just watched werewolves within, didn't know it was based on a fucking playstation vr game (probably the only actual good game movie) but anyway he should've fucked the werewolf
just watched werewolves within, didn't know it was based on a fucking playstation vr game (probably the only actual good game movie) but anyway he should've fucked the werewolf
Oh my goodness! One of the funnest werewolf films I've seen to date! Dark humor, quite the cast of characters, and a compelling plot that keeps you guessing as to who's the werewolf until the very end. Plus a fairly decent werewolf design and transformation effects. (*Minor spoilers*: they go for more of a man-wolf-like design, rather than wolf-man-like design, but they do get points for excellent weaving in of lycanthrope lore/hints without giving away who is the werewolf too soon). Highly recommend!
(I also watched another recent werewolf film called "The Wolf of Snow Hollow". It was okay, but they pulled the wool over my eyes with disappointing fake-outs of the "werewolf" design. "The Wolf of Snow Hollow" is much more of gritty, darker, sadder police procedural, no humor at all, and more of a bleak character study of people than a true werewolf film, in my opinion. Also, *spoilers* the film totally cops-out by making the "werewolf" realistic, rather than supernatural in that one.)
Milana Vayntrub in Werewolves Within
Werewolves Within (2021) dir. Josh Ruben
Milana Vayntrub in Werewolves Within
Me: I listen to so many movie podcasts because I want to be exposed to critical conversations about film so I can become a more informed and discerning audience member.
Me when those podcast’s hosts don’t like a movie I liked: I love being stupid and having no standards!
The Top Ten:
10. WEREWOLVES WITHIN – definitely one of the year’s biggest cinematic surprises so far, this darkly comic supernatural murder mystery from indie horror director Josh Ruben (Scare Me) is based on a video game, but you’d never know it – this bears so little resemblance to the original Ubisoft title that it’s a wonder anyone even bothered to make the connection, but even so, this is now notable for officially being the highest rated video game adaptation in Rotten Tomatoes history, with a Certified Fresh rating of 86%. Certainly it deserves that distinction, but there’s so much more to the film – this is an absolute blood-splattered joy, the title telling you everything you need to know about the story but belying the film’s pure, quirky genius. Veep’s Sam Richardson is forest ranger Finn Wheeler, a gentle and socially awkward soul who arrives at his new post in the remote small town of Beaverton to discover the few, uniformly weird residents are divided over the oil pipeline proposition of forceful and abrasive businessman Sam Parker (The Hunt’s Wayne Duvall). As he tries to fit in and find his feet, investigating the disappearance of a local dog while bonding with local mail carrier Cecily Moore (Other Space and This Is Us’ Milana Vayntrub), the discovery of a horribly mutilated human body leads to a standoff between the townsfolk and an enforced lockdown in the town’s ramshackle hotel as they try to work out who amongst them is the “werewolf” they suspect is responsible. This is frequently hilarious, the offbeat script from appropriately named Mishna Wolff (I’m Down) dropping some absolutely zingers and crafting some enjoyably weird encounters and unexpected twists, while the uniformly excellent cast do much of the heavy-lifting to bring their rich, thoroughly oddball characters to vivid life – Richardson is thoroughly cuddly throughout, while Duvall is pleasingly loathsome, Casual’s Michaela Watkins is pleasingly grating as Trisha, flaky housewife to unrepentant local horn-dog Pete Anderton (Orange is the New Black’s Michael Chernus), and Cheyenne Jackson (American Horror Story) and Harry Guillen (best known, OF COURSE, as Guillermo in the TV version of What We Do In the Shadows) make an enjoyably spiky double-act as liberal gay couple Devon and Joaquim Wolfson; in the end, though, the film is roundly stolen by Vayntrub, who invests Cecily with a bubbly sweetness and snarky sass that makes it absolutely impossible to not fall completely in love with her (gods know I did). This is a deeply funny film, packed with proper belly-laughs from start to finish, but like all the best horror comedies it takes its horror elements seriously, delivering some enjoyably effective scares and juicy gore, while the werewolf itself, when finally revealed, is realised through some top-notch prosthetics. Altogether this was a most welcome under-the-radar surprise for the summer, and SO MUCH MORE than just an unusually great video game adaptation …
9. THE TOMORROW WAR – although cinemas finally reopened in the UK in early summer, the bite of the COVID lockdown backlog was still very much in effect this blockbuster season, with several studios preferring to hedge their bets and wait for later release dates. Others turned to streaming services, including Paramount, who happily lined up a few heavyweight titles to open on major platforms in lieu of the big screen. One of the biggest was this intended sci-fi action horror tentpole, meant to give Chris Pratt another potential franchise on top of Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World, which instead dropped in early July on Amazon Prime. So, was it worth staying in on a Saturday night instead of heading out for something on the BIG screen? Mostly yes, although it’s mainly a trashy, guilty pleasure big budget B-picture charm that makes this such a worthwhile experience – the film’s biggest influences are clearly Independence Day and Starship Troopers, two admirably clunky blockbusters that DEFINED prioritising big spectacle and overblown theatrics over intelligent writing and realistic storytelling. It doesn’t help that the premise is pure bunk – in 2022, a wormhole opens from thirty years in the future, and a plea for help is sent back with a bunch of very young future soldiers. Seems Earth will become overrun by an unstoppable swarm of nasty alien critters called Whitespikes in 25 years, and the desperate human counteroffensive have no choice but to bring soldiers from our present into the future to help them fight back and save the humanity from imminent extinction. Less than a year later, the world’s standing armies have been decimated and a worldwide draft has been implemented, with normal everyday adults being sent through for a seven day tour from which very few return. Pratt plays biology teacher and former Green Beret Dan Forrester, one of the latest batch of draftees to be sent into the future along with a selection of chefs, soccer moms and other average joes – his own training and experience serves him better than most when the shit hits the fan, but it soon becomes clear that he’s just as out of his depth as everyone else as the sheer enormity of the threat is revealed. But when he becomes entangled with a desperate research outfit led by Muri (Chuck’s Yvonne Strahovski) who seem to be on the verge of a potential world-changing scientific breakthrough, Dan realises there just might be a slender hope for humanity after all … this is every bit as over-the-top gung-ho bonkers as it sounds, and just as much fun. Director Chris McKay may still be pretty fresh (with only The Lego Batman Movie under his belt to date), but he shows a lot of talent and potential for big budget blockbuster filmmaking here, delivering with guts and bravado on some major action sequences (a fraught ticking-clock SAR operation through a war-torn Miami is the film’s undeniable highlight, but a desperate battle to escape a blazing oil rig also really impresses), as well as handling some impressively complex visual effects work and wrangling some quality performances from his cast (altogether it bodes well for his future, which includes Nightwing and Johnny Quest as future projects). Chris Pratt can do this kind of stuff in his sleep – Dan is his classic fallible and self-deprecating but ultimately solid and kind-hearted action hero fare, effortlessly likeable and easy to root for – and his supporting cast are equally solid, Strahovsky going toe-to-toe with him in the action sequences while also creating a rewardingly complex smart-woman/badass combo in Muri, while the other real standouts include Sam Richardson (Veep, Werewolves Within) and Edwin Hodge (The Purge movies) as fellow draftees Charlie and Dorian, the former a scared-out-of-his-mind tech geek while the latter is a seriously hardcore veteran serving his THIRD TOUR, and the ever brilliant J.K. Simmonds as Dan’s emotionally scarred estranged Vietnam-vet father, Jim. Sure, it’s derivative as hell and thoroughly predictable (with more than one big twist you can see coming a mile away), but the pace is brisk, the atmosphere pregnant with a palpable doomed urgency, and the creatures themselves are a genuinely convincing world-ending threat, the design team and visual effects wizards creating genuine nightmare fuel in the feral and unrelenting Whitespikes. Altogether this WAS an ideal way to spend a comfy Saturday night in, but I think it could have been JUST AS GOOD for a Saturday night OUT at the Pictures …
8. ARMY OF THE DEAD – another high profile release that went straight to streaming was this genuine monster hit for Netflix from one of this century’s undeniable heavyweight action cinema masters, the indomitable Zack Snyder, who kicked off his career with an audience-dividing (but, as far as I’m concerned, ultimately MASSIVELY successful) remake of George Romero’s immortal Dawn of the Dead, and has finally returned to zombie horror after close to two decades away. The end result is, undeniably, the biggest cinematic guilty pleasure of the entire summer, a bona fide outbreak horror EPIC in spite of its tightly focused story – Dave Bautista plays mercenary Scott Ward, leader a badass squad of soldiers of fortune who were among the few to escape a deadly outbreak of a zombie virus in the city of Las Vegas, enlisted to break into the vault of one of the Strip’s casinos by owner Bly Tanaka (a fantastically game turn from Hiroyuki Sanada) and rescue $200 million still locked away inside. So what’s the catch? Vegas remains ground zero for the outbreak, walled off from the outside world but still heavily infested within, and in less than three days the US military intends to sterilise the site with a tactical nuke. Simple premise, down and dirty, trashy flick, right? Wrong – Snyder has never believed in doing things small, having brought us unapologetically BIG cinema with the likes of 300, Watchmen, Man of Steel and, most notably, his version of Justice League, so this is another MASSIVE undertaking, every scene shot for maximum thrills or emotional impact, each set-piece executed with his characteristic militaristic precision and explosive predilection (a harrowing fight for survival against a freshly-awakened zombie horde in tightly packed casino corridors is the film’s undeniable highlight), and the gauzy, dreamlike cinematography gives even simple scenes an intriguing and evocative edge that really does make you feel like you’re watching something BIG. The characters all feel larger-than-life too – Bautista can seem somewhat cartoonish at times, and this role definitely plays that as a strength, making Scott a rock-hard alpha male in the classic Hollywood mould, but he’s such a great actor that of course he’s able to invest the character with real rewarding complexity beneath the surface; Ana de la Reguera (Eastbound & Down) and Nora Arnezeder (Zoo, Mozart in the Jungle), meanwhile, both bring a healthy dose of oestrogen-fuelled badassery to proceedings as, respectively, Scott’s regular second-in-command, Maria Cruz, and Lilly the Coyote, Power’s Omari Hardwick and Matthias Schweighofer (You Are Wanted) make for a fun odd-couple double act as circular-saw-wielding merc Vanderohe and Dieter, the nervous, nerdy German safecracker brought in to crack the vault, and Fear the Walking Dead’s Garrett Dillahunt channels spectacular scumbag energy as Tanaka’s sleazy former casino boss Martin, while latecomer Tig Notaro (Star Trek Discovery) effortlessly rises above her last-minute-casting controversy to deliver brilliantly as sassy and acerbic chopper pilot Peters. I think it goes without saying that Snyder can do this in his sleep, but he definitely wasn’t napping here – he pulled out all the stops on this one, delivering a thrilling, darkly comic and endearingly CRACKERS zombie flick that not only compares favourably to his own Dawn but is, undeniably, his best film for AGES. Netflix certainly seem to be pleased with the results – a spinoff prequel, Army of Thieves, starring Dieter in another heist thriller, is set to drop in October, with an animated series following in the Spring, and there’s already rumours of a sequel in development. I’m certainly up for more …
7. BLACK WIDOW – no major blockbuster property was hit harder by COVID than the MCU, which saw its ENTIRE SLATE for 2020 delayed for over a year in the face of Marvel Studios bowing to the inevitability of the Pandemic and unwilling to sacrifice those all-important box-office receipts by just sending their films straight to streaming. The most frustrating part for hardcore fans of the series was the delay of a standalone film that was already criminally overdue – the solo headlining vehicle of founding Avenger and bona fide female superhero ICON Natasha Romanoff, aka the Black Widow. Equally frustratingly, then, this film seems set to be overshadowed by real life controversy as star and producer Scarlett Johansson goes head-to-head with Disney in civil court over their breach-of-contract after they hedged their bets by releasing the film simultaneously in cinemas and on their own streaming platform, which has led to poor box office as many of the film’s potential audience chose to watch it at home instead of risk movie theatres with the virus still very much remaining a threat (and Disney have clearly reacted AGAIN, now backtracking on their release policy by instigating a new 45-day cinematic exclusivity window on all their big releases for the immediate future). But what of the film itself? Well Black Widow is an interesting piece of work, director Cate Shortland (Berlin Syndrome) and screenwriter Eric Pearson (Thor: Ragnarok) delivering a decidedly stripped-back, lean and intellectual beast that bears greater resemblance to the more cerebral work of the Russo Brothers on their Captain America films than the more classically bombastic likes of Iron Man, Thor or the Avengers flicks, concentrating on story and characters over action and spectacle as we wind back the clock to before the events of Infinity War and Endgame, when Romanoff was on the run after Civil War, hunted by the government-appointed forces of US Secretary of State “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) after violating the Sokovia Accords. Then a mysterious delivery throws her back into the fray as she finds herself targeted by a mysterious assassin, forcing her to team up with her estranged “sister” Yelena Belova (Midsommar’s Florence Pugh), another Black Widow who’s just gone rogue from the same Red Room Natasha escaped years ago, armed with a McGuffin capable of foiling a dastardly plot for world domination. The reluctant duo need help in this endeavour though, enlisting the aid of their former “parents”, veteran Widow and scientist Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz) and Alexie Shostakov (Stranger Things’ David Harbour), aka the Red Guardian, a Russian super-soldier intended to be their counterpart to Captain America, who’s been languishing in a Siberian gulag for the last twenty years. After the Earth-shaking, universe-changing events of recent MCU events, this film certainly feels like a much more self-contained, modest affair, playing for much smaller stakes, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less worthy of our attention – this is as precision-crafted as anything we’ve seen from Marvel so far, but it also feels like a refreshing change of pace after all those enormous cosmic shenanigans, while the script is as tight as a drum, propelling a taut, suspense-filled thriller that certainly doesn’t scrimp on the action front. Sure, the set-pieces are very much in service of the story here, but they’re still the pre-requisite MCU rollercoaster rides, a selection of breathless chases and bone-crunching fights that really do play to the strengths of one of our favourite Avengers, but this is definitely one of those films where the real fireworks come when the film focuses on the characters – Johansson is so comfortable with her character she’s basically BECOME Natasha Romanoff, kickass and ruthless and complex and sassy and still just desperate for a family (though she hides it well throughout the film), while Weisz delivers one of her best performances in years as a peerless professional who keeps her emotions tightly reigned in but slowly comes to realise that she was never more happy than when she was pretending to be a simple mother, and Ray Winstone does a genuinely fantastic job of taking a character who could have been one of the MCU’s most disappointingly bland villains, General Dreykov, master of the Red Room, and investing him with enough oily charisma and intense presence to craft something truly memorable (frustratingly, the same cannot be said for the film’s supposed main physical threat, Taskmaster, who performs well in their frustratingly brief appearances but ultimately gets Darth Maul levels of short service). The true scene-stealers in the film, however, are Alexie and Yelena – Harbour’s clearly having the time of his life hamming it up as a self-important, puffed-up peacock of a superhero who never got his shot and is clearly (rightly) decidedly bitter about it, preferring to relive the life he SHOULD have had instead of remembering the good in the one he got; Pugh, meanwhile, is THE BEST THING IN THE WHOLE MOVIE, easily matching Johanssen scene-for-scene in the action stakes but frequently out-performing her when it comes to acting, investing Yelena with a sweet naivety and innocence and a certain amount of quirky geekiness that makes for one of the year’s most endearing female protagonists (certainly one who, if the character goes the way I think she will, is thoroughly capable of carrying the torch for the foreseeable future). In the end this is definitely one of the LEAST typical, by-the-numbers MCU films to date, and by delivering something a little different I think they’ve given us just the kind of leftfield swerve the series needs right now. It’s certainly one of their most fascinating and rewarding films so far, and since it seems to be Johansson’s final tour of duty as the Black Widow, it’s also a most fitting farewell indeed.
6. WRATH OF MAN – Guy Ritchie’s latest (regarded by many as a triumphant return to form, which I consider unfair since I don’t think he ever went away, especially after 2020’s spectacular The Gentlemen) is BY FAR his darkest film – let’s get this clear from the start. Anyone who knows his work knows that Ritchie consistently maintains a near flawless balance and humour and seriousness in his films that gives them a welcome quirkiness that is one of his most distinctive trademarks, so for him to suddenly deliver a film which takes itself SO SERIOUSLY is one hell of a departure. This is a film which almost REVELS in its darkness – Ritchie’s always loved bathing in man’s baser instincts, but Wrath of Man almost makes a kind of twisted VIRTUE out of wallowing in the genuine evils that men are capable of inflicting on each other. The film certainly kicks off as it means to go on – In a tour-de-force single-shot opening, we watch a daring armoured car robbery on the streets of Los Angeles that goes horrifically wrong, an event which will have devastating consequences in the future. Five months later, Fortico Security hires taciturn Brit Patrick Hill (Jason Statham) to work as a guard in one of their trucks, and on his first run he single-handedly foils another attempted robbery with genuinely uncanny combat skills. The company is thrilled, amazed by the sheer ability of their new hire, but Hill’s new colleagues are more concerned, wondering exactly what they’ve let themselves in for. After a second foiled robbery, it becomes clear that Hill’s reputation has grown, but fellow guard Haiden (Holt McCallany), aka “Bullet”, begins to suspect there might be something darker going on … Ritchie is firing on all cylinders here, delivering a PERFECT slow-burn suspense thriller which plays its cards close to its chest and cranks up its piano wire tension with artful skill as it builds to a devastating, knuckle-whitening explosive heist that acts as a cathartic release for everything that’s built up over the past hour and a half. In typical Ritchie style the narrative is non-linear, the story unfolding in four distinct parts told from clearly differentiated points of view, allowing the clues to be revealed at a trickle that effortlessly draws the viewer in as they fall deeper down the rabbit hole, leading to a harrowing but strangely poignant denouement which is perfectly in tune with everything that’s come before. It’s an immense pleasure finally getting to see Statham working with Ritchie again, and I don’t think he’s ever been better than he is here – he's always been a brilliantly understated actor, but there’s SO MUCH going on under Hill’s supposedly impenetrable calm that every little peek beneath the armour is a REVELATION; McCallany, meanwhile, has landed his best role since his short but VERY sweet supporting turn in Fight Club, seemingly likeable and fallible as the kind of easy-going co-worker anyone in the service industry would be THRILLED to have, but giving Bullet far more going on under the surface, while there are uniformly excellent performances from a top-shelf ensemble supporting cast which includes Josh Hartnett, Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice, Sicario), Andy Garcia, Laz Alonso (The Boys), Eddie Marsan, Niamh Algar (Raised By Wolves) and Darrell D’Silva (Informer, Domina), and a particularly edgy and intense turn from Scott Eastwood. This is one of THE BEST thrillers of the year, by far, a masterpiece of mood, pace and plot that ensnares the viewer from its gripping opening and hooks them right up to the close, a triumph of the genre and EASILY Guy Ritchie’s best film since Snatch. Regardless of whether or not it’s a RETURN to form, we can only hope he continues to deliver fare THIS GOOD in the future …
5. FEAR STREET (PARTS 1-3) – Netflix have gotten increasingly ambitious with their original filmmaking over the years, and some of this years’ offerings have reached new heights of epic intention. Their most exciting release of the summer was this adaptation of popular children’s horror author R.L. Stine’s popular book series, a truly gargantuan undertaking as the filmmakers set out to create an entire TRILOGY of films which were then released over three consecutive weekends. Interestingly, these films are most definitely NOT for kids – this is proper, no-holds-barred supernatural slasher horror, delivering highly calibrated shocks and precision jump scares, a pervading atmosphere of insidious dread and a series of inventively gruesome kills. The story revolves around two neighbouring small towns which have had vastly different fortunes over more than three centuries of existence – while the residents of Sunnyvale are unusually successful, living idyllic lives in peace and prosperity, luck has always been against the people of Shadyside, who languish in impoverishment, crime and misfortune, while the town has become known as the Murder Capital of the USA due to frequent spree killings. Some attribute this to the supposed curse of a local urban legend, Sarah Fier, who became known as the Fier Witch after her execution for witchcraft in 1668, but others dismiss this as simple superstition. Part 1 is set in 1994, as the latest outbreak of serial mayhem begins in Shadyside, dragging a small group of local teens – Deena Johnson (She Never Died’s Kiana Madeira) and Samantha Fraser (Olivia Scott Welch), a young lesbian couple going through a difficult breakup, Deena’s little brother Josh (The Haunted Hathaways’ Benjamin Flores Jr.), a nerdy history geek who spends most of his time playing video games or frequenting violent crime-buff online chatrooms, and their delinquent friends Simon (Eight Grade’s Fred Hechinger) and Kate (Julia Rehwald) – into the age-old ghostly conspiracy as they find themselves besieged by indestructible undead serial killers from the town’s past, reasoning that the only way they can escape with their lives is to solve the mystery and bring the Fier Witch some much needed closure. Part 2, meanwhile, flashes back to a previous outbreak in 1977, in which local sisters Ziggy (Stranger Things’ Sadie Sink) and Cindy Berman (Emily Rudd), together with future Sunnyvale sheriff Nick Goode (Ted Sutherland) were among the kids hunted by said killers during a summer camp “colour war”. As for Part 3, that goes all the way back to 1668 to tell the story of what REALLY happened to Sarah Fier, before wrapping up events in 1994, culminating in a terrifying, adrenaline-fuelled showdown in the Shadyside Mall. Throughout, the youthful cast are EXCEPTIONAL, Madeira, Welch, Flores Jr., Sink and Rudd particularly impressing, while there are equally strong turns from Ashley Zuckerman (The Code, Designated Survivor) and Community’s Gillian Jacobs as the grown-up versions of two key ’77 kids, and a fun cameo from Maya Hawke in Part 1. This is most definitely retro horror in the Stranger Things mould, perfectly executed period detail bringing fun nostalgic flavour to all three of the timelines while the peerless direction from Leigh Janiak (Honeymoon) and wire-tight, sharp-witted screenplays from Janiak, Kyle Killen (Lone Star, The Beaver), Phil Graziadel, Zak Olkewicz and Kate Trefry strike a perfect balance between knowing dark humour and knife-edged terror, as well as weaving an intriguingly complex narrative web that pulls the viewer in but never loses them to overcomplication. The design, meanwhile, is evocative, the cinematography (from Stanger Things’ Caleb Heymann) is daring and magnificently moody, and the killers and other supernatural elements of the film are handled with skill through largely physical effects. This is definitely not a standard, by-the-numbers slasher property, paying strong homage to the sub-genre’s rules but frequently subverting them with expert skill, and it’s as much fun as it is frightening. Give us some more like this please, Netflix!
4. THE SPARKS BROTHERS – those who’ve been following my reviews for a while will known that while I do sometimes shout about documentary films, they tend to show up in my runners-up lists – it’s a great rarity for one to land in one of my top tens. This lovingly crafted deep-dive homage to cult band Sparks, from self-confessed rabid fanboy Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim), is something VERY SPECIAL INDEED, then … there’s a vague possibility some of you may have heard the name before, and many of you will know at least one or two of their biggest hits without knowing it was them (their greatest hit of all time, This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us, immediately springs to mind), but unless you’re REALLY serious about music it’s quite likely you have no idea who they are, namely two brothers from California, Russell and Ronald Mael, who formed a very sophisticated pop-rock band in the late 60s and then never really went away, having moments of fame but mostly working away in the background and influencing some of the greatest bands and musical artists that followed them, even if many never even knew where that influence originally came from. Wright’s film is an engrossing joy from start to finish (despite clocking in at two hours and twenty minutes), following their eclectic career from obscure inception as Halfnelson, through their first real big break with third album Kimono My Place, subsequent success and then fall from popularity in the mid-70s, through several subsequent revitalisations, all the way up to the present day with their long-awaited cinematic breakthrough, revolutionary musical feature Annette – throughout Wright keeps the tone light and the pace breezy, allowing a strong and endearing sense of irreverence to rule the day as fans, friends and the brothers themselves offer up fun anecdotes and wax lyrical about what is frequently a larger-than-life tragicomic soap opera, utilising fun, crappy animation and idiosyncratic stock footage inserts alongside talking-head interviews that were made with a decidedly tongue-in-cheek style – Mike Myers good-naturedly rants about how we can see his “damned mole” while 80s New Romantic icons Nick Rhodes and John Taylor, while shot together, are each individually labelled as “Duran”. Ron and Russ themselves, meanwhile, are clearly having huge fun, gently ribbing each other and dropping some fun deadpan zingers throughout proceedings, easily playing to the band’s strong, idiosyncratic sense of hyper-intelligent humour, while the aforementioned celebrity talking-heads are just three amongst a whole wealth of famous faces that may surprise you – there’s even an appearance by Neil Gaiman, guys! Altogether this is 2+ hours of bright and breezy fun chock full of great music and fascinating information, and even hardcore Sparks fans are likely to learn more than a little over the course of the film, while for those who have never heard of Sparks before it’s a FANTASTIC introduction to one of the greatest ever bands that you’ve never heard of. With luck there might even be more than a few new fans before the year is out …
3. GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE – Netflix’ BEST offering of the summer was this surprise hit from Israeli writer-director Navot Papushado (Rabies, Big Bad Wolves), a heavily stylised black comedy action thriller that passes the Bechdel Test with FLYING COLOURS. Playing like a female-centric John Wick, it follows ice-cold, on-top-of-her-game assassin Sam (Karen Gillan) as her latest assignment has some unfortunate side effects, leading her to take on a reparation job to retrieve some missing cash for the local branch of the Irish Mob. The only catch is that a group of thugs have kidnapped the original thief’s little girl, 12 year-old Emily (My Spy’s Chloe Coleman), and Sam, in an uncharacteristic moment of sympathy, decides to intervene, only for the money to be accidentally destroyed in the process. Now she’s got the Mob and her own employers coming after her, and she not only has to save her own skin but also Emily’s, leading her to seek help from the one person she thought she might never see again – her mother, Scarlet (Lena Headey), a master assassin in her own right who’s been hiding from the Mob herself for years. The plot may be simple but at times also a little over-the-top, but the film is never anything less than a pure, unadulterated pleasure, populated with fascinating, living and breathing characters of real complexity and nuance, while the script (co-written by relative newcomer Ehud Lavski) is tightly-reined and bursting with zingers. Most importantly, though, Papushado really delivers on the action front – these are some of the best set-pieces I’ve seen this year, Gillan, her co-stars and the various stunt-performers acquitting themselves admirably in a series of spectacular fights, gun battles and a particularly imaginative car chase that would be the envy of many larger, more expensive productions. Gillan and Coleman have a sweet, awkward chemistry, the MCU star particularly impressing in a subtly nuanced performance that also plays beautifully against Headey’s own tightly controlled turn, while there is awesome support from Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh and Carla Gugino as Sam’s adoptive aunts Anna May, Florence and Madeleine, a trio of “librarians” who run a fine side-line in illicit weaponry and are capable of unleashing some spectacular violence of their own; the film’s antagonists, on the other hand, are exclusively masculine – the mighty Ralph Inneson is quietly ruthless as Irish boss Jim McAlester, while The Terror’s Adam Nagaitis is considerably more mercurial as his mad dog nephew Virgil, and Paul Giamatti is the stately calm at the centre of the storm as Sam’s employer Nathan, the closest thing she has to a father. There’s so much to enjoy in this movie, not just the wonderful characters and amazing action but also the singularly engrossing and idiosyncratic style, deeply affecting themes of the bonds of found family and the healing power of forgiveness, and a rewarding through-line of strong women triumphing against the brutalities of toxic masculinity. I love this film, and I invite you to try it out, cuz I’m sure you will too.
2. THE SUICIDE SQUAD – the most fun I’ve had at the cinema so far this year is the long-awaited (thanks a bunch, COVID) redress of another frustrating imbalance from the decidedly hit and miss DCEU superhero franchise, in which Guardians of the Galaxy writer-director James Gunn has finally delivered a PROPER Suicide Squad movie after David Ayer’s painfully compromised first stab at the property back in 2016. That movie was enjoyable enough and had some great moments, but ultimately it was a clunky mess, and while some of the characters were done (quite) well, others were painfully botched, even ruined entirely. Thankfully Warner Bros. clearly learned their lesson, giving Gunn free reign to do whatever he wanted, and the end result is about as close to perfect as the DCEU has come to date. Once again the peerless Viola Davis plays US government official Amanda Waller, head of ARGUS and the undisputable most evil bitch in all the DC Universe, who presides over the metahuman prisoners of the notorious supermax Belle Reve Prison, cherry-picking inmates for her pet project Taskforce X, the titular Suicide Squad sent out to handle the kind of jobs nobody else wants, in exchange for years off their sentences but controlled by explosive implants injected into the base of their skulls. Their latest mission sees another motley crew of D-bags dispatched to the fictional South African island nation of Corto Maltese to infiltrate Jotunheim, a former Nazi facility in which a dangerous extra-terrestrial entity that’s being developed into a fearful bioweapon, with orders to destroy the project in order to keep it out of the hands of a hostile anti-American regime which has taken control of the island through a violent coup. Where the first Squad felt like a clumsily-arranged selection of stereotypes with a few genuinely promising characters unsuccessfully moulded into a decidedly forced found family, this new batch are convincingly organic – they may be dysfunctional and they’re all almost universally definitely BAD GUYS, but they WORK, the relationship dynamics that form between them feeling genuinely earned. Gunn has already proven himself a master of putting a bunch of A-holes together and forging them into band of “heroes”, and he’s certainly pulled the job off again here, dredging the bottom of the DC Rogues Gallery for its most ridiculous Z-listers and somehow managing to make them compelling. Sure, returning Squad-member Harley Quinn (the incomparable Margot Robbie, magnificent as ever) has already become a fully-realised character thanks to Birds of Prey, so there wasn’t much heavy-lifting to be done here, but Gunn genuinely seems to GET the character, so our favourite pixie-esque Agent of Chaos is an unbridled and thoroughly unpredictable joy here, while fellow veteran Colonel Rick Flagg (a particularly muscular and thoroughly game Joel Kinnaman) has this time received a much needed makeover, Gunn promoting him from being the first film’s sketchily-drawn “Captain Exposition” and turning him into a fully-ledged, well-thought-out human being with all the requisite baggage, including a newfound sense of humour; the newcomers, meanwhile, are a thoroughly fascinating bunch – reluctant “leader” Bloodsport/Robert DuBois (a typically robust and playful Idris Elba), unapologetic douchebag Peacemaker/Christopher Smith (probably the best performance I’ve EVER seen John Cena deliver), and socially awkward and seriously hard-done-by nerd (and by far the most idiotic DC villain of all time) the Polka-Dot Man/Abner Krill (a genuinely heart-breaking hangdog performance from Ant-Man’s David Dastmalchian); meanwhile there’s a fine trio of villainous turns from the film’s resident Big Bads, with Juan Diego Botta (Good Behaviour) and Joaquin Cosio (Quantum of Solace, Narcos: Mexico) making strong impressions as newly-installed dictator Silvio Luna and his corrupt right hand-man General Suarez, although both are EASILY eclipsed by the typically brilliant Peter Capaldi as louche and quietly deranged supervillain The Thinker/Gaius Greives (although the film’s ULTIMATE threat turns out to be something a whole lot bigger and more exotic). The film is ROUNDLY STOLEN, however, by a truly adorable double act (or TRIPLE act, if you want to get technical) – Daniella Melchior makes her breakthrough here in fine style as sweet, principled and kind-hearted narcoleptic second-generation supervillain Ratcatcher II/Cleo Cazo, who has the weird ability to control rats (and who has a pet rat named Sebastian who frequently steals scenes all on his own), while a particular fan-favourite B-lister makes his big screen debut here in the form of King Shark/Nanaue, a barely sentient anthropomorphic Great White “shark god” with an insatiable appetite for flesh and a naturally quizzical nature who was brilliantly mo-capped by Steve Agee (The Sarah Silverman Project, who also plays Waller’s hyperactive assistant John Economos) but then artfully completed with an ingenious vocal turn from Sylvester Stallone. James Gunn has crafted an absolute MASTERPIECE here, EASILY the best film he’s made to date, a riotous cavalcade of exquisitely observed and perfectly delivered dark humour and expertly wrangled narrative chaos that has great fun playing with the narrative flow, injects countless spot-on in-jokes and irreverent but utterly essential throwaway sight-gags, and totally endears us to this glorious gang of utter morons right from the start (in which Gunn delivers what has to be one of the most skilful deep-fakes in cinematic history). Sure, there’s also plenty of action, and it’s executed with the kind of consummate skill we’ve now come to expect from Gunn (the absolute highlight is a wonderfully bonkers sequence in which Harley expertly rescues herself from captivity), but like everything else it’s predominantly played for laughs, and there’s no getting away from the fact that this film is an absolute RIOT. By far the funniest thing I’ve seen so far this year, and if I’m honest this is the best of the DCEU offerings to date, too (for me, only the exceptional Birds of Prey can compare) – if Warner Bros. have any sense they’ll give Gunn more to do VERY SOON …
1. A QUIET PLACE, PART II – while UK cinemas finally reopened in early May, I was determined that my first trip back to the Big Screen for 2021 was gonna be something SPECIAL, and indeed I already knew what that was going to be. Thankfully I was not disappointed by my choice – 2018’s A Quiet Place was MY VERY FAVOURITE horror movie of the 2010s, an undeniable masterclass in suspense and sustained screen terror wrapped around a refreshingly original killer concept, and I was among the many fans hoping we’d see more in the future, especially after the film’s teasingly open ending. Against the odds (or perhaps not), writer-director/co-star John Krasinski has pulled off the seemingly impossible task of not only following up that high-wire act, but genuinely EQUALLING it in levels of quality – picking up RIGHT where the first film left off (at least after an AMAZING scene-setting opening in which we’re treated to the events of Day 1 of the downfall of humanity), rejoining the remnants of the Abbott family as they’re forced by circumstances to up-sticks from their idyllic farmhouse home and strike out into the outside world once more, painfully aware at all times that they must maintain perfect silence to avoid the ravenous attentions of the lethal blind alien beasties that now sit at the top of the food chain. Circumstances quickly become dire, however, and embattled mother Evelyn (Emily Blunt) is forced to ally herself with estranged family friend Emmett (Cillian Murphy), now a haunted, desperate vagrant eking out a perilous existence in an abandoned factory, in order to safeguard the future of her children Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Marcus (Noah Jupe) and their newborn baby brother. Regan, however, discovers evidence of more survivors, and with her newfound weapon against the aliens she recklessly decides to set off on her own in the hopes of aiding them before it’s too late … it may only be his second major blockbuster as a director, but Krasinski has once again proven he’s a true heavyweight talent, effortlessly carving out fresh ground in this already magnificently well-realised dystopian universe while also playing magnificently to the established strengths of what came before, delivering another peerless thrill-ride of unbearable tension and knuckle-whitening terror. The central principle of utilising sound at a very strict premium is once again strictly adhered to here, available sources of dialogue once again exploited with consummate skill while sound design and score (another moody triumph from Marco Beltrami) again become THE MOST IMPORTANT aspects of the whole production. The ruined world is once again realised beautifully throughout, most notably in the nightmarish environment of a wrecked commuter train, and Krasinski cranks up the tension before unleashing it in merciless explosions in a selection of harrowing encounters which guaranteed to leave viewers in a puddle of sweat. The director mostly stays behind the camera this time round, but he does (obviously) put in an appearance in the opening flashback as the late Lee Abbott, making a potent impression which leaves a haunting absence that’s keenly felt throughout the remainder of the film, while Blunt continues to display mother lion ferocity as she fights to keep her children safe and Jupe plays crippling fear magnificently but is now starting to show a hidden spine of steel as Marcus finally starts to find his courage; the film once again belongs, however, to Simmonds, the young deaf actress once and for all proving she’s a genuine star in the making as she invests Regan with fierce wilfulness and stubborn determination that remains unshakeable even in the face of unspeakable horrors, and the relationship she develops with Emmett, reluctant as it may be, provides a strong new emotional focus for the story, Murphy bringing an attractive wounded humanity to his role as a man who’s lost anything and is being forced to learn to care for something again. This is another triumph of the genre AND the artform in general, a masterpiece of atmosphere, performance and storytelling which builds magnificently on the skilful foundations laid by the first film, as well as setting things up perfectly for a third instalment which is all but certain to follow. I definitely can’t wait.
Top 10 Films of Summer 2021
After much delay, the summer movie season finally returned in 2021 with a hybrid mix of theatrical, streaming, and day and date releases. We look at the top ten best movies the summer movie season had to offer. That felt like it would take forever right? 2019 was such a smash of a summer movie season with high-profile releases like Avengers: Endgame, Toy Story 4, Spider-Man: Far From Home, and…
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Milana Vayntrub in Werewolves Within
Werewolves Within [trailer]
When a killer terrorizes the snowed-in residents of a small town, it falls to the new forest ranger to find out who - or what - lurks among them.
What a fun little movie. Very entertaining, funny and increasingly tense. Deserves to be much more widely seen.
A wise decision that they didn't actively promote the fact that the movie's based on a video game. Which seems highly irrelevant anyway.
It’s a 'middle of the road' film. Enjoyable once, forgotten pretty much straight afterwards. We’ve seen far worse horror movies, comedy horror movies and video game movie adaptions.
Have you ever played Werewolves Within? Have you even heard of it? I hadn’t. So imagine my surprise when this movie came along stating it was based on the ‘hit’ video game. If you’re as confused by that as I was, let me enlighten you. Werewolves Within is a video game. A VR game for Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR, developed by Red Storm Entertainment and published by Ubisoft and…
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Harvey Guillén as Joaquim Wolfson in Werewolves Within (2021)
Werewolves Within by Constantine Sekeris
WEREWOLVES WITHIN (2021) dir. Josh Ruben
Well, we're having a good old fashioned sleepover. With guns though. With guns yes.
Werewolves Within (2021) dir. Josh Ruben
Milana Vayntrub in Werewolves Within (2021)