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. 

Doctor Sleep

2019 | dir: Mike Flanagan | 152 m

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.

Terminator: Dark Fate

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 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.

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). 

The Autopsy of Jane Doe

2016 | dir: André Øvredal | 99 m

I don't know if it says more about me or about the horror industry that when I first heard about The Autopsy of Jane Doe, I immediately assumed necrophilia was going to play a large part in the plot. (Am I so out of touch? No, it's the children who are wrong.) I'm not sure why, exactly, but my mind kept trying to connect it with Deadgirl, a movie that involves some teenage boys, a zombie girl, and a whole lot of lube. Although, I'm not sure whether sex with somebody who's only mostly dead counts as necrophilia or it's really more of a grey area, zombiphilia. Either way, the point is The Autopsy of Jane Doe was actually nothing like Deadgirl, and I definitely don't have a fetish for corpses that can legally be proven in a court of law as far as you know. 

Spider-Man: Far From Home

2019 | dir: Jon Watts | 129m

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is, by this point, a well-oiled machine that basically prints money on command. Spider-Man Far From Home, the second solo outing for Peter Parker and his alter-ego in the MCU, seemed destined to be a smash success, as most Marvel films are these days. And, of course, it is raking in a tonne of dough. There's no question it's a financial success for Marvel Studios and their evil overlords at Disney. It did what it was designed to do, and exactly nothing more.

I went in to Spider-Man: Far From Home as a fan of the MCU in general: a few terrible films, a few great films, a lot of solid films somewhere in between those two extremes, but always well-thought out and part of a larger plan. I remember walking out of Avengers: Infinity War and thinking that this is probably as close as I would get to experiencing a cinematic event that people watching The Empire Strikes Back for the first time in theatres must have shared. I'm impressed at the MCU's long-form storytelling, a sort of modern reinvention of the old serial films that people like George Lucas grew up on, and I'm on board, man. I'm picking up what they're putting down.

So of course following this classical rhetorical device of listing my franchise-appropriate geek bona fides, I will follow up with how disappointed I was with Spider-Man: Far From Home. It wasn't terrible; it wasn't great. It was a standard middle-of-the-road MCU film, but almost cynical in its mediocrity, as though tempting audiences to even try and let their heroes - both super and corporate - fail.

Dark Phoenix

Sometimes a film is nearing release amid a turmoil of negative hype, and as it crests to a swelling of negative criticism in the final days the movie releases to a thud at the box office - exactly as expected. And sometimes, your curiosity still gets the best of you, and you have to watch the train wreck for yourself. As an avid enthusiast for so-called "bad" films, I couldn't pass up an opportunity to watch the (presumably) last entry in Fox's rocky X-Men franchise that began so innocently, and triumphantly nearly twenty years ago. The series was a owed a small debt as well; I've seen every entry in the theatre and I wouldn't allow some nasty reviews to deter me from completing the saga: it was the least I could do for the franchise that ultimately opened the door for our modern superhero blockbuster films.

It nearly bears repeating, that expectations into a film hold a lot of sway over opinions of the film (least for me). So in this case, my expectations are pretty low. Like, VERY low. With that, I may just enjoy the film for what it is.

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