Friday, July 28, 2023

Review: What Lies Below (2020)

As an adjunct to my review of The Commuter, here's a film which pretty much delivers nothing of what is promised ...

What Lies Below is touted as a cross between Species and A Quiet Place and is written and directed by Braden R Duemmle (remember my Red Flag that seeing the same name in both those roles tends to point to a lack lustre end result).

The plot follows a mother, Michelle (Mena Suvari), and her teenaged daughter Liberty (Ema Horvath). Liberty returns home to find that her mum has a new boyfriend, the seemingly perfect John Smith (Trey Tucker) ... but as the film unfolds, so John is seen to be creepy as heck, and possibly not even human!

The only nod to Species here is that John is looking to procreate (and in a couple of scenes he has freaky alien feet), and A Quiet Place? No idea where they got that one from. The film drags its length as it's fairly apparent that they had no budget for any effects, CGI or otherwise, and so you're waiting for things to happen, to be revealed and they never are ...

It's also a Red Flag when the various websites which offer 'explanations' of plot points and endings are all over a film, as it simply tends to mean that the film has done a poor job of explaining them in the narrative they are presenting. And sure enough, there are lots of sites explaining 'the boat scene' and the ending of this film.

The film looks nice, and the performances are okay, though everyone seems to be the wrong ages, and the scenes of John watching Liberty shower, and then later on the attempted impregnations are a little too far on the side of the voyeuristic and inappropriate.  So watch it if you like a slow burn film ... some interesting ideas ... but don't expect it all to make total sense ...

And the title?  What exactly does lie below?  Are we talking about under the lake here, or is this a euphemism for what John keeps in his shorts ... we shall never know!

Review: The Commuter (2018)

There's so much substandard fare on Prime, that to come across a film which is actually exciting and interesting is worth shouting about ... The Commuter is one such film.

Over lockdown we have become used to seeing films with very limited casts and set in isolate locations. They're usually possession-type plots, or ghosts, as these are easiest to create on a budget, and many simply have no followable plot and disappointing endings - if you can even get there. You can usually tell this sort of film by the Red Flag that the writer, director, producer is all the same person (and sometimes they also do the make-up, costumes and probably make the tea as well!)

The Commuter however is just pre-lockdown and is written by Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi and Ryan Engle, and directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who you might remember helmed the superb Blake Lively vehicle The Shallows. The film stars Liam Neeson and Vera Farmiga and has a simple premise. A cop, Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson), travels the same route to work every day, taking the same train. And so he recognises the same people on the train every day. Now hitting sixty, he is abruptly fired from his job, and travels home in some despair. But. On the train he meets a women, Joanna (Vera Farmiga), who asks him to locate 'Prynne', the alias of an unknown passenger on the train whom Joanna claims has a stolen item. Joanna tells Michael that he will find $25,000 in the bathroom and be paid a further $75,000 when his task is done. She leaves the train, and Michael finds the money in the bathroom ... it all seems genuine. But when he tries to leave the train he realises that his family is in danger, and that whoever Joanna works for is watching his every move.

The film then slowly escalates into a nightmare for Michael as he tries to track down the mysterious Prynne, with deaths and intrigue and a whole 'you cannot trust anyone' vibe. Very enjoyable indeed ... and the ending pays off what has come before.

My main concern with the film was why, if they had all the resources and money to pay Michael, terrorise his family, cause people to be killed, and to watch his every move, why didn't they know who this Phrynn was, what they were carrying, and do their dirty work themselves?  It all seemed a little contrived to set all this up just, it seemed, to torment Michael.

However Neeson gives a powerful performance of a man on the brink, and the acting from all the supporting characters is great (including Shazad Latif who you might recognise as Clem Fandango from the series Toast).

Well worth 105 minutes of your time!

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Review: Laurel & Chaplin: The Feud Stage Play

From the outset you know that this play, Laurel & Chaplin: The Feud, is going to be something slightly different. In London's West End, it's showing at the Cambridge Theatre, but only on Monday nights ... the rest of the week the theatre is home to the stage production of Matilda ... and the theatre is done out with elements relating to that show: school desks, books on the walls and so on ...

But here, Jordan Conway, playing Chaplin, starts messing about in the seats before the show starts ... goofing with the people in the gallery ... before it all kicks into gear as the lights dim, and he introduces himself.

The play follows and documents the relationship between Charlie Chaplin, and Stan Laurel (Matt Knight) from when they first met in London (introduced to the stage by Chaplin's mother, a somewhat drink-addicted stage songbird) through to when Chaplin headed for Hollywood and beyond. The double act was indeed Chaplin and Laurel for a time as the two cavorted and performed and developed their schtick on stage: Chaplin 'the funny one' and Laurel 'the straight man' ... however nothing is that simple, and Laurel was the more talented of the two, and Chaplin developed a fear of being overshadowed, thus when Fred Karno (Richard Gauntlett) entices Chaplin to Hollywood, Laurel never hears from him again, and eventually teams up with Oliver Hardy to create the great comedy duo of early film.

The show is fast and furious, with some superb and occasionally jaw-dropping performances from the cast, who do all their own stunts and prat falls, and indeed magic and displays of dexterity ... it's simply amazing and very, very entertaining.

There's a sequence at the start of act two, where Chaplin puts together a silent movie, and three people from the audience are dragged up on stage to play the parts, as Chaplin explains what they have to do, and then they do it ... all with no words at all.  I have not laughed so hard for years!  There's so many small elements which make it funny, and seeing non-actors going through the paces was superb!

If you have any interest in the subject matter, it's a story of friendship, but also pathos and sadness as Chaplin abandons his friend. But it's also a rollicking great stage experience ... fun and hilarious ... and of course, highly recommended.

A footnote: we saw the show on the opening night, and also present was Jon Conway, father to star Jordan, who produced, co-wrote (with Jordan) and co-directed, and also the other co-director, Michael Barrymore - yes, the TV personality and comedian - who gave a very humbling short speech at the conclusion. This show brings together all the delights of old-style music hall, with the acts, the music and the sheer variety of talent on offer ... Superb!


When: Monday evenings (to 28th August 2023)

How to get tickets:

From 30 August - 2 September 2023 there are also four shows at the Blackpool Winter Gardens, also bookable at the above link

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Review: Renfield (2023)

We had a sense ... a feeling that we were going to enjoy Renfield.  Nothing you could put your finger on ... but we love vampire films, and we also love a good Nick Cage film ... and also with Nicholas Hoult in the cast (who was amazing in both Warm Bodies and The Menu) it looked a good bet.

We were not disappointed.

Within three minutes of the film starting, as they are recreating scenes from the original Universal Dracula with Cage as Dracula and Hoult as Renfield, both doing startlingly good impressions of Bela Lugosi and Dwight Frye, we were beaming with joy!

From there we're straight into some fast and furious action as Dracula is cornered by vampire hunters and chased around a room, before he is captured in a circle and burned to a crisp ... just superb ... and the film has barely started.

In Renfield, the plot is broadly following the title character (Hoult) as he serves his master, Dracula (Cage). The difference is that eating bugs bestows Renfield with some of his master's power, so he becomes super strong, and can jump and leap around supernaturally ... Dracula's blood also heals him, so the various injuries he sustains from fighting down the bad guys in the drugs cartel are dealt with too ... So there's a bad guy with a cocaine smuggling ring, and Dracula and Renfield fall foul of them ... and we follow the threads to a crime boss (Shohreh Aghdashloo) who wants Dracula to help get rid of a rival gang ... There's also a policewoman (Awkwafina) who gets involved, and the whole thing rattles along at a good pace!

We loved the film!  The character of Dracula is superbly performed by Cage, the make-up and effects are brilliant, and Cage brings a lot of interest and pathos to the character, which is cast as a classic narcissist gaslighter, who dumps on poor Renfield at every turn, making him feel that everything is his fault. It's a great reading of the characters, and the script by Ryan Ridley does a good job of bringing it all to life.

Hoult, as expected, plays the downtrodden Renfield very well, and when he joins a kind of AA group for co-dependent abusive relationships, the smiles keep coming!  

I've seen people hating the film, turning it off and so on ... but for my money, if you like vampire films, and appreciate the broad and rich history of them, then you should love this one!  It's a romp, yes, and it doesn't take itself too seriously ... just serious enough for it to entertain without becoming a farce.

I'd give it probably eight or nine out of ten!!