2022's Movie Reviews
Personal entry follows.
I fell behind in my listing of films I watched in the past year. Considering I had moved across the country and lived in a tent most of that time, I'd say my ability to catch a good film was hampered quite a bit. Regardless, I've punched-in over 40 films for the year, and that's not bad at all for a guy who doesn't own a television and doesn't have anything like a Netflix account.
The following is a more-or-less chronological summary of each film I'd seen. No "star" ratings are to be found, but I don't recall seeing many truly terrible films in the past year. Then again, maybe I'm deliberately blocking the worst of the lot from my mind...
Films of 2022
Those titles marked with a " * " were seen in an actual cinema, on the big screen.
Dario Argento truly impressed me with this slasher-thriller, taking lots of risks and casting both Piper Laurie and his daughter, Asia Argento, in memorable roles. Creative camera work and a solid script also bring this one to light. Stories that shroud reality in potential supernatural origins are always much more interesting to me. It's like the revelation of the "God of the gaps" stories, and I can definitely appreciate this. An admirable work, for certain.
SPIDER FOREST, 2004
Another well-done ghost murder mystery from South Korea. In this one, a man is framed for a double-murder in the only house found in the haunted Spider Forest, after he is found beaten and hit by a car nearby. They attempted telling the story through flashback and multiple crossing time-streams or something, and while it was more or less implausible (hey, it's ghosts), I enjoyed the ride. Though there were many similarities, this was much more compelling than my viewing of -The Ring-.
A horror compilation, serving up a collection of punchy horror tales that I enjoyed almost entirely. Spawned at least one sequel. I first saw this years ago, and as soon as I found that it was released on Kanopy I made it a point to set aside the time and revisit. My favourite stories included the tale of the struggling married couple, and the capstone climax piece featuring a surprise rescue attempt in a haunted house during some kind of creepy ritual. Nice job and admirable work, all around.
THE INNKEEPERS, 2011
A contemporary ghost story, unfortunately without balls. The story hook was interesting: the honeymoon suite of an old New England hotel is haunted by an abandoned bride. Sadly it goes pretty much nowhere and the main character is killed-off pointlessly to serve as a climax. It seems like every conceivable punch was pulled so that it fell juuuust short of commitment to any and every possible aspect of storytelling. Disappointing.
THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH, 1964
A ghost story that takes place in the 1400s. The pacing was incredibly slow for a story of this type. The selfish, scheming lord of a castle receives his comeuppance after the the spirit of the daughter of a woman who had been accused of witchcraft returns from the grave to plot his revenge. Maybe one good shocker scene of the reanimating corpse and then a worm-encrusted corpse at the end, but could otherwise been mistaken for a nobility revenge drama or whatever.
Ahh... The Hitchcock masterpiece, on the big screen. This is the way it was meant to be. The lovely silhouette of The House and its lonely illuminated windows... The unforgettable first murder... The nail-biting claustrophobia of Lila (an awesome Vera Miles) hiding from Norman and then finding his mother in the basement! So, so good. I hate to say it like this, but while she's awesome as a desperate thief, the film ratchets it up and is so much better after Marion (Janet Leigh) is dead. Sorry.
PROFUNDO RUSSO (Italian: "Deep Red"), 1975
Dario Argento directs this murder mystery for which I thought Gianna was to blame, and I was flat-out wrong... I must admit I didn't expect Carlo was part of the plot, too. A recurring theme of images and the truth being obscured. Lots of creative panning shots, and an undeniably spectacular beheading at the end. I noticed that the voice-over artist for Gianna was the same found in Argento's "Suspiria." This one was okay.
South Korean drama/thriller/horror about a grown orphan with a messed-up history, and his return to the tenement he grew up in when his parents were alive. I was expecting a ghost story, but in this case, the ghosts were metaphorical. The "ghosts of the past" come to light, and the orphan - what Travis Bickle would be were he able to get away with murder - is left puzzling over what drew him back to that apartment building. This was okay.
*THE SHINING, 1980
I've seen this maybe half a dozen times in my life. Now that I had a chance to read the original book that was the source material for it, there's a lot more that makes sense to me. Of course, Kubrick made the story his own, dodged intractable problems with the novel with creative solutions (hedge maze, anyone?), and created a film for an intelligent audience. Without even mentioning the superb cast, I think this film is pretty great cinema.
Hard-boiled 80's American noir focusing on a safe-cracker (artfully played by a young James Caan) going for that "one last job" before he goes straight. As always: the heist is the easy part, and the script is best when nobody talks. Tuesday Weld, Willie Nelson, Robert Prosky (as the slimy mob boss) and Jim Belushi are the supporting cast. Lotsa sideburns in this one. Unrealistic and formula at times, but overall nice stuff.
*THE HOLY MOUNTAIN, 1973
Much like when I saw "The Antichrist" for the first time, this film contained images I'd never even imagined. It's a total feast for the senses, for your cultural sensitivities, for philosophy, and beyond. Not for the faint-of-heart, nor for those who take things too seriously. Incredibly well-done, and a wonder to see on the big screen. Very close to being on my Top 5 Films list.
*BLUE VELVET, 1986
This was the R-rated prototype for Twin Peaks, and made clear a number of David Lynch's thematic through-lines for his later works. Personally, I immensely enjoyed the recurrence of the seedy under-belly of the suburbs coming to light, though there was quite a bit of melodrama and the ending was a bit too hokey for my tastes. Dennis Hopper was intense, but ended up too drugged-up and erratic for me to care about what must have been his riveting back-story.
THE AWAKENING, 2011
Because I enjoyed "The Orphanage," I opted to watch this one. With an atmospheric setting of post-WWI British countryside, it was a joy to look at. Pacing could have used some help though, and even Dominic West couldn't help knock this one out of the park. It left me wanting... More a mystery than a ghost story, and with a "maybe she's dead, maybe she's not" ending (with me leaning towards: "yeah, she died").
ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, 1976
Replace the zombies with a bloodthirsty street gang, replace the farmhouse with a defunct police station, replace the zombie daughter with a little girl heartlessly blasted while holding an ice cream cone... And you've reinvented "Night of the Living Dead." The first of John Carpenters -really- good-looking films. Weird pacing (again, reminiscent of NOTLD), decent dialogue, and lotsa, lotsa gunplay in this one.
*TOTAL RECALL, 1990
This is by far the worst big-budget summer blockbuster film I've seen in my life. Roy Brocksmith has a dignified scene late in the film as a corrupt psychologist, probably the most-believable scene in the film. But that's it. Thanks to all that is good and holy that Philip K. Dick was dead before this film was released.
*THE WILD BUNCH, 1969
My first Sam Peckinpah film. Very impressed. Lotsa shootin’, no heroes. Just a pessimistic, desertified landscape devoid of honor and scruples. William Holden knocked it out of the park as a bandit who loses respect for himself and where he’s ended up in life... Destined to go out in a blaze of glory as a way to possibly redeem himself in the face of whatever sonovabitch created a world like this: one with lots of laughter, but nothing to laugh at.
ENDLESS NIGHT, 1972
Based on a murder-romance story of the same name by Agatha Christie. The second half was stronger than the first and certainly more creative, but then it couldn't have gone more plodding and sluggish than the first 45 minutes of setup. I couldn't help but think I was watching a retelling of -Barry Lyndon- in the modern age. Then I looked it up and saw that this version came out three years before Kubrick's film. Gold-diggers are found in every age, it seems.
THE DEFIANT ONES, 1958
Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier are two cons on the run, chained together at the wrist for most of the film. Must have caused quite a stir, considering Curtis busts out the n-word in the first three minutes. By the end of it though, Poitier is cradling a wounded Curtis (who was really in this picture just for his looks), singing out his Can't-Hurt-Me Anthem: a variation of "Long Gone John From Bowling Green" - at the top of his lungs. Lots of social commentary and definitely a product of its time, though the same concept has been retread constantly in lesser works. I think the actors did their own stunts as well, which is a heckuva risk and definitely an impressive accomplishment.
DER HUNDE VON BASKERVILLE (German: "The Hound of the Baskervilles"), 1929
A German silent film version of this serialized novel. Watched it over a leisurely dinner, as it clocks in at just over an hour. Features some creative panning shots in the first reel, Holmes acting like a superhero in a particularly creative escape from a flooding tunnel, and of course moments of Watson being a doofus in comparison. Strove for realism much more than the beginnings of German silent film-making. Let's just forget about the anachronistic pistols in too many of the shots, shall we?
OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES, 1982
Nope. Just don't. Jess Franco used his pseudonym for this picture, and I completely understand why.
An answer to the question: "What if H.P. Lovecraft had written the screenplay for 'Little Shop of Horrors?' " Definitely scratched my itch for watching videos of abandoned places and urban exploration. The cinematography-obsessed main character stops taking his meds and then begins to uncover "the real ancient history" of humanity, sees ghosts... And oh, yeah, I almost forgot: he also adopts a blood-drinking woman (?) who may or may not be his daughter. I don't think you're really supposed to know for sure anything that's going on. From the director of "Ju-on."
A by-the-numbers heist flick from Britain with some clever ideas. A spectacular car chase leads it off, but it sort of runs out of steam by the end (and I'm not just saying that because it was based on a train robbery, haw-haw). The project manager of the heist - played by Stanley Baker, AKA The Welsh Sean Connery - gets away scot-free, and there's even the "cliffhanger question mark" on the film's THE END marquee in closing. Based loosely on a true event in British rail history.
*THE CONVERSATION, 1974
Gene Hackman plays Harry Caul in this paranoid thriller about a professional wiretapper (get it? ..."Caul" = "call") with a history of facilitating peoples' deaths through his work. Classic twists and betrayals. Fantastic camera work, with lots of shots from behind gauzy curtains, frosted glass, and plastic sheeting: physically representing the unclear audio recording at the center of the film. Some of Hackman's best work I've seen yet, beating out his performance in "Heist" many years later.
One of my top five favourite films. Tarkovsky's sci-fi picture where instead of humans exploring a planet, a planet itself explores what it means to be human. Beautiful camera work of course, and an accessible story for those who have the patience for it. A story of cosmic loneliness, and if more personally considered: the Earth could communicate with us, if only humanity would just stop and listen.
FAREWELL, MY LOVELY, 1975
Roped into this one by Robert Mitchum, and learned that he plays villains better. With a cast of recognizable names portraying fairly one-dimensional characters, this seemed underwhelming in general. The sets were good (loved seeing the glass-top desk in Marlowe's office), and Sylvia Miles as the washed-up Ms. Florian was very good. Maybe it was just a vehicle for Mitchum's sunset years in the industry, otherwise it's just a by-the-numbers (and rather dated) adapted novel. I'd rather play 90 minutes of "L.A. Noir" than watch this again, honestly.
ALFRED HITCHCOCK... MORE THAN JUST A PROFILE, 2005
A biography-lecture film that overviews Hitchcock's life, times, and death. He essentially created situations in which he could inject his mother and father, eventually turning them into archetypes and establishing a tangible through-line through the majority of his works. That, and a preoccupation with the still-unsolved Jack The Ripper murders of 1888. A snappy 100 minutes about a filmmaker who has always impressed me (well, with the exception of "Family Plot," but this documentary explains how he ended up there).
LIFE ITSELF: THE LIFE OF ROGER EBERT, 2014
Fuckin' heartbreaking portrait. I finally started weeping once his friend was reciting from "The Great Gatsby." A few times after that, as well. So what if you don't watch movies? So what if you don't care about movie reviews? This is a portrait of a remarkable, complex person, and those wonderful people in his life, and you should see it.
GRIZZLY MAN, 2005
Werner Herzog directs and narrates this documentary about Timothy Treadwell: a self-styled spokesperson and protector of the grizzly bears of the Alaskan peninsula. Of course, he was killed by a bear. Through interviews and found footage recorded by Treadwell himself, we learn about this complex, troubled man who found refuge from the oppressive, challenging world of the humans in the Grizzly Maze. It's a cautionary tale: stay in your lane. This is one of Herzog's best documentary works, in my opinion. I've watched it a couple times now, and it's still human-centered and captivating.
EUROPEAN NEW WAVE, 2011
Documentary about filmmakers of some of the most exciting films I've seen, personally. There were a lot of first-person accounts of people who worked with famous directors, lots of footage from their films, and plenty of insights. Peter Schaffer, screenwriter of "Taxi Driver," is interviewed. Lots of people were impressed with Federico Fellini, but I'm not completely convinced about him, honestly.
RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, 1985
I revisited this vibrant, hilarious, homage-filled zombie-comedy. This is the only one of the series I've seen so far. Noticed a lot of nods back to the original NOTLD, most notably the overt angled shots of the steps leading to the basement. The early scene with Suicide and Tarman was wild, and I'd forgotten the scene where Tarman's head's knocked-off. Superb performance from James Karen. Watched this the day that Clu Gulager passed away.
IF A TREE FALLS: THE STORY OF THE EARTH LIBERATION FRONT, 2011
Well, the good news is that by the time I watched this film, Daniel McGowan would have already been released from his prison, while still being recognized as a terrorist for the rest of his life. Also, the E.L.F. and it's various, decentralized cells had caused no human deaths in any of their several-hundred actions. The bad news is that I'm further convinced that there's no hope for the preservation of the environment when all aspects of the economic machine direct the legislative process in an effort to turn the environment and its various "natural resources" into profit. So it goes.
SHOOT THE SUN DOWN, 1978
Not sure what put me in the mood to see a Spaghetti-style Western today, but I was feeling revisionist. Camera work was fairly basic and utilitarian (nice ending tableau shot, though), story was amateurish, and casting was a mixed bag. Christopher Walken did okay as a (very pale) bounty hunter of sorts, Margot Kidder was kind of an embarrassment as a British indentured servant, and Geoffrey Lewis positively stole the show as the crossbow-totin' Scalphunter. Pretty much had a, "been there, done that" vibe to it, which is a shame.
Big, stupid fun for adults. Had Jurgen Prochnow in it, and lots of references to "Das Boot," which I found hilarious and clever. And I loved hearing Mo'Nique scream out loud, "I'm gonna break your dick off!" Although I watched this only with a group of friends based on their suggestion and was skeptical at the outset, I admit it was totally worth the price of admission.
THE DUNWICH HORROR, 1970
In the role of a lifetime, Dean Stockwell channels a bit of Norman Bates in this excellent re-telling of the HP Lovecraft story. Tight screenplay, oustanding camera work, excellent casting. New England gothic horror crossed with 60's-style psychedelia. I'm so disappointed that I'd not seen this film earlier. Very well done...! I must admit I was aghast at seeing Roger Corman as the Executive Producer. This is likely the ONLY film of his I've seen yet that I'd ever watch again, gladly or otherwise.
SUDDEN FEAR, 1952
Joan Crawford helps Jack Palance cut his teeth in a twisty thriller that kept me guessing about how things were gonna turn out in the end. Totally surprised that they didn't have a final scene at the beach house cliffs, and then totally surprised again that Crawford didn't shoot her cheatin' husband and his girlfriend. Camera work was inventive and eye-catching. Nice work, all-round.
DARK SHADOWS, 2012
Saw this on Halloween with a bunch of friends, and it was an amusing mixed-bag of brainless fun. As long as I didn't think critically about this, I enjoyed it. Effects were done well enough and used just enough to not be overwhelming. Unfortunately, the story was less about a vampire and more about Johnny Depp surrounding himself with stunningly-gorgeous women.
ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS, 1962
So... I suppose I can give the benefit of the doubt to the costumers for this film, as the "gay biker" outfit for the astronauts was selected here before the USA's moon landing. Beyond that, this film was merely okay all-round and while I had the endurance for it, a couple others in the audience actually dozed off during this one.
I was coerced to watch a Christmas movie through a long series of circumstances, and I don't regret it. Although it was sappy and deliberately emotional in dozens of moments, it was still enjoyable and the animation was well done. I do have some issues with casting as I think there were a few key missteps, but whatever. It was good holiday-themed fun, and a novel take on the Santa Claus myth.
I was underwhelmed. Although I desperately wanted to like this film, the fact it was holiday-themed and star-studded both ensured its success and doomed it to mediocrity. It was painfully obvious to me that Farrell had been tied down with a tight, tight leash. Deschanel was miscast, plain and simple. James Caan was head and shoulders above everyone else in here, except for maybe Bob Newhart. Cloying pablum, and a borderline never-watch-again.
DIE HARD 2, 1990
Another Christmas movie, if you want to call it that. It's kind of an action movie that checks off all the boxes without doing anything very special. Didn't expect to see John Amos' character to be a traitor. And it was fun to see so many actors I'd seen in other movies, including Amos.
BULLET TRAIN, 2022
An amusing, well-filmed action-shootemup-funny movie. Brad Pitt is the main character, I guess, and holds it down pretty well. The film really didn't do anything special regarding intertwined storylines (which kind of flailed-around in the third act), though I did enjoy the camera work. Sandra Bullock is now an official embarrasment, seeming to go the way of Gloria Grahame and paralyzing her face with plastic surgery in her "old" age.
Total for 2022: 41