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ZACK CLOPTON'S 2018 FILM RETROSPECTIVE!!!”
From a personal and political level, 2018 was a year with some heinous lows and some surprisingly upbeat highs. Yet there's a reason people have joked about this past year going on for 24 months. It seems every day was packed with some new tragedy or big announcement. That's life in our dystopian wasteland future, I guess.
But, hey, you know what? It wasn't all bad. As far as cinema is concerned, 2018 was a pretty good year! I feel like I saw more good movies this year than ever before. While updates here at Film Thoughts were not as frequent as I would've liked – my lowest number of updates in five years – I can at least say I'm proud of everything I published on the blog this year.
Something else I am proud of is the sheer number of new releases I saw this year. Shattering my previous record of 89, I took in 108 2018-released movies in 2018. I honestly have no idea how I scored that number. It is entirely possible I have too much free time on my hand. Either way, I definitely feel like I got the most broad view of the year in cinema that I ever had. This might be why it seems like I saw so many good films this year.
Well, enough with the gabbing. Here is the complete list of every new release I saw in 2018.
No film has produced a more visceral reaction in me this year than “Hereditary.” Ari Aster's brilliant visual design creates sights both shocking and unforgettable. An unending atmosphere of dread builds to all-time-great, breakneck sequences of horror. The story, about grief and the weight of family, is rich and complex but easily understood. The cast, led by a shattering Toni Collette, is fantastic. Only a last minute deluge of exposition brings down what is otherwise a startling and brilliant new horror classic.
2. Eighth Grade
Perhaps the most accurate depiction of adolescent awkwardness I've ever seen. You want Kayla to succeed so much, partially because Elsie Fisher's performance is so intuitive but also because her anxieties are so relatable. You also love her dad, a clumsy guy who is doing his best. You laugh at the foibles of youth but also feel Kayla's pain, making “Eighth Grade” the most beautifully empathetic film of the year.
3. Leave No Trace
A story told with utmost sincerity and subtly. Methodical, never melodramatic, and always respectful of its audience's intelligence, the film launches us right into a deeply compelling plot. The performance are deeply internal and thoughtful, the conflict arising with such incredible grace. Building towards a quietly heartbreaking conclusion, this is bound to be one of 2018's overlooked masterpieces.
4. Tigers Are Not Afraid
Powerful, startling, modern fairy tale about kids trying to survive in a very unforgiving world. The performances from the young cast are phenomenal. The direction is moody, equal parts scary and melancholic. The setting gives the coming-of-age story a more pointed, sociological meaning. One of the most promising debuts of the year.
5. Isle of Dogs
A gorgeous film that allows Anderson to totally indulge his visual quirks. The symmetrical script is frequently hilarious and also deeply melancholic, touching on themes of loyalty, the quest for acceptance and love, and communication. Awash in Anderson's trademarks and undeniably the work of his distinctive voice, it still feels noticeably different from his previous eight features, providing a more compassionate outlook. Hey, I guess he really does love dogs after all.
6. First Reformed
Blisteringly political yet deeply personal, Paul Schrader's latest grapples with a dozen important issues without ever loosing sight of the compelling character – a priest on the edge of collaspe – at the center. Ethan Hawke gives a career best performance, as a man tortured by his thoughts but unwilling to compromise on his principals. I wasn't sure if I loved this until that incredibly disturbing ending, which left me with chills.
Alex Garland's deftly combines genre. The monster attack sequences, squirmy body horror, and excellent special effects are thrilling. The heady sci-fi ideas imbue these moments with more meaning, leading to a truly mind-bending finale. Yet this is equally a story about overcoming loss, which is beautifully brought to life by a cast composed of fantastically strong women.
Undeniably 2018's cult movie event, “Mandy” is genuinely weird. A prog-rock first half, bloody horror, and eighties action blends with Cosmatos' trippy presentation. Other oddball excesses – caged tigers, Frazetta-like animation, and the ever-popular Cheddar Goblin – confirms this as a cinematic acid trip. Nic Cage holds it all together, with a performance that ranges from wild-eyed insanity to stoic silence. Despite a zig-zagging pace, the film is truly a cinematic experience.
9. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Among the most visually stunning animated films I've seen. There's flashes of colors, visual quirks, and a wonderful stylization that lends itself well to physical comedy and impressive action scenes.. Embracing the creativity of its comic book roots, this is filled with in-jokes and wonderfully unexpected introductions. Yet “Spider-Verse” has a ton of heart too, introducing a lovable cast of characters and getting the audience invested in everyone's journey, even the villain's. It's a wonderful treat, in other words.
As a long time Aquaman fan, I have to say this delivers on so many of the things I wanted to see. (And many I never expected, like deadly narwhals and fucking Topo!) Yes, the story front-loads with too much back story and ridiculous lore. Yet the cast is clearly having so much fun. The film embraces its comic book roots, producing some of the most imaginative, exciting, and outright wild set-pieces of the years. And turns out James Wan is a pretty good action director too, as the fight scenes are wonderfully choreographed.
11. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Pure, dino-loving joy. Yes, the script is preposterous and the villains are cartoonishly evil. The immensely fun dinosaur action forgives all. Director J.A. Bayona creates images that are striking, scary, and surprisingly poignant. He makes you fear and love these magnificent animals, as the tone springs from adventurous to chaotic with shades of gothic horror.
The year's most adorably fucked-up movie. Despite being vulgar, the characters have too much youthful energy not to be lovable. The relationships here, especially the parental ones, are so wonderfully easy-going. Star-making performances from the effervescent Zoey Deutch and the hilarious Joey Morgan seal the deal. The ending is admittedly shaggy but I just found myself loving these characters, their adventures, and watching them find each other so much.
13. The House That Jack Built
Pretentious, self-indulgent, overly self-referential, and brilliant. Lars Von Tier's latest is a nearly three-hour long conversation about philosophy, artistic desire and frustration, and the nature of humanity. This is illustrated brilliantly in-between sickeningly direct serial killer segments. The film is also really funny, the darkest sort of comedy arising out of Jack's politeness, his victim's idiocy and the perversity on screen. The fourth segment and Dante-inspired epilogue go on too long but the choice of end credits music forgives all.
14. Avengers: Infinity War
An epic in the truest sense of the word, with a story that spans in so many directions that you need a mental flow chart to keep track of everything. Thanos proves to be a compelling villain. The interaction of the huge cast is, of course, delightful. There's plenty of great action and even a few genuine surprises. Tie it all up with a genuinely bold ending, even if it'll obviously be undone.
15. Sorry to Bother You
Functions as a hilarious absurdist comedy but also as a multi-layered satire that people will be examining for years to come. About a hundred things are on this movie's mind and it has something interesting to say about all of them. The film constantly has new tricks up its sleeve, whether it be an inspired gag, a super creative visual presentation, or a story that gets increasingly bizarre as it goes on. While it's a bit too long, this is still one of the year's most vital, fascinating movies.
THREE AND A HALF:
16. Summer of '84
Set totally within a boyhood sense of mystery and adventure, almost whimsical at times, this perfectly captures the sense of childhood adventure. Its cast of young heroes are lovable. There are many moments of sustained suspense, including an excellently tense doorstep exchange. It all builds towards a shocking and surprisingly blunt ending. The downer conclusion helps distinguish “Summer of 84,” going for a more foreboding and melancholic feeling.
17. Hell Fest
A meat-and-potatoes slasher that is refreshingly free of melodrama, contrived bullshit, and amazingly economical. The killer is as swiftly efficient and fiercely direct as the movie around him. The haunted mazes are utilized well, including a scary scene in a dingy bathroom. Looses a bit of momentum in its last third but that awesome final scene and a likable cast makes up for it.
18. Paddington 2
Balances silent movie-worthy physical comedy with wackier and dryer segments. The direction goes on some lively digression while the script amazingly payoffs every incident set up in the first act. The cast, Hugh Grant especially, are having a blast. More than anything else, the film is motivated by its utterly sincere moral, about the power of kindness.
Thrilling meditation on identity in the digital age and the weird intricacies of online sex work.
The premise is played for a highly personal and deeply effective type of surreal horror. Michelle Brewer's fantastic performance, equal parts vulnerable and strong, centers this story of internet loss-of-self. The mid-film segue into mystery-solving was fairly unnecessary but that brutal and intense finale makes up for a lot.
20. The Night Comes for Us
Indonesia continues to produce the best brutal action films around. Probably the goriest movie I saw all year, “The Night Comes for Us” is packed from start-to-finish with the most intense fight scenes imaginable. The skill on display, in the choreography and direction, is precise and limitlessly creative. Yes, the story largely exists just to allow more elaborate ass-kicking, and eventually collapses into murkiness. But who even cares when the fight scenes are this fucking amazing?
21. The Ranger
Punk rock riff on the slasher genre that downplays gore – though what's here is fittingly sickening – in favor of creating a memorably bizarre villain, a lovable final girl, and a drug-fueled atmosphere. The direction is energetic and colorful, aided by that rowdy soundtrack. The cast, Chloe Levine and Jeremy Holm especially, do excellent work. There's even some minor intensity, thanks to the confined and darkened forest setting.
22. Shrek Retold
Astonishing collaborative effort that is completely unpredictable. Just when things have settled into one recognizable groove – anime fight scene! – it blindsides you with another – Chris-Chan?!! – and on and on. As with any project like this, some scenes are funnier than others. Much of the humor is obnoxious, grotesque, and weird. Yet this is such a continuously surprising project that it's near impossible to not consider it utterly delightful.
Brilliantly has you laughing at Danny McBride's “angry idiot” schtick one minute before making it disturbing the next. Basically a slasher comedy, as a strong heroine flees a (hilariously unhinged) killer, with shockingly brutal death scenes peppered throughout. The set pieces are effectively thrilling, the cast is strong, and the humor is fantastically woven throughout.
24. Incident in a Ghostland
Pascal Laugier blends different horror styles: Gothic trappings, James Wan-esque jump-scares, the kind of hard brutality you expect from Laugier, sprinklings of Lovecraft, and a layer of mind-fuckery that I would usually hate but works surprisingly well here! Laugier is revisiting some of his favorite themes but in a more humanistic, exploratory fashion. It's all centered with a bond of sisterly love and some wonderful performances, especially from Emilia Jones.
Unlike most confined-space thrillers, “Downrange” thinks up more than enough plot developments to keep the story rolling. Some of the twists are especially unexpected. The violence is brutal, director Kitamura enjoying the different ways a sniper can take the human body apart. A slasher of sorts, the villain is appropriately scary and the teens likably wholesome. Loses half a star for that mean-spirited ending and a totally ridiculous mid-crisis monologue.
Among the most inventive takes on the werewolf concept that I've seen recently, adding a layer of coming-of-age prosecution to the well-worn monster. You're drawn into the struggle of a young girl, unprepared for the changes coming her way. The performances overall are very good, Bel Powley especially. Even the usually sleepy Liv Taylor does well! There's some dicey special effects near the end but that hardly distracts.
27. Ralph Breaks the Internet
Revisiting these characters proves to be a worthy objective. Ralph and Vanellope's friendship is absolutely adorable and the film's conflict rises naturally out of their respective arcs. Likable jokes about the internet and Disney goofing on their own image, climaxing with a hilarious musical number, keeps the laughs frequent. The new additions to the cast are neat enough and the action packed finale is well executed. A solid sequel overall!
The kind of gritty, sci-fi/action pic I didn't think they made anymore. Presents a fairly plausible vision of the future. The body modification element is creative and fun. Mostly, the film's fantastically directed action scenes are the main reason to check it out. They are fast-paced without being incoherent and the violence always hits with maximum impact. The story has enough twists to keep you involved, if not guessing the whole time.
29. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies
The first hour is consistently funny, mixing absurd takes on superhero theatrics, freewheeling kids' movie goofiness, catchy and hilarious musical numbers, and a metric shit-ton of obscure in-jokes. This peaks with an amazing montage about un-doing, and then re-doing, various heroic origin stories. After that, the youthful energy flags a little and the movie never quite recovers. Still, DC's willingness to make fun of themselves continues to be one of their best attributes.
Interrogating the male gaze, the viewer is put in the same place as the film's men, before increasingly having the tables turned on us. An incredible looking movie, the flat desert landscape becomes a canvas. Certainly a gory movie, the movie totally outdoes itself with that finale. Directed in long takes, blood spills, oozes, or is rubbed absolutely everywhere. I wasn't too sure what to think of “Revenge” at first but it won me over by the end.
31. Ant-Man and the Wasp
My favorite thing about this is the utterly adorable relationship between Scott and his daughter. This wholesome theme of loving parenting runs throughout the whole film, even extending to the highly sympathetic villain. The action scenes utilize the unique superpowers in dynamic and creative ways. The humor is even more absurd and fleet-footed than in the first one. The likable returning cast and some strong visual seals the deal of this delightful sequel.
32. Hotel Artemis
Fun sci-fi/neo-noir riff. We get interesting peaks at the film's somewhat underdeveloped world. The stacked cast is having a ball. Jodie Foster, Charlie Day, Zachary Quinto, and Jeff Goldblum ham it up. Sofia Boutella smolders and Bautista plays an amusingly avuncular brute. The action scenes are energetic, highlighted with moments of brutal gore. While it squanders most of its potential, owing a predictable script, I still enjoyed this one.
33. You Might Be the Killer
People keep coming up with meta riffs on the ever flexible slasher genre. The non-linear construction keeps the familiar fresh. A surprising amount of emotion, along with an unexpected twist, are inserted in the last act. There's solid comedic moments, mostly involving the indestructible mask and a delightful Alyson Hannigan's reaction. Yet this also functions as a pretty good slasher, with a cool origin for its killer and some decent stalking scenes.
By normal movie standards, this is merely good. By the standards of the “transformers” franchise, it's a revelation. The robots maintain their classic designs, the action scenes are easy to follow, the story is fairly coherent, the comic relief is actually amusing. The girl-and-her-robot story is unapologetically sappy but generally very cute. The filmmaker shows a clear love of the toyline and eighties pop culture in general.
About the shadow Myers has cast on the lives of those around him but it's also about three generations of Strode women. Curtis' Laurie has weaponized her trauma. Green works to recreate Carpenter's autumnal warmth. Clearly more focused on suspense than elaborate death scenes, this builds towards a brilliant last act, where Laurie searches her fortified home for Michael. If this has a major flaw, it's an inability to make us care about Michael's new victims.
36. The Meg
Perhaps the platonic idea of a big dumb summer blockbuster. Hits many of the expected beats of the disaster genre – kids and pets surviving, dumb/evil authority figures, heroic sacrifices – but maintains a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor about itself. Like when Jason Statham quotes “Finding Nemo” or someone is unexpectedly eaten. Despite being so goofy, there's some decently executed moments of tension, a giant shark proving surprising stealthy.
Putting the “shot on an iPhone” gimmick aside, which is not too distracting, this thriller happily dispenses with cliches about whether or not the protagonist is imagining things while tackling issues about the privatization of mental health. By the end, it even becomes a semi-serious examination of PTSD. The descent into darker, more violent territory in the last act is very welcomed, while the cast is likable and the retro score is memorable.
38. The Clovehitch Killer
Does a good job of capturing the banality of evil. Never delves into the mind of the titular wholesome-dad-by-day/deprived-serial-killer-by-night, choosing instead to merely depict his actions. By telling this story from the son's perspective, this becomes an effective story about the weight fo secrets and the loss of innocence. Something that's helped by the chilly direction and a clever late-film story mix-up. It definitely whiffs on that weak ending though.
39. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
The Coens' latest farce peaks early with the first segment, a hilarious deconstruction of the singing cowboy concept. The second and fourth stories are quietly funny tales, where death and absurdity play out among natural beauty. The third episode, my favorite, is a surprisingly sad meditation. The fifth tale unfortunately rambles far too long and comes to a shaggy conclusion. Things perk up a little with the nicely hyper-verbal finale but the energy has been lost by then.
40. The Death of Stalin
Re-imagining bloody history as absurdist farce, it turns out, isn't too much of a leap. The cast pointedly never bothers with the accents while spitting their way through the exquisitely circular dialogue. And, underneath the hilarious conversations and debates, there's the lingering reminder that real lives were lost, a very intentional black cloud over this hysterical comedy.
41. Christopher Robin
Pooh and friends are reimagined as adorable CGI creations. McGregor's stiff upper lip reaction to the goofy critters' antics are often funny, as are the way the stuffed toys surprise people around them. There's also a bittersweet quality running through the film, an inevitable aspect of returning to childhood as an adult. The whole experience, especially its too-neat ending, is a little corny. But, somehow, that feels right too.
42. Puppet Master: The Littest Reich
A larger budget allows for a bigger body count and many more puppets than ever before. The over-the-top gore is deliberately nasty. The cast is full of cult favorites but Tom Lennon's incredibly dead-pan performance may be my favorite. The puppet effects and music are both excellent. There's a mean-spirited edge here, though the gonzo humor still made me laugh regularly. I wasn't a big fan of the cliffhanger ending.
43. Mom and Dad
A manic and wacky horror/comedy. Let's its homicidal parents keep their personalities, a contrast that adds so much personality to the movie. But it does have a potent concept at its center, discussing the dark secret that sometimes parents resent their children. Nic Cage going ballistic sure is entertaining but Selma Blair keeps pace with him. There are some pacing problems, going from manic, high energy sequences and slower, more character-oriented moments.
44. The First Purge
This franchise continues to reflect our modern political structure, only slightly warping our modern world. As a horror film, this series continues to be kind of silly. Instead, this is more successful as an action movie. Our hero shoots, wrestles, slashes, and explodes the kill squad within. Lead Y’Lan Noel makes a real impression. Each new “Purge” movie is a little better than the one before it.
45. Black Panther
Top-tier Marvel! The sci-fi visuals are wonderful. The action, the ritual fight scenes and the Korea car chase especially, is strong. The cast is great, with Killmonger perhaps being the MCU's best villains yet. The story has some typical end-of-the-second-act drag and T'Challa might honestly be the least interesting character in his own movie. But it's still very good!
46. Await Further Instructions
The message, about mindlessly following authority, is obvious. Yet this is as much about family drama. The entire film exploits the tension of holiday reunions, before another sort of tension arises. As the film goes on, the invasion gets weirder and nastier. All in all, I had a fun time with this one, a creative horror picture that keeps the audience on its toes and creates some gory thrills
Diablo Cody should only write for Charlize Theron. Once again, the actress finds the desperate, sad humanity in Cody's words, making even the most strangled dialogue into poetry. Theron and Mackenzie Davis are both excellent, bringing a delightful touch to an otherwise pretty thin screenplay. Frequently funny and touching, the film ends on a twist takes us out on a really uncertain note though.
48. The Cleanse
Odd mixture of half-baked self-help fad satire, sad sack drama, and unexpectedly adorable monster movie. As a metaphor for mental health, it scans in a vague but satisfying way. (Even if everything around the film is ill-defined.) The cast is quite solid, with Johnny Gallecki being perfectly cast as the depressed lead. Mostly, it's the ugly-cute monsters, brought to life with surprisingly good special effects, that made me like this unusual indie.
49. The Little Stranger
Nails the look of the spooky, dilapidated mansion that is practically the main character of the film. Very much a slow burn, this is a ghost story where the existence of the ghost is never truly proven. Instead, it focuses on unease between the characters and that decrepit, creepy setting to create its atmosphere. This means things still drag when the focus is exclusively on the relationships and during that non-denouncement of an ending.
50. The House with a Clock in Its Wall
Eli Roth made a good kid's movie. His juvenile sense of humor and eighties nostalgia vibe works pretty well for the genre. His horror roots also make the spooky moments way more effective than they should've been. The production design is gorgeous while Jack Black and Cate Blanchette are highly entertaining. It collapses into quasi-generic fantasy/adventure stuff at the end but I still liked this way more than expected.
Disturbing horror mood-piece, taking us inside the deeply traumatized mind of a possible pedophile. There's not much in the way of story. Instead, this is a glowering montage of disturbing images, unsettling musical sound-scapes, and a very creepy puppet. It doesn't come to much of a conclusion, though the climax is memorably perverse.
With direction as chilly as its sociopathic protagonists, the film watches from a distance as the girls – the oddest sort of friends – go about their plan. There's a dark humor here, mostly seen in the duo's interactions with outside people. The strong lead performances, from Cooke and Taylor-Joy, draw you in as the film veers towards its sea-sick climax. There's some odd symbolism here with horses that I didn't get but I imagine fans will be delving into the deeper meanings of this this future cult classic soon enough.
53. Deadpool 2
More densely plotted than the first, with more characters to introduced and less satisfying action sequences.. However, the additions to the cast that works – the effervescent Domino and the ideal straight man Cable – work really well. Mostly, I was delighted by how over-the-top gory the action scenes are and, yes, there's still many laughs to go around. Such as an extended fair well and Deadpool's run through the X-Mansion.
54. The Strangers: Prey at Night
The sequel goes for more tawdry shocks, flavoring the villains' sadism and stalking with a sense of fun. That darkly comedic approach continues with the soundtrack, which features some truly inspired needle drops. The new family prove far scrapier, fighting back, a nice change of pace. While not as frightening as the first film, “Prey at Night” is a reasonably entertaining sequel.
The setting, a spooky village on an isolated island, goes a long way. The in-your-face horror is hugely successful. And there is some of Evans' trademark face-smashing action. The tone also creates an intentionally vague story. Though “Apostle” has spooky ambiance in spades, it's not the clearest viewing experience, right down to its ambiguous ending.
56. Incredibles 2
Just seeing these characters, and hearing this cast, again is a huge boon. Bob's adventures as a stay-at-home dad, Jack-Jack's cavalcade of new powers, and Vi's awkward attempts at dating are all hilarious. The action scenes are thrilling and beautifully executed. The story, however, feels a little by the numbers. There's no mystery to the villain's identity and the last act feels like it lacks narrative drive at times.
57. Mary and the Witch's Flower
Seemingly mashes up half-a-dozen Ghibli movies with a subversive take on the “Harry Potter” magical school premises. The characters are cute, in both design and personality. The animation is frequently pretty, especially in the scenes where lots of animals and magical craziness are bouncing around. The story and concepts are highly imaginative, if bordering incoherent. Though beholden to its influences, this is still a pleasant and fluffy experience.
58. Ghost Stories
Functions largely on atmosphere and suspense, with the occasional jump scare. The second segment, in particular, best balances this formula, adding some dark humor and bristling tension. “Ghost Stories” grasps that ghosts resonant more as symbols than as proof of the afterlife. In its last sequence, the film annoyingly spells out this subtext. Up until that point, it's heavy on creepy atmosphere, with some cool special effects, some fun scares, a brain and a heart.
59. Ready Player One
One of the few examples of an adaptation having more depth than the source material, Spielberg is still a little too enamored of the (gorgeously rendered) digital sci-fi setting to truly sell the cautionary message. The director does, thanks to a strong cast, manage to find a heart underneath the enormous action and “fuck yeah!” fanboy moments. Which are, it must be said, a lot of fun, especially the horror homages.
60. Please Stand By
Adorable if insubstantial feel-good movie. It definitely hammers home the sisters reconnecting as the main point too hard. The scenes of Dakota Fanning, who does not make her autistic character a caricature while still going for maximum pathos, going on her journey are much more interesting. Especially when she outsmarts those that try to hold her back. Or meets good Samaritans along the way, such as a cuddly and perfectly deployed Patton Oswalt. I doubt I'll remember much but it was pretty cute.
61. A Quiet Place
The cozy setting never undermines the tension in the air, set up by the excellent opening scene. Yes, there are plenty of jump scars but they're usually in service of moments of built-up suspense, of which there are several well engineered example. A really strong cast overall and a thankfully vague script makes this a surprisingly well done mainstream monster movie.
Extremely noisy urban destruction gets a little exhausting, especially during the protracted last act, but that's in keeping with the hyper-violent, Saturday morning cartoon tone. The script is extremely silly, with the dumbest villains I've seen in a while. But the giant monsters are cool, the Rock is having a good time, and the action is entertaining. Really, what else should you expect from an adaptation of a video game all about wrecking shit and eating people?
Proves that pure skill, filmmaking, and visual manipulation is enough to make something scary. Because the fractured script makes it impossible to get a bead on any of the main characters. Creepy things happen for no reason. The film may not build a clear story around its set pieces but, holy cow, are the set pieces good. “Terrified” engineers some extremely creepy and shocking moments.
64. The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Works best when focusing on how its teen protagonists rebel against their authority figures, among the year's most vile villains. The direction is lively and the performances are strong too... Mostly. See, Chloe only comes to life intermittently. That's because Cameron herself is too thinly sketched. The film probably would've been better if it focused on the more interesting supporting characters, like her aerobics-obsessed roommate or her Native American friend.
65. The Predator
“The Predator” does some things really well. It puts a clever spin on the series' mythology, features some likable characters and actors, and definitely has its charming moments. At the same time, the editing and special effects are inexcusably bad at times. Some of the writing decisions are practically tasteless. If nothing else, I find it more interesting than “Predators.”
66. I Kill Giants
Madison Wolfe's performance is impressive, making Barbara a fantastically lovable protagonist. When focused on her monster-filled inner adventures and struggles at school, this largely succeeds. However, the film puts too fine a point on its clearly allegorical fantasy, eventually explaining everything. Add on an overly long denouncement and you have a somewhat weak last act to an otherwise delightful film.
67. You Were Never Really Here
Mumbly mouthed arthouse deconstruction of the Dadsploitation genre. Instead of being a middle aged bad-ass, Joaquin's fierce but monosyllabic hero lives with his mom and is completely ruined by a traumatic life. Most of the violence takes place off-screen. The ending does not play out how it typically would. Director Lynne Ramsey's portrayal of an anxious mind is so realistic as to be too close to home for me, making this an immensely unpleasant watch.
68. The Night Eats the World
The zombie movie as mood piece, focusing on the isolation of a lone survivor. Watching the largely silent protagonist live in the desolate city borders tedious but generally remains interesting, especially the various ways he tries to pass the time. The zombies are probably the least interesting aspect of the film, as it's nothing we haven't seen before.
TWO AND A HALF:
69. Death Kiss
“Death Wish” homage starring an eerily dead-on Bronson lookalike. (Someone who sounds nothing like him dubbing his voice is the biggest mistake.) Extremely low budget, the script is little more than loosely linked action scenes and lots of filler. It's also slightly racist. However, the direction is fairly creative. There are some funny ridiculous moments. Mostly, it perfectly captures the tone of a sleazy Bronson flick, which was obviously its primary goal.
70. Assassination Nation
The somewhat obnoxious characters and a desperately edgy script combine to make an uneasy first half. But there's some virtuoso film-making here, apparent in a phenomenal long-shot outside a home. Not coincidentally, that's when the movie really starts to perk up, becoming a weird action/thriller/satire combo. Of course, it then abruptly ends soon afterwards, fizzling out just when it should be exploding. And it never stops being insufferably smug and self-righteous.
71. Hold the Dark
One of those painfully slow movies where people sit in the dark and whisper at each other, taking far too long to get going. With its larger story and dual protagonists, it lacks the intimacy of Saulnier's other films. The director's trademark brutal approach to violence is still present and rears its head during several intense set pieces, the highlights of the film.
72. Solo: A Star Wars Story
Feels like three unrelated movies patchworked together into an uneven narrative. One of those movies is pretty good but the other two are extremely lame. The answers the prequel cooks up for Han's origin are deeply uninspired. Ehrenreich nails the character's cockiness. Most of the new additions to the cast are likable as well. As an action movie, “Solo” is entertaining too. Sadly, once the heist is successfully pulled off, “Solo” collapsed into an utterly tedious last third.
An absolute mess but a sort of fun one. The action scenes are sloppy but occasionally touch on a striking, comic-y image. The plot changes direction several times, without warning. The music and sound design is distracting. Tom Hardy's performance is bizarre, sweaty and desperate. Yet the movie is never boring. As a comedy, about two losers bonding, it's somewhat successful.
74. Red Sparrow
Way too long and suffocatingly slow, the film is also preoccupied with torture and sexual violence in a way that's brutal but ethically muddled. However, the espionage plot does succeed in slowly drawing the audience in. Jennifer Lawrence successfully reminds us why she was once considered a brilliant up-and-coming actress. The film is most successful when even the audience is uncertain of the protagonist's loyalties and falters once it confirms exactly where they lie.
75. The Noonday Witch
Squanders a creepy villain, drawn from actual Slavic mythology, and gorgeous photography by utilizing jump scares too often and creating a protagonists who, by lying to her daughter about important stuff, immediately becomes unlikable. The tools were here to create a truly scary, as the sound design is excellent and the finale is satisfying. They just weren't used well.
Mostly worth seeing for Sophia Mitri Schloss' performance, a steely and slightly sociopathic girl who is nevertheless unshakable in her principals. The movie built around this funny and fascinating character unfortunately isn't very good. It's a dreary not-quite-comedy that drudges from one scene to the next with little sense of direction. Apparently the director was making some point about idolizing the military, a plot point shoved far back into the movie's consciousness.
77. The Ritual
I'm bummed “The Ritual” didn't work more for me. The aspects of the movie that I liked, its spooky location and clever monster design, are really up my alley. The creature has a creative and foreboding design, one that's brought to life through a clever combination of CGI and practical effects. But the characters are total blanks and their interpersonal drama is yawn worthy. None of the characters or performances are very distinct either, causing the four guys to blend together.
78. Legacy of the White-Tail Deer Hunter
Cute, if inessential, story of fragile masculinity and father-son bonding. Josh Brolin is a great straight man, increasingly annoyed by the antics around him. However, the film goes for pathos when it probably should be going for map cap laughs. Then again, the bits of vulgar comedy feel really out of place. Things come together for a solid conclusion but there's definitely some dry patches before that.
About half-and-half on this one. I dug the lead and the sense of teenage alienation she captured. There's some creepy stuff in the last third. (Not too mention a good, and likely unintended, moral about how the occult is bullshit.) At the same time, the droning sound design is way overdone. The pacing had me wondering: When does a slow burn just become a movie where nothing happens for long stretches?
80. The Cloverfield Paradox
I think I liked this one a little better than most. Yeah, the story is mostly a series of loosely connected crazy scenarios. The characters are not especially interesting, despite the strong cast, and the story's emotional core rings deeply hollow. I do like all that crazy body-horror though, even if none of it makes much sense. That final scene is definitely cheap but I sort of liked that too.
A grisly historical thriller, full of unsettling gore, with subtle horror elements. The mixture of genre is interesting, I'll give it that. The film's cast is excellent, Kaniehtiio Horn especially. The atrocious cinematography and a script that's a bit up it's own ass keeps me from enjoying the film more.
82. It Came from the Desert
Low budget adaptation of an obscure video game, the giant ant effects are fairly good. The movie treats its threat in a fairly goofy manner, leading to some “Eight Legged Freaks”-style fun. The teen comedy stuff is a lot more tiresome, especially once the easily recognized horror references are piled on. When combined with tensionless pacing and a douche-rock soundtrack, this one really drags a lot in the second half.
83. I Think We're Alone Now
The post-apocalpytic setting puts a different twist on what's an otherwise typical Manic Pixie Dream Girl story. (Right down to the male lead's OCD.) Granted, there's some entertaining value in watching Elle Fanning's bubbliness thawing Peter Dinklage's hardened heart. The isolated setting is compelling, as are the details of the catastrophe. There's a late-in-the-film twist that totally derails the story and the film largely collapses the nearer it gets to the end.
84. The Endless
Alternating between creepy set-pieces and moments of absurdist comedy. I found the internal logic of the script to be baffling. The story leaps from a cult setting to inescapable time loops, and features about a dozen minor supporting character. (Though apparently this is a quasi-sequel to the directors' earlier film.) At least it actually shows us the Lovecraftian abomination, which is nice. I mean, it was interesting.
85. Like Me
Too determined to visually replicate the drug-addled, ADHD mindset of its protagonist. This creates an abrasive and grotesque atmosphere early on. Despite the premise and title, the film says almost nothing about the internet or social media. Instead, this works best when it becomes a weirdo road movie about Addison Timlin – gorgeous and captivating – and Larry Fessenden becoming friends and finding common ground in unexpected ways.
86. How to Talk to Girls at Parties
Nicely captures the early punk scene, features enchanting and fun performances from Elle Fanning and Nicole Kidman. The soundtrack is great and the costume designs are memorable. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie is a complete mess. The story is nonsensical. The visuals are aggressively weird and self-indulgent. The humor rarely lines up. The attempts to wring some emotion out of this are hopelessly ineffective.
87. Imitation Girl
Ponderous, vague, and meandering indie sci-fi flick that will mostly be enjoyed by Lauren Ashley Carter fans. She's excellent, as always, playing two identical-looking characters that lead very different lives. One half is learning to be human, while the other half is falling apart. There's obviously a lot more under the surface here but the presentation is so half-heartedly indefinable that it's hard to get too invested. Also features an extremely random Lewis Black cameo.
88. The Christmas Chronicles
Aside from the pricey special effects and a story that's slightly larger in scope, there's very little separating “The Christmas Chronicles” from your typical Hallmark holiday movie. That doesn't stop Kurt Russell from doing his damnedest to elevate the material, he creates probably the hippest version of Santa to ever grace the screen. However, it's ultimately not enough.
Stoned-out monster mash comedy that's also half-assing a moral about prejudice. The world the film creates, were ghosts and monsters are casually accepted, is kind of neat. There are a handful of laughs, mostly involving the journalist's subplot, but the film isn't as funny as it thinks it is. The story is a mess, pulled in multiple directions. The music is pretty good and some of the performances are fun.
90. Pacific Rim: Uprising
Ultimately lacks the heart of the original. Though the primary two players are likable, most of the new characters are utterly forgettable. The returning cast is not always treated with respect. The boot camp plot relies too much on cliches. The giant robot battles are cool but the film waits far too long to unleash the kaiju, leading to a top-heavy ending that can't satisfy.
91. The Cured
Obviously making a political statement, connecting the former zombies to any number of persecuted social groups. Yet this metaphor is quickly muddled. “The Cured” tries to have it both way, making its zombies both victims and villains. The weight of the story is so heavy, that any personality or heart is quickly squeezed out. Unsurprisingly, this is mostly worth seeing because of Ellen Page, who is heart-breaking.
92. Ruin Me
Definitely not as smart as it thinks it is. The audience is waiting the whole time for that double twist ending. The way that plays out goes against what happened before and is borderline offensive. Everything before that is not that interesting, largely thanks to the not-that-compelling protagonist. I liked the goth couple. The movie should've been about them instead.
93. All the Creatures Were Stirring
Earns points for not falling back on traditional Christmas horror concepts but that doesn't mean its ideas are original. The first story doesn't have time to explore office politics in any meaningful way. The second story falters once the supernatural threat appears. The third has an obnoxious protagonist. The fifth goes for comedy but is not especially funny. The fourth episode is definitely over-directed. Yet the premise is sort of funny, with an amusingly seasonal resolution.
Slow and suffocatingly dour, this treats Lizzie Borden's story with such seriousness that anything interesting about the tale is drained away. An icy Chloe Sevigny is excellent but Kirsten Stewart mumbles and blankly stares through her role. The actual murder scene is the one dose of color in this lifeless and pretentious biopic/thriller crossbreed. And that doesn't happen until the very end.
95. Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle
A slight improvement over its predecessor, thanks to some intriguing sci-fi ideas such as the technologically primitive but psychic actives or this version of Godzilla being an impressive force, the second part of the animated “Godzilla” trilogy is still hugely self-important, derivative, and lacks the cheap thrills associated with the kaiju genre.
96. Death Wish
Eli Roth shows some signs he's aware of the story's problematic elements. The remake limply attempts to “play both sides.” The glorious bloodshed Kersey reaps makes it clear what Roth thinks. The home invasion scene is played for more tension than expected. There's plenty of explicit gore. Ultimately, this is just another mediocre Bruce Willis vehicle.
Deeply uninteresting attempt at a southern fried neo-noir. Sophia Turner is not believable in the title role, not being nearly alluring enough. The eccentric supporting characters feel like a desperate attempt to pad out the thin story. The film listlessly rambles towards a passionless conclusion. A sequence devoted to a tortoise race is the only moment this uninvolving production becomes interesting.
98. Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters
An underwhelming affair. The off-putting animation, weak characters, the dead-weight mythos, and halting pacing contribute to a somewhat lackluster presentation. The film essentially ends on a cliffhanger. The climax is a fake-out. There's not nearly enough Godzilla, which is all the more disappointing because the film's treatment of its star monster is fairly interesting.
99. Hellraiser: Judgment
Some striking horror imagery and a decently Barker-esque blending of the erotic and the grotesque characterizes an opening scene that is maybe too gross-for-grossness' sake. The ending features an interesting plot turn, even if, once again, the amoral “Hellraiser' mythology is confused with Judeo-Christian beliefs. The rest of the movie is an uninteresting cops vs. serial killer story, with another obvious and lame twist, that we've seen in other “Helraiser” sequels.
100. Marfa Girl 2
Larry Clark's obsession with sex and youthful people behaving badly is always present. The teenager of the last movie has grown into an obnoxious adult. The sequel fills out its run time with mostly unrelated subplots. As much as “Marfa Girl 2” is about maturity and creating a naturalistic sense of place, the director can't resist concluding with two acts of shocking violence.
101. The Happytime Murders
Puppets doing inappropriate things is not inherently amusing. Aside from a few funny gags – involving maple syrup or coolers – and lines blatantly stolen from other films, that's the only joke this movie has. The mystery is almost compelling, up until the fairly obvious (and kind of sexist) reveal comes. The puppetry work is fantastic, which makes the excessively crude movie around it all the more disappointing.
ONE AND A HALF STARS:
102. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
A bunch of convoluted bullshit, a collection of subplots competing for screen time with a needlessly flabby script, that is both over-explained and far too vague. The film is often visually murky. Grindelwald does not make the greatest impression as a villain. Newt Scamander doesn't have much to do, despite ostensibly being the protagonist. The film's final scene is an especially ridiculous cliffhanger. A shockingly incoherent experience.
103. The Devil and Father Amorth
With its talking head interviews, uninspiring exterior shots, and short run time, this really feels like a TV production. The key sequence, the “real” exorcism, takes up ten whole minutes. It's also presented totally uncritically, the scientific voices being lost in the noise. By the time the film reaches its hysterical conclusion, which attempts to turn nothing into something, all credibility has been lost. William Friedkin is a compelling figure but this doc is limp as could be.
104. Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell
Just as uninspired by “Tremors 5” was. The direction continues to feature lots of shitty shaky-cam. The special effects largely rely on charmless CGI. The new characters are forgettable. The script is utterly lifeless. Don't think for a minute that Universal shelled out the cash to actually shoot in a snowy location. The only thing “A Cold Day in Hell” has going for it is Michael Gross.
105. Slender Man
Typical PG-13, mall horror bullshit. There's plenty of jump scares and the film loads up with CGI silliness. More goofy imagery is thrown in as the movie goes on. The film takes this idea to its dumbest conclusion when Slender Man communicates with the girls via their smart phones. By the time this ended, I was definitely tired of how stupid it is, even if the earlier scenes are a little more likable and the cast is decent.
106. Truth or Dare
Despite the super silly supernatural threat constantly changing the rules, the movie still feels the need to explain every aspect of its origin. An utterly melodramatic plot forces the dumbass characters through many unnatural decisions. The film's attempt at scares are so fangless, they immediately become laughable. It's pretty funny, albeit completely unintentionally, and the girls are cute. I'll give the movie that much.
Bafflingly in its badness. The plot is ridiculously unfocused, rambling off to focus on characters whose connection to the main story doesn't become clear until the end. Our protagonist is a blank, his back story and condition never truly affecting the plot. His journey is both overly cliched and needlessly convoluted. The dialogue is shockingly awful and the sci-fi setting gets increasingly ridiculous the longer it goes. It's also weirdly homophobic and just generally gross.
108. What Keeps You Alive
Colin Minihan is a bad writer. Squanders neat visuals and a decent Brittany Allen on a simply awful script. We've got sudden character transformations that make no sense, reveals that should've been delivered sooner, exposition that comes far too late, a plot that bends in ludicrous directions. There's also laboriously pacing, as it continues far past several logical endings.
Whew! That sure was a lot, wasn't it? I have no idea if I'll ever be able to top that number. In fact, I don't even know if anyone is reading this. Does anyone ever read these lists all the way through? Nevertheless, I want to thank anyone reading these words for sticking with Film Thoughts for another year. Hopefully, 2019 will also be a fairly successful twelve months of blogging and chatting about movies.
Monday, December 31, 2018
Wednesday, December 26, 2018
The Nativity Story (2006)
The story of Christ, obviously, has inspired more art than any narrative in human history. While the Nativity play is an established part of Christmas tradition, there aren't as many film treatments of the birth of Christ. I suppose Jesus' life, crucifixion, and resurrection is more cinematic than his conception. Following the cultural phenomenon that was “Passion of the Christ,” studios realized hardcore Christians were a huge, untapped market. If an anti-Semite's Jesus torture movie could make 611 million dollars, surely a movie about Jesus' birth would make money too? New Line Cinema rolled out “The Nativity Story” in Christmas 2006, becoming the first film to premiere in Vatican City. Like most of the cynical attempts to replicate Mad Mel's success, “The Nativity Story” would see mediocre box office. But it's Christmas, so I decided to give the film a look.
“The Nativity Story” tells the story mostly as you know it, only occasionally adding new details or historical elements. King Herod is concerned by prophecies of a messiah, ordering the murder of newborn male children in Judea. A fourteen year old girl named Mary is betrothed to an adult man named Joseph. She receives a vision from an angel, saying she will become the mother to the messiah. She soon becomes pregnant afterwards, even though Joseph is forbidden from touching her for a year. After the Roman emperor decrees a census, everyone is ordered to return to their ancestral home. Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem. By the time they arrive, Mary goes into labor. They seek shelter in a stable, a miracle about to occur.
The story of the Nativity is pretty straightforward and, subsequently, probably not enough to fill a feature film. Hardwicke and screenwriter Mike Rich's solution is to split this story in several different directions. While Mary and Joseph are experiencing visions, grappling with the ramifications of these events, and traveling towards Bethlehem, other events are happening. King Herrod, who acts like an exaggerated villain, makes threats and barks orders at people around. The Three Kings, who oddly act as the film's comic relief, track solar events and make their own journey. Events happening around the immaculate conception, similar miracles concerning the birth of John the Baptist, are given equal screen time. This ends up distracting the audience from the main point of the story.
became pregnant during filming. (Presumably, this was not an act of divine intervention.) Castle-Hughs' performance is wide-eyed but she's largely a prop for the bigger story. Mary is basically left to react to all the things happening to her and around her. A pre-fame Oscar Isaac plays Joseph, only getting a few chances to delve into the depth of what the man must have felt. Ciaran Hinds' slithering and sinister King Herod is certainly memorable, even if the film makes no attempt to correlate historical fact with Herod's status as Biblical villain. Not that I expected that...
Why did “The Nativity Story” fail to connect with audiences, when “The Passion of the Christ” became an object of public discussion and even shit like “God's Not Dead” become sleeper successes? I'd like to say it's because the Christian audience know when studios are cynically pandering to them but that's pretty obviously not true. Was the film too religious for non-denominational audiences and too mainstream for Christian audience? Maybe it's just because “The Nativity Story” was a maudlin and mediocre film, that doesn't seem that interested in spreading the gospel but has little else of interest to say. Merry Christmas, I guess. [5/10]
The Stingiest Man in Town (1978)
Since I somehow made it through all of December without watching a single adaptation of “A Christmas Carol,” I figured the 25th would be a good day to throw one in. Probably realizing material for Christmas specials was starting to run thin, Rankin/Bass turned to Dickens' well-trotted story. “The Stingiest Man in Town” squeezes Dickens' entire novel into 49 minutes. It hits all the major beats: Scrooge, Bob Crotchet, Tiny Tim, Nephew Fred, Marley and the three ghosts. It even throws in some underutilized elements, like Marley showing Scrooge an entire litany of chained spectres. About the only new elements Rankin/Bass includes are some songs and B.A.H. Humbug, a talking insect that narrates the story.
As far as adaptation goes, “The Stingiest Man in Town” is fairly pedestrian. It's hard to rate any version of this story, since we're all so familiar with it. Rankin/Bass doesn't really invest the familiar story beats with any new or exciting twists. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come sequence is really abbreviated, causing Scrooge's transformation to have little meaning. Tiny Tim's role is also greatly cut down, further draining the emotional heart from the story. Otherwise, the telling is competent, if only barely adequate.
Only two things really distinguishes “The Stingiest Man in Town.” The animation is pretty good and more anime-esque than Rankin/Bass' usual productions. The voice cast is solid. Walter Matthau was an inspired choice to play Scrooge, even if this material doesn't allow him to plum the character's depth very much. As far as narrators go, Mr. Humbug is fairly inoffensive. Tom Bosley provides him with a likable personality, if nothing else. “The Stingiest Man in Town” is one of Rankin?Bass' most forgettable specials, just because it adapts something so well known. [5/10]
And that's the end of 2018's Christmas movie marathon. Somehow, I managed to keep this Christmas on schedule, more-or-less just as I had hoped. I don't have too much to say, other than I hope you enjoyed your holiday and are looking forward to the New Year. Thanks, as always, for reading.
Tuesday, December 25, 2018
Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)
Alexander and Ilya Salkind helped bring 1978’s “Superman” to the big screen and then quickly fucked it up. While the campy misfires of “Superman III” and “Supergirl” did not exactly end the series, the Salkinds figured they had squeezed all the blood from that particular property. So the super-producers, on the look-out for more exploitable content, moved onto an even more globally beloved and recognized character: Santa Claus! Initially offered to John Carpenter of all people, “Supergirl’s” Jeannot Szwarc would ultimately get the job. Though the film went out of its way to replicate “Superman’s” formula in a Yuletide context, “Santa Claus: The Movie” would flop hard in 1985. Since then, the film has supposedly developed a cult following.
In the frozen North, a friendly old man named Claus makes toys that he delivers to the village’s children on Christmas. After him, his wife, and his reindeer freeze to death in a blizzard, they are gathered by the magical little people. The elves provide Claus with the resources to deliver toys to all the world’s children. Santa Claus goes about his business for centuries. In the 1980s, an elf named Patch leaves the North Pole for Manhattan. He quickly falls in with disgraced toy company BZ Toys, whose evil CEO exploits the elf’s talents. Santa, a homeless boy, and a poor little rich girl team up to save Christmas.
the historical Saint Nicholas or delving into Santa’s pagan roots, it just makes shit up. It seems the elves have been awaiting Claus’ arrival, for reasons never specified. His powers are explained as magic and left at that. Weirdly, this film’s world takes Santa’s existence at face value, blaming him for defective toys later on. The sloppy origin is another symptom of the film’s messiness. The story has four protagonists and is riddled with holes.
Like many Christmas films, “Santa Claus: The Movie” denounces corporate greed and ruthless capitalism while being a product of those beliefs. The film is very childish, so it’s portrayal of a corrupt business is ridiculous. B.Z. is so cartoonishly evil, he fills teddy bears with broken glass and rusty nails. The motivation of unchecked greed, how big business has co-opted the season of giving and made it about money, is only briefly touched upon. Patch, who assumes protagonist status for a third of the film, is never held accountable for his role in the villain’s scheme. Moreover, Santa and B.Z. never actually cross paths. The film’s big hero, representing pure altruism, and its bad guy, representing total greed, do not meet. The film’s conflict - and its message - is totally limp.
I will say this much about “Santa Claus.” It’s got really nice production design. Santa’s workshop looks fantastic. There’s all sorts of old-timey mechanisms moving about. Everything is delightfully colorful. The commercial set Patch ends up on is gaudy in the right way. Some of the film’s special effects could be better though. While the animatronic reindeer are expressive, the flying sequences are pretty hokey. Santa’s sleigh and Patch’s flying car move stiffly and unconvincingly through the air. The Superman flying scenes looked way better than this. Still, it’s evident some real money was poured into this production.
The Santa Clause.” If only because I’ll take a hammy John Lithgow over a grunting Tim Allen any day of the week. [5/10]
A Midwinter's Tale
I reviewed the first episode of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” back in October. I liked it alright but had no idea when, if ever, I'd get back to the show. When it was announced that the series would be doing a Christmas special, I quickly caught up with the show. I love spooky holiday entertainment too much to let this one pass me by. And I'm glad I did, as “A Midwinter's Tale” is not a stand-alone special. It directly follows up on the events of the season one finale. Namely, Sabrina admitting to her friends that she's a witch, her breaking up with boyfriend Harvey, discovering her mortal mom's soul is trapped in limbo, and Aunt Zelda adopting a newborn baby.
Since Sabrina and her family are Satanic witches, they don't celebrate Christmas. Instead, they celebrate Yule, burning a special log in the fire place that keeps out evil spirits. During the holiday, Sabrina performs a séance to contact her mom's spirit. This ends up inviting the spirit of Gryla and her Yule Lads – a child-hoarding witch and her mischievous offspring from Icelandic mythology – into the house. The Spellman has to protect Leticia, the infant addition to their family, from the kid-obsessed spirit. Meanwhile, Sabrina's friend Suzi, while working as an elf for the mall Santa, is abducted by another yuletide demon.
episode four or some of the nightmare sequences in episode five. A snow-covered town at night can be so creepy. Yet “A Midwinter's Tale” mostly goes for comedy. Gryla, a horrifying giantess that eats children in the original myths, is rendered here as a civilized if deathly woman. The Yule Lads are portrayed as giggling poltergeist, instead of the weird dwarves they were originally. (Disappointingly, the Yule Cat – a giant feline that also eats kids – is absent altogether.) Much of the humor comes from the contrasting the witches' satanic behavior with the holly jolly surrounding, such as their unique interpretation of “A Christmas Carol.” As is typical of the show, the Spellmans responds to the weird events with a deadpan pragmatism.
“A Midwinter's Tale” definitely earns a lot of points for digging deep into Christmas lore. Even if its take on Gryla and the Yule Lads aren't as interesting as the originals, it's neat to see them mentioned at all. The more well known Krampus does show up, under his Styrian name of Bartel. He's the antagonist in Suzi's subplot, threatening to turn the teen into a lifeless mannequin. St. Lucia is also briefly discussed, for yet more obscure seasonal tradition. “A Midwinter's Tale” is a decent episode of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” about ranking in the middle of what was an overall decent first season. [7/10]
Monday, December 24, 2018
Coming Out of Their Shells” live musical stage show, a pair of VHS sing-along tapes were released in 1994. The first was “Turtles Tunes,” a collection of public domain songs and original numbers sung by the Ninja Turtles. The second was “We Wish You a Turtle Christmas,” which similarly had the reptilian martial artists putting their spin on seasonal melodies. Forgotten for years, the internet would pick up these tapes and make them so-bad-they're-good, “can you believe this stupid bullshit?” cult items. “We Wish You a Turtle Christmas” is supposed to be pretty terrible which might make you wonder why I own it.
The thin plot of “We Wish You a Turtle Christmas” revolves around the ninjas going out on Christmas Eve to get their Master Splinter some gifts. The residents of New York City and various shopping establishments are apparently unfazed by the sight of six foot tall, heavily muscular turtles dancing and singing near them. Of course, the plot is merely meant to facilitate the various songs. In-between the numbers, there's some light banter. Along the way, a street corner Santa and a group of children join the Turtles in their singing.
an utterly cringe-inducing rap song about wrapping gifts. Truly, you have not lived until you've seen the Ninja Turtles butcher these Christmas classics.
As hilariously misguided and utterly jaw-dropping as these songs are, it's not the main thing that makes “We Wish You a Turtle Christmas” so hilarious. Did I mention this was a live action production? The Ninja Turtle suits the actors wear aren't even up the standard of “The Next Mutation.” The animatronic mouths barely move, a thin strip of black fabric visible behind their massive teeth. The performers clearly have difficulty moving in the outfits, much less dancing. The Splinter costume has a weirdly over-sized head. Apparently two actors did all the voices. This is evident, as three of the four turtles have weird Brooklyn accents. The voice performers chatter over the end credits, even after the words disappear.
that cinematic masterpiece of sight and sound. When I spotted both of these quote-unquote films in a flea market bin of VHS tapes, two dollar price tags on each, there was no way I could resist. Knowing fully both were suppose to awful, I happily took them home. This duo currently resides in my collection and you can take them when they're pried from my cold, dead fingers.
But I digress. “We Wish You a Turtle Christmas” is completely baffling and beautifully so. The only time I wasn't laughing through the twenty minute runtime was when my jaw sagged open in disbelief. I can recall renting this as a kid and happily eating it up. It's amazing what a child will uncritically consume, when compared to how hilariously perplexed an adult may be. I'm going to give this thing a positive review and have no regrets about that. Obviously produced cynically as a cheap way to cash in on a then red hot fad, time and perspective transforms “We Wish You a Turtle Christmas” into ironic enjoyment. May you have a truly Turtle Christmas as well. [7/10]
Sunday, December 23, 2018
All the Creatures Were Stirring (2018)
I'm not sure why this is but, in the last decade or so, the anthology film has seen a real resurgence in the indie horror scene. The “V/H/S” and “ABCs of Death” films, “Holidays,” “Southbound,” “Tales of Halloween” and probably some others I'm forgetting have crossed theater screens and streaming services in recent years. And now this latest trend has cross-pollinated with the Christmas horror movie, resulting in “All the Creatures Were Stirring.” Unlike most films of this type, which gather together a team of different filmmakers, the holiday horror anthology is entirely a work of a husband and wife team. Rebekah McKendry and David Ian McKendry have been involved with podcasts, short films, and other behind-the-scenes activities but this is their feature debut.
On December 25th, two people meet for a date at a theater. They are presented with five stories. “All the Stockings Were Hung” concerns an office Christmas party held hostage by am unseen psychopath. “Dash Away All” is about a man who locks himself out of his car while doing some last minute Christmas shopping. That's when he encounters two girls with a van and a demonic secret. “All Through the House” has a drug-addled Grinch being visited by three ghosts, who give him horrifying hallucinations. “Arose Such a Clatter” begins with a man hitting a deer while driving on Christmas. Once he returns home, the deer seeks vengeance. “In a Twinkling” has Gabby visiting a friend on Christmas. Both are then abducted by aliens curious about their holiday traditions.
The Belko Experiment” and “Mayhem.” Being only a short segment, it doesn't have time to explore office politics in any meaningful way. The villain is obnoxiously hammy. The ending is a complete shrug that doesn't satisfy on any level. Aside from a clever gag involving a deadly jack-in-the-box, it starts the film on a sour note.
“Dash Away All” is slightly better, while also being among the film's longer segments. It has a creepy build-up and utilizes the spookiness of its setting – an empty parking lot at night – fairly well. The audience does wonder what the deal with the two mysterious women are. However, once the supernatural threat makes itself known, the story really falter. The mechanics of the demonic entity are convoluted and uninteresting. While the creature's surprise appearance is a decent horror moment, it doesn't manage to create a thrilling ending. This is also the part of the film that has the least to do with Christmas.
The fourth story, “Arose Such a Clatter,” is probably my favorite part of the film. Which is not the highest praise. The episode is definitely over-directed, with a swirling camera and blood running down the screen. We learn almost nothing about its two characters, other than the guy is a sleazy fetish photographer and his one model has the hots for him. The deer is only ever portrayed as close-ups on a stuffed head. Yet the premise is sort of funny, with an amusingly seasonal resolution. Unlike the other parts of the film, this one actually captures the EC Comics style of bad people being punished for their crimes.
The wrap-around segment has a very lame conclusion as well. If the film's Letterboxd page is anything to go on, the reception for “All the Creatures Were Stirring” has been predominantly negative. I would say the film is more mediocre than outright bad. However, it's certainly not the best Christmas horror anthology that could've been made. (“A Christmas Horror Story” from a few years back was better and I didn't even like that one much.) Perhaps these things work better when multiple directors are involved? By all accounts, the filmmakers are nice people, so hopefully their next project is less uneven. [5/10]
The Messiah on Mott Street
“The Night of the Meek” is a classic Christmas episode of “The Twilight Zone.” Since I reviewed that one a few years ago, I decided to try the holiday episode of that other Rod Serling anthology series this December. Though “Night Gallery” is generally considered a pale imitation of “The Twilight Zone,” “The Messiah on Mott Street” seems to be among the series' better regarded episode. Perhaps this is because Serling himself penned the script for it. (This episode is also packaged with a segment called “The Painted Mirror,” which I didn't feel the need to review.)
“The Messiah on Mott Street” is rather perfect for my household, as its as much a Hanukkah special as a Christmas one. It concerns Abraham Goldman, a 77 year old Jewish grandfather. Abraham lives with Mikey, his nine year old grandson. Goldman is very ill and knows the Angel of Death will be visiting him soon. Looking to instill some hope in the boy, Abraham explains to Mikey about the Messiah. The boy sets out into the streets, full of Christmas shoppers and corner Santas, looking for this aforementioned Messiah. Instead, he finds a man named Buckner. While Goldman's doctor tries to explain to Mikey that his grandfather will soon pass, the boy insists Buckner is the Messiah.
Still, the cast really elevates the somewhat clumsy script. Edward G. Robinson, as an old Jew himself, is well cast as Abraham. His gripes are infused with humor while he shows a clear affection for the boy. Tony Robbins, as the old man's doctor, makes a good foil to Robinson's kvetching old man. Ricky Powell is good as Mikey, functioning as a cute kid without overdoing it. Yaphet Kotto, also a Jew, seems to approach the role of Buckner with a healthy sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye. And, naturally, Serling's introductions have a gravity and grace to them. Overall, “The Messiah on Mott Street” is definitely worth seeing, regardless of the quality of the show around it. [7/10]