The Changeling

1980 | dir: Peter Medak | 103 m

Hopefully you don't mind a little context for this. I've tasked myself over the past few months to follow along with The Evolution of Horror podcast series as they take on the various genres of horror; first was slashers, and now we're onto 'ghosts' and as a result, I've been watching a decent number of older ghost-related movies (as evidenced by a few quick entries on this very site). There's been one problem though: I've found my mind wandering and quickly becoming bored with many of these films; I felt especially bad for The Haunting, which is highly spoken of but I could barely sit through it without checking my phone and yes, even excusing myself from the room brush my teeth during one particular scene. So I was nervous to continue on this trend, less I don't give these movies the respect they deserve - although honestly some of them may not: nobody is saying they all have to be good. My friend suggested turning my phone off while the movie is on, so I took it a step further: I let my battery drain to under 10% - and those who know me will realize how scandalous this is - and put it in another room while it was charging.

So either a) this strategy worked, or b) The Changeling actually engaged me. 

The first half of The Changeling had me sufficiently spooked, with some fairly typical haunted occurrences happening to George C Scott's character, John Russell, in his newly leased, comically large and gothic semi-abandoned mansion. What really gets me here is now nonplussed Scott is in his reactions to these obviously supernatural happenings, although to be fair - in a home this size - you could believe one of the staff stuck around after their shift and decided to mess about by turning on the fourth-floor bathroom's tub, and the rest may be sleep-derived hallucinations. At no point is it inferred that John may be losing sleep to these things; instead, he explores casually and encourages what could be a spirit by inviting the best known seance folks in to reach out to what he suspects is the spirit of a child. The scene itself is quite engaging and I was on the edge of my seat. 

As we reach the halfway point of the film, it takes a bit of a turn into a more traditional mystery: we've established the place is haunted, and John is motivated to uncover the mystery of just why its haunted. Maybe in this universe it's a more common occurrence or he's just emotionally turned to dust from having lost his family in a tragic incident years previous, but he seems to accept that yes, there are ghosts and yes, that kind of confirms an afterlife. It seems like a tremendous wasted opportunity that he doesn't approach any angles to maybe reach out to his daughter, or find any way to communicate with her. Instead, he focuses on helping the house's boy, and begins piecing together the mystery that shall eventually uncover the titular changeling itself. The film reaches a crescendo for me when John convinces a stranger to cut a giant hole in their child's bedroom (with the help of the child seeing a ghost there themselves) in order to uncover a long-buried well that might contain some human remains. The rest blazes a quick trail to the ultimately satisfying conclusion to this ghost story.

And I can conclude that at no point during this movie was I tempted to jump into the other room to grab my phone: The Changeling was too engaging to miss.


Rating: 3 / 5

Knives Out

2019 | dir: Rian Johnson | 130 m

Tightly woven from start to finish, Knives Out served as a nice departure from regular theatre trips with some incredibly acting and smart dialogue. The "whodunnit" genre is not one I typically venture into; a few years ago I took in Murder on the Orient Express and left with a fairly bland take on the forgettable film, and this was my concern with Knives Out. But, seeing the trailers skew generally into more comedy and quirkiness, I found myself venturing out to tackle the genre again. I did not leave disappointed. There's an incredible cast of acting going on here, and Rian Johnson's writing is on point from beginning to end. There's something relaxing about watching a movie you know is specifically trying to fool you: I don't have to worry about who did it, because I'm going to be treated to a lovely scene at the end unraveling the mystery. With that in mind, you can focus on the other aspects of the film, and in the case here, everything is quite sharp.

Rating: 4 / 5

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

1969 | dir: George Roy Hill | 111 m

I felt really bad about not enjoying this film when I put it on the other night; it's like one of these films that I'm supposed to like but after watching it, I'm compelled to not give it a rating and take on the task of re-watching it a year from now when I'm in a better frame of mind. Everything about the film was good, but I just couldn't get into the movie in the way I know I should. Being in the right frame of mind is not typically an issue for me but in this case it was overbearing, and as such I couldn't give the movie a fair shake. I would reiterate though: everything was good. Paul Newman and Robert Redford crackle on screen as this criminal duo who spend so little time doing "bad things" and more time on the run and trying to go straight that you can't help but feel empathy for them (and question how they were really ruling the west as the title scrawl would lead you to believe). But it's their laissaz faire approach to crime that sets the film apart from others in the genre and upends your expectations. While the pair spend an inordinate amount of runtime fleeing from their pursuers you can't help but wonder why they don't stand their ground and fight if they are as good as the movie tells you they are, before you quickly realize these guys aren't your stereotypical machismo western dudes but smart characters of quirkiness and depth. They are compelling to watch on screen and reason enough to enjoy the film and let it stand above others.

Rating: 3 / 5

Halloween (2018)

2018 | dir: David Gordon Green | 106 m

Halloween is one among many John Carpenter masterpieces that he has deigned to bestow up the world, and I have, of course, watched it many times. The rest of the sequels... not so much. As part of my annual horror movie marathon this October, I decided to get caught up the rest of the Halloween series. Much to my dismay, I discovered that much like the Friday the 13th series, the sequels to Halloween represented at best diminishing artistic and entertainment returns and at worst head-scratchingly terrible movies, the scripts for which probably wouldn't receive a passing mark if they had had been submitted as creative writing assignments in a grade 4 class. Yes, I'm looking at you Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers and Halloween: Resurrection. These are sequels that are so bad that it felt like they were made specifically to insult and alienate fans of the series (or at least of the original film).

The Halloween sequels seemed to go off the rails almost immediately, adding increasingly nonsensical aspects to the Michael Myers mythology that made the character less impactful and the story unnecessarily convoluted. The series kept retconning itself before retconning was even a fully formed concept in pop culture. Halloween II was an otherwise solid sequel, but they retconned the backstory to make Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) Michael Myers' long-lost sister instead of a random victim of his senseless violence in an effort to try and provide some sort of motivation for Myers' character. This was despite Carpenter's own original vision of Michael Myers as an "absence of character," and more of a supernatural force of nature. Having Michael Myers obsessed with killing his own family not only didn't make a whole lot of sense, but it also detracted from the horror of an unstoppable, unidentifiable assailant whose motivations are unclear and unknowable, who can't be bargained or reasoned with, and who may strike again, anywhere, for any reason (or no reason at all). 

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Ford v Ferrari

2019 | dir: James Mangold | 152 m

For someone who doesn't particularly follow sports, let alone auto racing, it seems absurd that I would get so excited for upcoming films about the sport; alas, I can't help myself. Maybe it's a deep-rooted unfulfilled love for going fast. Could be the mixture of smell of gasoline and burning rubber and the roar of engines around a track. Or most likely, it's watching these athletes excel at their passion as they race toward their dreams. It's easy to get caught up in the drama and high speed adventure afforded to us by these types of films, and they are appropriately at home on the big screen of a local theatre where the camera angles and sound systems bring an immersion to the experience that often goes unparalleled at home. Ford v Ferrari delivers on the visceral front but is keen in taking its time to deliver us a compelling story of (somewhat exaggerated for the big screen) true events about people coming together to accomplish something extraordinary. It's a solid turnout for everyone involved and although the runtime is long, I never felt like the movie was dragging on as I found myself invested from start to finish. The story beats are almost too familiar but the sum of all the parts produces a better sports film as it focuses less on the technical details and more on the characters, their passions and relationships. An overall excellent film and one not to be missed on the big screen, but should also be enjoyable again down the road.

Rating: 4 / 5

My Darling Clementine

1946 | dir: John Ford | 103 m

This movie is gorgeous; it's beautiful in more ways than one but I was truly taken aback by how striking the black and white film looked. The shots are deliberate and eye catching; the shadows are looming and bottomless. What makes getting into these westerns as a genre that I haven't really explored before is the astonishment of these old films: while many, many years ago I would be reluctant to watching a film from the 40's, maybe with the mindset that everything coming out 40+ years later would be inherently better somehow, but that was a foolish train of thought for a younger self. Henry Fonda's Wyatt Earp and Victor Mature as 'Doc' Holliday are absolutely ablaze here; their screen presence is bolstered by excellent framing and cinematography, but their acting really shines through. The steady pacing, developed characters and simple-yet-elegant plot and story make me yearn for the opposite of what we have right now: (most) modern movies are bloated, spend too much time on bravado and overly complicated stories. There's really not much else that I can competently say about the film; I haven't done my research to see where this stands but surely, it must be considered one of the best of the genre.

Rating: 4 / 5

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