Malignant

Written by Alexander Reams

73/100

I can see a young James Wan watching a Giallo film, and thinking “Oh I’m gonna make some weird shit” (kudos to James Gunn and Chris Pratt for giving us that line). Throughout his career, Wan has riffed on many genres, and now we can add Giallo to that list. The iconic Italian horror genre was made popular in the 1970s, particularly by Dario Argento. James Wan takes the iconic genre and mixes it with modern themes and messages. Maddy (Annabelle Wallis) is in an abusive marriage with Derek (Jake Abel), she begins to experience visions of a sinister force and fights to protect herself and her family. 

This is not Annabelle Wallis’ first collaboration with James Wan, she was the lead in the spinoff to The Conjuring. Given that previous history, it seemed to reason that they would work together down the line, and here they offer up a beautiful metaphor for abuse and toxic relationships. Wallis not only conveys the past of her character but also (quite literally) embodies this person who is haunted by past memories and trauma. While she does not fully elevate the script to the iconic female horror leads we know and love, she still does more than the previous female characters in Wan’s repertoire, which is a welcome breath of fresh air. 

Something Wallis and Wan both excel in is the brilliant horror sequences. Allowing for the pair, and DP Michael Burgess to present unique and original sequences which are unlike any I have seen. One in the early parts of the film mixes visual and practical effects to transform a house into another environment, and the metamorphasis is transfixing and spine-chilling. 

Wan’s relationship with Michael Burgess is a relatively new one, however, he has worked with Don Burgess, Michael’s father, many times, and with the younger Burgess just coming off another horror film, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, following it up with a James Wan original just makes sense. Michael Burgess takes the potential shown in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It and flies with it, demonstrating his brilliance as a DP, and a master of framing and camera movement. 

Even with all of this greatness, rarely is a film without flaws, and Wan’s latest offering is not without its faults. Akela Cooper, whose credits include Hell Fest, Luke Cage, and 2 other pictures that struggled in their writing serves as screenwriter. Cooper took a brilliant premise by the husband-wife duo of Wan and Ingrid Bisu and unfortunately wrote in watered down dialogue, which should be heartbreaking and is instead laugh-inducing at times. This half-baked screenplay doesn’t take away from what is happening in front of us. Wan doesn’t need dialogue to convey emotion, and this shines in the final act. Transforming the film into someone mind-bending, and full of heart and emotion. In this writer’s opinion, this is Wan’s most emotionally charged film. From the mother-daughter relationship to the sister relationship, all leading to the most unexpected reveal. Which ends the film on a somewhat positive note that also leaves the door open to future stories in this world, which excites this writer to no end.

Malignant Trailer

Malignant is currently playing in wide theatrical release and available to stream on HBO Max.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

F9: The Fast Saga

Written by Alexander Reams

56/100

The laws of physics have unknowingly or knowingly been the backbone of the human race since the dawn of time. Countless times films have tried to disregard those laws, with some succeeding even without them, and some have crashed and burned spectacularly (looking at you Transformers: Age of Extinction and Transformers: The Last Knight). Ever since its resurgence in pop culture in 2011 with the wildly successful Fast Five, the Fast & Furious franchise has continued to be less and less realistic (I’m sorry but Dwayne Johnson moving a torpedo’s trajectory with his bare hands is amazing, but a stretch at best). This continuation of less grounded films peaked in 2019’s Hobbs & Shaw and now they have gone too far. 

The film is continuing the story of Dominic Toretto and crew, including his wife, Letty Ortiz, Tej Parker, Roman Pierce, sister Mia Toretto, and mysterious hacker Ramsey. The plot of the movie is one that we’ve seen thousands of times, the crew needs to get a “thing” so that the bad guys don’t. That’s it. That is the entire plot. The twist here is that the “bad guy” is Dom’s long lost brother, Jakob Toretto. Yes, they are continuing their streak of doing soap opera tropes but with a budget, and the script certainly feels like one at times. The question that has been asked since the film came out is “Who is at fault?” The answer is clear, the screenwriter, or in this case, screenwriters. This is the first film in the franchise since The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift that Chris Morgan has not written, and he was a driving force behind keeping this series in control of itself and never going too far fetched and keeping the stakes real. This time Justin Lin, Daniel Casey, and Alfredo Botello are the writers of the film and it reads as if they scoured the reddit forums and just threw countless ideas at a wall and saw what stuck. 

Read Alexander’s Fast and Furious Franchise Retrospective

Justin Lin is not only a writer on the film, he returns after a 8 year hiatus from the franchise. His return not only brought a level of hype back to the franchise that I had not felt since 2013 when James Wan was announced as the director of Furious 7. It also brought a level of expectation of quality that I had associated with Lin’s work in the franchise. He is responsible for two of my favorite entries of the franchise Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6. Unfortunately I felt that we did not get the maturing and exciting Justin Lin that did Star Trek: Beyond here, it seemed like we got Fast & Furious (2009) Justin Lin, which as you might know, is the only entry that does not work for me on any level. While his quieter moments do not work, he undeniably has a great eye for shooting action set pieces. Particularly a car chase with Dame Helen Mirren and Vin Diesel through the streets of London and an early jungle chase in Montequinto with the crew. His pacing throughout these scenes is masterfully done and is never too frenetic or too quick to jump cut.

Han’s death in The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift was a shocking and heartbreaking moment in the franchise, even more so after seeing him in entries 4-6. His character was my personal favorite and his constant snacking became one of my first thoughts whenever Fast & Furious comes into conversation. When it was revealed that he would be back for F9 my excitement went through the roof. However my excitement was reduced when I began to think about how he would be brought back. I should have tempered my expectations far further than I had. I won’t delve into spoilers but, the explanation given is one of the biggest half baked explanations of the entire franchise. Bringing Han back also took away any sense of stakes and consequences, now anyone can be brought back, no matter dead, disintegrated, melted, etc. 

F9 is a muddled mess, from the story, to performances, Charlize Theron is acting like she is in a completely different film and constantly made me feel like I was watching a Razzie Awards clipshow of horrendous lines. While I do not believe this film to be anywhere near the greatness of entries 5-7 or Hobbs & Shaw there is enjoyment to be found throughout. If you go into the film thinking of it not as an action film, but as a comedy, you might find much more enjoyment. Let us all hope that the 2 part finale will be far superior, Chris Morgan, please, I beg of you, please return to the franchise. 

F9: The Fast Saga Trailer

F9: The Fast Saga is currently playing in wide theatrical release.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Retrospective Feature: Fast & Furious Saga

Written by Alexander Reams

What started out as a glorified Point Break ripoff has snowballed into one of the biggest action franchises of all time and also one of the biggest soap operas in history. A series spanning 20 years, 8 films, 1 spin off, and a countless array of cars destroyed. Before the newest comes out, join me as I briefly discuss each film, note important characters introduced and events in the film. 

Without further ado, let’s jump in.

The Fast and the Furious (2001) 

Dir. Rob Cohen

45/100

In the early 2000s, countless films wanted to be a part of the glory days of the 1990s action films. Then a street racing film full of relatively unknown actors released in the summer of 2001. While The Fast and the Furious is a fun summer movie, its style is far too frenetic and juvenile to warrant repeated viewings. Specifically the race war scene and the race between Dom (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) are fun to watch. There was no plan for sequels when this came out, and despite this the groundwork was being laid for a massive franchise. Besides introducing Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and Michelle Rodriguez, the film introduces the budding relationship between Jordana Brewster’s “Mia Torretto” and Brian O’Connor. 

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

Dir. John Singleton

42/100

Before I even begin to critique the film as a whole, I cannot ignore the absolute stupidity of the title. There were so many different options to choose from, with the most obvious probably being the best one, The Fast and the Furious 2. Now, at the height of mid-2000s fashion, the newest Fast and Furious came out, and directed by John Singleton?! The same director from Boyz n’ the Hood and Shaft (2000). How could he make such a terrible film? The missing piece is Vin Diesel, the bond he and Walker formed in the first film is broken by the absence of Diesel and takes away a massive pull to watching this series. In the end it makes this one of the least rewatchable films in the franchise.

Groundwork laid: Introduction of Roman Pierce (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej Parker (Ludacris).  

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

Dir. Justin Lin

61/100

After the critical and commercial failure of the previous film. Universal brought in fresh blood to direct, Justin Lin, who was coming off the critical success of Better Luck Tomorrow. As well as a brand new cast including Lucas Black, Sung Kang, and 2000’s icon Lil Bow Wow. This is also the first time that the series had shown real stakes in the death of Sung Kang’s “Han Seoul-Oh”. While also introducing another world of racing that had not been shown on film before. The style Lin brought to the film was similar to what had previously been done before, however it had more finesse of a better director which made the film far superior than the previous entries. The only connection to the previous films that appeared in this film was Vin Diesel in a cameo role at the end. 

Groundwork & Timeline Information: Introduction of Han Seoul-Oh and Sean Boswell (Lucas Black). Also providing the catalyst for Furious 7 to start off from. 

Fast & Furious (2009)

Dir. Justin Lin 

35/100

Unfortunately the fun from the previous film would run out here. Widely regarded to be the worst of the franchise and deservedly so. There is not much I can bash about that hasn’t already been said about this film. 

Groundwork & Timeline Information: To account for absences, this is set between 2 Fast 2 Furious and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Also the introduction of Leo and Santos. As well as the crime lord Arturo Braga and Gal Gadot’s Gisele.

Fast Five (2011)

Dir. Justin Lin

76/100

The first time that the franchise was truly celebrated by critics and audiences alike. A true reinvention of the franchise that was full of life and joy. As well as being one of the best heist films of the 21st century. Bringing together everyone that has been introduced in the previous films to form a crew who are all on the point of desperation. Dom, Mia, and Brian are all fugitives after breaking Dom out from prison. However with all of that added stress, Dwayne Johnson joins the cast as Agent Luke Hobbs chasing down the fugitives. Add in wonderfully choreographed action and an amazing finale and you have one of the best action films of the 2010s. 

Groundwork Laid: First time the team works together as a whole, introduction of Dwayne Johnson’s “Luke Hobbs”. Evidence that Letty is alive appears in a post credit scene. 

Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

Dir. Justin Lin

78/100

After the excitement of the heist in Brazil, the team go their separate ways until Luke Hobbs bring them back in to take down Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), who has employed an amnesiac Letty to his crew. Yes, the franchise has brought in the very common soap opera trope of “amnesia”. Justin Lin continues his streak of filming the franchise very well, and still keeping the characters and the story first. 

Groundwork Laid: Introduction of the Shaws. 

Furious 7 (2015)

Dir. James Wan 

82/100

For the first time in 9 years, a Fast & Furious movie was not helmed by Justin Lin, but horror breakout star, James Wan. Wan brings a very new style to the franchise and a new way of shooting the film. His way of shooting action makes it more comprehensible for audiences to consume. While continuing the story of the team, it also introduces a new villain, and brother of the previous antagonist, Deckard Shaw, played wonderfully by Jason Statham. As well as shadow figure “Mr. Nobody” played by a gleefully weird Kurt Russell. 

Groundwork & Timeline Information: The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift takes place between Furious 7 and Fast & Furious 6. Showing that Tokyo Drift was a spinoff about what Han does after the death of his lover Gisele. It is also revealed that Deckard Shaw killed Han in retribution for what was done to his brother. Also the introduction of the hacker “Ramsey” played by GOT star Nathalie Emmanuel. 

The Fate of the Furious (2017)

Dir. F. Gary Gray

68/100

The latest in the main storyline of Fast & Furious sees Dom go rogue for unknown reasons… until they are known. A trope that has been done before, but not to the extreme that happens here. The New York City sequence alone proves that. However this does revert back to putting action and set pieces before story and characters which does take away the stakes of the film and is frustrating to say the least. However it is still a fun watch nonetheless. 

Groundwork Laid: Introduction of “super hacker” Cipher played by a dreads wearing Charlize Theron. Also confirming that Dom had a son with former flame Elena (Elsa Pataky).

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

Written by Alexander Reams

59/100

Some will always say that the third film in a trilogy is the weakest, sometimes that is true, and sometimes it isn’t. This is the unfortunate instance where that rule is true. In the past 10 years the horror genre has had a resurgence, a fall, and another resurgence. Starting in 2013, after an abysmal year for the genre, in walks James Wan with his newest horror project, The Conjuring. One of the most notable and recent entries in the “serious horror” genre, the film focused more on characters and their relationships with one another than the scares. Characters have always led to the best scares in horror films. This is a lesson that the Conjuring-verse films forgot about after the first film, but were reminded with the second. With one film in particular applying this, Annabelle Creation (2017). However, after the critical failures that were The Nun (2018), The Curse of La Llorona (2019), and Annabelle Comes Home (2019). The Conjuring was due for a resuscitation in quality, and to a degree that happens in this film. However this is also the first time in the trilogy that the film begins to care more about the scares than it’s characters. 

Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson have been playing these characters for over 8 years now, and with that comes good and bad. What’s good and borderline great about their performances is that over the time of these films you can see their relationship grow, just like in a marriage. Their flow on screen together gets better and better with each film. With their relationship being the best aspect of this movie. According to the films, they met 30 years ago, and it’s been 10 years in this universe since our introduction to this couple, according to the dates given. Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona), clearly let these actors do whatever they felt was right and trusted them to keep with the tone and style of relationship as the previous films. I definitely view this as a positive mark on the film because the last film Chaves made had very poor acting and direction. This time it is only in the direction that he stumbles. Valuing jump scares and set pieces over character development caused it to blend into numerous other generic horror films that audiences have grown accustomed to rather than a distinctive piece unto itself. 

One of his few saving graces is the way he shoots this film with DP Michael Burgess. Particularly in the last half hour of the film, the wide shots are beautifully captured on the Arri Alexa and Alexa Mini with Panavision lenses. Scenes in the medical bay of the prison are beautifully lit to create very macabre images which in turn make this film visually stand out in a way that the previous films hadn’t. While this film does not live up to the original films in the trilogy and is disappointing in terms of quality, I am not surprised that it was what it was. The direction is not even close to the level of James Wan’s and strays too far from the path that was laid before it. Despite this, it still stands very tall over the other various unwanted and poorly made spinoffs that this universe birthed along the way.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It Trailer

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is currently in Theaters and streaming on HBO Max.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Spiral

Written by Alexander Reams

94/100

Spiral is the newest entry in the long-running, and presumably exhausted, Saw franchise. In preparation for this film I finally trekked through the franchise and fell into a weird appreciation and borderline love for this series. This newest entry shows the legacy that John Kramer has left while a new copycat continues his work and reigns terror on police. 

Chris Rock as Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks is the latest protagonist of the Saw franchise. This is a significant change of pace and genre from what we are used to seeing Rock in. Not only is he the lead, he also developed this film from the ground up, is an executive producer, and did the story treatment. This is truly his baby and his passion shows in every scene. Sharing the screen with Rock is Samuel L. Jackson as “Marcus Banks”, Zeke’s father, and Max Minghella as Zeke’s partner “William Schenk”. 

This film is a departure from previous entries in style and substance. The direction of the film, from previous director Darren Lynn Bousman, is far less frenetic. Which leads to making the story and traps easier to watch and less visually confusing. The quick edits and shaky cinematography that has been a staple of the Saw franchise is nowhere to be seen. The camera movements are slow and methodical, almost like a voyeur on the investigation taking place. The editing is intentional, only cutting when absolutely necessary, and never too often. 

The gratuitous blood and gore is toned down to make it more effective when it does happen. Instead the film leans more towards scares and disturbing imagery which constantly pushes the film’s atmosphere to more and more grisly places. This film is a welcome breath of fresh air in this 17-year long franchise. Chris Rock gives what may be his greatest performance yet and seeing him, Max Minghella, and Samuel L. Jackson on screen together is a wonderful combination, the screenplay is a cherry on top.

Spiral Trailer

Spiral is now playing in theaters.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter.