Scandifantastique

Border (Gräns, Ali Abbasi, 2018)

A couple of times I’ve taught Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of John Avjide Lundqvist’s Let the Right One In, an intriguing vampire film with a nod to The Tin Drum. There’s been a remake and a TV series and now a short story has been adapted, billed as horror but maybe is better seen as a fantasy or a dark romance.
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Mary Queen of Poppins

Mary Queen of Scots (Josie Rourke, 2018)

Having just seen a rather mixed version of Richard II, with Simon Russell Beale, this felt rather theatrical, albeit without the poetry. There’s the Meaningful Looks from ensemble dignitaries, many of whose names escape me, brandishing of papers, condensation of time (oh, is that the same day or twenty years later?)… the climactic encounter between the two two leads which seems to be staged amidst indoor washing lines. And there’s Simon Russell Beale, in a brief cameo. There’s also race blind casting — yes, there were people of colour in Elizabethan England (and presumably Marian Scotland), but Bess of Hardwick (Gemma Chan) and the English ambassador (Adrian Lester)? It comes as no surprise that Rourke comes from the theatre — the Donmar Warehouse — and is better at tableaux than action.
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Certain Histories Have Been Taken With the Liberty

The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2018)

Among the trailers before this film was one for a new Mary Queen of Scots/Elizabeth I movie, clearly framed around the sizzling moment when they met — accept, of course, in real life they didn’t and Mary spoke French and Scots as far as I recall. Sometimes this kind of historical accuracy bothers me, along with fluid geography, but don’t learn history from a film without a dollop of scepticism.

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Shelf Indulgence

The Bookshop (Isabel Coixet, 2017)

Sometimes the gun over the fireplace in Act One is a paraffin heater.

This film works really hard not to be liked. It’s set in and around a bookshop in a small Suffolk village set up by widowed Emily Mortimer, and everybody loves a bookshop. Well, not everybody, because Patricia Clarkson, channelling Glen Close as Cruella de Vil, would rather have an arts centre, for reasons which need not detain us and clearly don’t detain the film. Meanwhile, Bill Nighy, who increasingly leads me to poor viewing choices, is a misanthropic widower who likes books and likes Emily Mortimer. In particular, in turns out he likes Ray Bradbury.

What’s not to like?

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Uncle Tom Cobblers

Hereditary (Ari Aster, 2018)

Remember, if there’s a gun over the fireplace in Act One, then…

Early on, we learn that little Charlie Graham needs an epi, and despite the fact that she could die at any point from anaphylactic shock, this always gets left behind. So, obviously, when her mother forces Charlie’s brother Peter to drag her to a party, she’ll make a beeline for the walnut cake. And things then take a turn for the worse, as stoned Peter tries to get her to casualty.

Ouch.

I’d very nearly given this a miss, but somehow I’d been convinced that this was Quality Horror, presumably on the grounds that Toni Collette and Gabriel Byrne wouldn’t appear in something which was pants. How wrong whoever that was was.

Annie is an artist who makes miniatures of her life, including her family and her Nasty Dead Mother. For example, she makes a model of Peter failing to get Charlie to hospital.

Ouch.

The family is haunted, perhaps by guilt, perhaps by something supernatural, and there is a room in their huge house that used to be her mother’s and they now keep it locked, because…

One day she attends a bereavement session, but Annie lies about going to it, claiming she was at the cinema. Hubby, whose job is not entirely clear but involves reading large manuscripts and sitting at a big desk, has clearly never asked her about what she has seen. Personally, I think a bereavement session is more fun than movies. This allows her to bump into Joan, similarly bereaved, and get to know her. Joan introduces her to the wonderful world of seances.

This cannot end well.

It doesn’t.

Before long, we’re deep in Rosemary’s Baby territory and the only question is who is in on the conspiracy and who is disposable. This film could have been made in 1968 and frankly Lucifer hasn’t caught up with Second Wave feminism yet. The One must be prepared for. And so we get some risible low key special effects and some embarrassing nudity and you’d have to have a heart of stone not to laugh.

No wonder Gabriel Byrne looks so miserable throughout.

There’s some neat uncanny stuff, and Annie reminds me of Frances Glessner Lee’s crime scene models, but the ironies of Annie creating fake world whilst herself being a puppet never really pays off. The director likes tracking shots, but even these seem a little haphazard.

Shhh!

A Quiet Place (John Krasinski, 2018)

A few years ago, Tim Lebbon wrote a novel about a subterranean species who had been living in a cave system and hunted by sound. When disturbed, they start attacking and killing humans, until society collapses. A family, including a hearing impaired person, try to find a safe place to survive.

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