Movie Roundup – January 2023

And the year is off! Here’s some of the stuff I’ve been watching, in alphabetical order.

Dracula (1958)

written by Jimmy Sangster

based on the novel by Bram Stoker

directed by Terence Fisher

The main titles for Dracula end as the camera tracks toward the titular vampire’s coffin, focuses on the inscription of the Count’s name, and a dollop of bright red blood falls all over the letters. Talk about going for the jugular. While I still find the original 1931 film and its Spanish counterpart superior, there’s no denying Hammer’s flair for low-budget horror. Christopher Lee steals every scene he’s in as the violently sexy bloodsucker, Peter Cushing is perfect as the smart and classy vampire slayer Van Helsing, and the special effects are top tier (the final scene, as Dracula crumbles into dust, is fantastic). Sleep well, Mr. Harker,” says Dracula early on. Whoever watched this in 1958 probably never slept again.


Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

written by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth

based on the novel All You Need is Kill  by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

directed by Doug Liman

I half-watched Edge of Tomorrow on a plane many years ago, and it seemed pretty cool. But you know how trying to concentrate mid-flight is: Between the turbulence, the crying baby, and the meal trolley bumping against your shoulder, it’s a dicey affair. So the other day I was looking for something to watch with the family and I remembered this sci-fi war flick about an army PR officer (Tom Cruise) stuck on a time loop as he tries to thwart an alien invasion. The action is fast, the characters convincing, and the repeating-day gimmick in which Cruise continuously dies a whole lot of fun. So what if the climax feels a little rushed and contrived? Don’t think about it too much, Edge of Tomorrow is just the right shot of adrenaline.

Rating: **½

Firestarter (1984)

written by Stanley Mann

based on the novel by Stephen King

directed by Mark L. Lester

This movie based on Stephen King’s novel about a child with pyrokinetic powers is not at the top of early King adaptations such as Carrie (1976), The Shining (1980), The Dead Zone (1983) or Christine (1983), but it’s also not as bad as its reputation would have you believe. Sure, there are plenty of problems. As Charlie McGee, the little girl who can set you on fire with the power of her mind, Drew Barrymore can’t decide on whether to look dangerous or cute. The dialogue is melodramatic (“If I do something bad, will you still love me?) and Mark L. Lester’s direction is pedestrian at best. But on the plus side, George C. Scott chews up the scenery as a creepy assassin, the throbbing score by Tangerine Dream is great, and the special effects are truly impressive. The final sequence has Charlie shooting fireballs at people and buildings while bullets bounce off her body. Wait ’til she reaches puberty.

Rating: **½

Glass Onion (2022)

written and directed by Rian Johnson

Forty-five minutes or so into Glass Onion, the sequel to the 2020 whodunit Knives Out, ace detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) solves a murder mystery game hosted by asshole billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton). Mind you, Blanc does this before the game has even started, leaving us, the audience, bewildered – we were, after all, waiting for the actual murder to take place. And that’s just one of the ways in which writer/director Rian Johnson continues to have fun with the genre. As he finds clever ways to upend our expectations, one of the main characters is revealed to be someone completely different, Blanc is actually undercover, and Jeremy Renner’s hot sauce (!) proves to be an essential plot device. Is the result a little more convoluted than in the previous outing? For sure. But still very entertaining. I’m ready for part three.

Rating: **½

Magic Magic (2013)

written and directed by Sebastián Silva

I wanted to watch Magic Magic because its title and trailer hinted at a horror movie about hypnotism gone wrong. But both of those were deceitful, and what I got instead was a thriller about Alicia, a young woman (Juno Temple) going through a mental breakdown while visiting her cousin Sara (Emily Browning) in Chile. As they travel to a remote island with Sara’s boyfriend (Agustín Silva), his sister (Catalina Sandino Moreno), and an annoying friend (Michael Cera), it is soon clear that the group doesn’t particularly like Alicia, and her condition deteriorates until she breaks. Magic Magic doesn’t fully coalesce into a satisfying experience, but Temple gives it her all in a heartbreaking performance you won’t soon forget.

Rating: **½

Those Who Wish Me Dead (2021)

written by Michael Koryta, Charles Leavitt, and Taylor Sheridan

based on the novel by Michael Koryta

directed by Taylor Sheridan

A few minutes into the action thriller Those Who Wish Me Dead, two assassins enter the house of their target and find the place empty – the man has escaped with his young son. The killers then look at a wall filled with photographs and zero in on a pic of the family somewhere in Montana… and just like that, they know that’s where they’re headed. Give me a break. If there’s something that two years of screenwriting taught me is that such leaps may be convenient for a scribe, but the audience can smell bullshit a mile away. And that’s just the first of many such moments in this flick about a traumatized firefighter (Angelina Jolie) who must protect the boy from the bad guys, a massive forest fire, and the worst threat of all: A lame script. Those Who Wish Me Dead is generic pap.

Rating: **

Carlos I. Cuevas