Here are some other films I watched from October to December, in alphabetical order.
written by Michael Crichton
based on the novel Coma by Robin Cook
directed by Michael Crichton
I remember seeing Coma when I was a teen and being impressed with the scene where a maintenance guy is pushed against a generator, gets electrocuted, and blue rays shoot out of his eyes. Damn. Coma is still an effective if implausible thriller about a doctor (Genevieve Bujold) who discovers an organ-trafficking conspiracy at the Boston hospital where she works. Writer/director Michael Crichton builds the suspense slowly, with ominous visuals such as a room filled with bodies suspended in mid-air. I also love that he decided not to introduce Jerry Goldsmith’s creepy score until a pivotal moment when a killer is suddenly revealed. Too bad some nice feminist touches get forgotten in a climax in which the heroine has to be saved by her dashing colleague lover (Michael Douglas).
Dune: Part 1 (2021)
written by Jon Spaiths, Denis Villeneuve, and Eric Roth
based on the novel Dune by Frank Herbert
directed by Denis Villeneuve
I’ve started reading Frank Herbert’s sprawling sci-fi epic Dune a couple of times, but gotten bored. But I admit I kinda like writer/director David Lynch’s 1984 film adaptation, warts and all. Say what you will about it, it’s a unique, bizarre, campy journey that Lynch, even having lost final cut, made entirely his own. This new take on the material comes courtesy of Denis Villeneuve (2016’s Arrival, 2017’s Blade Runner 2049), and as you can imagine it’s a more straightforward, serious affair.
The story is simultaneously simple and convoluted: Several noble houses in the future seek control of Arrakis, a desert planet that produces a drug essential to space travel and enhanced mental abilities. The Emperor of the Known Universe gives House Atreides command of Arrakis, and its young heir Paul (Timothée Chalamet) starts to realize he may be the long-awaited savior of its native people, the Fremens (there’s also a powerful sisterhood who believe Paul could be a messianic figure called the Kwisatz Haderach). Will Paul embrace his destiny and lead the Fremen revolution? Guess we’ll have to wait till Part 2.
Dune is well-acted, beautifully shot, and has the usual impeccable visual effects we’ve come to expect from Villeneuve, even if it ultimately fails to capture that ineffable essence of surrealism that characterized its predecessor. I’m looking forward to the conclusion. Also, from now on I’d like to be addressed as The Emperor of the Known Universe.
Ford v Ferrari (2019)
written by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and Jason Keller
directed by James Mangold
In the based-on-a-real-story Ford v Ferrari, Matt Damon plays auto designer Carroll Shelby, tasked by Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) with a seemingly impossible mission: Build a new racing machine that can defeat Enzo Ferrari’s team at the 1966 Le Mans race in France. Shelby’s secret weapon is British driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale), a loose cannon whose almost uncanny feel for cars could give them the edge they need. It’s a welcome respite from all the crappy stuff at the multiplex, a traditional Hollywood flick with fine performances and exciting action scenes. And in Damon and Bale, director James Mangold has found two great actors to play opposing personalities who are nonetheless bound by their passion for speed.
based on the film Halloween written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill
written and directed by Rob Zombie
After watching the pretty awful House of 1000 Corpses (2003), I was adamant about watching writer/director Rob Zombie’s remake of one of my favorite horror movies of all time, Halloween (1978). Worse, I had already seen the 2018 “reboot sequel” Halloween, which I pretty much hated. But like I said in my review of House of a 1000 Corpses, I detected flashes of talent in Zombie, so I was intrigued. Whaddayaknow, his Halloween is… pretty interesting. Whereas the original John Carpenter slasher was suspenseful and largely bloodless, Zombie goes for the jugular (literally), amping up the pace with quick cuts and gore galore. Zombie also tries to give a meaningful backstory to unstoppable killing machine Michael Myers (Tyler Mane), framing his psychopathy as a logical conclusion to an abusive childhood. It doesn’t really work, coming across as forced and clichéd. Yet it does set up a curious final half in which Michael tries to connect with his sister Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton), the only person who could possibly love him. Dude, maybe if you weren’t slaughtering all her family and friends?
This Halloween ain’t subtle. It bludgeons you into submission. But in going dirty, Zombie is able to step out from under Carpenter’s shadow. Plus, Danny Trejo? Sold.
John Wick (2014)
written by Derek Kolstad
directed by Chad Stahelski
If you can buy Keanu Reeves as a retired cold-blooded hitman who takes on an army of thugs because they stole his car and killed his dog, then John Wick is the movie for you. Me, I was avoiding it for that same reason… and I was right. Maybe if the film had embraced its ludicrous premise and gone totally over the top (Reeves is no stranger to this, having acted in stuff like 1999’s The Matrix). But the attempts at self-awareness fall flat, and John Wick feels like just another action B movie with slightly better fights. I almost wish I’d spent the time watching Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando (1985). Then again, maybe not.
written by Ben Ketai and Eva Konstantopoulos
based on the novel Hush by Eva Konstantopoulos
directed by Olaf de Fleur
This is another one of those atmospheric horror pics that have more on their minds than just scaring you, in this case playing around with genre. Malevolent starts as a ghost story about two siblings (Florence Pugh and Ben Lloyd-Hughes) who run a scam paranormal business. But after they discover real spirits (expected), the film takes a hard turn into torture porn territory (unexpected), complete with cutting of tongues and hammering out of teeth. It’s jarring and not completely successful, with some of the usual plot holes and stupid character choices. The ending, in which the brother dies and the sister can see his ghost, is surprisingly eerie and touching (also unexpected).
written by Akela Cooper
from a story by James Wan, Ingrid Bisu, and Akela Cooper
directed by James Wan
As with the aforementioned John Wick, here’s another example of not going over the top enough. In Malignant, a woman (Annabelle Wallis) has visions of a vicious killer’s murders and eventually learns that A BRAIN TUMOR WITH HER TWIN BROTHER’S FACE IS CONTROLLING HER MIND AND BODY. Fuck. Normally I’d be all over this bonkers stuff, but either you go for serious body horror (think David Cronenberg) or slapstick gross-out (think Sam Raimi)… and Malignant doesn’t know which one it wants to be. Director James Wan’s influences include those two filmmakers for sure – plus a side helping of Mario Bava, Dario Argento, Brian De Palma, and others – but he struggles to find the right balance. Cool intro credit music by Celldweller, though.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
written by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin
directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones
Well, I finally got around to Monty Python. I know, I know, I deserve all your derision… particularly since I love absurd comedy. I have no idea why it took me so long, but now that I’ve seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail I can’t wait to watch their other stuff. There’s no point trying to dissect this spoof of the Arthurian legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, other than to say that I was on the floor laughing my ass off at all the zany jokes, ridiculous conversations, and killer rabbits. I’m sure this isn’t for everyone, but I may well be on my way to becoming a Pythonite.
based on the graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters
written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan
In Old, writer/director M. Night Shyamalan returns to the lackluster waters of his 2008 B movie outing The Happening with another Twilight Zone-ish premise that could’ve probably made for a good short. Stretched to a feature, this tale of a group of tourists trapped on a beach that makes them grow old fast is just a chore. I almost could not make it past the terrible acting, never mind the unlikeable characters and lazy direction – and this after Shyamalan had somewhat brought me back to his corner with Split (2016) and Glass (2019). Things pick up a little towards the end, when Shyamalan decides to focus on the melancholy of death itself (the requisite surprise twist is also sort of fun). But by then, you’ll regrettably be a couple hours older.
Carlos I. Cuevas