Tag Archives: Review

Stray (Elizabeth Lo, 2020)

A celebrated director of documentary shorts, Elizabeth Lo makes a compelling leap to features with Stray, a concise ethnographic film that’s presented from a nonhuman perspective. Filmed mostly in Istanbul between 2017 and 2019, with an occasional detour to slightly further afield, the film uses the city’s interesting and complicated history with stray dogs as a means to explore life on the peripheries of human society, free of status and security.

The Turkish state has attempted widespread annihilation of stray dogs since the 1900s, resulting in mass killings of the street dog population. But while campaigns to drive non-pet dogs from towns and cities still gain a little traction now and again, widespread protests against these killings have allowed Turkey to become one of the only countries where it’s currently illegal to euthanise or hold captive any dog without an apparent owner. Meanwhile, dogs that don’t appear to be a human’s property are integrated into the fabric of urban existence with relatively minimal backlash…

Full review for Little White Lies

Limbo (Soi Cheang, 2021)

Ben Sharrock’s 2020 Limbo concerns refugees waiting for asylum approval while housed on a remote Scottish island, the film’s title referring to the logistical circumstances setting its plot in motion. In contrast, Soi Cheang’s 2021 Limbo allows for some interpretation with its choice of title.

Presented in particularly bewitching black-and-white, this grisly Cantonese noir flirts with various genres and is full of characters dealing with very different forms of abandonment, each waiting to move on with their lives. And spinning off from the title’s biblical connotations, there’s one lead who’s essentially made to be a martyr, then facing a form of Hell on Earth…

Full review for Little White Lies

Tides (Tim Fehlbaum, 2021)

A German-Swiss co-production with Roland Emmerich among its executive producers, Tides is an atmospheric sci-fi anchored by an engaging performance from Nora Arnezeder. Although computer-generated vistas are employed for the presentation of a dystopian Earth, Tim Fehlbaum’s film benefits greatly from the tactility of the sets and real-world locations he employs, particularly the mudflats of Northern Germany…

Full review for Little White Lies

Creation Stories (Nick Moran, 2021)

The spirit of executive producer Danny Boyle looms large over Creation Stories, a biopic of Scottish businessman Alan McGee, whose influential Creation Records label launched such acts as Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine and Oasis. Trainspotting seems a conscious influence on director Nick Moran’s film, from the editing style and frenetic pacing to Irvine Welsh being one of its screenwriters. The presence of Ewen Bremner as McGee only hammers home the connection.

But there’s another filmmaker looming over Creation Stories. Someone who also made a largely comedic, self-reflexive biopic concerning a British record label head who was inspired by seeing Sex Pistols perform, which covered a similar period of time: Michael Winterbottom. Speeding through three decades’ worth of events but lacking any actual momentum, Creation Stories is like a version of 24 Hour Party People gone horribly wrong…

Full review for Little White Lies

Rose Island (Sydney Sibilia, 2020)

Relatively early in 2020, one video game became a phenomenon as Nintendo Switch players looked to simulate some sort of structured existence in the context of quarantine. Animal Crossing: New Horizons sees your customisable character move to a deserted island, decorating the place and developing it into a community of anthropomorphic animal residents. Selling the most units of any title in 2020, it has already cracked the top 30 list of the best-selling video games of all time.

All the specific factors for Animal Crossing’s success would merit a deep-dive article, but one thing appears clear: with the world in the grip of a pandemic, vaguely whimsical explorations of forming start-up communities during a period of global unrest are hot right now. By sheer luck of timing, Sydney Sibilia’s Rose Island, based on the real-life story of an island being created and bringing people together, looks set to capitalise on this…

Full review for Little White Lies

Murder Me, Monster (Alejandro Fadel, 2018)

Appreciators of Amat Escalante’s The Untamed and Carlos Reygadas’ Post Tenebras Lux – Latin American social dramas that toy with horror to varying degrees – may find a new work to admire in Murder Me, Monster from writer/director Alejandro Fadel. It’s a Spanish-language international co-production set around the Andes Mountains, and features a similar fusion of libidinal imagery and arguably Lovecraftian terror to that of Escalante’s film, in particular…

Full review for Little White Lies

Meek’s Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2010)

Director Kelly Reichardt’s 2008 drama Wendy and Lucy was concerned with the tribulations faced by a young woman setting her sights on a new life in Alaska, travelling with limited funds and supplies. Meek’s Cutoff, her 2010 follow-up, retains similar narrative elements for its tale of settlers in 1845 travelling through the Oregon Trail that guided wagon trains through dangerous terrains to the remote Pacific Northwest. It retains Wendy and Lucy stars Michelle Williams and Will Patton, who deliver fine performances in this unusual Western, as do Bruce Greenwood, Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan and Shirley Henderson…

Full review for VODzilla.co’s MUBI Mondays column

Charlatan (Agnieszka Holland, 2020)

The Czech Republic’s submission for Best International Feature Film at the 2021 Oscars, Charlatan comes from Polish director Agnieszka Holland, a veteran filmmaker known for movie and TV work made across wildly different countries and cultures. Her previous feature, the largely English-language Mr Jones, followed a Welsh journalist uncovering an international conspiracy in the Soviet Union during the 1930s. Charlatan is also inspired by a real-life figure falling foul of forces in power, this time self-taught herbalist and faith healer, Jan Mikolášek…

Full review for VODzilla.co

The Hitch-Hiker (Ida Lupino, 1953)

Released the same year as her film The Bigamist, 1953’s The Hitch-Hiker would be one of Ida Lupino’s final features in the directing chair, ahead of a prolific career working in television. When working in front of the camera, the actor-turned-director appeared in a number of notable noir thrillers, including the prior year’s On Dangerous Ground, which she also co-directed (uncredited) for a few days when Nicholas Ray fell ill. The Hitch-Hiker is widely regarded as the first American film noir to be directed by a woman…

Full review for VODzilla.co’s MUBI Mondays column

The Babysitter: Killer Queen (McG, 2020)

In humour and topsy-turvy aesthetic, McG’s The Babysitter proved a surprise word-of-mouth success for Netflix. It was bolstered by a few key notes of merit. The first is that it was undeniably a crucial stepping stone for the star ascent of Samara Weaving, whose first major American role – at least in terms of filming date, more on that later – was as the eponymous character, a loving guardian for nervous pre-teen Cole (Judah Lewis) who turns out to actually be the leader of a devil-worshipping cult, looking to use her innocent ward’s blood for a ritual that will supposedly grant one’s deepest desires.

Second was a theoretically interesting theme concerning how, to kids on the cusp of puberty, older teenagers can have this air of terror, intrigue and incomprehensibility about them that is hypnotising – part of how Cole gets himself into the mess he does is because he wants to see what cool babysitter Bee gets up to with her friends when he’s supposed to be asleep.

Third, peppered throughout The Babysitter was a genuinely quite sweet subplot about Cole’s developing relationship with his best friend and neighbour Melanie (Emily Alyn Lind). In the final half hour of The Babysitter, Cole flees to Melanie’s house as Bee fires at him with a shotgun she swiped while disposing of a cop car and the bodies of two police officers her crew killed. Melanie’s own father is reportedly away on a date with a “protestant”, so, with no adults around to defend them, the pair end up hiding from Bee trying to find them in Melanie’s house.

Once she’s left, Cole tries to make sure Melanie is safe before he goes back to his house to face Bee and his fears. Melanie kisses him, telling him: “Just because she’s a psychopath doesn’t mean women are evil.” Boosted by this romantic development and Melanie’s suggestion they should make out next time, Cole heads back and takes out the remainder of the cult. This includes returning to swipe Melanie’s dad’s car to drive into both Bee and his own house, something the film shows Melanie supporting both as and after it happens.

Fast forward to The Babysitter: Killer Queen, the 2020 sequel with a title that seems to have been chosen on the basis of whatever the most expensive song on the soundtrack was, rather than much to do with the story. Despite two police officers called to the scene that night going missing (you’d think that would be a big deal), no one in the film’s world believes anything about Cole’s account of the first film’s events, except for Melanie who at least witnessed Bee brandishing a shotgun around her house.

A more fantastical film that confirms all the ritual business is real, Killer Queen brings back practically everyone from the first outing, including the deceased cult characters played by Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Andrew Bachelor and Hana Mae Lee, who are resurrected from limbo for another chance at performing the ritual, something that can apparently only happen every two years. Samara Weaving’s Bee is also back, eventually, but since she’s become a much bigger deal of late and was filming both Bill & Ted Face the Music and the currently delayed GI Joe spin-off Snake Eyes when Killer Queen was being shot, adjustments had to be made for this direct continuation…

Full review for VODzilla.co