Message from the King

2016 | dir: Fabrice du Welz | 102 m

I had never heard of Message from the King until it popped up randomly in my Netflix feed, and despite the track record of random movies recommended by the streaming service, I still haven't learned my lesson. I have to say that one of the main reasons I decided to watch this movie late one Friday night not too long ago was specifically because it starred Chadwick Boseman, who sadly lost his battle with cancer last year at the age of forty-three. I don't mean to imply that I watched the movie solely as a way of honouring Mr. Boseman's legacy, though that certainly came into play. It was mostly because he was a master of his craft and a truly captivating screen presence. And also partially because the plot description of a single man on a personal vendetta seeking righteous retribution and beating up and straight up killing a bunch of bad guys who obviously deserve it is like the comfort food of cinema. Watching an action hero walk into a room and lay the smackdown on a bunch of mooks is the cinematic equivalent of sitting down with a big bowl of mac and cheese (Kraft Dinner for my fellow Canadians) or a bucket of fried chicken.

Continue Reading

Elektra

2005 | dir: Rob Bowman | 97 m

Just two short years after being introduced in Daredevil, Jennifer Garner’s Elektra gets the historical distinction of being the first female-led Marvel movies, but also (possibly) stands as a reason why we didn’t get any more female-driven Marvel movies until Captain Marvel nearly fourteen years later. It’s easy to put the blame on the lack of female superhero movies on the failure of Elektra, but I find it hard to believe there isn’t more going on here: when the MCU really got rolling, there’s no valid reason Black Widow didn’t receive her own starring vehicle and there were plenty of interesting female superheroes to pull out of the X-Men series. The fact is, female representation has always been a bit dismal in the comic book realm, and the race to get these adaptations to the big screen had studios picking the most historically identifiable and popular characters from Marvel’s stables, which unironically come from the 1960’s and are all alliteratively named white men.  

That being said, Garner did a decent job – considering the context of the film – in 2003’s Daredevil and the character of Elektra Natchios showed some promise before being sacrificed needlessly to further motivate Matt Murdock’s turmoil and double down on his need for revenge. So maybe an Elektra movie could travel back in time a bit to show us a bit of the story of this mysterious character and the trials she’s overcome to become the fighter she is today. Or, as it turns out, we could just pick up where we left off and just ignore her death for the most part. It’s entirely possible that I just missed a line of dialogue or hazy montage, but Wikipedia is informing me that Stick (a blind martial arts master who trained Daredevil) revived her then proceeded to train her (which I do remember). 

Continue Reading

Synchronic

2019 | dir: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead | 103 m

Almost invariably, time travel films incorporate some issues of causality into their plot. Essentially, there's some event in the past that influences the characters in the present / relative future and it turns out that the characters in the future were actually the ones who were actually responsible for the later events. And almost invariably, the character who is most directly affected by those past events is usually revealed to be the one that caused them initially. This is a well-worn trope in the time travel genre, and like most tropes, the fun isn't in recognizing it, but in seeing how the author/creator finds unique ways to deploy that trope within the worlds they've created.

Synchronic is no different. Which is to say, it's very different. But still the same.

It's time travel, so admittedly, there's going to be some head scratching. The best advice I can give when engaging with any story involving time travel is to quote the late, great Hunter S. Thompson: "Buy the ticket, take the ride..."

Synchronic is the fourth feature film from Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, and one of the few movies I was truly looking forward to in 2021 (and in 2020, but the less said about that particular historical period, probably the better). Not just because I'm a sucker for a good time travel film (or even a bad one), but because Moorhead and Benson have established themselves in the indie film circuit as men of a visionary nature and a distinctive voice. I was hooked immediately after watching their debut, Resolution, last year and was similarly impressed/enamoured with their follow-up to their follow-up movie, The Endless, and their just plain follow-up, Spring. Though Resolution and The Endless have roots reaching deep into the fertile soils of both science fiction and horror (I couldn't help shake the feeling after watching Resolution and The Endless and Ari Aster's Hereditary and Midsommar in the space of a couple months last year that I was witnessing a new age in horror), the dominant genre seems to be science fiction. This is a genre that, like fantasy, requires that rare combination of Big Ideas and Big Imagination and the willingness to, as the character Eames from Inception might have put it, "dream a little bigger, darling."

Continue Reading

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

2009 | dir: Patrick Tatopoulos | 92 m

I always had the impression that Rise of the Lycans was a misfire in the Underworld series fueled by the loss of Kate Beckinsale. Maybe I was barely paying attention, but the advertising of the film definitely led me to believe that Kate was in the film, and when I discovered she was replaced by someone who looks pretty similar (Rhona Mitra), that I had lost most of my interest in going to see the prequel. The same thing happened in the previews of the film Doomsday, also starring Mitra and mistaken for Beckinsale, except that I couldn’t pass up Doomsday in theatres and was happy to revisit the film fairly recently to appreciate what a ride it was (and Mitra kicked a ton of ass in that film). This was my first viewing of Rise of the Lycans and I’m still not quite sure why this film exists. Didn’t we cover most of the ground here before in the previous two films? 

Continue Reading

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

2020 | dir: Eliza Hittman | 101 m

In an effort to piece together a somewhat coherent top ten list for 2020 movies this year, I embarked on a short journey to watch a few critically celebrated films that I may had missed. This project had me putting on Never Rarely Sometimes Always, an especially impactful film both written and directed by Eliza Hittman whose tale chronicles the journey of two teenage girls making their way to New York city “to seek out medical help after an unintended pregnancy.” And I can’t tell you why – because I had zero exposure to any element of the film save for the high Letterboxd user ratings and the poster of the film – but I went in expecting a bit of a quirky, if dark, comedy. It does not take long for one to realize how far my expectations strayed from the end product, and I’m happy again that my expectations were upended and the film I did take in was quite thoughtful, emotional and poignant.

Continue Reading

Ghost Rider

2007 | dir: Mark Steven Johnson | 114 m

Without any kind of initial explanation, I have a soft spot in my memory for Ghost Rider and a hesitation to really say anything negative about the film, but damn, this movie is bad. While revisiting Nicolas Cage in the starring role of Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider, I had an inkling that I would discover something new about the film, and if not new, then something to grasp onto that could elevate this film and redeem it. Unfortunately, it’s not the case: this might be worse off today than when I initially saw it over a decade ago.

A bit of personal context here: I am in no way familiar with Ghost Rider, his origin, cast of supporting characters or history. The Ghost Rider comics I bought in the early 90’s were purchased because of a killer cover done by Adam Kubert on an 1992 issue of Sprits of Vengeance (link here) where Venom is hanging upside down in the sewers, holding Ghost Rider’s flaming skull wrapped up in a chain. I probably went onto buy a dozen or so Ghost Rider comics, read them, bagged them into the collection, and ignorantly forget them moments later.

Ghost Rider is quite a visually striking character and that holds true in this film (for the most part). Wrapped in biker leathers, his skull ablaze in eternal flame and speeding forth on a badass motorcycle with flaming wheels, Ghost Rider is - at least on the visual scale - a fun character to watch. Johnny Blaze (in this film, at least) inadvertently signs a deal with the devil (really Mephistopheles here) that would cure his father’s cancer and in return, hand over Johnny’s soul. Of course, in true genie fashion, the deal comes true, but the devil ensures his father dies the very next day anyway. Johnny, now knowing how serious this is and understanding that the devil can take his loved ones at any time, just leaves, isolating himself for a couple of decades and leaving his sweetheart behind without answers.

Continue Reading

Pulse

2001 | dir: Kiyoshi Kurosawa | 119 m

Wow, I can’t recall the last time that I felt so much dread and unease in a horror film, but here we are with Kairo (Pulse), having me double check the shadows in my room and not only making sure that the doors in my apartment are closed, but also that they don’t have any red tape around them. Suffice to say I didn’t turn on my computer until the next day, in the safety of sunlight. We follow our characters as they navigate strange occurrences, including sightings of a recently deceased friend and a truly creepy website. Everything is driven forward by having as much information as the characters themselves: easily relatable as I never found myself questioning their behaviour: with a belief that ghosts don’t exist, who wouldn’t investigate strange markings on the wall of a friend’s home, or start asking around about how to rid yourself of some malware? These characters are never entirely sure what they’re dealing with, and the audience is given barely anything more, which I think makes the journey all the more terrifying. Everything is beautifully framed in the colour-drained world and the ghosts’ movements and appearances are slow, deliberate and unsettling. Although I found the end of the film to a little unsatisfactory, it doesn’t add much to overall criticism of the movie. I find myself wondering what it would have been like to watching this film twenty years ago, as I recall the internet being a much more unkempt and mysterious utility with limitless potential, and yes – for someone who wants to believe – a reasonable habitat for the supernatural.

Underworld Evolution

2006 | dir: Len Wiseman | 106 m

Immediately, we abandon the slick confines the original’s city, mansions and underground settings for the (somewhat) blanket openness of Eastern Europe. The story picks up just where we left off as well, with Selene and Michael on the run from the aftermath of the mayhem before, including the (spoiler for the first film) slaying of Victor. I'm just about fully on board with Evolution delving deeper into the lore of the “Vampire-Lycan” war and appreciative that it ties a number of strings together, including our main vampire played by Kate Beckinsale all without feeling like story beats and characters are just done for the sake of being convenient or filler.  

I mentioned in the previous film that there were very few (if any) human characters present, which has been rectified in Evolution. Rectified, because I need to see how our vampires and werewolves perform in the face of your average human, which helps craft this world’s reality against our own. There's a scene early on where Michael is chased into the woods by a group of humans – as he resists the urge to feed on them – and Selene comes out to the rescue; we’re treated to some supernaturally wonderful powers of movement and abilities that – from the perspective of those humans and to an extent myself, the viewer – is truly terrifying. Those powers don’t show up when vampires are fighting other vampires because presumably, they’re being used all the time and the film is showing us the normalized action. It was a fun scene to watch and I wish there was more of that stuff in the film. 

The other world building that goes on is fun: early on we see a cleanup/investigation crew dispatched in an attempt to unravel what happened in the first film’s events, and an amusing scene where a giant vampire bat learns how to use a computer by drinking the blood of another vampire. Quite handy indeed! One of the few things I remember upon seeing this over a decade ago was a steamy sex scene and am happy to report that the scene is still just as steamy, although their (that is, Selene and Michael) romance feels a bit empty. The film does deliver in a decent quality, gory action scenes, although some of the logic and reasoning of the characters and plot leave a little bit to be desired. I found myself chuckling quizzically every so often, but I guess that comes with the territory as Evolution attempts to layer on complexity via backstory, when the strength of the first film was very much on being straightforward and heavy on style. 

Wolfwalkers

 

2020 | dir: Tomm Moore | 103 m

There’s something reassuringly captivating and enchanting about Wolfwalkers, the latest animated feature from Irish filmmakers Tomm Moore and Ross Steward, with Moore previously codirecting both The Secret of the Kells and the amazing Song of the Sea. Wolfwalkers had me engrossed from start to finish, and held my thoughts for days afterward. I’m always a bit hesitant to put on “kids” films when alone and as a result I can miss out on some really excellent films so in an effort to recognize the more positive sides of this turbulent year and not let some films slip by, I made a priority to watch the highly-rated Wolfwalkers, and would heartily recommend it to everyone.

Continue Reading