Movie Review ~ The Cursed

The Facts:

Synopsis: In the late 1800s, a man arrives in a remote country village to investigate an attack by a wild animal but discovers a much deeper and sinister force that has the manor and its townspeople in its grip.
Stars: Boyd Holbrook, Kelly Reilly, Alistair Petrie, Roxane Duran, Áine Rose Daly
Director: Sean Ellis
Rated: NR
Running Length: 113 minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review:  Never underestimate the power of a movie title.  While one might argue a great movie will always manage to shine through the worst marketing and release plan a studio can throw at it (hey, the tagline “Collide with Destiny” and cut and paste poster almost sank early materials for 1997’s Titanic!), a memorable title will always be favorable to something entirely insignificant.  Would 1992’s Basic Instinct have stirred up that same sharp edge if it went into theaters as Love Hurts?  Could Spaceman from Pluto break box office records as well as Back to the Future?  There’s no way $3,000 was staying as the title for the Julia Roberts and Richard Gere fairy tale romance Pretty Woman, but the fact that it went into production with it is a minor miracle.

The flip side to that coin is when the change is worse, like The Cursed, which premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival as Eight for Silver.  Now, Eight for Silver is a great title and one that stuck in my mind, bolstered by positive notices and the promise of its werewolf tale having some modicum of pedigree.  I made a mental note to keep my ear to the ground for it when it popped up, but before I knew it, it had vanished into the ether of the post-festival haze.  It was only after I received information on a new film, The Cursed, and investigated it further that I discovered the title change.  Going from something unique to what can only be described as lackluster (even where werewolf movies are concerned) speaks to some of the issues with the film itself.

Written and directed by Sean Ellis (Anthropoid), The Cursed begins promisingly enough, dropping us onto the battlefields of World War I before jumping back even further to the 18th-century French estate where one of the soldiers grew up.  His family owns the massive manse but may not have a true claim to the Roma-occupied land surrounding it, a slight annoyance to Seamus Laurent (Alistair Petrie, Victor Frankenstein).  Banding together with the other estate owners in the area, Laurent has the Romas (often referred to in outdated terminology as gypsies) not just tossed off the land but violently murdered, so they can’t ever return for revenge…at least not in their current form.  Before being buried alive in a blood-soaked field and after seeing her husband executed horribly, a woman curses the land and takes with her a silver souvenir we’ve come to understand holds special significance.

Not long after this brutality, the children of the landowners are playing in the field and uncover a set of silver teeth that seem to possess all who encounter them.  When one of the boys puts the teeth to good use, a boy is bitten, setting off a chain reaction of events, including a physical transformation and violent attacks that tie back to the original curse.  A visiting pathologist (Boyd Holbrook, The Host) with exposure to these kinds of animalistic strikes is called on to track the beast and cure the land of the plague that has descended upon it.  As the body count rises, creating other creatures along the way, the pathologist and the mother (Kelly Reilly, Flight) of the bitten boy work in tandem to lure the monster out of its hiding place and into an arena where it can be trapped and dealt with swiftly.

The first hour of The Cursed is riveting stuff, with Ellis nicely setting up the tragic series of events that befall the people unfortunate enough to be living in the crosshairs of the hollow-souled Laurent and his cronies.  The attack on their camp is shot from a high vantage point in one long take, and it only makes you feel more helpless to what is happening in front of you instead of further removed from the violence being committed.  The torture scenes are tough to stomach, making the comeuppance all the more satisfying later on.  It does get rocky for a while, though.

The children of the film are where The Cursed starts to feel its namesake.  Devoid of much personality, the child actors are somewhat of a black hole of blank stares, yet they are tasked with some important business of narrative tension and plot furthering they aren’t fully equipped to handle.  The main pivot point rests in one of the supporting performances and the young dude is not up to the task.  It’s much better when “the adults are talking,” so it’s nice that Holbrook and Reilly have such an easy rapport, even if Reilly appears to be choosing each word out of a hat with how intentional each word is released.

The creature effects are decent, but the CGI isn’t stellar; I’ll always opt for the person in the rubber (or furry) suit where these types of films are concerned, and toward the end, too much of this felt like a video game knockoff.  The Cursed tends to work the best when there’s no creature at all, and Ellis, who also serves as cinematographer, lets the camera stand in for the stalking beast.  It’s hard to do another take on a werewolf film, and while a few new wrinkles are thrown in along the way, it’s often as generic and staid as the title is.

Movie Review ~ Beckett

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Following a tragic car accident in Greece, Beckett, an American tourist, finds himself at the center of a dangerous political conspiracy and on the run for his life.

Stars: John David Washington, Alicia Vikander, Vicky Krieps, Boyd Holbrook, Lena Kitsopoulou, Maria Votti, Daphne Alexander, Panos Koronis

Director: Ferdinando Cito Filomarino

Rated: NR

Running Length: 108 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review:  The first movie I saw in theaters after the pandemic started was Tenet, the highly anticipated Christopher Nolan film that kept getting bounced around the schedule at Warner Brothers.  Nolan was determined to release it and theaters were desperate to show it to attract audiences back so they could continue to operate.  After much delay, the film was released in September 2020 to moderate reviews and even more moderate business.  Considering Nolan’s stature, his track record with blockbusters, and the hype leading up to the movie, this was an eye-opening gut-punch to the film industry that movie-going was not going to bounce back like they thought it would.  We all know how things went after that.  Theaters closed again and would open and re-open sporadically for the next several months until a vaccination was in place (Side note: get vaccinated) and some stability could be regulated.  During that time, Tenet was all but forgotten.

You know what?  It sort of should have been.  It wasn’t that great and represented a filmmaker not reaching further than he should have but deliberately going to places that alienated audiences.  For what?  Purposely misdirecting, employing a horrible sound technique, and careening through a serpentine plot that required several large whiteboards to map out, the film was a mess and audiences told Nolan and the studio so with their attendance at the film.  That robbed stars John David Washington and Elizabeth Debicki, both poised to break big with Tenet, from reaching that high level and while both will bounce back nicely (Debicki is playing Princess Diana in the upcoming season of The Crown) you can blame Nolan for that delay.

Watching the Netflix action film Beckett, I was struck by how much it was exactly the kind of breathless, twist-filled experience I wanted Tenet to be.  An international mystery starring Washington and a cadre of interesting actors both familiar and not, it was willing to take risks but not blow off the audience in doing so.  It might be frighteningly pedestrian at times (some of the reveals of the villainous “twists” are so obvious from the start the actors might as well be wearing a sign around their neck saying Bad Person) but the thrills it drums up are real and the situations it puts our central character in have the authenticity that lead you to believe it could happen to you as well if you didn’t play your cards right. 

In the film written by Kevin A. Rice and director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino, Washington (Malcolm & Marie) plays the titular character, who has arrived in Greece with his girlfriend April (Alicia Vikander, Tomb Raider).  When a political upheaval near their hotel gets too unruly, they retreat to the country for a few days to let things simmer down and that’s where a tragic car accident leaves Beckett alone and eventually on the run for his life when he finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Seeing something he shouldn’t have but doesn’t understand, he’s pursued by a horde of unrelenting hunters who will stop at nothing to keep him silent. 

The simple set-up leaves Filomarino a wide berth to stage a number of impressively tense sequences as Washington narrowly evades being caught and takes drastic measures to extricate himself from the situation.  When it becomes clear that no one in authority is trustworthy, he decides to put trust only in himself and the people his gut tells him to follow, including an activist (Vicky Krieps, The Phantom Thread) whose own cause might just have a crossover with the danger Beckett is hoping to escape from. 

Impressively filmed, edited, and performed, I liked this one all the way through to its closing credit sequence.  Obviously made for a more big screen exhibition, Filomarino fills each frame of Beckett with a gorgeous shot of Greece, even though much of the movie isn’t exactly a thumbs up for Greek tourism.  Destined to be but a blip on rising-star Washington’s acting career, I hope more people discover this one as the winter months are approaching and well-constructed action films like Beckett become harder to find in theaters.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Predator

Synopsis: When a young boy accidentally triggers the universe’s most lethal hunters return to Earth, only a ragtag crew of ex-soldiers and a disgruntled science teacher can prevent the end of the human race.

Release Date: September 14, 2018

Thoughts: The original Predator celebrated its 30th birthday last year and remains a sci-fi genre classic.  While the alien hunter has shown up in several sequels and a two crossovers with the Alien franchise, he hasn’t had a real strong showing since his first outing.  This first look at 2018’s The Predator hints of a retro-tinged early Fall frolic and I’m all for it.  Writer/director Shane Black (Iron Man 3) usually does well in balancing tone with large scale action sequence and there’s been good buzz building for The Predator during its long production phase.  Featuring a strong cast including Jacob Tremblay (Room), Sterling K. Brown (Black Panther), Olivia Munn (X-Men: Apocalypse), Boyd Holbrook (Logan), and Keegan-Michael Key (Tomorrowland) this holds more than a little promise of being the fun sequel this franchise has been sorely needing.

 

Movie Review ~ Logan

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X in a hide out on the Mexican border. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are up-ended when a young mutant arrives, being pursued by dark forces.

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Boyd Holbrook, Patrick Stewart, Stephen Merchant, Dafne Keen, Richard E. Grant

Director: James Mangold

Rated: R

Running Length: 137 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: We should all be thanking Mission: Impossible 2.  It may be hard to fathom now, but had his filming as the villain in that sorry sequel not stretched beyond its original shooting schedule, Doughray Scott and not Hugh Jackman would have been the one that wound up playing Logan/Wolverine in nine films.  Well, actually, I’m not sure Scott had the charisma necessary to have lasted as long as Jackman has in the role.  Though he’s ably stretched beyond the superhero universe, Jackman will always be favorably associated with this character/franchise and rightfully so.  Showing a willingness to be a team player (popping up in a cameo during X:Men – First Class) or going his own way in two stand-alone Wolverine pictures, Jackman has seen this role through to the end.  We may see Wolverine again in some form but if Logan is truly the finale Jackman has promised, he’s gone out in a burning blaze of glory.

It’s not worth going back and trying to connect the dots between the X-Men movies when thinking about Logan.  Taking place in the near future shortly after a catastrophic event that dramatically decreased the number of mutants roaming the globe, we meet a weary Logan living under the radar and showing his age.  Moonlighting as a limo driver for extra cash and with his earth-saving days seemingly behind him, he acts as a guardian to Professor X (Patrick Stewart, Green Room), now suffering in an advanced state of dementia.

Crossing paths not only with a silent but deadly pre-teen mutant (Dafne Keen) but the bounty hunter (Boyd Holbrook, Gone Girl) intent on tracking her down, the aged man with adamantium claws that spring from his knuckles doesn’t want to be anywhere near the action.  Resistance is futile, though, and Logan begrudgingly becomes a foster parent of sorts to the girl, committing to delivering her to a protected area in the upper Midwest while keeping Professor X close by.  The trip is rocky with many unexpected detours, all leading to a surprisingly emotional climax that feels justly earned.

With all the “last time as Wolverine” talk surrounding Logan, I’ll let you find out for yourself where our hero is when the credits roll but don’t be surprised if Jackman, reteaming with The Wolverine director James Mangold, has a few tricks up his sleeve as he closes this chapter.  The previous two solo Wolverine films have been a mixed bag.  The first was an outright miss, stumbling out of the gates and pretty much nixing several planned X-Men spin-offs at the same time.  2013’s The Wolverine was a much better film than most gave it credit for but in the end the third time really is the charm because Logan represents the best of what all involved have to offer.

It was a good move on the part of 20th Century Fox, emboldened by the smash success of Deadpool, in okaying Mangold and his screenwriters to make Logan a hard R, a rating it earns within the first five minutes thanks to a gory bit of violence and a barrage of colorful language.  I’ll admit to enjoying hearing Stewart swear like a sailor and while I generally favor the less is more approach, free from ratings restraints it seems like everyone and everything is much looser and less cautious.  The violence is exceedingly vicious and no flesh, blood vessel, bones, or skulls are spared.  And it never feels forced, just that the studio finally allowed the audience to see this world as it was always meant to be.

Admittedly, the X-Men aren’t quite in my wheelhouse and it’s taken me a while to come around to their place in the superhero universe.  I feel they’ve improved as they’ve gone along, feeling less comic book-y and more wholly formed with each passing entry (I know you all hated X-Men: Apocalypse but I dug it just fine).  While Logan isn’t directly tied to those previous films (like Apocalypse was to X-Men: Days of Future Past), it’s clear they are all operating in the same timeline and for that Logan feels like a step in the right direction.

Coming so far from just chomping on a cigar and trimming his mutant mutton chops, Jackman knows this character inside and out.  He takes the opportunity (and lengthy running time) to bring out every nuance he can, not letting Logan be changed from a grumpy old man overnight.  He’s matched well by Stewart, doing his best acting than in any previous X-Men film. Crippled by his disintegrating brain, his grizzled appearance is a far cry from the wheelchair bound gleaming cue ball in a designer suit we have come to enjoy.  Holbrook manages to make his villain nicely vile without alienating the audience in the process but the real find here is Keen who is able to handle some pretty heavy material and handily go claw-to-claw with the leading man.

Featuring several super charged action sequences and just gorgeously filmed in general, if there’s one thing I could ding Logan for it would be a nagging sense of familiarity to its tale of redemption.  While it has its fair share of original moves, you’ll likely be one step ahead of its protagonists on multiple occasions.  No matter, the movie hums along so nicely that even at nearly 2 ½ hours the time will fly by.

For my money, Logan is the best of Jackman’s outings as Wolverine and I’m glad it doesn’t wind up feeling like a tired final act.  This is what true character completion looks like and I applaud not only the entertainment value of the movie but the cast and crew that were allowed by their studio the freedom to give a proper send-off.  Highly recommended and likely worth a second viewing as well.

The Silver Bullet ~ Morgan

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Synopsis: A corporate risk-management consultant has to decide and determine whether or not to terminate an artificial being’s life that was made in a laboratory environment.

Release Date: September 2, 2016

Thoughts: Though I feel like I’ve seen this overall plot before (as recently as 2015’s Ex Machina), Morgan has a lot of positives going for it. It wasn’t made for much but it looks nice and expensive, it has a cast blooming with both interesting actresses on the rise (Kate Mara, Iron Man 2, and Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch, and Rose Leslie, Honeymoon) as well as veteran character actors (Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight; Paul Giamatti, San Andreas).  It’s also produced by Ridley Scott (The Martian)…but then again his son did direct it so I’m sure he’s wearing his producer hat while drinking out of his Best Dad Ever mug.  The last Scott offspring that directed a movie was Jordan and she gave us the underrated gem Cracks so here’s hoping an eye for unsettling films runs in the family.

The Silver Bullet ~ A Walk Among the Tombstones

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Synopsis: Private investigator Matthew Scudder is hired by a drug kingpin to find out who kidnapped and murdered his wife.

Release Date: September 19, 2014

Thoughts: I saw the poster for this adaptation of Lawrence Block’s bestselling series of novels before I took in the trailer below and felt a tad dejected.  Here we go again with another gristle and knuckle rock ‘em sock ‘em film from Liam Neeson (Non-Stop, A Million Ways to Die in the West, The Grey) and it would be light on logic and heavy on Neeson trying his best to whisper in a basso profundo.  Then I dug a little deeper and watched the preview and while I’m still not holding my breath this will help reestablish Neeson as more than a strong arm action hero this grim looking thriller may have the one element so many of his films don’t…smarts.