American Gods – Episode 5

Not that the previous four episodes of American Gods were lacking in flirtation with horror, but Episode 5, “Lemon Scented You”, is the show’s most showily spooky outing to date. David Slade, at the helm for the first three episodes, has numerous horror films on his resume, but Episode 5’s director, Vincenzo Natali (Cube, Splice and, like Slade, a Hannibal alumni), gets a lot of body horror moments to play with, from reanimated Laura’s interactions with Shadow, Mad Sweeney and one unlucky morgue employee, to the squirm-inducing contortions that various police officers find themselves in after an encounter with the New Gods. Oh, and a sentient tree grows up through a corpse and tries to kill Shadow – Groot, why have you forsaken us?

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In praise of Dwayne Johnson’s performance in ‘Pain & Gain’

With the release of Baywatch, Dwayne Johnson ventures into raunchy comedy mode, as the much belovedremembered TV show gets an affectionate piss-take update. Word of mouth on the reboot may be mixed, but that certainly isn’t a reflection of Johnson’s comic abilities. Cocksure humour was a key component of his wrestling persona, The Rock, while the star’s finest film performance to date came in one of the more grotesque (and interestingly so) studio movies of recent times: Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain, in which he plays an amalgamation of three other men involved in one of the strangest true crime stories of the ’90s.

Pain & Gain makes up one third of 2013’s unofficial ‘American Dream, Y’all’ trilogy, which also includes Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers and Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring – each a high-stakes crime tale that takes a satirical stab at, among other targets, narcissism and commodity fetishism. All were divisive works upon release, but Pain & Gain is by far the most misunderstood, perhaps due to the disbelief that director Bay could actually possess the self-awareness to skewer the kind of half-witted machismo that features in so many of his films…

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How ‘The Lost World’ taught me that films can be cruel

Twenty years on from its summer ’97 release, any reverence for The Lost World: Jurassic Park is largely restricted to people holding up for it as the best of the franchise’s sequels. Which is perhaps fair and certainly understandable, especially given that directors Joe Johnston and Colin Trevorrow, the series’ most recent torch bearers, have not managed to deliver a set-piece as thrilling as anything from Steven Spielberg’s predecessors.

Speaking as someone who has seen the film many times over the last 20 years, I can’t make the case for The Lost World being an overlooked classic. But it remains a fascinating film; essentially dino-based riff on Howard Hawks’ 1962 safari movie Hatari!, it abandons the wonderment of Spielberg’s original in favour of a more macabre and cynical worldview. Growing up, it had an unexpectedly profound effect on me…

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Detour (Christopher Smith, 2016)

There are two possible effects that come from lifting the title of a respected movie classic: on the one hand, it can be perceived as an audacious, assuring wink to savvy viewers that you’re aware, as a filmmaker, of your movie’s debt to hallowed classics of the medium; on the other hand, it can serve to accentuate how much more desirable revisiting older, better films would be, than to sit through a pretty bad new one.

If we’re being generous with regard to Christopher Smith’s neo-noir runaround, Detour, it almost fits into both of the above. Edgar G Ulmer’s not-so-neo-noir of the same name, from 1945, is without doubt the superior movie, but it doesn’t really have all that much in common with this film’s story, which owes a bigger debt to such ’90s throwbacks as Tony Scott’s roistering crime caper, True Romance

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American Gods – Episode 4

After a string of episodes directed by David Slade, Craig Zobel (Compliance) takes over for episode 4 of American Gods. It’s not the only major change-up. Following Episode 3’s reveal of ‘alive’ Laura awaiting Shadow in his motel room, Episode 4 is devoted entirely to how she got there, going all the way back to when she and Shadow first met.

There’s no ‘Coming to/Somewhere in America’ interlude, no Mr. Wednesday, not really much in the way of new characters. Heck, the only god to appear at all is Anubis, who we met last week. Diverting almost completely from previous episodes’ form, this excellent episode is primarily a nuanced character study of a multifaceted, unhappy woman, albeit one still packed with plenty of weird stuff and dark comedy – this year, you will believe a revenant woman can excrete embalming fluid…

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The Secret Scripture (Jim Sheridan, 2016)

The most striking moment in Jim Sheridan’s The Secret Scripture occurs in the very first scene, as a soft Irish voice repeatedly states, “My name is Rose McNulty. I did not kill my child.”

Older and younger incarnations of Rose are played by Vanessa Redgrave and Rooney Mara respectively. The former dictates an account of her misfortunes to a psychologist, Dr Grene (Eric Bana), as documented in the graffitied bible she’s kept hidden during her plus 40-year stay in a psychiatric hospital. She’s been there since the waning days of World War Two, admitted under accusations of both infanticide and nymphomania. Convinced the son she had snatched away from her is still alive, the older Rose argues her case…

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American Gods – Episode 3

It probably says something about American Gods’ somewhat assaultive nature that an episode where a man is suddenly, and gruesomely, impaled by a pole flying through his car windshield feels pretty tame. That bit of goriness aside, as well as a brief moment with Mad Sweeney pulling a shard of glass out of his cheek, “Head Full of Snow”, the third episode of the series, is relatively free of the show’s ostentatious violence to date…

Full review for VODzilla.co