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

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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

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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)

Things I saw in August

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Branded to Kill (1967) A stylistic crime thriller about an assassin who becomes a marked man after a botched job. The film is obsessed with death in so many ways and gets under your skin. That being said this is an enjoyable psychedelic odyssey of a movie, and one that stays with you. 4 stars out of 4

The Glass Castle (2017) Based on a true story of a family who live like destitutes for most of their lives thanks mostly to their alcoholic, non-conformist father. Soon the children fend for themselves and escape on their own to New York. This is a well made family drama with great performances. 3 stars out of 4

Logan Lucky (2017) Steven Sodebergh’s return to feature filmmaking after a bit of a hiatus. He returns to the heist genre that he perfected so well with “Ocean’s 11” and “Out of Sight”. This one plays like a deadpan comedy taking place in the deep south. This turned out to be just what the doctor ordered for late summer escapism. 3.5 stars out of 4

The Defenders (2017) Netflix’s version of “The Avengers” with the teaming of their four Marvel shows in one big showdown. Being mainly only a fan of “Jessica Jones” and “Luke Cage”, this storyline which was lifted from the dreadful season 2 of “Daredevil doesn’t hold much water or stakes. Having never watched “Iron Fist” I was confused with what his stakes were all in this. Jessica and Luke who are the most down to earth heroes in this bring great gravitas in their scenes where they merely add some realism and comic relief to the situation. Forget all this nonsense and just wait for season 2 of “Jessica Jones” which is taking forever. 2 stars out of 4

Things I Saw in July

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1. Baby Driver (2017): Edgar Wright’s latest is a brilliant conceit of a car chase movie acting as a musical. The film is fused with a cool soundtrack and some very creative car chase choreography. In the end I was inspired to get in my car and hit the open road. However the film is not without its flaws, the entire third act runs into some over the top trouble that seems out of place, also overlong and convoluted. The film’s lead Ansel Elgort is rather bland compared to the outstanding supporting cast surrounding him, and to be honest this just isn’t as cinematic as some of Wright’s better efforts. That being said, this is a pretty good time at the movies. 3 stars out of 4

2. Spiderman Homecoming (2017): This is now the sixth big screen version of everyone’s favorite webslinger and the first now run by the juggernaut known as Marvel Studios. There hasn’t been a Spiderman movie I haven’t liked just a little bit, I would even defend some parts in “The Amazing Spiderman 2” which had me sobbing in the end. However this Spiderman is very fun and amusing, light on its feet and never getting dogged down with too much emotion. Tom Holland is very fun with his iteration of the character, and the supporting cast including Michael Keaton as the villain and an underused Marisa Tomei as Aunt Mae make it even more fun. This is the best Marvel film in a long time which had me ready to cheer. 3.5 stars out of 4

3. Moana (2016): This Disney film released last year about a young Polynesian Princess with the power of the Ocean on a quest to restore the heart of the ocean with the help of a wisecracking demagogue is quaint at best. The animation is rather impressive but the story as a whole doesn’t add up to much and the songs which were written by Lin Manuel Miranda are kinda forgettable. Despite one inspiring sequence involving a sinister crab (voiced by Jermaine Clement) this felt like a misfire. 2 stars out of 4

4. Dunkirk (2017): Christopher Nolan’s telling of the famous World War 2 story of British soldiers fleeing the beaches of Dunkirk is perhaps his most visually stunning film to date. The story remains lean and somewhat small concentrating on events happening on land, sea, and air. All of this culminates with an impressive finale. A lot of the imagery remains poetic and restrained, Nolan never tries to shock us with the usual violence shown in war movies which makes it unique. However the film left me cold for some reason. However Kudos to Nolan for bringing poetry to his imagery some of which are truly breathtaking. Perhaps I’ll feel differently about this film in time, like some of Nolan’s work it might grow on me. 3.5 stars out of 4

5. Valarian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) Director Luc Besson is a polaraizing director, however I found his last film “Lucy” to be visually vibrant and stunning. “Valarian” finds him in the sci-fi mode yet again however this one is far more space operay. For those who think “Star Wars” has the monopoly on space opera, think again. “Valarian” is not a perfect film by any means, the main plot is rather meaningless but rather it’s a mcguffin to explore the visual feast that is in this film., and the final act becomes too predictable with too much exposition. More often it mostly focuses on the misadventures of Valarian (Dane DeHann) and his partner Lauraline (Cara Delevingne), as the two seem to keep on saving eachother from one mishap to another. Judging how the film has fared at the box office, chances are slim we’ll see another adventure from Valarian and Lauraline anytime soon and that’s a shame. This is fun, eccentric popcorn entertainment that doesn’t feel homogenized quite yet in studio sameness. 3.5 stars out of 4

6. The Beguiled (2017) Easily the best film I saw this month is Sophia Coppola’s stunning “The Beguiled” a civil war chamber piece where women from an all girls school take in a wounded yankee soldier. The tension starts off small and begins getting more and more disturbing as the young ladies start taking more of a liking to the soldier until the unthinkable happens. Coppola fuses the film in white light and soft focuses to make it feel dreamlike, no wonder there have been comparisons to her first feature “Virgin Suicides”. But this is more genre like than we have seen from her before and it is a treat to the senses along with great performances from Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell and Kirsten Dunst. 4 stars out of 4

7. It Came From Outer Space (1953) Classic sci-fi film from the 50s from a story by Ray Bradbury finds a small town at odds with an alien spaceship which crash lands in the desert. Soon the alien beings take on the likeness of the people in the town even though their motives remain unclear. This is a rather optimistic view of  the aliens from another planet approach where most of these films contained certain social issues of the time, the aliens here feel more belevolent figures than mostly seen at the time. The film is fun for sci-fi/classic movie buffs such as myself. 3.5 stars out of 4

Best of the Year So Far…

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I can’t say I have seen a lot of films this year, at least ones that have kept my interest, however I have seen very few duds. I have decided only to do a top five since I haven’t seen enough to give you a top ten, however I could’ve easily added room for “Logan”, “Kong: Skull Island”, and “It Comes at Night” on this list, but this is definitely the best films I’ve seen so far this year.

1. John Wick: Chapter Two: Starting with an action packed and hilarious prologue (Thanks to “Fargo’s” Peter Storemare who skims through the first film’s plot in case you missed it), John Wick: Chapter Two adds to the world of assassins and intrigue as it did the first time and never fucking lets up. This is a film so lean, so clear on what it is, and so action packed and visually inventive, I literally don’t remember loving an action movie this much in a long time. Keanu Reeves has found a character that goes towards his strengths, John Wick is low-key, stone faced, and zen all at once. He adds humour even if he doesn’t know it. This time John Wick is called upon a job after taking a blood oath, even though all he wants is peace. He must now kill a whole heck of a lot of people to find that peace, but is that enough? For those of us who find these films utterly, and unapologetically kinetic fun for any action fan, I am excited to see this one of a kind dog lover on his next adventure.

2. Get Out: Unique horror/satire from the mind of Jordan Peele, is a clever, twisty, thriller playing on the ideas of race relations between white privilege and black identity. This movie has fun with subverting what our expectations are, and doesn’t forget to call on the horror movie tropes (It’s all there in the title for crying out loud). The film does a great job at setting up its world and building enough mystery and suspense to keep us intrigued. Peele adds a bit of surrealism into the mix which adds to the paranoia and strangeness going around.

3. The Big Sick: I’ve noticed lately that there have been a lot of indie comedies featuring stand-up comedians playing a version of themselves whilst incorporating the world of stand-up comedy to the plot. For some reason I get turned off by this idea so I’ve missed a lot of these films (I think “Funny People” soured me to the whole idea). However despite this, I found “The Big Sick” to be utterly charming, funny, and sweet. “The Big Sick”gives us Kumail Nanijiani (Who co-wrote the film with his wife) a comedian from Pakistan who falls in love with a white girl which is forbidden in his family, only to have that girl fall into a coma and he realizes how much he loves her. This is based on Nanigiani’s real life experience when he met his wife. The movie has that warm humor and heart that keeps you invested and makes you want the two leads to end up together. Ray Romano and Holly Hunter add great support, this is proof that the romantic comedy is not dead.

4. Wonder Woman: A refreshing take on the super hero genre in that the Amazon Princess doesn’t share the flaws and human traits of the usual brand of Marvel super heroes. What makes Wonder Woman so amazing to see is she is literally a super human knowing what is right and what is wrong, and knowing she has the power to stop it. Wonder Woman carries no shades of grey and this is something that hasn’t been seen since Christopher Reeve embodied so much goodness in “Superman”.  A definite crown-pleaser for the summer, “Wonder Woman” is an empowering, good time at the movies that might make you believe that good can conquer all.

5. The Beguiled: Sophia Coppola’s remake of the Don Seigel/Clint Eastwood film of the same name is a soft poetic chamber piece. Going back to the themes she first explored in her debut film “Virgin Suicides”, this deals with female repression towards sexual awakenings but told as a thriller, when an injured Yankee officer is taken to an all girl school to recuperate. His presence seems to have a different effect on all the girls there until he might be seen as a threat. Coppola (Who won best director at Cannes) has a light touch on the tension being built here, slowlywith little to no music and using the claustrophobic setting to her advantage. This is a very effective art house thriller with great performances particularly by Nicole Kidman as the head mistress, and Kirsten Dunst as the head school teacher.

 

The Long Goodbye

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Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodbye” can be seen as an update of the film noir detective genre. He takes a very familiar character from 40s noir, Phillip Marlowe, who was portrayed by such film legends as Humphrey Bogart, Dick Powell, and Robert Montgomery among others and plants him right in the middle of 1970s counter-culture Los Angeles. The Marlowe seen in the earlier films was usually a white knight in a dark criminal world. He was incorruptible, and usually smarter than everyone else in the room. He was rarely fooled, and was always one step ahead of the criminal. But Altman shows us in the 1970s that his Marlowe is a man out of time, always one step behind the shades of grey characters he stumbles upon, sometimes bumbling onto scenarios he isn’t always in control of. However in the end he’s able to find a new moral code that may not fit so much with the old ways, but he’s still able to come out the hero.

“The Long Goodbye” was adapted from the 1953 Raymond Chandler novel of the same name and was written by Leigh Brackett who co-wrote that other Phillip Marlowe classic “The Big Sleep” which starred Humphrey Bogart as the titular character. Altman was known to play it loose with the script and was not afraid of having his actors improvise, however much of Brackett’s overall outline still lives on in the film, and she was reported to have been “satisfied” by it.

The new Marlowe for this strange world is played by Elliott Gould who to me feels like somewhat of a forgotten star of the 70s even though he made so many important films. We first see Gould’s Marlowe sleeping in his bed when he’s awoken by his hungry cat, for whom he goes to a 24 supermarket for in order to get its favorite cat food. It goes without saying Marlowe loves this cat and speaks to his character that he’s willing to go in the middle of the night in order that its fed.

It’s pretty soon after that Marlowe has to go to great lengths for another friend, this time a human named Terry Lennox (Jim Bouton). Terry wants Marlowe to drive him to Tijuana without much explanation other than a fight with his wife.  Marlowe hardly bats an eye, so being the dutiful friend obliges. The next morning, Marlowe is picked up by the police under suspicion of the murder of Lennox’s wife, then later he learns Lennox himself died from apparent suicide.

This doesn’t add up for Marlowe as the cops believe Lennox is the guilty party, but he constantly defends him. Pretty soon the labyrinth of a plot most accustomed to these types of movies begins to form. Marlowe is hired by the beautiful Mrs. Wade (Nina Van Pallandt) to find her husband Roger Wade (Sterling Hayden), a boisterous alcoholic writer, who is drying out and is at the mercy of a corrupt medical doctor (Henry Gibson). What is their connection to Lennox? There is also a violent gangster Marty Augustine (Mark Rydell) who Lennox owed money to and who thinks Marlowe knows where it is.

The mystery does all come together in the end, but the idea behind the film noir is really in how the story is told. There is the cliché of light and shadow during the old black and white days, while the detectives wore fedoras and trench coats with hazy cigarette smoke filling the screen. Altman plays with these tropes with Marlowe being the only one who is constantly smoking, while his neighbours, who are half-naked hippy girls, mostly meditate, eat hash brownies, and do yoga (this isn’t the time for the classic detective).

The film does have the hazy look which comes courtesy of the late great cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, who also shot Altman’s other genre-bender, the western “McCabe and Mrs. Miller”. Zsigmond shoots Los Angeles like a smoky landscape, very dreamlike complementing Altman’s roaming camera, as it zooms in and out on the people and places all the time. There are moments that seem unreal such as a prominent scene where the camera zooms away from a conversation between two people to focus on a major character in the background running into the ocean about to commit suicide. There is another important cut of violence involving a coke bottle and woman’s face which seems to come out of nowhere making it all the more shocking. Altman was not known for being a very violent director, but when he uses it in his movies, they are like a wake-up call that there is more at stake here than originally meets the eye.

Then there’s the music by John Williams. This is early John Williams before he would become Spielberg’s personal composer and writing for intergalactic space operas. Williams score for this is a smooth jazzy feel which adds to the haziness of the film. Along with that is the recurring title song written by Williams and Johnny Mercer. The song is weaved into the story used with different orchestrations and singers. It compliments the film almost as a hypnotic reminder of how Marlowe is running around in circles unsure of himself, chasing something that isn’t there.

Yet in the peripheral of this story, Altman is using his murder mystery as a sort of  commentary of 1970s America. We aren’t taken too far away from what Altman (A counter-culture hero) thinks is wrong with his country. There’s a reason Marlowe is so confused and can’t keep up with what’s going on, it’s a world that doesn’t make sense to him, a world that is full of people you can’t trust, even those who are close to you. Altman taps into a certain paranoia not seen in the earlier Marlowe iterations. Gould’s Marlowe is so mixed up, at one point he becomes drunk raving at the police and losing his cool, that’s not something Bogart would ever do, yet that’s the point, the times they are a’changin. However despite these changes, Marlowe is still the moral compass, he’s the one you can count on to see what’s right, he’s just having trouble trying to adjust which direction he should go.

I never lived in the 70s, I was born in 1980 so I just missed it. I can’t exactly understand what it would’ve been like to live in that decade but in terms of cinema, I’d like to think Robert Altman was what the 70s really meant to some people. Altman was probably the greatest filmmaker of that defining decade with a prolific filmography which averaged about 1 a year, that’s pretty impressive. Most of his films during that period dealt with America in a lot of ways. Altman sometimes revised many film genres or deconstructed them in order to comment on what America was at the time.  There was never a filmmaker like him, and probably never will be again.

 

Things I Saw In June

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Bit of a slow month for me, I only saw four new movies, but all very good.

Wonder Woman (2017) One of the best super hero films I’ve seen in a long, long, time. Gal Godot’s Amazon Princess is as pure, as selfless, and as righteous as Christopher Reeve’s Superman and thank God. For a genre as homgenized as the Super hero genre, this one felt like a breath of fresh air. Wonder Woman isn’t a complex character and the thrill of this movie is watching her be heroic. Godot shares great chemistry between love interest Chris Pine, and most of the supporting cast is well drawn out. 3 1/2 stars out of 4

The Virgin Suicides (1999) Sophia Coppola’s debut film about a group of sisters who are repressed by their uptight, religious parents and the boys on their street who become obsessed with them. This is visually stunning film like all of Coppola’s films filled with melacholey, but also a dark sense of humour. Kiersten Dunst is a stand-out as the most promiscuous one of the sisters, this is a beautiful film. 3 1/2 stars out of 4

Alien: Covenant (2017) Ridley Scott’s sequel to “Prometheus” is a fairly successful update to the “Alien” franchise, as it continues Scott’s themes of creation, and metaphysics. This is “Prometheus” but with more fan service. We see the Xenomorph in all its glory although the CGI version feels less scary than the original, also I feel Scott isn’t that interested in it. What is interesting is the dual role of Michael Fassbender as android David from the first film and as an updated version of him named Walter. David is the real villain of the film and Fassbender makes him very interesting. The rest of the cast is game too particularly Katherine Waterson taking over the Ripley helm. This film has a lot to say, and the visuals are rich. 3 stars out of 4

It Comes At Night (2017) A great movie that I have no interest in seeing again. This is a grim, dark, film that basically bummed me out in the end, but it is so well made, you have to give it points. Taking place in the near future where some virus has wiped out most of humanity, it follows one family who have locked themselves up in a house fending for themselves, while another family comes into their lives to complicate matters. The film is mostly a thriller concerning itself on the basis on how can you trust someone, and the lengths you will go through to protect your family, and if it’s all worth it in the end. This is all interesting stuff to bring up, although the results are pretty hard to take. I can’t say I enjoyed myself, but the tension is felt throughout and is so well put together, I couldn’t help but admire it, it’s just not a good time. 3 1/2 stars out of 4

 

The Shop Around The Corner

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If I could name maybe one perfect movie, it might just be “The Shop Around The Corner”. Many names can be brought up on this argument, but I might just stick with this film being my answer.

Not many films can capture the delicate elegance this one can capture. It’s light on its feet but has a tinge of darkness to it. It’s full of organic gags that seem to come from thin air, that one can barely notice how they build the film’s structure. It can be funny as well as a bit sad. It’s romantic in a way very few movies are, and cracks open just enough sentimentality that you can swallow it without it becoming too sweet. It’s a charming fantasy romantic comedy that feels very down to earth. It’s all of these things which feel impossible to contain in one movie, yet it does and it’s glorious.

We are told in the opening scroll of the film that the story will focus on the employees of Matuschek and Company, a department store in Budapest. Mr. Matuchek (Frank Morgan) is a bit of a blowhard himself with a short temper but isn’t really a bad sort of guy. He’s seen as a respectable boss who the employees want to please. His lead salesman and surrogate son is Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) a loyal and dependable worker whose opinion Mr. Matuchek values more than anyone else. This is perhaps because Kralik is the only one who can get away with being honest to Matuchek and stand up to him when his blow hardness gets out of hand.

Enter Klara (Margaret Sullivan) a poor sales girl who is out of work and wonders in Matuschek and Co. looking for a job. She pleads to Kralik first who sympathizes with her but frankly says they aren’t hiring at the moment. However she proves herself worthy by being able to sell an annoying music box which Kralik hates but Matuschtek likes, thus securing her a position at the store.

Later we find that Kralik and Klara are not really getting along well with each other as they find any way to bicker and fight. However, little do they know, they happen to be secret pen pals who have been writing to each other anonymously and at the same time falling in love. This would be a nice surprise for both of them if the suspicion of Kralik having an affair with Mr. Matuschek’s wife didn’t complicate matters.

“The Shop Around The Corner” feels very lived in as it focuses on its characters. They are painted as very relateable people who are concerned about everyday things like making a living or spending too much money. There are two separate scenes where the employees hang around the front of the store waiting for Mr. Matuschtek arrival to open the store. Here we see them shooting the breeze as co-workers would, about things that concern them. The dialogue speaks so much as to who they are but it remains playful and very light, for instance there is a bit of gossip about Mr.Matuchek’s wife and how she may have had her face lifted, or Kralik complaining of indigestion after he had too much goose liver at the boss’ house the night before. These moments are very mundane, but there is beauty in the way they are presented as a sort of observational comedy much in the same vein modern comedies have become.

But there is sadness and loneliness crept in these people as well. There is a bit of a quiet struggle within everyone to feel happiness and in that way it leads to a desperation in the love story between Kralik and Klara. They are two people who oppose each other, yet they yearn for the same thing: that feeling of connection one gets when you fall in love. They are both book-worms which might add to their feeling of romance and whimsy to their otherwise unremarkable existence. With Kralik and Klara we see what most of us want out of this world, that break of reality romance can give you. This unrealistic affection builds up this fantasy in their heads as to who their secret pen pal might be, and the film plays on this with pitch perfect aplomb for both parties.

Things start to come ahead when Kralik actually finds out first he’s been corresponding with Klara, and when he sees her in a cafe waiting for her Prince Charming, it ends up being one of the best dialogue scenes in all of cinema. Here we see Kralik sizing himself up with Klara figuring out if she might be someone he could fall in love with. It’s a wonderful two-handed bit of sincerity, flirtation, and contempt, but each one dodging their true feelings the other might have for one another. Stewart and Sullivan are evenly matched here and have never been so charming or sweet. Stewart is known for his “awe-shucks” persona and there is a bit of that here, yet he’s playing someone who is a bit more sophisticated than you might see in the films he made for Frank Capra. He makes Kralik into a bit of a neurotic who’s obsessive compulsive about his place in the department store, which hides away a real insecurity about himself.

Sullivan is one of those great forgotten actresses who sadly isn’t as well-remembered today, even though she starred in three other films with Stewart. Klara is probably her best known role today, and she gives off a wonderful grace with her whispery register to her lines. Klara is the real lonely heart in the film, she is able to convey such hopefulness and sorrow in her eyes, she can break your heart with a glance. As film critic David Thompson noted that the moment Klara looks in an empty mail box as she sees she has received no letter from her pen pal is one of the greatest shots in film history as Sullivan conveys so much heart ache, you just want to reach out to her.

There are so many of these moments, usually done with glances or reactions that draw up so much subtle emotion, despite the film being filled with so much wonderful dialogue. It is worth noting the film’s direction Ernst Lubitsch who is a legend. Lubitsch is known for inventing the modern romantic comedy and is probably as important to the genre as Hitchcock is to thrillers. Lubitsch started in silent films creating wonderful bedroom comedies that involved love triangles, and infidelity. Yet Lubitsch was never one to show too much in his films, rather he always hinted at something more devilish or naughty going on usually by implying it with bits of dialogue or a glance of an actor’s expression. There is a bit of that going on in “The Shop Around The Corner” particularly involving the affair sub-plot with Matuschtek ‘s wife, something that isn’t played so much for laughs as in Lubitsch’s earlier films, but is rather played with subtle pathos. This is the film where Lubitsch comes down to earth a little bit, although not entirely, he’s still able to bring lightness to what could have potentially be dark.

There is a love Lubitsch has for his characters here, and you could sense he was trying to go for something more authentic than he was in his more frivolous though brilliant high-class comedies. Above all he’s staying sophisticated, he never goes for the easy joke, but rather builds his jokes around the world he creates. The humour comes from the situations, the characters, and the tone of the film. Lubitsch never sacrifices the mood for a joke, he wants us to care about these people, not laugh at them, the fact that something funny might happen is part of its charm.

“The Shop Around the Corner” wasn’t that big of a success when it came out, which is a surprise considering Lubitsch was one of the most successful filmmakers at the time. I feel like when it came out, it may have looked like a bit of a modest film, nothing too spectacular about it, it’s a humble story about humble people who are looking for love, it doesn’t strive for anything more. But there is a truth to this film that has made it remain special, it speaks to that yearning in all of us, and that feeling of wanting to be loved and wanting to fall in love. It’s very easy to see ourselves in a film like “The Shop Around the Corner” maybe that’s why it remains so timeless, and so charming. Many films have tried to reach perfection this film has obtained, it’s the type of perfection that is invisible to the naked eye, it doesn’t try to impress us, it’s much to sophisticated for that. When they say “they don’t make em like they used to” you could relate it to “The Shop Around the Corner”, but I would alter it a bit by saying they can’t make em like they used to.