Movie Roundup – February 2021

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In addition to the five Netflix films I watched earlier in the month I managed to squeeze another 7 films into my busy lockdown schedule. So here are my thoughts on these films, some old, some new:

Welcome to Marwen (2018) tells the tale (based on a true story) of a comic book artist turned to taking photos of dolls in a miniature village in his garden dressed up to look like occupants of a besieged WWII Belgian village. He turns to the imaginary world because he has been the victim of a brutal attack that almost killed him and leaves him with a severe case of agoraphobia and PTSD.

The special effects are probably more interesting than the actual story. Steve Carell does the job as best he can with a rather bland script and it’s certainly not a patch on Robert Zemeckis’s much grander and wider scoped Forrest Gump. There are some little nods to that film and also Back to the Future, in Welcome to Marwen and it left me wanting something a lot more epic than this tale which didn’t feel as claustrophobic or isolated as perhaps the story warranted. It was just a bit ‘meh’ really. Unlike the next film –

Color out of Space (2019) is available on Amazon Video and is free for Prime members. It is horror film based on a tale by legendary horror writer H. P. Lovecraft and features Nicolas Cage turning the Cage dial up to 11 and registering ‘full Cage’ on the wackometer. At times he seems to be doing a freakish impersonation of Donald Trump on acid as he plays the man of the house rendered totally impotent by the strange energy and metamorphosing power of a meteorite that lands in his garden.

The first half of the film has a great atmosphere and feeling of suspense and then events on screen and indeed the script spiral out of control. The movie descends into a balls-out farce featuring some absolutely disgusting creature creations that look like they’ve taken the creature design from Carpenter’s The Thing as inspiration. It strikes me as immediate cult classic and Cage fan favourite, and rightly so, but maybe not the best adaptation of a Cthulhu classic. By the way there’s a voice in the well that only one of the children can hear which makes me think that I unwittingly channelled H. P. Lovecraft even more than I thought in my homage ‘The Voice’ a short story by the character Gareth in my collection The Sun and the Rainfall.

The Black Cauldron (1985) is a somewhat obscure Disney animation based on a kids’ book which in turn is based on Welsh legend so it seems fitting to be writing about it on St Davids day. This is the film that cost twice as much to make as it took at the box office and almost broke Disney’s animation studio. It was ground breaking in that it was the first of their films to feature some computer graphics (mostly smoke effects as far as I can tell) and Dolby stereo sound.

What I find interesting is the voice of the animal character Gurgi which sounds a lot like Andy Serkis’s Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films, and then also coincidentally the bit where a dead army of fallen warriors is brought back to life by some green smoke just like in Return of the King. Apart from that the film itself is rather disjointed and not particularly well written. The fantasy archetypes are not very well defined and the hero’s journey not particularly satisfying. It’s worth watching as a piece of cinema history, but there’s plenty of better animations out there now.

Prevenge (2016) is a dark comedy horror starring writer-director Alice Lowe (Sightseers). Lowe plays a pregnant woman who is talked into murdering a bunch of people by the baby in her womb. her murder victims come from all walks of life but have something in common which is revealed as the story progresses. It’s violent and clever, and Lowe’s writing, direction and acting are excellent. There’s cast of familiar British comedy actors / comedians including Fonejacker‘s Kayvan Novak and Jo Hartley from This is England.

Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb (2020) is fascinating Netflix documentary about an archaeological dig in Egypt. Having excavated a tomb that had been untouched for 4,400 years, an Egyptian team of archaeologists try to figure out the history of the family who are buried there. The film is a good mix of history, profiles of the team involved and a race to discover yet more secrets from the desert sands before time and funding runs out.

Capone (2020) features Tom Hardy playing Al Capone, at home in a mansion in Miami after 10 years in prison. He’s only 47 years old but appears older because he is suffering from dementia brought on by syphilis. He is haunted by fragments of memory from his violent gangster days while those around him, including the FBI, who have his house bugged and some of the people around him wired up, want to know where he’s hidden $10 million. His illness is so bad he can’t remember either and while he manages to get snippets of information about the money it remains tantalisingly out of reach.

By the end of the film Capone is lucky to remember his own name. His degenerates so much he is forced by his doctor to chew on carrots instead of his much-loved cigars and has to wear a nappy to avoid soiling himself. It’s a portrait of a great and evil man brought low by age and illness. Hardy, often known in my household as Mr Mumbles, has such a thick accent obscured by whatever object is in his mouth, that it makes Marlon Brando’s Godfather sound as clear as day.

Locke (2013) is a low-budget indie film that has been on Netflix and Amazon Video in the past but that I finally watched from a late night recording on FilmFour. Again starring Tom Hardy, it is a rather better film than Capone in my opinion. And that’s saying something given that Hardy is the only actor of the dozen involved who actually appears on screen. If it wasn’t for some, sometimes rather artfully abstract, cutaways of passing traffic and blurred street lights and road signs, and the odd aerial shot of his BMW then Hardy would be in every frame. Of course that’s no bad thing.

Hardy plays Ivan Locke a construction foreman with a lilting Welsh accent and a rather nice car on a mission to abandon his site duties in favour of supporting a woman he had a one-night stand with who has been rushed to hospital to give birth to his son. He is driving down the M6 to London to be with her. Oliva Coleman provides the voice of this woman on the phone in his car. And the 11 other actors provide the voices of his family, hospital staff and Locke’s work colleagues etc. Among them are Fleabag‘s Andrew Scott and Sherlock‘s Ruth Wilson.

While it’s not the first time this kind of thing has been done in a movie (who can forget 2002’s Phone Booth for instance?) I haven’t seen it done with this level of storytelling or character acting before. It was much more engaging than watching an old bloke sucking a carrot and shuffling around in a nappy. Also he doesn’t mumble.

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