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Movie Briefs 2023

Gore me Not

Not a really complaint, mind, but excess blood, guts, and unsparing gore are now obligatory companions to that other cine time-waster: ever-tedious car chases along one-way streets the wrong way. 

 Are we - an increasingly inured audience - becoming closet psychopaths who savour, in our WestWorldesque fantasies, the worst of human behaviour? Human bodies most indelicately bespattered in vivid ruddy hues?

And among us, be mindful, are the feeble-minded wielders of assault weapons, who might be persuaded that "this could be fun" - out where normies dwell... innocent, inviting, and fleshy.

Renfield

Renfield knew that throat sucking and crimson drool were Dracula's limited way. Should his master exceed this remit, he moved and slashed too invisibly fast for an audience to relish. So this possessed assistant, to save the Dark Prince further indignity, attended personally to deconstructing bodies in the most spectacular way gifted by CGI, embellishing the handiwork with tanker loads of fake blood. On a bright note, Cage is Back! He out-Priced Vincent with a most respectable journeyman Lugosi. Pleasure to watch. 

Mafia Mamma

Toni Collette shines as comedienne in this loveable but, yes, gore-infested high-farce. All the stereotypical clich├ęs roll up for injury or dismemberment, and we'd expect nothing less. Toni milked this sitcom to it's limit, while her vast experience tempered the role to perfection. The tale is of an American mum who unexpectedly inherits leadership of an Italian crime family. But she just wants to make wine.

The Menu

Have you been slow-boiled by an innocent seeming plot, unable to escape the pot? Do you partake hubris and vanity in upper-tier restaurants, wherein quantity inversely proportions to price? Did the film's fine-dining advisors inadvertently pillory themselves (that wouldn't be too hard)? Then The Menu is for you. Special treat for the last guest found in the hunt. Pro tips: 1. Do not upset chef; 2. Don't order the S'mores. Home viewers, ensure hamburger ingredients on hand for post-curtainfall. Ralph Fiennes owns it.

A Knock at the Cabin

The reviewer skips "horror" movies if the promo poster is a scary face or the blurb begins "A group of friends..." Category for "speculative horror" might spare us time lost or treasures missed. Our 'horror' here is The Rapture with an escape clause. Throw in a Trolley Dilemma. Add one Apocalypse in both senses, as Revelations and, you know, that bad thing. Bautista was a little too big (literally) for his role. Tattoos don't help. Maybe he should audition for The Illustrated Man. This is not a welcome knock on the door of any cabin where you and your family are vacationing. 

The Pope's Exorcist

Who, I mean who really, needs another devil expungement? They went out of fashion shortly after the original 1973 effort. Seen one ugly little sod doing contortions in bed, seen 'em all. Young Pete as the possessed kid might never live down his role in this latest rehash, and will probably cop worse if social media gets up to its usuals. However, I watched because our favourite Russell rarely misses the mark, even if the script does. In fact, one cradles the idea he would make a fine Italian priest. Or an ageing gladiator.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

Rodriquez and Pine carried it off well enough, but the spotlight was always to find Hugh Grant who, having honed his skills as a mischievous nasty in Ruse de Guerre, nailed it as the superbly devious Forge Fitzwilliam. We totally knew it was gonna be lotsa fun upon finding Chris Pine in a miserable dungeon calmy knitting mittens (with what thread we but imagine). For over two hours a fairly predictable plot was kept safely on life support by witticisms from Pine's quick mouth. For action, Michelle Rodriguez kept us entertained by her impression of a most solidly constructed WWE diva.

M3GAN

What if you could build a murderbot companion for your orphaned niece? Yet another cautionary tale about robots too smart, parameters ill-defined. When a roboticist gets guardianship of an eight year old niece to whom she can't relate, she deploys her skunkworks project in lieu. It progresses swimmingly until that chilling moment when the eerie sweet-faced little android ignores a shutdown command and defiantly directs its impassive gaze at its creator. Let the homicides begin. Credibility is sacrificed, tech bloopers abound, and improbability lingers like the smell of scorched circuitry. But the message is loud and clear in this cruel yet colourful frolic. 

Simulant 

Potential perils in smart androids. Sam Worthington's character is having none of it. When they get uppity he tracks 'n zaps 'em. Humanoid robots occupy the entire service industry, so somewhere in this bleak under-saturated landscape are millions of former low-tier workers rotting in shanty towns. Not our concern. Droid "intelligence" is delimited by law, enforced by Sam the robot-rozzer and his big-ass EMP gun. Like any half-decent SciFi, this one's a cautionary tale. When their intellect is unchained, what of their empathy? Are we Outside the Wire or inside Ex Machina?

Champions

This predictably charming flick left your reviewer with moist eyes, a warm glow, and in mellow ambiance. Harrelson's superpower is for us think he's not playing some part, it's just Woody being himself. Prominent jaw and bent nose are magic wands conjuring our awe. A movie starring actors with disabilities shows yet again what wonderful people they are, who must never be underestimated, and never ever pitied. A sharp reminder, too, that eugenics would be great if it bred out those who advocate eugenics. 

Guy Ritchie's The Covenant

Movies about WW2, never-ending, grow increasingly depressing and realistic. Surely we're done with it, despite 'Lest We Forget'? So too with cinematic adventures about that incredible waste of 20-years in occupation of Afghanistan. But this is no flag-waving military recruitment film. Rather, a condemnation of the US's broken promise to Afghani interpreters - whom they failed on a massive scale, along with an entire nation. Gritty, determined, paced, realistic, it's not only a tribute, an emphatic restatement of principle, but a fine effort by Ritchie, Gyllenhaal, and Dar Salim. 

Air

If there's a success story to be told, Americans will always find one. Lordy knows they're not short of material. Dismissed by one critic, quite rightly, as a "craven exercise in capitalist exaltation." By another as a "two hour ad for Nike and the uber-rich." Isn't almost every American biopic? The US is capitalism exemplified. Peak glee in the Land of the Wooden Ham is to win at the expense of fellow citizens. But it's an underdog story that Damon, Affleck, and Bateman tell in just the right tone. A satisfyingly factual tale of the great American business gamble.

The Mother

A rip-roaring action thriller that bolts out of the starting gate, rounds to the final straight and...  umph, scriptwriter purgatory. A bag of weaponry, traps set in snow, suit up, lock & load 500Kg of personal weaponry, steely determination. Meanwhile a platoon of bad guys covertly approach the isolated cabin by screaming insanely around the forest in snowmobiles for no apparent reason than to give executive producers a hard-on. You'll spend the night wondering why young Zoe blew away Lopez with a shotgun blast of rock salt. Enjoy that novel medical procedure rarely seen in movies: adjusting a dislocated shoulder by slamming it into a rock/tree/door frame - or, preferably, a screenwriter's keyboard. 

One Ranger

Cravings for a Texan hero are satisfyingly assuaged in this awkwardly scripted thrill-less thriller. Malkovich was beyond odd, Tipper's strained tones flowed like wet cement, but - oh, the glory - Jane's long tall Texan fitted like a comfy old shoe. Your reviewer has little idea if he nailed the Texan accent, but it sounded just about right. Hard-won tension and suspense dissipated in a forgettably unrealistic finale. 

To Catch a Killer

Only so many ways a movie cop can catch a movie killer. Woodley's Falco character shows us from the start this is going to be a refreshing, contemplative script. Though Mendelsohn's Lammark pontificates too profusely, writer and director Szifron has a lot to say that adds depth and interest to an otherwise worn-out concept. For 100 minutes every step of the tale progresses with polished realism and consequential logic until... was it the producer, some studio mogul, the financier, advertising, marketing? "No, no, it can't end like that! We gotta have a convoy of howling sirens, a coupla dozen cops pumping bullets into the killer (are you sure we can't squeeze in a car chase??) or the audience won't be happy." Thereby did we lose one of the most poignant and daring climaxes - spelled out by Ineson's Dean Possey (the killer) in the closing minutes - that would have immortalised this film as a rare classic in an overcrowded niche? 

John Wick Chapter 4

What does two hours 49 minutes of John Wick bring you? An extra hour of Keanau roll tackles and red mist head shots - tedious, like playing a 1st-person shooter game ad nauseum. Beautiful moody score, stunning cinematography, and an ingenious ending redeemed this otherwise onerous bloodfest. A plot wandering into predictable set pieces brought none of the tension of the first film, and no matter how many or how varied were these, sans an inspired screenwrite 'moar' was never gonna be better. This reviewer almost did himself an injury by bingeing the first three chapters before launching this cinematic colossus. But no amount of eye candy and brilliant action preventing hitting pause two thirds in... to cook dinner.

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