltz)who he captured in Spectre . The project Obruchev was working on was powerful if harnessed by could prove deadly on a global scale. Aided by a regretful M(Ralph Fiennes), who was the one who started the questionable biological weapon project , computer/tech wizard Q(Ben Whishaw) and the ever loyal Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) Bond attempts to figure out what is happening . But it appears the real enemy actually has a bone to pick with Blofeld . This enemy by the name of Safin (Rami Malek) has his own agenda for kidnapping the scientist, who himself is rather shady in the long run .Things turn extremely personal when Bond once more encounters Madeleine, who has some link to the evil Safin and definite secrets that are waiting to be revealed with far reaching consequences . The stakes are truly raised higher as Bond hunts down this sharp enemy intent on a warped idea of world domination and destruction

Cary Joji Fukunaga provides us with a Bond movie with a difference, while retaining in his artistic vision, the things we all love about this iconic franchise . No Time to Die is extremely stylish and props must go to the gorgeous cinematography that’s by turns beautifully bright or moodily dark in accordance with the shifting settings and unravelling of story . Fukunaga’s direction is also on point in this regard and how it backs up the story of twists and turns with a human heart at its core. He’s a fantastic choice of director and his self-assured stamp is all over No Time to Die. As a huge Bond fan, I appreciate various nods to previous adventures and also how daring and how it’s one of the more emotional of the films, akin to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Casino Royale in that regard. This is a film that might polarise fans as it does some things in a manner not expected in a Bond film and boy is there a lot to unpack throughout. But in a way I think that adds more to the film and makes it stand out quite boldly. Time will tell what the fandom truly makes of No Time to Die, but my thoughts are that it’s a strong movie indeed . And as I’m a kind reviewer, I will not delve into major spoilers here and I’ll let movie goers go in with nothing to ruin the film. No Time to Die is also a rather haunting film with many a creepy moment . But then it also has dashes of humour and thrills you always need in a Bond flick  . It has all the ingredients you’d want from a Bond film and tinged then with moments of unexpected horror and tension, such as a spooky opening of Madeleine’s past, grisly death via biological warfare and a nail biting scene in the misty woods of Norway . And the action is still at a high level of enjoyment with the intense ambush scene involving leaping motorbikes and a well armoured car in Matera and Bond and Felix attempting to escape a sinking boat being standouts. Sometimes the exposition gets a bit full on in some stretches and lags a bit, but for a film that runs nearly three hours, it goes by relatively quickly and smoothly . A strongly stirring, thrilling and emotive score by the reliable Hans Zimmer further adds to the excellence of this film as it charts the action of the piece while keeping something personal too. We are also treated to a moody and unusually title sequence that takes us on a journey through the history of the series and features prescient imagery of time, DNA and destruction. It’s all done in artistic fashion and set to the brooding title song by the talented Billie Eilish .

In his last outing as James Bond , Daniel Craig gives a truly complete performance that has many layers. He’s still got the magnetic aggression and killer instinct that we know, but he is also extremely good at the one liners and the beating heart of emotions at the centre of Bond. He’s really owned this part and his last performance doesn’t disappoint as it’s full of feeling and delivered with commitment. Léa Seydoux provides enigmatic presence and tangible sadness as Bond’s love interest, who has her hands tied in a way that throws everything into a tailspin. Her reserved manner and chemistry with Craig are fine assets to No Time to Die and form the main backbone of it. Rami Malek, though I don’t know if I’d rank him as the best Bond villain ever, still has his moments and he does nail the creepy and insidious nature of Safin. He at least has a slithering presence about him which is saying something whenever he appears. Swagger and confidence in action and ability come in the form of Lashana Lynch as the new 00 agent on the block. Whip smart, sassy and always wanting to succeed, Lynch is a fine addition to the film and her witty banter plus prowess in combat are very much on show. The regulars of MI6 in Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris and Ben Whishaw are all stalwart and contribute well to the proceedings. Ralph Fiennes in particular stands out as M who is coming to rue his actions.

Making the most of small screen time but lighting it up with cheeky humour and coltish physicality is the stunning Ana de Armas . Portraying a fledgling agent who is eager to please and both funny and lethal in equal measure, she’s a delightful addition to the film and has a ball with her standout sequence in Cuba . It’s also good to see Jeffrey Wright again as who boasts a contribution of humour and realisation that bounces well of Daniel Craig. We’ve not seen them on screen together since  Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace , but the relationship established there is present once more here. David Dencik and Billy Magnussen make for a slimy duo of turncoat agent with a cheesy smile and slippery scientist  who provide a collective thorn in Bond’s side. Christoph Waltz is also used well in a brief reprisal of Blofeld; his alert eyes and calm yet eerie demeanour wonderfully used to chilling effect. And on henchman duty we have the intense Dali Benssalah, complete with a newly fitted scanning eye who isn’t afraid of a vicious dust up with Bond.

A Bond film where there is a lot to unpack and with a feeling of something different, bold and creative , No Time to Dis makes sure that Daniel Craig signs off in style as 007. I shall miss him as everyone’s favourite super spy but I’m happy that No Time to Die provides him with a fantastically eventful and daring final outing.

Free Guy

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A funny, lively science fiction comedy with some nice depth on the nature of compliance and making a difference , Free Guy is thoroughly entertaining and leaves you with a beaming smile.

Guy( Ryan Reynolds)wakes up every day, puts on a blue shirt and heads to work at the bank with a smile on his face. He along with his best friend Buddy(Lil Rel Howery) are all happy and compliant with what they don’t see as an endless cycle. They are so used to this that the constant crime around them is just another day and event that isn’t important . That is until he meets the kick ass and confidently sexy Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer) , and something changes inside of him as he sees her as the girl of his dreams. Around this time  he realises that he is actually part of a game that he has believed is real for as long as he remembers .This sparks an unexpected change in Guy who instead of committing crime to improve his stance , uses good acts to up his levels as set out in the game . Guy is what is known as and NPC( non-player character ) who is supposed to be in the background but seems to have gained self awareness that wasn’t expected . In the real world , we see that Milly( whose avatar is Molotov Girl) and friend Keys(Joe Keery) are the creators of the game which are being used by the corrupt Antwan(Taika Waititi ). He stole a code from then that is hidden in the game, especially wants justice for this and is using her avatar to do this . is working along with best friend Mouser(Utkarsh Ambudkar), but both are slowly seeing what he’s up too. Once the group discover that Guy has some semblance of humanity and self-awareness, it’s a breakthrough but also dangerous . For the villainous Antwan has other plans for the game as he wants to shut it down and launch another one , angered by the popularity of Guy in the real world and what it will cost his business. So it’s up to Guy, plus the creators/avatars of the game  to stop this shut down before it’s too late and everything is deleted.

Shawn Levy directs with a feeling of fun that’s also infused with a winning sweetness around the outrageous and striking premise . He never loses track of the heart of what’s happening and the journey that Guy goes on.  The self-aware/meta humour is a hoot, with various sequences proving rib tickling humour that’s hard to resist. While a science fiction comedy in the main sense, Free Guy also has a lot to say about how society lives it’s life through technology and also how it’s cool to break away from the routine and mundane to sparks greatness . Free Guy reminded me a little of The Truman Show, but where that film was a brilliantly scathing attack on reality not being what it seemed, Free Guy has more heart and breezy nature in its exploration of a similar subject while retaining an unexpected level of emotional clarity.  The special effects of the video game world are pretty stellar and contribute the overall craziness of what’s going on. I’ll admit to being a little caught off guard at first as to what the film was going for, which I’m sure was what it was going for. I didn’t quite think I was following it right, but once it hit its stride, Free Guy was a very nice film that impressed me and had me involved. Music plays a key part in this film, with Mariah Carey’s jubilant “Fantasy” a particular inspired choice as is “Make Your Own Kind of Music” by Mama Cass Elliot. 

A lot of what makes Free Guy a pleasant comedy is the main assembled cast . Utilising his typical sarcasm with a feeling of growing wonder, Ryan Reynolds is a comedic delight . I find that Ryan Reynolds has quite a reassuring presence on screen; you know that he’s going to have fun and transfer that to the audience in a great performance. He just has that humour and heart that’s needed for this film and is a hero we can all relate too. Jodie Comer, who in the last few years has emerged as a big star of exceptional talent, provides alternating humour and warm depth as two characters interlinked. Comer rises to this challenge with ease and captures two contrasting characters ( a kick ass avatar with tough, sex appeal and a nerdy game creator trying to regain what’s hers) wonderfully with humour and plenty of cool attitude. Plus, I dig the burgeoning chemistry between the two and how it develops with sweetness and care. Lil Rel Howery provides a lot of the humour as Guy’s best friend who also comes around to the idea of reality not being what he envisaged. Taika  Waititi is on villain duty as the trying to be hip because he has power . And it’s quickly obvious that Waititi is having fun with the part as his manic energy and sense of crazy antics comes through loud and clear. Joe Keery and Utkarsh Ambudkar are used well as two friends experiencing the ups and downs of the corruption of industry and both trying to make headway with it as well as take down Antwan. It’s safe to say that everyone has a purpose here in the story of Free Guy .

So all in all, Free Guy is wonderful entertainment with a great message about being yourself and discovering worth. Add in the comedy and outrageous science-fiction and the cool cast, and it’s a winner in my bookFree Guy

I’m slowly getting back

Lately I’ve been suffering with my anxiety and depression once more, which accounts for my absence. I feel terrible for not keeping up to date with everybody and reading your work. So I extend my apologies. I have good family and friends around me and I’m slowly getting back into the groove of things. I may not be as prolific as I once was, but I’m getting there and will hopefully be back to some semblance of writing again. And I do promise to read all the work of you wonderful followers and friends.

Jungle Cruise

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Inspired by the Disney ride of the same name, Jungle Cruise is a true blast and the very definition of a summer adventure fantasy. If it’s escapist summer entertainment you want, Jungle Cruise is where it’s at .

It’s 1916 and forward thinking thrill seeker and scientist Dr. Lily Houghton( Emily Blunt)is coming up against the sexism of the era in London . Lily is determined to find the Tears of the Moon, which according to legend is a tree with petals that can cure any illness or lift any curse . She wants to do this to help the War Effort and for the good of mankind . After daringly acquiring an arrowhead which holds the key to what she seeks , she hightails to South America with her reluctant brother MacGregor(Jack Whitehall), who isn’t exactly cut out for rigorous travel but out of loyalty to his sister tags along. It’s here they encounter river cruise specialist Frank( Dwayne Johnson),  who makes money by taking visitors along the Amazon in his rickety but effective steamboat. Frank is an uncouth, wily skipper who is nonetheless not a bad man but rather a lovable rogue who knows his way along the river, can spew cheesy one liners/puns at rapid speed and how to give a good time to those visiting. After initial hesitation which is changed once he sees the arrowhead, Frank agrees to take Lily and MacGregor down the river. Relations don’t start out great between Lily and Frank owing to many factors. Over time, the initial hostility between Lily and Frank begins to thaw as they along with the foppish MacGregor brave the many dangers of the jungle. On their trail is the deranged German Prince Joachim(Jesse Plemons), who wants to find the tree for his own agenda and will do anything to get it. But Frank isn’t what he seems and Lily believes he might be hiding something just as it becomes apparent that the jungle has its own ways to defend and mystical at that, as evidenced by the cursed conquistadors who originally found the tree are now part of the jungle following a curse being put on them . It’s now a race against time to find before it falls into the wrong hands and is used as a weapon for evil

Jaume Collet-Serra, who I know from directing horror films and thrillers , gets the right tone of the piece as light and thrilling entertainment from the get go. He understands what the film is going for and helps deliver the necessary thrills of an fantasy/adventure flick. There are numerous callbacks to classic adventure movies tinged with fantasy like Raiders of the Lost Ark and adventure yarns from the 30’s and 40’s.  While it doesn’t quite reach those heights, Disney’s Jungle Cruise is a rollicking good time that’ll leave you with a smile on your face. There’s both adventure and slapstick action here, with many of the pursuit scenes blending the two things with wonderful panache. And I did appreciate how the movie wasn’t afraid to throw in a couple of curveballs at various points to surprise the audience My main gripes with the film are the running time and sometimes the CGI gets a bit overbearing. The film could have been a tad shorter and still been great, but it sadly does go on a bit longer than it needs to. I feel with a swift bit of editing it would have benefited Jungle Cruise. Visually , Jungle Cruise does impress in the setting and look. I just found that it went too far with the CGI when it could have toned it down as there are passages where it is too much for the eyes to handle. When it is brought back in however, it works very well at creating a magical ride and world to enjoy. James Newton Howard is on score duties with a rousing musical sense that percolates throughout Jungle Cruise  and envelops it in a jaunty air that’s hard to resist

Jungle Cruise boasts a fine cast, with the three principals of Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt and Jack Whitehall standing out. Dwayne Johnson, with his huge physique, tongue in cheek knowingness and action man persona, is ideal casting here. The part of Frank is someone who is quite mysterious and underhand but so disarming and hard not to be won over by. And all of this is played with panache by Dwayne Johnson. Also on amazing form is the always talented and watchable Emily Blunt as what can be described as an effective female take on Indiana Jones. Blunt exhibits a tough, scrappy aura but possesses a warmth , intelligence and dangerous curiosity that’s most winning as a woman who isn’t going to be restricted by society’s narrow view of women. Like Johnson, Blunt really plays to the humour and the physicality of the piece and it makes for fine, bristling chemistry . Now I’ve seen many describe the main relationship at the centre of Jungle Cruise a double act,  but I think many have missed that Jack Whitehall is just as important a part. Usually I’m not a fan of him as a comedian, but strangely enough I found him very agreeable here. Portraying Lily’s dandy of a brother who is nonetheless very loyal, he amusingly nails the snotty attitude that melts into something spirited and adventurous. Jesse Plemons hams it up spectacularly as the obsessed, deranged villain who has a lot of humour to him . A lot of this is down to the delivery of Plemons who is obviously having a completely, riotous ball with this part of main bad guy . Édgar Ramírez has the right mystique and imposing presence for the role of cursed who is desperately trying to free himself from the state of being undead And Paul Giamatti is a hoot in his small role as the gold toothed harbourmaster who has numerous run ins with Frank.

A rollicking good time that’s light and what I’d define as a crowd pleaser in the best sense of those words(apart from a few niggles), Jungle Cruise is a delight to be had at the movies and excellent viewing for the summer cinema time.

Black Widow

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A stand alone film for the Avenger character from which this flick takes its name, Black Widow is thankfully not just another in a long line of generic superhero movies. Instead it has enough action to please die hard fans and depth/story to thrill those new to the character. Plus, a stylish look and a game cast truly make Black Widow something special and definitely what I call a thrilling film.

We begin with Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) from authorities for actions committed while she was an Avenger and hiding out in Norway, aided by resourceful ally Rick Mason(O.T. Fagbenle) . Out of nowhere she is sent an antidote by someone she hasn’t seen since childhood, her “sister” Yelena(Florence Pugh) . It transpires that they were raised by “parents “ in Ohio while they acquired intel as spies. Later both girls were taken for training in the Red Room, where they ended up separated but highly skilled in combat. It was controlled by the cruel and power-crazed Dreykov(Ray Winstone) who Natasha believes is dead but is in fact alive. The two women, who were raised like sisters , have animosity towards each other at first which begins to thaw once the true scope of what they are fighting comes into view. It transpires that the legion of Black Widows that are from the Red Room are controlled via sinister means like a chip in the neck that renders the wearer completely under the power of another. Yelena was exposed to the antidote which broke the control over her before she went rogue. There is also a being by the name of Taskmaster , who can mimic the movements and skills of others who is in search of the antidote to bring it back to Dreykov. After breaking their surrogate “father” Alexei( David Harbour) out of jail where he has been still trying to capture his glory days as a hero, Natasha and Yelena meet up with their “mother” Melina(Rachel Weisz), who also has important information having worked for years as a sleeper agent. It’s going to take all of their resources to take down the powerful and his brainwashed ‘Black Widows’ so it’s all hands on deck in this fight to avert global disaster courtesy of Dreykov and for Natasha to atone and learn from her past.

I’ll admit that I’m not what you’d call the biggest fan of Marvel Movies . But I know enough about them to pass muster and have some understanding of them. I’m not opposed to the films as I find them quite entertaining, I’ve just lost count of how many there are. To be honest, while a bit of knowledge is good, Black Widow stands well enough as a stand-alone feature and you can go in uninitiated . Director Cate Shortland shows a skilful talent for blending kinetic action, snippets of humour and set pieces with a story boasting more depth that just your standard superhero movie . If anything, although definitely boasting tropes of a superhero film, it also functions as a cracking and twisty espionage thriller with more than a little sprinkling of Bondian greatness. Being a huge Bond fan, seeing various nods here had the inner geek in me thrilled and I’m sure it’ll do the same for the audience who sees this action packed movie. Keep an eye out for the sequence in which break out of a snowy prison. To say it’s epic is an understatement as it’s so outrageously entertaining . Shortland is clearly a director who has a handle on things and keeps Black Widow flowing to stunning effect. A slight sag in pace can be forgiven in a film like this that sweeps you along with action and surprising depth. Black Widow is also very stylish to look at, especially in the action sequences and a grainy, snappy title sequence of being indoctrinated into becoming set to the sound of a haunting cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. And speaking of music, a grandiose and thundering score of action, peppered with Russian chanting, is another highlight in a stellar production that surprised me in how much I enjoyed it.

The cast is where it’s at when it comes to Black Widow. Scarlett Johansson can play the part in her sleep, yet she still displays various facets that are new and revealing. Whether it be in the action scenes or emotional moments of attempting to reconcile her past , Johansson is nothing short of fantastic at shading her part and providing backbone to an already popular character. The always watchable Scarlett Johansson is what I’d call perfect casting having played the part for so long and continuing to impress us. Ably backing her up and burning up a storm is the ever talented Florence Pugh portraying sister figure Yelena . Pugh nails the feisty, foul mouthed and quick witted Yelena while showcasing a buried resentment and hurt at realising that her past was so controlled and not what she thought. As a result much in the same way that Johansson explores Natasha , Pugh crafts a multi-layered character in Yelena that you truly root for. It helps that both actresses convince as sister figures slowly regaining trust after being separated for so long. The chemistry between the two is evidently strong and a valuable asset to the film. David Harbour provides much in the way of laughs as the washed up superhero dad to the two leading ladies. He’s comically endearing as a character and Harbour finds the genuine feeling of pathos beneath the clownish exterior. Rachel Weisz adds layers of complexity to a woman who seems sightly cowardly yet warm in the beginning before revealing a vast intelligence and ruthless determination. The wonderful Weisz makes every moment she’s on the screen count with her performance. O.T. Fagbenle provides nice support as a loyal friend and helper to Natasha, who trades good quips and witty banter along the way. The only people who get somewhat shortchanged and not given that much to work with are Ray Winstone and Olga Kurylenko. Both do what they can with their roles, I just would have preferred a bit more of them and more material for them to work

A thrilling superhero/spy-action film of great performances, twisty story and oodles of style, Black Widow is what I’d define as high powered entertainment and a film that has something for everyone to enjoy.

An Explanation

I haven’t been as active as I’ve usually been on here and I believe you all deserve an explanation. I’ve had a stressful time lately with my depression and anxiety hitting me hard. I’m currently getting the help and support I need, but haven’t been that inspired to write because of this. I will be back blogging very soon, I just need to sort my head out first. I’ll be back better than ever before you know it, I just need to take my time.

Dracula: Prince of Darkness

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I was invited to right about the fantastic Christopher Lee by Barry and Gill and I was very happy to do so. 

A Hammer Horror with the iconic Christopher Lee back as the eponymous being, Dracula: Prince of Darkness is atmospheric and has a lot going for it.

A group of proper English tourists; brothers Charles(Francis Matthews) and Alan(Charles Tingwell), plus their wives Helen( Barbara Shelley) and Diana( Suzan Farmer) are visiting near the Carpathian Mountains. They are warned about not going to a certain region by Father Sandor( Andrew Keir) . Sandor isn’t your average man of the cloth as he speaks his mind and seems always on the lookout for danger in a similar way to a hunter. The group don’t pay much attention and attempt to reach a castle that doesn’t show up on a map. The worried Helen doesn’t think this is a good idea, but she is overruled by her husband and the brash Charles . After a carriage appears from nowhere following , they decide to get into it. It suddenly springs to life and transports them to the infamous castle. Not wanting to be outside as darkness approaches, much to the annoyance of Helen, the group enters the castle . There they find the castle in reasonably good condition, considering that it’s been abandoned for years . We learn that the reason for this is that it’s been taken care of by the creepy servant Klove( Philip Latham) . His dead employer told him to always make the castle welcome to those travelling through. But Klove has a more menacing plan for the guests. That night he murders Alan and strings him up over a tomb. This fresh blood resurrects the evil and powerful vampire Dracula(Christopher Lee) who then goes on to turn the strait laced Helen into a sensual creature of the night like himself. Realising the danger they are in, Charles and Diana  run from the castle before finding Father Sandor in his church. The couple now team up Sandor with in a battle against the nocturnal bloodsucker.

Terence Fisher, who was always one of the most reliable directors for Hammer Horror, is in his element here. His confident and nicely unobtrusive direction helps flow smoothly and with a genuine feeling of dark tension. The less is more approach works well in many areas here, leaving much to the imagination while not shoving it in your face.The eeriness builds before being fully unleashed in the last half when the stakes are raised and a desperate plan to slay Dracula comes into play. From the get go, you just know it’s going to be very creepy. It doesn’t just start with everything being rosy and ideal for everyone; we hear of darkness from right at the start of the film as well as a prologue of Dracula’s history(which is a flashback from the very first outing for Lee as the bloodsucking count.)That is the through line of and moves the plot along nicely with an exquisite slow burn before unleashing. Also of note is how some of the characters don’t fall victim to some of the dumb horror cliches out there. For example, Charles and Diana once sensing that something is wrong flee the castle instead of sitting and waiting to be picked off, along with other smart traits. Yes they do eventually have to go back to the castle for the climactic battle(which makes sense in the big scheme of things), it’s just nice to see characters who aren’t complete morons and at least boast some substance . Its a little thing but one I do appreciate it .Prince of Darkness has enough of a difference in terms of folklore to single it out among vampire movies, particularly the eventual way that the remaining characters try to use in order to kill Dracula. Dracula: Prince of Darkness also feels even by today’s standards rather erotic in a Gothic way. Dracula’s ability to hold people in thrall is a great example of this as is Helen’s flip from staid worrier to untamed vixen. Granted age has diminished some effects and it can come off dated in stages, the creeping aura is still there in a way only Hammer can provide . On the visual front, Prince of Darkness is gloriously done with a lot of the colour red mixing with a dark and unusual feeling of impending dread. Hammer Horror always has that special something in terms of how they look and is no exception. A swelling and rather grand score suits the movie as the action and atmosphere is cranked up to high levels as darkness falls.

Christopher Lee is what really makes this movie, returning after a number years following his first outing, to play the role of the indelible villain that is Dracula. Despite not speaking a single word, his imposing presence and intense, bulging eyes are all that’s needed to give us the audience and the potential victims the creeps. Lee plays the wicked but seductive Dracula with a sense of movement and hypnotising skill; brilliantly luring in the unsuspecting prey he has his designs on. He’s obviously enjoying himself and the menace he provides as the bloodsucker is second to none. Simply stated, the film wouldn’t be the same without the iconic Lee playing it. Francis Matthews is appropriately down to Earth and charming as the free living young Charles, who has to rise up and face Dracula. Barbara Shelley is wonderful playing essentially two different parts: sheltered, fearful killjoy Helen and her enticing, seductive vampiric form that is chilling and daring . Both sides are finely judged by her and stand out for how different they are and it’s down to the excellent of Shelley . Bombastic energy and portents of doom come courtesy of Andrew Keir as the unorthodox but forceful Father who isn’t going down without a fight.  A convincingly  insidious sliminess provided by Philip Latham as the ever loyal servant intent on raising his evil master from the great beyond is another effective tool used to elicit genuine uneasiness and terror to sublime effect. Suzan Farmer and Charles Tingwell have smaller roles but are nonetheless very good as the rest of the quartet happening upon terror. The cast is pretty stellar, but it’s the presence of Christopher Lee that truly lingers in the mind thanks to the talents of the legendary star.

A stylish and atmospheric horror from the iconic Hammer Homer, Dracula: Prince of Darkness is an impressively movie with an eerie and memorable Christopher Lee at the centre of it all.