Getting ready for Apple TV+’s FOUNDATION series

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I LOVE a good sci-fi series! It feels like it’s been ages since I binge on an expansive space opera, if you will. I finished the latest sci-fi obsession of mine, THE EXPANSE season 5, last November, unfortunately it’s not clear when season 6 will drop. Well, thank goodness FOUNDATION is for sure arriving on Apple TV+ this Friday (yay!!), as I’ve been anticipating this for nearly a year!

PREMISE + SHOW RUNNER

For those who aren’t familiar with FOUNDATION, it’s based on Isaac Asimov‘s seven novel series. The original trilogy was actually written in the 1950s, which won the one time HUGO award for Best All-Time Series, even beating out The Lord of The Rings! He later picked up the book series again in the 1980s with four more books, including two prequels. So what is the story about? Well, according to THR, apparently show-runner David S. Goyer sold THIS one-sentence pitch to Apple which got him the gig:

It’s a 1,000-year chess game between Hari Seldon and the Empire, and all the characters in between are the pawns, but some of the pawns over the course of this saga end up becoming kings and queens

The article puts it like “… a bit like Game of Thrones in space — but over a much, much longer time span.” It’s astounding that this influential work (which apparently inspired Star Wars, Dune, etc.) has never brought to screen before, though not for lack of trying.

Per Wiki, even Jonathan Nolan reportedly was writing and producing a TV series based on the Foundation Trilogy for HBO. Interesting that Nolan and Goyer were both working on Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. It seems the centuries-spanning and multiple plot lines of the novels seems to make FOUNDATION deemed ‘un-filmable.’ In this BBC article, even James Cameron told Goyer at one point ‘That one’s hard’, when they heard the rights to Asimov’s work became available. 

Here’s Goyer talking about what FOUNDATION is all about and its influences:

I’ve been reading articles and watching videos to educate myself about the story to help prepare me for the series, as I have not read any of Asimov’s books. I always find it helpful to have experts on the subject explain them to me in layman’s terms, so if you’re curious about it, check out this video:

I’m even more intrigued that Asimov was heavily influenced by The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by English historian Edward Gibbon. There are obviously many factors that cause the fall of such a vast empire, but government corruption, political dispute, and power struggle cause the empire to weaken over time, and that’s a cautionary tale for our world today as well.


THE CAST

I have to admit I’m instantly on board with this series when I saw LEE PACE had been cast! He’s such a terrific actor who somehow still hasn’t gotten his moment to shine yet despite having been in big-budget films like The Hobbit. I first saw him in Tarsem’s The Fall and am baffled as to why he isn’t a bigger star by now. 

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Pace plays Brother Day, the current Emperor of the Galaxy. Watch this interview of him describing the character as being more than one man, but a series of men who for a time in their life inhabit the role of the emperor. Sounds like a challenging part but I’m sure he’d be great in the role.

I’m also excited to see JARED HARRIS as his co-lead in the series. The talented British actor was also in The Expanse and he’s always delivered a solid performance in everything I’ve seen him in. He’s also no stranger to big-budget television productions as he was also in BBC’s Sherlock and The Crown.

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Harris plays Hari Sheldon, the central character of Asimov’s books, the mathematician who predicts the fall of the Empire that would usher in the Dark Ages lasting 30,000 years. He proposes creating the Foundation comprised of the most intelligent minds in the universe as a way to limit those Dark Ages to just 1,000 years, which puts him in direct opposition to the Galactic Empire who’s resistant to change [surprise, surprise!]. 

In one of the interviews, Goyer said FOUNDATION isn’t so much about the future but about the NOW… as we likely will see parallels of two competing visions of the future, and that there are elite forces in world governments today who are resistant to change. He cites Brexit as one of the examples. 

Check out this clip where two parties with competing visions of the future clash:

WOMEN POWER

Per IMDb, three major male characters in the original novels are portrayed by females. Salvor Hardin (Leah Harvey), Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell) and Eto Demerzel (Laura Birn). Good to see a diverse cast as well.

Per this blog post, Llobell acknowledged there are similarities between her character Dornick with Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins … “He doesn’t know anything about this world, and gets thrown into it, and then has to deal with everything that comes with it… Gaal starts off as a small-town girl, who arrives in the big city, and all her hopes and everything she kind of anticipates is going to happen, doesn’t. She is thrown into this whirlwind of a story and she goes with it, because she really does believe in the math. And that is what drives her, the truth is what drives her.” I‘m most curious to see her character journey in this series!

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Salvor Hardin, a Warden of a planet called Terminus at the edge of the galaxy, where Seldon’s followers establish a Foundation to prepare for the Dark Ages that will follow the fall of the Empire. Hardin is played by non-binary actor Leah Harvey. Interestingly, Harvey had originally auditioned for the role of Dornick, but Goyer saw them more as Hardin. Per that Ownkart blog, she’s quoted as saying “Being non-binary, I see gender as kind of something that’s nothing and everything at the same time, … I’ve had experiences playing Shakespeare characters who are typically male, and my experience doing that is that it doesn’t really change anything, which is quite nice to actually feel because it takes the pressure off.”

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Then there’s Finnish actress Laura Birn who plays Demerzel, the First Minister to the Emperor. Per this CNET article, this character was not in the original trilogy, only in the prequel. The article mentioned that it’s “…a potentially handy device for Goyer and the other creators to have an essentially immortal character that audiences can identify across multiple seasons.”

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SERIES ADAPTATION VS BOOKS

I think adapting such a complex series would be really challenging if they stick too closely to the books, given the large scope and centuries-spanning timeline. Well, based on this article, the series will be a philosophically faithful adaptation of the source material, though the TV series is taking creative liberties elsewhere. I think that is a wise decision on Goyer part. The sheer scale of it would make it hard to have characters audiences can latch on to in a serialized format… I mean, unless all of the characters are immortal or alien beings who live for hundreds/thousands of years. 

Per the CNET article above, a lack of direct conflict in the books would also make it challenging to make for riveting TV series. So I’m hopeful that the creative licenses Goyer + co. are taking would improve the story.

One thing for sure, the production design and cinematography look absolutely stunning! The filming locations include County Limerick, Ireland, Malta, Iceland, etc. so Apple certainly spent $$$ for this series. 

I’m REALLY hoping this series is good! Apple is launching the first two episodes tomorrow, Sept. 24, and one episode is released every Friday thereafter. Check out the latest trailer if you haven’t already:


Are you excited to watch FOUNDATION?

Happy Fall! 🍂 My Favorite Autumn Scenes in YOU’VE GOT MAIL

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Happy First Day of Autumn, everyone!

I almost forgot about today, even though I had planned on doing a post on Autumn Equinox, which happens to be on Sept. 22. (it’s afternoon here in US Central Time as I’m writing this).

Nora Ephron’s YOU’VE GOT MAIL is one of my all time favorite rom-coms ever and it remains timeless even though the technology is long been outdated. I still get a giggle listening to the loud sound of modem as the characters try to go online, I’m old enough to still remember those times… fun times, NOT! 😀

There are SO many wonderful scenes I adore in this movie… I’ve highlighted my favorite Thanksgiving and Christmas scenes…

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… but for some reason I have not highlighted the wonderful Fall scenes. There’s nothing more enchanting than Autumn in New York City… I was lucky enough to visit NYC in the Fall and it’s spectacular! The Fall foliage is just sooo gorgeous and the streets just look magical with the changing leaf colors.

I love how Ephron highlights the beauty of the city in these two scenes, shot by DP John Lindley. This particular scene shows the serendipitous encounter as the two protagonists Meg Ryan + Tom Hanks walk to work in the morning and pass each other on the street without realizing it. The choice of song of Dreams by The Cranberries makes it even more perfect!


I also love this whimsical scene of Hanks’ Joe Fox hanging out with his unconventional American family (these two kids aren’t his niece and nephews, they’re his aunt and brother, ahah!). Ryan’s Kathleen’s book store is absolutely the cutest, decorated with Fall leaves on the window. I love that the entire film was shot on various location in Manhattan, this one looks like somewhere in the Upper West Side.

Ahhh… Autumn is in the air… the temps is actually very Fall-like here in Minnesota already, and it’s so welcomed after such a sweltering hot Summer.


Hope you enjoy these Fall scene spotlight. Which are some of YOUR favorite movie Fall scenes?

FlixChatter Review: The High Note (2020)

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I’ve never seen any of the 50 Shades movies, but I’ve seen quite a few of Dakota Johnson‘s films and I quite like her as an actress. So she’s the main draw for me to see this one which reminds me a bit of Cloud of Sils Maria, where Kristen Stewart (another talented young actress famous for being in a huge, lucrative franchise) plays a dedicated personal assistant of a famous celebrity.

I enjoy this movie thoroughly and I find it engaging from the start. Both Tracee Ellis Ross as the superstar singer Grace Davis and Dakota as her overworked assistant Maggie fit the characters nicely. Obviously Tracee channelled her very famous mom Diana Ross for the role, but I think she made the role her own and she also has a wonderful singing voice. Dakota has a certain charm & cool factor that makes her so watchable, and she’s proven herself to be quite a versatile actress.

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Just like Nisha Ganatra‘s previous movie Late Night, this movie also explores the power dynamic of two talented women, but tackling it with wit and humor. At the same time, it’s also not afraid to tackle important subject matters such as sexism AND ageism in the music industry. Despite her fame and success, Grace still can’t break free from the expectations of her manager and music label. She wanted to record new music (as does Maggie), but her manager wants her to just ‘cash it in’ by doing residency like other big name singers like Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, etc. There’s a conversation between Maggie and Grace in a bathroom is a memorable one and I find it inspiring that Grace doesn’t want to play it safe despite what the record label thinks she should do because of her age. 

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Maggie herself is an aspiring music producer herself and despite her demanding boss, somehow found time to discover a new talent in David (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) at a party. Dakota really sells it as someone who’s absolutely passionate about music, and the scene of her in a studio recording session is a memorable one. Ice Cube is always fun to watch though he gets to be a bit over the top here as Grace’s manager. There are two amusing cameo roles here, there’s Bill Pullman as Maggie’s radio DJ dad who instills the deep love of music in her; and Eddie Izzard as a music star Maggie reach out to for Grace’s album release party. Too bad we don’t get to see Izzard perform though, would’ve been cool if he’d done a Glamrock-style number.

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The movie does feel rather formulaic in parts. I feel the romance between Maggie and David is so unnecessary and the film would’ve been more intriguing without it. There’s also a twist at the end that really came out of left field, and a serendipitous moment that feels all too convenient. Still, this movie hits mostly the right notes. Tracee’s performance feels authentic in that you believe her as a bonafide music superstar, and Dakota brings Maggie’s own personal journey in a believable way. You could do much worse than a feel-good movie with likable characters and wonderful music.

3.5/5 Reels


Have you seen THE HIGH NOTE? I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review: Den Skyldige (The Guilty – 2018)

A few days ago I saw the trailer for Netflix production of The Guilty starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Soon I learned it’s actually a remake (surprise, surprise) of this Nordic version which won the Audience and Grand Jury Award at Sundance. Thankfully this movie is available in HULU, so I decided to give it a watch.

This film is a study in minimalism that less is more. The set is pretty austere, just a small dispatch call center with a few call operators, that’s it. The premise itself is a simple one as well… police officer Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) has been assigned to dispatch duty, but things unexpectedly escalates when he answers an emergency call from a kidnapped woman. I love the slo-burn build up that Swedish writer/director Gustav Möller sets up here, working from a script written by himself and Emil Nygaard Albertsen. He’s got the self assurance of a more seasoned filmmaker even though this is his feature directorial debut. He’s only got one other credit directing a short film, which is even more impressive.

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The night starts out pretty routine, as Asger answer calls from people who got mugged at the red light district which displays that he’s not the most empathetic dispatcher. It make sense once it’s revealed this isn’t Asger’s regular job and that he’s got a court appointment the next day. What that court appointment is for isn’t revealed until later, but for most of the film, the drama revolves around the conversation between Asger and a woman named Iben (voiced by Jessica Dinnage). At first, everything points to a kidnapping… a woman in a domestic violence situation kidnapped by her abusive husband, leaving their young daughter and a baby boy alone at home. Asger even gets to speak with the daughter, Mathilde (voiced by Katinka Evers-Jahnsen) as it confirms his suspicion further than Iben is in extreme danger under the clutch of a violent man. Well, or so he thought.

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Nothing is what it seems in this film, even the title itself had me pondering as I was watching it… who is actually the guilty person? As Asger breaks protocol in trying to help Iben, he asks for help from his partner Rashid (voiced by Omar Shargawi) which drops subtle hints as to what the court appointment is all about. Well, the answer emerges as the film reaches its climax. I gasped as the truth was revealed as to what was actually happening. The deceptively simple script tackles not just one but two concurrent narratives Iben’s and Asger’s, and makes it a pretty gripping ride.

The entire time, all we see is Asger who only has the phone as his only connection to the outside world. The entire thing is contained in a single location, the protagonist only moves from the main call center to a smaller office a few steps away. Cedergren delivers a solid performance that manages to keep my attention here as pretty much the only face on screen. The set-up reminds me of a similar film starring Tom Hardy called Locke, where all we see is him in a car talking to unseen people on the phone for about 90 minutes. Cedergren isn’t quite as charismatic as Hardy but he’s definitely effective in portraying the evolution of his character.

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Films like this only works efficiently when you’ve got a sharp, astute script… how refreshing to see a film where the writing is the best special effects. Even without seeing the supposed crime being shown on screen, the dialog between the characters allow our imagination to fill in the details. Kudos to Möller for keeping the suspense level high all throughout the third act, with subtle emotional touches throughout that feels organic without resorting to over-sentimentality.

I’m very curious how the Netflix film will top this one. Apparently the streaming giant spent $30 mil for the rights to this thriller, on top of the actual budget to get Antoine Fuqua as director and the star studded cast. Nordic thrillers are quite popular in Hollywood, hence the countless remakes from Danish productions, but star power and bigger budget don’t always translate to better films. As The Guilty proves, the minimalist approach can make a great impact when a shrewd script and superb performances meet.

4/5 stars


Have you seen THE GUILTY? I’d love to hear what you think!

This Just In! Guillermo del Toro’s ‘Nightmare Alley’ Trailer

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It’s been four years since Guillermo del Toro won a Best Picture Oscar for The Shape of Water, and this is the first feature film he’s worked on since. Of course it’s not the only film that had to shut down because of the pandemic. Per this Indiewire article, they stopped the shoot when shooting was halfway done in the Spring of 2020.

Though he’s known for his horror films, I’m intrigued by the fact that Nightmare Alley is a noir thriller. The story is based on a novel by William Lindsay Gresham published in 1946. Per Wiki, it’s a study of the lowest depths of showbiz and its sleazy inhabitants—the dark, shadowy world of a second rate carnival filled with hustlers, scheming grifters, and Machiavellian femmes fatales.

Full synopsis:

An ambitious carny with a talent for manipulating people with a few well-chosen words hooks up with a female psychiatrist who is even more dangerous than he is.

Behold it’s first trailer:


Now this is the kind of film I’d watch just for the cast! Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, Ron Perlman, and David Strathairn. Wow!! Apparently Cooper replaced Leo DiCaprio in the lead role, which is fine as I quite like the pairing of him with Blanchett who looks sultry as a femme fatale psychiatrist.

Is he man or beast?

Willem Dafoe’s narration repeatedly asks that question about one of the unexplained mysteries of the universe… the carnival world is inherently bizarre and mystical, filled with freaky ‘wonders of nature.’ But perhaps there’s a twist here? Sometimes it’s the ones considered regular/ordinary who turns out to be the ‘beast.’ I love that this trailer keeps us in suspense and not give anything away.

Now, I haven’t seen the original film, but I watched the trailer 1947’s version last night, starring Tyrone Power. This one reportedly isn’t a remake of that, but a re-adaptation of the novel. I love how from the film has that Old Hollywood look about them, I bet even it would look just as stunning in black and white.

One thing for sure, it’s going to be a visual feast!! The production design alone is freakin’ amazing, which is to be expected for del Toro… everything he’s done always look so hauntingly beautiful. As a big fan of period films, I can’t wait to marvel at the set pieces, costumes, lighting, etc. when it comes out.

Nightmare Alley is scheduled to be released on December 17, 2021… I can hardly wait!! This is definitely the film to go to the cinema for!


What do you think of the trailer? 

FlixChatter Review: HERE TODAY (2021)

I was on a flight recently and I was feeling tired after a pretty hectic vacation that I wanted to watch something to lift up my mood. In Here Today, Billy Crystal stars as the protagonist Charlie Burnz, a veteran comedy writer living in NYC. The film is inspired by a short story by one of the original Saturday Night Live’s writers Alan Zweibel who co-wrote the screenplay with Crystal, so it’s unsurprising that the popular sketch comedy show Charlie works at is pretty much modeled after SNL.

Every day Charlie walks from his brownstone Brooklyn apartment to the studio taping of the show, and we see him work alongside much younger writers. The interactions inside the writers’ room feels pretty authentic given the writers seem to have a grasp of the industry they’re depicting and it doesn’t feel like they’re satirizing the material.

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There’s a certain routine that Charlie lives his day-to-day, in fact he takes the exact same route to work and he’d even say to himself where to turn at an intersection. At first I thought he’s just very particular, like someone with OCD where everything has to align just so in order for him to function properly, but later the real cause of this behavior is revealed. Charlie’s routine is about to be shaken up when she meets Emma Payge (Tiffany Haddish) who won a lunch with him at an auction. She quickly reveals it’s his ex who won it, as he happens to be an aspiring writer, but that she’s never heard of him, ouch!

Haddish has that matter-of-fact delivery and no-holds-barred attitude that can be annoying or amusing. I’m not that familiar with her work, but I find her funny and likable here. The food allergy scene is the kind of broad, predictable comedic trope, but somehow Haddish and Crystal manages to make it hilarious. Charlie helps her out with the hospital bills but days later, Emma turns up at his apartment days later to pay him back. I appreciate that the film avoids the ‘white savior’ trope or any kind of tiresome savior trope for that matter.

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The film shows us just how accomplished Charlie is through Emma’s eyes when she gets inside his spacious apartment. It’s filled with awards, plaques, play posters, etc. from Charlie’s past work, but it also gives hints of his memory loss. Emma astutely picks up on that when she sees Charlie tapes names of his kids and other family members under various family photos. The film takes its time to reveal Charlie’s dementia, and the script injects some levity in the devastating conversation between Charlie and his doctor (Anna Deavere Smith). I also like the fact that the film takes time for Charlie to find out more about Emma, going to her band’s performance on a street concert where she gets a chance to get back at her cheating ex-boyfriend.

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Before long, Emma becomes quite an integral part into Charlie’s life. He invites her to go to his granddaughter’s Bat mitzvah where she breathes life into the party with a rendition of Janis Joplin’s Piece of My Heart. No doubt Charlie’s son and daughter (played by Penn Badgley and Laura Benanti) are suspicious about Emma’s relationship with their dad. At first, it’s not entirely clear if their relationship is romantic or platonic, especially when they have a slow dance at Charlie’s balcony, serenaded by renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman no less (one of several famous cameos in this movie). But the script handles the did-they-or-didn’t-they romance question quite amusingly when Emma ends up in Charlie’s bed following a rainstorm.

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Yes, there are certain formulaic elements that the film goes through, certain comical clichés are engineered for laughs. But thankfully the two leads are genuinely funny. I enjoy even the sillier bits when they visit the Madame Tussauds museum and take endless selfies. One of the most hilarious, which ironically is also the most devastating, moment is when Charlie has a breakdown during a LIVE taped episode. He goes on a tirade against a cast-member and engages the audience in the process. What’s thought of as a brilliantly-improvised performance ends up going viral, but soon the team and show runner finds out that Charlie’s been sick.

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Comedy and tragedy often goes together, and so is the case with Charlie’s story. From the start, he’s always haunted by a painful memory which is peeled off slowly thanks to Emma’s persistence. I do feel the constant flashback of Charlie’s love life with his late wife Carrie (Louisa Krause) is too repetitive however. It has its touching moments, but ultimately the scenes between him and Emma tend to overpower his other relationships, including the one he has with Darrell (Andrew Durand), a young show writer he mentors.

Overall though, I enjoyed the movie despite its uneven tone that veers more towards melodrama in the end. Aside from Charlie himself, the rest of the characters are paper thin, even Haddish’s Emma feels like she only exists to drive Charlie’s narrative forward. That said, Crystal is a wonderful performer, and he + Haddish definitely make for a winning comedic pairing, so I’m glad I saw this one.

3.5/5 Reels


Have you seen HERE TODAY? Well, what did YOU think?

FlixChatter: MALIGNANT (2021)

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Directed by: James Wan
Written by: Akela Cooper (screenplay)
Story by: James Wan, Ingrid Bisu

It’s officially spooky season! Okay, maybe it’s a little early to start carving pumpkins or hanging up fake cobwebs, but for me, as soon as September hits and the weather dips below 75 degrees, I go into full Halloween mode. To kick that off, I decided to check out the new James Wan horror film, Malignant, and while it was very different than what I was expecting, it was still a great way to start my favorite time of year.

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In Malignant, Madison (Annabelle Wallis) begins having visions of violent murders following a traumatic event of her own. She quickly realizes the visions are not just in her head but actually happening in real life- and could be connected to a terrifying repressed secret from her childhood. 

Based on the few commercials I saw before seeing this movie, I never would have expected Malignant to be campy, but that’s the word that kept popping into my head the whole time I was watching it: the acting is melodramatic, there are lots of borderline-cheesy zoom-ins on characters’ faces and overblown musical stings, and the big reveal toward the end of the movie feels like something straight out of a 1950’s horror/sci-fi B-movie. It’s a unique combination with the modern setting, the dark glossy style we’re used to seeing in a lot of today’s supernatural horror, and the industrial score, but I liked the mash-up of styles. There are a couple moments where the camp feels unintentionally funny, but for the most part, it’s effective in keeping the tension high and bringing a new tone to a modern horror movie.

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Despite the camp, there’s plenty for lovers of modern horror to appreciate. The movie doesn’t shy away from blood and gore, and there are some very creative and shocking kills throughout the film- unsurprising, considering Wan is the writer/director who brought us Saw. Despite there being some especially violent scenes, it doesn’t feel gratuitous. There’s some CGI that feels a little dated in a big fight scene toward the end, and there’s a bit at the movie’s big reveal that looks a little silly, but overall the special effects look great.

Lastly, the cast is stellar. Annabelle as Madison and Maddie Hasson as her sister Sydney have excellent chemistry, as do George Young and Michole Briana White as cop partners Kekoa Shaw and Regina Moss. Ingrid Bisu as CST Winnie is funny, likable, and memorable despite having such a small role. And Marina Mazepa, the physical performer for Gabriel, must be made of rubber, because the way she contorts her body in this movie is impressive and horrifying. 

I know a lot of people didn’t enjoy the unusual tone in Malignant, and while I can understand that, I personally loved the blend of styles. It’s not like any other horror movie I’ve seen, and in the wrong hands, it could have felt like a bad straight-to-streaming movie, but with excellent writing, directing, and acting, as well as plenty of creative body horror, this might be one of my favorite new original horror films, and I’m already looking forward to watching it again. 

4/5 stars

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Have you seen MALIGNANT? Well, what did you think?

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