Category Archives: Film Review

Unicorn Store

Unicorn Store (2017)

A woman named Kit receives a mysterious invitation that would fulfill her childhood dreams.

Starring: Brie Larson • Samuel L. Jackson • Joan Cusack

*Minor spoilers*

A real quickie on Brie Larson‘s directorial debut, which appeared on Netflix this weekend. Reuniting Samuel. L with his Captain Marvel co-star, Unicorn Store is as whimsical and abstract as they come.

Kit (Larson) is a woman-child not doing so great. Failing at art school (at least in the eyes of her beloved professor), she finds herself back home, living in her parents’ basement. Her parents are well-meaning enough (played by blog favourite Joan Cusack, and Bradley Whitford) but are distracted by their new pet project and employee, Kevin (Karan Soni).

Adopt me please, Joan

Channel-hopping one day, Kit stumbles across an ad for a temp agency and decides to join the rat race as a new and improved version of herself. One who dresses appropriately for the office and drinks coffee.

Kit does pretty okay at her new assignment, particularly when her quirky nature catches the attention of her (creepy) boss – but her focus soon shifts onto more magical things when she receives a series of mysterious invitations to a secret location.

Someone didn’t get the memo about Wednesdays

At The Store, Kit meets The Salesman (Jackson) who puts her through a series of tasks to prove she’s ready for the ultimate challenge – to care for a real life unicorn. Yep, I told you it was whimsical.

Kit, you see, has been dreaming of this since she was a child and there’s practically nobody else more qualified for the role. Still she has to prove she can keep it fed and surrounded by all the love she can, which means making sure her relationship with her family is in tip top condition.

When she hires Virgil (Mamoudou Athie) to help her build a unicorn stable, it seems like she might be opening herself up for a different kind of connection but how’s he going to take news of the unicorn?

Virg(il)ing on the ridiculous

While this is sweet enough and I did appreciate it, it’s perhaps just a little bit too cutesy for me. I stan Brie Larson so I was on board with the character of Kit – and I do appreciate a surrealist indie. I really enjoyed Virgil too, a somewhat reluctant partner-in-crime who soon gives himself over to the concept of adventure.

Larson’s increasingly flamboyant wardrobe definitely deserves a mention as does Kit’s assistant Sabrina (Martha MacIsaac), who harbors her own dream – to open an Etsy store selling jewellery shaped like miniature food.

Will Kit get her unicorn – or is all an elaborate con?

US is abstract but really it’s about putting away childish things and accepting adulthood – while still keeping just a little bit of magic back. Which is a cool message and one I personally endorse.

⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Fighting With My Family

Fighting With My Family (2019)

A former wrestler and his family make a living performing at small venues around the country while his kids dream of joining World Wrestling Entertainment.

Starring: Florence Pugh • Dwayne Johnson • Lena Headey • Vince Vaughn • Nick Frost

*Minor spoilers*

I love an underdog movie and the true story of Paige the WWE diva is a really satisfying watch. Sure, there aren’t many surprises and the narrative is pretty formulaic – but there’s a comfort in that.

If I’m honest I didn’t expect to love it as much and I think that’s mostly down to the casting. Saraya Knight AKA Britani Knight AKA Paige is played by the lovely Florence Pugh – an actress who first blew me away in Lady Macbeth.

Hands up if you love Florence Pugh!

As Saraya – or Ray to her family – tackles minor success and then the absolute brutality of what fame and fortune really requires from her, Pugh takes her through every emotion. Elation, guilt, despair – determination. She is an absolute joy to watch.

Ray’s family are a dream too – in the form of Mum Julia (Lena Headey) and Dad Ricky (Nick Frost) – and brother Zak (Jack Lowden), her wrestling partner-in-crime. The unit live and breathe the sport and run their own, barely surviving wrestling gym. Both Ray and Zak teach the community kids and generally keep them out of trouble and off the streets.

The kids and all the side characters peppered around the gym are really fun, as are the appearances of Hugh (director Stephen Merchant) and Daphne (Julia Davis) – straight-laced parents of Zak’s baby mama. The dinner party scene really made me chuckle a lot.

Adopt me, please.

When the siblings finally get the opportunity of a lifetime to audition in front of WWE trainer (Vince Vaughn), it has massive consequences for the family and Ray – and more so for the relationship between brother and sister. In both good and bad ways.

Ray travels to Florida to try out with the big boys and girls – and the standard could not be more different. Can she embrace who she really is and find her own place in this world?

There are some really interesting themes explored here – not least the devastation of being left behind felt by Zak. As his sister lives out their shared dream, he has to come to terms with focusing on a new one and it takes him a while.

In happier times…

Ray has to decide how much she really wants to be part of the WWE’s main roster and – who knew – the girl also has a lot of growing up to do. Well, she is only EIGHTEEN.

She (now going by Paige) struggles with the other girls, making lofty assumptions about them because they’re mostly models and dancers. Her illusion that they deserve their places in try-outs less than she does her no favours. Can she claw it back with these women and make a couple of much-needed friends along the way?

“Think we’re gonna need some Girl Power in this joint ASAP…”

Well, thankfully there’s a shift in both perspective and fortune for Paige – and I loved it. As soon as the girls start working together, it gets better for all of them. They’re even there are the end when Paige inevitably overcomes all her self-doubt, her guilt and her demons to absolutely smash it.

FWMF is funny, sweet, touching and very good. I’m a fan of the feel-good and now I want to know everything there is to know about the real Paige.

I definitely recommend catching this while it’s still in the theater.

⭐⭐⭐⭐½ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel (2019)

Carol Danvers becomes one of the universe’s most powerful heroes when Earth is caught in the middle of a galactic war between two alien races.

Starring: Brie Larson • Samuel L. Jackson • Jude Law

*Minor Spoilers*

Vers is a Starforce member on Hala, the Kree Empire’s capital planet. Under the tutelage of her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), she is learning how to become a fine warrior. Which is all well and good but she’s haunted by nightmares that she doesn’t understand and a past she can’t remember.

Bestowed with special powers given to her by the Kree, Carol is urged by the Supreme Intelligence to think less with her emotions and more with her head, something she very much struggles with because she’s a fucking woman and what are we? That’s right: too sensitive.

“We have to arm wrestle, it’s the Law.”

During her first mission with Starforce, shit hits the fan when the team stumble into a Skrull ambush and Vers is taken hostage by their kingpin, Talos (Ben Mendelsohn). Skrulls FYI are alien shape-shifters and the Kree’s arch enemy.

Anyway, Vers manages to escape their evil clutches and plunges to Earth where she promptly meets a very familiar face, Shield agent Mr. Nick Fury. While he’s skeptical about Vers’ very honest account of what she’s doing on this planet, he soon sees enough evidence for himself that she might just be telling the truth.

Carol was a pro at staring

What follows is a cute road trip for two as Fury and Vers search for the mysterious Dr. Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening) who seems to hold the key not only to what the Skrulls are after but who Vers might really be.

I really enjoyed The Carol Danvers story. It’s female-centric in a way none of the Marvel movies have been so far (although there have been moments) but its done really well, without hammering the point home. I buy Brie Larson completely as a pilot and I absolutely love her chemistry with Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).

Girls 4 eva

She’s a competent, likeable hero who can kick arse with or without her fiery fists – and she’s true to herself, learning that it’s okay to think with your heart and not your head if you damn well please. This is a battle I have constantly with myself so I really connect with that aspect of the narrative.

There are a few surprises along the way and it’s genuinely touching to follow Vers/Carol as she pieces together the life she had before she ended up on Hala. While I don’t want to give too much away to those who haven’t caught this movie yet, there is a ‘twist’ you can see coming a mile off. If I’m honest as soon as I saw Jude Law’s goddamn beautiful face, it was already planted in my mind. But I don’t think it ruins anything really.

Green with envy over that big gun

Comic relief in the form of Goose the cat (played by no less than three stunt kitties) is fun and there are moments it veers into Guardians of the Galaxy territory with its humour (which could never be a bad thing). I really like both Maria Rambeau and her daughter Monica (played respectively by Lashana Lynch and Akira Akbar).

There’s such sadness in Maria, who believed her best friend to be dead and now has to come to terms with the fact that she’s alive and doesn’t remember their former life and adventures together. But there’s hope too, of course and yey for that.

Flame emoji forever

Okay so this might not be the very best Marvel film ever made and sometimes it’s just little too spacey for my personal taste – I much prefer the fish out of water on earth aspect of the story – but it’s a strong start and a pleasing introduction to a character I knew little about (DC Girl, innit).

Carol’s presence in End Game is going to be very welcome and I’m extremely excited for next month.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Update: I can’t believe I hit Publish on this post without gushing about the soundtrack. It’s 90’s perfection and every tune is a bop. Special mention to the mighty Just a Girl by No Doubt which was my teen anthem.

Goose: the best Avenger?

The Aftermath

The Aftermath (2019)

Post World War II, a British colonel and his wife are assigned to live in Hamburg during the post-war reconstruction, but tensions arise with the German who previously owned the house.

Starring: Keira Knightley • Jason Clarke • Alexander Skarsgård

*Minor Spoilers*

I always know I’m going to have a good time when Keira Knightley is wafting about in period costume. It’s just something I enjoy, sue me. Is she the greatest actress of our generation? Hell no but she looks good doing it and I like her, so there.

In this she is Rachael, the wife of a colonel stationed in Hamburg after World War II. On arriving at her new home, a grand house commandeered from a German man and his daughter, Rachael is shocked to see what the war torn city actually looks like.

Cheer up, love

She’s uncomfortable in her new digs which isn’t helped by the fact her husband, Lewis (Jason Clarke) is largely AWOL, leaving her alone for long stretches. She’s further aggrieved when Lewis decides to let widower Stefan (super babe Alexander Skarsgård) and his teenage daughter Heike remain in the house instead of moving to the camps.

Heike is understandably fucked off to be banished to the attic of her own home and enjoys rebelling against polite behaviour. Lewis for the most part is a compassionate man who feel sympathy for the Germans while still having to bring the 88 (Nazi Party) to justice.

Stefan just misses his dead wife and wants life to go back to the way it was, while Rachael is fighting her own battle, the loss of her son who was killed in a London air strike. It soon becomes clear that Lewis has been throwing himself into work instead of comforting his wife (and facing his own grief), giving us more of an understanding of what’s bubbling beneath the surface of their marriage.

“I’ll have you know I give great head…”

When Lewis is required to go away for an extended period, Rachael begs him to stay for once in his life – to sort out their differences sure but also to nip her burgeoning attraction to Stefan in the bud…

In the meantime, Heike is getting into her own mischief, involving herself with the worst kind of bad boy, a Nazi sympathiser. You just know that can’t end well.

The Aftermath looks amazing obviously, while the chemistry between Keira and my boy Alexander is hot AF. As the two do a very poor job of fighting their attraction to one another, they also bond over their respective losses. Is this enough though for them both to start over?

Well, I expected there to be more of a twist if I’m honest. There’s quite a bit of hinting about Stefan’s own affiliation with the Führer and I wanted there to be more to the story than there was. However, the ending is sweet and hopeful, and although Jason Clarke seriously reminds me of a young, better-looking Piers Morgan, I was rooting for him.

Just one of the swishy dresses on display

This is a pretty looking lament on grief and seeing things through to the bitter end. It won’t be particularly memorable but isn’t the worst way to spend a couple of hours. Plus, KK wears at least three iconic frocks which will stick fondly in my memory. So there is that at least.

⭐⭐⭐½ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Hell Fest

Hell Fest (2019)

A masked serial killer turns a horror-themed amusement park into his own personal playground, terrorizing a group of friends while the rest of the patrons believe that it is all part of the show.

Starring: Bex Taylor-Klaus • Reign Edwards • Amy Forsyth • Tony Todd

*Minor Spoilers*

Some movies are just perfect to watch around Halloween. Hell Fest would definitely be one of them. I couldn’t wait until October though and treated myself this afternoon because there’s nothing better than a Saturday afternoon horror sesh in bed with the lights off.

Hell Fest isn’t truly original but it is fun and centers around six actually quite likeable young people, including Taylor (played by Bex Taylor-Klaus, who I loved in both The Killing (2013) and Scream: The TV Series (2015)).

When scholarship student Natalie (Amy Forsyth) returns home to visit her BFF Brooke (Reign Edwards), she’s bummed to learn that her former roommate has replaced her with Taylor, a girl she doesn’t really like. To cheer her up, Brooke persuades Nat to come to Hell Fest, sweetening the deal with talk of Gavin (Roby Attal), her long-time crush being there – and asking after her to boot.

What could possibly go wrong?

Along with Taylor and their boyfriends, the six meet and agree a plan of action for Halloween Night’s activities – go hard or go home. Even Taylor and Natalie start to get on as they navigate the Hell Fest park, but Nat is a cynic and not easily frightened.

Things change when she witnesses ‘a murder’ that feels very real and the perpetrator, a very committed park employee (or is he?), starts stalking the group. Convinced something’s not right and that some of the effects are just a little too realistic, things take an even darker turn when Gavin disappears and one by one so do the rest of the gang…

What’s the mask-wearing stalker’s deal though and is most of it in Natalie’s head? *Spoiler – of course fucking not*

Don’t lose your head

I thought the setting of this was fantastic and has forever cemented my resolve not to return to Shocktober Fest for the fourth year running (they wanted us to put sacks over our heads last time, nothankyouverymuch). It’s relateable because I can remember what it feel like to be followed onto the Haunted Hayride by a dude with a chainsaw.

There’s a special vulnerability to being frightened in the dark but also trusting that everything you see is an illusion – and then finding out that it’s all a lie – and I like the way this is used. There’s a really tense scene in a ghost train which I really enjoyed, it takes me back to all the rides I’ve ever enjoyed. And hated because they were shit.

The kills are imaginative and disgusting for the most part and as mentioned above, as I actually like the kids I care about them when they’re knocked off and cheer when they get away. I think the ending is interesting too in a sort of Michael Myers/unexplained mystery of the human psyche kind of way.

Scream if you want to go faster

And of course, a cameo from horror legend (and my personal fave) Tony Todd could never hurt. I dug it – and will definitely be revisiting come October.

It’s already been added to my 30 Horrors list for 2019.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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If Beale Street Could Talk

If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

A woman in Harlem embraces her pregnancy while she and her family struggle to prove her fiancé innocent of a crime.

Starring: KiKi Layne • Stephan James • Regina King • Brian Tyree Henry • Dave Franco

TW: Sexual Assault

Honestly, if Beale Street could talk I don’t think it would because it would be too busy snoozing in the middle row of the theater, next to a teenage boy cracking his knuckles.

This movie is sooooooo boring. Aggressively boring in fact and I couldn’t wait for it to end. With a run time of almost 2 hours, I felt every single minute. Luckily my viewing partner was on the same page so I didn’t feel quite so bad when I didn’t like it at all (not that that normally matters).

Are the critics and people who loved this so much talking about the same film? I am so disappointed. Barry Jenkins is, of course, the director behind 2016’s masterpiece Moonlight so to say I went it with high hopes is an understatement. I even packed a wad of tissues expecting to sniffle my way through.

Well, I didn’t tear up once and that, my friends, is a bad sign. I can’t sit through an episode of Hollyoaks without bawling but as the end credits played, I was dry eyed with my heart of stone firmly intact.

Credit: Annapurna Pictures

*Minor spoilers*

I suppose I should go into the things I did like, which will be easy because it’s a short list featuring just two words: Regina King. Thank God for her because without I probably would have walked out. If I’m being extra generous, the story-line – of a black man falsely accused of sexual assault – is also interesting in its own right. Had this focused more on the crime element of the story, I think I would have been way more engaged. There’s a segment in which Sharon Rivers (Tish’s mum) travels to South America to speak to the victim which is very good.

I can’t say this isn’t an important movie, it’s the kind of movie I want to see and it has a lot to say about society – and similar neighbourhoods and black communities across the US. It makes you think about all the innocent men who go to their death just because they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time – and only because of the colour of their skin. It’s sickening and this is just one story in a pool of thousands.

I just wish it was better. Based on the James Baldwin novel of the same name, it focuses on the love between Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James), childhood sweethearts with their whole lives ahead of them. When Fonny is wrongly accused of a brutal sexual assault, Tish and their families are forced to do everything they can to prove his innocence. Which is made all the more vital when Tish discovers she’s pregnant with Fonny’s baby.

The film takes us back and forth on the timeline of their relationship, giving us a glimpse of two kids at play in the tub together – to the conception of their adult relationship (then their baby) – to present day – and right back again. That’s not hard to follow and I like how the film looks, I suppose. Some of the lighting is gorgeous and the soundtrack is nice too.

No shade to any of the performances either. In addition to the skill of Ms King, newcomer Layne does okay. Tish just isn’t that exciting and there are times she irritates me with her doe-eyed innocence. Tish’s fiery sister Ernestine (Teyonah Parris) is great too.

There’s also some interesting support in the shape of the mighty Brian Tyree Henry, Diego Luna and even Dave Franco.

Stephan James’ Fonny isn’t a character I particularly care for. There are times he takes his frustrations out on Tish and although I get what they represent, I didn’t like it. And there’s a lot of meaningful eye contact which I could do without. Talking of which – the extended ‘cherry popping’ scene was unnecessary and a little awkward.

Dance your way into a better movie, guys

So you could say this was not a hit with me at all. I don’t regret seeing it but I have no emotional attachment to the central characters at all. I’m not surprised it didn’t appear as a Best Picture nominee this year, although Regina King has been rightly recognised for Supporting Actress.

⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Climax

Climax (2018)

*Minor spoilers*

TW: Violence, pregnancy, suicide.

Gaspar Noé and I share a complicated relationship. I just love to hate him and all because of the terrible, over-sexed Love (my review of it here). I always feel like he’s done more than just that to warrant this reaction but he really hasn’t.

Irreversible (2002) is not a bad film, however brutal and difficult it is to stomach and those, until this morning, were the only Noé films I had seen. 

And now there’s Climax.

I bloody loved it!

It still sports all the classic Noé trademarks: the hyper-real dialogue, the not very likeable characters, the rapid descent in madness and Hell – but it’s brilliant. I’ve rented it on Amazon Prime and I’m tempted to go back for another watch because honestly, I was gripped from the get go.

I don’t want to give anything away because – and I say this a lot within my ‘reviews’ – I went in with little to no knowledge of the plot. My lovely friend Matt and I listen to a podcast called Evolution of Horror and during their 2018 horror movie review, the host Mike Mucher and guest discussed their favourite movies of the year. Climax was one of them.

All I remember about it is that they compared it to Suspiria (2018) and coined the term Dance Horror, a sub-genre I am very much here for.

In 1996, 20 French urban dancers gather in an abandoned dance school (familiar?) for a three-day rehearsal before they embark on a tour of the US. In high spirits and gagging for a party to celebrate their hard work, the collective enjoy a night swilling sangria and getting crazy. As there are so many characters it does get quite challenging to keep up with who’s who and more importantly, who’s banging who. As you’d expect, all those writhing nubile bodies need somewhere to connect and so there’s a whole lot of coupling going on.

David (Romain Guillermic) is with group leader Selva (Sofia Boutella) but boasts that he’s fucked every other woman in the troupe on the side. One of dancers ‘jokes’ that he must be riddled with STDs. He’s literally the worst (a classic Noé fuck boi) and the way he talks about women makes me look forward to all he’s got coming to him.

Gazelle (Giselle Palmer) has been dating Omar (Adrien Sissoko) for nine months, much to the disgust of her older brother who maintains that just ‘cos he can have his dick sucked any time he likes, it doesn’t mean she gets to suck any. (This is just a slice of the kind of conversation you can expect from the group, it’s coarse, misogynistic AF and rife with double standard).

We also have Emmanuelle (Claude-Emmanuelle Gajan-Maull), a single mum with her son Tito in tow, secretly pregnant dancer Lou (Souheila Yacoub) who has no clue who the father is and young Riley (Lakdhar Dridi), who’s determined to get his cherry popped tonight, preferably by David.

Psyche (Thea Carla Schott) and her lover Ivana (Sharleen Temple) are a couple on the rocks while Daddy (Kiddy Smile) watches over the flock, a grinning teddy bear on the decks. There are many other side characters and nobody here is all that relateable or nice. However, I did feel small mounts of sympathy when things get real quickly. Even David warrants some later on, however fleeting.

Climax works beautifully. It descends into horror and chaos quickly, after a very healthy intro. In fact, the actual opening title sequence starts around halfway through the film (while the closing credits appear at the beginning, and the title card at the very end). The dance sequences are enjoyable and much more accessible that the artistic moves of Suspiria. There’s a lot of Vogue-ing going on and all those limbs! These kids can contort in ways I never knew possible.

Later these shapes and movements will come back to haunt us as grotesque background pieces. Again, without giving too much away, shit kicks off and the troupe quickly begins to unravel. Former alliances crumble as distrust grows and pack mentality wins out. People are punished for imagined crimes (horribly) while others are pressured into taking their own action.

As the horror escalates we follow Selva and friends through the gateway to twenty personal nightmares. Things become disorientated, camera angles turn on their head. The use of colour is very effective, and reminiscent of a lot of Noé’s work – and just adds to the feeling of control slipping through our fingers, even as viewer.

Each room in the school becomes it’s own grimy vignette and you don’t know what’s coming next, what you’re walking into. And the sound – the screams and the yelling as they echo around the building – they hint at unimaginable horror.

I can imagine that anyone going into this with the expectation of traditional horror might be disappointed. I’ve read a few reviews that suggest that apart from some clever camera work not all that much happens. I disagree and the more I think about it the more I love it. It might not follow the rules of your average slasher nor submit to a supernatural narrative but that in some ways makes it worse. The dark side of human nature is terrifying and in this claustrophobic setting, with the lights off and the doors locked – what could be worse than losing control of all your senses?

I wouldn’t say I’m a newly converted Gaspar Noé fan but I suppose I’ll be open to what he does next. I still don’t think I’ll ever be ready for Enter the Void (2009) though.

⭐⭐⭐⭐½ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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