Category Archives: Film

Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice

This is much more what I was looking for out of a horror movie about murderous youths in Nebraska. Please don’t misunderstand me to be saying that Children of the Corn II was good. Honestly, it was almost certainly worse than the original. But it was worse with flair. And by flair I mean a couple of gallons of blood, a pile of creative kills, and a plot that doesn’t make a lick of sense.

Here’s how little sense the plot makes. They added in some hallucinogenic corn mold that children are especially susceptible to, just so their plot could have an explanation for why it makes so little sense! And then they still went back to the “but also there really is something that Walks Behind the Rows,” just as though they hadn’t written themselves out of that corner.

There’s an estranged father / teenaged son subplot that never quite coheres, there’s a killer combine harvester vehicle machine of some kind, there’s an indigenous professor, there’s less nudity than I would expect for a movie from 1992 that was as sex-laden as this one tried to be, there’s an old woman doomsayer[2], and there’s a group of murderous children, because of course there is. It’s even nominally the same group of murderous children, for the most part, since although 8 years have passed in real life, maybe that many days had passed according to the laws of direct horror movie sequels.

Did you know that not counting remakes, there are at least four more of these movies that got made at some point or another? And probably more than that! Truly, it’s a rich and varied world of cinema. …anyway, this podcast had better be worth it.

[1] Now there’s a tagline that is of its specific moment.
[2] Actually, this is noteworthy! The elderly doomsayer that everybody ignores until the body count spirals out of control is almost always a man.

Children of the Corn (1984)

I’m not actually convinced I’ve never seen Children of the Corn before. But if I have, it made little enough impression on me that today’s viewing may as well have been the first. The funny thing is, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to watch it at all, but its sequel[1] wasn’t available on any streaming services, and the first one was, so, there you go.

What I think would have made this a much better movie is if there had been no prologue. Like, keep all the same footage and use it later in flashback. But if you start off with Linda Hamilton and some guy named Burt[3] driving down a country road in Nebraska, and they hit a kid who it turns out had his throat slit before they ever hit him, and there are menacing “watcher” camera angles, and the audience has to figure out what’s going on along with them? That’s a pressure cooker!

That small but major correction is almost everything the movie really needs. Okay, some of the final act special effects are terrible, but it’s basically 40 years old, so, forgiven. Creepy kids menacing you with farm implements in the middle of nowhere, that covers basically everything my suburban adulthood needs to be scared.

Well, one additional correction, maybe less small, is that outside of the flashback sequence, almost nobody dies, and I feel like this should have been a bloodbath. Probably if they had gone the “what is even happening?” pressure cooker route, this would bother me less. But, they didn’t, and it turns out this is just not a very good movie when over half of it is teenagers chasing Burt and/or Linda Hamilton around an empty small town downtown district, while the pacing of the plot makes it impossible to believe either of them is in any real danger, most of the time.

Still, though, it does make me wonder if it was possible, as late as the early ’80s, for a town to just disappear and nobody noticed. Now: zero percent chance. But then… like, I mostly still don’t buy it, especially when they threw in the shot of the 900-something population sign. But if it was less than 200, and basically everyone who cared about anyone who lived in the town currently lived in the town with them, I guess it’s a possibility?

In conclusion, small towns from my childhood are weird.

[1] which I plan to watch because a podcast I want to listen to will treat me as though I don’t care about spoilers[2]
[2] There’s a certain inherent irony to this explanation, I know.
[3] Now there’s a name that’s fallen out of favor.

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari

I can say with a high degree of confidence that The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is the first movie I’ve seen that is over 100 years old. I mean to say “seen for the first time”, but there’s a near certainty that it’s also the first movie I’ve seen of that age, period. So that’s something!

Here’s what I like about it: it’s terribly modern. It opens on two men on a bench. The old man says he was driven from his home by spirits, and the young one responds with, essentially, “You think that’s bad? My fiancee and I (here she walks by in a long white dress? night gown?, in a complete daze, as if to emphasize his sentence) were just subjected to a traveling carnival!” And okay, there’s more to it than that, but the whole story of Caligari and his cabinet (that is, wooden box) and the man inside who has been asleep for 25 years and can now tell the future (barkers Caligari, so you know it must be true)  and the series of murders that follows, it’s all told in this dreamlike atmosphere, and on twisted, confusing, dreamlike sets. Sure, you know Caligari is the bad guy and his pawn? accomplice? Cesare is the murderer, but the plot spins in so many directions that it’s possible to continuously speculate about what will happen next.

In conclusion, I don’t think it’s fair to say that all old movies are as good as or better than new ones. But once a movie is still widely known and available to be seen past its century mark, yeah, there’s no surprise that it’s a good one, and that it’s still just as relatable to a modern audience. Pity I didn’t watch the 4K remaster that I understand exists.

Oh, caveat: the music was mostly a terrible fit for the plot and ongoing events on screen, and that hurts a silent film a lot. Eventually I was able to mostly tune it out, at least.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

It’s impossible to think about a sequel to Black Panther without thinking about Chadwick Boseman. I don’t mean because he died, or I don’t only mean that. I mean that every aspect of the movie’s plot is wholly informed by the fact of his loss. I try to imagine a movie with any shared plot point but also T’Challa is the main character, and… I just cannot.

Instead of whatever might have been, we got one of the grimmest MCU movies I can remember, in which a series of unlikable politicians face off against[1] an unlikable Queen Ramonda[2] faces off against the goddamned Submariner.

I want to have more to say, but… I kind of don’t. Wakanda Forever ended up feeling like exactly the movie it was, in which the MCU architects were forced to spend an entire movie shifting around pieces on the chess board to explain why there’s still a Black Panther even though the actor died and they were smart enough to not replace him in the same role with a new actor.

The best part of the movie was the payoff of that conundrum, where the most deserving justification and the most deserving character came together very neatly to solve the problem and save the day. The second best part of the movie was that they managed to convince me Namor’s ankle wings are not entirely ridiculous in every way, via Mayan mythology. The second worst part of the movie is that I think if Boseman had lived, we would not have gotten the goddamned Submariner into the MCU yet, or maybe ever. (The worst part of the movie is that Chadwick Boseman died, of course. Even if it happened before they settled the script.)

[1] Because, see, they want vibranium, and there’s no longer a Black Panther to protect Wakanda. (I mean, there’s still piles of Wakandan futuretech and those badass Dora Milaje, which you’d think would be plenty enough to give anyone pause.)
[2] A lot of the time, she[3] has good reason to be angry. But she’s just not nice to anyone, and it definitely adds to the grim feel of things.
[3] T’Challa’s mother, the new ruler of the nation since he had to be written out of the story.

Thor: Love and Thunder

The fourth Thor movie came out in, what, July? We went to see it at the drive-in, and it was good enough in an actiony explosions and rainbosenberg bridges kind of way. Also, like always, I was tired and it was a summer movie, which means starting near sunset for two (and a half, counting previews, etc) hours is a lot later than if we were watching it in, say, February. So I lightly dozed through a lot of it, which caused me to judge what I did see perhaps more harshly than I would have otherwise. This doesn’t matter to you, because I was always going to watch it again for real before writing a review, which not incidentally is why this one is six months late. But it did mean I kept putting it off even though it’s been available to me for multiple months via certain online sources run by mice.

Thor: Love and Thunder has two glaring flaws, the first of which is sort of a spoiler but not especially. So, one of all, he went off with the Guardians of the Galaxy at the end of Endgame. But now he has his own movie. and also, they have their own movie soon. So the possibilities are that these movies a) tie into each other in some way, b) are lopsided because Thor is sharing screen time with a whole team but then isn’t in their movie at all when it comes out later, or c) are wholly unrelated, and the team and thunder god have to be uncoupled. C is bad because it means them going off together in the first place was pointless and poorly thought out, with no planning. You can guess which one happened, I trust.

Two of all, the movie itself is… I am about to say it’s pointless, which is only true insofar as the context of the way the Marvel Cinematic Universe has previously worked makes it true. It adds nothing to an overarching storyline being told in its Phase or in its collection of phases. Or if it does, what it is adding is entirely opaque. And what occurs to me is that neither of these is a flaw of the movie itself. It is a flaw in how Marvel and apparently Kevin Feige are meandering aimlessly from one plot to the next, with practically no connective tissue. This doesn’t bother me in the comics because the comics started out that way and, despite crossing over with each other frequently, rarely have giant events. Whereas the MCU was one enormous event from start to end[game]. But they can’t come out and say, hey, we’re going full comics, just making these for funsies with occasional big events (but of course regular crossovers), as it would piss the public off, after what they got out of the first ten years. But they also can’t not say it, because then it looks like this, with people hating on most of your movies because they don’t make overall sense. Which, of course they don’t, if you didn’t write in any overall sense to be made!

Either that, or Feige got infected by whatever happened when Disney contracted the third Star Wars trilogy without a plan.

Anyway, all of that to say: this was a good movie, as long as you did not have grand scheme expectations. Waititi has the same sense of whimsical fun that made Ragnarok work so well, and if it was maybe amped up a little higher, that worked for me. (I understand why it wouldn’t have worked for everyone.) Hemsworth is having the time of his life, clearly. Various callsback in miniature scattered throughout gave me exactly what I’m also getting from reading all of the comics, and in summation, I’m not tired of what they’re doing yet.

But I do wish they were more certain of what that is, or else that they’d communicate it clearly if they are. The movies are good on a case by case basis, but the overall look is just not very good, you know?

Oh, plot thing, if you need it: a bro with a religious axe to grind gets a magic god-killing sword and starts, er, killing gods. Later, he kidnaps a bunch of Asgardian children, which sends Thor and also Thor (you had to be there) on a quest to stop him from killing those children maybe and still more gods definitely. Also, there are some pretty sweet goats and really a lot of Guns ‘n Roses. And, as you can perhaps envision from the title, a love story.

Nóz w wodzie

As you have perhaps guessed by the title, Mary and I finally watched another movie in the so-called “weekly” letterboxd dot com challenge, about which I’ve said more than enough previously. This, the seventh in the sequence and representing the beginning of November[1], was Polish Film School[2] week. I had (of course) already seen most of these, but the first film by newcomer Roman Polanski caught my eye, and we decided to give it a whirl.[3]

Knife in the Water is the beautifully shot story of a middle-aged married couple who pick up a young hitchhiker and invite him on their overnight sailboat trip, while all three constantly pick at each other. Also, the hitchhiker has a fancy(?) knife.

Okay, that was a little dismissive. It’s a three-person character study of clashing personalities in tight spaces, even though the cinematography is ironically full of open skies and broad vistas most of the time. It’s not clear why the husband dislikes the hitchhiker so much, their initial encounter notwithstanding, and it’s even less clear why he invited the youth onto the boat, nor yet why the hitchhiker accepted. Nevertheless, the premise leads to simmering emotional and eventually physical tension that both promise to boil over before the credits… well, okay, it’s 1962 and end credits weren’t a thing yet. Allow me to correct myself to “promise to boil over before the screen fades to black.”

Was it good? I believe it was. Was it in fact the first Roman Polanski movie I’ve ever seen? It was not, but only because of Rosemary’s Baby a short while back. …which, come to think of it, shares this movie’s paradoxical claustrophobia.

[1] sigh
[2] Polish Film Movement might have been more explanatory, week title deciders
[3] To translate, I was able to find exactly one of the movie options on a streaming service I have access to, and it happened to have name recognition as a bonus.

Glass Onion

Knives Out was probably the last movie I saw with Mary in the theater before Covid happened.[1][2] This is apropos of nothing in particular, just a memory from the before times. For example, here in modernity, we did not see Glass Onion in the theater at all, though it got to Netflix with surprising rapidity[3].

So there’s this tech billionaire guy, who like all tech billionaire guys on film in the past five years is probably a riff on Elon Musk. And he invites all of his friends to his private Greek island for a murder mystery weekend by way of an incredibly fancy puzzlebox. (A literal puzzlebox.) Plus he also invites the world’s greatest detective, Benoit Blanc, which is to say Daniel Craig.

It’s hard to say more (even if it’s easy to intuit more) about the plot. What I can comfortably say is that it’s every bit as clever and as funny as its predecessor, and I would happily watch Craig and Rian Johnson make these movies until the end of time.

[1] Not the actual last movie I saw in the theater, that was The Invisible Man
[2] (Also, it wasn’t even that; we saw three other movies in between Knives Out and lockdown. Huh.)
[3] Joke’s on me: apparently it is a Netflix original that had a one week theatrical release. Huh.

Rosemary’s Baby

So we’ve, uh, fallen behind on this movie you’ve never seen that matches a theme each week website challenge thing. Week six, where last we left off in October, was something from their top 250 horror films, as rated by site users I guess? Anyway, I had seen the top five, and six and seven weren’t available for streaming, but number eight was Rosemary’s Baby, one of those classics where you more or less already know what happens because of cultural osmosis of so many subsequent references and homages, but you never know what’s actually going to happen, you know?

The jam is this: Rosemary and her financially successful but critically failed actor husband move into an old apartment building in Manhattan, one of those places where you already cannot believe how enormous the place is[1] even before you learn that it was at some point in the [recent?] past split in half from the apartment currently housing the elderly and somewhat kooky childless neighbors. Also, they (Rosemary and her husband) want to have kids.

The thing is, you know what’s going to happen next. I knew what was going to happen next. Everyone knows! My daughter knows, and she was born this year. It’s like Rosebud, you just… know. But at the same time, it was fun to pretend I didn’t know how it was going to turn out.[2] The things I found out along the way were things I didn’t know, but probably should have.[3] And at least one thing I found out but probably shouldn’t have known, which is I’m guessing this may be the first movie that did the trope where you solve the anagram that clues you in about whatever evil thing is going on by digging out a copy of Scrabble and just fiddling with the tiles. So add that to the list of countless tropes this movie has generated.

All in all: it’s very definitely a snapshot of a different time, but it’s mostly timeless, and also it’s mostly or entirely good. I understand why it is the eighth most well-regarded horror movie on this one movie website, is what I’m saying. Solid acting, solid script, solid atmosphere, exquisite final ten minutes. Would watch for the first time all over again.

[1] But at least it’s not like Friends where, how do they afford this? Because of the financially successful acting career and all, although also one of the Friends apartments would fit in the living room of this place, so
[2] And okay, I didn’t, not exactly.
[3] The next footnote is spoilers about things I found out.[4] So don’t read it if you care about spoilers for a 55 year old movie.
[4] Like, I didn’t know she had the world’s worst husband, who among other many sub-par qualities had as his go-to excuse for something that was, uh, pretty bad, his go-to excuse for it was “I went ahead and had sex with you even though you had passed out [after eating a drugged dessert that I insisted you eat even though because I knew it was drugged].” (Like, he didn’t spousal rape her, but he claimed he did, because the alternative was worse. …although I guess they don’t sound as close together in badness in 1968 as they do now? But credit where it’s due, even in 1968 she was all “that wasn’t cool, bro” about it before shrugging and giving up instead of not being concerned in the first place, like I expected in the moment. And I didn’t know, but absolutely should have, that when she went to a medical professional for help, he would immediately betray her. And I didn’t know that the relationship with her husband would play as so loveless and mechanical, which I at least believe was on purpose? There are things in the last scenes of the movie that make me think so.

Busanhaeng 2: Bando

Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula is the second entry in the TtBCU[1], and even though it wasn’t on the list of Korean horror films for last(?)[2] week, I did the research and confirmed for myself that it counted (same director and writer as Train to Busan, and made by South Korean companies). So, that’s what we watched!

As discussed in the tagline, the movie is set four years after the events on the train, and in that time… well, the short version is North Korea was finally useful for something besides human misery. Since South Korea is on an isolated peninsula[3], they were able to use their otherwise pointless and/or actively evil military to contain the zombies, and then everyone else just stopped letting escaping boats in without incredibly onerous health checks of the kind that I think we’ve proven would not actually occur in the real world, but. And so, South Korea is a zombie-infested wasteland, and the rest of the world is all, “Huh. I guess that happened.” And the few people who did get out are mostly disliked refugees, so at least they got that part of how we’d behave correct.

Anyway, that’s all setting for a heist-and-redemption story precipitated by an army guy and his embittered brother-in-law being roped into a shot at 50% of the take on a truck full of money just sitting there, waiting to be taken by whoever can survive. It has every trope you’d expect and then some, but you know what? I liked it. (Arguably, that’s why I liked it?)

Thanks, Korean horror community!

[1] There is no TtBCU
[2] When I started this, we were potentially only a week behind. A lot of water has passed under the bridge between then and when I finished it.
[3] Hey, I see what they did there!

The Dark Tower (2017)

With this movie knocked out so quickly, we’re back on schedule, hooray! I mean, we are if we also watch this week’s movie this week, but at least it’s mathematically possible to. Anyway, last week’s movie theme was Stephen King adaptations, which, there are certainly many I haven’t seen, no matter what you might think. However, the most glaring hole is the troubled[1] Dark Tower adaptation from a few years ago, so, we acquired that and checked it out last night.

The problem, I think, is one of expectations. Because this is clearly and obviously not an adaptation of the book or series of The Dark Tower that Stephen King wrote. It has several identical character names, some of them attached to similar characters, even. But the driving arc of the movie is not merely different from but antithetical to the driving arc of the books. So you’ve got a fantasy movie with a built-in audience who you’ve immediately alienated, and what’s left is a movie that would appear to be impenetrable to a generic audience, even though that was not especially the case.

What I could see was a humorously slapdash attempt to make this movie the linchpin of the SKCU[2], even as the series is the linchpin of his library. And I mean, it was less a successful linchpin making and more a constant game of “spot the reference”, but it was also a fun game of that. I caught a lot of them, while being pretty certain I must have missed others. And this is not enough to make a good movie, by a long shot, but I kind of think that if they’d made a more concerted effort, it could have been pretty amazing.

Anyway, long story short: There’s a boy, Jake, and he is having apocalyptic dreams about a man in black who wants to destroy a tower, and every time he attempts this in Jake’s dreams, geologically mysterious earthquakes strike all around the world. But then Jake has a dream about Roland, who is a gunslinger, and who can possibly stop the man in black from succeeding. And then Jake gets swept up in events, and there’s a movie.

I said early on that all of the characters were subtly or dramatically wrong, and I stand by that. But if I didn’t know anything about the characters or their motivations in advance, these would have been acceptable. Idris Elba played his role well and somewhere near the two-thirds mark, they finally convinced me this really was Roland Deschaines, just from an alternate universe with a wildly divergent backstory. I guess what I mean is I liked the movie for what it was, but am sad that they squandered what it could have been.

[1] ie, it was a commercial and critical flop
[2] It is important here for me to note that there is not, in fact, a Stephen King Cinematic Universe.