When young mother Katie flees an abusive relationship with her newborn, she settles in a new town where she befriends another mum Angela. Katie seems like just what struggling Angela needs: a new best friend to help support her in her own moving on from a troubled period. But when Angela starts to notice strange things about Katie, we’re left to question is Katie all she makes herself out to be?
Inconceivable is an entertaining psychological thriller. It features good performances from Oscar winners Nicolas Cage and Faye Dunaway. However, the pacing felt somewhat plodding, the runtime seeming to stretch beyond its 105 minutes, and the key twists were resolved too early and thus deflated the tension. The main issue seems to be that the script isn’t sure what it’s trying to do. Is Katie the protagonist, or Angela? Do we live the journey of Angela’s descent into madness, or not? Is it an is-she-isn’t-she-crazy film, or not?
A good psychological thriller which is somewhat short on thrills.
Having recently separated from her philandering husband, lonely classics teacher Claire (Jennifer Lopez) has a night of passion with her new next door neighbour: young, sexy, super-intelligent Noah (Ryan Guzman) who’s moved in to care for his frail Great Uncle. Unfortunately for Claire, Noah is a not a one night kind of guy. There’s a fine line between “persistence” and “harassment”, and Noah isn’t even trying to tread it.
The Boy Next Door is a paint-by-numbers thriller-stalker. But despite giving the impression that writer Barbara Curry watched hundreds of films in the sub-genre in order to compile a checklist with which to construct this cliché-Bingo of a movie, the film is exceedingly entertaining. That’s an unfair assessment of the script, anyway, as Curry based the story on her own personal circumstances, so all clichés are real, probably. None-the-less, let’s tick the clichés off.
Lonely and beautiful female lead? Check. Too good to be true younger male love interest? Check. Son who gets turned against his own parents by aforesaid love interest? Check. Stalking love interest who tries to ruin his lover’s career in order to, bizarrely, drive her back into his arms? Check. Final showdown where the adulterous husband gets the chance to redeem himself heroically? Check. Murder afoot? Check. And it goes on and on.
But the film has a lot of good points. Actions have consequences, and everything follows through logically. Okay, some of the deeds are a bit over-the-top, but everything feels internally consistent with the overriding logic of the film. Tonally the film is also consistent, and it zips along at a thrilling pace. There’s very little fat to cut. The acting is mostly convincing, particularly believable was Claire’s son Kevin (Ian Nelson), and Jennifer Lopez gives an understated and believable turn as Claire, although our two main protagonists do slightly ham it up as the tension reaches boiling point. The odd absurdity aside — Noah giving Claire a “first edition” of 2800 year old work the Iliad, a poem which has been in print in English for hundreds of years, the book itself clearly a twentieth century printing — this film is well-crafted and does what it says on the tin. I was on the edge of my seat and totally absorbed in the film world.
Is it a great work of art like the Iliad it keeps mentioning? No. Is it even a “good” film? Well, no. It’s unoriginal and often absurd. But is it entertaining? Absolutely. It holds a mere 11% rating on Rotten Tomatoes which is definitely unfairly harsh. Probably the best “bad” film I’ve seen in a while. Artistically-speaking, this feature only warrants two stars. But it’s just so damn enjoyable, that I have to give it a three!
Six strangers from very different backgrounds have been invited to take part in an escape room together. Escape rooms are a chance for people to come together, build social skills, be creative, and have fun — win or lose. But it soon becomes apparent that when it comes to this particular escape room, losing is not an option.
A strong concept piece featuring a motley assortment of characters, Escape Room felt like a horror movie in the model of a classic Twilight Zone episode, an exciting mystery . It had shades of movies I’ve enjoyed so much, such as Cube (1997) and Saw (2004), but very much did not feel derivative. Escape rooms themselves are all the rage now, probably because, as one of our players Danny (Nik Dodani) enthuses, they’re like real life computer games.And so this feels a very 2019 twist on those older movies.
Escape Room had plenty of well-judged humour, scares, moments of real tension interspersed with genuine mystery and a sense of the marvellous, and the characters didn’t feel like cut-outs waiting to be killed, but like real people. This definitely elevates Escape Room above most other examples of the survival game subgenre where character, motivation, and plot are so often very much secondary to the creativity of the games and the kills.
The movie began with a bang and then slowed right up in order to introduce all of the characters and the setting. But then the pace kicked back in and didn’t let up. Thrilling. I particularly enjoyed this playing with pacing and also of realism; the movie stretches and snaps back like a rubber band, never breaking nor going too far, but pushing the viewer to the limit.
Escape Room isn’t the first movie based on this concept — for example, we have the confusingly named and dated Escape Room (2017) dir. Will Wernick and, err, Escape Room (2017) dir. Peter Dukes –, but it’s the best so far. It really felt like I was watching this generation’s Saw. And like Saw, there were twists and turns — although, admittedly, none as shocking as that twist from the original Saw. Just as in Saw, each room / trial is brilliantly imaginative; you almost feel yourself “playing along” at home. And just like Saw, I felt myself thinking, “This could easily be a franchise. I think they could make more! I hope they make more! Although any sequel would be milking this concept dry” As it happens, the films ends not with the hint, but the definite confirmation, of a sequel. I felt excited, but also a little sickened by the self-assuredness of this film: gone are the days of teasing the audience and hoping for the box office receipts to make a second movie profitable, now are the days of the five film Netflix deal. None-the-less, the set-up for the sequel looks anything but milking the concept: it promises to be a thrilling and wonderful development, and it’s to be released in 2021.
A great concept, entertaining and real-feeling characters, thrilling, horrific yet fun, Escape Room was both familiar and yet refreshingly different. I loved it, and I cannot wait for the sequel.
A husband and wife have recently overcome the tragedy of losing their child and decide to adopt. But is the new addition to their family everything she seems at first sight? (Well, it’s a horror film, so no.)
Orphan is a rare thing, a genuinely believable and real-feeling horror thriller. Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Peter Sarsgaard) totally convince. All their passion, love, boredom, mutual frustration, arguments will be familiar to anyone in a long-term relationship; nothing felt forced, it seemed like being a fly on the wall. The development of their relationship as things go from bad to worse was also thoroughly believable. Nothing was at all melodramatic.
Believable is the key word, for some fairly extreme things happen in this film, yet we buy everything. Good acting, good writing, and some rather effective lighting and make-up work, totally sell the story and the twists. And just when you think things may come off the rails, Isabelle Fuhrman delivers as orphan Esther. The only thing that bugged me was why they even needed to adopt; they already had two healthy kids. The motivation to adopt another child didn’t fully convince.
A thrilling film, not your typical “weird kid” horror movie.
Ángel (Mario Casas) is a paramedic in the ambulance service. Stable job, reasonable flat, beautiful girlfriend Vane (the elfin Déborah François), and talk of babies: life seems to be going in the right direction. However, after tragedy strikes during a call-out, Ángel becomes increasingly distant and suspicious of Vane.
The Paramedic a.k.a. El Practicante is a good film. Well-acted, it keeps us with bated breath. A fairly low-grade guy, Ángel was already half-gone before he even went, so his downward spiral seems less a transformation than a totally believable and natural development. But herein lies somewhat of a problem: I couldn’t quite understand what Vane saw in Ángel even from the beginning. Another problem was the end. It seemed hollow, although that’s perhaps in keeping with the tone of the film. But more than that, it seemed slightly unbelievable.
The dark tone and machinations of the characters keep us dutifully hooked. Suspenseful, thrilling, a disturbing slow-burn, and yet somewhat lacking; the movie’s trajectory felt almost inevitable from the get-go.
A disturbing slow-moving thriller which never quite lands a killer blow. Still very much worth a watch.
Samantha (Brooke Newton) has no family whatsoever apart from her mother who was herself adopted. So when her mum suddenly dies, pregnant Samantha’s world is plunged into chaos only to be saved by the unexpected arrival of her grandmother (soap stalwart Robin Riker) who is looking to make up for lost time. But does Granny have ulterior motives?
Lineage of Lies, also colourfully known as Psycho Granny, is classic network TV movie stuff. Low budget, over-acted, melodramatic, massive spoiler in both titles, and with things that make no sense. For example, how is our psycho granny able to lug 200lb dead bodies about, in public, without being seen or putting a hair out of place? Why does she only look just old enough to be Samantha’s mum, let alone grandmother? Why does someone who is self-evidently so brilliant at deception make the most rudimentary and careless errors, such as leaving dead people’s mobiles lying around for our protagonist Samantha to find? We also had plot dead-ends: why don’t the people from her past deceptions, who we are introduced to, catch up with or threaten her or her schemes in some way?
Having said all that, I loved it. This is typical student / unemployed / housewife / hungover / late night / corona furlough guilty-pleasure viewing. As for the plot, we know from the outset what Granny’s game is, and the fun is in seeing how she goes about bringing her plan to fruition. What I particularly liked about the film is that granny is after emotional not financial enrichment. Very human.
There’s no way this film can be considered “good”, but it’s enjoyable nonsense, none-the-less.
Kathy Rhodes’ (Molly Hagan) seven year old daughter Michelle disappeared on the way to school. Now, twenty years later, the arrival in town of twenty-seven year Michelle Jacobs (Sofia Mattsson) sparks off an obsession: has Kathy’s little girl somehow returned to her?
The Mystery of Michelle a.k.a. Long Lost Daughter is an entertaining TV movie and feature length debut from writer Joe Ryan Laia. The characters are generally sympathetic and believable. However, Kathy’s obsession with Michelle generally lacks the edge or menace required to make this movie really pop, except suddenly and therefore somewhat jarringly towards the end, and I feel this is a missed opportunity for Laia as it would have been easy to fix in a redraft. The movie therefore often plods along rather than zips.
The ending is fairly satisfying but also curious: what was apparently meant to be the cherry on the cake showing the sweetness and humanity of Michelle Jacobs instead comes across as giving her rather sociopathic tendencies. A bit of a discordant misstep to end the story with. But the most curious aspect of the plot, as it would be so easy to sort out and would have multiplied the drama tenfold, was Michelle’s age when she disappeared. She was seven. Not three. Not four. Not even five. But seven. The tension of the films depends on believing that Michelle’s own early memories of her real family could be confused and blurred. Yet it is totally unbelievable that anyone that age would not remember their own parents clearly.
None-the-less, there were some great scenes with neat writing and lovely acting, such as the tense dinner between Kathy, her husband, Michelle, and Michelle’s husband-to-be. This scene was very relatable, somewhat humorous, vaguely menacing, and the performance from Hagan really exuded guarded motherly love.
Disappearance at Clifton Hill follows a troubled young woman whose return to her hometown at Niagara Falls triggers a disturbing memory from her childhood. Did her seven year old self really witness a child’s kidnapping all those years ago, or is it all just a confused memory, or a fantasy?
Tuppence Middleton gives a convincing performance of unbalanced, charismatic, driven loner Abby. I was captivated, totally believing that she is capable of all the deviousness she gets up to. The other cast members are also good, the film-stealing turn coming from director-turned-actor David Cronenberg (yes, the same). Unfortunately, the important role of the Moulins (Paulino Nunes and Marie-Josée Croze) seemed like a side of overdone eggs with extra ham. The sound design was unsettling and was key to the eerie, almost surreal and dream-like atmosphere of the film.
The film was a little bit tricky to follow, especially at the beginning, and the ending felt like it needed a more distinct underlining. But that was befitting a picture which left such a powerful impression but at times failed to make a sharp impact. None-the-less, I was along for the ride.
A wonderful portrait of a lonely woman in a town of lonely souls, Disappearance at Clifton Hill sometimes lacked edge and at times veered off into crime series territory (in terms of acting, story, soundtrack), but it was an enjoyable and engrossing ride — albeit too slow-going for some viewers.
Spitting Image‘s fourth episode saw an increased emphasis on the doings of Michael Gove, pop star Adele, and Ivanka Trump. It was about as focused as last week’s episode in this regard (which also focused on a few main characters, mainly Prince Harry and Megan Markle), there thankfully being no return to the chaotic scatter gun approach of Episode Two.
However, there was nonetheless a notable drop in quality from last week. Many of the jokes weren’t relatable (I still find the “Priti Patel is a vampire” thing unintelligible, only now it’s unintelligible and tedious) and many of the others have been well and truly overdone by only the fourth episode (I’m thinking Emmanuel Macron’s overly long lascivious tongue). The joke about Adele’s weight loss and everyone’s fixation on it was mildly amusing the first time it was told in this episode, but not the second time — let alone the fourteenth. We get it, we get it already! Here comes another joke for the umpteenth time: Ivanka Trump is a vacuous person. Okay, okay. Stop it, please, stop the “joke” already. My God, stop. On the up side, Jurgen Klopp was, once again, amusing, although not quite as “funny” as he was in Episode Two. And the “The dress is blue and black… I heard ‘laurel’” joke was admittedly funny, albeit five years out of date. When your best joke in a twenty-four minute sociopolitical satire relates to a five year old viral meme about the colour of a dress, you need to ask yourselves some serious questions.
The main “joke” about Gove seems to be that his cheeks look like two giant bollocks. Heady satire indeed(!) Speaking of which, however, the puppets are wonderful. We get a long look at Piers Morgan, and it’s truly delightful. The puppets really are magnificent. A shame the episode wasn’t. Another tawdry song number rounded off what was a pretty poor, if not totally worthless, fourth instalment. It has made me YouTube the songs from Not the Nine O’Clock News; now that was how to write a funny comedy song!
I haven’t given up hope yet, but I’m getting the feeling that Season One might end up being best viewed in a single twenty minute “Best Bits” compendium.
The third episode of BritBox’s Spitting Image was a bit less random than last week’s outing, focusing more on a few key characters. This was necessary as it gave us a bit of time to develop the jokes, insofar as the jokes are developable and not just the same gag repeated and reheated.
We see a massive increase in the presence of Prince Harry and Megan Markle. The jokes were mostly obvious — Harry is a bit of an idiot, he’s posh, he thinks he’s run away to freedom but is actually more under-the-thumb than ever — but these punches nonetheless landed and were funny. The line involving “chukka” made me laugh, encapsulating in a few words Harry’s total detachment from reality like never before in his life.
We started to see significant time committed to ridiculing the totally ridiculous Labour front bench. This was nice, and it’s unclear why the Shadow Cabinet hasn’t been featured that much already; perhaps it’s fear of offending the left, or perhaps it’s just that this ridiculous Labour frontbench is beyond satire. In any case, Starmer was portrayed as the only competent one, all his team presented as incompetent toddlers in need of direction. I’m not sure if this is particularly on the nose, however, as his team is generally seen (by critics) as an example of positive discrimination gone awry with incompetents being overpromoted due to having ticked the right boxes.
Episode Three did just enough to nudge a good rating, but it’s still marginally weaker than the season opener. Spitting Image still seems to be finding its way. It’s a show that the world needs, and it’s a show with a great weight of history behind it. Therefore, I’m willing to give it time to come of age. But it’s still not hitting the right notes.
Film and Writing Festival for Comedy. Showcasing best of comedy short films at the FEEDBACK Film Festival. Plus, showcasing best of comedy novels, short stories, poems, screenplays (TV, short, feature) at the festival performed by professional actors.