Malignant

Oh my goodness! What a bonkers movie! This movie is absolutely bananas. It is absolutely nuts, and I kind of love it for all its absurdities.

It was impossible to miss the ubiquitous trailers for this movie touting, “a new vision of terror from James Wan.” I wasn’t super excited to check this one out. I love horror, and I’m a fan of Wan’s work, but the trailers did nothing for me.

I checked out the first ten minutes on my laptop on HBO Max, and I was deeply disappointed. I thought it was terrible. So with trepidation I walked into the theater last night to watch it for real. I credit the theater experience with vastly improving those first ten minutes. What seemed hammy and overblown felt right at home in the theater.

So what is this movie? Well according to the trailers it is about a woman named Maddie who is haunted by a malevolent force from her past named Gabriel. She thinks he’s the devil. In the past he whispered evil things to her. As an adult he shows her the murders he commits. It’s directed by James Wan. The trailers want to make sure you know that he is behind it.

That’s everything I knew about the movie before I saw it. As such I was delightfully surprised by every twist and turn the movie unfolded. It was so much fun as the movie got steadily weirder and more off the wall or really off the ceiling. I struggle with movies like this. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I want to talk about how crazy it is. I’m going to include a spoiler section after the review proper to lay out just how wild this movie gets.

The movie is directed by James Wan. He directed the first two Conjuring and Insidious films. He’s pretty much responsible for the horror renaissance we’re seeing in my opinion. He’s a master at building tension and setting up a scare. He has a great eye for fear. He uses every tool in the box for this movie. Unsettling backstories, atmospheric lighting, a great setting, and a sudden jolting camera move to really drive the jump home.

He goes over board here. He is really playing with his tools here and seeing how far he can push things. There are more obvious jump scare setups here than in his previous work, but when they’re this well done it’s hard to begrudge a good jump.

The tone however feels very weird at times. The movie has an offbeat sense of humor that is employed at odd moments. I’m not always sure if what I’m laughing at is supposed to be funny. A great example of this is a scene with a very minor revelation that builds like a massive soap opera reveal moment then we cut away and never really address the fallout from that revelation. Is it supposed to be funny? Why the melodramatic buildup if it’s not big news to anybody?

The dialogue is terrible. It’s screenwriter 101 terrible. There’s clumsy exposition, big declarations, and just plain awkward character work. At one point a scientist shouts to another “it’s like he’s drinking electricity!” Like I just said, is it supposed to be funny? I don’t know, but it is.

What saved this movie is the strength of the direction and how wild and crazy the story gets. The plot really goes to some unbelievable places, and I was delighted. It was so much fun to see something so bonkers. I had a lot of fun with it in spite of its glaring flaws. And even now as I think about it’s flaws I find them charming rather than grating.

So is this my cup of tea? Yes! Will it be yours? That’s tough to say. Know that it’s ridiculous. See it in a theater. Watch it with friends. These will give you the best chance to enjoy this movie. B+

Okay, spoilers!!! If you’re going to watch this movie turn back now!

If you have seen it or don’t care to check it out, read on…

So the movie follows Maddie a woman whose life is haunted by a dark evil presence called Gabriel. After her husband bashes her head against a wall he’s killed by Gabriel. Maddie starts seeing Gabriel kill the doctors who tortured him years ago. Maddie reaches out to the police to report the murders. They uncover the truth Maddie has been haunted by Gabriel her whole life, but she blocked the memories.

Just then, one of Gabriel’s victims breaks free and falls through the ceiling if Maddie’s house right on top of the cops. what?! They arrest Maddie. Meanwhile Maddie’s sister finds the medical facility where Maddie was kept as a child. She finds the old vhs tapes of her treatment. Maddie had a twin brother who was a parasitic teratoma. They were essentially Siamese twins who shared one brain. Gabriel was a parasite who would whisper evil thoughts to her. They surgically removed most of Gabriel, but left a chunk of him in Maddie’s head. After her husband bashed her head against a wall he unleashed Gabriel.

So Gabriel literally breaks open her skull, pushes his own gross face out enough to see and controls her body in order to kill his victims. This means that for the rest of the movie Maddie runs around backwards killing people in reverse. It’s so freaking bizarre!!! I’ve never seen anything like this movie before! It’s so strange and amazing! I had an absolute hoot with this absurd premise. I loved it.

The Suicide Squad (2021)

Violent, bloody, hilarious, and surprisingly heartwarming, this film is light years ahead of its predecessor. I really enjoyed this one and encourage you to check it out while you can.

Written and directed by James Gunn, this film is weird kind of sequel to Suicide Squad from 2016 directed by David Ayer and bunch of studio idiots. The studio idiots apparently backed off on this movie and it shows. The film is infinitely better in every respect than that earlier film.

The story follows a team of super powered villains who trade their services for time off their prison sentences. They are sent to a remote Central American island to destroy a scientific facility that may be conducting extra terrestrial experiments that could destroy the world. They aren’t expected to survive.

James Gunn was clearly taking notes in screenwriting 101 when they covered character writing. He deftly weaves together a group of disparate personalities that can come into conflict and agreement in surprising ways. They all have well defined arcs and journeys that make the whole adventure feel worthwhile. Even the supporting characters with one or two lines feel fleshed out.

The main team is made up of Idris Elba as Bloodsport, a super assassin who essentially wear a Swiss Army Knife for a suit. He is bad tempered and bitter. But he’s also deeply charming and cares much more than he wants to let on.

Daniela Melchior is quite a surprise as Ratcatcher 2. Her father was Ratcatcher 1, and the three characters have fun with her name. She has such expressive and powerful eyes. She gives every moment real weight. She also has a cute rat sidekick and can sleep through anything.

There’s John Cena as Peacekeeper. He’s the most extreme version of a patriot superhero. He’ll kill any number of people to keep the peace. John Cena can be an amazing performer when he has a good director. Earlier this year he was in F9, and he was terrible. A block of wood with google eyes could have done a better job. But here he’s really good. He’s funny. He’s frightening. He’s charming and intimidating.

Damien Dastmalchian plays Polka Dot Man. The weirdest member of the team. He has several moments of sheer lunacy that I really love. But I don’t want to spoil anything about his character, so I’ll leave him there.

Returning from the original film are Joel Kinnamen as Rick Flagg, and he’s finally an interesting character. Margot Tobbie once again embodies the wild antics of Harley Quinn. Both performers do great work here and it’s a joy when they are on screen.

Sylvester Stallone plays an 8 foot tall half man half shark with a limited vocabulary. That fact alone sold me on the movie, and he doesn’t disappoint.

The film embraces the comic book world while real sing grounded. It is brutally violent with extremely graphic blood and guts. All in all it’s a really fun time that is carried by the strength of its characters.

I’ve seen it twice once on HBO Max and once in theaters. The theater experience was more fun for sure. but either way it’s worth checking out. It’ll be leaving both soon. Give it a look before it goes.

It’s my cup of tea. A-

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

This martial arts super hero spectacle is a lot of fun and surprisingly effective at times while being overly stuffed in other moments.

The plot is full to bursting with ideas and storylines. There are a ton of characters and worlds to explore. The best parts of the film involve Shang-Chi, played by Simu Liu, his best friend Katy, played by Awkwafina, and his father Xu Wenwu, played by Tony Leung. His father uses ten magic rings to run a massive and ancient criminal empire. He trained Shang to be the greatest fighter in the world. Shang escaped his father and found a normal life, but his peace is shattered by a group of assassins sent by his father.

From there it gets rather silly and overstuffed with magic realms and ancient evils and so many side characters. I really enjoyed the characters and the worlds explored are really interesting, but I feel our lead gets a little lost. It felt to me that Shang-Chi was part of an ensemble rather than the lead of his own movie.

That said this movie is really fun. Honestly I had a great time with this movie. There’s a thrilling Kung fu fight on a bus that is really well choreographed and shot in a fun way.

They balance the drama of the family dynamics with the fun comedy quips really nicely. The movie takes turns with the humor and the drama instead of awkwardly mashing them together like in some other films. This is helped by some great dramatic work by Tony Leung and some fantastic comic moments from Awkwafina. There’s another comedic character whose presence is kind of a surprise. I’m sure the spoilers are out, but if you don’t know who shows up it’s a delightful moment when they arrive.

The action scenes felt very different to me than usual Marvel action. They are very grounded in choreography rather than cgi. Now I’m sure cgi was used to enhance the moments, but the early fights have a tactile kinetic quality that was a lot of fun to see.

My favorite moments are the quiet character moments. Shang and Katy talking about his mom. The movie has a big cgi showdown that is elevated by the pauses in fighting that Tony Leung and Simu Liu have. Tony Leung’s entire backstory is fascinating to see and the way he plays it is impeccable as ever. There’s also a really fun and relatable scene in a bar between Shang, Katy and their much more successful friends. These are the moments that really make the movie for me.

This movie was a really fun ride. I had a great time with it, and I think you will too. Its not so heavy into the Marvel universe that it won’t be accessible to those uninitiated in the MCU. It’s a really fun action adventure fantasy. It’s worth your time.

It’s my cup of tea. B+

Candyman (2021)

A movie with a lot on its mind, this strong horror film combines social commentary and slow burn suspense to incredible effect.

This is a kind of sequel to the 1992 horror film of the same name. This is one of the most interesting sequels I’ve seen because although it hits all the notes of a sequel it never feels like a sequel. It tells its own story and has its own intentions.

The story follows a struggling painter named Anthony, played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. He and his girlfriend a successful art curator, played by Teyonah Paris, have just moved into a new apartment that was built on top of the bulldozed remains the Cabrini-Green housing projects. Cabrini-Green was a famous low income housing area that started with the best of intentions but due to lack of funding, aggressive policing, and rampant poverty lead to a crime infested area that was eventually shut down and destroyed. Only to be rebuilt as high rises for the well off.

This is a horror film that is as much about gentrification as it is about scaring the pants off it’s audience. The horror and social commentary come together really neatly in the form of Candyman. In the film, Candyman is an urban legend. If you say his name five times in the mirror, he’ll appear behind you and kill you. It’s a spooky game teenagers play during slumber parties. Or maybe it’s more…. Yeah it’s more. That question was central to the original film. This movie takes the idea of Candyman and expands on him tying him into the violence and the memory of that violence committed in a contain neighborhood.

This is Nia De Costa’s second film and her first horror. She nails it. She employs my favorite horror tactic. She fills every frame with something to notice and be afraid of. For instance some morons play the game and after saying Candyman five times a figure can be seen lurking in every mirror and reflective surface in the room. Sometimes it’s just the corner of the frame. Sometimes you don’t notice it until he moves. I love that kind of thing.

She sets the tone right off the bat with the opening credits. I normally find opening credits to be something to fast forward through on my way to the movie. These are awesome. They are set to a haunting soundscape of music and elementally frightening sounds. And they are made up of shots of Chicago buildings and landmarks disappearing into a cloudy foggy sky, but shot in the most unnerving way. It might give you vertigo.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is great. Teyonnah Parris is fantastic. Colman Domingo is always wonderful and here he’s particularly effective.

There’s so much to like here, but it does feel uneven. I think there’s too much going on in the way of themes De Costa is trying to carry. Some elements don’t fit evenly and some moments seem to fall through. There’s also a couple of horror moments that are shockingly effective in the moment, but don’t serve the narrative as strongly as I think they could. My final complaint is that the ending feels abrupt. The more I think about it the more it works, but I think it might be disappointing to some viewers.

It’s creepy, unsettling, and gruesome. It really worked for me. It’s s strong film from De Costa, and one I’ll add to my annual Halloween viewing.

It’s my cup of tea A-

Coup 53

The final installment of documentary month is Coup 53 (2019), a film detailing the US/UK led coup of Iran’s democratically elected government. With compelling interviews and detailed storytelling, Coup 53 sheds light on an often overlooked piece of history that has had sweeping consequences.

If you’re interested in watching this documentary check it out at the link below.

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Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films

This week our hosts continue documentary month with a film that deep dives into the wild studio, Cannon Films, that made several of the movies reviewed on the podcast so far. From wild stories of the happenings on set, to the behind-the-scenes of how stars like Chuck Norris began their careers, no stone is left unturned.