Movie Roundup – March 2021

Here are the rest of the films I watched in March, in alphabetical order.

Baskin (2015)

written by Can Evrenol, Cem Özüduru, Erçin Sadıkoğlu, and Eren Akay

directed by Can Evrenol

Five Turkish police officers receive a call for backup at an abandoned building in the woods, where they find a cult that worships a deformed man they call The Father. The believers cut up bodies with butcher knives and engage in less-than-savory sexual acts. The cops are subjected to eye-gouging, intestines being pulled, and having intercourse with a woman with a goat’s skull on her face, but Baskin makes it all work with an atmospheric first half, better-than-usual performances, and a throwback style that reminded me of Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but a journey through hell probably wouldn’t.

Rating: **½

Color Out of Space (2019)

written by Richard Stanley and Scarlett Amaris

based on the short story The Colour Out of Space by H.P. Lovecraft

directed by Richard Stanley

Back in 1996, up-and-coming writer/director Richard Stanley was fired from the film The Island of Dr. Moreau (the 2014 documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau is a fascinating look at the experience). It only took him 23 years to get back in the director’s chair for this adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s short story The Colour Out of Space, in which a meteor lands in a desolate farm and starts to mutate plants and animals alike. There are some strangely beautiful gory moments and cool, trippy visuals. But Stanley never achieves Lovecraft’s tone of madness, even with Nicolas Cage’s typically unbalanced performance – by now the guy can’t play a convincing average Joe, let alone a man driven crazy by alien beings. If you’re looking for colorful mutations and aliens, check out the far better Annihilation (2018).

Rating: **

The Endless (2017)

written by Justin Benson

directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead

In The Endless, two brothers (Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, who also co-directed; Benson wrote the script as well) return to the “suicide cult” they escaped from ten years ago. They soon discover that the commune hasn’t aged at all. What the hell is going on? This low-budget sci-fi/horror hybrid is certainly inventive – an mysterious entity is keeping people in a time loop, making them die over and over again – but the concept is stronger in theory than execution, with so-so acting and too many unresolved questions. Still, I’m mildly curious about Benson and Moorhead’s other genre flicks, including Resolution (2012), which apparently shares the same setting and some of the characters from The Endless.

Rating: ** | Average

Hitchcock/Truffaut (2015)

written by Kent Jones and Serge Toubiana

based on the book Hitchcock/Truffaut by François Truffaut

directed by Kent Jones

In 1962, French auteur François Truffaut sat down with one of his idols, British director Alfred Hitchcock, for a week-long discussion on Hitchcock’s body of work. The resulting text, Hitchcock/Truffaut, is widely considered essential reading for not only those interested in the art of film, but anyone who values creativity in general. In it, Truffaut exposed his long-held belief that, while Hitchcock was indeed working within the parameters of the Hollywood system, his carefully crafted motion pictures were much more than mainstream entertainment. To actually hear their dialogue in the documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut, complemented by interviews with the likes of David Fincher, Martin Scorsese, and other respected filmmakers, strikes all the right notes for me. It’s a fascinating look into the construction of cinema, seen through the eyes of two masters.

Rating: ***½

The Invisible Man (2020)

Based on characters and concepts created by H. G. Wells for his novel The Invisible Man

written and directed by Leigh Whannell

I really wanted to like writer/director Leigh Whannell’s modern take on H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, particularly since it looked like an interesting way to supplement horror with a message about abused women and female empowerment. Alas, it was not to be. The Invisible Man doesn’t do enough to rise above the usual ho-hum tactics, and for much of its running time I was laughing at the ridiculous ways in which the unseen antagonist torments his love Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss). No one at the restaurant saw that knife floating in mid-air? Really? Despite a couple of okay moments, this remake out of sight, out of mind.

Rating: **

Manhattan (1979)

written by Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman

directed by Woody Allen

I promised I’d watch this in my review of Annie Hall (1977), and I finally got around to it. And damn if I know why Manhattan is also considered one of writer/director Woody Allen’s best films. Aside from an admittedly beautiful opening montage of The Big Apple set to George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, I failed to be hypnotized. Maybe it’s the neurotic persona or the whiny delivery, but let’s face it: Woody’s not much of an actor. In Manhattan he plays Isaac, a middle-aged television writer who’s dating Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), a teenager, but falls in love with Mary (Diane Keaton), the snobby mistress of his best friend. Isaac complains about his life, breaks up with Tracy, complains about his lesbian ex-wife (Meryl Streep), hooks up with Mary, complains some more, gets dumped by Mary, and tries to get back with Tracy. It’s as tiresome and uninvolving as it sounds. I’ve been to Manhattan close to a dozen times, and all of those trips were more memorable than Manhattan.

Rating: **

The Martian (2015)

written by Drew Goddard

based on the novel The Martian by Andy Weir

directed by Ridley Scott

Who knew director Ridley Scott had another good movie in him? The last decade has certainly been spotty, beginning with 2010’s Robin Hood (yawn), and continuing with 2012’s Prometheus (idiotic), 2014’s Exodus: Gods and Kings (watched half an hour on a plane and fell asleep), and 2017’s Alien: Covenant (the less said, the better). Granted, I skipped 2013’s The Counselor or 2017’s All the Money in the World. But The Martian, released in 2015 and based on the novel by Peter Weir, is one skillful piece of entertainment. Matt Damon plays Mark Watney, a botanist who finds himself stranded on the Red Planet after a mission goes awry. Alone in an inhospitable world, Watney must learn how to survive as NASA scrambles to figure out a way to rescue him. The Martian is brainy, exciting, and surprisingly funny. It almost made me forget Damon’s dismal turn as an duplicitous astronaut in Interstellar (2014). But not quite.

Rating: ***

Purple Rain (1984)

written by Albert Magnoli and William Blinn

directed by Albert Magnoli

Back in 1984, I had just discovered MTV and bought my first 45’s (I think the first one was Thompson Twins’ Doctor! Doctor!). I liked a couple of Prince songs – 1999 and Little Red Corvette – but I gravitated more towards “rockier” stuff like Journey and Survivor (I’m laughing as I write this). Years later I was able to see Prince live in concert and became a de facto believer. But to this day, I’d never sat down to watch his first movie Purple Rain. A couple of weeks ago I finally checked it out and found it to be as ridiculous as I expected: A cheesy, badly written, ridiculously acted, sexist film that only serves as an excuse for the man to strut his stuff on stage. Still, who can deny the hypnotic beat of When Doves Cry, the instrumental break in Computer Blue, or the final screeching minutes of The Beautiful Ones? Watch this once, then get the soundtrack.

Rating: **

SpaceCamp (1986)

written by Clifford Green and Casey T. Mitchell

directed by Harry Winer

SpaceCamp was made before the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster of 1986, but released several months after the tragedy. I was probably one of the few who went to see it in theaters, and I still like it all these years later. Sure, it’s preposterous: An astronaut teacher (Kate Capshaw) and a bunch of youngsters (Lea Thompson, Tate Donovan, Larry B. Scott, Kelly Preston, and Joaquin Phoenix, when he was still going by Leaf) get launched into space when a robot tampers with a shuttle test run (don’t ask). But it’s kinda fun and exciting, as the group learns to work together and figure out a way to return to Earth. It also has one of my favorite forgotten scores by John Williams (that main theme is to die for). Maybe it’s my nerdy side, but for my money, this beats other kid-centric adventures of the era such as The Goonies (1985).

Rating: **½

Carlos I. Cuevas