Join us for another film-based gabfest where we discuss the delights, or inverse delights, of Apostle, The Night Comes For Us, Flavors of Youth, Halloween, and Sicario: Day of the Soldado. Our opinions are delightful, and will delight you. Groove is in all of our hearts.
After the excellent The Raid (and its considerably less excellent sequel), director and writer Gareth Evans takes the unusual step of making a The Wicker Man-inspired time travel film. Beginning in Britain in 1905, Dan Stevens´ Thomas Richardson is tasked with infiltrating a strange cult, from whence has come a ransom demand for his sister. Boarding a boat, he travels to the miserable island of Erisen, which, unaccountably, is located in 17th century Massachusetts.
There he finds cult leader Malcolm (Michael Sheen) overseeing a miserable bunch of acolytes, who seem oblivious of such modern conveniences as the word “month”, and who consider themselves persecuted by the king, seemingly because they’re evading taxes? Indeed, the king has apparently sent an assassin to attempt to kill Malcolm, and Thomas takes the opportunity to earn the prophet’s trust – he knows the brother of the woman being held to ransom is on the island, but he doesn’t know which of the new arrivals he is – by stopping the hitman, becoming injured in the process.
Oh, and how does Prophet Malcolm know that the assassin came from the king? Because, and I am not making this up, he recognises the king’s markings on the assassin’s dagger. In 1905. I can only assume that Evans spent far too much time watching Game of Thrones while writing his screenplay. Again, I mention that this is supposed to be set in 1905. The 20th century. The king is unlikely to even be aware of the existence of these people, let alone have a personal, tax-based grudge. And even if, for some reason, he did (not that 20th century British kings had such power anyway), then tax matters are not dealt with through the medium of knives by assassin, but rather through letters. By post.
It only gets stupider from here. Though he’s on the island to rescue his sister (another aside: it’s clear why he’s on the island, but not why anyone else is. Summerisle, on the surface, seemed like an appealing place to be; Erisen is a miserable place full of misery), Thomas seems to go out of his way to avoid every opportunity to help her. In the meantime, he discovers that the inhabitants are expected to deposit jars full of blood outside of their doors at night (a sort of icky, reverse milk delivery), with which to fill the literal river of blood that runs beneath the island. The eventual purpose of this? To feed the nature goddess who is both the focus of the community’s pagan rituals, and its slave.
This supernatural element is both confusing and boring, so it’s at least in keeping with the rest of the film. Stevens’ Thomas is a particularly dull and uninspiring protagonist, though he’s hardly set apart from the rest of the cast by these adjectives. Poor Michael Sheen, the best thing in the film by a country mile yet still largely terrible, deserves so much better than this, especially as Evans seemingly forgot to write any compelling reason for these people to be following this prophet, and he’s clearly struggling to create charisma from nothing.
The “story” gives way to gore and torture porn as the film proceeds over its three day running time, with nary a sign of any point to anything. This is one of the most confusing, dull and downright bad things I’ve watched in a good long time, and I strongly urge you to avoid this. Utter. Pish.
Like last month’s Mandy, The Night Comes For Us came for us on the back of a wave of positive Twitter takes, although with more of “hard-hitting chop sockey” vibe than the “my brain has melted and Nic Cage is incredible/terrible/incredibly terrible” feelings that Mandy provokes. You may be asking, dear listener, why I’m talking so much about Mandy in an introductory paragraph for a different film, and well, spoilers, it’s because there’s not all that much of interest in The Night Comes For Us.
Recapping the plot would be a little difficult for reasons we’ll come to, but the short of it is that elite Triad enforcer Ito (Joe Taslim) has a very sudden change of heart in the middle of a good ol’ fashioned village massacre, and decides to protect the last surviving child, Reina (Asha Kenyeri Bermudez), performing a counter-massacre on his former Triad buddies. Injured, he returns home to Jakarta with the kid, holing up in his old girlfriend’s apartment. Spooked, she calls in the old gang of street criminals he used to run with before being elevated to elite henchman.
This turn of events doesn’t go down well with Triad lieutenant Chien Wu (Sunny Pang), who orders that Ito be captured, alongside anyone who gets in their way, enlisting Ito’s former fellow gang member Arian (Iko Uwais) with the task alongside Chien Wu’s own trusted band of weirdos. Cue a bunch of fighting and shooting, in what’s as much of an action movie as a martial arts one.
Unfortunately, though, not a particularly good one. I like to at least pretend to myself that I’m moderately clever, but following what was going on here, and why, was entirely beyond me. To a degree, plot’s immaterial – the best Tony Jaa film is about a man trying to reclaim an elephant – but there’s a basic overall coherence and some sort of character motivation that’s required as a bare minimum, and even with allowance for genre conventions, The Night Comes For Us spectacularly anti-hurdles the lowest possible bar.
For example, a character appears out of nowhere – literally, she walks in out of the mist – and her interest in proceedings is never explained, nor is she even named – seemingly because by that point they’d killed off all bar one of the protagonists and wanted to have some more fight scenes.
Even then, those fight scenes, which should be the movie’s saving grace, are mostly just okay. The most remarkable thing about them would be the level of graphic violence on display – this film makes no compromises and sometimes feels more like a body horror than an action film – and I won’t deny there’s a certain amount of enjoyment to be had from the extremity of that in a genre that’s so often PG friendly.
But that’s maybe ten minutes or so of the film, and the rest is an utter chore. A lot of the action is filmed rather flatly, perhaps initially a welcome change from shakycam obsessed modernity but soon feels a bit stodgy, and the remainder of the film is a half dozen good ideas for fight/sequences sequences, a half dozen ideas for a nice visuals, with the rest of the film appearing to have been randomly generated from plot strands from other genres and stock photography of the world’s dullest warehouses.
In conclusion I award this “watch Mandy” out of ten.
A co-production between Japanese studio CoMix Wave and the Chinese Haoliners Animation League, Flavors of Youth is an animated anthology that has been distributed by Studio Canal and Netflix.
Clearly taking its lead from CoMix’s most famous collaborator, Makoto Shinkai, Flavors of Youth has tried to weaponise and industrialise the themes of nostalgia and lost youth that permeate Shinkai’s work, but with considerably less efficacy.
The first segment, The Rice Noodles, is set in Beijing and a small factory town, and involves a young man reminiscing about the literal flavours of his youth. Though it clearly tries to use the different noodle dishes he has tried as a framing device for what he has lost, it is, really, not at all unfair to reduce this segment to “noodles aren’t as good as the noodles I had before”. This segment in particular suffers from a failing common to much of Shinkai’s work, which is that it’s very difficult to buy into the sense of nostalgia, and something lost, when the protagonist is, at most, in their early twenties, and so only a handful of years removed from the crucial events. Unlike the films of Makoto Shinkai, however, this failing is not counterbalanced by strikingly beautiful animation or compelling story.
The second segment, A Little Fashion Show, is set in Guangzhou, and tells the tale, barely, of two orphaned sisters who now live together in the city. The older sibling, Yu Li, is a famous fashion model, but one who senses her time in the spotlight is coming to an end, and tries various health-impacting ways to prolong her career. During these travails she falls out with her younger sister Lu Lu, whom she has been neglecting. Lu Lu spends much time secretly designing clothes. You will never guess how this story of a fashion model lacking confidence and her clothes-designing sister plays out. Never!
It’s on to Shanghai for the final segment, Love in Shanghai, in which a young architect discovers amongst his belongings while moving into a new apartment a mixtape, given to him without his knowledge by his teenage love. It contains a message that would’ve changed the course of his life, and he missed it! Wow! Many drama! Such teenage! Well, no, since it has no impact anyway.
A post-credits coda which forces the three stories together adds precisely zip.
Having been quite anticipating this because of CoMix Wave’s involvement, it saddens me to say that it’s really not very good, and I can’t recommend it, even at its very slight 74 minute running time. A genuine pity. I am disappoint.
This latest in the Halloween franchise, a franchise proving as difficult to kill as the series’ antagonist, asks us to disregard all but Carpenter’s original, covered in podcasts passim. This is easy enough for me, as the only one I’ve seen is the Rob Zombie remake, which did not encourage further exploration. Because it was a turd festival.
So, here we are, forty years on from the original, with Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode still traumatised by the events of that fateful night, having been turned into a doomsday prepper of sorts, with her doom imagined as the big lad in a boiler suit and a cheap mask, Canadian funnyman Michael Myers, or The Shape as I’m apparently supposed to call him. Hard pass on that.
Myers is currently locked up, under the care of Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), before a pair of annoying podcasters show up to provide background information and general exposition for anyone who missed the first film, and in some fashion I can’t quite remember kick off the events that leads to Meyers escaping during a prison transfer and returning to Haddonfield to finish his job.
Meanwhile in Haddonfield, Laurie’s in the middle of family troubles. Her grand-daughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) is fine with her, but her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) hasn’t quite forgiven her for being raised to be perpetually battle ready for a threat that never arrived, and would rather Allyson live a normal childhood rather than a Meyers-prepper. Oh, the irony. Anyhow, as you’d expect, the family must in the end band together to face off against the rampaging Meyers, after he’s done butchering about five times as many people as he did in the first film.
To be scrupulously fair, there’s some elements in David Gordon Green’s effort that aren’t a parade of turds. There’s a mist-laden scene during Meyer’s initial escape that’s the only time this film gets close to the tension that was, for me, anyway, the point of the Carpenter film. And Jamie Lee Curtis is really great here, and that leads to a ten minute sequence at the end that, were the rest of the film on the same level, would make this rather good.
Unfortunately the remainder of the film is a turducopia. Rather than link back to Carpenter’s film, this is more inspired by the end point of the arc Carpenter started in the slasher subgenre, with Meyers chopping up dozens of people you don’t care about in a curiously boring set of murders as entertainment, and deaths without any meaning behind them just feels trite these days, a throwback to an era I wasn’t all that enamoured with in the first place.
Set against this, it’s hard to care all that much about Allyson’s boyfriend and school troubles – there’s not much point grounding your heroes in reality when the rest of the film is so wildly unrealistic. Which brings us to Dr. Sartain, and what I believe is the single most offensive plot twist I’ve ever come across. A completely nonsensical, idiotic, insulting, downright turdatory moment that by itself would have me wanting to put this film in a bag and set fire to it on someone’s doorstep.
There are people who like this film, I’m told. Even some people whose opinion I normally respect. I am staggered by this, as I can’t imagine anyone putting up with any of this film’s nonsense after that turd of events. (A turd of events is like a turn of events, but much worse). It makes this mediocre film enragingly insufferable, and as such I recommend you do not suffer this carnival of turds.
In conclusion I award this “watch Mandy” out of ten.
Josh Brolin (sans flip-flops this time) and Benicio Del Toro return as CIA agent Matt Graver and lawyer-turned-hitman Alejandro in Sicario: Day of the Soldado, which sees the continuing war on drugs escalate after Islamist terrorists from Yemen (yet also, somehow, New Jersey) cross into the United States with a group of migrants from Mexico (I wonder: is this a common fear in the US, or is this film where The Orange Douchecanoe got that particular idea?) and set off bombs in supermarkets and other public places. These events see the cartels classified as terrorists (and also people classified as drugs?) and Graver tasked with creating inter-cartel conflict (which for some reason necessitates a trip to Somalia). This involves false flag assassinations, kidnapping and… well, that’s about it, really. This film barely has a story. There’s the de rigueur betrayal, but it’s nameless and impersonal, and well… I don’t know what more to say, really.
While Sicario: Day of the Soldado, stupid name aside, is a competent, well-produced and entertaining enough film, I’m left wondering what the point of it is. Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario was one of the best films of 2015; a captivating, thrilling and incredibly tense story set in the war between US authorities and Mexican drug cartels, which portrayed the moral ambiguity, if not moral bankruptcy, of those involved in the US side of the conflict. It did not, however, need or invite a sequel. Yet here the sequel is, because original ideas in Hollywood are rarer than hen’s teeth.
I’ve seen Sicario 2 described as close to the original, but, crucially, missing a heart, or perhaps a soul, and I think that sums up a lot of the problems very well. Emily Blunt was that heart and soul in the 2015 film; an idealistic FBI agent forced to betray her principles and operate in shades of grey, if not outright black. She was the viewer’s guide in this world, and its anchoring point, but the sequel lacks much characterisation at all, and certainly has no hero, anti or otherwise. Indeed, there may not be a single likeable or sympathetic character in the whole film.
Returning scribe Taylor Sheridan’s script is serviceable, but his skill for tension and character, as shown in Hell or High Water and Wind River, seems to have deserted him here, with much of the action perfunctory and clichéd, and the “politicians are all craven, spineless, self-serving asshats and all others are expendable” shtick is way beyond played out. Compounding things is Stefano Sollima’s direction which, like the script, is perfunctory but nothing special, a pale imitation of Villeneuve’s film, and noticeably lacking the Canadian’s panache.
It would be unfair to call Day of the Soldado a bad film, but it is unnecessary (and, sadly, sets up another potential sequel in its final scene), so I hesitate to recommend it. There’s a good chance you’ll enjoy it fairly well (though if you do watch it, skip the final 15 minutes as they don’t make a lot of sense), but it’s such a lesser film than the original, and so pointless, that you’re better off looking for something more rewarding.
Thanks to everyone who has got in touch with us on this, or said kind words about the show – it’s all very much appreciated.
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