Some Favorites of 2017

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Well here we are in 2018, it is upon us. Who knows what this new year will bring. But it is customary to reflect on the past year, and what it brought us good and bad. For me, it was emotional of mostly good, and some bad moments. Part of my yearly tradition I started about two years ago with this blog was to look back at some of my favorite things I experienced in the past year which made it a little more memorable. I’ve listed these down in different categories, so enjoy.

Favorite Old Movie I saw for the First time in 2017: “Lions, Love (…and Lies)”: Agnes Varda’s experimental, fourth wall breaking, improvised account of three hippies living in California in the late 60s right before the Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy is the type of film that doesn’t really get talked about. There’s something very beautiful about this film and how free it feels. Maybe it’s nostalgia for what the sixties meant for a lot of people, but it’s also the artistic freedom Varda makes with this film, you can tell it was something she made just for her own ambitions and no one else. We’re never quite sure what we’re seeing is real or made up on the spot by the actors. Reality is blurred especially when it invades the film in the wake of Kennedy’s assassination which happened while this movie was being filmed. They give the tragic incident context without exploiting it. The final moments of this film where a character looks directly into the camera and just breaths in and out calmly is one of my favorite closings of any film. Agnes Varda has been in the news lately thanks mostly to her new documentary “Faces Places” , which has been getting rave reviews, and she also received an honorary Academy Award for her work at the age of 89, where she charmingly danced on stage with Angelina Jolie. I have just gotten my first taste of Varda’s work, and I can’t wait to dig deeper into her filmography.

Other Great films I saw for the first time this year: “Paterson”, “Hi, Mom!”, “George Harrison: Living in a Material World” “Branded to Kill”, “Kiss Them for Me”, “The Virgin Suicides”, “Uncle Yanco”, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”, “Two For the Road”, “Pauline at the Beach”, “Blonde Venus”.

Favorite TV Season I saw this year: Twin Peaks Season 3: Probably number one on my most anticipated list this year was the return of “Twin Peaks” if only because it marked the return of David Lynch as a director after an 11 year hiatus. Lynch did not disappoint, reminding us why he is one of the most unique filmmakers of the last 40 years. At 75 Lynch still dares to push the limit of filmmaking, creating a great mixture of conventional storytelling and surrealism. You’re not meant to always understand what Lynch is throwing at you, but you are suppose to react to it, he makes you pay attention, and in “Twin Peaks” he has created his magnum opus, one that will no doubt be discussed for years.

Other Great TV I watched: “Bojack Horseman Seasons 1-4”,  “Glow Season 1”, “American Vandal Season 1”, “The Good Place Season 1”

Favorite Book: “The Razor’s Edge” By Somerset Maugham: The first book I read in the 2017 was also my favorite, and remains one of my favorite books I ever read. It’s the story of a War Veteran who returns home and becomes disillusioned with the material world of North America and decides to go on a spiritual journey to find some sort of happiness. Told through the narration by Maugham himself who puts himself in as one of the characters, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s definitely the type of moral you can find yourself thinking of time and time again about how too many possessions and the constant distractions of the modern world can bring you down and even dehumanize you a bit. This was an idealistic book to say the least,  and the one that didn’t stray too far from my mind all year.

Other Great Books/Stories I read: “A Good Man is Hard to Find” By Flannery O’Connor, “The Yellow Wallpaper” By Charlotte  Perkins Gilman, “The Black Cat” By Edgar Allan Poe”, “Persepolis” By Marjane Satrapi,  “Love and Mercy” by Brian Wilson, “The Last Temptation” by Nikos Kazantzakis

Favorite Movie Moment of 2017 Tie: Harry Dean Stanton smiling into the camera in “Lucky” and the No Man’s Land scene in “Wonder Woman”: I couldn’t choose between these two moments as they probably filled me with the most emotion of any film I saw this year. In “Lucky” this moment is meant as an acknowledgment and an acceptance of death, but it is meant as something not to be feared. The fact that this gesture was done by Stanton who died soon after this film finished made it all the more poignant. In “Wonder Woman” it was the idea of what was behind this action scene that made it so special. So many super hero films rarely show us why these heroes are so super, it sometimes doesn’t have to do with their abilities but what they represent to the world. “Wonder Woman” is a wish fulfillment film full of heart and idealism. It’s the idea that love, and courage can conquer hatred. In the wrong hands, this sort of message could be overly sentimental, but Patty Jenkins sells us as to why heroes like Wonder Woman are still relevant today and why they should continue to be the source of inspiration for people young and old alike.

For my final favorite thing, I’ll leave with my favorite song, from my favorite album I purchased this year. “The Dark End of the Street” by The Flying Burrito Brothers from the Album “The Gilded Palace of Sin” from 1969.

Favorite Song I heard for the first time.

 

 

 

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Things I Saw in December

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Lucky (2017): One of the best films of the year and a wonderful swan song for the great character actor Harry Dean Stanton who passed away mere weeks after this film was released. Stanton plays an aging man named Lucky who, after feeling faint, and taking a fall comes face to face with his own mortality. Lucky goes through a daily routine of staving off death such as doing yoga exercises and walking around everywhere he goes to maintain his health, but the moment hits him that death hits everyone. This isn’t as morbid as it sounds. The film is goes through the daily routine of Lucky’s life as he interacts with local townsfolk, arguing, and philosophizing with them. David Lynch has a memorable role as Lucky’s best friend, and gives the most heartfelt monologue about a turtles of all things. Directed by character actor John Carroll Lynch who is probably most notable as the suspected killer in “Zodiac”, or Norm Gundersson in “Fargo”. Stanton was a very special character actor appearing in bit parts from “Cool Hand Luke” and “The Godfather Part 2” to lead roles in cult films like “Paris, Texas”. He should be given more awards attention for this film, but maybe not enough people have seen it. For me I loved what it said, and how it said it, it’s pretty much perfect. 4 stars out of 4

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) The latest from writer/director Martin McDonagh, who’s “In Bruges” and “Seven Psychopaths” remain two of my favorite films of the past ten years. This film stars the great Francis McDormand in a powerful performance as a mother who rents out three billboard signs that blame the local police for the brutal rape and murder of her daughter. Like McDonagh’s past work, this film is not afraid to go to dark places, but is also able to bring some very dark and politically incorrect humour to the proceedings. This film is so full of anger, yet it tries to find a certain moral ground to these characters even the most despicable kinds such as the violent deputy portrayed by Sam Rockwell. Containing some of the strongest writing in a film this year, along with terrific performances by pretty much everyone. McDonagh remains an underrated director, here’s hoping this film brings him more to the mainstream. 3.5 stars out of 4

Twin Peaks Season 3: The triumphant return of one of the most groundbreaking television shows in history. 18 episodes directed by David Lynch, his first time behind the camera since “Inland Empire” in 2006. This is a direct follow-up to the premature cancelled cliffhanger that left the series stranded for 25 years. We now see Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle McClaughlen) escape from the black lodge, while his evil Doppelganger (McClaughlen again) wreaks havoc in his place. It’s never a straight line when it comes to Lynch, and as the original series did so many years ago, this one isn’t afraid to go experimental. The 8th episode in particular, which is mostly silent and filmed in black and white is something that I don’t think has ever been attempted in television before. Conventions are thrown out the window, expectations are subverted, but the original show’s themes of good versus evil ring through leaving us wanting more but fulfilling everything we come to expect from David Lynch. 4 stars out of 4

Star Wars: The Last Jedi: The latest in the juggernaut blockbuster picks up where “The Force Awakens” left off. This bold installment to the “Star Wars” saga attempts to attack the themes and the characters we have held so dear for so long and flip them on its head. Writer/director Rian Johnson attempts to deconstruct the “Star Wars” mythos which was founded on conventional archetypes, fairly tale-like story telling, and Flash Gordon movie serials. Instead of going to that well which served the original trilogy so well, Johnson attempts to create a new foundation to build this new world on. I found this to be a fresh approach and something I wasn’t expecting. The film is strong especially when focusing on the character relationships of Rey (Daisy Ridley), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). The film isn’t perfect and sometimes meanders, but I couldn’t help but admire some of the choices it made. 3.5 stars out of 4

A Christmas Carol (1938) An atrocious version of the classic Charles Dickens tale. This sugared down, ultra sweet take on the Scrooge story takes out all of the danger, darkness, and redemptive powers that made the original story so timeless. Reginald Owen is very unmemorable as Scrooge and the rest of the cast make no great impression. MGM apparently didn’t want this film to be too scary in order to attract a family audience. It barely runs over an hour. Somebody somewhere decided to give this a “mild-classic” status but stay away from it and stick with Alistair Sim, Bill Murray, or The Muppets for your Scrooge of choice. 1 star out of 4

Arthur Christmas (2011) An animated gem from the studio that gave us “Wallace and Gromit”. I had heard of this film before, but I had never seen it. It’s a charming story of when Santa Claus forgets a Christmas present for a child, and it’s up to his Christmas Spirited son Arthur to save the day. The film has a very nice message about the modernization of Christmas taking away the heart and soul, it’s also very funny for all ages, worthy against any modern Disney or Pixar film. The ending got me a little misty eyed. 4 stars out of 4

Born to Be Bad (1934) A short quick early film which starred Cary Grant before he came into his own. This one deals with a con artist mother (Loretta Young) whose son is taken into a wealthy family, but once there, the mother tries to get the son to steal from them. Grant plays the wealthy man who eventually falls for Young’s character. This is a bit of a wishy-washy soap opera and this kind of story has been done better in other films, but the performances make it watchable. 3 stars out of 4

People Will Talk (1951) A very odd, and strange film. Cary Grant stars as a University medical doctor who meets a young girl. When the girl finds out she’s pregnant, she tries to kill herself since she doesn’t know who the father was and I guess feels disgraced. Grant tricks her into thinking she’s no longer pregnant and falls in love with her. While this is going on, Grant is also being investigated by his university for misconduct. He also has a strange old man following him around whose identity is revealed to be the key as to why Grant’s character is such a wonderful person. I didn’t really buy this film as a drama or a comedy it tries to be. Grant’s character seemed very unbelievable. This was the written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and was the follow-up to his Oscar-winning classic “All About Eve”, but I wouldn’t really put this in the same category. However I found this film so odd, it became almost enjoyable. 2.5 stars out of 4

Kiss Them For Me (1957) An effective World War II dark comedy. Taking place in 1944, the film stars Cary Grant as a soldier who takes a four-day leave to New York with his two buddies. Part of their excursion is also meant as a promotional tool since the three of them are seen as war heroes, however they want nothing to do with it, they mostly want to party fast, drink till their drunk and fall in love with beautiful women. What surprised me about this film is how it doesn’t shy away from the effects the was has on the soldiers, Grant’s character is obviously suffering from some sort of PTSD, and it isn’t afraid to address it without being heavy-handed. The film was directed by Stanley Donen who made the more light-hearted musical about soldiers on leave in New York called “On the Town”. Unlike that film, this was a box office bomb, but it’s no wonder, it feels like a hidden classic. There are many funny moments in this film, it almost feels like a precursor to MASH. The one glaring mark against this film is Grant’s leading lady played by Suzy Parker who isn’t much of an actress. Parker was mostly known as a model, and she just isn’t suited well for the moments she is asked to be dramatic. Other than that, this is a hidden gem. 3.5 stars out of 4

Hi, Mom! (1970) An avant-garde social satire film starring Robert De Niro in one of his earliest roles. Directed by Brian De Palma, De Niro plays a Vietnam veteran who pitches to a porn producer the idea of filming through his window of his apartment to his neighbour’s windows. This makes him want to seduce one of his neighbours while filming it. After that falls through, he then becomes interested in a black experience theatre group. For anyone who enjoys experimental filmmaking, especially from the 1970s, you should enjoy this. De Niro is very well cast as a disenchanted army veteran who is trying to find some meaning in his life. The scene where the black theatre group takes a group of white people into their black experience is one of the most darkly hilarious scenes ever with a very clever punchline. 4 stars out of 4

T-Men (1947) A wonderful film noir about a group of treasury department officers going undercover to expose a counterfeit money ring. The black and white cinematography in this film is some of the best I’ve ever seen making look very contemporary and exciting. The one drawback is the old-fashioned narration which plagues the film a little too much. However the hard-boiled performances, stylish direction, and dynamic cinematography make this a film not to be missed. 3.5 stars out of 4

The Best Sequels Ever…?

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With no motive behind this list, other than I recently read an article on the best sequels ever made so I wanted to give my two cents, and I was bored so here it goes…

1. The Godfather Part 2: I’m not going to go into the “is the sequel better than the original” debate. Suffice it to say, both “Godfather” films are masterpieces. The sequel can be deemed far more ambitious and experimental as it juxtaposes stories between young Don Vito Corleone with his son Michael. They pinpoint two different eras of the family. Vito’s rise to crime came out of necessity, while Michael is trapped within that legacy, becoming doomed and damning himself more and more . The acting is on point in this film as it is in the first one. Particular points should be given to Robert De Niro as the young Vito,  and John Cazale as the youngest brother Fredo. But after watching this again recently I was blown away by how good Al Pacino is in this as Michael. The transformation of Michael from idealistic war hero in the first film to the final frame in this one where he becomes more or less a walking zombie without a soul. A shadow of a man haunted by his misdeeds. The moment he closes the door on Diane Keaton’s Kay for the last time, I got the sense that all of his humanity was gone and it gave me the chills. If you haven’t in a while, I’d recommend you re watch the first two “Godfather” films if anything just to be reminded just how great they both are.

2. The Bride of Frankenstein: The original “Frankenstein” was a classic, I love the creation scene in it, with Colin Clive’s Dr. Frankenstein orgasmically shouting “It’s Alive!”. Boris Karloff was the monster you could love and his scene next to the pond with the little girl is still unsettling. “Bride” had everything the original had but more. Production design was bigger with a tremendous score adding a grandiosity to the proceedings the original didn’t have. Karloff’s monster becomes more profound and tragic by adding a speaking voice. The dark humour is way ahead of its time and hilarious. Elsa Lanchester gives off a great impression as the hissing bride giving one of the great finales in film history.

3. Three Colors: Red: The final film in the interconnected trilogy of stories by Polish Filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski is the best in the series. The story of fate and second chances focusing on the relationship between a young woman and an old retired judge. The two may be strangers or they may have met in another life or another world. No other film focuses solely on the theme of connection such as this with Kieslowski cleverly linking the other two films of his trilogy at the end of this making it seem like one wonderful piece.

4. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: Dare I say, without trying to sound contrarian that I sometimes think the Temple of Doom is the best Indiana Jones film. I have to say “Raiders of the Lost Ark” works so well as a full throttle, non-stop entertainment filled with child like glee and joy that doesn’t let up. “Temple of Doom” does that too, but with more audacity taking it to its full “heart-ripping” potential. I can watch “Raiders” from beginning to end basking in the old-fashioned adventure of it all. I watch “Temple of Doom” with that same elation but with trepidation and shock.

5. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: The last film in the famed “Dollars” trilogy with Clint Eastwood’ss iconic Man with No Name teaming up with Eli Wallach’s anti-hero Tuco to find some gold hidden in a graveyard as they are persued by Lee Van Cleef’s Angel Eyes. All through this trilogy, director Sergio Leone was building up to this film. The first film “A Fistful of Dollars” was a modest homage to Akira Kurosawa, by the time he got to this one, he had found his full voice. The final showdown in this film is one for the ages. There is enough excitement and poignancy to fill five films.

6. Kill Bill Vol. 2: Some may argue that the “Kill Bill” films was one film released in two parts. Maybe, but there is such a difference in tone between the two films, I would suggest they work as individual pieces. At any rate, the entire “Kill Bill” saga remains my favorite thing Quentin Tarantino has ever done. Doing what he does best, Tarantino mixes and remixes genres in ways that suit him giving us an all time classic heroine in the process. Uma Thurman rips through these films with righteous fury you can’t help but root for her. Volume two enriches her story more, personalizing it with her moments with Bill and her extensive training under taskmaster Pai Mai. The scene where she breaks out of a coffin is one of the all time great epic moments in any action film.

7. Before Sunset: The second and best film in the Richard Linklater series with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy meeting up in Paris nine years after their one night together which ended “Before Sunrise”. Taking place in real-time before Hawke’s character has to make a flight, the two rekindle their romance, and both look back on their one night together and departure thereafter as a missed opportunity. This film is all about that “what if” moment when you meet the love of your life again after letting them go, what would you do? The film glows with its Paris setting, Hawke and Delpy ease into their characters as if they have been playing them all of their lives, and Linklater has never made a better film.

8. The Empire Strikes Back: Probably the only reason this film isn’t higher on my list is I’m one of the few people who thinks the original Star Wars film is still the best one. That being said, I can’t deny the emotional depth of “Empire” as well as the introduction of new characters, particularly Yoda who says the most poetic lines in the entire series. The series does get darker with this, but never loses its sense of fun or old-fashioned excitement which was really what the original trilogy was all about. In the annals of history “Empire” will always be the “Star Wars” movie all others are judged upon. Many have tried to emulate it with their sequels, but its hard to think of anything coming close to it.

9. After the Thin Man: The second film in the “Thin Man” series is every bit as charming, witty, and sophisticated as the original. William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Norah Charles are one of the great couples ever to be put on film. Only they could make a gruesome thing like murder feel as lighthearted as a cocktail party. This film is also an added bonus in that it features Jimmy Stewart in a very early role in his career and completely killing it as someone you wouldn’t think he would ever play.

10. Mad Max: Fury Road: I went back and forth on this or “The Road Warrior” which at least deserves an honorable mention. But in the end “Fury Road” is just a juggernaut of visual storytelling. The “Mad Max” films are more or less chase movies, but it’s what director George Miller can convey in all that action that remains so compelling. Through “Fury Road” Miller is able to depict a story about the abuse of power, feminist empowerment, personal redemption, as well as creating an honest, truthful relationship between Max (Tom Hardy) and Furiosa (Charlize Theron) which grows from distrust, to a true understanding without hardly a sentence between the two of them.

A few honorable mentions would be “Back to the Future Part 2”, “Gremlins 2” “Stolen Kisses”, “The Curse of the Cat People”, “John Wick Chapter 2″,”Creed”, “Superman 2”, “Spiderman 2”, “Batman Returns”, “The Dark Knight”, “Sanjuro”, “From Russia With Love” , both “The Two Towers” and “The Return of the King”, “and most recently “Blade Runner 2049”.

So did I miss anything? Am I way off on some? Do you flat-out disagree? Am I a pretentious snob for having a film by a Polish director on here? Please let me know and share with me your thoughts.

Gremlins

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I love the Gremlins. I know their aim is to destroy, mutilate, and kill, and they come from  a cute furry mogwai which would make for a far better pet in the long run but they are rule breakers and I respect that. The gremlins are anarchists who upset the establishment, so forgive me if I get a cathartic glee in watching their horrific destruction.

It’s probably not a coincidence that the Gremlins themselves appear in the film only when a rule is broken. There are three rules we are told throughout the film concerning gremlins. The rules are “do not get them wet, do not expose them to sunlight, and whatever you do do not feed them after midnight”. The film is so upfront in instilling us with these three rules, we know it’s only a matter of time before someone breaks one.

Sure enough a young man named Billy (Zach Galligan) accidentally gets his new unique pet mogwai Gizmo wet causing him to give birth to more unhinged versions of himself. These versions quickly cocoon and are then transformed into the green scaly monsters who wreak havoc. What we get after could be called, a partial send-up of B-horror monster movies of the 1950s as well as somewhat of a live action animated cartoon.

The town the film is set in, comes right out of a Norman Rockwell painting, not too far from another classic Christmas movie town; Bedford Falls. We see the people in this town are mostly good people, some of whom are struggling to find work, and make ends meat for Christmas. There are other townsfolk who aren’t so nice, most prominently is Mrs. Deagle (Polly Holliday) who comes from a Hollywood movie playbook of villains. She threatens to kill Billy’s dog much like Miss. Gultch/The Wicked Witch in “The Wizard of Oz”, and also owns much of the land in town like Mr. Potter in “It’s a Wonderful Life”. There is a also a brash young banker (Judge Reinhold) who is only interested in becoming a millionaire by the time he is thirty. Meanwhile all of the heroes in the film are mostly dreamers and good-hearted people. Billy is a cartoonist who’s in love with the local bartender (Phoebe Cates) while his dad is a wily inventor whose gadgets never seem to work.

There is sort of this push and pull in “Gremlins” between wholesome and pristine that Billy and his friends represent, while fighting this dark underbelly of greed and contentment. The gremlins come in as sort of palate cleansers, they level out the playing field and in their own way bring balance to the proceedings. They are reminders that darkness and instability are just around the corner. The fact that the film is set at Christmas time also comes into play as it might seem as very cheery to some. Cates’ character, who in some ways is the most bizarre has a strange aversion to Christmas. At the beginning of the film she explains to Billy how suicide rates skyrocket at the holiday season, and later in the film she is given one of the most darkly comic monologues ever revealing how she stopped believing in Santa Claus.

Suburbia has been skewered very often in movies, with filmmakers using it as an opportunity to comment on the darker side that lies beneath its sunny mentality. This was a staple of classic 1950s sci-fi horror such as “It Came from Outer Space” or “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” which is one of the many film references “Gremlins” gives a shout out to. This reflection of suburbia had a comeback in the 1980s and can be thanked mostly by producer Steven Spielberg and director Joe Dante.

Spielberg became the new face of subverting Americana themes in his films. Despite his reputation of creating wholesome crowd pleasers such as “E.T.”, Spielberg could be critical of small town life as well. His horror film “Poltergeist” which he produced and wrote the story for (and some would admit directed also) was an indictment on new housing land development, while “E.T.” itself gave us paranoid government officials who were seen more as invaders than the actual alien itself.

Dante, was more of a cult director, a trouble maker, a wise cracker who was the best person to make “Gremlins”. His sensibility was off the wall, cut to the chase anarchy which worked so well. He made other dark comedies such as “The Burbs”, and “Matinee” which also had this 1950s b-movie aesthetic. He was the yin to Spielberg’s yang in much respects, and the two sensibilities complimented each other. The sequel to “Gremlins” felt even more like a Dante movie, where that film became more meta, and more comedic, and the gremlins themselves had more of a personality.

I feel like Dante saw the gremlins less as villains and more like gleeful anti-heroes. They were the classic movie monsters but stripped of any ounce of nuance or subtlety. When we look at Frankenstein, we see a lonely misunderstood outcast, but when we look at gremlins  we see annoying pranksters who weren’t invited to the party but came anyway.

I love “Gremlins” as a Christmas movie because I think it speaks for those of us who prefer a little anarchy to the holiday season. Nothing is perfect despite our best efforts. “Gremlins” acknowledges that people can be nice to each other, and pleasant, but also show a world where people can be mean, families are laid off, children can be traumatized by Santa Claus, and “It’s a Wonderful Life” can be thought of as a sad movie. It’s for those of us who don’t buy the perfect little town which this film is set in, in fact this film doesn’t believe in this town as it’s so obviously a movie set. The gremlins throw all conventions out the window, and play by their own rules which is there are no rules. There is sometimes great freedom in that philosophy. It’s a thumb in the nose to complacency and the status quo. The gremlins are there to remind us that sometimes rules are made to be broken.

Subverting Expectations: An Analysis of “Twin Peaks Season Three” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (SPOILERS FOR BOTH YOU’VE BEEN WARNED)

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THIS IS A WARNING IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE SPOILED BY PLOT POINTS OF “TWIN PEAKS” SEASON THREE OR “STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI” THEN DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER!!!!

Sometimes there can be a such a thing as getting too comfortable. We are prone to ease into what is familiar, and what we can comprehend in our own minds as normal. Normalcy can equal safety and security, if we can predict an outcome, we can at least feel secure in knowing what will happen next. But it’s when things stop being predictable and comfortable, we can start feeling uneasy, and maybe a bit off kilter, and it’s with that feeling of uncertainty that can lift us into astonishment.

When it comes to pre-existing material, there might be more pressure on creators to make something that feels more familiar, and comfortable. After all when we revisit something, especially something that has a legacy attached to it, there’s a feeling that  certain expectations must be met.  However if these expectations are not met, the creation could be seen as a failure.

In the past week, I’ve recently viewed two such properties that have held a certain legacy in the public eye for decades and both have returned this year with new, albeit polarizing installments to their respective series. The first is the new season of “Twin Peaks” while the second is “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”. You can’t say that these two series have much in common,  one is a cult television show which was prematurely cancelled over 25 years ago, while the other is the most popular film franchise in the history of the world. Yet with their new installments I intend to explore what makes them different from their past incarnations, and by subverting our expectations, they have been able to add upon their own mythology while also finding the freedom to take new artistic risks.

When it comes to “Twin Peaks” it might be safe to say one doesn’t know what to expect. After all it is the brainchild of one of the most popular surrealists of all time David Lynch.  Yet “Twin Peaks” became a cultural phenomenon in its day if only for a small while as the public was caught up in the mystery surrounding the murder of a high school beauty queen named Laura Palmer. At that time, Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost pulled the rug from under us by going through a whole half a season of not revealing who the killer was. The first season ended on a cliffhanger and audiences were left wondering all summer who killed Laura Palmer, expecting by the season 2 premiere to have the mystery solved. But solving Laura Palmer’s death was never what Lynch and Frost had in mind, it was an initial mystery to open up doors to more mysteries within the show. The studio bosses at the Network were not happy with this artistic decision and forced Lynch and Frost to eventually name the murderer who turned out to be Laura’s father who was possessed by the evil entity known as Bob. After the reveal of the killer, the rest of season 2 suffered in trying to develop more stories but it became difficult once the true heart of the series was ripped out. Lynch and Frost moved on to other projects but returned in the second season finale to leave on yet another cliffhanger. This one had the show’s hero, F.B.I. agent Dale Cooper (Kyle McLaughlin) becoming trapped in the mysterious red curtain draped room known as the black lodge, while an evil doppelgänger of Cooper with the Presence of Bob escapes into the real world. The show was cancelled after ratings dwindled, without a clear conclusion to Cooper’s fate.

This year saw the return of “Twin Peaks” with fans now hoping to learn what has become of Agent Cooper and his evil twin, and they got that. What they didn’t get was the show they were used to. Lynch and Frost came at us with a different angle almost to say in order for the show to survive, it couldn’t be what it once was, it had to evolve, much like the strange entity known as the arm which is found in the black lodge. In the old series the arm was dancing, backwards talking dwarf who gave Agent Cooper cryptic clues to the case of Laura Palmer and became one of the staple characters. In the new series the arm has changed into a leafless tree with something like a brain coming out of its branches, this new, even more bizarre iteration of the character could be a symbol for the new series as well.

This need for change in the series might not have just been driven from artistic ambition, but also out of the fact that the television landscape has become a very different place since “Twin Peaks” first aired. The former show pushed boundaries on regular network broadcaster ABC where Lynch went to the limit on the amount of violence and disturbing images he could get away with. It made for a somewhat unsettling companion to other shows of the period such as “The Wonder Years” and “Who’s the Boss?”, people weren’t used to that amount of violence on prime time. The new series would run at a time we have already seen the revolution of “The Sopranos”, “The Wire” “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men” all of which probably wouldn’t exist without the original “Twin Peaks” paving the way for them. Again there was this legacy of it being the show which pushed boundaries and withdrew from convention, how could it go back to what it once was?

“Twin Peaks” season three felt like a dark phoenix rising from the ashes of the original. Very little of the old series remains in the first handful of episodes save for the reassuring presence of Agent Cooper who spends it trying to navigate himself from being released from the black lodge and into the regular world again. Lynch uses these moments to treat us with some of his most creative imagery like having Cooper fall into the zigzag designed floor of the black lodge into a mysterious room with a young woman whose eyes are covered with what looks like an extra layer of skin. Once Cooper does find himself in the real world, he is not himself but becomes Dougie, a slower version of Cooper who must now re-learn how to become human. This new version of Cooper is like a baby but it also becomes a comedy as he stumbles into good fortune while also avoiding multiple assassination attempts. It seems as if Lynch and Frost are riffing on their own version of “Forrest Gump” or “Being There”.

However the Cooper/Dougie storyline became a bit polarizing with fans. There were accusations that it went on too long and meandered as people were waiting for their beloved Cooper to arrive. This wasn’t the only instance the show played with expectations, with the core of the story arc not even taking place in the town of Twin Peaks but rather multiple locations such as Las Vegas, and New York. The original show’s soap opera like tone was pretty much non-existent save for the brief re-kindled romance of Big Ed the mechanic and diner matron Norma. Even the dreamlike theme which accompanied the original so often that it felt like part of the show’s DNA is mostly unheard through the new series, as well as Laura Palmer herself.

This is part of Lynch playing with the audience, but this is also a very different David Lynch than the one from the 1990s. Since the original “Twin Peaks” Lynch has become more experimental with films like “Mulholland Drive” (arguably the greatest film of the early 2000s) and “Inland Empire” (a 3 hour digitally shot magnum opus in surrealism). Maybe like the Cooper/Dougie character, Lynch is re-learning in this new landscape, bringing his sensibility to the forefront and trying to be relevant again.

At the heart though, Lynch and Frost do remember that “Twin Peaks” has always been about Laura Palmer and her savior Dale Cooper and that all of that comes to ahead in the final two episodes. Cooper is able to go back in time to actually save Laura before she is murdered only to have some evil force pull her away from him. Cooper then dives deeper into alternate dimensions trying to save Laura again.

The idea that Laura is now saved from death (maybe?) rips a hole right through what we once knew the show was. The world has changed, nothing can be what it was because the past has been tampered with. This could be seen as a meta commentary on behalf of Lynch and Frost on what a reboot to a series could mean, it changes what we once knew was true. However it’s also a way for them to take back control of “Twin Peaks” when they lost it to the network executives who wanted Laura Palmer’s murder solved. The old “Twin Peaks” no longer exists, as Laura Palmer’s murder never took place, it feels like an artistic victory over the powers that be.

The series ends with credits and a still image of Cooper in the black lodge and Laura whispering something in his ear as somber music plays. It’s a haunting image for me, but it’s a perfect summation of what the show is and always has been, a secret that can never be fully revealed. This was not the “Twin Peaks” we remembered, but it was “Twin Peaks”.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” probably had a more difficult road of fulfilling expectations than “Twin Peaks”. It holds the flag-ship name of all film franchises in this modern era of filmmaking, as well as the main cash cow of our Disney overlord. It is the direct sequel to “The Force Awakens” which was a film that played on our idea of what “Star Wars” is and should be, and could be seen as a direct response to the prequel films which subverted expectations themselves by focusing the death of democracy rather than fun and adventure. “The Last Jedi” had a lot to live up to, however I was surprised by the amount of chances this films took.

“The Last Jedi” which was written and directed by Rian Johnson almost feels like a response to the storytelling approach of “The Force Awakens” which was helmed by J.J. Abrams. In Abrams’ film, he took the nostalgia approach of taking what we already knew of the original “Star Wars” trilogy and made it new again. He played with familiar beats particularly established from “A New Hope” and remixed them for a newer audience. But Abrams being Abrams he also added some “mystery box” elements to the story. These were clues hidden in “The Force Awakens” that seemed to give the promise of a reveal in later installments. Primarily this had to do with the parentage of the young hero Rey (Daisy Ridley) as well as the origin of the new big bad Snoke (Andy Serkis)

You could say that the big joke in “The Last Jedi” is that these mysteries that were raised by Abrams are more or less an after thought. For his part, Johnson is not concerned with feeling nostalgic for the past or playing with the destinies of its heroes but rather playing with what a “Star Wars” movie can be.

For fans of “Star Wars” perhaps there are a bunch of invisible rules, one must abide by in order to make a “Star Wars” film. George Lucas certainly didn’t follow it when he made the prequels, which led to an outcry that is still persistent today. Rian Johnson is also one who doesn’t follow the rules either. “The Last Jedi” could’ve been the first film of this new trilogy with the way it throws out what we thought was important from “The Force Awakens”, and how it really ends with a new beginning letting the past fade out gracefully.

The first thing I noticed about this not being a “Star Wars” film I was used to was how very much the idea of “WAR” was at the forefront of the film. This idea was pretty persistent in the stand alone film “Rogue One” which played more like a war movie and remains a main theme in this one as well. In “The Last Jedi” we see people die in battle and unlike the expendable X-wing pilots of the old films, we feel the weight of loss when they die. This actually affects the actions of one of the new characters in the film Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) whose sister dies in the film’s first battle. Johnson uses Rose as a window to a world that is largely ignored in “Star Wars” mythos, that of a girl who was raised below poverty and sees the corruption of the upper class who are the ones that actually prosper in war. Kinda heavy stuff for a “Star Wars” movie you might say.

The film moves back and forth to the training of Rey by reluctant hero Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) who is now a hermit. It is here Johnson plays with the mythology of the Force, which has remained a pretty vague concept up to this point, and one that is joked about in the film that gives you the power to “lift rocks”. The Island which Luke has secluded him on is where the oldest Jedi temple lies which also contains the ancient Jedi texts. These become a symbol of the old ways of doing things, and Johnson comments on this as maybe ways that didn’t quite work. Luke even relates to Rey how the Jedi were ultimately responsible for the rise of Darth Vader and how he blames himself for young Kylo Ren turning to the dark side. Later in the film Luke in a symbolic gesture with the help of ghost Yoda sets fire to the old temple. Yoda then gives his last piece of guidance to Luke in that perhaps the greatest lesson a teacher can learn from is by his mistakes.

Here we see Johnson foregoing with the past, which is indeed one of the main themes of the film and which Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) really brings home. Tired of being a puppet to the dark Lord Snoke , Kylo slices him in two with a light saber thus taking control of his own destiny. This reinforces Johnson’s theme of moving on from the past, and also pulls the rug from under us by revealing Snoke was nothing more than someone who was in Kylo Ren’s way.

I think Rian Johnson has used “Star Wars” as a way of resetting the rules, or at least playing by his own with this installment. “Star Wars” has become a film for everybody, so why can’t the force be for everybody too. He shows this again by playing with Abrams’ “mystery box” set up of Rey’s parents, revealing (at least for now) they were probably beggars who sold Rey off for money or liquor, making her not the special “chosen one” she was set up as. That doesn’t mean she’s not special, Rey is a fighter and remains spunky and persistent, with an energy to change the world, which Johnson really brings out, particularly when she feels her kinship with Kylo Ren and her determination that she can bring him back to the light.

I saw “The Last Jedi” as being unconventional and makes this new series far more interesting than the retread I thought it would be. With the “Force Awakens” you could look at it as someone’s idea of what “Star Wars” should be, “The Last Jedi” is another idea as well, and they kinda compliment each other that way. If we look at the original “Star Wars” trilogy, they were films which commented on past movie serials and adventures as well as Kurosawa samurai films and Joseph Campbell mythology.  “The Last Jedi” carries on that tradition of commenting on what came before it, but it’s also a movie that chooses not to sit on its laurels or legacy. It’s a film not satisfied with playing it safe by giving a fanfare movie, it’s deeper and more complex than that. I would say there are more exciting “Star Wars” films out there with more innocent fun and adventure, but “The Last Jedi” is far and away the most contemplative and complex film in the series thus far. We’ll see if this reinvigorating  of the franchise will last, or if it was just a passing fancy by an ambitious artist who got the keys to the kingdom.

 

Things I saw in November

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Undercurrent (1946): I very bizarre film noir directed by Vincent Minnelli, a man more known for musicals and starring Katherine Hepburn who seems miscast here. Hepburn plays a woman who marries a man hastily only to begin suspecting he may have a dark past which involves possible murder and a mysterious brother. The husband is played by Robert Taylor who is rather hammy. Robert Mitchum gives the best performance as the mysterious brother however he’s only in a handful of scenes. The plot worked for awhile until it became too convoluted which results in an unsatisfying conclusion. Hepburn is a much too stong willed woman to play so meek. This has shades of early Hitchcock particularly “Rebecca” and “Suspicion” but it’s a mere shadow of those films. 2.5 stars out of 4

Thor: Ragnorok (2017): A very rousing and funny addition to the Marvel movies thanks mostly to winning performances and the unique sense of humour from director Taika Waititi. The best of the Thor movies and ranks along with “Ant-Man” and “Iron Man 3” as the funniest in the series. 3.5 stars out of 4

The Sandpiper (1965): A pictueresque soap opera starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Taylor plays a bohemian who is raising her son off the beach at Big Sur. However she is forced to put her son in a religious school which is run by a sympathetic and married headmaster played by Burton. The two soon fall in love and have an affair which result in some steamy scenes which was no doubt something the public at the time would clamor to see. Not a very deep film but the scenery and the two charismatic stars make it worthwhile. Strong support by Eva Marie Saint as Burton’s wife and Charles Bronson as one of Taylor’s bohemian friends. 3 stars out of 4

Justice League (2017) A very messy movie indeed where you can see studio interference all over. However some of it works in spite of itself. Batman and Wonder Woman must bring together a group of rag tag people with special abilities to save the world. Zack Snyder said his main inspiration for this was “Seven Samurai” and you can sense it here, one wonders what a more epic movie would bring. Much is botched here which makes this movie look cheaper than it should be, but there is enough action and excitement to please fans I’m sure. Gal Gadot walks away with this film. 2.5 stars out of 4

Lady Bird (2017) The best film I have seen this month belongs to Greta Gerwig’s funny, touching “Lady Bird”. Along with this, and “Brooklyn” Saoirse Ronan is shaping up to be one of my favorite actresses. She plays Lady Bird, a young girl who is trying to escape her mundane life in Sacramento hoping to go to an out of state college. Laurie Metcalf is wonderful as her mother with whom she has a complicated relationship with. In fact the whole cast is wonderful. Gerwig brings wit and style to this film which probably would’ve felt like a run of the mill coming of age indie film that they like to manufacture at Sundance. This is a winner all the way. 3.5 stars out of 4

Things I saw in October

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Blade Runner 2049 (2017) Sequel to one of the greatest science fiction films ever is a wonderful re imagining of the world. Ryan Gosling gives a wonderful performance as K, a blade runner who must solve a mystery surrounding Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). The ideas the film brings up builds on the themes of the original, and the visuals are stunning. This is a film where the images flow over you. 3.5 stars out of 4

The Good Place Season 1 (2016-17) Hilarious and ingenious comedy, Kristen Bell plays a not so good person who dies and is sent to “The Good Place” by mistake. This show has a lot of twists and turns in it with the final one coming at the end of the season. It’s good binge television with winning performances. 3.5 out of 4

Archer Season 8 (2017) The latest season of Archer entitled “Dreamland” gets points for creativity as it delves in Archer’s dream state after he was shot and left in a coma last season. It’s able to riff on an alternate reality where the characters are re imagined in a film noir landscape. However most of the jokes fall short, and Archer for the first time felt a little tired to me. Still some pretty funny moments. 2.5 stars out of 4

The Babysitter (2017) I happened upon this Netflix original which is pretty good entertainment. A kid who is afraid of everything is left for the weekend with his cool babysitter who he also is in love with, only to find out she’s into satanic sacrifices and pretty soon he has to face almost every fear his has. This is a short and sweet movie that has a good sense of humour about things and doesn’t hold off on the blood and gore. 3 stars out of 4

George Harrison Living in a Material World (2011) Martin Scorsese’s documentary about George Harrison goes into unexpected territories regarding Harrison’s own beliefs and how they helped him through his life. Add to that this was just a very engrossing documentary about a very famous man who held onto his own spirituality. 4 stars out of 4

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) Classic musical of seven mountain men and the seven women they love. This won’t win any political correctness awards especially for this day and age, but the charm of this film is hard to resist, and it doesn’t seem to have any ill will to it. Directed by musical master Stanley Donen, this has some of the best choreographed moments on film and is worth it just for that, plus the musical numbers aren’t that bad either, a real joy. 3.5 stars out of 4

Unconquered (1947) Cecil B. DeMille production of colonial times with the old trope of Native Americans being the bad guy. This film doesn’t age well, but has a few interesting set pieces. Gary Cooper is one of those dependable leading men, and Howard De Silva is one of those great slimy villains you can’t wait to get their comeuppance. Still over long and kinda boring. 2 stars out of 4

Strange Things Season 2 (2017) More fun and adventure with the Stranger Things gang. Although overall I enjoyed season 1 more, this had enough in it to recommend. The characters are the main reason to stay tuned to this 80s nostalgia fest, adding a few more new characters to the mix and more to the mythology. Even though this series is tailor made for bingeing, some story telling elements didn’t sit well with me, it’s less focused and more all over the map than the first, still I had fun. 3 stars out of 4

Suburbicon (2017) The latest from George Clooney the director. This dark comedy co-written by the Coen Brothers has a lot going for it, and I enjoyed it on some degree. A mid-fifties suburb is home to racial intolerance and a grisly murder investigation. Not sure it needed both storylines, and Clooney I think does his best to capture a Coenesque sensibility with his darkly comic tone, however it I wasn’t fully satisfied, almost as if the script needed a few more re-writes. The racial story is shoehorned in with no real purpose, and this dark comedy needed more comedy. 2.5 stars out of 4

Best Horror Films (Pre-1970s and Post 1970s)

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Making my lists a little more separate. Horror films have been around since almost the beginning of film itself. No matter how you celebrate Halloween, it usually makes us reflect on some of the best films the horror genre has to offer. That being said I found it best to divide my list into two separate eras as there are too many great horror films to count. Here is my personal picks in no particular order.

Pre 1970

1. Nosferatu (1922) Still for my money the best version of “Dracula” this German expressionist masterpiece is still terrific and unsettling with Max Schreck as Count Olaf being the most gruesome vampire ever depicted.

2. The Boris Karloff Frankenstein Trilogy (1931-39) There were many Frankenstein monsters with the Christopher Lee version being a close favorite however no one can beat Boris Karloff’s incarnation of the character. The first film is a creaky early sound effort but Karloff’s performance is legendary. The second film “Bride of Frankenstein” is an instant classic which marries horror with comedy unlike anything that came before it with Karloff giving even more pathos as the monster who can now speak. The creation of the famous Bride is operatic and morbidly funny and sad. The final film “Son of Frankenstein” is the lesser of the two but is a highlight if only for the introduction of Bela Lugosi as Ygor which might be his greatest performance ever. Plus watching these three films will make you appreciate Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein” even more as you will know where most of the jokes come from.

3. The Invisible Man (1933) Directed by James Whale who also directed the first two Frankenstein films and based on H.G. Welles’ novel of a man who becomes invisible, this has the same type of mixture of horror and comedy Whale was so good at, with Claude Rains hamming it up as the title character even though you never see his face. Pretty sophisticated special effects for the time, this is one of the most entertaining films of the early Universal horror films.

4. The Black Cat (1934) Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi were the horror icons of the 30s and 40s and universal teamed them up for a number of films. This was their first and best film together. Lugosi plays a man bent on revenge against Karloff who is the leader of a religious cult and kidnapped Lugosi’s wife. The torture scene at the end was quite graphic for the time, and this film doesn’t hold back on the truly dark nature of the story. Side note, the title was taken from Edgar Allan Poe’s story, but really has nothing to do with it.

5. Cat People (1942) Produced with zero budget and with a title more suited for a B-picture, this infamous film became a cult classic by using the power of suggestion. A Woman is convinced she comes from a race of people who turn into man eating cats, something she fears will destroy her and the man she loves. More psychologically complex than it sounds, it uses noirs shadows and light and sound to bring the scares.

6. The 7th Victim (1943) Produced by Val Lewton who also produced “Cat People”, this is one of the darkest films dealing with cults, and was a heavy influence on “Rosemary’s Baby”. This one has a young woman searching for her sister who she believes has gotten involved with a cult and want her dead. The film itself is rather obsessed with the idea of death which makes it more unsettling.

7, Psycho (1960) It’s hard to dismiss Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece no matter how many times you watch it, even if it doesn’t have the same impact, it’s still so compelling to watch. Hitchcock orchestrates the film so effortlessly, and this unique brand of storytelling has brought on many imitators, but I will never get tired of this film.

8. The Birds (1963) Probably for me more frightening than “Psycho”. Hitchcock plays with the idea that birds attacking is something that is unknown and also unstoppable. I think the idea of something horrifying that can’t be explained makes it all the more unsettling. The sound design in this film is exquisite as Hitchcock chose not to use a musical score and there is almost a good hour spent leading up the the birds actually attacking and Hitchcock keeps the sense of dread throughout.

9. Repulsion (1965) Roman Polanski’s claustrophobic horror film of a young woman who quietly goes insane inside her apartment. This is one of the great psychological horrors and one of Polanski’s best.

10. Rosemary’s Baby (1968) Another Polanski film and another film about a cult (I think I’m afraid of cults). Mia Farrow has never been better as an expecting mother who feels she is behind a giant conspiracy where everyone seems to want to hurt her baby. The finale is what Polanski does best by giving us the absolute worst possible conclusion to all of our greatest fears. Yet there is some dark humour throughout the film which make it one of the most entertaining horror films ever.

(Honorable Mentions: Universal films had a treasure trove of classic monster movies which I cherish deeply including “Dracula”, “The Mummy”, “The Wolf Man” and “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” along with their cheesy, cheap sequels, and team ups. Val Lewton produced some more greats including “I Walked with a Zombie” and “The Body Snatcher”. Bela Lugosi made what many people think was the first zombie film with “White Zombie”. “Island of Lost Souls” is the definitive version of H.G. Welles’ “The Island of Dr. Moreau” . “Mad Love”, The original “The Haunting” was great. “Night of the Living Dead” continues to frighten and disturb. Hammer horror remade some of the old Universal monster with their own spin, my favorite being “The Horror of Dracula” and “The Curse of Frankenstein” both starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. “The Return of Dr. X” is a terrible film, but Humphrey Bogart plays a mad scientist zombie in it, so it will always have a special place in my heart.) I wasn’t sure to add “King Kong” as I’m not sure if it falls under horror, it is indeed a monster movie and one of the best.

Post 1970

1. The Exorcist (1973) Kinda picking up where “Rosemary’s Baby” left off, this classic film of a child possessed by a demon has become legendary and still has the ability to frighten and disturb.

2. Carrie (1976) Brian De Palma’s adolescent teen horror based on Stephen King’s book plays more like a darkly comic take on high school life as he cranks up the anxiety for poor Carrie to 11. The horror doesn’t really happen till the climax which is a terrific set piece of precision and operatic drama. But what holds this film together is the tender, frightened, and vengeful performance by Sissy Spacek with special props going to Piper Laurie as her bible spouting mother.

3. Halloween (1978) John Carpenter’s update of the slasher movie started by “Psycho” is one of the most purely sinister horror movies. Made on a shoestring budget and creating one of the greatest horror boogie men of all time, this might be the most frightening film for me personally.

4. Alien (1979) Or it might be this. The original creature feature which spawned into a franchise of lesser valued films (minus the immediate sequel maybe). Unlike the endless sequels, this keeps the premise pretty simple, a space crew pick up an unwanted passenger who then picks them off one by one. The effects are frightening and grotesque and the fact the alien is mostly seen in shadow just makes it all the more menacing.

5. The Shining (1980) Based on Stephen King’s novel which is great in its own right, Stanley Kubrick creates something of his own veering off of the novel to create a sinister look at a family on the cusp of destruction. The imagery and feelings that creep up in this film are what really capture us. It’s hard to believe this film was not appreciated in its time, you can’t really think of great horror films without mentioning it.

6. The Thing (1982) Kinda acting like a cousin to “Alien” this remake of “The Thing From Another World” from 1951 gives us less a science fiction story, and more a story of dread. An alien creature which can morph into anyone around it gives off a mood of uncertainty. This was John Carpenter’s second horror masterpiece.

7. Poltergeist (1982) The closest I think a horror film has ever gotten to being a roller coaster ride. Taken from a story by Steven Spielberg, this suburban haunted house story feels like a kid friendly version of “The Shining”. When a young girl is sucked through the family television by an unknown entity, the family do all they can to get her back. Although the film is chilling and scary, it’s also a fun ride that feels kinda comforting and safe at the same time. A horror movie the whole family can enjoy.

8. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) Wes Craven’s masterpiece of a boogeyman who can only kill you in your dreams is still effective, and earily surreal with a dark sense of humour. Freddy later became a bit of a jokey villain, but here he’s a force of pure sinister evil.

9. The Descent (2005) Ask me what was the most horrifying experience I ever had in a movie theatre, it was this film. More claustrophobic than any other film on this list, and using elements of limited light and shadow to bring a sense of pure terror, this is a film that gets under your skin unlike any film before it. It took me awhile to compose myself after seeing this film.

10. The Witch (2016) A fairly recent film but another one that really got under my skin. Take it for what you will, a lot of people found this to be slow on pacing, but it fills the screen with great foreboding, and doesn’t really give clear cut answers to what exactly is going on, however it’s another one of those films that fills me with uneasiness.

(Honorable mentions: “Jaws” is good although it can be thought of as equal parts adventure film. “Dawn of the Dead”, “The Evil Dead” trilogy almost made my list, along with Sam Raimi’s “Drag Me the Hell”. “The Invitation” is another current film I’d put as pretty great as well as “Get Out” which is hilariously subversive. “The Fog”, “The Tenant”, Werner Herzog’s remake of “Nosferatu”, “Silence of the Lambs”, “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) If “Eraserhead” or anything by David Lynch could be considered horror, I would put that up there.

I know I’m missing some pretty essential films, but it’s late and I’m going to bed.

However if you don’t like horror movies but still want to be entertained on Halloween I’ll suggest these three films

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) When the Universal Monsters were no longer seen as scary they became somewhat of an affectionate joke. Comedy duo Abbott and Costello made a series of comedies which teamed them with the legendary monsters. This was the first and most famous of the films which pit the duo with Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, and Dracula. A bit poignant to see Bela Lugosi return as Dracula which was the only time he did so since the original 1931 film. The film is silly, and funny especially if you’re a fan of Abbott and Costello or any of the Universal monsters.

Young Frankenstein (1974) Mel Brooks’ great comedy featuring maybe the greatest comedic cast of all time with Gene Wilder, Teri Garr, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle, Madeline Kahn, and Cloris Leachman all bringing their A-game to this spot on parody of the early Frankenstein films. So many great moments, my favorite probably being the recreation of the blind man scene from “Bride of Frankenstein” featuring Gene Hackman in a hilarious cameo.

Ghostbusters (1984) Blockbuster comedy and probably even brings a few chills to the proceedings. However I can’t get too scared when Bill Murray is cracking wise through the whole film, and that’s a compliment to him, put Bill Murray in any horror movie and it will relieve your nightmares.

 

 

 

 

Things I Saw In September

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Bojack Horseman: Season 4 (2017) A continuation of everyone’s favorite manic-depressive horse celebrity. After wallowing in darkness and despair, season 4 finds a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel, although not a lot, but a little bit. The show is as strong as ever, particularly when it deals with Bojack’s mother as well as his new-found daughter Hollyhock. This show is definitely going to depths other animated shows haven’t dared explore, and each season is never low on ideas. 3.5 stars out of 4

Glow: Season 1 (2017) This one was a holdover from the summer  that I caught up on, and what a pleasant surprise. The is centered on an 80s female wrestler movement which consisted mostly of amateurs and actresses who were meant to just look pretty and glamorous, however this show uses it as a backdrop for some women struggling on their own and coming together and as most shows do, turn it into a surrogate family. The performances are winning, and the show is such good fun. The creators were able to balance the human drama with some moments that could have turned into schlock but rather become heartfelt and emotional. Here’s hoping season 2 continues with this trend. 3.5 stars out of 4

American Vandal: Season 1 (2017) I seriously thought this was just going to be a one-joke premise about penis jokes, but surprisingly it’s not and becomes a very spot-on spoof of “Making a Murderer” type shows and is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long time. A mockumentary about a crime of someone spray painting dicks on teacher’s cars when one student is accused and a documentarian trying to discover the truth of the matter. Silly as it sounds, the filmmakers pull of an 8 episode tonally perfect look at high school in all its social media glory, as well as clever jokes on the whole idea of making documentaries of this sort. Are there too many dick jokes? Maybe, but I was honestly surprised at how good this turned out. 3.5 stars out of 4

The V.I.P.s (1963) Told in a “Grand Hotel” fashion, after all flights are cancelled due to weather, a group of (very important people) have to deal with their own personal dramas going on. This isn’t groundbreaking stuff, but the stars are what make it watchable including Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (Who were just starting their infamous affair as this film was being made) as a married couple on the brink of divorce after Burton discovers Taylor is running off with another man. Maggie Smith and Rod Taylor as a secretary who is in love with her boss, Orson Welles as a pompous filmmaker and Margaret Rutherford who won an Oscar for her performance as an elderly lady trying to save her estate. Mostly frivolous melodrama, but worth it for the stars. 3 stars out of 4

Paterson (2016) Catching up on this one from last year. The latest from Jim Jarmusch who has a knack for filming the mundane, this one focuses on a man named Paterson who is a bus driver in Paterson New Jersey but writes poetry in his spare time. The film takes on the idea about being an artist in your everyday life and how fulfilling it can be. Not much happens besides that as it follows a week of Paterson’s life where he usually goes to work, comes home to his girlfriend, then walks her dog and hang out at the local bar. We see him find inspiration for his poetry in the everyday. The film has the usual deadpan humour you find in any Jarmusch film and Adam Driver gives a subtle nuanced performance that is perfect. A delight from beginning to end, and the type of film that is pleasant to watch. 4 stars out of 4

The Story of the Last chrysanthemum (1939) Directed by Japanese master Kenji Mizoguchi, this is one of his very early films that garnered attention. The story is about a young actor who leaves his family once he is disgraced by his father only to dedicate his life to his art. He is helped by a young servant girl who sacrifices everything for him. The story itself feels a bit old fashioned, but the storytelling techniques were far beyond its time. Mizoguchi has made a number of films I would consider masterpieces including “Sansho the bailiff” and “Ugetsu”. This one didn’t hit me as hard, however I wouldn’t be surprised if I feel differently about this after another viewing. 3 stars out of 4

San Quentin (1937) A Warner Brothers Prison film is a tough, quick, and fast paced. This early film featured Humphrey Bogart who is a hardened criminal being sent to San Quentin but the warden played by Pat O’Brian feels that he can rehabilitate him. This is a great old fashioned crime movie with the usual tropes you would find in one of its kind. The storytelling is lean and does exactly what it sets out to do, it doesn’t exactly transcend the genre but it’s great movie entertainment of the period. 3.5 stars out of 4

It (2017) My lone visit to the multiplex this month was due to this blockbuster horror film based on Stephen King’s labyrinth novel of the same name. Cleverly taking half of the book which focuses on the main characters as children as they must do battle with the evil force known as Pennywise who is mostly seen as a clown but can transform into the thing you fear the most. This is an entertainingly scary film that plays on children’s real fears and doesn’t really sugarcoat it, although it is very funny in parts. This reminded me a lot of horror movies like “Poltergeist” or “Jaws” which fill you with dread but also keep the horror like a roller coaster ride of scares and jumps, a horror movie that also feels like escapist fun. 3.5 stars out of 4

Break on Through (2017) A little conflicted putting this on here as I know the people who made it and I don’t like playing favorites, but I wanted to be fair and also wanted to support them any way I can (this might now count as support as the number of people who read this blog are pretty slim). A group of people come together in an abandoned house after some sort of, let’s say seismic event has occurred which is never fully explained. Suffice it to say these people must learn to trust one another as they all fight to survive. Everyone seems to have a back story, the most prevalent is Dillon, a woman who is accompanied by a mysterious young boy who says nothing. The film is wonderfully shot, and directed, with a practically wordless opening, and stays strong with sparse dialogue and dialed down performances which keep the tone consistent. The ending might leave one cold as it did me, however you might have fun trying to deconstruct it to find out what it all means. 3 stars out of 4

The Corn is Green (1979) A television movie directed by George Cukor and starring Katherine Hepburn, about an old spinster who creates a school in a coal mining town and is intent on giving the children there an education. Based on a play and filmed before with Bette Davis, this is pretty light stuff, however Hepburn raises it to something worth watching. 2 and a half stars out of 4

Top Ten Comedies

Annex - Grant, Cary (Bringing Up Baby)_10

In response to BBC Cultures 100 Greatest Comedies which was just recently released, I decided to add my two cents. I won’t do a full 100 but here are my top ten.

  1. Horse Feathers (1932)
  2. Bringing Up Baby (1938)
  3. Our Hospitality (1926)
  4. The Circus (1927)
  5. Sullivan’s Travels (1941)
  6. Roxanne (1987)
  7. The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
  8. Good Morning (1959)
  9. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
  10. Trouble in Paradise (1932)