| dir: Wolfgang Petersen
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.
There’s an unspoken contract whenever Cale and I get together, and that is to stoke the flames of each other’s passion – or more like addiction – to collecting movies. There’s been many times where I’ve fallen out of step, weaning myself off collecting; when I visit Cale, it’s akin to staring into the abyss, except in this case, the abyss stares back with a deluge of physical format movies. With my wallet propped open for the long fingers of bluray and UHD discs, I found myself riding shotgun in Cale’s SUV – fueled unquestioningly by nothing less than the extinguished souls of demons – barreling towards the mall through a labyrinth of one-way streets and multiple cities. I couldn’t tell which direction we were moving at any time, nor which boundary we passed through, as I bore witness to impossible city limits and a cacophony of roundabouts that would leave the head of any sane person spinning.
He parked the car just as the clouds parted, and we headed in to this archaic store; indeed, any store dedicated to the sale of movies and music on physical media must surely be run by crazed cultists who refuse to bow down before the might of a new god: digital media. What does that say about us who continue to build out collections, expand our shelves, and revel in the shiny coated plastic of these discs? With all these questions in mind, I approached the UHD section with confidence. Or so I thought: scanning the shelves quickly for any standout titles, I was promptly overwhelmed by the variety, in awe of the titles that I’d never seen in my local shops. My eyes were drawn immediately up and to the right, my gaze resting upon a spine that shone like a beacon and simply read: Hellboy.
| dir: Leigh Whannell
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?
| 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.
| dir: Tim Miller
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 mag 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.