The Innocents

1961 | dir: Jack Clayton | 100 m

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.

Rating: 4 / 5

The Changeling

1980 | dir: Peter Medak | 103 m

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.

 

Rating: 3 / 5

Collector's Corner: Robocop

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.

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). 

Ford v Ferrari

2019 | dir: James Mangold | 152 m

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.

Rating: 4 / 5

My Darling Clementine

1946 | dir: John Ford | 103 m

This movie is gorgeous; it's beautiful in more ways than one but I was truly taken aback by how striking the black and white film looked. The shots are deliberate and eye catching; the shadows are looming and bottomless. What makes getting into these westerns as a genre that I haven't really explored before is the astonishment of these old films: while many, many years ago I would be reluctant to watching a film from the 40's, maybe with the mindset that everything coming out 40+ years later would be inherently better somehow, but that was a foolish train of thought for a younger self. Henry Fonda's Wyatt Earp and Victor Mature as 'Doc' Holliday are absolutely ablaze here; their screen presence is bolstered by excellent framing and cinematography, but their acting really shines through. The steady pacing, developed characters and simple-yet-elegant plot and story make me yearn for the opposite of what we have right now: (most) modern movies are bloated, spend too much time on bravado and overly complicated stories. There's really not much else that I can competently say about the film; I haven't done my research to see where this stands but surely, it must be considered one of the best of the genre.

Rating: 4 / 5

The Lighthouse

2019 | dir: Robert Eggers | 110 m

This review may contain spoilers.

It's been nary twenty four hours since somberly leaving the theatre after watching The Lighthouse and I'm still unsure what I just witnessed, but I do have a feeling I just participated in something unique, and maybe even great. Throughout the nearly two hour runtime of the film, I was mesmerized from beginning to end, and there were many moments that have stuck with me, with noted significance on the performances by Patterson and Dafoe: they were incredible. Dafoe's Thomas Wake has a few close shot monologues that had me pouring over every word, every movement of his face and terrified as I gazed into those unblinking eyes. Pattinson plays Winslow, a newcomer in the lighthouse keeping world: he is adamant to perform his duties by the book, but is quickly (or maybe it's slowly) rolled over by Wake's relentless task-driving and unwillingness to adhere to anyone's rules but his own. Wake keeps the upper portion of the lighthouse off limits to Winslow, which - combined with living in such small quarters with someone and a belligerent seagull - drive him slowly mad. As the audience, we never venture away Pattinson's perspective and can't help but feel that madness reach out at us from the square frame of the lens. We question how much time has passed; we wonder if some of this is in Winslow's mind; we beg to know what's so special in the lighthouse. There's a degree of quirky humour throughout as well that perfectly complemented the weight of brewing terror.  The sound is ominous, loud and frightening. The black and white, square aspect ratio feels purposefully claustrophobic at times and beautifully unique throughout. 

I really look forward to seeing this one again.

Rating: 4 / 5

Gemini Man

2019 | dir: Ang Lee | 117 m

I got a weird feeling from Gemini Man, and I'm fairly certain it wasn't the high frame rate (HFR) 3D, although you have to take into consideration the way the film was shot when assessing the overall score, I will try to separate them as best I can. There's nothing much to be said for the plot or story of this film: you've seen the trailers so you know the core premise that Will Smith's uber-agent character is cloned and they must face off against one another.  The way they put them together is a bit cliched as you roll your eyes gently (but not too much because you don't want to miss the incredible 3D effects) as the film takes its sweet time getting to where you know it's going. Immediately after coming out of the theatre I found myself picking apart many of the small things in the film which never feels good, but in this case those small things seemed to be related to plot points that the characters kept mentioning in dialogue but seemed superfluous to the story itself. Given the film was shot in 3D, there is very little depth to our characters as good opposes evil and there is little ambiguity to play with; some of the acting came across as tired, as I often wondered if they shot too many takes or not enough for the performers to find their groove.

As middling as the movie was, the HFR and 3D were the primary driving force to seeing this movie on the big screen. It did not disappoint. My only other experience with HFR at the movies was seeing The Hobbit films; I recognized the odd movement and motion (for example, characters appearing to walk quickly) but that melted away after a short adjustment period. Gemini Man did not seem to suffer the same way: while the motion was incredibly smooth and noticeable, I did not find it distracting at all; instead, I was caught up in the wonder of the image quality itself. It certainly helps that Lee shot most of the film in bright daylight in exotic locales, and many of the action scenes were done at night (to presumably cover up the CGI). I'm sure the HFR effect is off-putting to many but I was fully engrossed in it as it presents a clarity that goes unmatched without. Ang Lee plays with the combination of HFR and 3D to interesting effect - like a scene shot with a fish-eye lens as a high speed train rushes past but I can't help but feel that these technical achievements come at the expense of the movie itself. 

Rating: 2.5 / 5

More Articles ...