Monday 1st October
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance, P.J. Soles, Nancy Kyes
I realise it seems like poor timing to finally get around to watching John Carpenter’s massively influential Halloween by not even watching it on October 31st, but there is a reason for it this year. Soon Blumhouse will be releasing the Halloween reboot this month and it feels appropriate to see it in theatres on the spookiest day of the year. So, here we are. Here’s the story of a self-proclaimed horror fan (me) somehow not seeing arguably the most important horror film ever made, but now he has and in a shocking surprise to literally nobody, it was great.
Carpenter appears to have a remarkable talent at making films that manage to hold up decades later. It’s normally down to the visual style, which is pretty bare-bones but every shot feels purposeful. Halloween feels very experimental considering it is what influenced a run of entirely uninspired regurgitators. The camerawork is slow and subtle, but hugely meaningful. Shots will often linger on Michael Myers’ static, emotionless body as he examines his prey, and this is made all the more disturbing when you realise much of these scenes are during the day, in plain view of everyone. Accompany that with an eerily unrelenting soundtrack composed by Carpenter himself, and you’re left with the feeling that you are never safe. Michael Myers appears in the most unexpected places, and the jump scares that come with his arrival on screen are never predictable, thus avoiding being grating. It truly is a masterpiece of horror and deserves all the praise it has received over the decades since its release.
Tuesday 2nd October
Directed by: Michael Lehmann
Written by: Daniel Waters
Starring: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk
I rather liked Heathers, but that’s about it. I didn’t quite expect it to become this blunt attack on popularity and the selfishness of the individual, but when that does happen the filmmakers pull it off pretty well. It’s incredibly funny, but it never fully existed as much more than well told dark comedy, for me at least. I really enjoyed the first hour or so though, so the good rating here is absolutely justified. Slater and Ryder have such an interesting chemistry, one so compelling that you really feel the film drag when the two of them are apart. I could’ve done with more scenes with them together to fully cement their relationship, thus making the already great ending even greater.
Veronica’s arc felt a little uninteresting to me – it was the safest route the film could have gone with her setup, and it only served to feel somewhat held back. Her insistence on becoming the good guy at the end for the audience to have someone to root for removed the challenging themes the film had ready set up in the first two acts. It’s disappointing and a missed opportunity, although Ryder plays her role brilliantly regardless, so I’m not too fussed.
I am a total sucker for films like Heathers. That brand of cynical social commentary is normally right up my alley, and this film almost pulls it off brilliantly. However, it could have easily gone further with its crazy premise, but it sadly falls short of true greatness. By the end, the movie is fun and satisfying, but with a more interesting payoff for our protagonist, it could have been magnificent.
Wednesday 3rd October
Operation Finale (2018)
Directed by: Chris Weitz
Written by: Matthew Orton
Starring: Ben Kingsley, Oscar Isaac, Melanie Laurent, Nick Kroll
I don’t have too much to say concerning Operation Finale. Easily, the standout scenes in the film are those between Adolf Eichmann (Ben Kingsley) and Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac). Their dynamic is at least compelling and seeing these two great actors play off each other so seamlessly is always fun, regardless of the fact that these scenes never really land on a solid payoff. I’m glad Eichmann is shown to be a little more complicated than just the evil Nazi man, even if Kingsley plays him the same way he plays pretty much every character he has portrayed in existence (other than Gandhi or The Mandarin from Iron Man 3). His line delivery is so blegh, just like the rest of this movie. Nothing is ever done horribly wrong, nor is anything done massively right either. It dwells in a sea of mediocrity and refuses to leave.
The bleghness even extends to the very specific way the actors perform their recycled dialogue. In one scene, Melanie Laurent says a line where she starts it by looking at the table, then pauses and turns to face the person she’s speaking to at the exact beat I expected. The dumbfounding mediocrity on display here is legitimately destructive to the final product. The story, however true, is told in the most aggressively boring way possible, leading to an entirely forgettable experience by the end. Ultimately, everyone from the cast to the crew does a perfectly fine job and the film turned out perfectly fine. But what is there to gain from such mundanity? I’d much rather the film tried and failed to be different, rather than instead not trying at all. Can’t say I was disappointed, I suppose, and I imagine history buffs might get a kick out of it, so go nuts if you have a Netflix account and two hours to burn.
Directed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Created by: Cary Joji Fukunaga, Patrick Somerville
Starring: Jonah Hill, Emma Stone, Justin Theroux, Sonoya Mizuno
Maniac poses a question, one so incredibly important to not just my life but I imagine many, many others who experienced this wonderful series: why do what society expects of you? It’s funny how much of my life is dictated by what I think people want of me. Oftentimes, I sacrifice my own happiness and contentment in favour of not kicking up a fuss, whatever that means.
This is the case for Owen Milgrim, played rather brilliantly by Jonah Hill. With an important sexual assault case against his brother looming on the horizon, Owen must make a decision: does he create an alibi to protect his brother from trouble or does he own up to what is really happening, that being his brother did, in fact, commit the crime? This stress combined with his numerous psychological problems puts him in a bad way, so he applies for a drug trial to try and cope with all this trauma causing him grief. Annie Landsberg played equally brilliantly by Emma Stone is another victim of past trauma, and uses these untested drugs to experience the cause of this pain over and over, torturing her mind in the process. She gets on the trial as well, and together she and Owen undergo massive growth over the course of ten wonderful episodes, all directed by Cary Fukunaga.
It’s very difficult to talk any more about this show without spoiling it outright, because learning about and understanding these characters throughout the seven or so hours of their time on screen is an experience few have managed successfully. I won’t reveal too much more, but I will say the ending had such an impressive impact on me. It was a mixture of euphoria for the characters, the realisation that some aspects of my own life could do with some changes and the overwhelming understanding that I should appreciate what I have now because this could very well be as good as it gets. Maniac encourages you to seize the day, be your own man, don’t let others dictate what you can or cannot be. These morals may sound recycled, but Fukunaga and co. remind you that there’s a reason they are that way. Be yourself. That is all.
Thursday 4th October
Notes From Dunblane: Lessons From A School Shooting
Directed by: Kim A. Snyder
I wrote some more refined thoughts in a separate post, linked here. Check it out if you have time, I really enjoyed writing it, just as I enjoyed this short documentary. It’s only 23 minutes long and on Netflix, so what’s the harm in checking it out? I promise it’s worth your time.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Tobe Hooper, Kim Henkel
Starring: Marilyn Burns, Allen Danziger, Paul A. Partain, William Vail
Good lord, this was perhaps one of the most uncomfortable films I’ve ever sat through, and I mean that in the most positive way possible. Tobe Hooper’s horror classic sets out to make you feel disgusting while watching it. The horrific sound design and grimy aesthetic come together to make you feel just awful. The cinematography is extremely intrusive, often opting for extreme close-ups and bizarre angles to make you feel not only unnerved but also entirely stuck in the situation. Everything is presented in such a grounded fashion that you can’t help but feel just as violated as the characters do.
Every death (bar one chainsaw related fatality) feels strikingly real. When characters get attacked, they go down in one hit, maybe two, just like in real life. Leatherface is one of the more effective villains I’ve seen in a horror film recently. Every one of his actions is performed with a terrified nervous energy. His behaviour is almost primal, a constant state of fight or flight where he feels as though the world is out to get him. It’s a terrifying performance from Gunnar Hansen, so good in how unique it is that I’m both surprised and a little disappointed that he became this horror icon regarded on the same level of Jason Voorhees. Jason is such a whatever villain, but Leatherface is fascinating in both performance and narrative.
Overall, a truly disturbing experience and one I wouldn’t fully recommend to everyone. But if you’re up for something truly spooky this Halloween, this should be one to watch.
Saturday 6th October
The Conjuring 2 (2016)
Directed by: James Wan
Written by: Carey Hayes, Chad Hayes, David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, James Wan
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Madison Wolfe, Frances O’Connor
The last time I saw The Conjuring 2 was, if I remember correctly, back in 2016 in the bath watching my laptop with the lights on. Now, in this more passive and perhaps neutered environment, I wasn’t massively concentrating on the nitty-gritty critique stuff because I only really put it on as a fun timewaster, and thus I enjoyed it a fair bit. So much so that I ended up buying it on Blu-Ray, then proceeded to not rewatch it in better quality for about two years. However, since it’s Spooktober and all, I was in the mood and put it on at around midnight to see if it held up. I’m afraid to say it didn’t, but it’s still pretty damn good.
The filmmaking itself is easily the strongest aspect, even if it comes off as a bit show-offy at times (but if that sort of thing doesn’t bother you, that’s fine). James Wan is a talented dude and while I wouldn’t call any of his style particularly impactful, it’s still damn good genre filmmaking which was his aim so big ups. The performances are all pretty solid, even the children, or at least the ones that matter. The main girl, played by Madison Wolfe, is legitimately great, even if the writing doesn’t do her any favours. The writing all around isn’t great, which might be a consequence of the fact that there are four people credited for the screenplay, three of whom worked on the story. It feels quite overexplanatory at times and lacks a believability that’s crucial to a film which spends a lot of its time focusing on its characters. The runtime is over two hours, which is interesting for a mainstream horror film, and I appreciate the attempt to really take time to flesh out the characters and the world they inhabit. However, I wouldn’t say they do a great job. The actors do well with what they’re given, but what they’re given is somewhat lacklustre. This can lead to moments where the film slows way down without much of a justification for doing so.
Generally, it’s the horror filmmaking from James Wan that should be the real draw here. If you fancy a fun haunted house romp with some above average characters, then this is a safe bet. It’s never really amazing, but The Conjuring 2 is nothing if not solid, and certainly worth a look.
Barry Lyndon (1975)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Ryan O’Neal, Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee, Hardy Krüger
I cannot believe it took me this long to finally watch Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, Barry Lyndon. And I understand putting the words ‘Kubrick’ and ‘masterpiece’ in the same sentence is about as predictable as spreading butter on bread, but I truly believe this is the beloved director’s crowning achievement. It’s a truly extraordinary feat and I can’t even begin to comprehend how one would go about just planning this beast, let alone executing it at this ridiculous level of quality. Kubrick has always stood out among other directors because not only were his films almost always groundbreaking in their respective genres but were often breakthroughs in cinema as a whole. Instead of working with what he had at the time, Kubrick would often invent new ways to shoot a scene. He was an extraordinary filmmaker with a borderline terrifying work ethic, and it shows more this film than any other.
Keeping in line with his intent to achieve his vision no matter what, Kubrick wanted to try and shoot almost every scene with natural light. Barry Lyndon was one of the first films to attempt this, and the movie being set in 18th century Europe lead to many nighttime scenes shot only with candlelight, which was an incredible feat for the time. Kubrick had to shoot on lenses lent to him by NASA in order to shoot scenes in this way. It’s this out-of-the-box thinking that made Kubrick such an acclaimed director. The film overall is one of the most beautifully shot I have ever witnessed. Stunning landscapes and fascinating frames which was apparently designed to evoke, or even outright recreate classical paintings of the time. This leads to some strikingly gorgeous visuals that stick with you long after the film ends. In fact, I got the screenshot above off of Google Images, and once I put it here I realised it might be a painting and not a frame from the film. The fact that I can’t tell the difference should really be a testament to the otherworldly talent behind this work of cinematic art.
I realise most of this section is just me kissing Kubrick’s ass, but wouldn’t you too? He’s tackled almost every genre on the block and basically redefined each one. Without him, cinema would simply not be the same, and Barry Lyndon is the perfect summary of why Kubrick is a genius. Please don’t be intimidated by the three-hour runtime because this film is one not worth skipping.