Devil’s Mile

I almost wish Devil’s Mile had been bad, because that would be easier to take. But (except for the effects, which were cheap and looked it) instead it was consistently nearly really good, and I don’t even know exactly what I would have done to fix it, which is somehow even worse than all the rest.

So there are these kidnappers, driving to somewhere to deliver their victims to a mysterious figure in the shadows that they might as well have named Mr. Big, because he’s definitely a trope instead of a person. And they get lost on the way, somehow? And they slip from crime drama into teen slasher long enough to be warned away from a road that they take anyway, driving long enough to drift into Tarantino meets J-Horror and/or Lovecraft, which is where the movie uneasily remains until the credits roll.

But the thing is, it’s not clever enough to borrow so much premise from Tarantino, and it’s not haunting enough to borrow so much horror inspiration from Japanese cinema, and it’s not creepy enough to borrow so much mood from Lovecraft. So I mostly just sat there wishing that either the sum of the parts had merged into something amazing instead of congealing into, well, the thing I was watching on TV, or else that at least the characters would die faster.

I would watch something else by this creative team, though, because the concepts were solid, or at least had potential. It’s just that the execution, in nearly every sense of the word you can imagine, was lacking.

No Time to Die (2021)

I’m still not entirely comfortable with the fact that all of the Daniel Craig Bond films have shared a continuity and an ongoing story arc. I mean, yes, it’s great from a storytelling perspective. But it’s not really how James Bond movies work, traditionally?

The main thing to know about No Time to Die, aside from that yes it is a part of the same continuity and same ongoing story, is that it’s the last of the Craig films. What that will mean for future storylines is at this time unclear to me, but this arc has come to a satisfying conclusion.

It’s extremely hard to want to say anything else at all, which is from my perspective a good sign about the depth and breath of storytelling at play. But okay, here goes: Bond has retired from service, an outcome that is not entirely shocking given the conclusion of Spectre. But an old friend pulls him back in, just in time to discover a plot involving some of the most dangerous near-future tech imaginable, wielded with surgical precision by a man with a bone to pick.

Later, lots of spy stuff happens, featuring chases, explosions, gun and fist fights, etc. It’s a James Bond movie, yo. Also, there’s an emotional arc, and all of the women have agency and intrinsic value outside of Bond’s sphere of awareness. So it’s perhaps not your father’s James Bond movie.

Hollow Knight: Voidheart Edition

I still don’t understand why games that are roguelike are named after the original game of that style, Rogue, while games that are Metroid-like (ie, exploration-platformers with boss fights and power-ups) are named after more than a decade later when Castlevania did the same thing, and someone decided they were equivalent and everyone else agreed. It’s just not right.

All of that to say, Hollow Knight is a Metroidvania in which you play a silent[1] protagonist come to the dying city of Dirtmouth above the dead-but-treasured-filled kingdom of Hallownest, and also everyone is bugs. And that’s it, that’s the whole plot as presented. Everything else you learn on the way. Questions like “why do I have such a shitty weapon? why are some of the bugs cool and chill and want to sell me things or discuss philosophy, but some of the bugs just run at me to kill me, but some bugs do both? why is this referred to as a platformer when I can barely jump at all?”

There are three important things to know about this game. The first is that, if you are okay with the genre, with having to go back and forth and remember where you left things to do later and explore until you find places you can’t go but trust that you’ll be able to later and until you find fights that you cannot win but trust the same thing about that, if you’re okay with these things: this is a spectacular game. Arguably the best one of its kind ever made.

The second is that it’s incredibly long. I played for 83 hours to get the credits, and there are still a number of things that I know are left undone, not counting that there are probably things I don’t know also.

The third is a corollary to the second. It is 97% melancholy, with only the briefest of divergences from this theme, and those countered by moments of much stronger sadness to still balance out at 100% adjusted melancholies. And there’s nothing wrong with a melancholy game! Most walking sims are, and I play lots of those. But here’s the thing: 83 hours of melancholy is a lot to get through, even for a truly amazing game.

Oh, and also Voidheart Edition is because there were eventually several small expansions, and all of them are included in the Game Pass version. According to the meter, I got 106% completion out of an implied possible 112%. Almost all of what’s left are harder versions of things I’ve already done, which makes it hard to feel like I should practice my ass off to accomplish them. Plus the melancholy.

In the unlikely event that I do more, and that the more I’ve done changes my impressions significantly, I’ll report back.

[1] I mean, yes, most video game protagonists outside of dialogue-tree RPGs and shooter cutscenes are silent. But the other characters in this game make a point of noticing your silence.

I Spit on Your Grave 2

The thing that made I Spit on Your Grave[1] more than torture porn [before that was even a subgenre] is the novelty. There aren’t many lady revenge stories, and fewer that are violent in the way that dude revenge stories are violent. As such, it has both the typically female strength storyline in which a woman who has faced, uh, let’s say adversity is able to rise up from circumstances that would destroy a man[2], and then it follows that up with the direct, bloody revenge that has, as I said, been a traditionally male-dominated arena.

Also, that direct, bloody revenge is earned, and earned well. “No jury would convict her” is what it said on the posters, as I recall.

I’ve discussed its remake elsewhere, with the verdict of “largely unnecessary”. And now we have I Spit on Your Grave 2, which dares to ask the question: what if Day of the Woman but crossed with Hostel? The answer being, of course, that formulaic torture porn, however bidirectional, misses the point entirely.

I am disappointed in you, makers of this movie. (I cannot even say “makers of this sequel”, because the only thing the movies have in common is the one sentence summary they share. My verdict here is downgraded from unnecessary to shameless.)

[1] aka Day of the Woman, and except for the fact that it’s less eye-catching and I would have been less likely to have seen it lo those many years ago, I wish that had stayed the title. Because it sells its theme better that way.
[2] Whether this stereotype is accurate is not in the scope of my point, although I’m not here to argue against it.

Confessional (2019)

I hate it when research disproves a theory that superficially matches all available facts. See, the main thing that Confessional had going for it was its Covid-conscious style. Seven characters in a video confessional booth, telling (or refusing to tell) their stories and how those stories overlap with each other and with the two students who died on campus on the same night a few weeks ago. The upshot of this premise being, there was rarely more than one actor on screen at any given moment, and never more than two.

But then I find out it came out in April of 2019, and was therefore filmed earlier than that, and… ugh. I guess I could turn this around by saying it presaged film in the time of Covid, or that it was prescient, or some other Nostradamus-light analogy, but I’m just too disappointed to bother.

The thing is, aside from its not-apparently-of-the-moment-after-all style, it’s a pretty generic thriller. Seven suspects, some of whom are obviously innocent, some of whom are obviously guilty of something, whether it was this particular thing or not, and all of whom have something to hide, or else why did they show up to make their confessions in the first place?

It was, y’know, fine. Which is to say, sadly, that it’s neither good enough nor bad enough to be noteworthy.

Promising Young Woman

Every movie I watched in early 2020, according to a memory that is at worst only slightly flawed in this regard, had a preview for Promising Young Woman. April could not get here fast enough! …and then all the theaters plus pretty much everything else shut down in late March, and when the movie received theatrical release last December instead, I was still not in a place where going to see it there seemed like a reasonable option. Because, you know, vaccines didn’t exist yet.

And so I’m basically a year and a half overdue on this movie. On the bright side, it delivered!

The thing is, oh man, I don’t want to say anything other than go watch it, on the off chance that that barrage of previews didn’t spoil the basic premise. There’s a lot more to see, but those first moments were a killer even in the preview, much less what it might be as a full scene with no idea what to expect.

What I can say is that there’s a little bit of a mystery here. We are presented with the portrait of a woman who was promising, past tense most definitely intended. She was a med school student, but now a few years later she’s a barista who lives with her parents and gets pass out drunk in dive bars. But why? What happened? Can she break the cycle of her existence?

How far will she go to do so?

Separately from the fact that it’s good, it’s something basically everyone should see. I just wish I believed that it would be as meaningful to, y’know, everyone.

Z (2019)

Shudder served me up a more bog standard traditional horror this time, and I’m maybe a little disappointed by it? It’s not that I’m itching to become a giallo aficionado or anything. It’s just that horror in the ’70s is so good. If I were the kind of person who got paid for this, I might call it raw so that I could proceed to call it visceral as well, and be proud of myself for the pun. But what I really mean is, that was when the genre first spread its wings. You had a little blood and a lot of screaming and maybe some goofy eastern European accents, or maybe you had rubber-suited “monsters” or perspective shots and miniatures to make every day critters giant-sized. But the ’70s is where the technology improved and at the same time the censorship limits were removed, and the field just exploded in every direction. By 2019, horror movies are often a lot more polished, but they’re also more prudish and maybe a little dead inside, from that sweet sweet studio money.

Which is not to say Z was a bad movie. I was interested in where things were going. Lonely boy makes imaginary friend, only, just how imaginary is he? And that’s an okay premise, even if we’ve for certain sure seen it before. Will the boy turn out to be a bad seed type? Is it a ghost story? Demonic possession? Weird invisible monster?

The climax was pretty goofy, but the acting was fine and it had a jump scare from what I think may be a unique source in the annals of blah blah. Which ain’t nothing!

Lo strano vizio della signora Wardh

Unexpectedly, two movies in a row on my tragically massive Shudder watch list were giallos[1]. The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh tells the story of an American(?) diplomat’s wife, whose husband is on assignment in Europe[2], and her story’s intersection with a recent sex criminal in, uh, town. The best part is (and maybe this is a key component of giallos[1]; as I’ve stated elsewhere I’m not an expert on the genre), the first thing that happens is she is given an ironclad alibi for not being the sex criminal herself, due to arrival / murder timelines, just like what happened in Tenebrae.

Anyway, blah blah blah lots of murdered people who are either apparently evil and/or were topless at an earlier point in the film, about like you’d expect, but what I’m most interested in here is the title. Mrs. Wardh has vices, don’t get me wrong, the most obvious of which is that she sleeps around. But that’s hardly strange, as vices go? The only strangeness apparent is in a lot of flashbacks to a previous boyfriend who is a current stalker, and I can’t work it out.

Because the stalker ex testifies as to her strange vice, and flashback scenes confirm the bare bones of his testimony, but she seems detached at best and coerced at worst in these flashbacks, and never responds to any of the ex’s innuendos about her being the driving force behind said events.[3] On top of that, even if his vice testimony is accurate, it has zero percent bearing on anything else that happens in movie, for good or ill. Like, why are we even talking about this? If the goal was explaining why she deserved to be stalked and/or terrorized, well, maybe it worked better on 1971 audiences than it did on me, and that is the only goal I can even guess at.

In conclusion, giallos[1] are weird.

[1] gialli, properly, but who’s counting?
[2] I know what you’re thinking. “Chris,” you’re thinking, “diplomats are assigned to countries, and Europe isn’t a country.” And if this had been a newer movie, I wouldn’t even be able to defend myself. But here’s the stone cold truth of the matter. Every time, every time there’s a mention made about spending money or what something costs, they reference a different currency. Every. Time. All without any evidence of the amount of travel that would otherwise perhaps justify this.
[3] Why am I treating her vice as a spoiler? It’s a good question, and yet, it is the title of the film.

Reminiscence

It’s not really clear to me what Kevin Feige is going to do when he tries to introduce the X-Men into the MCU. Not only has Hugh Jackman refused to play Wolverine again, but he apparently got the mutton chops in the divorce with Fox. Seriously, bro looks within an approximation of no differently than he did in 1999.

Okay, dumb mutton chops joke out of the way. Moving on…

Reminiscence is not really the movie I expected it to be, but in a good way! See, what I expected was a riff on Inception but memory instead of dreams. What I got was future noir, every bit as dark and gritty[1] as the stuff from eighty or ninety years ago when the genre arose, wrapped up with a neat little sci-fi bow. Hugh Jackman is the detective, even though that’s not quite his actual job, it’s something more like memory tour guide? And he has a secretary (again, not really, she runs the memory machine in real life) and a femme fatale nightclub singer in a red dress walks through his front door as the first act opens. Someone knew what’s what.

I’ll save you some trouble and say that the story is almost entirely told from a linear perspective, even though the nature of delving into memories again and again makes it feel like that’s not the case, at times. So, call it linear with flashback digressions? And if you like the genre[2], this is a pretty fantastic example of it.

[1] Well, less grit, more water, but “dark and wet” isn’t going to work as a replacement catchphrase.
[2] I don’t actually know whether “future noir” is a genre, or something I made up just now, or what? But what I have in mind is traditional noir, but less sexist than that, set in a no more dystopic future than original noir was set in a dystopic version of its present; just a future that is predicated on the outcomes of our own moderately dystopic present.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

I’m not here for the idea of making links to a bunch of previous movies, but some quick and uncertain mental math tells me that Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings relies on four previous and mostly unconnected MCU movies[1] to explain its backstory. (Six if you care about the Blip.) None of these movies include Shang-Chi in a credited role, or even acknowledge his existence. And I mean… I’ve read within a small rounding error of 100% of 25 years’ worth of Marvel comics, so I’m obviously here for it, but that is noticeable weight of continuity to labor under, you know?

Anyway, the plot is the plot and yes I want to see it again, but nobody is interested in an MCU spoiler review, not even two weeks late like this one basically is. But between a pre-verbal child and Covid, it’s harder to get to the theater on time than it used to be, you know?

What I am interested in is the things that were cribbed from the comics, with which I have a more than passing familiarity[2]. Master of Kung Fu (as a comic) focused on two things. First, both in importance and chronology, a generation-later retelling of the old Fu Manchu stories with a lot of those characters still in play. Fu Manchu is as yellow-perily as ever, and the British spies who oppose him are likewise as clichedly British. Only, now he (Fu) has a daughter set up as his heir apparent[3], and a finely-honed, kung fu assassin trained son who has turned against him for being, y’know, evil and whatnot. And second, once the comic wasn’t all Fu all the time, it also focused on being a British spy agency story in which Shang-Chi traveled the world with James Bond’s nephew[4] doing superhero-adjacent spy stuff and living out a spy-girlfriend relationship with a Fleetwood Mac soundtrack.

The movie only focuses on the first of those, except obviously not using Fu Manchu and instead pulling in the so-called Mandarin and his ten rings, by way of the terrorist organization we’ve seen before, all the way back in the very first MCU movie. But then it also pulls in a lot of Iron Fist’s mythology, what with an extra-dimensional kung fu city that you can only get to every so many time intervals, unless you know secret ways; and also, their kung fu is magical wuxia kung fu. Sad to be the guy who played Danny Rand in the Netflix show, but zero percent sad to see the expert martial artist not be some random white dude.

My point, if indeed I had one, is that if you were going to cram a mildly problematic Iron Man villain named the Mandarin together with Marvel’s two martial arts characters, this is pretty much the best way to have done so. And furthermore, if you weren’t going to cram those together into one story but instead spread them out among three, well, probably you should cram them together instead.

[1] And a “Marvel One-Shot” that I’d seen before as a Blu-ray extra, which was released on Disney+ two weeks before Shang-Chi’s release date, to minimal fanfare.
[2] While that is a verified fresh statement, I honestly didn’t remember most of these things until the end of the movie. I spent like 2 hours saying to myself “I don’t remember Shang-Chi having a sister,” for example, until suddenly I was all “oh yeah” instead.
[3] Not that he intends to ever do anything so gauche or pedestrian as dying, but still: contingencies.
[4] Among others, but the more important point is that I’m serious about that.