The Ritual

the ritualrating 3.5The Ritual is tough for me to think of much to say about. Not that it's bad or dull or mediocre; in fact, it's a well-made and interesting movie. There's just very little worthy of saying or explaining to you that wouldn't ruin the movie.

The film starts off with some British cunts drinking and discussing their next boys' outing. Where in the world will they go to party? One friend suggests a Scandinavian hike getaway. The idea is mostly pooh-poohed. One of the friends, Luke, insists on stopping to pick up some liquor, because he's still trying to party like they're young. Unfortunately some very stereotypical junkies are holding up the store. The would-be hiker is robbed while Luke hides and watches. After refusing to give up his wedding ring, Luke's friend is killed while he silently watches from safety, unable to bring himself to intervene.

Cut to the remaining four cunts on a hike, honoring their fallen friend's memory. They mostly argue and bicker and make you wonder why they were friends in college in the first place. There's still an underlying tone that they blame Luke for standing idly by. They hike trails in the Swedish countryside until one of them hurts his knee and they decide to leave the trail and try to take a direct shortcut through a forest to get to civilization more quickly. In the woods, things go poorly.

Now, I can tell by reading a synopsis of the novel it's based on (something I never would have imagined from the trailers or even watching the film) that the screenwriter drastically improved what was on the page. Some of it seems a little silly compared to the handling the film gives it. So it absolutely deserves credit for removing all the hokeyness from the film and keeping it grounded. In addition, it sound like the plot involving the murdered friend and Luke's complicity in doing nothing to stop it is invented whole cloth for the film. Which is genius. If the arguments between the friends were about the fact that Luke is the only one who was never a success and the others have failing relationships and unfulfilling lives, it wouldn't have worked. Pretty much the entire third act is completely modified. So, kudos to the screenwriter, Joe Barton. It sounds like you truly turned this story into something more by giving it some depth.

The actors do a fairly good job of mostly playing characters I didn't like or care about. It's probably to the benefit of the film that I had no use for any of these pricks, so I was fairly sympathetic toward Luke by the end despite starting off with his cowardice and lack of any redeeming traits. He's the only one that seems to take their situation seriously, so the audience automatically sides with him. It's not an acting-heavy film, but everyone pulls their weight and fits their role well.

The visuals are exceptionally strong. For what it is, the film looks excellent. In many ways, the film reminds me of The Descent and David Bruckner has the same sort of ability to create a crisp visual style as Neil Marshall. Not to mention that the plot has strong Descent similarities, with a group of friends going on a remote vacation where the environment is more dangerous than expected and they're whittled down by supernatural enemies, leading me to feel like it was a bit of a rip-off when I initially saw trailers. But this film, somehow, feels more rich and balanced than The Descent and the color palette and mood of the final act and the dream sequences definitely make it worthwhile, especially since you think early on that the movie is mostly going to imply the horror instead of showing it. Not so. (I'll go so far as to say that I think it's a better movie than The Descent, as much I enjoyed that movie in the past. The pieces of this just fit together better and the pacing feels just right, comparatively.)

It may have taken me a long time to finally get around to this and, while I wouldn't say it's groundbreaking or features anything totally unexpected or life-changing, I'd been more inclined to recommend this to others than many better movies I've watched recently. There's something sold and intriguing about it and they definitely wrung everything out of the film that they possibly could have. So, if you too have been putting it off, go ahead and watch it with my recommendation.


The Old Guard

the old guardrating 3.5I think I came away from The Old Guard somewhat disappointed. I'd seen the effort that Charlize Theron put into fight training, I'd seen the stunt work, I'd seen the concept. I just though there would actually be more to the film. What's there is fairly enjoyable. Greg Rucka isn't a bad writer, but perhaps he was too in love with his own concept. I felt like the movie put more effort into setting up sequel concepts than developing this film.

It's a fairly standard action movie about ancient immortal warriors who can't be killed... until they can. Eventually their time is up, because of... reasons. Then they stop healing and die for good. It's Highlander-esque in minor ways, but mostly concentrates on the idea of the warriors already somewhat disillusioned with continued existence and their fight to make the world better using their ability to... well, I guess just kill people. Eventually there's some contrived reasons about the magical nature of their actions having echoes that better mankind, but it's a little thin.

Really, much of the plot is thin. While the "finding a new immortal and training her" aspect seems promising and mostly works, it also felt abbreviated. Meanwhile, the antagonists' plot mostly just seems cliched. The big bad guy is a dickhead pharma entrepreneur with delusions of creating human immortality. Chiwetel Ejiofor is a rogue CIA operative who serves them up to our pharma bro and then has a change of heart by movie's end. That's a problem too: it doesn't feel like most of the characters have thought through their motivations. The CIA agent has apparently discovered the secret history of these immortal warriors, meaning he knows their importance and the good they do, but gives them up to have them vivisected for a potential cure for death because of the flimsy excuse that he watched his wife die, immediately changing his mind when he stops to think about it for a second. None of it makes much sense, but it's mostly a list of excuses for action scenes. Which there aren't as many of. I thought it'd be more John Wick-like in its abundance of action, but it can often get talky in the middle, particularly as the other immortals poorly explain their existence to their newest member.

But being amazing wasn't a prerequisite for finding this entertaining. You can't fault Charlize Theron for much of anything. Her ethic for training and making fights look good is beyond reproach. If this doesn't prove that to you, watch Atomic Blonde instead. The rest of the cast is well-played, but none of them feel like real people. They're actors delivering dialogue and exposition, not characters with lives outside the scene. It just needed more for everyone to do and to probably develop everyone a bit more, as - by movie's end - they still feel like strangers and the bonding that's taken place feels undeserved.

Sometimes, you just want a fun action flick instead of another dreary, deep drama or brooding horror film and, in the midst of a pandemic, big action films are hard to come by for the moment. If this doesn't suffice for a bit, perhaps your standards are too high.


Nancy Drew And The Hidden Staircase

nancy drew and the hidden staircaserating 3.0My daughter specifically wanted to watch a "mystery" movie, so - thinking back to my review of Gretel & Hansel - I remembered that Sophia Lillis had previously starred in Nancy Drew And The Hidden Staircase. It was right there on HBO, so away we went. It's obviously a movie for older kids and teens. There's nothing particularly nuanced about it. Compared to the 2007 Nancy Drew film with Emma Roberts, this one feels like a Hallmark Channel film.

Nancy Drew And The Hidden Staircase feels like a made-for-TV movie. Ellen DeGeneres apparently produced the film and it had a fairly minuscule budget for this day and age. It seems like it may have briefly been in theaters and made barely two-thirds of a million dollars. So it was probably made more for streaming to begin with. Which is ultimately where I watched it, so fair play to them. But, still, it has none of the gloss of film production to it. There's little scope. It doesn't look much better than your average episode of a show made for Freeform. Of course, it was brought to you by the director of Poison IvyThe Rage: Carrie 2, and the Stripped To Kill series. (Aside from this and Carrie 2, she also wrote much of the crap she directed, including Poison Ivy, a movie I can tell you from personal experience is not good, very dumb, and typical of the "erotic thriller" genre of the time.) Given her pedigree, director Katt Shea is a strange fit for this upbeat movie about teens.

Still, at least it has Lillis, who definitely brings more charisma to the tale than it probably deserved. Unfortunately for her (and we viewers), the script was not up to the task at all. It's ironic that the writers were story editors on "The Handmaid's Tale", "Blood Drive", and "The Vampire Diaries", because this story felt edited to shit. The movie isn't quite an hour and a half and, yet, it's full of unnecessary teen drama and other padding bullshit, very light on actual mystery and development, chock full of hokey "comedy", and constantly feels like every other scene was edited completely out to minimize the amount of time it took to speed through the story. The pacing can be largely thrown at the director's feet, but the script is fairly idiotic. People are full of dumb decisions; much of the plot is nonsense that bears no resemblance to reality or behavior that appears human in any way; the dialogue is often laughably stupid and only Lillis' innate charm prevents her from seeming like a complete dumbshit. If you look at only the writing, Nancy Drew is kind of an idiot. She, like many of the characters, only display their ability to think when it's necessary to advance the story that the writers wanted to tell. That means that whenever it's more convenient, everyone makes bad decisions, poor arguments, the world works however they'd like it to for expediency instead of being grounded in any kind of reality. Only seven months after this movie released, a Nancy Drew show premiered on The CW (where it's still being produced), making it clear that the premise could be taken somewhat seriously, even if you keep it lighthearted. It doesn't have to be written like a quickie Hallmark Movies & Mysteries production starring Candace Cameron Bure.

But it still managed to rate above average, so... why? Well, it's so short you barely notice. The stupidity passes so quickly and so rarely influences the plot that you give it a pass. The TV quality look of the film and below-average production values don't get in the way of what little does work and it isn't actively negative. It's a movie aimed at teens and, for the shit that usually gets shoveled at that group, it isn't the worst. It's dumb amusement with a pretty good cast. Aside from Lillis, Laura Wiggins is good as her frenemy, Helen; Sam Trammel turns in his usual level performance as Nancy's father; it was nice to see Andrea Anders as Nancy's aunt; Linda Lavin, who hasn't been a household name since around my birth, gets to show off that she actually was a pretty good, likable actress. If this were a Hallmark production, I'd assume the rest were a bunch of Canadian actors, local to either Vancouver or Toronto, depending on where it was filmed. It isn't, but the cast is fine. They mostly do their best with the very spotty material given them. And, since the crux of a mystery film is in the details and you heard how the writers handled details, it's probably best that this film was mostly forgotten and Nancy Drew quickly moved on to greener TV pastures. I don't mind the idea of a good mystery film aimed at teens (I mean, I did just enjoy Enola Holmes yesterday), but the demographic is often an excuse to dumb things down, cut corners, and deliver the minimum product on a lower budget. So what you get ends up being less. Though his movie ends up being more than the sum of its parts, that's not saying much. They were lucky that it turned out as well as it did, entirely on the backs of its cast. Perhaps this should be a case study for what kids and teens don't need more of, even if inoffensively mediocre.


Enola Holmes

enola holmesrating 3.5Enola Holmes isn't an overly ambitious movie. It doesn't attempt to rewrite the Sherlock Holmes world in a grandiose way. It doesn't take nearly as many risks as Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes in shaking up formulas. It's mostly a simple story, relying heavily on the acting talent and star-power of Millie Bobby Brown and Henry Cavill to carry it along.

It is a good enough film, giving Brown plenty to show off with, something "Stranger Things" has severely lacked. The monosyllabic Eleven may show off her ability to do a tremendous amount of weighty acting mostly with facial expressions, but Enola Holmes shows off her wit, her charm, and a range that she hasn't gotten to adequately explore. Every to-the-camera aside in the film couldn't be more adorable, more charming, more charismatic... But the shaky plotting does detract somewhat from the character. We're told constantly that she's trained her entire life to do just about everything except deal with people and society. Instead of being a fish out of water, she does surprisingly well at fitting in, though this training we're constantly shown and told about fails her again and again when actually tested. If anything, Enola comes off as weak, which she definitely should not. I expected her to put up more of a fight throughout the course of the movie, often just laying down for circumstances when they were against her. Perhaps if she'd broken Mycroft's nose or choked out Miss Harrison, I'd have had more respect for her. The whole thing is, of course, based on a series of books, so perhaps the fault lies there. The move is ultimately fun, if uneven.

Aside from Cavill and Brown, Sam Claflin returns after the recent viewing of The Nightingale. After his villainous turn there, he appears as Mycroft Holmes, playing the antagonist for much of the film, which seems to be his forte. He can exude arrogance and haughtiness like no one else, it seems, though this was a much more enjoyable role than previously seen. I could mention Helena Bonham Carter, but I probably shouldn't, as her roles barely registers a pulse; she isn't bad, she just isn't that noticeable at all. The rest of the various character actors filling out the cast do their best and it feel like a well-made movie, something more deserving of a theatrical release than most movies that make it into theaters. I suppose that's the paradox of our times: good things seem to be made for streaming services to watch on TV at home while the crap shows up in the theater.

The main "mystery" of the film is mostly an underwhelming formality, much more focus put on the search for the Holmeses' mother, Enola's quest for independence, humor, and the burgeoning love story. But I suppose that's understandable for a property aimed primarily at children and teens. Despite the fact that I started watching it by myself, my five-year-old detached herself from reading to start watching it with me and seemed to enjoy it more than most other "age-appropriate" movies that she's seen in recent memory. (Though the mystery elements were a bit lost on her. I don't think American five-year-olds really get plots involving Victorian traditions, suffrage, and voting within the House of Lords.)

After a lot of depressing, dull, and unfulfilling movies over this month, Enola Holmes was a rare treat, though probably not too memorable beyond being a hell of an acting reel for Millie Bobby Brown, who is either going to be a hot, young acting juggernaut in a few years or will sort of drift away and become a strange distant memory for those nostalgic of this era. I don't know how her acting talents will manage to be squandered, but only time will tell. If she keeps taking such an active role in her career, as she did in producing this film herself, then she might have a very bright future.


Where The Wild Things Are

where the wild things arerating 1.5I think many of us grew up on "Where The Wild Things Are". It's the fairly simple story of an annoying child, sent to bed without supper, whose bedroom turns into a magical world that he travels, eventually meeting the titular "wild things", monsters of various shapes and configurations. Eventually he gets lonely and returns "home", finding dinner awaiting him. Not very complex and exceptionally light on words. It lets the imagery do the talking and that's why Maurice Sendak gets so much credit, having created colorful imagery with an entirely singular design. When something mimics the style of "Where The Wild Things Are", it is immediately recognizable somehow. To an entire generation, this 40-page picture book is ingrained in their consciousness, along with images of "Sesame Street" and "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood".

You'd think that when it came to a movie adaptation, Spike Jonze might seem like an apt creative voice to translate the slim narrative into a colorful and exciting film. He has experience with whimsy, even if much of his adult film work is more dark and serious in nature. Surely he could take a good script from an accomplished writer and use his visual flair to bring the book's images to life...

No. Where The Wild Things Are is a dire abortion of a film. Many people seem to like it, but I have nothing but contempt for those people. It is humorless, joyless, colorless, overemotional, dull, screeching, pointless, monotonous, confused, misguided, bereft of character, a poor and pale imitation of the source material, making every moment and every character a figure only deserving of scorn. Both Jonze and his co-writer, Dave Eggers, should be held personally responsible for wasting my fucking time. They managed to take a storied and beloved children's favorite (that I don't even particularly care about) and make something so loathsome from it that it's hard to completely grasp.

Sure, it was a slim volume to begin with and definitely needed padding out, but - from the outset - the tone of the movie is completely wrong. This movie is the fever dream of some PTSD-damaged mind, awash in the deepest depression, helplessness, and hopelessness ever set to film. It felt like the work of someone trying to metaphorically express their personal abuse, not a movie ostensibly (and explicitly) for children.

I was sold on watching this movie by seeing the effects that they used to create the look of Sendak's monsters on film. And it is an often-successful technique. They used actors in mascot costumes to physically play the roles and then digitally added in their animated faces later, mostly seamlessly, though it's a nine-year-old film and you can often see "CGI face" in close-ups. From a distance, it works well and is the only reason this film gets anything above the lowest possible rating.

I can't remember the last time I so actively hated a film. I had to watch it in bits. Its hour and forty minute runtime feels substantially longer. I started it months ago and had to stop it multiple times during the initial viewing, finally leaving it with 20 or so minutes left until today. The only thing that got me to finish it at all was because of the fact that I could then write about it now.

This Wild Things begins with a much-older Max than the naughty, irritating child in the book. Can you imagine a sixth or seventh grader in a footy-pajamas wolf costume getting sent to his room without supper? Well, I guess not, so they just turned him into some sort of deranged, almost-autistic child with anger issues relating to his parents' divorce. His teenage sister doesn't pay attention to him, caring more about her friends - something both reasonable and expected, hard to even imagine an actual child of his age being such a whiny bitch about; his mother is busy trying to be a single parent, deal with her horrible child, and date a reasonably nice guy. (I mean, she's dating Mark Ruffalo. He could be playing a serial killer and you still couldn't hate him. Who is going to be jealous and intimidated by Ruffalo?) Max acts like a fucking insane person. He quickly goes from petty and childish to a destructive terror. I don't know if this is because the filmmakers don't have kids and, like most people with kids don't, they have no fucking clue what children are actually like at any particular age. Three, five, twelve? It's all the same, right? He wrecks the shit out of everything, acts worse than any child you've probably seen in reality (because he's sad and traumatized, you see), and if you walk away from the first 15 minutes of the movie not wanting to see him die, then you're the problem.

Now, miscreant Max in the book is sent to his room without supper and his imagination leads to an escape to another world where his behavior is acceptable, if not desirable. He is made king because of his monstrous nature. But eventually he realizes he doesn't want to live that way and misses his family, returning from his imaginary world.

Movie Max literally runs away from home (in his "crazy homeless person" wolf suit), running into the street, cutting down alleyways, eventually finds a rowboat, and heads out to sea, reaching a distant island full of monsters. Gone is the simple and elegant metaphor, all for this horseshit.

He arrives at the island, as you'd expect; it's night and shit is on fire, like you don't expect in a kid's film; he meets the monsters, who are just pointlessly wrecking shit, like he did, or being weird, neurotic surrogates for famous actors they got to voice the cast even though it's not really appropriate; he is genuinely menaced by the creatures before showing spine for some unknown reason and endlessly lying about what he can do and how important he is. Now the movie surrogate for your child to relate to isn't just a naughty kid that goes on an internal journey and comes back regretting his actions; now he's a hugely destructive shitheel who tries to ruin his mother's life, runs away from home, and lies continuously. Just so we can get ahead of this, I'll say that the movie ends with nothing being learned and the character not really changing in any meaningful way.

Max lies about being a king from another land and is made the king of the wild things. He's not just finding a society that physically represents how he feels, where they recognize his kinship with them and name him king. No, he lies and bluffs his way into it. This is followed by what feels like four hours of these monsters you recognize visually from your childhood talking like normal-ass boring people, constantly nagging and fighting with each other, and generally just killing any desire to see what happens next. The film has many accomplished actors in it, but they're not actors well-known for their voice work. And they definitely don't create any character for the monsters. The monsters are just the same types of people Max left behind, just more boring, argumentative, and, frankly, stupid.

Arriving at night and being lit by fires was already a bleak and more "horror movie" choice for the monster introductions, but it's just the beginning of the depressing, awful palette that Jonze is about to serve us from for the rest of the film. Sendak may have colored his monsters largely in brown and grays, but his background scenery was green, red, blue, yellow, and white. The wild things had touches of red, orange, and yellow in them. The island was a verdant jungle. This film is brown and gray. Almost exclusively. Everything is made of wood and sticks. Everything is covered in dirt, including the wild things. The scenery is barren forests and deserts. There is no color to be seen at all. It's the visual equivalent of a bad early-'00s shooter, an endless array of fecal shades, sepia tones, and ashen vistas. It is abhorrent to watch, no matter how much art was put into the look and the shots.

As much as it's colorless, it's humorless and un-fun. The characters mope and argue. Everyone is depressed. The music is fucking depressed. It's all twee indie bullshit; sad, sappy songs for sad, aging hipsters. And how did a man in his 50s become such a fucking hipster? This is the most bland, soulless, mopey hipster-ass fucking movie ever put to film. Add Zooy Deschanel and Bill Murray in a segment directed by Wes Anderson and it could only make the film less of a sad mess for disaffected beardy millenial scumbags. Eggers and Jonze have basically transcribed someone's group counseling meetings and passed it off as a children's film. All it's missing is Sal, the wild thing with a tearful monologue about how he cradled his dying squadmate Danny's body in Iraq, trying to hold together what little remained of the man's face with his bare hands as Danny croaked out his last breaths, and - oh, god - the blood, so much blood, why won't the bleeding stop, someone please help me, why won't anyone help...

Whatever they're trying to say about the self-centered trauma of childhood (particularly where it has to do with their mythical idea of divorce) is heavy-handed, stupid, and shitty. If their parents divorced and they think this is how anyone might have acted or is somehow analogous to their internalized feelings, it's not universal, it's not something most people can or should understand, and it's very much inappropriate for a movie adaptation of a book aimed mostly at four- to seven-year-olds.

I feel like I can barely remember the final part of the movie that I watched today. The movie just kind of collapses as Max convinces them to build a giant fort for him and he has grand plans for the many, absurd, and overly-childish uses he will put it to. Recrimination against Max grows, particularly with Carol, the (poorly-named) surrogate for Max's emotions on the island, who blames Max for his many problems, begins to question his obvious lies, and tries to hurt and eat Max. There are maimings. Max runs away and hides inside another monster, one representative of his fraught familial relationships. (Dear fucking Christ, how is any child supposed to understand a movie so heavily-invested in making everything a juvenile metaphorical exercise? It's not like those layers are there for further examination by adults. It's all the movie has going for it. Everything else is a fucking unwatchable atrocity that had my five-year-old turning to me every few minutes to question characters' emotions or actions because they were so unreasonable.)

Max finally leaves to go home not because he's lonely and has grown tired of being a monster; instead, he leaves because things have gotten intolerably awful with the contempt and disillusionment of the wild things and their relationships become untenably awful. He's depressed right back into reality by the anger of his emotional representative, who sort of hates him. You could say there's meaning in that, but you didn't watch the movie, did you? Nothing is well-thought out. Everything is bad. The fact that we haven't risen up as a people and strung up Jonze and Eggers shows our weakness as a species.

So, our dickhead main character heads home. He wanders back to his house, where it's still night. If you assume that he didn't really go to an island full of monsters, because you're not an idiot, then he ran away from the house for some indeterminate amount of time. Since we're assuming he did actually run away from home for some while, the fact that his mother doesn't appear worried, hasn't called the police, isn't looking for him, and is just sitting around the kitchen, sort of glad to see him when he walks in, is fucking anomalous, to say the least. Your child acts like a lunatic in front of your date to be an asshole, physically fights you to not go to their room, and bites you, and you just shrug and give an "aw, shucks, we'll be okay" half-smile, a hug, and serve up a hunk of cake big enough for four kids when he walks in? Are you fucking crazy? Fuck you. All these characters belong in hell.

And as jangly twee indie crooning moans over child and mother staring at each other in contented bemusement, it fades to black.

Fuck this movie. Fuck Spike Jonze. Fuck Dave Eggers. Fuck you if you like this garbage.

If you want to see a decent adaptation of "Where The Wild Things Are" that isn't just the cartoon of the book, watch the "Arthur" movie D.W. And The Beastly Birthday. There. I saved you and hour and forty minutes.