My weekly movie reviews. You can also read these on letterboxd.
Rating: 1.5 out of 5 Stars
I was so tempted to give this film an obvious one word review. It seems pointless to list my complaints in the current cinematic landscape but nevertheless, I shall state them for the record.
First off, I want to ask if anyone else found it odd and a little trouble that African-American filmmaker Jordan Peele had a chance to show African-American horse wranglers in a film industry setting, something not commonly (or ever?) portrayed, and he makes them both incompetent. David Kaluuya isn’t capable of giving a simple public speech to protect his horse and the talent. Keke Palmer is an irresponsible goofball who also exhibits zero professionalism. Moments later, when the horse kicks, it’s their fault and no one else’s. They should have insisted on a clear safety meeting (notice they’re not even the ones that called for it). They should have asked what objects would be placed in front of and around the horse. Nope. May I suggest for a moment that the scene would have been played a different way: a rushed production crew insists they are behind schedule and at least one of the two black wranglers is trying desperately to be heard about having a necessary safety meeting when no one will listen, resulting in an accident. That would have been 1. Realistic to how film sets are often run poorly. 2. Shown the black wranglers to be professionals, not nincompoops.
Did anyone else find it odd that Kaluuya has little to no reaction to even the most tragic things that happen around him? I don’t know a single person, especially a horse person, who would watch someone slump over in a saddle and not start to move, especially when they fall out of the saddle onto the ground. Seriously? I couldn’t figure it out and assumed early on that Kaluuya might be playing a mentally challenged character. Nope. I finally realized this was just a terrible creative/acting decision by actor and director.
The list goes on. Nearly every plot point is pointless and the rest contrived. The whole chimpanzee flashback is needlessly violent and features a terrible CGI chimp. Why? Peele develops his themes no more than his characters, who remain the same from the beginning of the film to the end. It’s nice to see Michael Wincott again but I didn’t believe him as a cinematographer for one moment (and I’ve known a lot of DPs). The only thing that works in this movie is the concept of the spaceship, a novel idea mired by inconsistency (why didn’t it rain blood in the first scene… oh, because the filmmaker conveniently didn’t want it to) and completely ruined by an over-bloated ending. It feels like Peele is trying to play Spielberg but he has neither the skill nor the wit to pull it off. The finale drags on so long, I just about went to the restroom just to take a break.
Does anyone involved in this understand a thing about horses or even what makes a good movie? Nope.
Watched at Galaxy Theaters.
China Girl (1987)
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Could this be the best of Abel Ferrera’s 80s/90s polished period? It’s certainly a significant improvement on Fear City and strikes me as a stronger work than the over-praised King of New York and Bad Lieutenant (both of which I plan to revisit soon).
Somehow, Ferrera may have made the most interesting riff on Romeo and Juliet with this slick, violent 80s thriller. One of he and screenwriter Nicholas St. John’s brilliant moves is to elaborate on nothing. The romance between our interracial pair is not given any explanation. It’s pure teenage love/lust. They meet. They’re in love. Most filmmakers would have tried to make us believe it. Ferrera just shows it to us and if we don’t buy it, tough luck. The same goes for the race war going on between the Italians and Chinese. It’s refreshingly given no background. We are simply thrown into the middle of two gangs that don’t like each other. The rest is blood and death.
The movie looks amazing, perhaps his most visually beautiful movie (that I’ve seen so far). I don’t know if it has been recently restored but the image is so pristine, I swear this was made yesterday. I also love the performance, from a young James Russo to the young lovers Richard Panebianco and Sari Chang (how did these two not become major names?). Everyone plays it with such sincerity. Like Ferrera’s approach, they just give it to us with no padding and it works.
Watched on Tubi.
The Reckoning (2020)
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Definitely do not go into The Reckoning expecting the gritty, raw approach Neil Marshall took with Dog Soldiers and The Descent. This is a totally different take on the horror genre, featuring a highly-stylized, almost glamorous lighting, thick mist running down stair steps like 40s Hollywood movie, and bright saturated visuals.
It’s interesting to watch Marshall do something different but at the same time, the results are mostly unsuccessful. Charlotte Kirk, definitely an actress on my radar now, does her best with a script that too often goes in predictable directions. We’ve seen this story told so many times and I wish the director/actress-producer had done something new with it, much like the brilliant Hellbender brought a new twist to the witchcraft subgenre earlier this year. The ending in particular trades in what could have been some powerful and tragic pay-offs for warm, fuzzy feelings.
I think Marshall still has the potential to be one of the best genre filmmakers out there. I hope he can get back on track.
Watched on Shudder
The Evil That Men Do (1984)
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
In its first half, The Evil That Men Do shapes up to be one of the better efforts in the long collaboration between Charles Bronson and J. Lee Thompson. It has a great premise, the hunt for a sadistic doctor who makes a living off torture. It has a tight script and Bronson isn’t just playing another cookie cutter vigilante.
But then the film starts to get stupid. The three supposedly expert bodyguards who protect the evil doctor are disposed of with ease. Soon, Bronson feels like an invincible assassin… yawn. The lack of a strong female love interest doesn’t help either. Was Ireland the only woman who consistently played well with Bronson?
The one saving grace is a pretty memorable finale. If I was remaking this I’d lean harder into the torture element and take it into Marty