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.  

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.

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? 

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. 

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. 

The Invisible Man

2020 | dir: Leigh Whannell | 124 m

Tension is the name of the game here, and The Invisible Man knows how to play – maybe a little too well. From the opening, overwhelming darkness of crashing waves breaking onto perilous rocks throughout the entire movie, no rest is afforded to the viewer, and while the film does indulge in a few jump scares – which I always find to be a bit unfair themselves – I'm willing to forgive and move on as we follow Cecilia’s tormented journey of escape from an abusive husband to her attempt to overcome paranoia and the dreaded feeling that somebody is leering over your shoulder or watching you from across an empty room. Her stakes are driven even higher as we understand her plight: the entire opening scene has her methodically following a plan to leave her husband. We see the fear of reprisal in her face and movements; being barely ten minutes into the film you realize this is more tension than most horror movies can muster in their entire run time and I think to myself: it can only be downhill from here, right? 

Resolution

2012 | dir: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead | 93 m

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.

Birds of Prey

2020 | dir: Cathy Yan | 109 m

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.