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.
Two hundred sixty four. I still look at that number and question its authenticity; while it’s true you could probably knock a few titles off that list depending on your standards, it’s my own count and it holds true as I compare it to other years gone by (and yes, I will eventually make a more refined count later on, one that does not include short films or certain television episodes – looking at you Black Mirror). 264 represents a fairly sizable increase and upward trend: 2018 saw 245 and 2017 saw 203 titles in the log. As you may be aware, I log everything through Letterboxd, and pay for the yearly stats so it can point you in the direction of my obsession:
Based on the trailer that recently dropped for Morbius, it looks like the suits at Sony forgot to tell director Daniel Espinosa that he's not making a Batman film. As Jared Leto stood in a cave surrounded by an agitated colony of bats (colony is the correct term, you can look it up) flying around him as if in kinship, I couldn't help but think of how eerily similar they were to scenes from Batman Begins which was released, ah yes, let's see... fifteen years ago. Well, that flew by.
It seems that the fluke success of Venom, which managed a box office of over $800 million in its theatrical release alone, has emboldened the Spider-Man film rights holders over at Sony to spin that roulette wheel once again, and hope that the movie-going public rewards them for making a film of which the best that can be said was that it wasn't a total dumpster fire. And I mean, if we're being honest with ourselves, the only real reason Venom wasn't completely dead on arrival was that with all the talk of production issues, audiences were expecting a complete train wreck and were surprised when they didn't feel the need to boil their eyes in bleach afterwards to try to wipe away the residue of it from their optical nerves (also known as The Suicide Squad Effect).
| 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.
| dir: Peter Medak
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.
Robocop will always hold a special place for me in the hallowed halls of cinema. Not only is it one of my favourite movies from one of my favourite directors, it was also one of the first R-rated films I ever saw. Watching in wide-eyed fascination as a mutilated, reconstructed cyborg shot a rapist criminal in the dick to save a hostage was what Obi-Wan Kenobi might have called my first step into a larger world. Paul Verhoeven's social satire laced with a touch of religious allegory immediately caught my attention captured my imagination and caused this tingling sensation down in the depths of me. In short, I was hooked almost immediately, and over the years, my appreciation for and enjoyment of Robocop has only grown. So when the good folks over at Arrow announced a new release of this iconic action/sci-fi masterpiece, I knew instantly that my wallet was going to get a little lighter.
For me, this was the year of Arrow. Criterion is still the king of the boutique labels, and for good reason; they've set the standard for quality releases of significant films both on and off the beaten trail. Arrow, though, has made a name for itself with quality releases of films that Criterion likely wouldn't ever release (or ever release again; I've still also got my Criterion DVD of Robocop). Arrow's focus on horror and cult movies feels like it complements Criterion's specialization in more arthouse fare pretty well. In fact, for the most part, a lot of the boutique movie labels/distributors seem to work well in concert, carving out their own niches, with a little friendly overlap, like Arrow and Scream Factory in the horror genre, for instance. As a consumer, I get the sense that even though these businesses are technically competitors, there seems to be unity overall guided by a shared love of cinema. (Except for Twilight Time, who can go screw themselves with their incredibly limited releases. I've never forgiven them for forever denying me access to a high def version of Enemy Mine, and I never will.) Arrow seems to have made a concerted effort to grow their brand by focusing on the quality of their release, which in my mind puts them up there in the same league as Criterion, setting a clear example as an industry leader.
| dir: David Gordon Green
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).
| dir: James Mangold
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.