Do you know the worst part about living in Australia while trying to do film criticism (or whatever we’re going to call what I do on this blog that I run)? There are so many films that I will just never be able to see in a legal manner, not through any local streaming services anyway. We live in a global marketplace where I can have just about anything I want sent to me from anywhere in the world, but movies appear to be one of the exceptions to this rule.
I hate to take you back there but at this point in 2020 my country was in… well, I’d say we were in hot water but actually we were in the literal opposite of water. The bushfires of late 2019 to early 2020 were some of the worst I’ve ever seen. Sure, we have bushfires here a lot (Comes with having lots of bush and not as much water as we should have) but it was nothing like last year. Part of the reason we have such bad bushfires here is that we are a dry country, known for lengthy periods of drought. Droughts that lengthy can do some serious damage on little towns like Kiewarra, which is the setting for the Australian crime movie The Dry.
“It’s Groundhog Day, except…” is a fairly easy way of describing most movies that feature a time loop situation, it tells everyone exactly what to expect right off the bat. For example, Happy Death Day is “It’s Groundhog Day, except there’s a killer on the loose”. Well, when it comes to describing the oddly relaxing Palm Springs, one could quite easily say “It’s Groundhog Day…. with a pool”.
Palm Springs takes place during a wedding at the titular Palm Springs where a boyfriend of one of the wedding guests, Nyles (Andy Samberg) ends up taking over a speech being given by Sarah Wilder (Cristin Milloti), saving her from drunken embarrassment. They end up sneaking away and going on a stroll together, having a good night out under the stars… when suddenly a man with a bow and arrow shoots Nyles who crawls his way into a nearby cave with a weird glowing light in it. Sarah follows him in there and the next thing she knows she’s waking up in her bed. Turns out that Nyles has been in a time loop for a while and the loop was caused by the weird light in the cave, so now Sarah and Nyles both have to just deal with living in a perpetual loop while trying to figure out how to end it.
Now, by the mention of a man with a bow and arrow you might assume that Palm Springs is kind of a Happy Death Day situation where they have to figure out who keeps trying to kill Nyles but no, no we learn quickly that it’s just a guy called Roy (J.K. Simmons) who also ended up in the loop and is just pissed at Nyles. In fact, truth be told, for most of the film there is no real antagonist or even plot, it’s just a pair of people who try to learn how to live through the same day over and over again until the final act when someone remembers “Oh shit, we need an ending” and they hurriedly come up with a way to put things right. It’s all very chill and relaxed and honestly, I kinda love it for that.
The repeated days are all very basic, the main characters don’t have to really repeat the same actions and since they spend most of the film away from everyone else it allows them time to grow without, oddly enough, getting repetitious. Watching this strange little relationship between Nyles and Sarah is the core of the film, a strange romance born out of being the only people (besides Roy) who are in this loop. Throughout the loops they learn more and more about each other and fall in love in a sweet albeit dorky way.
Palm Springs is a very simple little film, the most elaborate moments it has are when Roy turns up to have a moment of revenge on Nyles but he barely turns up, maybe two or three times at the most to be an actual threat to the main characters but outside that he’s not in the film as much as he could be. The film focuses, quite rightly, on where the emotional centre of the film is. Slowly it reveals more and more of the characters and of some of the family members around them (one particular revelation is brilliantly handled, not to spoil it but it does involve Sarah and happens about 2/3rds of the way through the film) and does so with easy charm.
Palm Springs is that kind of film that’s easy to watch but hard to talk about because it’s just really good. It doesn’t shoot too far, it knows its limits, it goes for being a good fun romcom and absolutely succeeds at that. Could I have used a little more Roy? Sure, hell you paid to have J.K. Simmons so why not use him? Could I have enjoyed a few more gutbuster lines? Sure, I mean the film was funny but could’ve gone further. Did I enjoy the film? Hell yes, it’s a good simple fun film that does what it needs to do to get the job done.
In 1983, Roald Dahl released his 14th novel The Witches and his story of a boy and his grandma going up against a coven of witches has always been somewhat polarizing. On the one hand, it’s a best selling novel that recently appeared on the BBC’s list of Top 100 most influential novels and on the other it’s been accused of being a misogynistic text ever since it released (and considering that the main villain is, essentially, every woman who isn’t a kindly old grandma and it was written by Roald Dahl… yeah, yeah that’s definitely there).
Sometimes a film is filled with subtext meant to make the audience think as they leave the cinema. Sometimes a film is working on layers that can be unravelled for decades to reveal new ideas and meanings with every viewing… and then there are films that are pretentious self-fellatio giving trainwrecks that want you to study them and find out what they mean when in reality they don’t mean a single goddamn thing, but the director threw in enough strange and weird shots that you could believe that there is something deeper there… welcome to Zeroville, a film that discovered it likes the smell of its own farts and wants you to know just how awesome that odour is.
Movies that begin with The and end in Man in the horror genre have lately filled me with dread lately. With the exception of The Invisible Man, I can’t think of a good film with this combination of words in the title so imagine how I felt seeing the poster for The Empty Man. If you thought I was prepared for a long slow boring film that tried far too hard to be smarter than it was, then you know me far too well… and you also just described the film to a T.
The “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series on Amazon Prime has been something of an underwhelming seriesoffilms but I want to make one thing clear about the entire concept before we begin this final entry… I genuinely love that Blumhouse looked to four minority groups, mostly women and POC and handed them a budget to make a horror film while casting from underrepresented groups. Even if the films themselves haven’t been great, they’ve all shown how easy it is to make a film with underrepresented groups and some serious potential from the filmmakers, two big things that excite me so much.
The term Faustian Bargain dates back to German legends that told the tale of a man named Faust who, while bored, called on the devil and made a deal to give Faust knowledge and magic powers. The Devil, being a swell chap, said “Sure but eventually I’m taking your soul for this” and they made a deal. Well, SURPRISE, turns out the Devil is a bit of a dick and Faust’s powers actually ended up corrupting him as a person and soon he was dead and in hell where he became the Devil’s plaything because that’s what happens when you make a Faustian Bargain. This legend is the basis of many horror stories, including Nocturne which is another entry in the Welcome to the Blumhouse Anthology which is an anthology I’m slowly realising is made up of films that Blumhouse probably didn’t think they could sell to a mainstream cinema market so they threw them on Amazon and hoped for the best.
One of the many repeated tropes of horror that has worked time and time again is “Someone does a murder, they or someone who loves them helps them lie to cover it up, the secret comes back to haunt them in the end”. This simple concept has led to literary classics like The Tell-Tale Heart, to cinematic classics like Rope and even been used in fun 90s slashers like I Know What You Did Last Summer. When done right, it’s a setup that creates tension right off the bat and the way the characters react to the knowledge of what they’ve done (or how what they’ve done turns them into the ultimate victims) creates the emotional core of the story… when done wrong you get The Lie.
In recent years, Blumhouse has become the place to go for a shot of good, fun horror. They’re responsible for intelligent gems likeGet Out and Happy Death Day, monster hits like The Purge series and revivals like Halloweenall came from this one little studio that is known for giving a lot of freedom to directors who are willing to work with a micro budget. Well, in 2020 they would’ve released a new Halloween and Purge movie by this point in the year but, you know, we live in an apocalypse so we can’t have nice things but what we can have is a quadrilogy of horror films that’s been grouped into a series titled “Welcome to the Blumhouse”. Now I’m aware that there’s apparently 8 films in this series but I only have 4 of them out now to review and I don’t know when the other 4 are meant to come out so I’m going with quadrilogy. Now let’s talk about Black Box.