Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

This Eddie Murphy performance has been a long time coming, and you know what? It’s worth the wait. I’m a big fan of Craig Brewer too and this also feels like a return to form for him, here expanding on the underdog milieu of his early films. The sequences of Murphy’s Rudy Ray Moore perfecting his Dolemite persona and then recording his first comedy album in his apartment with nothing but blood, sweat, tears and enthusiasm immediately brings to mind Deejay and co. recording the first songs in Hustle & Flow. In short, this is Brewer doing what he does best. He has a real knack for depicting the thrill of the creative process. The 70s LA aesthetic, lived-in environments, strong ensemble and colourful dialogue really pop too, making this feel like a complimentary piece to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, only this fairy tale is actually true. Looking forward to seeing this again.

Watched on Netflix

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Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

There’s nothing else to say at this point other than this truly is one of the greatest blockbusters ever made and one which holds even deeper resonance with me because it’s the first movie I ever remember seeing. Trying to keep up with how many levels T2 works on can get exhausting, but the way Cameron explicitly pits analogue and digital technology against each other in the shape of his two terminators is pretty special. Also the fact this was written barely 12 months out and was still being shot four months before release is a mind-blowing filmmaking stat we are too quick to forget. Insane!

Watched on blu-ray

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The Lion King (2019)

This was truly one of the most uncanny viewing experiences I’ve had this year. I watched a film I’ve never seen before, yet already knew like the back of my hand. Everything unfolded as knew it would, except the whole thing looked and sounded different; re-designed, re-voiced and re-animated. Sounds unpleasant but this constant feeling of seeing a film for the first time and the hundredth time was unique and oddly thrilling? I must have watched the whole thing crosseyed. Sure we’ve seen movies remade and re-released in digitally-tinkered forms, but never like this. It’s a benchmark which has understandably sent many into a frenzy about the IP-recycling state of cinema today and while ethically and creatively I am totally against this type of thing the fact is: it exists and it can’t help but be fascinating. The Psycho (1998) of our times, just on a billion dollar level and even more subliminally perverted. Also my dog watched the whole thing completely enraptured from beginning to end, meaning even she isn’t immune to the power of our Disney overlords.

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Satanic Panic (2019)

Satanic Panic feels like a comic book, and everyone is clearly having fun frolicking in all that blood and pitching their performances to a level you can only really get away with in a movie like this. I was initially a bit hesitant to get on its self-aware, ironically funny wavelength but I was eventually won over. The frantic, giddy pacing and total love for the genre can’t help but be infectious. It has that artificial lighting that plagues so many low-budget, digitally-shot movies and all of the costumes, props and set-design elements look fresh out of the box but that’s just cosmetic nit-picking really, and to be expected. Hayley Griffith, the film’s lead, is a terrific find and the camera absolutely loves her. A movie primed and executed for the pages of Fangoria and it certainly lives up to the brand. Might come back to this one.

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Family (2019)

It’s a shame movies of this size always fall through the cracks because Taylor Schilling’s performance here really should be included in Best of Year discussions. Beyond that, while Family could easily have been one of those quirky Sundance-y comedy dramas that immediately fizzle from memory, this actually resonates for a lot longer due to the simple relationship dynamic, wonderful off-key observations and absolutely spot-on casting and performances. So many great faces here. Beyond all the hilarious vulgarity and crudeness, a lot of this is extremely heartfelt and just nice, which makes the Juggalo component highly appropriate. Honestly, I could have done with more.

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Extra Ordinary (2019)

Quite taken by this. Has a consistently funny tone and visual flair to match. One of the few movies that will inevitably get compared to Shaun of the Dead that actually achieves the same level of care and inventiveness with its gags, both verbal and visual, and cinematic language. An exciting, entertaining watch because it is so alive with imagination. That title aint far off.

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Bad Milo (2013)

This suffers from Henenlotter Imposter Syndrome, meaning for most of the time watching it I was thinking about Frank Henelotter and wishing I was watching one of his movies instead. Bad Milo strives for Henenlotter’s tone and wacky worldview without ever quite getting there. Still, I enjoy the practical rubbery puppet work and I’ll watch Gillian Jacobs in anything. I wish this pushed the body horror into nastier, messier territory – this is about a creature that comes out of a guy’s ass after all – rather than coasting on icky suggestion for the most part. It feels like this would be better served as a twenty minute short. but the central idea and imagery is vivid and likely not something I’ll forget any time soon.

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Wounds (2019)

Being about a barman in New Orleans who discovers a haunted phone, Wounds has the minuscule focus and limited square footing of a great short horror story, silly concept included. It doesn’t try to branch beyond the orbit of these few characters – you’ve got the bar, a few car rides and a couple of apartments – and is all the better for it.

Hammer makes for a good frazzled, sweaty lead. The guy is a complete mess from the jump and therefore a refreshing choice to lead a horror movie. The design and themes are extremely J-horror, but it’s also reinvigorating to see that influence flexed in a film that isn’t just an outright remake of a J-horror property. A lot of the most piercing moments stand-out because they offer an American spin on shocks that we’re so far used to seeing exclusively in foreign horror. Beyond that, just the way this creates an uncomfortable atmosphere purely from toxic relationships is very effective.

Sure there are a few scares involving the mobile phone that are extremely dumb, but props to Babak Anvari for being one of the few filmmakers trying to engage with the modern world and modern technology in service of a spook story that actually plays it straight. It doesn’t quite get there but it’s the attempt that counts. By the time the credits rolled I was sure they arrived about twenty minutes too early. It’s not often I see a contemporary horror movie that leaves me wanting more, not less.

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Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995)

At first glance, this doesn’t feel like some cheap cash-grab of a sequel. Candyman is so loaded with subtext that it would be easy to transform him into an un-interesting, catch-all bogeyman by dropping all of the provocative and challenging ideas established in the first movie in favour of something more generically enigmatic. On the contrary, Farewell to the Flesh actually carries over the majority of the racial themes as well as retaining the grisly imagery and sexual undercurrent that was so present in Bernard Rose’s film. There’s also a lot of effort put in to developing and elaborating on Candyman’s mythology.

Sadly, all of that effort goes to waste when you realise that instead of doing something with all of these rich ideas, the film is just going to devolve into another body count picture. The blonde heroine and the way the narrative unfolds also feels like a retread of the first movie and the more questions it tries to answer about Candyman’s backstory, the less you want to know. Still, Tony Todd’s way with the colourful dialogue is a highlight and the swampy, sweaty Southern atmosphere really registers. It’s no surprise director Bill Condon would soon graduate into bigger, slicker productions.

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Blended (2014)

The first hour of this is terrific. It shows Sandler and Barrymore settling into their age, bouncing off of one another on a series of low-key dates gone awry ruminating on their lives as parents, domestic mishaps and divorce. It feels lived in and genuine, glowing with the same effortless rom-com charm these two conjured up in The Wedding Singer and, to a lesser degree, 50 First Dates. But just as you think this is going to be the Before Midnight of the Adam and Drew trilogy, everybody suddenly goes to Africa for some reason to engage in a series of moronic slapstick mishaps that feel dump-trucked in from another Happy Madison production entirely. A real shame, but my affection for the leads keeps the whole thing tolerable.

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