The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean

1972 | dir: John Huston | 120 m

When I asked Cale for a list of western's off the top of his head that I could add to our "Western November" month, I was provided with a succinct list of verifiable classics of the genre. Near the top of the list though, was an exception, and with it, carried a bit of skepticism. The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean was sandwiched between Shane and The Searchers, with a little note: "that's a weird one if you can get it." Well of course, I had to get it, and he was quick to follow up with another note: "I think you'll enjoy that one; it's a little off-kilter." None of the other films really warranted viewer discretion or recommendation, so it immediately shot to the top of my list and I took it in, without knowing anything about the film. I was quite very pleasantly surprised. This is the issue: I've neglected western's throughout my life, only taking in some of the modern ones (like Tombstone and more recently, Unforgiven) and never really had to bear any shame for it. Being hesitant to even begin a project of focusing a month on them was daunting, but I know it was time to take me out of my comfort zone; Judge Roy Bean was the perfect movie to do so.

As the film starts out, we're given some on-screen narration and an introduction scene that finds our Judge taking over a small community and declaring himself the law; it plays out a bit oddly, but I was intrigued regardless. As the title would suggest, we follow Roy Bean's life as he turns this small community into a prosperous outpost in the west, which doesn't exactly sound enticing but the film managed to capture me as soon as I figured out that the movie is mostly a comedy (it may have taken me too long to figure this out). Everything is done fairly tongue in cheek, with some absurdity thrown in and a dose of serious moments that had me thinking that my friend was absolutely right to put this at the top of the list of westerns to see. 

Rating: 3.5 / 5

The Exorcist

1973 | dir: William Friedkin | 122 m

Its become apparent that over the past couple of years that not only horror has taken over my main movie watching, but the slasher sub-genre has hacked its way to the forefront. Yet there is a wealth of other incredible content that has been pushed to the side, including The Exorcist. Not unlike the other franchises I've spent time with lately, I saw The Exorcist decades ago; unfortunately I didn't have the foresight to catalog my views so the experience is practically nonexistent save that it did, indeed, happen. Regardless, it was time to revisit something outside the slasher world; I started with some supernatural in the realm of Insidious, and as Halloween approached I spun my disc for The Exorcist. This film just keeps getting better with time, right? The Exorcist has permeated popular culture to the point where my own memories of the film are replaced entirely with all the parodies, homages and call outs; it was surprising then, that most of the exorcism itself - the element that is most referenced - takes up a brief amount of time near the end of the film and while I did not time it, felt like it ended relatively quickly. But that's not a negative: this film takes its time and builds up properly, with incredible tension and wonder leading all the way to the thrilling conclusion. Everything in this film felt earned; no shortcuts and nothing unnecessary filling the runtime. I would behest to say The Exorcist is one of those films that feels like cinema, if that even makes sense: these films wake up that part of my brain that remembers "oh yes, THIS is why I love movies so much."

Rating: 4.5 / 5

The Lighthouse

2019 | dir: Robert Eggers | 110 m

This review may contain spoilers.

It's been nary twenty four hours since somberly leaving the theatre after watching The Lighthouse and I'm still unsure what I just witnessed, but I do have a feeling I just participated in something unique, and maybe even great. Throughout the nearly two hour runtime of the film, I was mesmerized from beginning to end, and there were many moments that have stuck with me, with noted significance on the performances by Patterson and Dafoe: they were incredible. Dafoe's Thomas Wake has a few close shot monologues that had me pouring over every word, every movement of his face and terrified as I gazed into those unblinking eyes. Pattinson plays Winslow, a newcomer in the lighthouse keeping world: he is adamant to perform his duties by the book, but is quickly (or maybe it's slowly) rolled over by Wake's relentless task-driving and unwillingness to adhere to anyone's rules but his own. Wake keeps the upper portion of the lighthouse off limits to Winslow, which - combined with living in such small quarters with someone and a belligerent seagull - drive him slowly mad. As the audience, we never venture away Pattinson's perspective and can't help but feel that madness reach out at us from the square frame of the lens. We question how much time has passed; we wonder if some of this is in Winslow's mind; we beg to know what's so special in the lighthouse. There's a degree of quirky humour throughout as well that perfectly complemented the weight of brewing terror.  The sound is ominous, loud and frightening. The black and white, square aspect ratio feels purposefully claustrophobic at times and beautifully unique throughout. 

I really look forward to seeing this one again.

Rating: 4 / 5


2017 | dir: Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury | 88 m

Just a few short weeks ago I launched into my journey to view all the Texas Chainsaw Massacre films; it's a project like those that came before it for Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, but I was not prepared for how many Chainsaw movies there actually were. Or even how the "timeline" of these may be more messed up than the Halloween series. Alas, the final movie was upon me and I was looking forward to wrapping this series up, as I became nauseated with the ups and downs of quality throughout. Leatherface does away with the Massacre moniker presumably since it's (yet another) origin story of our miscreant psychopath, but I do feel as though it would belong: it's firmly planted in the "family comes first at all costs" that the entire series has been consistent with. In an effort to differentiate or perhaps re-invent the series, this movie tries to play tricks on you but to no real consequence; the story is familiar as we follow a group of young adult killers escaping from a mental institution and committing some truly horrific and nonsensical crimes. Yet it doesn't go all in on that, because we still have to find out what makes Leatherface, well, Leatherface; so much of the chaotic momentum is cut short as the film has to circle back to the original exposition. Nothing really stands out in this entry and I'm having difficulty remembering anything about the film a few short days after watching it. The franchise comes to a close - for now - with expected disappointment. I suppose it could have been much worse.

Rating: 1 / 5

Texas Chainsaw 3D

2013 | dir: John Luessenhop | 92 m

Regretfully, I did not get to see this movie in theatres in proper 3D, and it's too bad: I feel as though the horror-style 3D effects that are so common in the genre when it utilizes the technology are so over-the-top that they add a layer of cheese and fun that other movie genres cant' get away with. That being said, it's still blatantly obvious when these effects are going all in while watching in regular 2D, and I can't help but chuckle every time. Oddly enough, this entry in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series picks up exactly where the original left off - then advances some twenty or thirty years (the time passed is messed up anyway). So many of the other entries pick up much later or re-tell the original in a different way, so it was refreshing to see some of the actors even come back to complete some scenes for the aftermath of the climax of the 1974 original. However, as we advance to modern times the movie feels like a lacklustre attempt; it falls behind the two remakes and I can't help but wonder why they didn't continue in that universe. The characters (as usual) are pretty unlikeable, although this film takes them a step further with some sympathy for Leatherface and making villains out of the local townspeople. The climax of the film is baffling and will leave a bad taste for sure, and I was glad when it was all over. It feels like this movie would get better with repeated viewings though: there is plenty of blood, thrills and mayhem.

Rating: 1.5 / 5

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning

2006 | dir: Jonathan Liebesman | 91 m

I was reminded of watching Ouija, followed by it's prequel and remarking that the prequel ended up being much better than the first film. Going in with that logic, I was expecting a similar treatmeant but alas, The Beginning is not a better film than the The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake from just a couple of years previous. I see why this movie was made but don't really see any reasoning on why this movie exists on screen. R Lee Ermey gets a lot more screen time here and I can't complain about that, nor really the film as a whole. One thing that really stuck with me in a review I read was how this film makes Leatherface "a less sympathetic character" and it's spot on: the previous films explored different sides of Leatherface, to a point where he was an ineffective killer and easily persuaded/scared by his own family. He didn't choose to be the way he was: he was born into that family and it dictated all his actions; he was almost endearing. This prequel removes all that character development and familiarity that we've received in the first four films: Leatherface is a killer through and through, and his family reacts to HIS choices, not the other way around anymore. Granted, this is a prequel to a remake, so both versions of this character can co-exist: we haven't revisited this version again which might tell you everything you need to know about the subject.

For a slasher horror film it's difficult to say this disappoints as the gore is amplified and we're treated to some really grotesque displays of terror including Leatherface creating his first mask. The sequels have always struggled to keep up with the legend of the original Massacre as a shocking film, and I'm sure it was (although the skeptic in me believe it's mostly marketing); this entry treads tightly on the unbelievable and ridiculous: wherein events in previous movies felt more organic - that is, in how our group falls upon The Family - The Beginning feels smashed together and loose, although in retrospect that maybe makes sense, as it's not just the origin of Leatherface but of the family getting a taste for their murderous routine.

Rating: 2 / 5


Gemini Man

2019 | dir: Ang Lee | 117 m

I got a weird feeling from Gemini Man, and I'm fairly certain it wasn't the high frame rate (HFR) 3D, although you have to take into consideration the way the film was shot when assessing the overall score, I will try to separate them as best I can. There's nothing much to be said for the plot or story of this film: you've seen the trailers so you know the core premise that Will Smith's uber-agent character is cloned and they must face off against one another.  The way they put them together is a bit cliched as you roll your eyes gently (but not too much because you don't want to miss the incredible 3D effects) as the film takes its sweet time getting to where you know it's going. Immediately after coming out of the theatre I found myself picking apart many of the small things in the film which never feels good, but in this case those small things seemed to be related to plot points that the characters kept mentioning in dialogue but seemed superfluous to the story itself. Given the film was shot in 3D, there is very little depth to our characters as good opposes evil and there is little ambiguity to play with; some of the acting came across as tired, as I often wondered if they shot too many takes or not enough for the performers to find their groove.

As middling as the movie was, the HFR and 3D were the primary driving force to seeing this movie on the big screen. It did not disappoint. My only other experience with HFR at the movies was seeing The Hobbit films; I recognized the odd movement and motion (for example, characters appearing to walk quickly) but that melted away after a short adjustment period. Gemini Man did not seem to suffer the same way: while the motion was incredibly smooth and noticeable, I did not find it distracting at all; instead, I was caught up in the wonder of the image quality itself. It certainly helps that Lee shot most of the film in bright daylight in exotic locales, and many of the action scenes were done at night (to presumably cover up the CGI). I'm sure the HFR effect is off-putting to many but I was fully engrossed in it as it presents a clarity that goes unmatched without. Ang Lee plays with the combination of HFR and 3D to interesting effect - like a scene shot with a fish-eye lens as a high speed train rushes past but I can't help but feel that these technical achievements come at the expense of the movie itself. 

Rating: 2.5 / 5

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

2003 | dir: Marcus Nispel | 98 m

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake (or maybe this is a reboot) feels much more natural than some of the other horror franchises I've gorged myself with in the past year, like Friday the 13th or even A Nightmare on Elm Street, and I have to attribute it to the fairly inconsistent sequels and the years that separated them. Whereas with something like Friday the 13th, they managed to keep some semblance (albeit VERY loose) of continuity in the numerous sequels, Texas Chainsaw didn't adhere to anything as there seemed to be soft reboots/remakes throughout without sticking necessarily to a stringent timeline. This 2003 reboot takes the biggest leap of all the sequels and firmly plants itself as a chainsaw for the modern era. It doesn't transplant our massacre to modern times, instead recreating the timeline in the mid-70s, and upping the terror by splashing ludicrous amounts of gore and making more impactful shocking moments than the original sequels could muster. At first I thought this was a relatively generic slasher film that just so happened to star our beloved Leatherface and his psychotic family, but it's because it stars them (shout out to the late R Lee Ermey) that the film is elevated beyond caricatures of the tropes that the original film pioneered. We're treated to some real visceral, disturbing scenes as we watch Leatherface and the family terrorize our group of travelers and I was engaged the entire runtime. Initially I thought my rating would be higher because of nostalgia as I reminisce about seeing the film with friends in an old-style theatre (that is, one where actual plays and events go on with a stage), but the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that this remake stands above.


Rating: 3 / 5

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation

1994 | dir: Kim Henkel | 95 m

 Not only does Renee Zellweger appear in this atrocious entry in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, but Matthew McConaughey appears in full force as well: they very well could be the best thing about this film. McConaughey plays Leatherface's brother Vilmer and does in fact surpass the popular chainsaw wielding villain in terms of scares. Zellweger doesn't have much to do here but play the classic final girl trope as best as anyone and is in fact, the only character in the film that passes as a decent person. The rest of the characters are all awful and the film doesn't skirt around it at all: you find yourself rooting for both good and bad folk to die gruesome deaths, but yet the film doesn't really deliver there either. I read somewhere (and I apologise as I didn't bookmark it) that perhaps the film is a commentary on the franchise itself, if not horror movies in general during this time frame: villains are reduced to a fraction of what they were before (as Leatherface is the weakest part of the killer family here) and the kills fail to deliver just as the industry focuses on bringing these movies to a larger audience through more broad PG-13 ratings and therefoce, excise much of the gore and terror that the originals are known for. If that's the case, then kudos to the director et al who created this chaotic film. Otherwise, I'll judge it as the weakest of the series (so far) but give it credit for a delightful performance in McConaughey and for at least trying something a bit different.

Rating: 1 / 5