Over the last few weeks I saw three new releases in theaters, and in this film critic’s humble opinion, each one was a cinematic triumph. The main thread linking each film, unfortunately, is that despite these films having mid to large budgets, numerous big name actors attached to each one, AND the fact that each film is directed by auteur film directors in Ridley Scott, Edgar Wright, and Wes Anderson- none have performed well financially at the box office. Granted, there are a huge number of caveats to this year’s box office numbers for every major film release- but given the recent major resurgence in theater-going audiences that began in earnest this year with “Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings”, it’s a bit discouraging to see a lack of interest in these excellent films. I sincerely appeal to you dear reader, please go see these films at the theater. If you care at all about the filmmakers and actors putting these films together, and the future of adult themed films being able to obtain star power and big budgets, again, I implore you, give these films a shot if you’re feeling safe enough to do so. Unfortunately, studios will take note when the money doesn’t exactly roll in. Especially in the case of “The Last Duel” and it’s dwindling box office returns, which is a crazy turn of events considering the talent involved.
“The Last Duel”
Written by Nicole Holofcener, Ben Affleck, and Matt Damon, and directed by Ridley Scott, “The Last Duel” is a medieval “Rashomon” of sorts in which characters reflect on the events leading up to the titular duel. The first version of the story is told through the eyes of Matt Damon’s Sir Jean de Carrouges, a man of war who works for Dukes and Kings, even when looked down upon by those he serves and those who galivant with the powerful. The second version of the truth is from Adam Driver’s Jacques Le Gris, a Nobleman of the realm who did indeed fight alongside Jean de Carrouges in war, though he eventually befriend’s Ben Affleck’s Duke Pierre d’Alençon- who bristles at even the sight of Jean de Carrouges. The third and last truth is told from Lady Marguerite’s (Jodie Comer) point of view, and her story holds the most revelations as she is the victim of a brutal sexual assault by Jacques Le Gris. Obviously, each person believes they are the hero of their own stories, and as each of them will not budge from their account of the truth, the solution is to have both men battle in a duel to the death and, “Let God decide who is right”. As far as the production of the film, everything looks great, Scott keeps each story on the same visual level creating a cohesive world while distinctly altering each repeated scene as the characters view them. It’s a damn smart film on a technological level. The action scenes, especially with the titular duel, are outstanding, visceral, and powerful. Naturally, as the Knight of the three, Jean de Carrouges has the majority of these scenes in his version and within Jacques Le Gris’s story as well. They truly add to the overall theme of the film, that living in the past may not be as glorious as we’d all like to think it could be. Story wise, the film also excels as each version of the truth told by each character layers the other two’s perspectives to a level that ultimately may be the closest thing to the truth. Though, the film does take a side of the three characters as to whose version actually IS the truth. Within the context of the film, it makes all the sense in the world to have Lady Marguerite’s version of the story be the true version, but admittedly, I prefer Kurosawa’s take on the central idea- that everyone embellishes and no one is capable of telling the truth without muddying the waters a bit. In “Rashomon”, for example, even the ghost of the dead character who speaks on the issue of their own murder couldn’t help but embellish the truth. Though, Lady Marguerite’s version greatly impacts the other two chapters of the film and how each character could misinterpret each other’s intentions. Though I have to say that even in Jacques Le Gris’s version of the rape scene, it’s not easy to watch. Sure, he sees it as a more playful endeavor- but he’s still, clearly, in the wrong. Lady Marguerite’s version of that scene is so much worse and far more brutal- even with subtle changes in the edit, like punching up the sound design to sound… well it’s just worse and more painful. It’s certainly hard to watch, but it does give the actual duel more weight. Speaking of the duel, the film also chooses to depict the battle as a disgusting, and frankly gross, way to solve a dispute. In this world and time however, it’s the closest thing society had to…. justice? It’s a brilliant move that informs the audience that even with all of the pomp and circumstance, all the talk of honor and pride, it’s just two men fighting to the death in the mud over what happened to a woman- who in this time is viewed, unfortunately, as property. History is brutal dear friends, and while it’s fun to romanticize Knights, Kings, and Queens- it wasn’t exactly a great time to be alive for many of us. That being said, I do highly recommend seeing this one.
“Last Night in SoHo”
Written by Krysty Wilson-Cairns and Edgar Wright, and directed by Wright, “Last Night in SoHo” is a Horror Mystery film in which a young aspiring fashion designer moves to London and eventually finds herself being transported to 1960’s London every night. Thomasin McKenzie stars as Eloise, a young woman who’s accepted into a fashion design school in London and promptly travels there from the countryside. She’s quite obsessed with the culture from the 1960’s through films, fashion, and music. After Eloise encounters a bit of a rude social awakening with her peers at the university, she moves to a small one-bedroom flat nearby. Once she rests her head in her new home at night, she’s transported to that glitzy and glamorous 1960’s London. After a moment out on the street in dazzling wonder, Eloise makes her way into a nightclub and in the reflection of some walled mirrors she sees not herself, but the magnificent Anya Taylor-Joy reflecting back at her. She decides to follow the moment and watches Anya Taylor-Joy’s confidence whisk her into a dance and departure sequence with the charming Matt Smith as her eventual manager in entertainment. To reveal much more would be a disservice to those interested in giving this film a shot, but I must say that I do highly recommend it, the mystery of the story is a lot of fun! I was recently reading a book titled “The Film That Changed My Life: 30 Directors on Their Epiphanies in the Dark” and Edgar Wright’s chosen film was an informative one. The film that irrevocably changed his perception of films and filmmaking was “An American Werewolf in London” a briskly paced horror-comedy from 1981 whose immediate spiritual connection with Wright’s own “Shaun of the Dead” is immediately noticeable. In his passage, Wright spoke about that film’s relationship with the horror genre and how much he wanted to tackle the genre himself one day, and here we are in 2021 with Wright’s first legitimate Horror film. As it’s his first film in the genre, there’s some genuinely creepy and harrowing ideas that Wright throws at the screen, especially once the third act gets rolling. However one of the more interesting aspects of the film comes with how he approaches nostalgia. Those rose-tinted glasses might be lying to you, the past may not be as romantic as you once thought. While at times he does rely on a bit of jump-scares, nothing is outright obnoxious, but it’s a trait revealing his beginnings within the horror element. The jump-scare ghosts within the film itself aren’t all that scary, however the scenes depicting Eloise’s inability to escape being transported back to 1960’s London at night- that is some terrifying stuff. What’s worse is the horrible awful things done to young women in the entertainment industry in the past (and in the frighteningly recent past too as the Me-Too movement revealed). If you’re a fan of the British filmmaker this is just another fascinating entry in his evolution as a director and screenwriter and I highly suggest seeing it if you can. If you’re new to Wright in general, go see it! Then give his older films a watch, they’re to die for!
“The French Dispatch”
Written and directed by Wes Anderson with story elements written from the likes of Roman Coppola, Hugo Guinness, and Jason Schwartzman. “The French Dispatch” is Wes Anderson’s tenth film, and it feels like the culmination of all his previous films rolled into one gigantic smorgasbord of cinematic delights. The whole conceit of the film is that The French Dispatch was a fictional American Newspaper, set in a fictional French city (Ennui, pronounced AHN-WEE), with the story focusing on the last edition of the Newspaper and the journalists who wrote each piece. First we get a small bit of information about the Newspaper, how it started, and the editor who ran it up until his death, Arthur Howitzer Jr. played exquisitely by Bill Murry. Which is the inciting incident of the film and the reason it’s the last issue. Each major section is narrated by the journalist that wrote the piece, and each one is a depiction of life in Ennui as seen through the eyes of the writers. The first bit is effectively a short written by Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson), which details the city itself and the downtrodden, homeless, school children, street walkers and prostitutes who live in it. The three major pieces are written by J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton), Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand), and Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright). Each one focuses on different aspects of the city they lived in and the stories they thought worthy of telling. Each one is unique and fantastically fabricated. Berensen’s piece focuses on an artistic savant, who also happens to be a psychotic killer living in prison in perpetuity while Ms. Krementz chose to dive into the student revolution taking place in the city in a war of ideologies between Ennui’s generations. Roebuck Wright’s piece delivers the goods on an infamous night in which he was invited to dine with the Police Chief’s superb in-house chef, known far and wide for his culinary skills. The infamy in question began with the kidnapping of the Police Chief’s son during the dinner. I’ll leave the plot descriptions at that for now, as they are told much more skillfully by the writers and performers of the actual film itself. This is the sort of film that I go to the movies to see. Actors in costumes, on hand-crafted sets, using practical props, with monologues and action beats and lots and lots of wordplay. I’ve always been somewhat 50/50 on Wes Anderson, though the back half of his career has given us some of my all-time favorite films. Notably, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The Life Aquatic”. This one however, may be my new favorite Wes Anderson film, and possibly my favorite new film of the year. I’ll have to reflect and see it again when thinking back on 2021’s admittedly outstanding collection of film releases if I’m being honest. However, anyone that’s not much interested in Wes Anderson films to begin with, may not be as in tune with “The French Dispatch” as I was. For anyone uninterested in the quirks that commonly come packaged as criticisms, of this director, mainly that he’s “too literary“, “too invested in European culture“, or “too kitschy or twee“- these potential audiences will most likely not be persuaded by this film. Indeed “The French Dispatch” is all of those things and more, some could call it style over substance, but I’d take issue with that criticism personally- there’s heaps of substance, whole island nations of substance, if you ask me. It just may not be for you in execution. Yes, his dollhouse aesthetic is still present, as is his love of symmetrically composed shots and lateral movement tracking shots, but would it really be a Wes Anderson film if he didn’t do any of those things? Probably, but perhaps not? This film is amongst his strongest work, and I really do recommend giving it a watch, even if you haven’t enjoyed Anderson’s work in the past, this one was particularly enjoyable in my opinion.
Well hello there! It’s been a bit, but hey, I’ve been watching a lot of movies since the last post. In fact, this bunch is a very strange mix of new and old films. Over the last year I’ve mostly been diving into cinema’s past for my movie watching, and I’ve learned a thing or two about film, film criticism, and the history of movies here in America and internationally in that time. It’s been a crazy year to say the least! In fact, the ‘Rapid Fire Reviews’ was born out of the massive amount of films I was devouring early on in the pandemic. There were simply too many films to sit down and give a lengthy detailed review for each one, so I set out to give summarized reviews and add whether or not I recommend the film, usually with a caveat or two depending on the context. Since returning to work this last fall I have done several singular film reviews when I wasn’t watching quite as many films all at once, but here we are! These eight films are the result of trying to catch up with new films being released again, some being Oscar nominations, and others are simply older films that I’ve been meaning to absorb once I got the chance. Hopefully you’ll find something worthwhile to watch, take a chance, there’s something for everyone here!
Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)
Written by Chris Terrio and directed by Zack Snyder, “Justice League” (The Snyder Cut), is effectively, a “re-do” of one of the largest Superhero team-up films to date. If you don’t know the background of how this version of the film came to pass, I’ll try to make it short. Initially, during the production of the first version of this film, Zack Snyder and his family experienced tremendous loss when their daughter, Autumn (who this version of the film is dedicated to), took her own life. There was already a fractured relationship between Snyder and the Warner Brothers studio executives over audience and critical reception of “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice” before Snyder respectively walked away from the production, so after the studio hired Joss Whedon to finish the film and make their release date- there were a LOT of changes implemented. Now four years later, and seventy million dollars of investment by Warner Brothers to finish Snyder’s cut of the film and launch it on HBO Max, their streaming service, the film is out and finally available to watch and compare to the 2017 version of the film. So, firstly, the question of the day is; was it worth it? From a storytelling perspective alone- the answer is a resounding yes. Granted, the film is four hours and two minutes long, so it’s a heck of a time investment. That being said, for much of the runtime, the pacing is surprisingly good. I could do without the last part titled “Epilogue” though, I found it to be unnecessarily cumbersome and a bit clunky if I’m being honest. It felt tacked on and while it did give an ounce of credibility to the deservedly maligned Jared Leto version of the Joker, I don’t think we needed it here. So, what was different? What made it better? Mainly, the tone and the respect given to each of the main characters. Plot-wise, everyone had something to do, and each character (Cyborg especially!) was given a far richer background. The mechanics of the story were smoothed out and easier to understand. There was also none of the awkward humor jokes- there was some humor and levity to the film here and there, but none of it was as painful as the jokes given to Batman and the Flash in the 2017 version. I also kind of love some of the character stuff in this version? Which was incredibly surprising because I’m one of those people that actively hated “Batman versus Superman”, I haven’t seen the “ultimate cut” given to that film, but this cut does make me reconsider giving that version a watch. There was a lot done throughout the film to give these characters a real sensation of being mythic figures, and I really dug that. Though I must say that if you really do not enjoy Zack Snyder’s style generally speaking, you might not enjoy this film as it is incredibly indulgent to his sensibilities. It’s not a perfect film by any means, but it is a gigantic improvement on the previous version. All in all, if you’re willing to give this enormous epic, and I do mean it as an Epic, a chance- it may surprise you and surpass your expectations, as that was my experience with the film. Linked below is a conversation from Red Letter Media detailing this version of the film and comparing it to the 2017 version, enjoy!
The Empty Man (2020)
Written and directed by David Prior, and based on the graphic novel of the same name by Cullen Bunn, “The Empty Man” is a surprisingly rich and atmospheric horror film that can get under your skin and make your brain itch- if you let it. First time writer-director David Prior really gave it his all with this film, and I can’t wait to see what he does next! If you’ve enjoyed films like “Annihilation” and “Hereditary”, then this will likely satisfy your horror movie needs and wants. This film would have flown past my radar entirely if YouTuber Chris Stuckmann hadn’t devoted a fifteen minute video extolling the film’s virtues (it’s linked below), but let’s get into it already! After a taught opening sequence in the mountainous country of Bhutan sets the pace for the film’s aesthetics and rules of the story’s world, we’re thrown into modern day Missouri where James Lasombra (James Badge Dale) eats a sad birthday treat and reflects on those he’s lost. Before long the former police officer is on the trail of a missing persons case, the teenage daughter of a close neighbor, Amanda Quail (Sasha Frolova). It’s here when questioning Amanda’s friends, that James first hears of the Empty Man. I don’t want to indulge you with too many story details though, as I think they’re best left discovered on their own, but I will take note on how I believe the film succeeds overall. First and foremost, this film delivers excellent tension, and pairs it with an appropriately bone chilling atmosphere. I also truly appreciated the slow burn approach to the mythology of the Empty Man that was consistent and evolving throughout the film. The film throws some truly eerie and otherworldly imagery at the screen that’s increasingly unnerving as James edges closer to unraveling the truth of the Empty Man, it really kept me guessing! There’s also some praise needed for the respect given to the audience. At every opportunity the film gives you glimpses and peaks with quick cuts or clever sound mixing to put you on edge without pandering or overloading the runtime with jumpscares. In fact I think there was only one of them, and it was very effective! There’s a theme of repetition of actions in the story and the film follows through with this idea by repeating sets of imagery in subtle and fascinating ways. Keep an eye out for houses and interlocking fingers, they’re everywhere if you’re looking for them. This films also wins the David Lynch award in my book, for it has the best depiction of nightmare logic since “Mulholland Dr.”. If you’ve been looking for a smart horror film that respects its audience, I highly recommend giving this one a watch!
Written and directed by Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland” is a fascinating idea that straddles both narrative and documentary filmmaking styles to the film’s benefit, and detriment. Let me explain myself first though, before getting into that aspect of the film. Frances McDormand plays Fern, a widow who embarks on a journey as a wandering Nomad after her company town in Empire, Nevada shut down said company and discontinued the zip code after so many left the area. On her journey she takes any job she can while traveling and meets many people who also travel the itinerant circles along the way. Her first job is at an Amazon warehouse during the Christmas surge- a feat I will never fully understand. I’m not sure how they got access to film inside an Amazon warehouse and to showcase it with such an aggressively life draining color grading! Fern’s journey mostly consists of her meeting a variety of people and this allows her to sit and listen to their life story, to empathize with those who have lived lives both large and small. In fact, Frances McDormand and David Strathairn are the only traditional actors in the film. The rest of the characters we meet are versions of their true selves that Fern interacts with, befriends, and listens to. This is the real magic of the film, and the reason to watch it. The cinematography is in love with expansive and wide landscapes, focusing on the enormity of the West that Fern moves through. Though, after awhile, the film’s cinematic movements seem to develop a trend and it becomes rhythmic, but predictable. Huge evocative landscapes with Fern’s white van shown as but a speck against the earth encompassing her. Then there’s the “over Fern’s shoulder” walk through real camps and parks with softly playing piano in the background. Then montages of Fern doing whatever job she could find and manage in any one location for a period of time ’til she moves on to the next job, the next camp, and the next expansive wide shot. It’s beautiful- but predictable after some time. I believe the real issue with this film is that it is attempting a lot, and it can’t quite reconcile how it wants to approach the subject at hand. While we meet courageous, humanizing, and terrific people with harrowing tales of life, love, and loss- these people have far more interesting stories to tell than our Fern unfortunately. While we get some characterization near the end, it rings hollow when compared to the tales we’ve already heard around desert campfires and within earshot of those monumental corporate walls. I feel that it is this lack of commitment in either direction that’s what ultimately makes the film leave something to be desired. Either more story should have been written into Fern’s motivations, struggles, her inspirations and sorrows- or we should have given up the fictional structure of the film to give our actual heroes more of a podium to tell their deepening stories, as each one feels like looking into a bottomless well. You know it reaches farther than you can see, there is story there left to plumb, if you seek it out. None of this is to say that I think the film is bad or even pretentious– it never struck me as that. It just felt like something was missing. The last piece to a satisfying puzzle. Perhaps the best thing I can say about “Nomadland” is that it puts a lens on one part of society that has been neglected and cast aside. The fact that so many people have fled to the nomadic lifestyle not out of choice, but from an economic need points the finger at national, systemic, and endemic failures from the top on down to the penniless. If this film is eye opening for you, then it has succeeded in my opinion. I do highly recommend this one, if anything, it will perhaps open more hearts to the system that has so thoroughly failed so many of us.
Written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung, “Minari” is the story of a Korean family who moved to Arkansas in the 1980’s. The father, Jacob (Steven Yeun), has ambitions to start a small farm and grow Korean vegetables for fellow immigrants longing for a taste of home. The Mother, Monica (Yeri Han), has reservations about this change in scenery almost immediately upon seeing their newfound home, which is a double-wide trailer in the rural countryside. Though really its their children, David (Alan S. Kim) and Anne (Noel Cho), who are the true stars of the story, as this films adapts writer-director Chung’s childhood growing up in rural America. My favorite character is Monica’s mother, Grandma Soonja (Yuh-Jung Youn), who comes to stay with the family late in the first act. Grandma Soonja isn’t what the kids expect of a grandmother, She “smells like Korea“, gambles, cracks jokes, and quickly became a fan of Mountain Dew “Get me that water from the mountains” and American Wrestling. David has a weak heart, and he is the center of much concern. He’s constantly being told not to run, and it is his relationship with his grandmother, whom he strongly dislikes initially, that grows into one of love and companionship and forms the emotional anchor of the story. When David is scared one night, his grandmother holds him close and dares to crush anyone who would make her grandson afraid. It’s quite touching really. This is a slower and quieter movie than most released these days, and “Minari” relishes these quiet moments with meaningful beats of tender hopefulness. That doesn’t mean that the film shies away from the hard work of this family’s new life. Jacob is a man of quiet determination whose resilience in the face of constant setbacks reveals a familiar struggle for those that know economic hardships. There are tensions between Jacob and Monica throughout the film. From the farm that gestates during most of the runtime, to religion, to money woes, and shame from social and community standings. There is a wide gulf between what both characters are attempting to do and how they go about seeking those goals. Grandma Soonja injects a passion and zest for life once she enters the story, and it is her nose for fertile grounds that provides our title. Minari is a South Korean plant that ends up thriving in the Arkansas dirt and waterways, a nice subtle nod to the family taking root in a new home. This is a small, meditative, and contemplative story of optimism, fear, and family. It’s a good family drama that reminded me of the work of Yasujirō Ozu. I think he’d enjoy this family, this story. Definitely recommended.
The Natural (1984)
Written by Phil Dusenberry and Roger Towne, and directed by Barry Levinson, “The Natural” is one of those movies you put on at the beginning of summer. Something about it is alluring, illuminating, and intoxicating. Like emerging from winter’s grasp in late spring on a warm morning in late May, this film was a similarly exhilarating phenomenon. That may be overselling it a bit much. Especially coming from someone who has almost no emotional investment in sports whatsoever, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t get massive enjoyment from this film. I believe it has something to do with the underdog element, and the simple story of somebody that wanted to be the best at what they loved doing. A yearning for success when nobody thought you had it in you, is that not what America is all about? Robert Redford stars as Roy Hobbs, a near mythic figure when it comes to Baseball as portrayed in this film. He was shot by a rogue femme fatale type when rising the ranks of early stardom, and while I can’t even remember why he was shot- this gives us a reason to have him re-emerge years later (we assume after a tumultuous period of physical therapy) as a middle-aged nobody with a killer arm. Since nobody’s heard of him, Roy gets dumped at the feet of one of the lowest ranking Major League teams in the game, The New York Knights. It’s the perfect set-up for a redemption arc (look the movie isn’t trying to be anything other than a damn good baseball movie- even if that’s a bit predictable) as the New York Knights haven’t exactly be knocking it out of the park as of late. The coach of the team is the eternally grumpy yet hopeful Pop Fisher (Wilford Brimley), and in fact, the cast is pretty great overall. Glenn Close plays Roy’s love interest Iris Gaines, though Roy does get distracted by a corporate spy girlfriend for a little while, Memo Paris, played by Kim Basinger. There’s also Robert Duvall who plays journalist, and jester of sorts, called Max Mercy who’s intent on getting the scoop on Hobbs’ true past. Truly though, the film belongs to Robert Redford. His Clark Kent like nature and affability is only surpassed by his intense love of the game. He’s just there for his love of the sport, pure and simple. I have to acknowledge though, that if it weren’t for Youtuber Patrick H. Willems and his analysis of why “Baseball is the best movie sport”- I never would have picked up the film. Therefore, the video that got me to give “The Natural” a chance is listed below. I wandered out of my comfort zone and ironically found a comfort movie, I encourage everyone to do that with your movie watching, and obviously- I definitely recommend this one.
Written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard, “Alphaville” is a French New Wave Sci-fi film with an abundance of poetry amongst it’s grand ideas. This was the second film of Godard’s I’ve seen thus far (“Breathless” being the other), and I have to admit, he’s been my least favorite of the French New Wave directors thus far. I won’t give up on Godard, because despite not loving this film, there were some fascinating ideas and choices made here. In this futuristic tale, which relies heavily on your ability to suspend your belief, Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine) travels to the distant space city of Alphaville, the capital of the Galaxy. Which, ironically, looks a lot like 1960’s Paris. There are virtually no special effects, barely any costume-work with the exception of our lead seemingly transplanted from any classic Noir with his trench coat, fedora, pistol and tough-guy aesthetic. The story is that Lemmy has been sent to Alphaville to destroy Alpha 60, the supercomputer that runs everything in the strange city, as it has gone rogue and developed fascist ideas about potential human societies. It’s a strange place, this Alphaville, there is no concept of Love, no poetry, none of the tangled artistic notions that make people… well, Human. Lemmy defies the invisible mental and emotional stress that Alphaville seems to subtly apply to everyone in the city, most either commit suicide as they cannot handle it, or they’re targeted by the police and taken, then shot on a diving board in a pool, where five young women swim up and stab the perpetrators just to make sure they’re dead. Clearly, practicing illogical thought is a dangerous activity here. There’s a lot of random cuts in the editing, loud beeping applied throughout the film at seemingly random intervals, and then there’s the big bad itself, Alpha 60. Alpha 60 speaks in voiceover throughout the film and it sounds disgusting. It sounds as if you put a mic next to a naturally occurring tar pit as it boiled and gurgled relentlessly. The volume of the fascist supercomputer’s voice is much louder than the rest of the sound in the film and there are occasional bouts where it muses on poetry and life for far too long in my opinion. It can get hypnotic and distressing at the same time creating a strange viewing experience. I’ve heard that Alpha 60 was voiced by an older Parisian actor who had lost his larynx and spoke through an artificial voice-box, and that contributes heavily to the atmosphere of the film. Fair warning, this is a S L O W paced movie with lots of heady ideas to be considered throughout the film. You might consider it pretentious, but I think it’s worth a watch. I won’t give up on Godard, but he’s not making it easy on me!
The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
Written by Ben Maddow and John Huston, and directed by Huston, “The Asphalt Jungle” is a jewel heist film noir that still influences the genre to this day. Between this and Huston’s earlier Noir in “The Maltese Falcon”, you could say he’s become a master of the genre that he helped to forge. Here he’s taken the story from the other side of the societal coin with this film focusing more on the criminal element rather than the Detective’s side of things, as with Maltese. This film’s quality certainly confirms Huston’s legacy behind the camera, at the very least. It’s tight, well crafted, and methodical when concerned with both the crime at hand, and the characters behind it. This may be the finest example of the typical heist film set-up. First, there’s Doc Erwin Riedenschneider (Sam Jaffe), the brains behind the plan. He’s an old school criminal who was just released from prison and he’s got a plan that he’s been holding onto since being put behind bars. As soon as he’s out he heads to a club run by a well known Bookie, Cobby (Marc Lawrence), where his reputation is still known and respected. Cobby has the connections that Doc needs to set up the heist. Which leads us to the financier of the operation, Alonzo D. Emmerich (Louis Calhern), a well to-do gentlemen in town with a respectable relationship with the criminal underworld. This leads us to Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden) a Kentucky-bred farm boy who grew into a mountain of a man who’s not afraid to throw his weight around. Whose inclusion brings about the driver, Gus Minissi (James Whitmore) a punchy bar owner, and the safe cracker Louis Ciavelli (Anthony Caruso), a family man whose back in the game for one last heist. I won’t ruin the proceedings, as I highly recommend this film, but it’s a masterclass in the genre. Between dirty cops, some genuine bad luck, and a couple double-crosses, this film’s got it all. The pacing and plotting is expertly executed too! This is a film that has, and will likely continue to influence many writers and directors since it’s release, most notably the French Filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville- I can see this movie’s influence all over his later films. This is a standout criminal noir, and I cannot recommend it enough!
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)
Written and directed by John Cassavetes, “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” is a neo-noir (of sorts) wherein a less than reputable nightclub owner, Cosmo Vitelli (Ben Gazzara), is put in a precarious position when ordered to kill a mafia-protected Chinese Bookie to absolve his gambling debts. There are some aspects about the film that I found to be redeeming, mostly in some interesting character choices in the performances of the actors, but little else connected with me. Typically, I don’t enjoy lambasting a film when it appears that everyone involved certainly attempted their best efforts in crafting a story with the medium, but this one… wasn’t for me. The film feels as sleazy as it looks most of the time. There’s some questionable things taking place within the club Cosmo operates, and while there are certainly worse creatures of the night, as evident of the predicament that Cosmo finds himself in, he’s no innocent soul either. He’s a gambling drunk that does seem to legitimately be concerned with the “quality” of the nightly show he produces when he’s seen calling the club while away one night to make sure the routine is going smoothly without his guiding hand. However, one character’s good intentions does not necessarily make good plotting, immersion, or storytelling. The actual plot of the film is seemingly picked up and fumbled multiple times. The story meanders without a clear course and puts its focus on the nightclub’s song and dance sequences- which would be fine if they were entertaining…. at all. Even if there was simply a musical score to back up the bad singing and overindulgent sequences, that would help the pace of the movie significantly. In fact, I don’t recall any music at all, the result is a film that feels soulless. It’s eerily quiet for large portions of the runtime, and it saps any energy the film may have acquired when the few moments of action do occur. While we’re on the technical side of things, let’s dive in; though I must acknowledge that there’s a lot to be desired. The sound mixing is flat out bad, it makes the dialogue disappear into the miasma of foundationless filmmaking that this is. There are some truly unique cinematography choices within this film, but I personally hate all of those choices. The subject of any shot is either never focused on or the framing is off kilter and well, if I’m being honest with you, it feels like all of the wrong choices were made when concerning the role of cinematographer. The lighting is also particularly frustrating. You can have scenes set in darkness, but you have to be able to see… something- anything- within the darkness. You can shroud yourself in mystique, but if there isn’t anything to show or creatively exploit with imagery except for the void before you, then I would not recommend this artistic choice. Which brings me to my recommendation, which if you haven’t guessed, isn’t that positive. I don’t recommend this one, if you’re just rounding out a run of Indie 1970’s crime films, then sure, by all means, include it in your viewing experience, but unless academically inclined as a film student, avoid this one. It’s just not worth it.
After the fallout of “Avengers: Endgame” Robert Downey Jr. has one of the most unique opportunities in the film game, he can choose to do whatever he wants with his time at this point. Any feature that has his name attached will likely garner more attention than most, even though his “Dolittle” didn’t quite mesh with audiences and critics, it still made over two-hundred million. Though I wouldn’t recommend big budget, overly CGI reliant tentpoles anymore. I would, however, recommend several options that could flavor the third act of his career in performance with bold, daring, choices. Or simply just weird and abstract roles. I’d recommend a future similar to the path that Daniel Radcliffe has taken, who went out of his way to choose downright insane, wildly fun, character pieces since leaving Hogwarts behind (My favorite being “Swiss Army Man”https://spacecortezwrites.com/2016/07/11/review-swiss-army-man-or-undead-harry-potter-farts-a-lot-paul-dano-talks-to-him-about-it/). Downey is no stranger to abstract or somewhat bizarre films, just look at “The Singing Detective” (https://spacecortezwrites.com/2017/12/16/review-the-singing-detective/) or “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” for a glance at some of his pre-Marvel Studios out-of-the-box roles. Below are just a couple of ideas I’ve been mulling lately.
Work with Mel Gibson
Okay, so we might as well get this one out of the way as some will outright reject any notion of Mel Gibson getting any work after his history of less than welcomed anti-semitic rants (obviously, not cool to say the least). However, it has been some time since then, and Gibson has apologized (http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1913028_1913030_1913025,00.html), and as far as I know he hasn’t had any further instances of hate speech, and I have to admit that I admire his skill as an actor and a filmmaker. Why then, you might be asking, should Robert Downey Jr. work with Mel Gibson specifically? Well, for starters, the two have been longtime friends who have helped each other out in times of strife. Gibson acutally helped to produce the earlier mentioned “Singing Detective” which was Downey’s first role after his bout with rehab (link below to article about said friendship). Personally, what I would want most from a film starring these two as leads, is either A) a modern Noir in the same vein as “Chinatown” with the two as detectives chasing down Macguffins in the rain with shootouts and gritty mystery afoot; or B) some sort of cop drama with the two as partners, but less in the stylized noir genre and more like Downey’s previous work in “Zodiac” for example. There’s a lot that could be done with either premise, but both sound like a roaring good time to me!
As previously stated here on this blog many times before, my love for the film studio A24 is boundless. Regardless of whether or not each film they distribute will be a box office juggernaut or a penniless dud- they simply refuse to make normal, broad-based appeal films. They always choose fascinating and artistically divergent films from filmmakers with a voice and vision. Which is why I would love to see Downey star in a film distributed by A24. The possibilities are unlimited. Just look at fellow MCU star Scarlett Johansson’s abstract film “Under The Skin” (The sixth film in this link:https://spacecortezwrites.com/2020/05/03/quarantine-2020-catch-up-rapid-fire-reviews-3-politics-and-or-absurdity/) for an idea at the potential. Could you imagine what Ari Aster or Robert Eggers would do with Robery Downey Jr in a starring role? I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it!
While I feel like this category is the least likely, it’s also possibly the most enthralling of all the possibilities for me personally. If Downey got involved with the genre hits that have been cropping up more and more in recent years, I think there could be some excellent material for him to work with, plus I legitimately think his presence in these suggestions would better the films overall. If Jordan Peele, for example, wanted to work with Downey in a starring or supporting role in whatever horror concept he’s been stewing on as of late, I feel safely assured in the quality of that possible outcome. I also think it would be a real treat if Downey popped up in the next “Conjuring” sequel (mainline, not the spinoffs) as a Catholic priest, or even as one of the ghosts, or spirits, with a more involved role. That just seems like a good time. There’s also the possibility of him getting involved with the last of the planned “Halloween” sequels, “Halloween Ends”. I don’t quite know how he could fit in there- but damn it, I’d be happy if he showed up. Horror aside, it just struck me- What if Robert Downey Jr was in one of the next “John Wick” movies? Can you imagine it? What if he was a power player at the High Table? He could be a ruthless suit, or a gritty ringleader of some other faction within New York City or even the head of another major international city’s Continental! Or maybe just an old acquaintance of Mr. Wick’s that can assist him in his time of need? Awe man… now I really want him to be involved in the “John Wick” series…
Indie! Indie! Indie!
Maybe, however, RDJ just wants something … quieter? Something smaller, that speaks to our times, or simply a powerful drama about the human condition? He’s been nominated twice for the Oscars, but he has yet to take home the gold, maybe pairing with a critically acclaimed director for a good old-fashioned drama would merit him a shiny golden statue for his mantlepiece. There are a TON of filmmakers out there that could work with Downey to craft something truly unique, but the ones that immediately come to mind are Chloé Zhao, Martin McDonagh, David Lowery, or even Taika Waititi if he reverted to smaller scale drama/comedies like “The Hunt for the Wilderpeople” after his next Thor film. If he chose to go this route, I think we’d all be rewarded by the change in pace.
Well, there you have it! Those are just a few of my thoughts on the exciting future that awaits both audiences and Robert Downey Jr himself! Granted, this article is about a year and a half behind the crowd, but hey, I write ’em as they come to me. Whatever he chooses to do from here on out will be something to look forward to, that’s for sure! I’m still waiting on that third “Sherlock Holmes” movie if I’m being honest with you, but anyways, hope you had fun with all this RDJ speculation! Stay safe out there!
Written and directed by Sam Raimi, “The Evil Dead” is the quintessential archetype of the “Cabin in the Woods” style of horror films. Recently, a group of friends and I rewatched Sam Raimi’s masterpiece indie horror cult classic- and it dawned on me that I had never written about it here in the blog. There’s no time like the present they say, so, here I am. First, there will be spoilers- but I highly recommend the film if you’ve never seen it, it’s one of my all time favorite horror films. In the film, five young Michigan State University students travel through the Tennessee mountains to vacation in a remote cabin. Their journey there takes them through increasingly abandoned roads and eventually through a two-track trail deep into the forest. In a bit of unnerving foreshadowing their final descent involves crossing a rickety wooden bridge in Raimi’s 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88, affectionately nicknamed “The Classic”.
Once the group reaches the cabin, an ominous porch swing continuously slams into the side of the cabin walls until Ash (Bruce Campbell) unlocks the front door with a skeleton key ring above the door’s mantel. The five friends all settle in despite the creeping sense of an ominous force in their midst. One of the girls, Ash’s sister Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss), is drawing the clock on the wall but becomes weakly posessed for a moment as she’s forced to frantically draw a crude rendering of the infamous Necronomicon, or “Book of the Dead”. Then shortly afterwards at dinner, the trapdoor to the cellar abruptly flies open. Ash and Scott (Richard DeManincor) investigate the occurence and wander through the basement, to which they discover a litany of bad omens in a secluded room. Daggers, bones, and a filthy book bound in human flesh and inked in blood are all on display, at which point Ash and Scott laugh at the oddity and decide to take the items upstairs for a goof. They also found an archaeologist’s tape recorder which they play at their peril. In the tape the archaeologist describes the phenomenon that they are about to experience in which ancient Sumerian rituals raise demonic spirits. Cheryl asks them to stop the tape, but Scott insists they hear the end, and when he turns the tape back on the archaeologist has begun reciting the incantations that stir and wake the slumbering demonic forces of evil, eager to posess their latest victims. Initially The Evil Dead stalk their victims from the shadows before going all out on the college students. Cheryl keeps hearing voices clamoring for her to “Join us” and eventually goes out into the woods to confront them- which is a massive mistake as the trees attack her and in one of the most disturbing scenes of the film, rape her with swarming tree branches and sticks. It’s gruesome and horrifying, but it certainly sets up this supernatural phenomenon as one of absolute Evil.
The rest of the film is the blueprint for hundreds of homages, tribute scenes, and essential structure for horror movies utilizing remote locations with teenage protagonists set against something usually quite awful. While the whole film is wrought with excellent suspense and eerie ongoings, the second half of the film is where its at. The practical effects employed in the making of this film are truly stunning and crazily inventive for the time and genre. Once the film gets into it’s third act it gets absolutely bonkers with gore and over the top violence. It’s disgusting, revolting- nauseating even! The fact that the special effects of this indie horror movie still hold up roughly forty years later is effective proof of the film’s cult success and it’s unending rewatchability. Raimi’s direction and camera movement choices help prod the film even further into the absurdism of the third act. His inclusion of extreme dutch angles during Ash’s descent into madness and paranoia are filmed with wonderful speed and ferocity. Especially memorable are the scenes where the mirror turns to water and the comically dark beat where Ash tries to give his obviously dying friend Scott a drink of water that pours down his face as Ash confidentally tries to tell him they’ll all make it out alive.
If you’ve only ever seen Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films from the early 2000’s, I highly recommend you give his earlier work a shot. “The Evil Dead” movies that Raimi and Campbell worked on together share a crazy, manic, and creative spirit, and that’s inspiring. If you’re wondering why so many film nerds are excited by the recent news that Sam Raimi will be directing the “Doctor Strange” sequel, beyond his Spidey films, these horror films showcase a truly intense and massively creative talent behind the camera. We can only hope Raimi’s indie roots stick with him through his introduction to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s a bright future in film folks!
Final Score: 1 Ash, 4 Deadites
For fun, check out this article which takes a look at “The Classic”s many appearances throughout Sam Raimi’s filmography:
*Caution! There will be some spoilers within this review*
Written by Gary Dauberman and directed by Andy Muschietti, “IT Chapter 2” is the sequel to the 2017 horror hit “IT”. In the second half of this most recent adaption of Stephen King’s monolith of a book, The Losers club returns to Derry twenty-seven years after their initial bout with Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) the dancing clown. After a particularly gruesome murder with a tinge of the supernatural, Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) starts calling up his old friends to summon them home to finish the deed and kill the clown for good. The Losers are older now, and most of them ended up fairly successful in their careers. Bill (James McAvoy) is a horror author helping to adapt one of his books into a film when he gets the call to return to Derry. Beverly (Jessica Chastain) may have an abusive husband, but she also runs a successful fashion line. Richie (Bill Hader) wanders out a of a backstage to lose his lunch after hearing from Mike, after which he heads onstage to profusely ‘bomb‘ his comedy set. Meanwhile, Ben’s (Jay Ryan) in the middle of a meeting on a new building’s blueprints, he’s the head architect of the project. Eddie (James Ransone), who’s now, aptly, a risk assessment manager, gets into a car crash after hearing Mike’s message. The only loser to not return to Derry, is also the one who’s death is most impactful in the pages of the book version of “IT”, Stanley (Andy Bean). Too horrified by his past encounter with Pennywise, Stanley kills himself in the tub, sprawling the word “IT” in his blood on the tiled walls. In the book, the two halves of the story are meshed together in a circular tale that, wisely, slowly ramps up the tension and horror by hiding it’s secrets in the momentum of both story’s third acts which both happen alongside each other. This allows the adults’ memory loss to feel “remembered” in real time. This also allows Stanley’s death to conjure a more abject fear of IT because we don’t fully know why he was so traumatized to begin with. Imagination breeds a fear of the unknown, and King knew that.
So, the structure of the film is such that the Losers all congregate at a Chinese restaurant as they begin to remember their childhood and why it was so important to come back, to keep their pact intact. In the book, this search for meaning and realization of purpose is a huge portion of the adults’ stories and when it’s meshed in-between the escalating tension of Pennywise’s attacks on them both in the present and the past, you get a more nuanced ebb and flow than what separate adaptions of each era of the story can do alone. Which is why I understand the attempt at recreating the “forgotten memories” aspect of reshooting the kids’ scenes like the fort that Ben built, eluding to his skill in quiet observation evolving into the mind of an architect later on. Essentially the film is organized around the losers meeting in a group and then splitting up so that each character has a personal journey in which they must find themselves and an object, or artifact, from their childhood that held meaning to them personally. We get bits of backstory and exposition from Mike and several scenes to trigger a flood of memories as they remember more crucial information about themselves and their past.
This film, as entertaining as it was, is definitely a mixed bag at times when concerned with film structure. However, this is similar to the quality of the book. The book has a LOT more backstory on Derry and it’s history that slowly hints at Derry being a place dripping in hatred, racism, and a general lack of morality. Things may seem fine at the surface level, but once you start digging, one finds there to be a litany of malice that has soaked into the dirt upon which Derry was built. The book seems to point to people being the ruinous creatures that true horror emanates from, Pennywise is simply a cosmic predator of sorts, one that has found the perfect hunting ground for an eternal vulture that feeds on fear. The cast and crew make a considerable effort to take what worked from the first film and double down on those traits. Which is why the film works so well given the stumbles that it does have sprinkled throughout. It can feel chaotic, uneven, and as if you’re moving from set-piece to set-piece- structured more like a theme park or funhouse than a story at times, but it’s crafted with such genuine performances and fine-tuned pacing that it never feels boring. It never feels truly ‘scary’ or unsettling either though. The film is far funnier than I had expected, Bill Hader and James Ransone do a lot of the heavy lifting in the levity department and it works to great effect!
Other than some structural critiques and some changes from page to screen (some better than the book, others not as much), “IT Chapter 2” was mostly a success and I personally had a good time with the film. The only big disappointment for me was the end sequence, and I get it, it can be hard to visualize scenes from a book that weigh so heavily on the power of imagination that this wild one was bound to be a disappointment in most adaptions. However, that being said, I wish the filmmakers had gone for the gold and went with the book’s trippy cosmic-horror ending with Bill’s consciousness transcending the universe, then deliberating with the giant space turtle, and diving into Pennywise’s spidery abdomen and swimming through his gooey innards to crush his heart from the inside. Now that’s metal.
Final Score: 7 Losers and 1 Killer Clown from Space!
Written and directed by Brett and Drew Pierce, “The Wretched” is a throwback horror film that uniquely finds a balance between old school practical effects and an unnerving new wrinkle to the folklore of Witches. This was the last film that I caught at the Traverse City film festival this year, and it turned out to be my favorite film of the fest! Oddly enough, I was in line for another film earlier during the week with friends and we struck up a conversation with a couple of guys behind us after hearing them name-drop “Big Trouble in Little China” and “The Thing” as a few of their favorite films. They happened to be filmmakers from Michigan, now out in L.A., and had a film at one of the later Midnight movies during the week. That film was “The Wretched” and my friends and I made the move to get tickets for that film because of that short conversation, and we were better off for having done so!
This review will be more vague than usual as the film has only been screened a few times for audiences at this point, and the less plot details out there, the better, in my opinion. We follow Ben (John-Paul Howard), a seventeen-year-old visiting his father, Liam (Jamison Jones), for the summer in North Port Michigan, on the Leelanau peninsula. Over the summer Ben works with his father at the local docks teaching kids how to sail and clearing out the slips. He’s mostly concerned with garnering the attention of the local girls and trashing the petulant bullies’ boat after some uncomfortable humiliation. However his attention is soon turned to his fathers’ odd neighbors and their increasingly strange behavior. Ty (Kevin Bigley) and Abbie (Zarah Mahler) seem normal at first, and initially they are, but after a wander in the woods with her son Dillon (Blane Crockarell), Abbie begins to take on more… aggressive tendencies. Eventually evoking “Rear Window” in Ben’s obsessive paranoia over his neighbors’ strange actions, Mallory (Piper Curda) a quirky co-worker at the docks, joins him in investigating the truth. Kids start disappearing and everyone except Ben seems to have forgotten them, forcing him to action.
This film excels on several technical fronts. Firstly, the adherence to practical effects over the use of CGI in this film is not only admirable, but downright mesmerizing. I’m not sure how they crafted some of their scares, but they were highly effective in creating an atmosphere of disgusting, moody, tension. Which, by the way, is utilized perfectly in this film. Some modern day horror films overdo the heightened levels of tension throughout their run-time, but this film wisely gives the audience a false sense of security at times; allowing several scenes to breathe and the audience to get attached to these characters as people first and foremost- not just fodder for the supernatural villain to devour. These characters were also, delightfully, more intelligent than expected, they’re smarter than your average teenager stereotype from any given slasher flick. One character even removed his shoes before heading up a staircase to find the source of a few bumps in the night. They seemed like reasonable people approaching an unreasonable scenario, no comic relief characters blindly blundering into danger here! Oh, and the sound design has to get a mention as well, it was unsettling and perfectly set each scene to a mood that slowly evolves from creepy to outright terror nearing the third act!
Speaking of the third act, it gets pretty intense! Not to oversell the film, but the choice to stack several types of phobias on top of each other in the final sequence was brilliant! Forcing your characters to keep charging forward through a continued escalation of terror like that was, well, it was a damn good time at the cinema. This was a satisfying throwback to old tropes with refreshing new techniques and execution. Anyone that enjoys films like “The Witch“, “Evil Dead” (The Sam Raimi version), or “Halloween” (The John Carpenter version) will probably enjoy this one as I did. I highly recommend seeking this one out once the film makes it’s way through the festival circuit and distribution process. Keep your eyes peeled for this one!
Final Score: 1 Witch
*Below is a link to an interview with one of the directors, Brett Pierce, where he discusses the reasoning behind why they decided to shoot the film in Northern Michigan, check it out!
Written by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen and directed by Alexandre Aja, “Crawl” is a tight thriller about a young woman helping her estranged father survive a hurricane while fighting off numerous alligators. The heavy marketing of Sam Raimi as a producer may have caught my attention, but it was the prospect of a competent summer horror film that got me into a seat for this one. That, and the fact that I tend to gravitate towards a good “man versus nature” story. The thing that struck me most in the first act of the film was that the film took itself seriously as a competent thriller. Which was more than I expected going into this one, I assumed it would be more tongue-in-cheek camp, something along the lines of the director’s previous work in “Piranha 3D”. We begin the film with our lead character Haley (Kaya Scodelario) in a swimming practice as a Hurricane begins to batter the Florida coast. The film wastes no time getting the plot moving along as Haley’s soon called by her sister Beth (Morfydd Clark) to see about their father Dave (Barry Pepper), Haley agrees even though we see apprehension in her eyes.
Haley gets to the family house and searches for her father, eventually leading to the crawlspace under the main level. The whole first act resides here, and that was a smart decision. After finding her father unconscious near some piping, she comes face to face with a large ‘gator’- the one that took a nasty bite out of her father’s leg. Haley manages to wake her father back up as they try to find a way around the ‘gator’ that’s perched itself right next to the stairs out. I won’t go through and breakdown every character action in the film but the filmmakers and cast did an excellent job of playing into natural fears that people have, claustrophobia, aquaphobia, mysophobia etc. The cat and mouse sequences between Haley and the ‘gators’ were very effective and pleasantly thrilling throughout! Those swimming practices paid off. The constantly rising water was also very effective in forcing the characters to push themselves and go for the riskier maneuvers.
Keeping with the rising water, this forces the characters to move into the next floor or room, all of which come with new challenges and scares as the gators have new advantages and difficulties as well. There are a few qualms I should mention at this point- but they are few and didn’t truly impact my enjoyment of the film. Any and all side characters that are introduced in the movie are essentially only there to be killed by alligators- which is fine, there needs to be a legitimate threat introduced to instill urgency, but I was surprised with the speed at which these people were devoured by these modern day dinosaurs. There’s also almost no thought put into how our two main characters would realistically handle some of the admittedly gruesome wounds they have inflicted on them throughout the movie- like, you can’t push a major leg bone back into your leg and then walk and run on it just fine when needed- but hey, this is an hour and a half movie about killer alligators, it’s not “Citizen Kane” you know?
So, if you’re looking for a fun summer flick with some good scares and solid pacing under a tight hour and thirty minutes- this is it! “Crawl” was better than expected and a damn fine summer flick to kill a hot afternoon, check it out!
Final Score: 1 Father, 1 Daughter, and Dozens of Alligators!
Written and Directed by Ari Aster, “Hereditary” is the latest horror movie from studio A24. This most recent offering continues A24’s tradition of releasing films that refuse to be average, which results in a storytelling boon for their audiences. “Hereditary” follows the lives of the Graham family as they navigate the loss of their Matriarch, Ellen. The film opens with her funeral as her daughter Annie (Toni Colette) gives a muted eulogy which perfectly preps us (but does not prepare us) with a foundation of paranoia. Ellen, it seems, was a very private person with private friends. So much so that her closest relatives know almost nothing about her life and its many secrets. The family dysfunction that stems outward from Ellen has produced a multitude of psychological and emotional issues in her offspring. Most notably affected by this is Annie, a miniature model creator, wife, and mother, who seems to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown- or at least close to one- right from the beginning of the film. Her husband Steve Graham (Gabriel Byrne) just tries to keep everything and everyone around him afloat amidst the cavalcade of creeps that’s about to descend into his family’s life. They have two children Peter (Alex Wolff), the older teenager, and Charlie (Milly Shapiro), the very unsettling young girl who makes those creepy clicking sounds that you’ve heard in the advertising of the film.
I will do my best to avoid spoilers in this review, or at least keep them to a minimum. There are essentially two sides to this film. There’s the story you think you’re watching for the first half of the film, and then there’s the second story that you won’t likely fully grasp the details of until the film very deliberately tells you what’s happening in the final shot of the film. In retrospect, there’s a very well thought out string of breadcrumbs sprinkled throughout the film that do hint at the supernatural underpinnings that are taking place just out of frame. There’s a lot going on in the film, there’s throwbacks to classic horror cinema from the mood and tension building of “The Shining” to the wild shock and awe of certain scenes from “The Exorcist”. Granted, I wouldn’t recommend going into any movie with your expectations rampant and out of control- the film simply cleverly pulls from those icons while greatly remaining as its own unique experimentation.
The greatest thing the film accomplishes is its’ execution of tension and unsettling mystery. There’s one, maybe two, jump-scares in the entire film and that is a huge benefit. There is no release here, once the film has entrapped you, it has your undivided attention. There are words scrawled on the walls of the Grahams’ house, only ever seen by Annie who seems to become more and more untrustworthy and unraveled as the film progresses- which makes us question if she’s actually even seeing them. Not to mention Charlie, who is unquestionably disturbing in nearly every scene she’s in- and even in a few she’s not. Charlie has visions of her dead grandmother, cuts off a dead bird’s head for unknown reasons (a prelude to all the beheadings later in the film- there’s more than you would expect from this film’s pretenses), and she exponentially keeps making that freaky clicking sound that I keep thinking I hear when it’s too quiet around the house. Curiously Peter isn’t all that focused on in the first half of the story, until about the mid point when THAT SCENE happens and it affects Peter so much that he begins to slowly lose his mind. Then there’s these visual clues, symbols, and red herrings all over the film- everything that happens or is shown seems to have a reason and action behind it, but it does help to keep the audience out of the conversation and thereby cleverly distracting us to keep the intrigue high. It keeps building this ever creepy crescendo of madness until it reaches the boiling point.
Everything about “Hereditary” was crafted with horror loving hands. The score is effectively distressing and alarming when it needs to be, the way the film is edited is pure unease, and the progression of the characters is downright unnerving. There’s so much more I could discuss, but by doing so I would ruin the fun of the mystery. I highly suggest seeing this film if you enjoy good horror films. I don’t even really care all that much for the genre, but this film got to me. It still wanders into my mind days later and turns lovely afternoons into insidious hours of peeking around corners and occasionally getting scared by the cat.
Written by Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, and John Krasinski and directed by Krasinski, “A Quiet Place” is an intelligent and intimate thriller that expertly showcases Krasinski’s skill behind the camera as well as in front of it. This is Krasinski’s third time in the director’s chair when it comes to features, his first two, “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men” and “The Hollars” were both comedies with drama sprinkled in, though he also directed a few episodes of The Office. None of which suggest the talent and brilliance laying dormant within Krasinski for his third time at bat in “A Quiet Place”. I didn’t know what I was about to witness after buying my tickets to this particular showing, I had a night off from work so I looked at the showings and randomly happened upon the monster movie- some word of mouth around the internet from critics I trust seemed to suggest it would be a good time at the theater, and they weren’t wrong in the slightest. In the opening scene we’re introduced to the family Abbott in an abandoned grocery store. The parents (Krasinski and Emily Blunt) and three children all seem tense, barely making a sound as they carefully scatter about on the balls of their feet looking for supplies. They use sign language to communicate between others and through some clever use of sound editing we notice that one of the children (Millicent Simmonds) must be deaf. As they leave the store newspapers flutter in the wind as you can see the headlines read in bold letters, “IT’S SOUND!” consuming the page. I won’t divulge into details that one might consider spoiler territory, but it’s quickly established that any noise above a muted whisper is met with brutal violence from the monsters lurking just beyond sight.
This film is a masterclass in efficiently showing you everything you need to know about every member of the family and how they all interact with each other through this world changing scenario. Since there is almost no spoken dialogue in the film and few signed lines, we’re inclined to study each character’s face and body movements more than a film might normally require of its audience. The film’s world and sense of danger are exquisitely portrayed in the first half of the movie. We’re introduced to the threat outside and how very real it is, we see how they survive through careful planning and awareness of their surroundings, and we see them trying to live a normal life amidst this ever present terror. At the beginning of being seated in my theater, I was worried that the crowd might be too noisy for this film. The audience was laughing and chatting, eating and coughing all throughout the trailers- but as soon as the opening scene captured everyone’s attention with rapt bated breath, I knew I was in for a treat. This is a film where precise sound design is key, it was utilized with such perfection in order to ratchet up the suspense as much as possible at any given moment that it seemed almost cruel in it’s execution, it was almost too good!
What I loved most about the film was that, much like “Jaws”, the focus wasn’t on the unseen threat awaiting our characters, it was on the people at risk themselves. The monsters, or aliens, or whatever they were (it’s really unimportant as to what exactly they are) weren’t overused, though they do show themselves eventually, the simple fact that they were nearby created an unsettling atmosphere that was prevalent throughout the film’s runtime. The second half of the film is almost entirely steeped in suspense. Krasinski pulls from masters like Hitchcock here in that once things start to go off the rails for the family Abbott- there’s always another problem that exponentially increases anxiety and tension. He never lets the audience go once he’s got you, splitting up the various family members for one reason or another comes with a lot of variables and everything that can go wrong does!
After this film, I know I’ll be paying attention to whatever projects Krasinski’s working on, because this shows great potential. “A Quiet Place” is a classic thriller that’s incredibly clever on several fronts and I imagine it will be a favorite among audiences from here on out! This film may be the evolution of a master at work, only time will tell!
Final Score: a million unsaid things and several screams!
Written by Kevin Lehane and directed by Jon Wright, “Grabbers” is an Irish horror comedy about a small Irish Isle besieged by tentacled aliens that harbor a thirst for blood. I didn’t watch this film with the aim to write a review about it, but I enjoyed it so much that I thought it would be good to spread this title around and get more eyeballs on it. The premise of the film is simple enough, the small island has a police force of two and when the captain goes on holiday for two weeks a rookie from Dublin signs up to fill his shoes for the duration of his vacation while the second in command, Ciarán O’Shea (Richard Coyle), is a washed up drunk who doesn’t take kindly to the newcomer. Lisa Nolan (Ruth Bradley) is the workaholic to O’Shea’s alcoholic and they awkwardly go about their duties once she’s settled on the isle. They quickly come across a bunch of beached whales with strange deep cuts all over them, the local scientist Smith (Russell Tovey) notes that they died at sea, curiously.
One of the local fishermen, Paddy (Lalor Roddy) traps one of the strange creatures while out on a trawling run and brags about it to O’Shea while at the pub. One thing leads to another and the odd couple police force brings the captured squid-like creature to the local doctor (Pascal Scott) to find out what it might be, but even he has no idea forcing a return to Smith’s laboratory where they discover the creature’s weakness despite its unknown origin. Alcohol. Since the creatures need water and blood to thrive a victim with a high enough blood alcohol concentration causes the aliens to foam at the beak and writhe to death. With a particularly nasty storm coming making evacuation off the island impossible til the morning the ragtag group assembles the island residents to the pub to last through the night.
The film gleefully embraces the cliches of its setting and the genre mashup tropes of Irish drunkenness, small town life, and the briny fishermen known to own their rebellious spirits while enjoying a pint or two more than is recommended. The film may be somewhat predictable but the actors leading the charge are effectively charming enough that I personally was having enough of a good time that this was less of an issue for me. The CGI for the creatures was effective in that they never seemed too goofy looking and once they start to grow, they’re malice enlarges with them. If you enjoy a good horror comedy, I suggest seeking this one out, it playfully acknowledges itself and the common tropes of similar movies, but it’s unique enough to stand out from the crowd.
Final Score: Two cops, a scientist, a doctor, and a pub