Category Archives: 4/5

Netflix Film Review “Calibre” (2018) #NetflixReviews

read the 150 word review here

debut solo feature … a remarkable accomplishment.

Two thirty-ish childhood friends, Vaughn (Jack Lowden) and Marcus (Martin McCann), meet up after a few years for a weekend away in Scotland to celebrate Vaughn’s impending fatherhood; a kind of paternity stag do. Ironically, to hunt stags — all at Marcus’ expense. But when an incident happens, their trip is turned into a nightmare that which will change their lives forever.

There’s an awful sense of inevitability from the very start of the film, even before the truly shocking and gut-wrenching inciting incident. We know something awful is going to go down. The film gripped me with a suspense I haven’t felt for a while.

The countryside, almost a character itself, oozes Britishness and is both beautiful and haunting. Indeed, the cinematography is beautiful and effective throughout, never drawing attention to itself but is quite magnificent. I particularly enjoyed one shot of Vaughn’s dinner. The sound design is understated but truly powerful and sells the film magnificently. 

The writing is tight and fat-free but never feels shoehorned or with an inevitable end-point. The film is marked by highly convincing motives and actions and reactions from all of our characters throughout. This is sold by some truly phenomenal acting, including from supporting characters.

Vaughn, a shy but nice bloke; Marcus, his larger-than-life but slightly unbalanced friend. We get the impression that Vaughn had emotionally distant parents and was a bully victim; Marcus seems to have the self-confidence and slightly self-destructive side afforded by a more privileged upbringing. But almost all of this was subtly and carefully implied rather than being explicitly stated. It felt like our two leads had a lot of backstory to work with and were therefore able to deliver a very convincing throughline. The film’s first act sees them having a highly believable lad’s bonding session. If you’re a man, this kind of sesh will definitely be familiar, true man-on-man bromantic bonding.

The finale was satisfying and totally appropriate with a final shot which made us feel complicit.

Calibre reminded me of the excellent Eden Lake: a tranquil countryside retreat, an incident in a forest, local townsfolk who seems a little on edge and present a constant threat. But in recalling Eden Lake, a truly gritty and realistic movie, Calibre made me realise how theatrical Eden Lake was by comparison. I was fully gripped and absorbed, whereas Eden Lake now seems a little bit “horror movie”, emphasis on “movie”.

This was writer-director Matt Palmer’s first solo feature length film after several horror short films. So the title “debutant” seems a little inappropriate. None-the-less, this is a debut solo feature, and it a remarkable accomplishment.

This film was tense and boding from the outset. It’s hard to think of how this could have been improved. Everything was magnificent. I am sorely tempted to give this a five star rating, but I only give five star reviews to films that I immediately think, “Wow, this will go down as one of the greatest movies in history”. Calibre was too simple a story and too simply told to ever be classed as one of cinema’s greatest works. But even though Calibre may not have changed the cinematic game, it is, none-the-less, a phenomenal movie which I cannot recommend highly enough.

4/5

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Netflix Film Review “Calibre” (2018) #150WordReview

A true gem.

Two 30-ish year old childhood friends, Vaughn (Jack Lowden) and Marcus (Martin McCann), meet up for the first time in a few years for a weekend away in Scotland to celebrate Vaughn’s impending fatherhood; a kind of paternity stag do. Ironically, to hunt stags — all at Marcus’ expense. But when an incident happens, their trip is turned into a nightmare that which will change their lives forever.

There’s an awful sense of inevitability from the very start of the film, even before the truly shocking and gut-wrenching inciting incident. We know something awful is going to go down. The film gripped me with a suspense I haven’t felt for a while.

The cinematography was beautiful and the countryside oozes Britishness and is both beautiful and haunting.

A true gem. Watch it.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://kayoustore.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/WEB-6.jpg

Netflix Film Review “Bird Box” (2018)

read the 150 word review here

… Sandra Bullock rowing her children up a certain creek …

Bird Box is a The Happening (2008) and A Quiet Place (2018) mash-up where an evil presence blown on the wind is causing people to kill themselves (or, in the rare case, become homicidal maniacs).

Five years after an unseen and malevolent presence caused the majority of the world’s people to mysteriously commit suicide or else turn into blood-thirsty maniacs, mother Malorie (Sandra Bullock) is desperately trying to navigate a safe path through this post-apocalyptic landscape to a fabled safe haven for her two young children. The evil force manifests itself as a shimmer and a rustling breeze which seems to instantly infect people who gaze towards it. Therefore, the only way to avoid being infected is to stay indoors, or only go outside with your eyes covered at all times.

We join the story with Sandra Bullock rowing her children up a certain creek, and it might as well be without a paddle as they’re all blindfolded, to a fabled haven. The film is two narratives at the same time, cutting between her river-based journey and recanting the tale of how she got to be on this perilous solo mission cut

For years I wondered to myself how M. Knight Shyamalan could have got it so woefully wrong with his The Happening, based as it is on the absurd concept that nature is out to get revenge on mankind by infecting us with suicide blown on the breeze(!), but Bird Box‘s set-up and premise is what The Happening could potentially have been. We don’t know the source of this evil presence, nor are the details made clear. Why do some people merely become homicidal lunatics whereas the majority immediately kill themselves? Why can the evil force not enter into buildings? But these questions do not matter as the technicalities of this blight are not the focus of the story; rather, the human drama is. And the film excels. Man versus himself, man versus man, man versus time, all three classic dramas are well-played to maximum tension.

At times, The Road-style post-apocalyptic road trip (well, river trip), at times an alternative reality good version of The Happening, at times “the enemy within” dramatic plot thread of 28 Days Later, this film delivers a tense and thrilling horror ride. The cast are all wonderful in their roles. However, this film surely deserves an award for the most bizarrely random cast of all time: Sandra Bullock, John Malkovich, rapper Machine Gun Kelly (or should I say, ex-rapper, RIP, after Eminem (metaphorically) killed him in their 2018 diss battle), British comic actor from The Thick Of It Tom Hollander, jovial comedian Lil Rel Howery, and Bend It Like Beckham‘s Parminder Nagra. But despite this motley collection of all sorts, the casting never jarred: there was no Ed-Sheeran-in-Game-Of-Thrones-WTF moment. I was particularly impressed with Machine Gun Kelly’s supporting turn.

Scary, emotionally terrifying, thrilling, the blight feels real even though the full details are never spelt out. A wonderful movie, what M. Knight’s The Happening could have been.

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review “Bird Box” (2018) #150WordReview

read the long review here

Bullock … paddles her two young children up a certain creek …

Take 2008’s The Happening and 2018’s A Quiet Place, pop them in a blender with a pinch of Oscar (Sandra Bullock, John Malkovich) and a dash of randomness (British comic actor Tom Hollander, rapper Machine Gun Kelly, Bend It Like Beckham‘s Parminder Nagra), and voilà! An evil presence blown on the wind is causing people to kill themselves or each other (The Happening) when they look towards it (swapping A Quiet Place‘s sound for sight).

We follow Bullock as she paddles her two young children up a certain creek to an alleged haven. The film interweaves with the tale of how she came to be on this river.

Bird Box is a human drama of survival against odds.

Scary, emotionally terrifying, and thrilling, the blight feels real even though the full details are never spelt out. A wonderful movie, what M. Knight’s The Happening could have been.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://cdn.images.express.co.uk/img/dynamic/36/750×445/1058045.jpg

 

Star Trek: Picard S1E9 “Et In Arcadia Ego, Part 1” Review @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

We arrive as aliens ourselves on … some kind of reverse Eden.

I hate plot spoilers. I try my best to avoid them. Unfortunately, when reviewing episodes of a series, it’s almost inevitable that you give certain things away. Even the very act of no longer mentioning a character in itself tells you something. This is unavoidable and acceptable plot spoilage. But what is not acceptable is to smack a massive plot spoiler in the credits sequence. Episode 9, “Et In Arcadia Ego, Part 1”, plants a massive spoiler flag in the opening credits by declaring “special guest star: so-and-so”. So now we know that that actor is in it and, of course, we know what character they play in the Star Trek universe, so… surprise ruined! Can you not have the cast list at the end of the episode, please?

Leaving meta-considerations aside, this was a disturbing episode which thoroughly upsets our moral compass. We finally arrive on Sojo’s homeworld, our crew making landfall in a less than conventional manner. We arrive as aliens ourselves on a brightly-coloured world with an almost Star Trek: The Original Series vibe about it. It’s full of life yet slightly off-kilter, a realistic and disturbing portrayal of some kind of reverse Eden: I was left unnerved and frightened by what appears to be coming up. Many new important characters are introduced, and it really feels as though the final episode will totally shatter the world we’ve come to know. The stakes have never felt higher.

Picard says in this ep that “it seems these days that all we do is say goodbye” and this episode indeed features two goodbyes. Sadly, they were robbed of some of their emotional value due to, once again, trying to cram everything into one episode. For the umpteenth time, the Game of Thrones Season 8 model doesn’t work; someone let the writers know.

“Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1” was stronger and felt more complete than last week’s showing, and we are being propelled towards what promises to be a truly terrific finale. We are made to face the sickening possibility that we, and our heroes, might be on the wrong side of this battle. Consequently, the sadism and fanaticism on the part of the show’s supposed baddies, the Romulans, is beginning to feel less and less consequential next to the threat that the androids are convincingly portrayed as having the potential to pose. However, the rush to the end robbed many moments of a sufficient sense of gravity. None-the-less, this episode did just enough to nudge a four star review.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Star Trek: Picard S1E7 “Nepenthe” Review @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

… a genuinely affecting reunion with two of Picard’s old colleagues from the Enterprise …

No sooner than our two storylines had converged at the end of the last episode, the fellowship has now fragmented into what looks like three separate story threads. This episode, “Nepenthe”, sees Picard and Soji escape to a secluded Eden-like planet with rich, almost magically regenerative soil. Here they have a genuinely affecting reunion with two of Picard’s old colleagues from the Enterprise [names withheld to prevent spoilers!]. Their mission: to recover from a trauma of their own in this paradise. The performances from our two guest starts here was powerful and believable; surely the genuine affection and love between these two and Patrick Stewart, going back years, bled through into their performance. The tranquility allows all of our characters to reflect deeply on their lives, and gives Soji space to begin to grapple with her true nature, the nature of reality itself, and who she can trust (if anyone).

Meanwhile, Picard’s protégé/personal body guard, Elnor (or “Legolas in Space”, as I like to think of him), is struggling to stay alive and fight off the Romulans on the Borg Cube. We see a real deepening of his character to counteract the goofiness and moodiness we have seen so far. He’s becoming a great addition to the series.

Our mole onboard the fellowship’s spacecraft La Sirena is beginning to struggle with what they have done and, indeed, were commanded to do almost against their will. Surely not long become their demons consume them.

This was a very exciting episode with no serious flaws, lots happened, and there was no sign of the old problems: development and conclusion of entire backstories within one scene and heavy exposition. Additionally, it turns out that one of the characters creates invented languages, which is something of an area of interest for me (believe it or not: see Tolkien’s A Secret Vice). “Nepenthe” is characterised by deep reflections by our characters as they struggle to come to terms with the stories of their lives. A heart-wrenching, gut-churning episode; possibly the strongest so far, but it has stiff competition from the previous two instalments.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Star Trek: Picard S1E6 “The Impossible Box” Review @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

… reminded us why the sci-fi/horror baddies … the Borg are one of the greatest in all pop culture.

“The Impossible Box” (S1E6) zipped along at a terrific pace. Picard and Soji are face-slammed directly into moments from their past that they had deeply repressed. Soji’s world begins to unravel as she is confronted with the disturbing reality of her situation, although we end the episode with her still not having had time to fully understand or internalise the situation. There’s some great Borg-based body horror, disturbing scenes where Picard struggles with the memories of his time being assimilated by the Borg. The flashbacks seem to smash through his, and the viewer’s, skull. This episode reminded us why the sci-fi/horror baddies that are the Borg are one of the greatest in all pop culture. And we finally get to see the show’s two storylines merge together.

All of this horrifying action hurtles along while in the background the equally horrifying situation from the last episode, where one of our crew isn’t quite what they appear, gut-churningly, slowly, steadily, threatens to explode at any minute.

All of this darkness is counterbalanced with a bit of sassy Raffi comedy. Thankfully, the comedy has been dialled back to warp factor one and appropriately served to break up what was an action-packed and terrifyingly dark story.

The genius of this episode was not discovering what happens, as we have known what the characters haven’t since episode one, but watching how it unfolds. A truly thrilling episode, and definitely the best so far from a dramatic point of view, although from a general entertainment standpoint I slightly preferred last week’s episode. My only criticism is that Star Trek: Picard really needs to knock its tendencies for exposition and introducing and/or resolving storylines in one scene/episode on the head.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

 

 

Star Trek: Picard S1E5 “Stardust City Rag” Review @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

Jean Luc Picard [puts] on the most unbelievable French accent since Ewan McGregor in Beauty and the Beast …

This week, on Star Trek: Picard.

In “Stardust City Rag” (S1E5), our fellowship sets up a meeting on a dodgy planet to take part in an exchange: one life for another. This place, Freecloud, could have been lifted straight from Star Wars‘ cantina scene, where all sorts of criminals and smugglers and crimelords and aliens mingle in an anarchic power-vacuum region of the galaxy. Fascinating, but I’m not sure it totally sits within the Star Trek universe.

We find out why Raffi, who I’m now very fond of, wanted to leave Picard’s crew and go her own way when the team reached Freecloud. Just like Picard in the previous episode, she has a very weighty personal matter to resolve, a matter that has been hanging over her for years. Unfortunately, whilst Michelle Hurd’s (Raffi) acting more-or-less convinced, that of her counterpart in this scene distinctly did not (Gabe, Mason Gooding). Very disappointing. A big moment with a character I’ve come to care about, and yet I did not care much. Once again, Picard rushes and resolves an issue within the space of a scene or two. The writers do realise that this model, let’s call it the “Game of Thrones Season 8 Model”, is not a fan favourite, right?

This episode was full of zany comedy, including Rios dressed as a kind of intergalactic pimp, Jean Luc Picard putting on the most unbelievable French accent since Ewan McGregor in Beauty and the Beast, and Picard’s manservant-cum-bodyguard-cum-protégé establishing himself as the series’ light relief rather than broody angst merchant (as he appeared in the last episode) — and he seems to be acquiring an increasingly strong Antipodean accent as time goes on (think: the reverse of Deanna Troy in Star Trek: TNG). The writers and actors really pushed the boundaries of tone and good sense here, and they just stayed onside. The result? Back of the net! I loved it. I just hope they don’t camp it up too much; Picard has established itself as tonally distinct from some of the other, campier entries in the Star Trek canon, and it would be a shame to backslide from that or, worse, become tonally confused.

There’s a huge moment towards the end where one of our fellowship unexpectedly acts horrifically. Big drama to follow from this in future episodes, undoubtedly. I’m also starting to notice a pattern more generally: those who have served Star Fleet either get burnt out, go mad, or become numb in order to maintain their commission. The campy, intergalactic comedy romp belied this much darker core.

A lot happened. Great moments. Wonderful developments of some characters through their actions rather than through talking, as has sometimes characterised this show so far. The lightest and, paradoxically, also the darkest episode, this was an excellent outing and without a doubt the most entertaining so far.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Star Trek: Picard S1E4 “Absolute Candor” Review @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

… compelling racial tension on a de facto apartheid world which Picard refused to accept …

In Star Trek: Picard, “Absolute Candor” (S1E4), Jean-Luc Picard must face an unresolved personal issue from his past. It seems that Picard has apparently spent most of his life crashing around the cosmos, leaving his mark, and running away, leaving everyone else to pick up the pieces, like some kind of intergalactic lothario. Our other storyline, set on the Borg cube, is also becoming compelling, marked by increasingly nuanced character interactions between Soji and Narek. This was very much an episode delving into the past and how it shapes the future.

An exciting episode, better than the previous ones. I really felt absorbed in the world, like I’d known our merry band of explorers for ages — yet they only came together at the very end of the last episode. Our fellowship even has two new members, with the addition of a face from Star Trek‘s past, and the other from Picard’s past. I like how our crew feels like it has grown almost organically, giving us a chance to spend a little time with all of them first, instead of just dumping them all on us in the pilot. There was also some compelling racial tension on a de facto apartheid world which Picard refused to accept.

“Absolute Candor” wasn’t flawless, though. The meant-to-be emotional scenes with Picard facing his past seemed a little contrived and poorly acted, which is a shame as the characters involved all seem very interesting in themselves. Furthermore, this seems to be becoming a pattern in Star Trek: Picard; deep backstories, with years of emotional weight and angst behind them, are introduced, developed, played out, and resolved within the course of one episode, thereby robbing them of their full emotional impact. Why not settle these things over the course of several episodes?

Was this episode perfect? No. But there was a good balance of all parts — talk, action, characters being developed through their deeds.

This episode just nudges four out of five, by a nose.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review: The Hole In The Ground (2019) @SeanaKerslake @Netflix #HorrorMovie

100 word review here

A gut-churning slowburn … has her son really been replaced, or is it all in her own mind?

The Hole In The Ground is the remarkably well-accomplished debut feature from Irish writer-director Lee Cronin. Single mother Sarah (Seána Kerslake) has upped sticks to the remote Irish countryside with her eight year old son Chris (James Quin Markey). After Chris goes for a mysterious midnight stroll in the nearby forest, Sarah begins to notice disturbing changes in his character. Is this even her son at all? Cleverly, rather than Cronin have Chris’s behaviour deteriorate, the opposite occurs; where once he was sullen, withdrawn, and shy, he becomes calmly positive, controlled, and popular at school. But there’s just something off about this change of character, something that only a mother would notice, and I have to say wonderfully sold by young actor James Quin Markey. Seána Kerslake also convinces.

A gut-churning slowburn, this horror-thriller reminds me distinctly of 2014’s equally nerve-shredding The Honeymoon. It also shares DNA strands with The Babadook; has her son really been replaced, or is it all in her own mind? Just as in The Babadook, we start to fear for what this tormented mother might do to her own child, whilst also fearing that she is right.

The dank forest is beautifully shot and feels ancient, like nefarious creatures from Celtic myths might indeed dwell there, every tree seeming to have its own personality. The sinkhole in the centre of the wood projects an eerie and malevolent presence.

We are kept guessing until the very end: has Chris been replaced, or is his mother losing her mind? Credit again to Lee Cronin for eschewing any of the tempting and obvious potential twist-endings that the film could suggest. Rather, I found the ending befitting and equally horrifying. Without giving the game away, I can say that this family will never be quite the same again.

Genuinely disturbing, the psychological horror builds slowly but powerfully. How does it compare to other “forest horror” films? Fans of The Honeymoon should definitely watch this, fans of The Blair Witch Project might like it, and fans of Cabin Fever could probably give this movie a miss.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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