A film that piqued my interest by using an out of control variant of COVID as the backdrop. At its core it’s a love story, set in the totalitarian regime imposed by attempts to control the deadly virus. It doesn’t try to find a new way of looking at either the love story or the virus. Instead finding familiar foes in the corrupt, the psychotic megalomaniac, and the faceless military. Presuming the power of love, and the freedom of the individual, are the ideal and only outcomes for any such scenario.
Some might misplace the glory of this film in its casting. Zack Gottsagen, one of the lead actors, has Down Syndrome. The real glory of the film is the story. Zak runs away from his nursing home, desperate to fulfil his dream of becoming a wrestler. Along the way he joins forces with the troubled Tyler, Shia LaBeouf in full grubby grifter mode. As the pair follow the coast south, they encounter the kind of troubles that forge the bonds of brotherhood. Writing and directing duo, Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, tease a kind of honest charm from the actors. In the process they make this “the sweetest darn film of the decade”.
An early effort from twins sisters Jen and Sylvia Soska, famous for last years Ferraraesque remake of Rabid (2019). Mary, a gifted surgical student, struggling to pay the bills, is pulled into the world of extreme body modification. One cash-in-hand job leads to the next, and heralds all kinds of physical and emotional damage. For a film that revels in the bloodier end of the film spectrum it’s surprisingly measured. It has its moments but in the end it feels like a film with too much story for a relatively mundane revenge plot. It’s busting with all kinds of really strange and interesting characters that make it feel episodic. These days it would probably work well as a limited series. The scalpel happy sibling to Dexter (2006–2021).
I knew nothing of this film going in, which is something of a rare treat for me. At it’s core Uncle Frank is a coming out story from writer and director Alan Ball, famous for American Beauty (1999) and True Blood (2008–2014). Haunted by trauma and huge piles of guilt, a gay man closeted to most of his family, in the early years of the nineteen-seventies, returns to his ultra conservative homestead after the sudden death of his father. It’s clever in that it frames the subject with a flush of optimism, encapsulated by the rebellious niece who looks up to her uncle Frank. If I were to say it’s charm comes with a vicious left right combination, you can clench your guts for the emotional battering you’re about to receive.
This might be one of the more original and challenging science fiction television series I’ve seen recently. Thematically it takes massive swings at the big conflicts of religion and science, faith and atheism, churning them all in the milky sea of what it is to be a parent. Earth has been ravaged by an apocalyptic war between atheists and religious zealots. Two androids, only ever referred to as Mother and Father, are sent to a mysterious planet, where they birth and try to raise humanity’s last hope. When a lander arrives, heralding the coming of the zealot’s ark, the conflicts that caused Earth’s destruction are reignited. There are no easy answers to the questions this story wades neck deep into. Deliberately leaving you with so many more questions than conclusions. It’s not hard to see the guiding hand of Ridley Scott steering a visceral and stylish ship created by Aaron Guzikowski, the writer responsible for Prisoners (2013). I look forward to the questions created by a second series.
I’m not sure I’d be as effusive as Stephen King when he wrote; “No extraneous bullshit. Just nerve-splintering terror.” He’s right it’s a tight screenplay, and the cast delivers one subtle turn after another. I’m less convinced by King’s promises of terror. My nerves must’ve been dulled by years of movie trauma, because I didn’t feel anything like the adrenaline spike I was expecting. One thing it did manage was to keep the story rolling until the very last frame, which I always find very satisfying.
Mortal Engines is what would’ve happened if John Carter (2012) had a love child with Jupiter Ascending (2015), and then the two superstars broke up. Jupiter no doubt would be left to raise their child alone. She’d do her best until Mortal, looking for the kind of validation and respect you can only find on the the streets, start getting into trouble. John’s returns to the family home would be met with a mix of hostility and incredulity by Mortal. Only after a protracted period of withering contrition are John and Jupiter able to reconnect with their daughter. It takes time but eventually they all reconcile, put their differences aside, and live happily ever after.
A very happy Christmas coming out story. It’s not quite The Family Stone (2005). It lacks the intimate family dynamics that makes the latter so suited to Christmas. The siblings here are plagued with secrets, that gives the revelations when they come, a bitter taste. But don’t worry it’s all in keeping with the season.