Films

Ramblings about Films – whether it’s new, reviews or something else.

REVIEW: Jennifer’s Body (2009)

High school cheerleader Jennifer (Megan Fox) starts killing and eating her male classmates after she’s possessed by a hungry demon and her best friend Needy (Amanda Seyfried) is the only one that can see something’s not right.

Jennifer’s Body is one of those films that seem to have gained cult status over the years and while it wasn’t particularly well received upon release, it’s now often used in feminist analysis and is deemed ahead of its time. For a film nearly 15 years old it hasn’t aged too badly and only has the odd inappropriate gay joke and the use of the word “retard” semi-frequently isn’t great.

Considering Needy and Jennifer’s friendship is at the core of this film, it never really feels truly fleshed out and believable. There’s the usual trope of the popular, pretty cheerleader having a best friend who is just pretty average and while there’s flashbacks to the two of them as little kids to try and show how and why they’ve been friends for so long it doesn’t feel like enough. You don’t get to see them as friends when they’re teens before everything goes weird for them both. Plus, the moments you do see, Jennifer is pushy and kind of mean towards Needy’s boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons), not making it that easy to like her or her friendship with Needy.

There are a few stylistic moments in Jennifer’s Body and one that really sticks out is when Needy is running through the woods in her prom dress to stop Jennifer. The imagery is perfectly gothic and is something that feels familiar in how often it’s used in horror films but it still works really well in the moment.

I have to say the music in Jennifer’s Body is great. As the film progresses the music and choice of bands and songs – both real and fictional – add to the tone of the film and makes it feel of its time in a good way.

I think Jennifer’s Body is never quite as funny or as scary as it tries to be so it’s not a truly excellent horror-comedy. Needy is a pretty good hero and the bookends of the film surprised me, giving me the answer to “what happens after the horror madness stops” that I often wonder about when I do watch a horror movie. I liked that aspect a lot. Overall, I’m pleased I’ve finally watched Jennifer’s Body and I can see why it’s so loved by certain audiences but there wasn’t enough in it to make it a personal favourite. 3/5.

REVIEW: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014)

After escaping the Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) reluctantly becomes the symbol of rebellion against the Capitol.

From the outset Mockingjay – Part 1 looks distinctly different from the previous two film. After the lush greens of the first arena and the bright sun, sand, and water of the second, life in District 13 is tinged in grey. It suits the setting as so much is set underground though certainly some of the night/dark scenes could’ve been lit a bit better.

Here we have a Katniss who is full of guilt and regret for leaving Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) behind and it’s only when she has President Coin (Julianne Moore), the leader of District 13, pledge to rescue Peeta and the other victors captured by the Capitol that she agrees to be the Mockingjay – the symbol of hope and rebellion for the people.

Cutting the final book in a YA book to movie adaptation series became the norm after the success of both Harry Potter and Twilight so it was little to no surprise that The Hunger Games went down the same route. This does mean that Mockingjay – Part 1 has far less action than the previous films as now not only are Katniss and Peeta no longer in the arena battling to the death, but instead it focuses more on Katniss’s state of mind as the conflict between the Districts and the Capitol grows. That’s not to say there aren’t any “action sequences” – Katniss and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) get caught up in a Capitol bombing – but they are few and far between and instead the tension and drama is more character focused.

A key part of the Hunger Games has always been how well the tributes can make themselves likeable and appealing to sponsors as that’ll help them survive. This take on the PR and propaganda machine takes a different turn in Mockingjay – Part 1. Former Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) plans to help the rebels by filming a load of propaganda films of Katniss to inspire the rebellion. It’s a pity Katniss works best when she’s not following a script. Just as District 13 are using Katniss in their propaganda, the Capitol is using Peeta and though the two of them are barely together during the film you can see how Katniss’s love for him (whatever kind of love that is) is still strong.

One of my favourite sequences in this whole series is in in this film. It’s a moment where Katniss sits by a lake with her film crew and sings a song called “The Hanging Tree” which is taken up and echoed by the mockingjay birds in the woods. That song is then used for one of Plutarch’s films and then a rallying cry for the people as they take a stand against the Capitol. The score by James Newton Howard is especially effective in this sequence too.

Nothing highlights the criticisms this series has on media/entertainment and how we consume it (both in the films and the books but especially in the books) than the fact that there were multiple upbeat techno versions of “The Hanging Tree” made and released. Using a song about a murdered man, a song with themes of freedom, death and martyrdom, as an upbeat song just feels very strange and wrong. I remember hearing one of the remixes when I was driving and doing a doubletake when I registered why the lyrics sounded so familiar but the beat did not.

Mockingjay – Part 1 lays a lot of the groundwork for the battle ahead and different character dynamics are given room to breathe like Katniss and Finnick (Sam Claflin) and Katniss and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) which continues to be one of my favourite and the most interesting relationships in this series. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Middle Ages (2022)

Life under lockdown for a well-to-do yet dysfunctional Argentinian family leads to the parents struggling to maintain their creativity while their eight-year-old daughter Cleo (Cleo Moguillansky) plans to sell household items in order to buy herself a telescope.

Pandemic-set films can be hit or miss and while covid is certainly still a thing, there’s at least some distance now from when the outbreak began and all the fear, confusion, and uncertainty was almost all consuming. The fact that The Middle Ages semi-autobiographical makes the depictions of lockdowns and a family in close confinement a bit more relatable and less

The Middle Ages is written and directed by Alejo Moguillansky and Luciana Acuña who play versions of themselves, as does their daughter Cleo. It’s an interesting premise and as Alejo attempts to direct a Samuel Beckett play over Zoom and Luciana tries to teach online dance classes one has to wonder if this was what lockdown was really like for this family. The chaos of multiple family members being on Zoom calls, either trying to work or in Cleo’s case trying to get through her school lessons is relatable and it is a realistic dynamic as these three people begin to feel suffocated by each other’s presence.

Personally, I preferred the first half of The Middle Ages as it was a humorous take on life in lockdown as family members got annoyed with one another, or they struggled to earn money or keep their sanity as their usual jobs could no longer be done due to everything shutting down. The little moments of humanity and relatability were often the funniest.

When things got a bit surreal in the second half of the film, that’s when it lost me a bit. For instance, there’s a sequence of Clara shooting her mother with a toy gun and her mother than getting blood stains on her shirt as she dramatically flails around the house, is this in either of their imaginations? Are they play acting? What is going on?

The Middle Ages has an interesting concept and a strong start but as things take on an almost dreamlike quality in their home, the characters become less interesting and the film loses what relatable charm it had. 2/5.

REVIEW: Call Jane (2022)

Chicago, 1968. Joy (Elizabeth Banks), a housewife, is expecting her second child but when she learns that continuing her pregnancy could kill her in a time when abortions are illegal in America, she finds help in an unlikely place and goes on to work with the group of suburban women who helped her.

Call Jane does a great job at tackling a tough topic with both sensitivity and humour though never makes light of the dangers these women are in. Both the group known as Jane themselves as they organise illegal abortions, and the women who are having the abortions could face jail, and then potentially lose their jobs or families because of their actions.

The humour and candour in Call Jane works because the situation of women having to illegally procure abortions aka basic healthcare, is the kind of situation where if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. Listening to male doctors talk about Joy as if she’s not in the room and not of value because the unborn child is seen as more important is laughable and frustrating.

Personally, I tend to think of Elizabeth Banks as a comedic actor so to see her as a lead in a more dramatic role was really different and she did a great job and is the heart of this story. Joy is an interesting character as she has her own biases that she’s never really considered before as she does have a more privileged background compared to some of the other women who come looking for abortions. It’s great to see how her attitude changes over time and how she almost gets a new lease of life as she does something meaningful and becomes more than a housewife and a mother – not that there’s anything wrong with either of those things.

Sigourney Weaver and Wunmi Mosaku play two of the prominent women in this underground abortion group that Joy meets. Weaver is especially brilliant and has pretty much all of the best lines and while the socio-economic factors of who has to get illegal abortions is mostly glossed over, Mosaku’s Gwen is an important Black voice in a group of well-meaning but white women.

The ending of Call Jane is quite abrupt and almost rushed which is a shame as the rest of the film was pretty well-paced and has an engaging script that does well to avoid some fo the clichés. It’s as if they didn’t quite know how to wrap things up or end this story without having a time jump. That being said, overall Call Jane is an enjoyable and unfortunately a timely film. If women could do this in the 1960s, what can they do today in order to have the freedom to chose what should happen to their bodies? 4/5.

As a sidenote, I highly recommend the documentary The Janes which goes more into depth about this group of women and the near misses they had with both the cops and the mob.

REVIEW: Hidden Letters (2022)

Documentary about how in modern day China, two women strive to preserve Nushu, an ancient secret language which bonded generations of Chinese women together through centuries of oppression in a clandestine support system of sisterhood and survival.

Hidden Letters paints a somewhat bittersweet picture of how the Nushu language is trying to be preserved and how the women preserving it are doing their best to keep their independence in a modern world. Hidden Letters covers culture, history, language, and how women fit into all of that.

Needless to say, I’d never heard of Nushu before and Hidden Letters was an interesting and informative documentary. There’s not a lot about how Nushu was invented as a language as it was something that was only came to light in the 1980s and often women had their writings buried with them when they died. It’s a secret language where they could talk about the hopes and fears when they were often kept locked in their chambers with their feet bound. It speaks of women’s strength when they refuse to be silent even when awful things are happening to them.

One of the young women the documentary follows is Hu Xin, a young divorcee, but even though her husband abused her, she feels like a failure as she’s neither a wife nor a mother and she feels like the whole point of being a woman is being a mother. It’s kind of sad that she feels this way but her friendship with He Yanxin, an older woman and an expert in Nushu, is lovely and continues the tradition of sisterhood that is such a big component of the language.

Simu Wu is the other young woman Hidden Letters follows and she faces similar difficulties when trying to find love. She sees the value in learning Nushu and the artwork she creates where the language is the focus and it’s a hobby she enjoys. Her fiancé on the other hand, sees it as frivolous and wants her to instead get a second job as getting enough money for them to buy a house and have a child is the only thing that matters to him. Her surprisingly progressive parents though are pretty awesome though.

It’s equal parts frustrating and farcical seeing how men just don’t understand the importance of Nushu and how it’s a uniquely feminine thing. At one point a group of two men and two women discuss on how to make Nushu more mainstream and one of the men says that Nushu has value but the main this is “how to exploit that value so it can be better marketed”. When one of the women pushes back on that idea and she’s quickly shut down. Sure, it’s a huge generalisation but women see the beauty and the cultural significance of the language as while things are certainly better compared to their ancestors, they can still relate to the horrible things the women experienced. Meanwhile, the men just want to find a way to commercialise Nushu and make money from it – exploiting women’s secret language like women have been exploited for generations.

Hidden Letters is a thoughtful and interesting documentary. Its observations are poignant as it shows how important and impressive Nushu is and that women and their voices still struggle to be heard today. 4/5.

REVIEW: Interview with the Vampire (1994)

Vampire Louis (Brad Pitt) tells his life story to reporter Malloy (Christian Slater). A story of love, betrayal, loneliness, and hunger.

Interview with the Vampire is one of those “classic “films of the genre that I’ve naturally been aware of for years but have never watched it. With a new TV show adaptation being released and it being spooky season I thought it was about time to see what all the fuss is about.

Overall, I did like Interview with the Vampire quite a bit, especially the whole gothic vibes it has going on. Plot-wise it felt kind of lacking at times and that tended to be when Tom Cruise’s Lestat was off screen for extended periods of time.

Lestat is a great character and Cruise looks like he’s having a great time being an almost campy vampire who loves killing and who is often exasperated with Louis, the guy he turned. There’s a scene where Lestat dances with a corpse and it’s just great. Feels kind of weird and out of place but also then again it doesn’t as Lestat is such a larger-than-life character you just kind of roll with it.

Louis is kind of a woe is me, kind of character so it’s a bit of a shame that he is the lead character and focal point for Interview with the Vampire. His sulkiness does make sense as part of him hates what he has become and how he has to kill in order to survive but it’s also made clear that vampires can be killed so if he was really craving death and freedom from this life, he was now stuck in then he could’ve done something about it ages ago.

Kirsten Dunst plays Claudia, a young child who is turned into an immortal vampire, and she gives a really impressive performance. How she appears to be an adult at such a young age is amazing and she outshines Pitt in nearly every scene they’re in together.

So really, the cast and vibes are what made Interview with the Vampire for me. When Lestat is off screen for a while it does start to feel like a bit of a slog as Louis just isn’t as charming or as interesting as the other two vampires that make up their odd little family. Because while Louis is lamenting about being a vampire, Interview with the Vampire is pretty gay and features Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise adopting a little vampire girl. It’s a strange family but it works for the most part – until Lestat and Louis start yelling at each other again.

Interview with the Vampire is kind of a strange film as it mostly tries to be super sombre but then you have Cruise’s Lestat camping up the place. It’s a drama, it’s a romance, it’s horror but it’s also comedy. Amazingly all those things work together for the most part and give you a film that somehow has stood the test of time. 4/5.

REVIEW: Vampire in Brooklyn (1995)

Directed by Wes Craven, Caribbean vampire Maximillian (Eddie Murphy) arrives in Brooklyn looking for a specific woman who is the key to his survival – a half-human, half-vampire. NYPD detective Rita Veder (Angela Bassett) is that woman and she and her partner Detective Justice (Allen Payne) are investigating the many killings that have suddenly started in Brooklyn.

Tonally, Vampire in Brooklyn is all over the place. It’s billed as a horror comedy but it’s also pretty heavy on the gothic and the romance once Maximillian and Rita start circling one another. The jokes don’t always land though Silas Green (John Witherspoon) and his nephew Julius (Kadeem Hardison) were the ones who could consistently get a smile out of me. Personally, was a big fan of how Witherspoon said the word “wolf”. Considering Eddie Murphy is the star of Vampire in Brooklyn and played a couple of characters in this (the hair and makeup work for one in particular was excellent) it’s a shame I didn’t find his performance particularly amusing.

Angela Bassett though was brilliant as always – and stunningly beautiful too. Rita has nightmares she doesn’t understand, and sees things she can’t explain, but she’s also headstrong and capable. Her relationship with Justice is great as the chemistry is there and there’s a real will-they-won’t-they vibe to it all, especially when Maximillian arrives and starts messing with both of them.

The aesthetics of Vampire in Brooklyn was also pretty great. Some of the makeup work on Julius as he slowly starts to decompose is suitably disgusting, and the scenes where Maximillian is trying to enchant Rita with how the camera spins around them adds to the drama of it all.

Really Vampire in Brooklyn isn’t the worst Eddie Murphy film but it isn’t the best. It tries to bring his style of humour into a Wes Craven horror movie and they don’t really mesh that well. It’s never very funny or very scary but with its 90-minute runtime, it’s a film that’s never grating and it doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. 2/5.

REVIEW: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

After surviving the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) become targets of the Capitol as unrest rises in the Districts of Panem. Then when the Quarter Quell is announced, they plus twenty-two other former victors, are forced to return to the arena.

Catching Fire is honestly perfect. It’s one of the best sequels ever and best book to film adaptations. It does exactly what you want from a sequel (even one that’s a bit of a rehash of the original), it builds on the character work done before, increases the stakes and tension, and it leaves you wanting more. Just like when I reread the book, I was amazed that half the film happens before Katniss and Peeta arrive in the arena and you’re never wishing it would hurry up and get to that point. The pacing is truly excellent as the civil unrest throughout Panem in the first half of the film is like an ever-increasing boiling pot of tension, threatening to explode at any moment. Meanwhile the latter half in the arena is tense and exciting as there’s a whole load of new creatures and elements ready to kill Katniss and her potential allies.

Hutcherson’s Peeta and Liam Hemsworth’s Gale are still kind of pushed to the side and like the first film, any thoughts on focussing on a love triangle are soon forgotten as Katniss does what she can to keep herself and those she loves safe. Because that’s the thing throughout the books/films, it’s clear that Katniss does care for both of them but she’s never allowed herself to think of a future where a happily ever after was possible.

The cast is expanded with a whole host of new – or rather former – tributes. Having the competitors being former victors adds an extra edge to this Hunger Games and there’s alliances and friendships that Katniss and Peeta are unaware of. Finnick (Sam Claflin), Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), Johanna (Jena Malone), Mags (Lynn Cohen) and Wiress (Amanda Plummer) are some of the major players but with everyone having their own agenda it’s hard for Katniss to know who to trust.

Jennifer Lawrence really is fantastic throughout all these films and she’s the backbone to this franchise. The final shot of Catching Fire though is outstanding though. It’s a close up of her Lawrence’s face as Katniss goes through all five stages of grief before staring straight into the camera with a look of fiery determination in her eyes.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is truly an excellent film and is pretty much the gold standard for a YA book to movie adaptation. It’s exciting, heartfelt, and tackles big themes like cruelty and dictatorship in an engaging way. 5/5.

REVIEW: Hocus Pocus 2 (2022)

Twenty-nine years after the Black Flame Candle was last lit, two friends Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo), accidentally bring back the Sanderson Sisters to modern day Salem and they must figure out how to stop the child-hungry witches from wreaking havoc on the world.

I am definitely of the generation that grew up watching Hocus Pocus pretty much every Halloween and I still rewatch it each year, so I was definitely equal parts excited and apprehensive about a sequel to a childhood favourite. Thankfully, I really enjoyed Hocus Pocus 2. It has the charm of the original without overly relying on nostalgia and the same jokes or plot points as the first film.

Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy all look like they’re having a blast as Winifred, Sarah, and Mary Sanderson. Honestly most of the fun and joy of this film is seeing these three comedic actresses back in these iconic roles and just going for it full throttle. There are a couple of new songs and seeing how the Sanderson Sisters can still be duped by modern technology but they aren’t so naïve as when they first arrived in the 1990s because they do remember the things they saw and learnt then was a nice touch.

Have to give a shoutout to the three young actresses who play younger versions of the Sanderson Sisters at the beginning of the film. Taylor Henderson, Juju Journey Brener, and Nina Kitchen are all brilliant. They each embody the various little quirks each sister has so well that it’s easy to imagine these girls grow up to be the witches we know so well.

The new young heroes are pretty great too. The friendship between Becca, Izzy, and Cassie (Lilia Buckingham) is believable and as they’ve grown up in Salem on stories of the Sanderson Sisters, they quickly jump into action rather than have any doubts or disbelief.

Sure, I might be blinded by nostalgia for the original when watching Hocus Pocus 2 but I really did have a good time with it. It’s a fun children’s film and the kind of kids film that adults can enjoy and don’t find any of the jokes or references that annoying. It’s a fun film and a worthy sequel. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Craft: Legacy (2020)

When Lily (Cailee Spaeny) moves into a new town with her mother Helen (Michelle Monaghan), she surprises them both by quickly making friends. They are outsiders Frankie (Gideon Adlon), Lourdes (Zoey Luna), and Tabby (Lovie Simone) who invite Lily to join their coven and together the four of them explore their powers and witchcraft.

I watched and reviewed the original The Craft last time I did blogtober so thought this was the perfect time to get around to watching the (very loose) sequel. It is definitely the kind of sequel where you don’t have to have seen the original to understand it.

While they’re not the focus of the film, I did really like Lily and her mum’s relationship. They were a very believable mother/daughter duo and I liked how Helen stuck up for Lily against her new partner Adam (David Duchovny) and his stricter parenting style. The young cast have great chemistry and every scene the four girls are together is good fun. Lily is definitely the protagonist of the film and it is a shame that the other three girls only get the most superficial of character descriptions and each fit a kind of archetype to make them recognisable. Perhaps unfortunately one of the most compelling characters is Timmy (Nicholas Galitzine), a boy in their class who goes from stupid jock to a sensitive guy when magic gets involved. For a film that’s big on feminist messages, to mixed results, it’s simultaneously interesting and regrettable that a male character and their arc almost has the most to say.

The Craft: Legacy does have some things to say about feminism and toxic masculinity which I wasn’t expecting. It sure is heavy-handed at times but it’s still an interesting inclusion. In the latter half of the film especially there’s stuff like when teen girls embrace witchcraft aka their power and agency, men want to control or take away that power as they feel women shouldn’t have it and shouldn’t be more powerful than men.

The Craft: Legacy is a 90-minute film which is so often a great thing as it’s always nice to watch a film in less than two hours, but in this instance, I think The Craft: Legacy could’ve used at least 10 minutes more. The final act/big reveal seems very rushed and I’d have liked to have learnt more about the potential repercussions for the girls’ actions.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed The Craft: Legacy. It’s probably not technically the greatest film, but it’s fun and seeing the power of female friendship on screen is always a good time. 3/5.