2020 | dir: Christopher Nolan | 150 m
Despite the standard cliche, I don't remember ever literally being on the edge of my seat during a movie, but there are some movies that make me sit up a little straighter and pay very close attention. Tenet was one of those movies. I wasn't really all that surprised that I enjoyed Tenet; Christopher Nolan is one of my favourite directors working today (or really, ever), and I've been a fan of all of his movies to date. Nolan is one of the few modern directors who is able to effectively blend the auteur and blockbuster approach to craft films that are truly epic in scale but at their core are stories about people and that both pose and explore questions about the human condition in an intelligent way. In that way, Nolan is heir apparent to the original generation of auteur film makers who essentially invented the blockbuster like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. And like Spielberg and Lucas, Christopher Nolan is primarily concerned with telling original stories about larger than life events anchored with fully fleshed out human characters (and a fair amount of explosions).
That's one reason that I will gladly fork over my hard-earned cash for any film that Nolan puts out over whatever the latest made-by-committee Marvel or Star Wars movie that the Disney corporate machine churns out. I say this as a fan of both the MCU and Star Wars, but I would rather see Nolan try something new and fail than have to sift through another ten movies' worth of the Marvel formula or mull over the next chaotic Star Wars trilogy to find the one or two movies that really excel. At the end of the day, a movie directed by Christopher Nolan expects more of its audience than a great deal of independent films and outclasses the action of most action blockbusters. Any movie that crashes a real plane into a real airport for my entertainment while also exploring questions of free will and determinism is all right in my book.
| dir: Brandon Cronenberg
There seems to be a bit of marketing around this film that pushes it as the “uncut” version, which is usually reserved for home video releases and results in a rather dubious difference in content of the film. However, we’re talking about the Cronenberg family in this case, and the small theatrical run during this pandemic is perhaps allowing such a cut of film to grace the big screen. As I stumbled across snippet-sized details of Brandon Cronenberg’s latest film over the past few months, I absolutely tried to minimize how much I knew about the film going into it, allowing the poster to speak for itself. The Possessor Uncut disclaimer comes up on screen before the movie gets going, making me all the more aware that this should be quite the ride, and a ride, it was. There are boundary pushing images and scenes on display here, but at no point does this feel exploitative or irrelevant to the story and characters. You become acutely aware of when the camera would normally cut away, or show us a different angle, yet Possessor doesn’t let up. These scenes occur a few times throughout the runtime, with a consistency that allows us to appreciate how they advance our characters yet disturbs us in their increasing grotesque displays.
I’m amazed at how much comes across with so little in terms of exposition and dialogue; the way Cronenberg uses his characters and special effects here is a satisfying reminder of how efficient his father creates film. Possessor displays this economical filmmaking by trusting and allowing the viewer to follow along the conceptual premise of the film because it adheres to simple rules and leans into the emotional narrative of its characters. I’m tempted to say that this is a more accessible sci-fi film than many standouts in the genre, but the horror and extreme imagery will not be for everyone. I found myself shaking my head in wonderment numerous times, and as I was leaving the empty theatre I looked up at the credits and only had one thought: that was one hell of a film.
| dir: Len Wiseman
Revisiting the original Underworld proved to be surprisingly refreshing and I was taken aback and just how glued I was to the screen. For this screening I decided to watch the extended cut, which apparently adds about 12 minutes (making the film a convenient two hours and twelve minutes) and I’ll be honest in saying that I couldn’t see what was added or replaced, although I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on the original cut of the film. Indeed, I watched the film in cinemas back in 2003 and maybe once after, although there were a decent number of memorable moments and scenes that stuck with me for a while, although it’s worth noting that I retained nothing of the story or plot, save for the basic werewolves versus vampires driving force. It was a pleasant surprise then, that the film didn’t stick me with a ton of exposition at the beginning; we’re dropped into the action right off the bat with just a brief introduction to Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and her “Death Dealer” squad, as they chase down a pack of werewolves into the underbelly of a grim looking city that looks like it was lifted from the claustrophobic sets of The Matrix and Dark City. I found myself – while enjoying the action – wondering if the film was just going to skip around the reason for the feud between vampires and werewolves, but then the plot allows for the rollout of that background and I was reminded that yes, this first film kind of explores the foundation for the origins of the centuries-long battle.
| dir: Jim Cummings
When I first saw a preview for The Wolf of Snow Hollow, I was immediately invested. Everything seemed to check off this unknown list within my mind: werewolves, small towns, snow, mountains, dark humour, comedy, and horror, to name a few. I had seen Jim Cummings’ Thunder Road last year and enjoyed it enough that I often think about it and was intrigued with what Jim would come up with next. He has a way of writing his characters that straddle the line between likeability and distaste, and I would say that Snow Hollow tests those boundaries to a point that has me questioning my enjoyment of the movie. The plot is familiar as werewolf movies go: on each full moon bodies are found, and our local small-town police force struggles to find any compelling evidence or follow any leads. The difference here between any similarly-plotted movie is the characters, who are the central focus of Snow Hollow.
| dir: Chris Walas
I was quite taken aback with how captivating this film was; it probably helps that I entered into the viewing with fairly low expectations. I had just listened to a podcast about Cronenberg’s remake of the Fly, and they talked briefly about its sequel (of which Cronenberg had no involvement). While it’s easy to agree that this sequel is miles behind, it wouldn’t be fair to dismiss it entirely. There are some incredibly fun creature effects and grotesque deaths on screen to grab your attention, although most of them come in final act of the film. The first couple of acts are still fascinating, as we watch Marin Brundle (Eric Stoltz) rapidly age through the first five years of his life as a result of the human/fly hybrid genetics of his father. Although he’s supremely intelligent, he’s regularly picked on and treated poorly by his foster family of lab techs and a particularly surly security guard, resulting in quite a bit of sympathy for the child-turn-man at five years old, and this investment in his character is deepened as he falls in love with Daphne (Beth Logan), another employee in his corporate/lab home.
With that, The Fly II makes me forget for a moment that I’m watching a horror film and that a slew of Really Bad Things are about to happen, but damn if I wanted to see Martin succeed in recreating his late father’s experiments. The greedy corporation feels a bit cliché, including the obviously false sincerity of the head of the corporation, who of course wants to utilize the transporter for profit in the face of bettering humanity. These are easy things to get over: I can appreciate that the film plays things a bit more safely in regards to plot, focusing instead on the characters and some fun creature design.
| dir: Josh Boone
It would be impossible to begin talking about The New Mutants without touching on the abhorrent delays and release schedule woes that the film underwent. Originally slated to be released in the spring of 2018, the movie would be pushed back until late summer of 2020, which feels unprecedented for a superhero film in our climate, but alas, here we are. You could blame a few things, including the Disney acquisition of Fox, higher priority films and of course the COVID pandemic, but behind all that would loom the quality of the film: surely, this entry in the Fox mutant pantheon was SO bad that releasing it could do more harm than good. The issue is that I could believe it: the last two films in the X-Men series were pretty awful, and I was ready for a reboot (although I’m not necessarily looking forward to a Disney/Marvel reboot, but that’s another topic). The New Mutants dropped a trailer, and I was heavily intrigued, but I still had no choice but to enter into the film with the lowest of expectations.
Wouldn’t you know it: the film wasn’t bad.
| dir: Ridley Scott
Though Hannibal is an abysmal failure of a film, I'm incredibly grateful that it exists if only as proof positive that Ridley Scott is fallible and therefore mortal. Much like Ready Player One, it humanizes one of my favourite directors and demonstrates that we don't have to be defined by our failures. Which is good in Mr. Scott's case, because it is, as the kids say these days, a whopper. (Unlike Vincent Vega who probably wouldn't be inclined to use the same terminology, knowing his disdain for Burger King.) Hannibal is a direct sequel to the iconic The Silence of the Lambs, and while I didn't expect it to reach the same heights as its predecessor, I also didn't anticipate the depths to which it would plunge.
Like all of the Hannibal Lector movies, this one was based on a book by Thomas Harris. I have yet to read any of the books in the Hannibal Lector series, but immediately after watching Hannibal, I felt compelled to look up an outline of the novel online, breaking one of my unwritten rules about indulging in spoilers for texts which I have not read/watched/listened to yet. But in this case my curiosity overcame me. There was no way that the story and plot of the Hannibal novel was this bad. This had to have been the work of Hollywood hacks hired by a secret cabal dedicated to destroying the life's work of Thomas Harris by transforming his stories into nonsensical garbage for the screen.
How wrong I turned out to be.
After reading the synopsis of the Hannibal novel, I sat in stunned silence for some time, then read it again. And again. And again. To my growing dismay, the words didn't change. Had I not known any better, I would have suspected that the summary of the plot of Harris' original novel was a work of fan fiction by a rabid fan of The Silence of the Lambs who had failed every English class they'd ever been in. But, unfortunately, I am burdened with terrible knowledge. This was not the fever dream of some random fan with no understanding of character, story, or plot far removed from a basic understanding of the original characters; this was a professional author who spent eight years writing a sequel to a popular book he himself had written. I was in shock not just at how terrible the concept of the Hannibal novel was, but that despite how bad the movie version had turned out, from the sound of things, it actually improved on the book (if only marginally). To be fair, not having read Harris' work, I can't critique the deftness of his prose, but thanks to the Internet, I can now actively avoid the chance to do so.
| dir: Louis Leterrier
Just a few short months passing after Marvel Studios unleashed the well-crafted Iron Man on an unsuspecting public in 2008, Universal would – with the involvement of Marvel Studios – drop another entry into a newly reimagined Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in the form of The Incredible Hulk. This was truly a turbelunt time for comic book films, as we faced a deluge of poorly executed adaptations and some experiments that left studios cautious about how to proceed, which is nowhere more apparently than in this Hulk film. Doing away with everything from Ang Lee’s Hulk in 2003, The Incredible Hulk was a reboot of sorts whose sole purpose seemed to be avoiding any kind of artistic depth while navigating the “safe passage” of mediocrity and tip-toeing around anything that Ang Lee had done before. As a film and comic book enthusiast, I was excited for another Hulk film, but incredibly wary of how the next iteration of the character was going to turn out on screen. To be fair, I loved the first Hulk film and my expectations were low for The Incredible Hulk, which would see a complete cast replacement and a shift in tone.
As it happens, my expectations were on point: The Incredible Hulk is perfectly mediocre in every way.