Category Archives: Film

The Room (2019)

The Room grew on me, both over the course of the movie and possibly in retrospect over the last few days since I watched it as well. The premise at first appears to be a pretty by-the-numbers riff on the monkey’s paw. A couple moves into a stately, remote farmhouse and while doing renovations finds a secret room, which they quickly (if a little implausibly) learn grants wishes. Wish for something in the room, poof, it appears. Then, for a good 10-15 minutes, the whole movies appears to be about to collapse into a Lynchian commentary on bored American decadence[1], but before this can happen, someone wishes for the kind of thing that you maybe shouldn’t ought to wish for.

And then, mere moments later by the plot clock, the terrible rules of how wishes in the room work are finally revealed, and what follows is a slow burn escalation of bad decisions and impossible choices.

I’m carefully staying away from spoilers (unlike imdb’s three sentence description), because I think that not knowing what was coming is the majority of what makes the movie work. But outside of the identity horror and other bad things that the writer went for, I think the real lesson of the movie is that if I had a wishing room that followed these rules… Sure, I wouldn’t be able to instantly and safely retire[2], but I’m pretty sure I could make a happy and comfortable life for myself without very many needs to be met.

Because I would not make terrible, obviously doomed to turn out badly wishes. That’s why.

[1] Not that any of the characters are American, going by accent. But it definitely has that jaded feel, in the moment.
[2] The IRS alone, you know?

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

After recently rewatching the other two Narnia movies[1], I have now proceeded to watch for the first time The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. This was one of young me’s favorite books, in retrospect because of how it involves episodic exploration of unknown parts in which random events occur. Examples: captured for slavery! found invisible monsters with weird tracks! cursed dragon hoard!

And I guess what I think is, without a cohesive throughline, that’s a bad look for a movie? Because “we’re sailing to the edge of the world and also looking for some lords who went this way before, because of some plot thing or other with green mist that frankly none of us[2] can be bothered to really remember well” is not a cohesive throughline. But it’s a perfect long-form episodic throughline, where you talk about the so-called main plot for maybe five minutes every other episode but mainly focus on the island of the week.

As far as the nuts and bolts of the movie… Aslan: mainly around to tell Lucy she should like herself for herself instead of wanting to be glamorous and older, and to take all the credit for making Eustace[3] a better person, even though let’s be real, it was finally having a friend that turned him around. Because Reepicheep is the best mouse, is what. But despite an interlude about heaven and who deserves to be there and when, the Christian trappings of this movie were… no, I’m doing this wrong. Christian trappings were all over the place, but at the expense of any actually useful Jesus values like forgiveness and loving your neighbor.

Ugh. Christian trappings. Goddammit.[4]

[1] They’re… not great. Like, my reviews might speak well of them? My counterpoint is “seeing this book for the first time on a screen” is its own special thing that takes away from noticing that it’s still only okay. And here I refer only to the first one. The second one is nowhere near as good as that.
[2] Okay, maybe me more than them. I would normally here say, well, maybe I was just too busy with work to pay attention. But I watch really a lot of TV and a good number of movies while working, and actually keeping up with the main plot has never been a problem before. So there’s a decent chance that the lack of new sequel was for a good reason.
[3] Eustace is a Pevensie cousin who is a right twit, until later when he is improved by the power of Narnia. If Aslan wanted to teach a Pevensie a lesson, it should have been teaching Edmund that, you know what, you were a right twit once upon a time too, so maybe cut a bro some slack? But CS Lewis is more offended by girls who want to use make-up and date than he is by toxic masculinity, and so here we are.
[4] get it

Wonder Woman 1984

So, I got HBOMax, finally. This is good, as there are a pile of shows I want to watch, and bad, as where will I find the time? But the tipping point, of course, was the release of WW84[1]. If you are looking for a comics movie that leans really hard into the four-color aesthetic and into being a comics movie, look no farther!

I said (unless someone else did, but I’m pretty sure I did too) that Into the Spiderverse was the first movie I’d seen that felt like reading a comic, and that is still true.  Nevertheless, there have been plenty of MCU movies that lean really hard into both the comics aesthetic (anything with Thor) and comics sensibilities (anything with Peter Quill). But this is the first DC movie I’ve seen that did so.

It’s not that the plot didn’t make sense, like I’ve heard plenty of people claim. It hung together quite well, start to finish, with only one big complaint on my part[2]. But everything that happens relies of accepting that the logic of comic books is not the logic of the real world. Things happen that are not really magic, which is what a lot of people rely upon to suspend disbelief; instead things happen that rely on accepting that comics science is not the same as our science (much less when you mix science and magic together!), and that is maybe a harder proposition.

In a nutshell: what if we fast forward Diana to, say, the ’80s, where she is working at the Smithsonian on the strength of her knowledge of artifacts and like 130 languages (living and dead), and also she still isn’t over Steve Trevor yet 70 years later? And then she runs into a magic rock at the same time that a mousy new co-worker and an oil tycoon with a secret also run into said magic rock? And then the writers lay down a righteous comic book plot over these facts, with nary a care in the world for if it could even mildly happen or be fixable back to some kind of status quo that allows her to show up in Dawn of Justice even if it could happen in the first place?

In the end, that kind of thing either makes you want to punch some writers, or it’s your bread and butter. It wasn’t particularly good, but it was pretty damned amazing.

[1] Weird thing, with weird corollary. The movie is never referenced in any way besides WW84, at the start and end. Likewise, Diana Prince has never been referenced as Wonder Woman in either of these movies. Was she in her other DCCU appearances? I have literally no way of knowing!
[2] And that was more science-based than plot. Technically a spoiler: if you are going to electrocute someone for something, then you have to electrocute them for doing something equally electrocutable 30 seconds earlier, or else you don’t get to electrocute them now! Consistency, that’s all.

Red Christmas (2016)

Red Christmas is an Australian horror movie which, with the numbers filed off, is a fairly decent flick. Family gathering for Christmas Day, except a weird guy in bandages and a black hooded cloak shows up to settle some history with Dee Wallace[1], with the result being blood and gore and, you know, the various types of things that would make your Christmas red. (It sure wasn’t going to be white! Australia, remember.)

Unfortunately, the numbers are not filed off, and I have not been this unhappy with the premise of a movie since Snowpiercer. Said premise, which you cannot help but be aware of if you watch the first bit of the movie interspersed with the credits, is that the mysterious stranger is in fact an aborted fetus who survived. The implicit lie already had me on edge, but then the rest of the movie, despite making a valiant effort by naming this character Cletus, leaned into the “storytelling possibilities” by making it horror mashed up with family drama, instead of just horror, and offensive family drama based on a pure falsehood of a premise is just… I’m still pissed, is what.

This is a terrible movie that should feel bad and no longer have its rights sold. Shame on you, Shudder + AMC.

[1] Unlike most times when I see Dee Wallace’s name somewhere, this really is the lady who played the mom on ET, instead of secretly being Dee Snider instead, who did not.

Run (2020)

Hulu still makes movies. Which is sad, because any time I watch a movie on another service besides Shudder, I feel a little unfaithful to the cause? Moreso when it’s not Netflix. I cannot justify any part of this, I should be clear.

On the bright side, it’s not like an Amazon movie, where it’s terrible[1]! This particular ironically titled film is about a mother and daughter on the cusp of nest exit. The plot twist to this situation is that the daughter is home-schooled and almost entirely homebound, due to a number of ongoing medical conditions, including, as the text fades at the beginning of the movie helpfully point out, asthma, heart arrhythmia, a weird rash thingy that probably also had a medical name attached, and of course paralysis of the legs, causing her to be wheelchair-bound, which means, as the text fades also helpfully point out, that she cannot walk or run.

Due to genre conventions, this is not an inspirational story about overcoming adversity, so I will dispense with the idea that talking about the [extremely] broad strokes of what happens in a thriller count as spoilers. And anyway, it is mostly bog standard fodder for the genre, elevated in two or three ways.

One: the performances are solid, both by the girl, who I understand to be a first time credited actress, and by Sarah Paulson, who thanks to American Horror Story is maybe in danger of being typecast? But her face really is made for this kind of movie, with sharp, haunting features. Two: It does an excellent job of portraying in a realistic way how damn quickly a house of cards can fall apart, once someone has a realization that the house is in fact built of cards. And, Or Three: this is a rare example of an antagonistic film where both of the main characters are female; and in fact two out of the three secondary characters are as well. (It’s a sparse cast, which was the right way to go.)

Anyway: worthwhile if you’re into this kind of thing, probably not elevated enough above its origins to be worthwhile if you’re not.

[1] Note: I have probably not watched an Amazon original movie, and am not talking about those. They just have a catalog of truly awful dreck that had to find a home somewhere, right? (Plus, I’m glad they do, despite myself.)

Satanic Panic (2019)

I’m going to cut straight to the chase here: what Home Alone did for burglars, Satanic Panic does for devil worshipers.

You have no idea how much I want to just stop there, but I feel obligated to say at least enough that the text reaches as far as the poster, you know? So, this is basically a lazy comedy of errors in which the pizza delivery girl rides into the rich neighborhood hoping for a big tip, and instead finds herself entangled with Satanists on the night of the annual(?) sacrifice, and hijinks? Why yes, they ensue.

Despite my diss above, it was actually pretty funny. It’s just that the plot doesn’t make a lick of sense. But the pizza girl’s wide-eyed innocent irritation makes up a lot of ground, and with all the blood splashing around and the fish out of water laughs and the bumbling, ineffective devil worshiper laughs, I didn’t actually care about how nonsensical the plot was.

Basically, if you’ve always secretly believed that rich people are not like you and me, because they got their money and power as a result of sacrifice rather than hard work, and also that they hold orgies on the full moon? (And who hasn’t, at one point or another?) If so, whoever made this movie made it for you. Also, I learned in the last scene that this was made in Dallas, and yeah, if I was going to pick a city where that is what the rich people are like, Dallas or LA would have been the coin toss. (I know, I know, you’re thinking, what about Houston? But the climate was survivable, so Houston was already off the table.)

Bushwick (2017)

I’ve been to New York City once, in the late ’90s before things got “cleaned up”, whatever that means. So I saw Central Park when it was scary, and based on the looks I got in my giant cloak, apparently I was the scary person in the park. Which is okay. And I saw all the peepshow spots on what I have to assume some 20 years later was 42nd Street. The posters in the windows say “a quarter”, but you cannot get into those places for a quarter. Which is false advertising, but “cleaning them up” for false advertising seems a little harsh. About the only other thing I did was, because I was young and foolish, go to the Hard Rock Café. I’m cooler now than I was then, in most ways.

Nevertheless, I have a point to make with all of this, which is that despite my well-traveled worldliness as documented just now, most everything that I know about New York City, I know from Marvel comics. And a place Marvel has never put a spotlight on, at least as of winter/spring 1985, is the Bushwick neighborhood in Brooklyn. So this is definitely a sort of “today I learned” moment, for values of today equal to a couple of days ago.

Anyway, Bushwick is a neighborhood kind of story, in which blonde grad student Lucy emerges from the subway into a war zone. Why are there black helicopters and commandos everywhere, blowing things up and shooting people? Between the targeted violence and the random opportunism, can she make it the few blocks to her grandmother’s house? Will Dave Bautista save her? Will she save him?

The funny thing is, this comes across as a high octane pulse-pounder, when really it’s a quiet portrait of two people just trying to get along in a quiet portrait of an urban neighborhood that Mayor Rudy forgot to “clean up”, except that the quiet introspective moments that fill the portrait are punctuated by explosions and gunfire. I can see why this is a movie that would make fans of exactly no genres happy, but for me, it was a very rare kind of mash-up, and I dug it.

Into the Forest (2015)

Into the Forest was sold to me as an apocalypse movie, and I’m not quite sure that’s right. It’s a (usually) quiet family drama about young adult sisters and their father living in a remote but fancy home in the forest, with technology that still codes as “near future” even though the film is five years old. Only, some kind of long term power outage strikes[1] and all the fancy technology is no longer quite so useful.

Which reminds me of the speech on every Walking Dead graphic novel about being forced to start living now that we no longer have all these modern conveniences. So I suppose in a way it is an apocalyptic movie after all, despite the lack of zombies and/or regularly paced explosions? Mostly, it’s daily life plus survival in a quiet but never quite empty world.

It was also described as a feminine take on an apocalypse, insofar as masculine takes involve trying to Get to Somewhere and Solve Everything, whereas this is about staying in one place and staying alive. I’m not sure that’s quite right either, at least the motivational gender split, but I agree that it was definitely a non-traditional take, and also that it was created by and largely populated by women, so maybe that one is more fair than I’m giving credit as well.

Either way, it was a worthy way to spend a few hours. Downside for you: it will only be on Netflix for a few more hours, and after that, man, who knows?

[1] the state? the coast? the nation? the world? Who knows, when the lack of power and rapidly dwindled gas supply means news is not really forthcoming.

From the Dark (2014)

There’s something to be said for a tidy, self-contained monster movie. I mean, look at Alien!

From the Dark is one such entry into that genre, in which a happily bickering Irish couple run into trouble when the driver[1] ignores GPS instructions, resulting in their being stuck in the mud, way off the beaten track[2] and just after sunset, but conveniently near a farmhouse where the old man who owns the place is sitting in the dark in his living room, mumbling incoherently and totally incapable of providing the assistance for which they had gone looking. Things go from bad to worse when they discover something else is out there in the dark with them.

Late October is the perfect time to watch this movie. Not only is it scary movie season anyway, but also the gray dreary outside keeps the house nice and dark any time of day, which fits the extremely minimal lighting aesthetic of the flick. As you can see, I don’t really want to say anything else about the movie itself, as, spoilers, but: it was a good ‘un.

[1] Guess which one was the driver. Go on, have a guess.
[2] Get it?

Party Hard Die Young

There are two kinds of slasher movies. The first kind is a gradually building sequence of events and accompanying tension in which targeted characters first learn that murder is on the menu and then over the remainder of the film try desperately to stay alive long enough to find out who is behind the murders, in the hopes of saving themselves; this of course does not work for virtually any of them, but that’s the tenor of the semi-genre. Examples: Friday the 13th, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (aka part 5), the majority of one-off slasher films.

The other kind is almost always a member of a longer series, and everyone knows who the killer is because he’s[1] an unstoppable supernatural force. The trying to stay alive part is the same, as is the success rate, just without the false hope that figuring out what’s going on would help. Examples: any movie set on Elm Street, the remainder of the F13 franchise.

Party Hard, Die Young is a literal-minded (or, more to the point, -titled) example of the first kind of slasher movie, about a small group of graduating German high school seniors, or whatever they might be called instead in Germany, who were all in the same home room, or however German classes are divided up. Eight or ten of them, anyway? I lost track of that sentence. Let me start over. It’s about a group of German teens off to a summer EDM[2] festival on an island in the Adriatic, to party hard before going off to college, but then most of them die young instead.

Get it?

The description on Shudder and in IMDb makes reference to how slick and stylish and post-Scream it is, and, man, I just can’t tell what they’re talking about. Like, it has a modern feel to it, both the film quality and of course the lighting and soundtrack; it’s definitely not an ’80s slasher movie. That’s fine, but if you say post-Scream to mean everything looks and sounds better, instead of grainy 35mm film stock and spooky sound editing, man did you miss what made Scream ground-breaking.

In summation, this was a pretty good albeit by the numbers slasher mystery, and mainly it made me hungry for someone to make the same movie, but the setting is Burning Man.

[1] Where, I ask you, are the female-led supernatural slasher serieses? Get it together, not-Hollywood!
[2] Electronic Dance Music, boomer