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My Letterboxd reviews for November 2017

Frank Grillo in Wheelman

Another few weeks of genre-hopping, thanks to a free month of Shudder that I ended up letting lapse as I couldn’t find much of anything I wanted to watch. So it goes.

But it was also a month that included one of my favourite films of the year. Shame it bypassed cinemas and went straight to Netflix. The new straight to video? I sure hope not.

Obviously Netflix is better than that, but there is a clear sense that it serves serialised ‘prestige’ TV much better than first-run feature films. And I get the feeling even Netflix’s honchos recognise this, going by all the promos I’m seeing for Bright (which isn’t out till the end of this month).

Anyway, on to my reviews for November.

Ban The Sadist Videos!:

Seen with part two (which I won’t bother adding here, since they only make a single 90-minute feature watched back-to-back) on Shudder, while I’ve got a free month. Technically this predates the Jake West video nasties docs by a number of years, but covers much of the same ground, so is quite inessential if you’ve seen the others but for having a bit more background on the James Bulger trial – and the inconvenient fact that violent horror movies had practically nothing to do with the case itself, and were solely part of the media fervour around it.

Phantasm: Ravager:

Inspired moments are fleeting in this poor-man’s conclusion (or is it?) to the rambling Phantasm saga. From the shoddy direction and cheap visuals down to the dodgy word-salad script, it’s squarely in the realm of YouTube fan film rather than commercial feature. And on the low end at that.

Cult of Chucky:

Only those familiar with the Child’s Play franchise need apply, and even then they must prepare themselves for a film with a rollercoaster tone and, at best, Syfy movie production standards. Apart from the practical effects, that is, which reflect a growing but distasteful trend for verisimilitude in head destruction. But it’s got a good lead in Fiona Dourif, daughter of Chucky’s voice Brad; reprising her role from Curse of Chucky as the paraplegic Nica, she gets to show a lot more range this time out. (As an aside, I watched the Netflix version which is missing the end credits scene indicated in the Wikipedia entry.)

Nature Boy:

Expectedly hagiographic (tip-toeing around his obvious chronic alcoholism, and those stories of him getting his dick out aren’t quite the jovial hijinks they’re purported to be) but how often do you get a mainstream documentary treating a subject like wrestling on its own terms? I can think of only one other.

Blue Sunshine:

What a weird little film, shot like an episode of Quincy but off-kilter enough in its 1970s paranoia plot and oddball performances (particularly from the lead Zalman King, later of Red Shoe Diaries infamy, who’s barely a hair above Tommy Wiseau here) to stick in the back of the mind.

Mayhem:

Where to start with Mayhem? Let’s list the cons. It’s Yet Another Viral Outbreak Movie, for one. It’s Yet Another Workplace Satire, too. The cast of Serbs and antipodeans give up trying to hide their real accents as the plot’s literal clock runs out. The synth-driven faux-retro soundtrack is just like every other neo-exploitation flick you’ve seen in the last few years. ‘Derivative’ is the word that springs to mind.

But it works in spite of all of that. It’s smart enough to add a new twist to the zombie virus trope (there is a cure, it just takes a few hours to work) and it’s one that ups the stakes for what’s pretty much a let’s-play of a live-action ultraviolent sandbox game, played to a score courtesy of Steve Moore, who’s being doing this kind of thing with Zombi for years.

And those bad accents only add to its ludicrous charm, which is what really sets it apart from the likes of the similarly plotted but mean-spirited The Belko Experiment: it’s out to please the crowds, not ick them out. Does it go for the cheap pop? Sure it does. Did I still enjoy watching it? You betcha.

Wheelman:

Of all the Netflix acquisitions thus far, this is the one most sorely missing that cinema experience, with nighttime vistas and adrenaline-pumping scenes that would spark on the big screen. In any case, it’s quite simply a tour de force by Frank Grillo as the titular driver, double-crossed by his paymasters and racing the streets of Boston, and against time, to save his family. A tired old plot, to be sure, but with a breathtakingly fresh spin by writer/director Jeremy Rush in his first feature, as the camera never leaves the lead or his ride aside. One of the finest movies of the year, let alone among action thrillers.