| dir: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
If I accomplish one thing before I die, I'd be happy just having spread the good word about the work of filmmakers Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, like a UFO cult member spreading the good news of the end of days. I had never heard of Resolution until recently, but what I did hear was, well, not a lot. I went into this film knowing hardly anything about it, and I have to say, I was absolutely blown away. Even though I was watching Resolution some eight years after the fact, I felt like I was back on the cutting edge of visionary filmmaking instead of caught up in the digestive tract of the the bloated mutant that is the Hollywood blockbuster; I was once again surfing the wave instead of treading water in a constantly rising tide.
As many before me have pointed out, there are some obvious similarities between Resolution and the more prolific Cabin in the Woods which came out the year before. Without getting too far into spoiler territory, both films deal with supernatural entities who can seemingly only be appeased by ritualistic, recurring human narratives. Unlike Cabin in the Woods, however, Resolution leaves much more to the imagination, most likely because of the $20,000 micro-budget, which ends up working to its benefit. The scale of Resolution is much more intimate, staying tightly focused on the trials and tribulations of two friends. Michael (Peter Cilella) is making a last-ditch effort try and help his long-time friend Chris (Vinny Curran) overcome his hardcore drug addiction with a forceful, week-long detox program that involves handcuffing him to an exposed pipe in the dilapidated cabin in which he happens to be squatting until he gets clean.
| dir: Cathy Yan
From the very beginning, Birds of Prey was going to face an uphill battle. Being a semi-spinoff of the panned Suicide Squad was not going to do this film any favours, but bringing the focus entirely on that film’s brightest spot was certainly the right move and a promising decision. Harley Quinn explodes onto screen with a flurry of colours, boisterous music and incredible energy, all of which made the film a joy to watch. However, there was something that just didn’t connect with me, and I reckon to reason that it’s the core storytelling technique put to use here, although I can’t discount the sad, nearly empty IMAX screening experience as setting a certain tone and expectation.
The movie bounces back and forth numerous times and honestly, just wore me out. Utilizing Black Mask’s night club as the hub, the story will progress, then quickly roll back in time often enough that I felt the trope had run its course. To credit, the technique certainly lends a hand to the anarchy on-screen and probably improved the flow of the plot, which is a relatively straightforward and never a bad thing, especially when you put Margot Robbie’s incredible performance at the forefront. With that, I couldn’t really find anything else to really lay against this movie negatively, except perhaps that I was exhausted by the end of it.
| dir: Mike Flanagan
The anticipation for Doctor Sleep was quite real, as both my regular theatre-going friend and I were eager to buy our ticket and watch this followup to The Shining, but there was an issue: Jojo Rabbit came out around the same time, and there was a certain fear that Jojo – being a “smaller” film – would disappear from local cineplexes fairly early. Indeed, there have been times when these movies only see a week in town before heading off. Doctor Sleep was going to be a big movie, and would stick around for a while, right? The decision was made, and we bought our tickets for a Tuesday evening showing of Jojo Rabbit. The first hint that something was amiss should have been the comically absent lobby poster for the film; in its stead, was a black and white 8x10 tacked unceremoniously in the poster’s large glass case. We interpreted that sign as a clue that we were correct, but we couldnt’ be more wrong: Doctor Sleep quickly disappeared from the theatre, while Jojo remained there for weeks upon weeks (and yes, that tiny make-shift poster followed it to the different screens at that theatre). With quiet indignity, we set forth with resolve to watch Doctor Sleep as soon as it hit home video.
Last week I ventured out and bought the UHD release; a relatively bold move considering the price and unwatched nature of the film, but I figured if it was truly bad, I could quickly sell it for an eighth of the price and maybe pawn the digital code off online. In reality, I knew that would not be the case. We planned it carefully: being a slightly longer movie, we would bring dinner (that is, pizza) back to my place, and get an early start on the film – it measures in at two and a half hours, so yes, that means no director’s cut upon first viewing. I had watched The Shining a few weeks ago (it has a recently released beautiful 4k UHD on the market) and my friend did the same. This was not the first time that I had seen the film, and unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able recollect that particular memory, so I’ll play it safe and say I watched it with my film-obsessed roommates back in the early aughts that I unceremoniously refer to as “the university days” where we probably spent more time watching movies than studying, and my biggest regret is not skipping an entire night’s sleep to watch The Godfather trilogy. I did rewatch The Shining a couple of times over the years, but felt as though I really delved into it with vigor just a couple of weeks back. Immediately I signed the digital copy of Stephen King’s book out from the local library so I could better prepare for Doctor Sleep, which takes on the unenviable task of trying to please both readers of the books, and fans of Kubrick’s 1980 film. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, as I only meandered my way through a fifth of the book before movie night was upon me, and Doctor Sleep was finally happening.
| dir: Alexandre Aja
I probably wouldn’t have sought out Crawl if it wasn’t for a couple of things; the first one being that it’s produced by the beloved Sam Raimi and directed by the intriguing Alexandre Aja, who has some decent films under his belt, including Horns and Mirrors (which I remember watching nearly a decade ago and being legit nervous to look in the mirrors of my apartment when I got home). The second, more prominent reason for Crawl to float to the top of my watchlist was just how many damn alligator movies that I’ve been watching with my friends lately. It started innocently enough with a couple of Australian pictures (and yes, they were crocodiles there and my inexperienced Canadian-reptile brain doesn’t know much of the difference) then into a couple of North American releases aptly named “Alligator” and unoriginally, “Alligator 2.” They were tremendously fun films – maybe it was the foreign feel of a giant lizard roaming about: I’ve seen enough movies about bears to know to be on the lookout for them here in my native country, but alligators are so far removed from what I would expect walking in the woods, or, in the case of some of these, finding in my basement.
This movie checked all the boxes of the horrors of man-eating alligators that I know about, which is mostly that they will bite your limbs and once they got you, perform their patented Death Roll, which will either drown you or use centrifugal force to rip your limbs off (which may not be scientifically accurate but this is fact in my mind). Moving along at a brisk eighty eight minutes, Crawl goes further and checks off the prerequisites for some apex predator horror, including some effective jump scares, adequate gore and a healthy dose of on screen deaths that never feels excessive. I wasn’t entirely sure where the story was going: having seen the first bit of Sharknado years ago (falling asleep from heat stroke midway through and never seeing the reason to finish it off) I kind of assumed we would be going location to location within Florida as we try to run away from The alligator, but what Aja did here was more traditional and effective. We follow a woman trying to find her father as a hurricane approaches, then promptly getting stuck in the basement of their house, trapped by injuries and really pissed off gators. I’m glad there were so many of them, although I can’t comment on their behaviour, or if they would treat hurricane conditions with such ferocious glee, but it worked for this film.
The generated establishing shots of the hurricane and town feel a bit off right from the beginning, and it’s no surprise to find out the film wasn’t even shot ‘on location’ in Florida, but in the far off lands of Serbia. With most of the film taking place in tight quarters and obviously a water-logged set, I left with a sense of efficient budgetry: where they may skimp on those shots earlier are made up with some decent looking gators, although I may be too used to the mid-80s animatronic alligators from the past few months, so anything looks great now. I’m not convinced though that’s it: I was sufficiently pulled into the action on-screen and invested in the simple narrative to take much heed to technical details, or bother myself with analysing plot and character choices. Crawl got the job done, and did it well. We may take a little break from alligator movies for a bit and further explore the wild boar horror that we saw a few weeks ago in 1984’s Razorback. I remain hopeful Raimi and Aja can thrill us some more with further wild animal thrillers.
2019 | dir: Tim Miller | 128 m
Terminator: Dark Fate is another in a long line of belated Terminator sequels that I will have to try to actively forget. In this case, it shouldn't be too hard. Terminator: Dark Fate was an utterly forgettable film, but at least it wasn't aggressively bad like the previous entry in the series, Terminator: Genyisys. (I still die a little inside whenever I read that title). Why are studios still subjecting us to these sequels? And perhaps more importantly, why are audiences still subjecting themselves? The obvious answer is that because the original Terminator is an iconic sci-fi film and Terminator 2: Judgement Day is widely regarded as one of the greatest (if not the greatest) action movies of all time, they set the bar so high and piqued our interest so much, that we're willing to risk laying down our hard-earned cash for utter garbage just for the slim chance to chase that high again.
And like most junkies, Terminator fans still haven't learned our lesson. For some insane reason, despite all obvious evidence to the contrary, I had incredibly high hopes going into Dark Fate. Alas, any hope I had was wiped out quicker and more thoroughly than humanity in a thermo-nuclear war launched by a rogue AI. We've had a mixed bag when its come to decades-later sequels. For every Blade Runner 2049 there seems to be a A Good Day to Die Hard. But with Dark Fate, they got the band back together. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton reprising their roles as an unstoppable killing machine and Sarah Connor, a waitress turned commando, respectively. James Cameron back to... produce. Well, that's something, I guess. It was a direct sequel to Terminator 2, ignoring or retconning (as all the cool kids are saying these days) all of the other Terminator films that came before it save the first two, if not out of existence, then at least out of the canon. Then, right out of the gate, Dark Fate tries to pull an Alien 3 opening, failing to do so, and setting the stage for disappointment right there. Don't promise me the long-awaited return of Edward Furlong as John Conner, for that kind of nonsense. Alien 3's decision to kill off main characters from the previous film rather unceremoniously still doesn't sit right with me, but I can appreciate what David Fincher was trying to achieve in the context of the story, and it made sense. Dark Fate's similarly dark opening just felt cheap by comparison. I've felt cleaner after leaving a Russian brothel than I felt after watching that opening.
| dir: Gary Fleder
I didn’t even see Franco’s glaring mug at the bottom of the poster for Homefront: seeing his name in the opening credits brought a chortled laugh, but then the names kept coming. Winona Ryder. Kate Bosworth. Clancy Brown. Frank Grillo! Screenplay by Sylvester Stallone! What madness have I draped myself into, this quiet, cold Sunday January evening. With the popcorn sufficiently covered in seasoning and a cold soda on the end table, I continued my journey into the neglected, unwatched films of my digital movie collection. After coming off a series of decent films on, the previous week, including The Elephant Man, Comet, and Joe, I approached Homefront with some hesitation; indeed, I’m not a BIG Statham fan and by that, I should say I don’t go out of my way to watch his films but I don’t shy away either when they’re on (I haven’t see all the Crank movies or Transporter films).
As I was prepared to bury myself in my phone for the duration of the movie, I found that I couldn’t take my eyes away throughout the runtime of Homefront. The story was predictable, but adequate and absolutely average in every way; there’s nothing that offended my non-critic palate. In fact, I found that Stallone’s characters served the plots devices in exactly the way they should be: they pissed me off when they should, they do stupid things because they are stupid people, and Statham’s character is an over-the-top superhero agent that can avoid bullets and serious injury in only the way action movies of the 80s could adhere. Never does a moment materialize throughout the film that would have you feeling tension, especially when it comes to the safety of the hero himself, and his daughter proves early in the film that she’s no slouch either. She’s a badass kid that doesn’t back down, but does fall victim to the plot later on – what movie of this caliber could do without a shot of a boat speeding down a calm river, after all.
Why did I get this film in the first place? It’s a question I find myself pondering as I look through my movie collection from time to time; maybe I read a quick review that made it sound good. Maybe I needed Stallone’s script in my life. Maybe I just needed a straightforward action film. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I had it and finally gave the movie the time it deserved. It doesn’t run very long and has a pretty decent pace; the action is satisfying, from the bone breaking moments to the barrage of gunfire later on. Maybe it’s time to finish off The Expendables trilogy.
| dir: Jon Harris
Any sequel to The Descent was going to have a hard time, so expectations going into this were fairly low. Indeed, I didn't even know this movie existed; I had seen The Descent at home long after release and it became an instant classic and put away as a film too scary to watch again. Not necessarily because the horror of the creatures, but moreso the claustrophobic passages and situations the women find themselves in. I shudder just thinking about it. But, as I get older and a tiny bit more brave I found myself needing to revisit the original before tackling the sequel, and I'm happy to report that I enjoyed it even more the second time around. Depending on which version of The Descent (having different endings) you saw/remember, Part Two will begun with some confusion, but this is easily remedied with a quick web query. Unfortunately the bewilderment doesn't stop there: Sarah - our protagonist and sole survivor of the first - is found two days after the events of the first and is immediately brought into the hospital. The local sheriff is suspicious as Sarah is covered in blood that's not her own, and wants answers. We're then waking her up (the doctor just ordered rest) and bringing her BACK into the cave system she just escaped from (of course she's lost some of her memory or maybe she would put up a bit of a fight). The movie nearly lost me when the two police officers go down into the cave with her and the search and rescue team: these cops have no real (established) training in the underground, and are completely out of their element. With this absurdity in line, we're pretty much treated to exactly what you were expecting. The element of suspense is gone because you - the viewer - know exactly what's down in the depths. The claustrophobia of the first movie is all but erased with well-lit underground caverns and a focus on more action than claustrophobic scares. While all the characters seemed to act appropriately in the original, the characters here are one-dimensional and exaggerated in their ridiculous motives (yes again I point out the sheriff, who in a life threatening situation can't see the dangers around him and insist on hindering everyone).
So the film may have lost me within the first twenty minutes, yet I couldn't help but feel entertained and go along with the ride on the remainder of the film. We certainly get more action, but we don't really get to expand on the lore around these underground carnivores. Part Two gives us another controversial ending, and I was too lazy (and I didn't care enough) to see if maybe there would be another alternate take. At this point it probably doesn't matter: after ten years we've yet to see a Part Three, but I wouldn't be opposed to one. As far as horror franchises go we've been through much worse.
| dir: Jack Clayton
After accepting that The Haunting didn't sit well with me, I was expecting some more classic horror disappointment, but from start to finish, I found The Innocents creepy, fascinating and incredible. Deborah Kerr as Miss Giddens, a woman who has been charged with the niece and nephew of a wealthy man, all the while caring for his estate in the country (with the help of a crew of grounds and house keepers). Of course, things immediately go sideways as she suspects to see and hear things in and around the house itself as her paranoia increases. The return of the nephew kicks things into gear as he seems to behave a bit odd, unlike a child his age; maybe it's just his personality, right? The film is full of beautiful composition, the black and white imagery is quite striking and atmosphere is perfect. Kerr plays the part wonderfully and as her paranoia increases your own skepticism grows in tandem. Every scene where the nephew, Miles, appears in, is stolen by Martin Stephens; this kid really shines and his interactions with Miss Giddens are entrancing. There are some really chilling parts here, including the kiss scene, where I could feel my soul slowly rising up from my seat, mouthing "w...t...f..." and applauding the film later on when it turns proves itself instrumental to the story and not being some strange byproduct of a different time. There are no real mistakes here as every element of each frame is carefully placed.
The Innocents has really stuck with me; an entire month later and it's still in my head. Expect this one to jump into some favourites lists later on.