Category Archives: Film

Mandy (2018)

Then I saw Mandy, and that… that was quite a thing. See, Nicolas Cage and his heavy metal-loving girlfriend Mandy live in the woods, idyllicly discussing things like what their favorite planet is and why her father made all the neighborhood kids kill baby starlings when she was young. Then, one of those weird ’80s Satanic cults comes to town, and the leader has eyes for Mandy. Except, unlike most ’80s Satanic cults, they can summon actual biker demons. Result: things go predictably awry for Mandy.

The only thing left for Nic Cage to do is borrow a crossbow and forge a weird halberd-shaped axe[1] out of a single piece of metal and go seeking bloody revenge. And… you know what, the problem with a concept this over the top is that they were too restrained. What this movie wanted, no, yearned to be was a rock opera. With characters straight up singing at each other while having their chainsaw swordfights. Is there such a thing as a metal opera? I’m guessing the answer is probably not, and that we came as close as we ever will with Mandy.

It’s a letdown, is what it is.

[1] Look, I know what you’re thinking. A halberd is an axe. But what I’m saying is, it’s a regular-sized axe, not a polearm, but with a halberd-like head for some reason. I guess the reason is because that’s what shape of mold he had lying around?

Revenge (2017)

Another entry from the over a year old now back of my list of Shudder movies[1]. Revenge is one of those movies in which a lady been done wrong by almost always some dudes rather than a dude, in a very specific way that benefits from a trigger warning in these more enlightened days. Later, she takes, uh, revenge[2] on them.

And there’s really not a ton more to say. It’s a pretty good example of what it is, and alternates between being genuinely tense, genuinely disturbing, excessively gory, and over the top silly. You wouldn’t that that would be a thing in this subgenre, but between the burn scar transfer and the circular house chase… Maybe they were going for slickly stylish, which is a thing some action movies do these days. (This is occasionally an action movie, though it’s mostly a tense thriller.)

[1] Sidebar: A thing I hate about tech patents is that it means most streaming services, unless they had a vanishingly rare novel idea or have enough money to pay someone, are forced to have really terrible watchlist organization, when they’re even allowed to have watchlists at all.
[2] Usually the title of a movie with this plot is not so on the nose. I Spit on Your Grave, for obvious example.

Pengabdi Setan (2017)

Today I learned that Indonesian horror cinema, much like the local version, sometimes goes back to the well. Because it turns out that Satan’s Slaves is a remake of the same title in Indonesian (although Satan’s Slave, singular, in English), made in 1982. I haven’t seen that one, but the IMDB summary makes it clear they’re related.

Anyhow, this version starts with the quiet grief of a family whose once-famous singer matriarch is withering away from a mysterious illness. Not only are they losing their mother (or, in one case, wife), but they’re also losing the things they own and quite possibly their house, in paying for her care. I guess mostly the medicines and old doctor bills, as the mother is in house and being cared for by the family, not a hired nurse or anything.

But then things get flickery at the edge of your vision ghosty, and then they get in your face ghosty, and then things get a lot worse than that, in unexpected ways. (Or, well, maybe not so unexpected, based on the title.) Despite a third act full of running and hiding and fighting with generally about triple the cast of anything that has gone before, the movie as a whole is quiet and meditative albeit with occasional actual scares (and more than a few attempted jump scares). Meditative on how families might dissolve, on the kind of loss that we all someday face, on falling away from your religion, and most especially on how the sins of the past must be paid, even if they weren’t your sins.

The Invisible Man (2020)

Then, on Friday night, I went to see another movie. Woo, movies!

Except, not so high as all that on the “woo!” factor, because what I saw was The Invisible Man, which… man. I don’t know where to go here. The thing is, this is a legitimately good movie, and arguably it’s a legitimately important movie on top of that, and (also arguably) Elisabeth Moss is the finest actress of her generation. At minimum, she’s the best there is at what she does, which is be compellingly emotionally injured.

But goddamn. Leaving aside the subject matter[1], which should be hard for anyone to watch (although it probably is not, and I weep for some of my fellow so-called humans) and definitely would be hard for a segment of the population to watch, the movie is also unceasingly tense, after the first 30 seconds or so. The longest period in which it let up was for maybe five minutes, and this only happened the one time. I can’t recommend it to anyone for that reason alone. So stressful!

But it is seriously good, and seriously important. It’s just even more than either of those seriously unpleasant. Basically, if you are aware of the concept of gaslighting, watch at your own risk. If you are not, or if you don’t really believe in it, watching is mandatory. Not that, if you somehow disbelieve in that concept, you would listen to me here.

But you should.

[1] Another plot summary by footnote: don’t mind if I do! Aforementioned Elisabeth Moss escapes an abusive relationship, only to discover that she has not. Because, seriously, you know who can get away with pretty much any damn thing? A rich techbro who is also invisible. Or! Could it possibly all be in her head?

Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

So, I did it! I got the Alamo Season Pass thingy, which this is not a commercial for, but one free movie a day is kind of great? I have to go twice a month to not lose money on the deal, and I want to go a lot more than that, although I think there’s a tiny human hoping to thwart my plans. …who will probably succeed. But for now, salad days[1]!

Upshot, on Thursday we saw Birds of Prey, a movie about which I have non-controversial opinions. To recap, I thought the Wonder Woman movie was great at being the first female-led superhero movie, but the actual film itself has not aged well for me outside that context. It’s perfectly cromulent as a superhero movie but no more than that. I thought Aquaman was shockingly good, better than it had any right to be, and therefore maybe a half-rank above “perfectly cromulent etc”? The rest of the modern DC movies are hot garbage at best, including Suicide Squad, except that Harley Quinn was revelatory in it.

All of that to say: Birds of Prey would fall on a tier maybe just above hot garbage, except for that fantabulous emancipation bit. As nearly as I can determine, Margot Robbie was born to play this role. (She seems to think so too, given her heavy involvement in getting the movie made.) This is basically Harley’s transition from the Joker’s emotionally manipulated girlfriend to chaotic good trending neutral antihero, and she’s hilarious every step of the way. Plus, the narration! I will keep watching her make these movies as long as she’s interested.

[1] I have no idea what that means. What it conveys, yes. What it means that results in conveying that: not a clue.

Fantasy Island

If you’re like me[1], when you saw the preview’s for Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island, you thought, “Hey, awesome, someone is adapting the old Fantasy Island TV show as a movie, but instead of romance or whatever, it’s horror!” And this is largely exactly what happened. You have your people arriving at the island, you have Mr. Roarke greeting them all and promising that not only will their fantasies be fulfilled, but that it is mandatory to fulfill them to the [bitter] end, you have two A plots and two B plots interweaving amongst one another, now and then interacting. Which is a lot of plots for a TV episode, but about right for a movie I reckon? In any case, I got exactly what I expected, and honestly it was pretty good for what it is.

My caveat is, I never actually saw an episode of Fantasy Island. I saw a great deal of advertisements for it and its shared timeslot with The Love Boat in my misspent youth, but I largely gave both of them a pass. So I pulled up the Wikipedia article for a refresher[2] just before writing my review, and the wry twist is this: except for what are largely PG-13 horror trappings that only borderline at best couldn’t be shown on network TV, and definitely unairable R-rated language, I had completely misjudged my comparison. Because the TV show? “Instead of romance or whatever” doesn’t really apply. It actually already was more or less horror with fantasy-the-genre trappings, and it’s entirely fair to view this movie as a prequel in which Roarke as host of the island learns that it’s okay to intervene just a little bit, so people can have happy, or at least morally informative, or at the very least mostly non-fatal, endings.

Luckily, though, the movie works just fine under my initial misconception too. It’s just that I sort of regret that I never watched the TV show, now.

Lastly, apropos of nothing else in particular, it is important to note that Ryan Hansen’s lucrative career of playing Dick Casablancas in every role for which he is hired continues unimpeded.

[1] Disregarding the “awesome” bit, I mean
[2] Well, for a fresher, I suppose.

The Canal (2014)

When I started thinking last night about my review of The Canal, I was pondering whether I could really capture the spirit of the the movie’s slow disintegration of reality without delving deep into spoiler territory. See, there’s this sad faced Irish film archivist, played by a guy I had never heard of before a couple of years ago, but who plays an oppressed Jew in The Man in the High Castle and also the Watcher-equivalent in the Charmed reboot, and so basically he’s all over TV now, reliably playing the same sad faced character type (although to be fair the meat behind each of the characters is substantially different). And he learns that his house was the scene of a sensationally grisly century-old murder the same week he receives an emotional shock, which sends him into a haunted (whether literally or metaphorically is at the heart of what the movie is about) downward spiral.

It’s basically treading the same ground as Paranormal Activity, except if it’s not found footage so much as an external camera recording the guy creating the footage, and if it were crossed with a crime drama. Which, that’s not a “crossed with” I personally have seen before, and it’s fair enough. Only, while I was back at the beginning of the first paragraph thinking about how to explain all that in non-spoiler fashion, I came to an unexpected realization, which I can only explain by for sure getting into spoilers: it is that I don’t actually care about any of that, because of a critical flaw at the heart of the film’s conceit.

Thusly, a spoiler space break.

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Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl

I scrolled to the tail end of my watch list on Shudder last night, because it’s been a minute or three since I watched anything there that wasn’t hosted by Joe Bob Briggs. The movie at the end was conveniently short (since I was halfway thinking about going to sleep early instead) and in English (since I wanted to get my outstanding review handled before the plot got very busy[1]), so perfect placement, and thusly did I watch Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl, which is one of those recent modern movies with a heavy ’70s aesthetic[2]. Check the poster to your right, for example.

Despite the 20th C gothic setting, which is teenager gets away from her creepy stepdad by taking a summer job as caretaker for her mother’s shut-in sister who lives in a big empty house but refuses to leave her bedroom or for that matter even open the door to be seen by anyone due to agoraphobia and also she has a heart condition, despite all those horror movie trappings, this easily could have been mistaken for an awkward teen lesbian coming of age art film. Because there’s the alluring raven haired beauty at the grocery store, and wait, she’s interested in me, the quiet shy wallflower, as a person? And she’s a free spirit who doesn’t wear a bra when changing clothes into the flapper gear in the basement of the big empty house? And she’s maybe interested in me as more than just a person?

But this is a horror movie, and the shut-in aunt is downright creepy, and long story short there’s more going on than coming of age, and for that matter more going on than a plausibly haunted 20th C gothic empty old house. But like indie arthouse flicks in general, it is definitely more concerned with mood and atmosphere than it is with plot, and the result is I’m not entirely sure whether I was satisfied or not.

But I think so. The final shot of the movie does a lot of heavy lifting, is all I’m saying.

[1] Which goal, incidentally, I think I accomplished? I missed an early key transition, but since it had been expressed in the plot summary, no confusion!
[2] The House of the Devil, for example, although that’s more mid ’80s aesthetic.

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker

This will be a long one. It will definitely contain a bunch of spoilers, but not for a while and not without notice. Also below a cut, but that’s only so useful unless you’re on the front page of my site, and nobody but me ever is.

Anyway, as you may be aware, there was a final Star War that released about a week ago. I’ve seen it twice, not on purpose. After we already had the Friday morning tickets, a Saturday evening show was demanded, so I had both showings scheduled before I had seen it once. Luckily, and apparently unpopularly, I liked it well enough to not be unhappy about a twice.

The key to not hating the movie is not looking for a sequel to The Last Jedi. I know that sounds nonsensical, but it isn’t. The thing is, these are trilogies. Return of the Jedi (which I can annoyingly no longer shorthand as Jedi) was a sequel to Empire (which I can still shorthand as I please) only in that Empire ended on a cliffhanger about the fate of Han Solo. Really, it was a sequel to the entire trilogy. More, Revenge of the Sith was a sequel to that entire trilogy, not to the second movie. More still, Return of the Jedi was retroactively a conclusion to the entire series to date, all six movies. Likewise, The Rise of Skywalker (however dumb of a name it is, second only I think to Attack of the Clones on the bad title scale) is a conclusion to the entire nine movie sequence. It’s also a conclusion, more or less, to the third trilogy, but that’s definitely secondary. My point here is that it’s fulfilling a different purpose than people seem to want it to have fulfilled; it’s tying everything that has gone before together. And I really think it does this well, on the whole.

And okay, I think that’s as far as I can go without lots and lots of spoilers.

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Knives Out (2019)

As you cannot in any way ascertain from my shoddily maintained review site, it’s been a little while since I saw any movies, and so when Thanksgiving and its multiple days off and/or light work load came along, it thusly became movie time. Of course, that’s been nearly a week, so I can not remember what other movies were in contention anymore, only that what we actually saw was Knives Out, a (per the previews) rollicking mid-century Agatha Christie style whodunnit country house murder mystery.

And, okay, except for the part where it’s a modern setting instead (which means, alas, no butler), the previews run to the accurate. Which is nice, in that a) they looked pretty great, which of course explains how I got here, but also b) there was not the slightest sliver of a clue about the eventual outcome. The premise is basic enough: rich old mystery novelist turns up dead after the night of his 85th birthday party, and either everyone or no one is a suspect, with no one taking an early lead because of how he appears to have cut his own throat.

Obviously, I can say no more about the plot, but I can say a fair bit more about the movie, which is mostly this: you can tell that everyone involved had an incredibly good time. Most especially Daniel Craig playing against type as a consulting detective whose biggest action scene is a jog through the woods, and Chris Evans playing against type as an entitled asshole whose negative qualities are thoroughly masked by being hilariously above the rest of his equally entitled family. If I find a way to phrase that better I will, but I’m not holding my breath. “We’re all entitled assholes here, but the fact that you think none of you are and it’s really only me makes you, in some ways, worse, and in all ways worthy of my scorn-filled sarcasm.”

Yeah, that’s only barely better, and it needed the first part to make even as much sense as it does. Long story short: he is A++ at being the polar opposite of Steve Rogers, and I can dig it.

And anyway, those are just the two I chose to mention. I could go on, but there’s no point. Just go see it, unless you hate the genre, because it does not surpass genre at all. It might just have brought the comedic side of the genre to its peak, though.