Category Archives: Other Media

Cinema Saturday, 1/15/22

The Hitcher

Year: 1986
Runtime: 1h 37m
Rated: R

Director: Robert Harmon

Writers: Eric Red

Stars: Rutger Hauer, C. Thomas Howell, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Initial: A rewatch for me, but I’ve probably only watched The Hitcher once, over 30 years ago.

Production Notes: The Hitcher caught a lot of flack for being a violent movie. Surprisingly, most of the violence takes place off-screen and most of the disturbing aftermath is never shown.

What Did I Think:
Young horror movie fan Katherine was pretty impressed with this movie, but after 30 years I couldn’t entirely remember why.

Spoilers Ahead:
There are two stand-out features of The Hitcher. One: John Ryder, Rutger Hauer’s character, is never given any motivation for what he does. He’s just a psycho, or maybe a semi-supernatural force of nature. My understanding is that the 2007 remake has him being slighted by the people who later pick him up. That’s disappointing because the story works best when Ryder is a mystery. Two: The movie is not precious about its characters. If you watch enough horror movies, especially ones of a certain era, you can predict that the annoying protagonist is going to die. There are two protagonists in this movie, neither is annoying . . .

Non-Spoilers:
Unfortunately, the nightmarish scenario of being hunted/haunted by a random charismatic stranger is undercut by The Hitcher devolving into a 80s action movie. There are explosions. There are cars that seemingly ramp-jump off each other. A helicopter is shot from the sky by a handgun. Oh, 80s.


The Goonies

Year: 1985
Runtime: 1h 54m
Rated: PG

Director: Richard Donner

Writers: Chris Columbus, Steven Spielberg

Stars: Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Jeff Cohen, Corey Feldman

Initial: A lot of people my age really like this movie. I had never seen it.

Production Notes: Also out in 1985, Richard Donner directed Ladyhawke and Chris Columbus wrote Young Sherlock Holmes. Both are movies I like so much more than The Goonies.

What Did I Think:
WHY IS EVERYONE YELLING??? So much yelling in this movie. I’m not fond of kid protagonists, which is probably why I never got around to watching The Goonies earlier in my life, like when I was around the age of the characters. And I might have a different opinion of this movie if I hadn’t watched Young Sherlock Holmes, Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Arc (1981), or Columbus’s Home Alone (1990) before I watched The Goonies. Many movies before and after it do what it does, but better (see also, The Lost Boys (1987), Stand By Me (1986), The ‘Burbs (1989)). Still, there are a couple of good moments, mostly courtesy Corey Feldman.


Boogie Nights

Year: 1997
Runtime: 2h 35m
Rated: R

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Writers: Paul Thomas Anderson

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds

Initial: A well-regarded movie with a big cast that I hadn’t seen before.

What Did I Think:
Boogie Nights is a movie. There are characters. Things happen. It’s well-made. The actors do a wonderful job. I like the setting of the 70s. I enjoyed the extended cast of actors I wasn’t expecting, like Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ricky Jay. I have no problem with the subject matter; the porn industry is something I know little about, so that’s a plus. The odd theme of found family (even dysfunctional found family) is almost heartwarming. Obviously, some credit has to go to Paul Thomas Anderson for all of this. I’m not eve mad that I’ve had “Sister Christian” stuck in my head since I saw this movie on Wednesday. But, honestly, Boogie Nights is just kind of there. I probably wouldn’t turn it off if it was the only thing on, but I can’t imagine ever going out my way to watch it a second time.

Cinema Saturday, 12/18/21

Tenet

Year: 2020
Runtime: 2h 30m
Rated: PG-13

Director: Christopher Nolan

Writers: Christopher Nolan

Stars: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki

Initial: Christopher Nolan is kind of hit or miss for me. I appreciate the ambition of his projects, but (hot take) I don’t think he’s actually a very good director, especially of action. Hence, I like Memento (2000) and The Prestige (2006) and think Inception (2010) is half of a good movie, but I’m not at all a fan of the Batman movies. Which means, my initial thoughts about this movie were mixed.

Production Notes: I’m kind of sad that this movie got hosed by the pandemic. Much of the narrative around the film’s release was more about the film being released in theaters in the summer of 2020 (which was hilariously optimistic) than the film’s actual quality. And it would have been a much bigger film, I think, with a pre-pandemic release. I was planning on seeing more movies in theaters in 2020, pre-pandemic; Tenet would have been one of them.

What Did I Think:
I liked Tenet, probably more than I like Inception.

Many of the things that got criticism are things I actually liked. I really dug John David Washington’s character being “the Protagonist.” I mean, I’m a Doctor Who fan so I’m good with heroes with no names. I’m also fine with a lot of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff. Yes, the characters wear a lot of masks that make them (very occasionally) difficult to understand; that’s how the characters have to be sometimes. I’m also good with the escalating grandeur of set pieces. Many reviews went down the road of “Well, if you can do X, why not Z instead of Y?” but that’s kind of like arguing with any plot. The plot Nolan gives us is just fine.

Also, I really wouldn’t be mad if John David Washington were the next 007. Just saying.

Favorite Movies of 2021

I’ve been watching more movies during the pandemic. I haven’t done a complete breakdown by genre, but since I’ve done four different horror movie A–Zs during 2020 and 2021, I’m going to guess a fair amount of the increase is in the horror genre. Why horror? Definitely no cathartic reason. No, not at all. I just like horror.

Number of movies watched per year according to my Letterboxd account:

  • 2018: 74
  • 2019: 112
  • 2020: 159
  • 2021: 161 (thus far)

But the real question here is, “What were my favorite movies that I watched for the first time in 2021?” Links to my previous thoughts are provided.

The Big Movies

I’ll be honest, I do love a big movie.

  • Ford v Ferrari (2019)
  • Tenet (2020) – I’ll have more to say about Tenet in the near future.
  • Dune (2021) – The most unabashedly “movie” movie on this list. I know it isn’t how Denis Villeneuve wanted me to see Dune, but I was very grateful that it streamed day & date on HBO Max. Trust me, Mr. Villeneuve, I really wanted to see it in a theater, but I’m just not there yet. I hope when part two comes out I’ll be able to catch a double feature.

The Ones that I Thought About Later

  • Chinatown (1974) – I didn’t blog about Chinatown. I watched it for an online class that I was taking and I never quite got my thoughts together about it outside of class. Not surprisingly, there is a reason this is a noir classic.
  • Falling (2020)

The Horror Movies

The Documentaries

  • Surfing with the Enemy (2011) – Lance Henriksen shows up on this list twice because of course he does.
  • Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street (2019) – Wait, I never blogged about Scream, Queen? There is an adage that you should only write a memoir or a biography if you have a unique story to tell. The same goes for documentaries and Mark Patton definitely has a unique story. It’s also an interesting discussion on text, sub-text, and added text.

There you go: ten movies, in no particular order. I blogged about Surfing with the Enemy and Gretel & Hansel in the same January 16th blog post and that feels like forever ago. Here’s hoping 2022 brings more good movies my way.

Cinema Saturday, 12/11/21

What have I been watching lately? Here’s a rundown:

Pig (2021)
Directed by Michael Sarnoski
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Alex Wolff, Adam Arkin

  • Weird, quiet, stylish film. I liked it.
  • Face blindness means you can watch Hereditary (2018) five times and not recognize Alex Wolff.
  • We now have a contender for “cute truffle pig” if they ever make a Chef Maurice movie.

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
Directed by Jon M. Chu
Starring: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh

  • I’m late to this party and was in the mood for a good rom-com. I was not disappointed.
  • With so many themes of class and manners, it had strong Jane Austen vibes.
  • Someone should arrest Awkwafina because she stole this movie.

Bad Education (2019)
Directed by Cory Finley
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, Geraldine Viswanathan

  • How did Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney not win more awards for this?
  • Finley and cinematographer Lyle Vincent make some weird shot selection decisions. There are reasons, I’m sure; I haven’t parsed them.
  • Recognized Alex Wolff this time (but I was expecting him).

Blue Ruin (2013)
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
Starring: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Eve Plumb

  • Saulnier also wrote and directed Green Room (2015), one of my favorites.
  • I appreciate plots that unwind to conclusions that aren’t necessarily good for their characters.
  • Overall well-made and well-acted though it didn’t entirely hit with me.

Movie ~ The Matrix

The Matrix

Year: 1999
Runtime: 2h16m
Rated: R

Directors: Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski

Writers: Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski

Stars: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss

Initial: Rewatch. The Matrix Resurrections is coming out in a few weeks and it got me wanting to watch the original.

Notes:
The first scene of this movie does so much world-building heavy-lifting. Not only is this person, Trinity, more than human, but she is afraid of Agents. The suits are definitely our villains. She also disappears via landline—there is obviously some computer-based cyber-punk something going on here. Okay, obvious in 1999. In 1999, a land-line-based modem was how you connected to the internet. I’m not sure how that translates for young people who have probably never encountered a landline and have only connected to the internet via cable modem or the like.

There is so much exposition in this movie. Why does it work? (I mentioned this back when I watched Dark City (1999).) Is it because it’s balanced with some of the most inventive actions sequences put to film? Is it because the audience can easily wear confused Neo’s shoes while he’s being explained to? Is it because the explanations themselves are delivered by a very charismatic Laurence Fishburne while we’re being given yet more eye-candy? I remember the info-dumps not being handled as well in The Matrix Reloaded (2003). I’m tempted to rewatch it, but I remember seeing in the theater and actually being bored. I don’t don’t think I’ve even seen The Matrix Revolutions (2003).

That said, I’m kind of intrigued by The Matrix Resurrections. Maybe it’s just because I’m a fan of “But they’re old now.” (Go ahead, ask me what my favorite part of the recent Star Wars sequels was . . .) I hope it can be watched without too much of the mythology from the other films. Maybe they’ll account for casual audiences who need to slip on the confused Neo shoes again.

R.I.P. Bingo ~ Haunted House

To misquote a tagline, what’s better than one haunted house? Four haunted houses! I’m not against remakes and I had the opportunity recently to watch some classics back-to-back with their turn-of-the-century remakes. How do they stack up?

House on Haunted Hill (1959) and 13 Ghosts (1960) were both directed by William Castle and written by Robb White. Castle was rather well known for promoting his films with gimmicks. House‘s gimmick was Emergo: in certain theaters, at a certain point in the film, a skeleton would be made to fly over the audience. Ghosts‘ had Illusion-O: a viewing device that audience members could use to see the ghosts in the film. Honestly, 13 Ghosts loses a lot without its gimmick because there isn’t much going on other than seeing the ghosts.

House on Haunted Hill is by no means a great movie, but it generally serves as a bit of schlocky seasonal fun. Vincent Price is delightfully wicked, the exterior of the house is a Frank Lloyd Wright design, and it has a few actually creepy moments. The plot (spoilers) isn’t exactly supernatural, but it has enough double dealing and betrayal that , if the house wasn’t haunted before, it is now. It’s also the easiest to view now. A copyright SNAFU has led to it being in the public domain.

In 1998, genre heavy-weights Robert Zemeckis, Joel Silver, and Gilber Adler founded Dark Castle Entertainment. The production company’s first two films were remakes of the two William Castle films mentioned above.

House on Haunted Hill (1999) was directed by William Malone and written by Dick Beebe. While the basic plot stays intact (stay over night in the haunted place, win money) the “house” is actually a former insane asylum, a trope that’s wearing thin for me. One of the criticisms of both of these movies (and of a trend in horror films that started during this period) is that they become too reliant on CGI effects. Yes, the ending of this movie is very over-wrought as our survivors flee from a Rorschach-test-like dark cloud. Luckily, there are some uncanny moments earlier in the film and there are also a few nods to the original. Winner of the Vincent-Price-level evil award: Famke Janssen.

Thir13een Ghosts (2001), directed by Steve Beck and written by Neal Marshall Stevens and Richard D’Ovidio, diverges even more from the original, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As in the original, a hard-up family inherits a haunted house, but in this case, what a house! It’s all glass, glowing runes, and clockworks. The set design is really the star of this movie. The titular ghosts have back stories, which the movie doesn’t really worry about fleshing out. That’s fine, those details go into the character design where they belong. While the ghosts may not be that scary, they are interesting. Like House on Haunted Hill, the ending is the weakest point in Ghosts, but it’s kind of a fun ride while it lasts.

R.I.P. Bingo ~ Spooky Music

I have a pretty big Spotify playlist that I call 31 Flavors of October. It’s a combination of goth, industrial, movie soundtracks, and other somewhat “spooky” music. I hit random a just let it go. Here’s a sampler:

“The Olde HeadBoard” by Rasputina, from How We Quit the Forest, 1998

“The Haunting” by Nosferatu, from Prince of Darkness, 1996

Listen to More