Category Archives: Horror

Top Ten Most Anticipated Movies of 2020

Welcome to the new year! Welcome to the new DECADE! As the last one passes on by, the next one comes in with an embarrassment of promising cinematic riches. Some of the films on this list have been on my radar for quite a while, others have only recently come to my attention. In any case, these are the 10 feature films that I’m most excited for coming out in the year 2020. I’d like to start off, however, by labeling some honorable mentions for other films that look pretty promising.

Honorable Mentions:

Artemis Fowl, The Way Back, West Side Story, The Prom, Free Guy, Saint Maud, Halloween Kills, The Eternals, Birds of Prey, Onward, Next Goal Wins, The Rhythm Section, The Trial of the Chicago 7, The Witches, Wonder Woman 1984, Black Widow

Now, let’s get on with it, shall we?

#10: “Soul” (Opens June 19th)

After a couple of long in-development sequels to beloved classics of theirs, Pixar is finally making the return to original filmmaking in 2020. Onward also looks interesting, but it’s Pete Docter’s newest film that has my attention the most. Early impressions seem to give off the feeling that this is yet another creative and heartfelt creation from the animation studio. The animation looks unsurprisingly vibrant and the integration of jazz music into the narrative has me giddy for whatever kind of personality it has in store- especially because Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are handling the score. And given the recent shakeup in leadership at Disney’s animation branch, if Soul ends up being Docter’s swansong, it looks like a big way to go out.

#9: “The Gentlemen” (Opens January 24th)

Many filmmakers are able to sustain their careers by stretching out into different genres. Guy Ritchie isn’t really one of those directors, as his personal style never quite fit into a live-action Disney musical or a fantasy epic. However, his next movie The Gentlemen feels like a return to form for him, similar to Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. With an all-star cast at his disposal, all of whom seem to be having the time of their lives, it looks like Ritchie has found his comfort zone again. Let’s hope it’ll be genuinely fun and not just two hours of him trying desperately to relive his glory days.

#8: “Mank” (TBA 2020)

David Fincher finally making another feature film is enough reason for me to become excited about the project. But hearing that it was written by his late father Jack makes it sound much more personal for him, even with the near-mythical subject matter. It promises to be a movie about screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, who fought with Orson Welles to attain a writing credit on the film Citizen Kane. Seeing talent like Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, and Charles Dance among the cast members makes it seem like this could be a major awards contender for Netflix next fall. Fingers crossed Mank won’t get buried in their catalogue.

#7: “Last Night in Soho” (Opens September 25th)

After the success of Baby Driver, Edgar Wright could have done anything he wanted for is project. Rather than choosing something obvious or right up his alley, he’s doing a non-comedic horror movie with Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, and Thomasin McKenzie. The first image above teases something genuinely creepy and stylistic that he’s created alongside rising co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns. We still don’t know exactly the story might entail, but it sounds like it will be his rendition of psychological thrillers from the 1970’s. That alone is enough for me to be at least intrigued for whatever Wright and company have cooked up for next fall.

#6: “Cherry” (TBA 2020)

It’s always an exciting prospect when established blockbuster filmmakers move away to something smaller and more personal. Cherry sounds like such a prospect, as it finds the Russo Brothers reuniting with Tom Holland on a true-story drama that’s, unfortunately, only increased in its relevance. The tale of Nico Walker, a PTSD-ridden soldier who becomes addicted to opioids, is one that begs to be told. I’m eager to see how all parties involved can get a film made that doesn’t have to be defined by the constraints of a traditional Hollywood blockbuster like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although it technically doesn’t have a 2020 release date or distribution deal set just yet, I really hope the major studios will at least try to give it some attention when the time comes.

#5: “The Invisible Man” (Opens February 28th)

I’m still recovering from the spectacularly failed promise of the “Dark Universe” 3 years ago. It pretty much convinced me that none of the classic Universal Monsters could be properly adapted to the modern age. However, it looks like Leigh Whannell and Blumhouse have managed to find a new and relevant angle on The Invisible Man. It looks like it will be taking a MeToo approach, using the titular character as a way of relating society’s absurd reluctance to listen to women’s stories of abuse even though they can’t really see it. Add in Elizabeth Moss as the lead, and this looks like it could become a real word-of-mouth hit in February.

#4: “No Time to Die” (Opens April 8th)

The James Bond franchise has, by and large, been hit or miss for me over the years. Skyfall still remains my favorite one, and Daniel Craig’s version of the character has been remarkable, but there have been a number of stinkers every now and then. However, his 5th and supposedly last outing as 007 looks intriguing as hell. After a troubled early production history, No Time to Die looks like it’s on the right track based on what we’ve seen thus far. Cary Joji Fukunaga making the transition to big blockbuster filmmaking is incredibly interesting, especially when you consider how gorgeous the film looks visually. And of course, Rami Malek as the main villain sounds really exciting, and I can’t wait to see Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s writing come to light after a hyper-successful rise with Fleabag and Killing Eve.

#3: “In the Heights” (Opens June 26th)

Of the high-profile Broadway adaptations coming to theaters this year- the others being Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and Spielberg’s spin on West Side Story -it’s In the Heights I’m the most pumped for. I’ll admit to having only become a fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda in the past few years because of Hamilton, but his first musical is still a joy to listen to. The first trailer showcased exactly what I was hoping to see from the film, and seeing Anthony Ramos in a huge leading role, not to mention the whole ensemble surrounding him, makes me so pumped.

#2: “Tenet” (Opens July 17th)

Christopher Nolan might be one of the last filmmakers who’s able to let a major studio allow him to make a completely original blockbuster on a massive budget. And after finally getting an Oscar nod for Dunkirk, I knew that whatever he did next would be unique. And seeing him recruit John David Washington and Robert Pattinson for a huge action epic, alongside a wildly exciting crew, makes it sound amazing. As for what Tenet’s plot seems to be? Even after watching the glorious first trailer, I probably still won’t know what the film is actually about until I see in theaters. And I absolutely love that.

#1: “Dune” (Opens December 18th)

Denis Villeneuve was, unquestionably, the breakout director of the last decade. Blade Runner 2049 is one of the best films of all time, Prisoners is an underrated masterpiece, and Arrival is a modern sci-fi classic. So it’s only fitting that his newest project is an adaptation of one of the biggest and most influential science-fiction novels ever written. It feels almost like the type of film that he’s been building his whole career towards, especially with all of the support involved. He also has an enormously talented ensemble at his disposal, from Timothée Chalamet to Jason Momoa to Stellan Skarsgård bound to bring their all to the table. In short, Dune is shaping up to be a true sci-fi epic that could hopefully define cinema of the coming decade.

Do you agree with my picks? What movie are you most excited to see come out in 2020? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a Comment below. And for more awesome content like this, be sure to leave a like and Follow my Blog. Happy New Year, everyone!

“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” Movie Review

I’m not even lying when I tell you guys that The Pale Lady and The Jangly Man made me piss myself out of fear. And before anyone judges, I’m almost positive that everyone else in the theater had the exact same reaction as me. This youth-centered supernatural horror film was released in theaters worldwide by Lionsgate and CBS Films on August 9th, 2019. It has fare very well at the international box office, grossing over $93.5 million against a budget of roughly $23 million. Although it never attained the tope spot and didn’t even finish first its opening weekend, it still managed to attain relative success. It’s believed that much of its intake was due to decent word-of-mouth and nostalgia for the source material. Directed by André Øvredal, the film is based on the horror short story collection of the same name by Alvin Schwartz. The adaptation had long been a passion project of Guillermo del Toro, who also served as producer and story co-writer on the final product. Although there were virtually no connections between any of the stories in the original collection, the film ties all of them into the same narrative without using an anthological format. Set in 1968, the film follows a group of teenage outcast friends in a small rural Pennsylvania town. Led by amateur horror author Stella Nicholls, played by Zoe Colletti, on Halloween night the gang discovers an old book in a supposedly haunted mansion. They soon realize that the book writes horrific short stories about people that they know, which then come to life almost immediately. With their peers getting picked off one by one and the adults not willing to believe them, the group race to figure out the origins of the book and how to stop it. I can’t say I ever read Alvin Schwarz’s anthology books growing up or had too much familiarity with them. I only really became interested in this adaptation when I heard that Guillermo del Toro was instrumental in production. Not to mention, it’s always exciting to see a film of the genre focus more heavily on practical effects and makeup over CGI nonsense. The marketing campaign really played this one up as a sort of Goosebumps for teenagers, which I have some fond memories of. It’s PG-13 rating was encouraging that it was going to have a wider appeal but still have something in store for older viewers. And while Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark definitely has some stumbles in the road, it’s still worth a look. On the whole, there isn’t anything particularly wrong with wanting to make a horror film that’s geared for a younger audience. It’s a fun and overall harmless way to get them into the genre without having to necessarily traumatize their childhood. And as an added bonus, parents will also likely get a kick out of it with its atmosphere and generally toned down scares. This also happens to be Scary Stories‘ biggest flaw in that it often relegates itself to numerous horror clichés. Screenwriters Dan and Kevin Hageman seem interested in exploring the lore behind the book at the center of the plot, but also include far more jump-scares than is probably necessary. But again, that’s kind of par for the course in getting new viewers into the genre, and mostly redeems that with some pretty unsettling imagery throughout. In a genre notorious for bad child performances, the troupe of young lead actors here proves to hold their own quite well. They’re led by newcomer Zoe Colletti, who shows that she’s a capable lead in a genre film even at her young age. Like many of del Toro’s other films, there’s an enormous amount of empathy for her status as an outsider, as she’s dealing with an internal trauma that’s never been resolved or even addressed before now. Michael Garza also puts in some decent work as Ramón Morales, the second-in-command for the main group of friends. Although he’s new to town and harbors some mystery, he immediately becomes worth caring about as he puts his full foot forward to protect his newfound friends. Austin Abrams is also worth noting as Tommy Milner, the high school jock and frequent bully to the main group. His performance and attitude are reminiscent of bullies in several Stephen King stories, and while he may go a little too far in some scenes, it’s perfect for getting audiences to despise him. Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur, and Natalie Ganzhorn round out the primary group of child friends while Dean Norris, Lorraine Toussaint, and Gill Bellows play some of the adults practically oblivious to the horrors their children are facing. Each one contributes something to the package, even if some of their characters are stuck in typical horror film archetypes. From a technical point of view, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark tries to distinguish itself from other films in the genre. Returning from their collaboration on The Autopsy of Jane Doe, the cinematography by Roman Osin has a sleek color palette throughout. The steady movements and angles make subtle callbacks to old-school Amblin features without dipping completely in nostalgia. Although much of the film takes place at night, it’s never too dark to tell what’s going on and keeps some of its best scares in the shadows. It makes excellent use of primary colors, particularly red, which at one point fills the screen as a character is faced with a terrifying monster. The editing job by Patrick Larsgaard, meanwhile, can be a bit of a mixed bag. While it’s mostly able to move between different shots and scenes fairly well, every now and then it feels like its waiting for the next jumpscare. There’s surprisingly a lot of room in some shots for the young actors to breathe and the camera usually cuts away to something vital to the plot. It works best when the stories themselves are being rad aloud while juxtaposing their actual coming to life. The biggest asset this film has going for it by far is its surprisingly heavy reliance on practical effects and makeup over CGI. This lends well to adding a sort of physicality and believability to the monsters the main children have to face. It also helps that the designs for these creatures, from Harold the scarecrow to the Jangly Man, are absolutely unsettling. It’s too rare in horror movies today, and it’s nice to see them in play here. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a fine and diverting entry-level horror film for burgeoning genre fans. Although it certainly leaves much to be desired, André Øvredal still manages to carve out the rare scary flick that can appeal to old and young audiences alike with surprising finesse. Ultimately, it’s Guillermo del Toro’s distinctive touch that makes this film work as well as it does.

“Zombieland” Movie Review

We’re coming up on the tenth anniversary for this movie, AND it’s getting the long-awaited sequel it finally deserves. To paraphrase one of the main characters here, now is as good as any time to nut up or shut up. This post-apocalyptic horror comedy film originally premiered at Fantastic Fest in 2009 to a highly enthusiastic reception from critics and genre fans. It was later released in theaters worldwide by Sony and Columbia Pictures on October 2nd of that year, a week earlier than had been advertised. Within its first 17 days, it managed to gross over $60 million at the global box office, eventually bringing its total intake to $102.4 million. This made it become the highest-grossing zombie movie to be released in North America, a position previously held by Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake in 2004. Directed by Ruben Fleischer in his feature-length debut, the incredibly witty screenplay was written by Deadpool scribes Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. The idea for the film had floated with them for years, and originally wrote it as a television pilot in the summer of 2005. Although one specific part had been written for Patrick Swayze, the actor was too sick from terminal pancreatic cancer and over a dozen other stars were considered before settling on someone else. One of its other stars had a number of demands before signing on, including the director changing his diet, and allegedly attacked a TMZ photographer while in character. Set two months after mad cow’s disease devolved into a zombie apocalypse, Jesse Eisenberg stars as Columbus, a college student who lives by a strict set of rules. On his journey to see if his parents are still alive, he runs into another survivor called Tallahassee, played by Woody Harrelson, who’s very violent in his killings. The two of them then encounter sisters Wichita and Little Rock, played by Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin, who have a hard time trusting anyone. The four of them begrudgingly agree to travel to an amusement park in Los Angeles that’s supposedly free of zombies, and unexpectedly become closer as they make their way. Zombie stories are nowhere near anything new in movies, but they’ve come a long way from George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Some are extremely gory, others are more sterile; some are loaded with sociopolitical undertones, are just as mindless as the undead roaming the frame. And others, like this one, are just the right amount of fun and emotional to carry itself for the runtime. I remember really liking this movie the first time I saw it, but after seeing Venom, I worried that maybe Ruben Fleischer’s directorial skills weren’t what I remembered them being. It’s not often that some comedies hold up on repeat viewings, especially if they were released years ago. But that’s not the case with Zombieland, as it still proves to be a very funny and bloody good time. I had genuinely forgotten how sweet-natured the film is, which balances out the wittiness and snarky humor typical of Reese and Wernick’s work. Rather trying to be a serious commentary on contemporary society or human nature, the film is more concerned with telling a story about an unconventional makeshift family. Even though we never learn their real names, we really grow attached to the four central protagonists as they learn to trust other people again. Another thing that sets Zombieland apart from the rest of the pack is the inclusion of Columbus’ extensive list of rules. All of them make sense in the context of the apocalypse, and several others are so amusing because of how weirdly specific they can be, such as “Beware the Bathrooms.” Even though not all of them are explicitly given in the movie, it’s a neat and unique way for worldbuilding. Right before creating Facebook and alienating everyone around him, Jesse Eisenberg puts in earnest and funny work as Columbus. High-strung as ever and always thinking on his feet, his small physique and demeanor juxtapose his harsh view of the new world. Meeting these new people clearly has an effect on him as he suddenly and willfully thrusts himself into danger to keep them all safe and alive. Woody Harrelson delivers arguably his most iconic performance as Tallahassee, a redneck with a big penchant for Twinkies. A man’s man if ever there was one, he has an enormous amount of bravado and pride that attributes to his instinct for distrust no matter the situation. But underneath all of the macho gun action and hilarious one-liners is a fundamentally lonely man broken by the status of the world around him. Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin are both badass and funny in their own right, always thinking on their feet. It’s clear that something happened to them that instilled a great feeling of antitrust among fellow survivors and always keep trying to move along to the next “safe zone.” They provide a great foil to the more masculine attitudes of Tallahassee and Columbus and all four intermingle perfectly throughout. And as many have already heard, Bill Murray makes an all-timer of a cameo in this film as a fictionalized version of himself. Although he apparently wasn’t the first choice, he gamely puts his effort into this hilarious and self-deprecating caricature. When asked if he has any regrets about the world before the apocalypse he casually replies, “Ehh, Garfield maybe.” And meanwhile, the technical aspects of Zombieland show its effort to stylistically separate itself from other entries in the genre. Michael Bonvillain’s cinematography is highly stylized and frenetic, which lends well to the chaos of this post-apocalyptic world. Not many shots are handheld, more often opting for more controlled or gliding shots into the madness as the four protagonists try to fight their way out. It also frequently lets a shot be drawn out for a pause to make a comedic moment much funnier. This goes almost hand-in-hand with the joint editing job by Peter Amundson and Alam Baumgarten. At 88 minutes long, the scenes are all cut together at a brisk and consistent pace that mostly flows well all the way through. There’s a really great opening credits sequence that shows a slow-motion highlights reel of the initial outbreak of the zombie virus which sets the unorthodox tone to come. The film also features cutaways from the main action to a different scenario. For example, if a character feels particularly proud of a zombie kill, Columbus’ narration will bring up another example of an exceptional kill somewhere far away. More energetic and fun than meaningful and serious, Zombieland is an appropriately zany and subversive breath of life in the genre for the undead. While not really classic, Ruben Fleischer, along with Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, are able to inject some great thrills balanced with lighthearted moments. The core four cast members really help to sell this story of a makeshift family trying to find solace after the end of the world. It’s a great movie to watch every now and then with a group of friends and still doesn’t lose its luster after all this time.

“It Chapter Two” Movie Review

Imagine having to fight a literal interdimensional monster with only your middle-school friends by your side. Now that is pretty scary, not gonna lie. This supernatural horror movie was released in theaters by Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema on September 6th, 2019. After accumulating the second-biggest Thursday night preview earnings for a September release, (Behind its predecessor) it has gone on to gross over $457.4 million at the worldwide box office. While this is obviously enormous for a horror film, it is considered to be on a slower role than the first film. This is likely to due mixed reviews from audiences and critics, as well as the epic runtime which has curbed runtimes. Once again directed by Andy Muschietti, this sequel adapts the adult portion of Stephen King’s huge novel of the same name. Announced almost immediately after the massive success of the first film, production was stalled in order for all of the ideal cast members to be available. Muschietti has expressed interest in creating a supercut version combining both parts into one continuous film, as some unused scenes from the first were brought in for the second. It also contains a scene reportedly featuring the most amount of blood in film, with over 5,000 gallons worth of fake blood used. Picking up 27 years after the events of It, the Losers Club members have all gone their separate ways as adults. When a young man is found brutally murdered in the town of Derry, Maine, librarian Mike Hanlon, played by Isaiah Mustafa, believes the being Pennywise the Dancing Clown is behind it, despite having defeated him as children. Mike contacts his old friends- Bill, Richie, Beverly, Ben, Eddie, and Stanley -and convinces them all to return to Derry. Confronted by their own traumas of years past, the Losers band together to face Pennywise, played by Bill Skarsgård, one last time and end him for good. I was a really big fan of the first part of Stephen King’s It when it was released back in 2017. As a huge admirer of King’s enormous library of literary work, it was exciting to see one of his most famous books turned into a film that felt faithful to the source material. Plus, we’ve now seen a whole wash of different adaptations of his work in the last two years, including Gerald’s Game and the upcoming Doctor Sleep. With the talented adult cast that was assembled, there was a definite possibility for this second and final installment to be even better. And well, It: Chapter Two isn’t, but there’s still some meaty stuff to latch onto here. For a book this sprawling and massive, it is forgivable for the producers to split it into two separate movies. But the main issue here is that there is some material that probably was better left on the cutting room floor. At 2 hours and 49 minutes, it often feels like its repeating itself to pad out the runtime, especially during the second act. However, It: Chapter Two is able to redeem itself by the end, because it is a pretty satisfying wrap-up. It’s thematic ideas of lost innocence, childhood trauma, and facing a bizarre fear are part and parcel for Stephen King stories, but they’re all brought to an ambitious head here. In a world where franchises and IPs are seemingly neverending, it’s refreshing that the studio and filmmakers were committed to letting this saga be two parts and nothing more. Easily the biggest attribute to this film’s success is its cast of adult actors, all of whom commit very nicely in their roles. Played by James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, and Andy Bear, they all perfectly pick up where their child counterparts left off last time. McAvoy and Chastain are clearly the leads here and their portrayals of both Bill and Beverly feel right. Like their friends, there’s clearly a lot of unresolved trauma from their younger years that they try and reckon with. Bill Skarsgård returns as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, and still has all of his swagger and terror intact. When he isn’t acting like a terryfing interdimensional being, he’s condescending the Losers or anyone else in his path for their fears. His contorted body movement and deeply unsettling clown voice are also back, and are even given more context when we learn a little bit about his potential backstory. But the real star, as you may have heard, is undoubtedly Bill Hader as the loud-mouthed Richie Tozier. Carrying all of the comedic and dramatic heft from his turn on HBO’s Barry, he is extremely convincing as a man confronting the anxieties he had as a child and are still carrying as an adult. He delivers some of the film’s funniest lines, but as we learn more about him, it’s clear he uses them as a way to shield off deep insecurities and shame. And from a technical point of view, It: Chapter Two continues the streak from the previous film, if not quite as refined. Checco Varese’s cinematography isn’t quite as atmospheric or memorable as Chung Chung-hoon, but it still captures the unique world of Derry. Big wide shots and slow tracking shots help to establish the scope of the story and try to instill a sense of dread and uncertainty in the Losers. In general, the visual palette is intentionally dull to show the dreary and unhappy state of the character’s adult lives. The color red is especially highlighted, whether it be a scene filled with blood or highlighting the red balloons signifying Pennywise’s presence. On the other hand, Jason Ballantine’s editing job somewhat reflects the convoluted nature of the film as a whole. The film often cuts back between the present day and when the Losers were still children, which hampers down the pacing and makes some scenes feel repetitive. The film tries its best to cut enough to keep tension alive in several scenes, with varying degrees of success. The cut between Steadicam shots and low-angle Dutch shots adds a feeling of paranoia and fear necessary. Benjamin Wallfisch returns to provide the instrumental score, and while it’s more of the same it’s still welcome. Several of the leitmotifs used from the first film are brought back and some of them are still quite effective. The use of flutes and piano help create a sense of twisted nostalgia as the Losers reckon with their past and present demons. Yes, some parts are classic strings building up to a big jumpscare, but that’s thankfully not all it has. Some tracks are surprisingly emotional, utilizing subtle strings and guitar riffs to recall the group’s unbreakable bond as kids now tested as grown-ups. Proving that bigger doesn’t necessarily always mean better, It: Chapter Two is a messy and rambling wrap-up made gratifying by its supreme cast. While it frequently stumbles to get to the finish line and feels heavily weighed down in the second act, Andy Muschietti still gives fans an entertaining closing chapter to this Stephen King adaptation. Getting to see all of the actors, particularly Bill Hader and James Ransone, stretch their muscles from funny to terrified to emotionally disturbed is also a treat and is easily the best thing it has going for it. It’s overlong, bloated, and often feels repetitive but compared to most studio horror sequels, it’s quite entertaining and rewarding. Sometimes, that’s all you can ask of a horror film.

“The Lighthouse” Movie Review

After watching this movie, I am never going to look at seagulls the same way ever again. Every time I see one on the beach or somewhere else, this film will be running in my head. Take from that what you will. This psychological horror film premiered under the Director’s Fortnight section at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the FIPRESCI Prize. Following more screenings at the Toronto, Austin, and Atlantic Film Festivals, it was released in select theaters by A24 on October 18th, 2019. Made for the budget of less than $4 million, it has gone on to gross over $9.3 million at the box office. As it continues to expand, it will most likely get bigger returns, despite middling positions at the weekend box office. Directed by Robert Eggers, the screenplay was co-written in collaboration with the filmmaker’s brother Max. Immense research was conducted in order to get the film as historically authentic as possible, including dialect, anatomical structures of certain creatures, and tools for the profession. Because of the extreme specificity of the script, the crew had to build a 70-foot tall lighthouse in Nova Scotia, and its surrounding structures, from scratch. It was also apparently such a grueling shoot for the star that he didn’t talk to anyone on set and repeatedly refrained from punching the director in the face. Set sometime in the late 19th century, Robert Pattinson stars as Ephraim Winslow, a quiet and heavy-drinking timberman. He is sailed to and landed on a remote island to help man a lighthouse for a period of four weeks. There, he falls under the apprenticeship of former sailor and current lighthouse keeper Thomas Wake, played by Willem Dafoe, who assigns Winslow a series of demanding tasks to keep the tower running. But as a massive storm rolls in, the duo begin to face their worst nightmares and question just how long they’ve been stuck on this rock. Although I failed to catch it in theaters, I was really impressed with Robert Egger’s feature debut The Witch. (Or The VVitch, whichever way you choose) There was so much specificity and originality to the whole movie that it sometimes felt like a real account of a New England story. The fact that it supplemented traditional jumpscares for pure dread and unsettling imagery also made it one of the more memorable horror films of the decade. When I heard that he was tackling another historical setting, particularly with the way it was gonna be presented, I couldn’t help but get excited. The trailers and early reviews gave me an idea of what kind of bizarre vision to expect from it, but I still wasn’t nearly prepared for it. The Lighthouse isn’t only a major step forward for Eggers, it’s also the best film I’ve seen this year and quite possibly one of the best I’ve ever seen in my life. If someone told me that this was a film from the 1940s or 1950s that was recently rediscovered out of a box and put into theaters, I wouldn’t question it. There’s so much class and so much power in every single frame that feels so original and new yet feels carried with the weight of a classical picture. Whether it’s the period accurate dialogue between the two protagonists or just the pure craft on-screen, there wasn’t a single moment where I wasn’t completely immersed in the setting and action. Much like his first outing, though, not everyone who sees The Lighthouse is going to feel the same way as I do; not even close. It’s much more psychological and abstract than one would anticipate and some of the imagery might just be too Goddamn weird for a lot of people to process. But if you sit patiently with it and keep an open mind, (And maybe read up a tad on sea and Greek mythology) it’s destined to stay with you long after the credits roll. I’ve been impressed with Robert Pattinson’s roles as of late, and this may just be his finest one I’ve seen yet. As Ephraim Winslow, he’s constantly drunk and out of tune, never quite aware of everything that’s happening around him or what implications they may have. He’s constantly stumbling over his own words and rarely makes any form of eye contact with Wake for the first half of the film, making it clear he wants nothing to do with the man or his career. As the film goes along and we learn more about his background, it’s riveting to watch him finally release all of the deeply repressed anxieties and rage he’d been holding since first arriving on the island. Opposite him for the entire runtime, Willem Dafoe is equally brilliant and memorable as Thomas Wake, a man with a presence and tone heavily reminiscent of Captain Ahab. Unlike Winslow, he relishes his stories of adventures out on the sea and always tries to share everything about him to his new keeper. There are a number of scenes where he goes on long, unbroken soliloquies about Neptune’s power and the sinister pull of the ocean, his voice perfectly reflecting a man with decades of experience. “I’m damn well wedded to this here light,” he says as he explains his unusual connection to the position. It’s really only these two actors for the entire 110 minute-long runtime and they couldn’t have been better picked. Their chemistry is dynamite, constantly evolving as the storm gets worse and worse outside. Even just purely looking at the technical aspects, The Lighthouse showcases Eggers as a master of the craft. Shot by Jarin Blaschke, the cinematography has a unique way of inviting viewers into its uncomfortable world. It was shot on black-and-white 35mm film and presented in the 1×1.19 “Academy” ratio, which helps to create a sense of claustrophobia and uncertainty with the environment. The camera is often very steady, choosing to either do static wideshots or close-ups that constantly track the movement of the characters. The stark visuals, combined with the harsh lighting and shadows, calls back to Germanic Expressionism, and there are even some shots that feel like a silent film. This matches perfectly with the editing job by Louise Ford, who manages to make a perfect sense of pacing. It’s never quite clear how much time passes between each scene, adding a Lovecraftian feeling of dread and doom. It also uses some smash cuts to heighten some of the dark comedy elements, such as moving from Winslow and Wake binge drinking to them shouting a sea shanty. Mark Koven does his second collaboration with Eggers to provide the instrumental film score, and it’s appropriately unsettling. It primarily consists of strings and low brass that flow in and out of tune with each track, which expertly matches the tone of the cinematography. In a way, it represents the headspace of the protagonists as they gradually lose their minds, especially as some deeply intensify. Some tracks even cut off abruptly to symbolize the mystery of it all, making it sound like literal Hell. The film also ends with a recording of the song “Doodle Let Me Go” by A. L. Lloyd playing over the credits. Considering all of the imagery and themes shown in the film prior, it seems like a perfect coda to the whole ordeal. The fact that it comes immediately after the frame is a harsh bookend to the story and maybe even will inspire viewers to sing along after leaving. With a wholly impeccable visual style, authentic costumes and sets, and a complete absence of fear for absurdity, The Lighthouse is a deeply immersive and bizarre psychological experience on the silver screen. With this film, Robert Eggers has only shown further proof why he’s one of the most exciting and unique voices in modern cinema. Anchored by incredible dual performances from Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, it’s a truly captivating and unpredictable ride that puts us right into the setting without fault. Whether he actually goes through with his proposed Nosferatu remake or does another mind-bending period piece, I’m one hundred percent here for whatever Eggers makes. There is indeed an enchantment in the light, and it’s absolutely maddening and beautiful.

“Joker” Movie Review

I have rarely seen a piece media evoke such an evolving response that went from “we live in a society” memes to “this could be dangerous.” This psychological thriller initially premiered in competition at the 76th Venice International Film Festival. To the surprise of pretty much everyone in the industry, it won the prestigious Golden Lion award and continued its streak at TIFF the following week. Following what can only be described as one of the most unnecessary firestorms in recent memory, it was later released in theaters worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures on October 4th, 2019. After breaking records for the biggest opening weekend in October, it has gone on to gross over $937 million at the box office against a budget of $55 million- way below the standard comic book movie budget. Several sources have indicated that it might become the first R-rated film to break the billion-dollar mark. And while some outlets have cooled since its premiere, it has maintained a generally positive critical reception and huge Oscar buzz for its star’s performance. Directed by Todd Phillips, the filmmaker and co-writer Scott Silver originally came up with the film as an answer to the struggling DC Extended Universe. It apparently took them over a year to convince Warner Bros. to release the film as they had conceived it: a hard-R character study with no DCEU connections, no sequel setup, and a mid-range cost. While the cast and crew came together fairly quickly, there was a brief incident during filming when extras were trapped inside a train car, and a SAG-AFTRA rep was sent to monitor the rest of production. It also generated enormous controversy in the weeks leading up to release when some worried that it might incite violence among “incels,” leading to increased police visibility and the film getting pulled from screening in Aurora, Colorado. Set in 1981 Gotham City, Joaquin Phoenix stars as Arthur Fleck, a struggling and isolated party clown. He suffers from a mental illness that causes him to laugh and cry uncontrollably at inappropriate times, which hinders his relationships and aspirations for a stand-up comedian. During a time when the city is going through social and economic strife, Arthur discovers a shocking secret held by his mother Penny, played by Frances Conroy, who he takes care of. This revelation, plus a number of other random and disturbing events happening in the city, propels him into madness as he decides to embrace his clown persona: The Joker. I’ll be honest, I only really became interested in this movie when Joaquin Phoenix signed on. I’ve never been fond of finding out the titular character’s backstory, as his mystique is part of the reason he’s such an endearing villain. But hearing tale that it was a mid-budget, R-rated character study rather than just a straightforward superhero story made it sound more enticing. The trailers showed exactly what I was hoping out of the film, as more of a street-level drama than a massive CGI-filled ensemble epic. Even with all of the controversy surrounding it, (We’ll get to that in a moment) I still had hopes Todd Phillips would be able to at least deliver something mighty interesting. And as it stands, Joker isn’t quite as brilliant as it wants to be, but it’s undoubtedly a big step forward for the genre in many ways. It’s very clear that Phillips and co-writer Scott Silver pay a great deal of homage to early Scorsese films, especially Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. Like the films of that legend, who was initially onboard as a producer, it tries to take a look at a mentally ill man disregarded by society who’s desperate for approval and attention from everyone. This is particularly spurred on because the city of Gotham is in such a state of disarray, and even Arthur’s social worker admits that the city doesn’t care about people like them. This portrait of mental illness and the violence it hath brought has also created an extraordinary controversy that, frankly, got blown way out of proportion. Regardless of the film’s deeper implications about the character, the idea that it would incite armed violence among an online community of incels is far too extreme, even with the current state of gun violence in America. Joker may leave some things to be desired in its exploration of these themes, but at almost no point does it seem like it’s glorifying his actions. Honestly, the mere fact that a major studio film like this even tries to approach these ideas, let alone with its bleak and apocalyptic tone, should be commended. In any case, Joaquin Phoenix continues his white-hot streak with one of his best performances here as Arthur Fleck. With a considerable amount of weight lost and an unassuming demeanor, he’s absolutely terrifying to watch as he spirals downward into something truly demented. He’s not afraid to speak his mind to other people, condescendingly telling his social worker, “All I have are negative thoughts.” By the end of the film, his body language has completely transformed in such a way that the Academy just has to recognize it. Robert De Niro also does some fine work as Murray Franklin, a talk show host whom Arthur is obsessed with. A direct callback to his early Scorsese roles, he convincingly portrays a guy who always wants to get to the next punchline, even at other people’s expense. Frances Conroy isn’t in the film for long, but she leaves an impression as Arthur’s confused and ill-stricken mother Penny. Although it’s clear that she’s having some delusions, we see how Arthur genuinely cares for her when everyone else has left. Other players include Zazie Beetz as Arthur’s cynical yet kind neighbor, Glenn Fleschler as a manipulative clown colleague, Shea Whigham and Bill Camp as GCPD detectives investigating Arthur’s activities, and Brett Cullen as self-righteous billionaire Thomas Wayne. While some are more important than others, they all feel perfectly fit for the decadent world created here. And from a technical perspective, Joker is certainly distinctive from many other comic book adaptations out there. The cinematography by Lawrence Sher creates a gritty, grimy aesthetic for 1980s Gotham. There’s a stark contrast in colors that helps make the frame feel deceptively inviting and gives a sort of grim beauty to the world. The camera is often steady and focused, always trying to follow Arthur as his movements constantly change. The most weirdly compelling moment comes at the end of the first act, when Phoenix launches into an improvised dance routine in a dilapidated bathroom, all captured on one shot. Jeff Groth’s editing job is similarly dark and disjunctive, always knowing exactly how long to linger on a subject. There are a handful of scenes where Arthur is laughing (Or crying) uncontrollably and the camera stays fixed on him as he tries to contain it. There are also a number of shots and cuts done in slow-motion, which helps to show how isolated he is in his world. Hildur Guðnadóttir provides the instrumental film score, and it’s one of the year’s most haunting and terrific. Far removed from other operatic soundtracks of the genre, this one is deeply unnerving and nefarious, much like the titular character. It relies heavily on low strings and percussion to build an atmosphere of tension and unease as Arthur gradually becomes the Joker. At first it seems somber as literally everyone and everything Arthur interacts with ends badly. But by the end, it’s come around to a more revelatory score, one where he finally embraces his clown persona. I can’t wait to see what else Guðnadóttir has in store for cinematic scores. Joker is a moody, sporadic, and sincerely disturbing reimagining of the greatest villain in any medium. Although I was initially skeptical of what it would come out as, Todd Phillips has crafted a real game-changer in comic book adaptations. It also helps that it’s anchored by a terrifyingly convincing performance from Joaquin Phoenix, who’s able to make this version wholly his own without trying to imitate or outdo his predecessors. Even though some aspects and themes of the film are still questionable, it’s hard not to least admire the attempt to create something truly different in this genre. If Warner Bros. actually goes ahead with the proposed DC Black label- one-off, auteur-driven comic adaptations with a mature edge -then I will be so satisfied. More of these, please.

Extra Large Movie Poster Image for Joker (#1 of 11)

“Midsommar” Movie Review

I’ve made it clear for a long time that I have no desire whatsoever to join a small “commune” in the future. I don’t care how interesting their beliefs are or how beautiful the scenery is, count me out and keep the hell away. This psychological folk horror film premiered at an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema location in New York in mid-June. It was later released in theaters by A24 on July 3rd, 2019, after previously being scheduled for early August. It has thus far grossed nearly $34.9 million on a budget of around $10 million, swiping most of it within the first 5 days alone. With such a major start, it feels safe to assume that it will turn a large profit by the end of its theatrical run and could even become the distributor’s biggest financial success yet. Written and directed by Ari Aster, the producers originally approached him about doing a straightforward slasher film among Swedish cultists, which he rejected. Production on the film began almost immediately after the huge success of Aster’s breakout horror feature Hereditary, as distributor A24 reportedly built a 15-building village set from the ground up. He’s mentioned previously that making the film was his own way of attempting to cope with a really bad breakup. In addition, there’s also an extended director’s cut running 24 minutes longer which will likely play in select theaters. Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor star as Dani Ardor and Christian Hughes, a grad student couple whose relationship is hanging by a thread. A few months after a horrible tragedy involving her sister, Dani agrees to go with Christian and their friends on a backpacking trip to Sweden. Their friend and guide Pelle, played by Vilhelm Blomgren, takes them to his ancestral village, the Hårga, for a midsummer festival that only occurs once every 90 years. But as the ceremony goes on, the Hårga community ropes the group into an increasingly violent series of pagan cult traditions. As is the case for many cinephiles, Hereditary was easily the best horror movie I saw last year and one of my top 10 favorites of that year. Even though it was heavily divisive among audiences, I was blown away by its singular vision and willingness to go to some really dark places. Aside from a powerful, career-best performance from Toni Collette, it immediately announced Ari Aster as a new filmmaker with tons of potential to bring to the medium. When I heard he was tackling a pagan cult for his new project, I thought that his sensibilities were perfectly suited for the subject matter. And for the most part, Midsommar is able to avoid the sophomore slump and further develop Aster’s craft. Just like Hereditary, I understand that this film will not be digestible for everyone. In fact, I imagine that people who were turned off by that film’s bleak tone and imagery will dislike this one even more. The director is once again tackling grief, suffering, and how people process a tragedy differently, and he doesn’t shy away from the disturbing parts of it. I will say, Midsommar is definitely funnier than Hereditary, often stemming from the main group’s awe and unfamiliarity with the local customs. But this is, by no means, a comedy movie, as the film is more concerned with making the audience uncomfortable. It sometimes feels like it’s purely going for the shock factor from the visceral imagery on-screen and asking audiences to handle it for 2 hours and 27 minutes is a mighty task; but if you try to keep an open mind, it will certainly haunt your thoughts and dreams. Florence Pugh has been on the rise for the past coupe years now and her leading role here might be the big break she deserves. As Dani, she is devastating and frightening as a young woman trying to bottle up her trauma and anger for a trip with her friends. Opposite her for most of the film, Jack Reynor is equally great as her well-intentioned but distant boyfriend Christian. While he does care for Dani, it’s clear that he wants out of the relationship and we’re presented with consistent evidence of why they should just break up. Every time they’re together on-screen, there’s a certain coldness or feeling of discomfort between them that desperately needs to be resolved. Also worth noting is William Jackson Harper as Josh, a friend of theirs completing a thesis on midsummer festivals. A great departure from the good-hearted Chidi Anagonye on The Good Place, he is willing to do anything to get more info about the community, even if it means endangering his friends. Will Poulter, Ellora Torchia, and Archie Madekewe round out the group of tourists for the festival while Vilhelm Blomgren, Isabelle Grill, Björn Andrésen, Anna Åström, and Gunnel Fred play locals in the Hårga community. Each one feels like they have their own hidden motive or something that they’re not sharing about what’s going on. All the characters feel like something right out of an H.P. Lovecraft story, and I mean that in a good way. And technically speaking, Midsommar sees Ari Aster further honing his craft behind the camera. Unlike his work in Hereditary, Pawel Pogorzelski’s cinematography basks in the bright daylight of Sweden. There’s rarely a scene where the sun goes completely down, which makes some moments more disorienting and frightening. The camera is almost always following the characters as they experience their own horrors during the festival, and often feels like a cold, omniscient observer. Most of the time, whenever Dani and Christian are on-screen together, it’s in a distant two-shot to illustrate the deteriorating state of their relationship. It goes well with the editing by Jennifer Lame and Lucian Johnston, who are able to keep things interesting for the 2 hour and 27 minute-long runtime. The scenes are interlaced with each other well enough to make the plot go along, and the style behind it is so fascinating. It often feels hallucinogenic in its execution and how the community is shown to the travelers. There even a couple scenes where the group takes drugs and the frame is very distorted as we see their P.O.V. The instrumental film score is provided by The Haxan Cloak A.K.A. Bobby Krlic, in his first solo work as a composer. For his first time, it’s quite impressive and effective, mixing together different styles to great results. At first, it uses distorted strings and dark overtones to highlight the bad omens to come in the film. But by the end, the soundtrack has morphed into a twisted fairytale score that fully embraces the madness of the Hårga’s traditions. It uses those same strings to bring in everything shown in the film to a wild and emotional culmination. And it’s a definitely final shot to be remembered for quite some time. Utilizing a little known culture as an intriguing backdrop, Midsommar is a maddening if somewhat inconsistent symphony of daytime terror. If this film proves anything, it’s that Ari Aster is here to stay as a filmmaker who demands to be taken seriously. Anchored by a breakout performance from Florence Pugh, we’re fully and convincingly drawn into this unique fever dream.

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