Welcome to a new weekly segment on Pop Culture Reviews where critic and writer Terrence Sage collects his thoughts on the films he watched during the past week!
The Medium (2021)
Director: Banjong Pisanthanakun
Starring: Narilya Gulmongkolpech, Sawanee Utoomma, Sirani Yankittikan, and Yasaka Chaisorn
A Thailand Horror story that dabbles with themes of family, legacy, and religion through a mockumentary lens. The Medium follows a team traveling to the Isan region of Thailand which supposedly houses a medium that is said to be possessed by the local Goddess. The devilish events that ensue surrounding Mink (played wonderfully by Narilya Gulmongkolpech) – our medium’s niece – make the situation at hand more personal.
The mockumentary style gives the film an interesting blend of the handheld style of films such as Rec (2007) and Paranormal Activity (2007) whilst diving into the folklore and culture of this community. The Medium carries a grim and heavy weight of atmospheric horror with a dash of your typical found footage tropes, holding everything together really well, that is, until the third act. Pisanthanakun dials the violence and nausea up to the max to reinforce the direness, and this is where the film stumbles and suffers the same fate as almost every other found footage horror.
Directors: Pella Kagerman, Hugo Lilja
Starring: Emelie Garbers, Bianca Cruzeiro, Arvin Kanania, Anneli Martini, and Jennie Silfverhjelm
A bleak science-fiction pic that looks at hope, despair, and what keeps us going in the face of uncertainty. In Aniara, a ship with a multitude of passengers quickly veers off course during a voyage in space and the possibility of course correction is slim to none.
Kagerman and Lilja’s melancholic take on the “stranded in space” subgenre is welcomed, as fleeting moments of happiness are few and far in the film. Aniara maintains a consistent tone throughout, and we’re shown impactful instances of the crew and passengers struggling to remain sane whilst tackling the idea that dying on the ship is starting to become less of a possibility and more of a certainty.
What holds the existential film back from being truly great is that it lacks the vital element which should bring everything together, as we’re essentially just watching whittling citizens of the ship fall into hopeless despair with the expectation of a fatal outcome.
The Menu (2022)
Director: Mark Mylod
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, and Hong Chau
Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy navigate a full course meal in this dark comedy that doesn’t quite go the full way with its exploration of class and capitalism, nor does it commit to full camp, however, there are plenty of laughs along the way.
Conversations are sparsely had about how the selected guests for this luxurious event are all people who could afford to dine there on a regular night, but The Menu doesn’t dawdle on that because there’s suffering to be had as this is a group filled with scammers, liars, and genuine idiots. This horror-comedy is demented when it wants to be throughout the courses, and jabs at predicaments are thrown by characters “Did he just quote Martin Luther King?!”.
Hoult is great as Tyler, the nerdy foodie zombie boyfriend, and Hong Chau is sharply good fun as Elsa, the no-nonsense assistant to Fiennes’ Chef Slowik, however, the film is tastiest when Fiennes and Taylor-Joy are going back and forth, and when it’s displaying the well-executed food courses. The Menu gives the illusion of fine dining but will end with you wanting a little more out of the experience.
Blow Out (1981)
Director: Brian De Palma
Starring: John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow, Dennis Franz, and Peter Boyden
Blow Out follows a movie sound recordist who finds himself in mortal danger as he inadvertently records evidence proving that a car accident was actually premeditated murder.
De Palma’s choice to centralize an aspect of filmmaking that you don’t tend to focus on in the grand scheme of things (to my knowledge) was really interesting. The central mystery stemming from audio and the power of observations gives the film an edge and positions itself well for the reveal of a deep-dark political cover-up approaching our characters. The cinematography is also worth praising as it felt very inspiring.
De Palma’s ‘80s neo-noir features a stellar performance from Travolta, but at times the film did dip in quality; however, by the end, you aren’t left feeling disappointed.
Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able
An incredibly underrated sci-fi Monster flick that puts its characters, relationships, and world-building above all else. Edwards’ feature directorial debut is a raw piece of filmmaking and follows two characters who must make the dangerous trek through an infected zone in Mexico to reach the safety of the U.S. border.
Monsters took me by complete surprise with their slow-burning nature and the beauty in their environment. Made on an incredibly modest budget of roughly $500,000, we rarely get to see the alien creatures that have been infesting the planet for the past six years; however, when they are on screen Edwards uses them in creative and effective sequences. Our two leads Andrew (Scoot McNairy) and Sam (Whitney Able) feel like real people, and their chemistry and journey make the film worth watching for those aspects alone.
Delivering a tremendous amount of ambition and ideas with a very little runway, Gareth Edwards showed audiences over a decade ago why he was the right filmmaker to usher in Legendary Pictures’ MonsterVerse with Godzilla (2014).
Director: Joseph Cedar
Starring: Shlomo Bar-Aba, Lior Ashkenazi, Alisa Rosen, Alma Zack, Dikla Shkolnik, Daniel Markovich, and Micah Lewensohn
An academic-based drama following Eliezer (Shlomo Bar-Aba) and Uriel (Lior Ashkenazi), two rival professors who are also father and son with an already complicated relationship that reaches new heights as conflicts arise. The dynamic between Eliezer – a seasoned professor who is constantly blindsided with not many accolades to his name – and Uriel – a rising star who has all the makings of a champion in the same field – makes the film an exciting experience.
Immediately from the jump, the tension is palpable from the father; every atom in his body is filled with jealousy and there aren’t any attempts to cover up his emotions. Events begin to slowly unravel through flashbacks, as we’re shown the lead-up to this hostile situation between father and son.
Cedar dedicates a large chunk of the film’s runtime to showing both points of view on the matter, with a dash of levity sprinkled throughout. The back and forth between Eliezer and Uriel plays out like a political game, and is in actuality very low stakes, but the real heart of the film is the aftermath of their feud and how this could change their family for better or for worse. Footnote handles the drama genre very well, packing in an at times funny, somber and messy family watch.
The Ghost Writer (2010)
Director: Roman Polanski
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall, Olivia Williams, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Hutton, and Jon Bernthal
The Ghost Writer is a mysterious and downright excellently wound-up thriller starring Ewan McGregor as the titular character who is hired to complete the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan), but uncovers murky secrets that put his own life in danger.
When he’s not being made fun of for being British, The Ghost is a slowly turned paranoid man on the run when certain things start to mismatch. There’s a dangerous political game afoot when The Ghost begins his process of ghost-writing, as it’s revealed that former Prime Minister Adam Lang could possibly be a war criminal. The second act begins to dive deep into the events that aren’t lining up with the given history, and there’s also the ghost of the previous ghost-writer hanging over his head with its own chilling results.
The Ghost Writer is written and filmed as if it was an older film, and could easily pass off as a classic drama from the ‘60. Polanski keeps the mystery going up until the literal final moments of the film and all in all this is an extremely well-crafted film well worth your time.