Nobody

15/06/21

Cineworld

Since the success of Liam Neeson’s Taken, there’s been a trend for mature actors reinventing themselves as superannuated action heroes. The latest to throw his toupee into the ring is Bob Odenkirk (better known to many as Saul Goodman in Better Call Saul/Breaking Bad). Here he plays Hutch Mansell, the ‘Nobody’ of the title and, in a series of rapid fire clips, we’re shown just how ordinary his everyday existence is. Married to Becca (Connie Neilsen), with a couple of young kids to support, his biggest concern seems to be getting the household garbage out on time for the weekly pickup. You know. An ordinary guy with an ordinary job and an ordinary past.

But a household burglary intrudes upon his routine and the fact that the thieves steal his little girl’s Kitty Kat bracelet makes him snap – whereupon we learn that Hutch isn’t quite as ordinary as he seems. He is a former ‘auditor’ for the FBI, a man adept at using his fists and a variety of weapons to lethal effect – which he now proceeds to do with unwholesome relish, first by taking on a bunch of bullies who have the misfortune to get onto the same bus as him and latterly, by taking on Russian mobster Yulian (Aleksey Serebryakov), a man who is no stranger to violence himself and who seems to have half the Russian population of America at his beck and call.

Nobody is decently acted and glossily filmed and it has a penchant for putting Vegas-style ballads behind the action sequences, which sometimes works to good effect – but what’s utterly repugnant about this film is the neanderthal subtext, the suggestion that a man cannot be truly happy unless he’s driving a broken bottle into another man’s face. Even more insulting is the notion that women secretly respect this – a scene where Becca responds sexually to Hutch, after years of abstinence, because he has reinvented himself as a ‘tough guy’ is pretty much the final straw. All the female characters here are either silent victims or, like Becca, they respond to the overtures of a ‘real man’.

It’s 2021 for Christ’s sake! This kind of nonsense would have seemed hopelessly outdated back in 2008, when Taken was originally released, but now you wonder how anybody could be so insensitive as to create something so morally reprehensible. (Derek Kolstad, step forward and accept the Misogynist of the Year prize.) Odenkirk must also carry some of the blame, since his production company is behind this farrago.

As the film progresses (if I can use that verb), the mayhem becomes ever more over-amped and ridiculous, as Hutch – aided by his aged dad, David (Christopher Lloyd), and the mysterious Harry (RZA) -takes on hordes of Russian hitmen, none of whom appear to have had any weapons training and who are summarily beaten, shot, stabbed and blown to smithereens. Kolstad, of course, created the character of John Wick and that franchise is no stranger to extended fight scenes, but here the prolonged action just becomes monotonous, as limbs are snapped, eyes gouged out and bodies blown to pulp.

By this time, I’m just praying for it to end – and don’t get me started on the film’s ludicrous conclusion, which appears to be hoping for another instalment of this drivel. The most depressing thought of all is that Nobody might just succeed in that ambition.

1 star

Philip Caveney

Bo Burnham: Inside

13/06/21

Netflix

Bo Burnham is what you might call a polymath – a man of wide-ranging talents. He acts; he writes; he sings; he plays maddeningly catchy music. He’s extraordinary! He’s also been around for quite a while (he first started performing comedy as a teenager), but I, sadly, have only recently become aware of him. He’s the writer/director behind the bittersweet coming-of-age movie, Eighth Grade, which Bouquets and Brickbats awarded a well-deserved 4.8 stars in 2019. More recently, he submitted a perfectly-judged performance as Ryan in Promising Young Woman. And he has three comedy specials on Netflix, the latest of which is Inside.

Like everyone else in recent history, Burnham found himself trapped at home by the pandemic. Shortly before being locked down, he’d been afflicted by crippling bouts of stage fright. Also, he was about to turn thirty, and he needed to talk to somebody about that situation.

So he wrote, directed and performed a one-hour-twenty-seven-minute piece that all takes place in one room of his house. Of course he did. He’s a polymath.

It can sometimes be hard to write about comedy, but this show is particularly hard to pin down, because it careens frantically from one routine to the next, all of them stitched together by a stream of perceptive, oddly Beatle-ish songs, each one of which seizes on a particular subject and brilliantly eviscerates it. Whether he’s commenting on the all-pervasive overload of the internet, spoofing a children’s show where a sock puppet is revealed to be a submissive slave to his human counterpart, offering a commentary on the kind of fluff that masquerades as emotion on Instagram, or exposing the raging narcissism that lurks at the root of every comedian’s output, this is never less than fascinating. It’s wry, self-deprecating – and sometimes shocking. Occasionally it dares to stand on the very edge of a precipitous ledge, staring down into the abyss.

Comedy is subjective, of course, but – having watched this – I was prompted to catch up on his two previous Netflix specials and to note how his work – though always first rate – has matured over the eight years, from what. (2013), through Make Happy (2016) to Inside (2021). This latest piece represents him at the very peak of his powers. Where he will go next is debatable – there is some talk of him pursuing a movie career but, if that is the case, I hope he doesn’t give up on what he’s doing here.

Which is being brilliantly, irreverently funny. And if there’s something we all need right now, it’s more laughter.

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney

The Father

11/06/21

Cineworld

It’s been over a month since the 2021 Oscars, where The Father won awards for best male actor and best adapted screenplay, but somehow it seems I’ve been eagerly awaiting its arrival for much longer than that. It’s finally here, available to view on the big screen, where its powerful narrative pulses from every frame.

Anthony Hopkins is, it seems, the oldest recipient of the best actor award and we know, don’t we, that sometimes such honours are handed out because it’s late in an actor’s career and there might not be another chance to reward him? But make no mistake, his performance in the lead role is a genuine tour de force. As ‘Anthony,’ a widowed man enduring the terrifying, mind-scrambling rigours of Alzheimer’s, he pulls out all the stops, taking his character through a range of moods and manifestations – from grandstanding showoff to sly insinuator – before delivering a final, desperate scene that is absolutely devastating.

Those seeking a rollicking, sidesplitting comedy should be warned: this is not the film for you.

Anthony – when we first encounter him – is living alone in his spacious London apartment, where he’s receiving regular visits from his compassionate daughter, Anne (Olivia Colman). Anthony has recently dismissed his paid carer, claiming that she’s stolen his watch, and he’s adamant that he will not, under any circumstances, move out of the place that he has always regarded as home. But as the story progresses, the touchstones of his life crumble one by one as the familiar things around him begin to change at a terrifying rate. The place doesn’t look the same… items have been moved, rearranged. Anthony’s favourite painting is missing… and why does somebody by the name of Paul (Mark Gatiss) parade around saying that this is actually his apartment? Who is Paul exactly? Anne’s ex-husband? If so, who’s the other Paul (Rufus Sewell), and why does he act like he owns the place? And what’s all this nonsense about Anne moving to Paris?

Perhaps the new home help, Laura (Imogen Poots), might be able to put things in order, but why does she remind Anthony so much of his other daughter, Lucy, the one he seems to have lost touch with? And most bewildering of all, why is it that sometimes, even Anne appears to be a different person than she used to be?

Florian Zeller’s astonishing film, adapted from his stage play, unfolds almost like a psychological horror story, as Anthony struggles to take in what’s happening to him. While I expected this to be bleak, I’m not fully prepared for the power with which it hits me. There’s doubtless extra impact because, for the last ten years of her life, my own mother was afflicted by Alzheimer’s and I recognise many of the beats here as being absolutely authentic. Perhaps that’s why the tears are rolling so copiously down my face.

Despite being confined mostly to one set, The Father never feels stage bound, because so much of what I can see onscreen is in a constant state of flux and because, at times, I feel every bit as unsettled as Anthony does. I’m never entirely sure where a scene is taking place, when it it is set and who is present in it – and that’s not meant as a criticism, but as an observation about the story’s unsettling grip on me. While there was aways a danger of The Father being completely dominated by Hopkin’s extraordinary performance, Colman is as excellent as always, managing to kindle the audience’s sympathy with a mere glance. And Olivia Williams is also compelling as the film’s most enigmatic character.

I walk out of the cinema, bleary-eyed from crying and, if I still have a few unanswered questions, well, that feels exactly right. This is an assured film that handles its difficult subject with rare skill.

So, worth the wait? Most definitely. But maybe remember to take some hankies?

5 Stars

Philip Caveney

Dream Horse

09/06/21

Cineworld, Edinburgh

Yeah, yeah, we’ve seen it all before. A British film about a bunch of working-class people, cast adrift by the closure of whatever industry has kept them going, left to fend for themselves, lost, broke and frightened. Until – hurrah! – they’re saved, thanks to their plucky can-do attitudes and a sense of community… Miners saved by joining a brass band, steelworkers redeemed by stripping, you know how it goes. And yeah, it’s all very inspiring, but somehow it leaves a nasty taste in the mouth, because what’s it saying? That our government doesn’t owe us a duty of care; we just need to dig deep enough, try hard enough, find our own way out of the mire? I don’t buy it.

But I really like this film, written by Neil McKay and directed by Euros Lyn. I just do. I’m not really expecting to, but I can’t help myself. My heartstrings are well and truly tugged.

It’s very, very Welsh. And, as a Welsh person who no longer lives in Wales, I find myself filling up as Katherine Jenkins sings Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, the crowds at the racecourse joining in, and when the Cefn Fforest locals line the streets, singing Bread of Heaven. There’s quite a lot of singing, actually – which is no bad thing.

The plot is no great shakes. It’s based on the true story of supermarket cashier Jan Vokes (Toni Collette), her unemployed husband, ‘Daisy’ (Owen Teale), and city accountant Howard Davies (Damien Lewis), who make a plan to breed their own racehorse. Jan has experience of breeding greyhounds and pigeons, and Howard has previously owned a racehorse – which was so expensive it nearly cost him both his home and his marriage. But they’re all trapped and fed up, and this plan offers them a glimmer of hope. However, they can’t afford it alone. And so the syndicate is born, and – although only twenty-three people actually commit to stumping up the ten pounds a week required for part-ownership – it seems like the whole village is invested in the group’s success.

First, the Vokes buy an injured mare named Rewbell. Then, they breed her to Bien Bien, a thoroughbred stallion. The resulting foal is Dream Alliance, owned by the syndicate, and trained by Philip Hobbs (Nicholas Farrell). Howard warns the syndicate that they are unlikely to make much money from their horse – that they have to be “in it for the hwyl,” not financial gain. This proves to be wise advice. It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that Dream Alliance becomes a relative success (because it would be a very different kind of movie if the venture were a flop), but no one makes more than a couple of grand. The hwyl though. The hwyl. That’s life-changing.

There’s such a lot of hope in this film, such a lot of joy. The importance of simple camaraderie, of sharing a goal, of feeling part of something; it’s all writ large here. Kerby (Karl Johnson) is a shambling alcoholic until the syndicate gives him new hope; widow Maureen (the inimitable Siân Phillips) finally has something other than Tunnock’s teacakes (delicious thought they are) to divert her. The whole crew take a minibus to the races and crash into the owners’ bar, claiming their place among the elite with their heads held high. It’s glorious. And there is, genuinely, some real suspense in those final furlongs.

If you’re looking for something to raise your spirits, Dream Horse is it.

Enjoy. Mae’n grêt.

4.3 stars

Susan Singfield

A Quiet Place: Part Two

04/05/21

Cineworld

A Quiet Place was, in many ways, an extraordinary film. The levels of tension it generated led to a new phenomenon in multiplexes across the world – audiences actually being afraid to munch their popcorn or slurp their soft drinks too loudly, for fear of attracting those audio-activated monsters to their auditorium. The main question in my mind when a second instalment was mooted was simply this: can they possibly hope to pull off the trick for a second time? Well, to a large degree, they have, and this despite the fact that (spoiler alert!) a major character was killed off at the end of the first movie.

Part Two opens with a flashback to Day One of the alien invasion, as Lee Abbott (writer/director/actor John Krasinski) wanders to a baseball game in his hometown, where his son, Marcus (Noah Jupe), is just about to step up to the plate. Then there’s some commotion in the skies above them and, before you can yell, ‘Scarper!” those nasty reptiles arrive on the scene and start killing people. All hell breaks loose and the focus moves from Lee to his daughter, Regan (Millicent Simmonds). We see much of the ensuing carnage through her viewpoint. Long sequences are enacted in total silence – Regan is hearing impaired – and with brilliant use of this device, the resulting action is a masterclass of impeccable timing and effective jump-scares.

Then we cut back to where we left off in Part One. Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and her three children – one of them a newborn baby – are forced to wander off the silent path they’ve so painstakingly built to go in search of other survivors. Eventually they find one in the shape of Emmett (Cillian Murphy), a former friend of Lee’s, a man who is himself mourning the death of his wife and children. Can Evelyn persuade to forget his misery long enough to help her? And what’s the point if life is going to be the miserable existence that they’re all toiling through?

Well, the thing is, Regan has this cunning plan, one she’s convinced can give humans a competitive edge over the creatures that have invaded their planet. But making it work isn’t going to be easy…

Once again, the AQP team manage to raise the suspense to almost unbearable levels and at times I find myself holding my breath as the next nail-biting sequence unfolds. Okay, so this time out, there are a few implausibilities in the mix. In quieter moments, I find myself asking questions like, ‘Do these guys ever get to eat anything?’ Or, ‘How can Evelyn generate enough milk for that baby if she’s not getting any nutrition?’ and ‘How come the aliens only ever (okay, usually) arrive one at a time?’

And… while I’m being picky, Krasinski does pitch us a few too many cross-cut sequences where what’s happening in one scene mirrors the action in another one happening miles away. The first time you see it, it’s really impressive, but Part 2 is a little over-reliant on this conceit. And… if I’m really honest, the central message about the children needing to measure up to their fearless father is hammered home a little too forcefully for comfort.

But look, here’s the bottom line. As an immersive cinematic experience, A Quiet Place: Part Two does deliver on its main mission to thoroughly terrorise viewers – and that’s this series’ raison d’etre, surely? Emily Mortimer’s recent announcement that AQP is going to be a trilogy makes me sigh a little. Hardly anyone ever manages a successful hat trick, but of course, that’s all somewhere in the future. We’ll see.

For now, why not pop along to your socially distanced cinema and raise your stress levels even more than they already are? Come on, you know you want to.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Cruella

02/05/21

Cineworld

When Disney announced this release, my anticipation barely registered on the ‘need to see’ scale. I mean, ho hum, how good can an origin story for a two-dimensional Disney character be, anyway?

The answer is: very good indeed. It only takes ten minutes or so to convince me that this is, in fact, a brilliant notion – and indeed, Cruella is genuinely the most fun I’ve had in a cinema since the reopening of these hallowed portals (admittedly, it’s only been a few weeks). While it might not fully explain why a seemingly lovely woman would turn into a puppy-hating psychopath, it’s nonetheless an absolute delight from start to finish, featuring eye-popping haute couture, a superb ensemble cast and all backed up by a soundtrack of stone cold 60s classics from the Stones to the Zombies. What’s not to like?

Our story begins in the 1950s, with the birth of Estella Miller, a child with shockingly distinctive hair. It’s not long before she’s grown a bit and is making a name for herself at school – as a cocksure, arrogant rebel with total self-belief. She never fails to fuel the ire of her teachers and fellow pupils. Estella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland) harbours a burning ambition. She longs to be a fashion designer just like her idol, the infamous Baroness (Emma Thompson). Estella also has a dark side – a character her Mother, Catherine (Emily Beecham), calls ‘Cruella,’ and who she insists must be kept hidden from the world. However, when her daughter is thrown out of yet another school, Catherine resolves to take her to London where she’ll have a chance of achieving the career she longs for. But the two of them must first make a brief stop en route…

Then, in a bizarre twist of fate – one that I really can’t give away – Estella is orphaned and she falls in with a couple of artful dodgers, who introduce her to a life of crime in the big city and who also provide her with some much-needed companionship. Before very long (the film seems to hurtle along at a breathless pace), it’s the swinging 60s. Estella has grown up to be Emma Stone and her friends Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) have somehow managed to wangle her at job at Liberty’s of London… okay, so she’s only cleaning toilets, but you have to start from the bottom, right?

And then her talents come to the attention of The Baroness herself and Estella’s life takes a massive step up. Now she is being called upon to create a whole series of stunning designs for the The Baroness’s fashion house, designs that her new employer is only too happy to take all the credit for.

But how long before the dark persona hidden inside this ambitious young woman comes clawing her way back to the surface, intent on grabbing the limelight for herself?

What ensues is a delicious war between Cruella and The Baroness. Stone is effortlessly cool both as Cruella and as her slightly more subdued other half, handling an upper crust English accent with aplomb and looking like she’s setting the screen ablaze with the merest smirk. Thompson is wonderfully evil, making Meryl Streep’s turn in the inferior The Devil Wears Prada (a film that Cruella shares some DNA with) look positively cuddly by comparison. Thompson is also very funny in the role.

As the decade hurtles towards the 70s, so the fashions become ever more trashy (bin lorry chic anyone?) and the cinematic jukebox offers us the likes of The Clash and ELO. Seriously, you’ll be dancing in your seat. All we need is a big, brash conclusion and, happily, director Craig Gillespie dutifully gives us one, pulling all the final strands together in great style.

Oh, and don’t get up too soon. There’s a gentle post-credits coda that features a sly nod to Disney’s 1961 original.

I really had the lowest possible expectations for Cruella, but I’m happy to admit that I was wrong.

This film is a blast.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

Frankie

01/06/21

Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh

Frankie had its premiere at Cannes in 2019 and, for obvious reasons, has been waiting ever since for a UK release. Finally, here it is in all its underwhelming glory. Starring the seemingly ageless Isabelle Huppert in the title role, this is the story of a successful film and TV actor (so no stretch there) who, when she finds herself stricken by incurable cancer, summons her extended family for one last vacation in Sintra, an idyllic beach location in Portugal.

She’s accompanied by (amongst others) her husband, Jimmy (Brendan Gleeson), her wayward son, Paul (Jérémie Renier), her former husband, Michel (Pascal Greggory), and her close friend, Ilene (Marisa Tomei), who, we are told, works in the film industry, currently on Star Wars. Frankie appears to be hatching a scheme to matchmake Paul and Ilene, so it’s a bit of a nuisance when she turns up with a boyfriend in tow, cinematographer Gary (Greg Kinnear) – and even more of problem when he proposes. But Frankie is skilled at manipulating the lives of those who love her and she likes nothing so much as a challenge…

Ira Sach’s languorous film is a melancholy affair that sets a bunch characters down in an idyllic location, and then fails to give them enough to do. They interact with each other, but no great drama is generated through their conversations and not much in the way of interest, either. Frankie is a siren figure, the brilliant star around which all the others circle like satellites. As Jimmy says in a key moment, he cannot really envisage any sort of life ‘after Frankie’ and nor, it seems, can the rest of them. But is this enough to create a satisfying movie? Well, no, not really, especially when some of the characters remain enigmas.

Frankie’s daughter, Sylvia (Vinette Robinson), for instance, is going through a separation from her husband, Ian (Ariyon Bakare), but we’re never really sure why – and we learn even less about their teenage daughter, Maya (Sennia Nanua), other than the fact that she likes to spend time on the beach. (But then, who doesn’t, especially in a place like Sintra?) Huppert is as enigmatic as ever, giving an almost ethereal performance – although for somebody succumbing to the ravages of cancer, she appears to be in perfect health.

Ultimately, this is pleasant enough, but it fails to kindle enoughof sparks to set the proceedings alight.

2.9 stars

Philip Caveney

Army of the Dead

28/05/21

Netflix

‘It’s fast, it’s frantic and above all, it’s fun to watch.’

That’s what I said about Train to Busan. Unfortunately, this is Army of the Dead and, though the expertly-edited trailer suggests that this could be up there with Sang-ho Yeon’s movie, the end result is frankly not in the same league. This is a film by Zack Snyder.

Snyder has previous form in this genre. His 2004 reworking of George Romero’s horror classic, Dawn of the Dead, was actually pretty good. It was the film that originated the idea that the undead didn’t have to shuffle along like… well, zombies, but could hurtle after their prey like Mo Farah on steroids. This might not sound like much but, in its own way, it was a bit of a game-changer. Of course, over the intervening years, Snyder has pursued a path of making his films bigger, louder and er… longer. Sadly, Army of the Dead is no exception. To be fair, it opens brilliantly. The title sequence galumphs merrily along to a jaunty tune, and manages to convey the film’s entire back story in a blood-spattered nutshell.

But then the titles end and we realise we’ve still got got two hours and twenty six minutes to go…

Former mercenary Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) has been a major part in saving the world from a zombie epidemic. His reward is a dead-end job, flipping burgers in a cafe. He’s understandably miffed. Then, he’s approached by Casino owner, Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Tanaka), who informs him of millions in dollars in cash, locked up in a vault beneath Las Vegas. The only problem is, the place is currently a walled-off zone, housing all the remaining zombies from a disastrous outbreak, and it’s due to be tactically nuked in a few days’ time. Would Scott be prepared to assemble a squad of former associates and head into the city to ‘liberate’ the money? He can keep fifty million and divide it up however he wants.

Before you can say “Hmm, sounds risky,’ Scott has his team assembled and is heading into Las Vegas intent on setting himself and his friends up for a more prosperous future. He has a way in. His estranged daughter, Kate (Ella Purnell), works in a detention centre right next to the barricades. Scott and Ella are distant, mostly because Scott had to push a knife into his wife (Ella’s mother)’s brain back in the day, but, to be fair, she was turning in to a zombie. So here’s the ideal opportunity to reconnect.

Anyhow, in the mercenaries go and we’re all set for a taut, exciting bloodfest, right?

But no, Snyder wants to take every opportunity to establish his characters. It doesn’t help that they are a fairly tedious bunch, who seem incapable of making the right decision in any given situation. They say things that no real person would ever say, have a predilection for making bad jokes at importune moments, and an attempt to play up a feminist angle for Lily (Nora Arnezeder) is woefully misjudged. The most interesting of the characters is undoubtedly safe-cracker, Dieter (Matthias Schweighöff), but a plot hole the size of Nevada means that there’s no logical reason for him to to be on the team in the first place.

But what really weighs this down is the film’s lack of pace. Busan threw its characters headlong through a whole series of frantic set-pieces, hardly giving an audience the chance to take a collective breath, but Army takes us along at a slow trudge, with too many tedious stops along the way. Snyder always has a great eye as cinematographer – indeed, I suspect this is where his true talents lie. The world building here is skilfully done and the renderings of a devastated Las Vegas are spot on. There are also some stirring action sequences, including a thrill-packed helicopter flight, towards the end.

But it’s not enough to salvage the dead weight of what’s gone before. An odd conclusion (with another gigantic plot hole) seems to be setting up for a sequel but perhaps that’s just wishful thinking on Snyder’s part.

In short, this zombie film is ultimately toothless – and it sucks.

2.5 stars

Philip Caveney

Spiral: From the Book of Saw

21/05/21

The Saw franchise always seems to me like a missed opportunity. The first movie, way back in 2004, was a decent low-budget thriller, tightly directed with a clever climactic twist. But its success gave creators James Wan and Lee Whannel carte blanche to go bigger and nastier. Which they promptly did. The result was a long stream of torture-porn specials, where people the viewer didn’t really care about were messily dismembered in a series of Heath Robinson torture contraptions. In the ‘final’ episode, Jigsaw (the eighth film in the series), the ingenious serial killer was caught and put to rest.

So the news that comedian Chris Rock (a self-avowed Saw fan) had plans to ‘reinvent’ the series seemed to offer at least the possibility of something fresh. In Spiral, he plays detective Zeke Banks, who becomes the ultimate victim of a ‘Jigsaw copycat’ killer. See what they did there? The main difference is that the new murderer is killing only corrupt police officers, which Banks’ department seems to be overrun with. Indeed, it feels at times, that he is possibly the only good guy on the entire force. We quickly learn that he once turned in a fellow officer for breaking the rules and, as a consequence of this, he is disliked by his colleagues.

It probably doesn’t help matters that I find myself in full agreement with them. As played by Rock, Banks has all the inherent charm of a dead mouse in a loaf of bread. Those, who like me, were hoping for a sprinkling of witty repartee to leven the usual visceral mix will be sorely disappointed. Rock’s dialogue – if I’m allowed to call it that – is composed mostly of F bombs, directed at anybody who disagrees with him – and trust me, that’s a lot of F bombs. Even his new partner, doe-eyed Detective William Shenk (Max Minghella), comes in for scorn, mainly because he’s a married man with a new baby to think about.

Banks’ dad, Marcus (Samuel L Jackson, who looks like he’s wondering how he ever got himself into this debacle), is also a highly regarded police officer, retired now, but still taking every opportunity to stick his nose into the latest cases, because… well, every retired guy needs a hobby, right? The question is, who is the mysterious killer? If it takes you longer than twenty minutes to work it out, then you really haven’t been concentrating…

From the opening scene onwards, it’s clear that writers Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger aren’t the tiniest bit interested in breaking any new ground – but breaking limbs, now, that’s a different matter. There’s the usual prurient torture scenes with the camera lingering a little too gloatingly on severed tongues and shattered faces. There’s a labyrinthine series of (frankly ludicrous) flashbacks and, finally, we’re offered a ‘reveal’ which is going to surprise precisely nobody. Ominously, the ending is left hanging, presumably in the hope that Spiral will initiate yet another series of diminishing returns, but I for one certainly won’t be back for more. Once bitten and all that.

This is dismal filmmaking that consistently fails to break new ground. Why not leave it here and look for some new ideas? Just a thought.

2 stars

Philip Caveney

The Unholy

19/05/21

It’s a red letter day for B&B. We’re back in a genuine cinema for the first time since September 2020!

Naturally, we’re excited for the event and, it must be said, a little apprehensive too. We’re still intent on taking all necessary safety precautions. But the main problem is one we haven’t really anticipated: there isn’t a great deal of quality content to choose from. Having sat grimly through Peter Rabbit back in the day, we’re in no great hurry to watch its sequel. Judas and the Black Messiah is very good, but we’ve already seen that online. And Mortal Kombat? Hmm, thanks, but no thanks.

In the end we decide on The Unholy. Based on a novel by the late James Herbert and produced by the ever dependable Sam Raimi, this does at least seem to offer the kind of frissons that a big screen will help to amplify – and, for the most part, we’re pleased with our choice.

Down-on-his luck journalist Gerry Fenn (a gloriously rumpled Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is out chasing stories for the two-bit publication he currently works for. Back in the day, Gerry was a big name in journalism, but was caught fabricating stories and publicly disgraced. Nowadays, he’s reduced to chasing a rumour about a cow with some alleged satanic graffiti on its rump. However, his luck seems to change dramatically when he stumbles across what might just be the scoop of his career.

In the remote town of Banfield, a teenage girl called Alice (Cricket Brown), mute since birth, has suddenly discovered the power of speech after experiencing a vision featuring a woman called ‘Mary.’ A miracle? Alice’s guardian is Father Hagen (William Sadler), who is somewhat sceptical about the whole thing, but it isn’t long before Alice is summoning others in the local community to stand in front of an ancient tree near her uncle’s church to pledge their allegiance to this ancient spirit. Gerry milks the opportunity and forms a close bond with Alice, a girl who every newspaper in America wants to interview… and then the Catholic church gets involved in the form of Bishop Gyles (Cary Elwes) and Monsignor Delgarde (Diogo Morgado). Suddenly, Gerry is back in demand.

But of course, as is usually the way with these theological horrors, Mary isn’t the benign creature she initially appears to be (a fact that doesn’t come as a great surprise to viewers as we’ve already been tipped off in a grisly pre-credits sequence). It transpires that she is pretty quick to mangle anyone who stands in her way and what she wants for starters is the adoration of the entire community of Banfield.

The Unholy, written and directed by Evan Spiliotopoulis, is decently handled, wielding nicely-timed jump-scares and featuring a delightfully conceived supernatural adversary, with a distinctive limb-twisting method of moving about. There’s some dark humour in the mix too, with local businesses getting in on the act offering everything from ‘We Follow Mary’ T-shirts to bottles of ‘Miracle Girl’s Tears.’

My only real issue with the film is that the ending attempts to have its theological cake and eat it. I’d respect it more if it stuck to its guns and went a little bleaker.

But hey, the main thing here is that cinemas are open again! Hurray!

Returning viewers should note that, at present, the trailers and adverts are taking up rather less time than we’re used to, so please ensure you get to your chosen showing for the advertised time, or risk missing the film’s opening stretches.

You’re welcome.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney