dir. Dennis Villeneuve
[why, yes, I still do film reviews — real life gets in the way of running a blog though so apologies for that]
One of the best and brightest directors working right now is back with this incredible science fiction film that is, for once, pure science fiction, without any faff. Arrival is the story of Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams) as she is recruited by the U.S. Military to help translate the language of a mysterious alien species that land on Earth out of nowhere and make no obvious contact. We don’t know their motivations and we only meet them through their interactions with Banks and the military. The film also follows her own personal story, which is as intriguing as it is fascinating, especially towards the end, and I of course will not spoil you because this is the first time in a while that a twist has come out of nowhere for me.
It’s a beautiful film, masterfully shot. A very pale colour palette that gave the film a calm, serene atmosphere, and the sets, especially inside the alien ship, are really great. There isn’t much diversity in the locations, but it never feels boring. The world is very much grounded in its own reality, and I found the lack of pointless exposition refreshing.
The stand-out in the film though is Amy Adams. Here more than anything, she has cemented herself as probably the best actor working at the moment. Her range is incredible, and she conveys a realism that is believable without feeling forced. If she doesn’t win all the awards for this, the film industry will have failed her. (Never mind that her performance in Nocturnal Animals was also absolutely stunning.)
There’s something really beautiful about the purity of science unencumbered by pointless violence that I really enjoyed in this film as well. It is ultimately a story of unity rather than difference, and it could not have arrived at a better time.
I can go on and on about all the things I love in this film, but you’re better off going to watch it. At 116 minutes long, it goes by super fast and it leaves you with important questions to think about.
Trick ‘r Treat, 2007
dir. Michael Dougherty
Of course, I could have ended my marathon any other way. This I think can be considered a modern classic in terms of Halloween movies, right? I was really looking forward to it, because Michael Dougherty’s latest film, Krampus, was probably one of my favourite films of last year, so I knew he could do horror pretty well — and, boy, did it deliver!
This is really great, definitely what a modern Halloween movie should be. It’s all these short stories linked together by a neighbourhood, and you really only spend a few minutes with each. There’s some fun twists with some of the characters, and awesome deaths as well, and at times it gets genuinely creepy! I definitely agree with Jay Bauman that, if anyone has to remake The Gremlins, it needs to be Michael Dougherty, ’cause anyone else will fuck it up.
Well, this is it! It’s been a scaretastic month, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. Some really great films have been discovered, and my DVD collection has now expanded beyond the boundaries of my shelves, which is great ha-ha.
Now to Christmas!
dir. Stuart Gordon
I would describe this film as a mix of Call of Cthulu, Temple of Doom, and The Fog, only less entertaining. And to be fair, if Jeffrey Combs had been in the lead role, I probably would have enjoyed it a million times more. But as it is, it’s an okay film.
I was really looking forward to it because Re-Animator is one of my favourite films of all time, so I admit this film had a lot to live up to, and I’ll forgive it for not delivering because how can you beat Re-Animator? Really? Impossible.
It’s a fun little plot, with Cthulu creatures and whatnot, and I really liked the bleak sort of ending, because happy endings in horror films are a total bummer. It’s an open ending that really gives you that hint that everything’s going to shit in approximately two minutes after the credits start rolling, so I approve.
Overall, it is terribly schlocky and over-the-top, and nonsensical, but with a few friends and some drinks, it’d be a pretty fun watch.
The Devil’s Backbone, 2001
dir. Guillermo Del Toro
I have to admit, I gave up on this film pretty early on. I watched most of it, but turned it off with maybe fifteen minutes left in the running time because I just couldn’t take it anymore.
It’s very dull, not at all scary or entertaining, and I couldn’t get invested in it at all. It definitely felt like a proto-Pan’s Labyrinth (and to be honest, I don’t like Pan’s Labyrinth all that much) so it was very blah with a side of whatever. So, yeah, a major let-down, unfortunately.
In the Mouth of Madness, 1994
dir. John Carpenter
I’m super John Carpenter trash, I literally enjoy everything he makes, what can I do? But, yeah, this film is really great, I thought, even though it probably feels the least like a John Carpenter film than I’ve ever seen. Probably because the font is all wrong in the “John Carpenter’s” bit in the title (it’s called “Albertus” if you’ve ever wondered what font he uses — side note: Woody Allen’s is called “Windsor.”)
The plot of this is totally bananas, but it’s very psychological and really plays with the viewer’s perception of what is and isn’t real. Are we in Sam Neill’s mind? Is he crazy or is all of this actually happening? Which I think makes for quite a gripping story because there are many layers of creepy to peel off. But, yeah, it still feels more like a Stephen King adaptation than a Carpenter film.
Overall, though, it’s as usual a really competent film, and a great end of the Apocalypse Trilogy, because just like The Thing and Prince of Darkness, there’s a bleakness to it that is rare nowadays. It’s one thing to have your Scary Monster kill everybody and whatnot, but to leave your characters hopeless at the end, gone mad, in the midst of utter destruction — it’s cruel and brilliant, because it adds all the more to the horror aspect of the film. It’s more than jump scares, and it should be. Jump scares are the laziest way to make people frightened in a horror film. Of course The Horror Master is above that!
dir. John Carpenter
Even vampires are awesome when John Carpenter does them!
Seriously, though, this film is awesome! James Woods is really cool in it, very much like the Plissken-type characters in Carpenter’s films, kind of a rogue, a renegade, dark past, etc. But the twist is he works for the Catholic church! That’s an interesting concept, that the church has teams around the world hunting and killing vampires. Makes me want to read the book this film was based on.
It’s in the desert in New Mexico, but there’s enough change of scenery that it’s a very rich-looking film. The machismo of it does annoy me a little, these rough dudes talking rough threatening to beat people up, but I think the story is interesting enough that I could get over that relatively easily.
However, the true shining star in this film is the music. Very cool, very different from Carpenter’s usual synth scores, but still has that bounce to it that gets your head bobbing, you know? It sounds more like the music from his recent albums (Lost Themes I and II) than from his other films like Escape from New York or The Fog, and it’s just really good. This is just another underrated John Carpenter film that everyone should go see.
Prince of Darkness, 1987
dir. John Carpenter
This is the first part of my John Carpenter triple-bill (it was supposed to be In the Mouth of Madness but due to technical issues I left that for later in the day) and it’s the second instalment of John Carpenter’s “Apocalypse Trilogy,” which I was particularly excited about because The Thing (first part of the trilogy) is only my favourite ever horror film.
I really enjoyed this. Maybe the enjoyment was exacerbated by the memories of seeing John Carpenter play the theme from this film live, but regardless, it’s a class JC film, crazy creative and really fun to watch. There are some awesome practical effects and make-up, and the little Alice Cooper cameo really is a joy. There’s also some regular players in Carpenter’s films, like Donald Pleasance who played Dr. Loomis in Halloween, and Dennis Dun who was Wang in Big Trouble in Little China. The visual elements of a good John Carpenter film are all there, as well as a really cool synth score. It isn’t a good as his most well-known classics, but there’s some genuinely creepy stuff in it, and I think a triple-bill of the Apocalypse Trilogy would be a great watch.