Everest

2015 | dir: Baltasar Kormákur | 121 m

Everest wound up being an incredibly refreshing breath of cinematic fresh air I didn't know I needed. After recently watching some pretty heavy films like Hereditary and Midsommar, Everest was exactly what I needed to clear my palate. It didn't necessarily rise to the top of my all-time favourite movies, but there was something refreshingly earnest about its approach to the disaster movie genre. There were no explosions, natural disasters, evil corporations, or any human antagonists of any variety. Everest simply tells (or tells simply) the story of a disastrous expedition to the summit of the most famous mountain in the world, the highest point on earth at the top of Mount Everest. Up until things go completely sideways - which because this is based on a true story, the audience is expecting the other shoe to drop at some point - proceedings seem to be going quite swimmingly. Which tends to be the way things seem until they don't, I suppose, and the movie does an excellent job at conveying this sense of normalcy. I hesitate to say Everest fosters a sense of complacency, because a huge part of conflict of the film comes from the well-intentioned though ultimately disastrous misprioritizing of other concerns over safety and not a disregard of safety entirely.

The movie does give a sense of how mundane the scaling of Mount Everest seems to have become, in the sense that climbing the famous mountain has been corporatized to a large extent, with a cottage industry of climbing/adventuring companies apparently regularly trekking to the peak with groups of climbers of varying degrees of experience. The impression I got from the movie was that Mount Everest had effectively been franchised and divvied up among these different companies to the point that I couldn't help but immediately think of corporations like McDonalds or Starbucks. I was actually kind of surprised - and a little disappointed - that they didn't at least flash a Starbucks coffee cup or a Big Mac wrapper just to really drive the point home. There was a clear thematic underpinning of the classic clash between the civilized and natural realms, shown through a clearly modern lens where the corporate, ultra-capitalistic gaze sees the world only in terms of what can be bought, sold, commoditized, and/or consumed. It's not even necessarily that the small companies leading groups of tourists to the top of Mount Everest where directly part of that corporate culture, but that the programming from the corporate machine has worked its way into the social source code.

Continue Reading

Resident Evil

2002 | dir: Paul WS Anderson | 100 m

I was roughly fifteen years old when the first Resident Evil game appeared on the Playstation and feeding off the hype of a heavy diet of gaming magazines, I was quick to run out and rent the title to see what the fuss was all about. This wasn’t my introduction to survival horror – that had come in Alone in the Dark on the PC – but it was a giant leap forward and ultimately, not a game that I could really get into. I ignored the first three games but absolutely fell in love with the fourth title, which served as a retooling of the series with the advent of an entirely new gameplay structure and embracing more of the shooter aspect of survival horror. With that being said, I can’t pretend to know anything about the series, including any of the characters or the lore of the world that’s been built up for so long. I approach these films as a bit of an outsider, but my gamer roots and knowledge are not entirely forgotten.

Resident Evil has seen live action films over the course of fourteen years, which I find astounding and I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t remember which ones I’ve seen. Are they that forgettable? On the other hand, Paul WS Anderson and Mila Jovovich have been involved with each film, which must say something (even if it’s just that the films remain profitable).

With a tiny bit of trepidation in revisiting the first Resident Evil movie, I never thought that my main gripe with the film – eighteen years later – would be the film’s soundtrack of heavy rock and metal. While the music and score fit the film just fine, I’ve found my musical tastes have strayed quite far from the genre and served as a firm reminder of the year this film came out. I never minded this entry in the series and have typically regarded it as the best of the bunch: I like the tight corridors and claustrophobic rooms as a setting for being terrorized by not only a group of zombies, but a genetic monstrosity that acts with unflinching motivation. Knowing our group is stuck hundreds of feet underground only adds to the tension: there’s no easy escape.

There’s more silliness in the film than I had remembered, including the flashbacks and much of the dialog, but the story is simple and the action scenes good enough that I walked away feeling satisfied. Without being close to the original games, I won’t pretend to pass judgement on the quality of the adaptation, but I must see this as a victory for “video game movies” in general. What other video game series of films have seen so many sequels?

Housebound

2014 | dir: Gerard Johnstone | 109 m

After seeing Housebound brought up briefly in a discussion thread, I headed immediately into the movie with entirely way too much expectation. As it stands, anything I've seen out of New Zealand in this horror/comedy genre has been top notch, so it seems like the film was destined to disappoint, which is entirely on me. Housebound is pretty simple in premise, but in practice is a nicely layered film. We follow Kylie Bucknell facing house arrest and serving that time at her mother's house which, conveniently enough, is haunted. Kylie is a difficult character to like at the beginning, and her path seems practically predestined from the beginning, which led me to believe the film would lean heavily into the comedic horror of the genre classification tags. As it is, the first half the film succeeds in being pretty creepy, but also such a slow moving film that I found myself checking the runtime and wondering to myself what I've gotten myself into. There are jump scares that felt out of place to my expectations, and more in line with a traditional fright feature, but felt out of place with a cast of amusingly idiosyncratic characters. Resisting the urge to start browsing my phone, I persevered and was rewarded with a wild theatrical third act that disarranged my previous expectations with some clever chaos, plot twists and ultimately a satisfying finish for our criminal friend. It's a testament to heading into a film with expectations in check, something that I failed to do for Housebound and regret: I'm able to look back and properly appreciate the cast of characters, some truly good humour and some incredible suspense with frightening scenes that bests many genre films. 

3.5 / 5

Palm Springs

2020 | dir: Max Barbakow | 90 m

For someone who grew up idolizing Groundhog Day, I had a hefty built-in nostalgia-fueled skepticism of a modern time loop film that could do anything truly innovative or unique with the genre. Palm Springs upends my pessimistic attitude and blew me away: from the moment I saw the trailer a few weeks ago, through watching the film to the mid-credits stinger, I was completely hooked on this time defying romantic comedy. With a stellar script by Andy Siara, Palm Springs follows Nyles (Andy Samberg) and Sarah (Cristin Milioti) as they are seemingly stuck reliving the same day over, and over, and over again. While that seems like familiar territory, the film elevates itself above being a simple clone or rip-off with some fantastic characters and gigantic heart, as well as an acute self-awareness. Indeed, I felt like the film was speaking directly to me – a viewer who is well familiar with the Groundhog Day time loop trope – and indulging in all the meta-topics that friends would discuss about various ramifications of the time-loop mechanic that was established nearly thirty years later.

Such a good script wouldn’t have resulted in such an engaging film without the chemistry of the two leads, and I’m happy to see that Samberg and Milioti bounce off one another brilliantly. I’m liking Samberg in pretty much everything he does, which for some (unfair) reason surprises me with every turn. I restarted watching Saturday Night Live for The Lonely Island’s contributions, and I thoroughly enjoyed 2016’s Popstar. He’s proving himself as a dynamic comedic talent continuously with Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I fell in love with Milioti in The Wolf of Wall Street and her various appearances in great television like Fargo and the more recent Mythic Quest (and I guess How I Met Your Mother). It’s impossible to not get lost in those eyes. Their characters are interesting, layered and sympathetic. I would go into a few examples but wouldn’t want to spoil any moments of the film; it’s pretty short at just ninety minutes and with that kind of runtime, there’s very little waste to be seen on screen, which should make revisiting the film that much more appealing.

I’m very much looking forward to seeing what this group will bring next. 4.5 / 5

Iron Man

 2008 | dir: Jon Favreau | 126 m

What better way to start a new series of posts about Marvel movies than the film that launched an entire cinematic universe and arguably changed the landscape of the modern blockbuster. That film is 2008’s Iron Man, starring a pretty stellar cast led by Robert Downey Jr, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow and Terrance Howard all directed by Jon Favreau in one of the best superhero origin films we’ve ever seen. While you can credit the film for launching the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the film doesn’t focus on that future groundwork and is stronger for it. I can’t imagine that idea being anything but a dream at that point with just a tiny sprinkling of this universe building present in the movie (and of course the juicy post-credits scene). Instead, the film excels because it’s so tightly focused on giving us a grounded origin of an iconic, interesting character and utilizing the talented crew and actors to provide a film with broad appeal that executes blending together an incredible concoction of action, humour and drama.  

Continue Reading

Battle Royale

2000 | dir: Kinji Fukasaku | 113 m

Battle Royale is perhaps the best film about teenagers killing each other for sport ever made. Granted, that's a pretty small pool of movies. Or at least, I hope it is. Normally, I would do a Google search for this kind of thing, but with my browser history the way it is, searching for "movies about children killing each other" might just be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel's back and earns me an impromptu visit from the FBI in the middle of the night. Originally released in 2000, it would take another twelve years for Battle Royale to be released in North America, likely owing more to discussions over film rights than the more romantic notion of the film being banned because it was so provocative and powerful. Battle Royale is both provocative and powerful, but it definitely did not unite world governments to spend any amount of time and effort to actively ban its distribution en masse. This decision is much to their own detriment, however, as Battle Royale is also a truly subversive film, calling into question the shifting nature of the relationship societies have with their young people, what it means to be both a child and an adult in a modern world, and exactly what is the nature and power of the social bonds between human beings. It also calls into question the amount of blood contained in the human body, because if the characters in this movie are any indication, we are essentially walking balloons filled to the breaking point with blood ready to be popped.

Continue Reading

Man of Steel

2013 | dir: Zack Snyder | 143 m

Sometimes, things in life have a way of working out, but not without a little dedication and investment. Nearly a decade ago, I began tracking every movie I watched, and although I was reluctant to give the films a proper rating, I did so anyway. Just before DC released Man of Steel, I created an account on IMDb (then shortly afterward on Letterboxd) and started tracking these films, giving them a basic rating – which is, and maybe always has been, a gut-reaction number I assign the film twenty-four hours after seeing it – and went on my merry way. Seeing my watch history of Man of Steel makes me curious if it was one of the first films that spurred me to record the films I watch and realize my long-thought-of goal to analyze any particular movie to see if it gets better, or worse, with time. This was a project that I had played around with before, but I was able to fully realize it with the tracking capabilities of Letterboxd. Indeed, I can click on Man of Steel and see that it’s been logged (i.e., watched) three times since June of 2013:

June 25, 2013: 3.5 / 5 

December 1, 2013: 2.5 / 5 

June 11, 2014: 3 / 5 

Within twelve months, I experienced a ride on a slow-moving roller coaster of mediocrity in terms of my feelings for Man of Steel, but I ended my run at a lower tier than my first viewing. What went wrong? 

Continue Reading

The Wizard

 

1989 | dir: Todd Holland | 100 m

Being eight years old upon initial release in 1989, The Wizard would meld together a love of video games and movies to prove itself as a tent pole film of my youth. While you could dismiss the film as a generic, maybe slightly messy, road-trip family drama whose purpose was to exist as an advertising vehicle for both Nintendo’s games and hardware and Universal Studio’s theme park, it was certainly lost on us as children, and more importantly, it didn’t matter. We’re talking about an age where video games were often regarded as a waste of time for children and any degree of validation in the form of popular culture was going to be embraced and met with a high level of excitement. What an amazing experience it would have been to see your favourite games showing up on the big screen, being played by actors you recognize, only to have the climax of the film reveal what would become the biggest game of the era (Super Mario Bros. 3). Yet, I don’t recall seeing this in theatres in ‘89 but I can safely say I watched this with friends many times in the years following. 

When the Shout Select title was announced, I was quick to place my preorder online, and not shortly after release it appeared at my doorstep than I realized it may be close to twenty years (or more) since I last watched this film. It may have fell into that category of dangerous nostalgia: where you loved a film as a child so much that revisiting the film as an adult would reveal all the terrible components of the film while leaving you with the heavy weight of shame as you question your youthful ignorance and interests. As I've matured I have fully embraced a lifetime of ever-changing and evolving interests and tastes and freed myself of the shackles of shame which has opened the doors to guilt-free indulgence (at least, with movies). With that, I prepared my viewing nest: drawing the curtains to a close, getting the popcorn popped and loading a soda with ice to make it as cold as possible. I was ready for a wave of childhood nostalgia to crash over me. 

Continue Reading

Outbreak

1995 | dir: Wolfgang Petersen | 127 m

In light of the ongoing global pandemic, the likes of which the (post)modern world has never seen, I, like many other viewers, have also begun to watch movies and TV shows with similar subject matter. There are a couple of titles that tend to top most lists of pandemic-relevant films, and since I'd just happened to watch Contagion a short while before all of this craziness started in earnest, I found myself stuck with sitting down to watch Outbreak, a staple of schlocky '90s blockbusters. Despite living through those turbulent times and thriving on a steady diet of cinema from that decade, I had somehow never actually watched this sucker before. It did, of course, garner a certain reputation, and I had often seen compared with Contagion, and not favourably.

Unfortunately, that reputation and those comparisons turned out to be true. Outbreak is bloated and unrefined in all of the ways that Contagion is focused and polished. If Contagion is the valedictorian turned brain surgeon of the family, then Outbreak is the sibling still sleeping on their parents' couch waiting for his career as a YouTube star / extreme sports athlete to take off. I was kind of bummed, because I'm generally a fan of Wolfgang Petersen's films and name. You can't go wrong with top-tier Petersen, like Das Boot, Troy, Air Force One, or... The Neverending Story? OK, you definitely can't go wrong there. I even have a particular soft spot for Enemy Mine, which while arguably not top-tier, is still some pretty great '80s fare. I felt like Outbreak kind of got a little out of hand, though. I just imagine the writers sitting in the writer's room having written themselves into a narrative corner, then suddenly looking up at each other at the exact same moment in a state of sheer revelatory ecstasy, and shouting "Helicopter chase!" in feverish unison. 

Continue Reading