Long ago, in the mythical, sepia-toned era of hope, liberty, and prosperity that was 2019, I watched a grand total of 38 new films. That was 38 newly-released films from the beginning of January to the end of December, 38 separate contributions to the operating costs of both my local Theatrical Symposium for Degenerate Fancies and reputable Cineplexes in neighboring towns, 38 fresh notches on my cinematic utility belt. As far as the film industry was concerned, it was a pretty packed year, and that’s factoring my intentional avoidance of most mainstream tentpole releases (I’m pickier than the average wannabe film critic and therefore only subject myself to films that appeal to me, so no, I didn’t see f***ing Captain Marvel). Even with nearly forty citations on my annual cinematic rap sheet, I still had a hell of a time populating 2019’s Top Ten, because the vast majority of movies I watch simply don’t resonate with me (really, I should just pen an annual Top Four List for all the films I actually end up remembering by the time I turn over my ‘Seasons of Ryan Reynolds’ wall calendar).Continue reading 2020 Top… One List: Featuring ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ and True Confessions of a Personal Nature
2019 is certainly proving to be the year for emerging Indie horror directors’ follow-up films, isn’t it? Jordan Peele followed up his universally-acclaimed quasi-horror-comedy Get Out with the much more sci-fi-leaning Twilight Zone tribute Us (which I adored); David Robert Mitchell followed up his eerie sex-themed after-school-special It Follows with the polarizing neo-noir Under the Silver Lake (which curiously went to Cannes unedited); and Ari Aster followed up his demonic family portrait Hereditary with the psychedelic, bloodletting Eurotrip Midsommar (which should never under any circumstances be viewed with grandma). Now, Robert Eggers has followed up his highly-effective period horror The Witch with a fresh article-noun arrangement called The Lighthouse, a psychological horror that is already being hailed as a masterpiece by those who have acknowledged its existence.
Alas, the proprietor of my hometown’s Theatrical Symposium for Degenerate Fancies was not one such person, having deemed the Zombieland sequel that no one asked for the preferable feature to screen. Incidentally, our Symposium bears many striking similarities to Eggers’ nightmarish lighthouse – it’s filthy, it’s drafty, it’s beset by cantankerous seagulls, and its employees are presumably forbidden access to the proprietor’s inner sanctum that is the projection room under pain of an axe murdering.
I’ll keep this short and sweet… is not something anybody involved in the production of this seventeen-hour-long saunter down memory lane said at any point on set, even in jest.
After part one of the long-gestating film adaptation of Stephen King’s It took the world by storm back in 2017, I confidently predicted in my annual Top Ten that the inevitable second chapter chronicling the grown-up Losers Club’s final confrontation with Pennywise the Clown had nowhere to go but down the proverbial drain. This forecast was founded on the notoriously poor quality of the hammy 1990 television duology’s second half, the fact that the adults comprise the least interesting portions of the predominantly kid-focused novel, and the assumption that older incarnations of lovable child characters would be simultaneously cringy and dull to witness (just look at Stranger Things Season 3). These rock-bottom expectations enabled me to enter the theater with the open-mindedness necessary to assess Chapter Two objectively, and my conclusion is this – while miles better than what I had been anticipating, It Chapter Two is still a long, tedious, repetitive, and stale attempt at horror that is salvaged only by its unexpected humour and admittedly spot-on cast.
“Do you like playing games?” asks patriarchal board game magnate Tony Le Domas to his new daughter-in-law Grace in the stately family music room following the ceremony. “It depends on the game,” the bewildered bride replies, still begowned in her wedding dress and eager to ingratiate herself to her strange new in-laws, who are the sort of hyper-aristocratic, tradition-obsessed, monied WASPs who make a point to advise outsiders that they prefer the term ‘dominion’ over ‘dynasty.’ The game in question, it turns out, is determined by a mysterious puzzle box that was presented to family founder Victor Le Domas during the Civil War by an enigmatic benefactor named Justin Le Bail, who is casually implied to be Satan. Anyone marrying into House Le Domas must, by order of tradition, participate in the game chosen by the box, which might be as innocuous as checkers, as archaic as old maid, or as deadly as hide-and-seek. Grace, who was unaware of this little household custom before her nuptials, regrettably draws hide-and-seek.
Welp, so much for my summer trip to Sweden. I had so eagerly been anticipating a month-long romp in a sun-dappled meadow and tripping on psilocybin proffered by a clan of white-robed death-cultists – until my recent viewing of Midsommar, that is. This film effectively cured me of all inclinations to ever visit rural Sweden… because it showed me that the countryside is populated by flowers, and this critic is severely allergic to pollen. Ah, well! I’ll just have to enjoy some psychedelics with my local death-cult over at the community hall instead…
The ultimate appeal of reading a Stephen King novel is not the coherent plots or the gruesome depictions of death that make the Red Wedding look tame or the bizarre ways their author manages to draw attention to a particular character’s penis – it’s the diction. King has a very folksy, down-to-Earth writing style, like a conversational old-timer who’s greeting a newcomer to town from behind the counter of a mom and pop shop. “That blue house up on I-95, past the old Shell station? Belonged to a friend of mine. Sergeant Perry Dewall. He was the town taxidermist after the war, ‘afore the Voices of the Forest told him to butcher his family and mount ‘em around his yard like a topiary garden. We lynched him without a trial and his vengeful spirit now haunts a Speak & Spell. Here, friend, let me light that for you…” His prose has a very familiar and welcoming quality that makes you feel like you’re being regaled by an old friend over a cold beer on the porch. In essence, he’s like Jud Crandall from Pet Sematary.
The words “Let’s talk about us” may not bode well for whoever they’re spoken to, depending on their source and the context in which they’re said. If uttered by a significant other over the dinner table, they may herald both heartbreak and a literal break from contact. If spoken by the president of Us Weekly at a shareholders’ meeting, they may indicate that profits are spiraling down the potty and everyone should start calling dibs on stationary supplies before the IRS rolls in. If said by anybody who’s seen Jordan Peele’s new film Us, they may lead to either an ardent discussion about how amazing it is or a no-holds-barred fistfight because one of the parties involved thought it was stupid.
2018 started with such promise, but much like that one Thanksgiving where I attempted to make beef wellington for my loved ones, it ended with decimated expectations, disillusionment in the promise of good things, and a round of pumped stomachs. Though a few worthwhile releases certainly caught me by surprise, by and large this was a tedious and mediocre year marked by bitter disappointments, even where my beloved Indie market was concerned. Many of the films I had high hopes for fell flatter than grandma after that aforementioned Thanksgiving dinner, while other movies I had no expectations for whatsoever taught me to never again ask “How bad could it possibly be?” unless I’m planning on French kissing a pencil sharpener.
Ahh, the holidays. A season of shared mirth, mutual generosity, brazen consumption, and the intentional counting of one’s blessings. For those who perhaps did not have a particularly #blessed year, the latter can be an especially difficult practice. When I personally looked back on 2018, I was dismayed to see that it was mostly full of anguish and misery… theatrically, I mean. Overall my life was quite nice, because I’m a product of middle-class white privilege that I refuse to check because I have no idea what the hell that means. Anyway, there were some horrible, painful, excruciating, nauseating, and outright boring movies this year – the sort that I love to express my loathing for publicly because it gives me a fleeting shot of self-worth. However, in the spirit of the holidays, I’m now going to talk about a recent film I actually loved, and not just because nobody seems to have heard of it and it’s barely surpassing its production budget…
When I was in college I saw Blade Runner for the first time. I didn’t love it, but I pretended I did in an effort to impress my fellow freshmen with my supposed intellectual prowess. Thus began my Communications and Media major and my ardent exploration of films, which soon whisked me into the wondrous worlds of David Fincher, Ridley Scott, Paul Thomas Anderson, Alfonso Cuarón, David Cronenberg, and Stanley Kubrick. In those days my primary interest was in seeking out films with aesthetic merit in order to analyze them thematically, decipher their symbolism, and interpret universal meaning.