Here are the rest of the movies I watched from October to December, in alphabetical order. See ya in 2023.
written by Philip Frank Messina and
from a story by Bruce Joel Rubin
directed by Douglas Trumbull
This flick about a group of scientists developing a machine that can record your experiences and emotions is mostly remembered for being Natalie Wood’s last movie (she died during production). While the script doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, there are some interesting visuals courtesy of director Douglas Trumbull, the special effects pioneer behind films such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and Blade Runner (1981). And the scene in which one of the researchers (Louise Fletcher) dies from a heart attack is still as gut-wrenching as when I first watched it in the 80s. An interesting curio.
The Changeling (1980)
written by William Gray and Diana Maddox
from a story by Russell Hunter
directed by Peter Medak
The Changeling is one of my favorite haunted house movies, with simple, scary moments that actually feel like they could happen: A piano key being pressed by an unseen force; a drowned little boy’s face suddenly appearing in a bathtub; a ghost’s whispering voice captured on tape. As music composer John (George C. Scott) tries to find out why this presence is trying to communicate with him, director Peter Medak builds the tension masterfully. Too bad the climax leans too much into revenge territory, with a resolution that seems to belong in a different film. Still, The Changeling is an overlooked horror gem – pair it with Burnt Offerings (1976) for a chilling night.
El secreto de sus ojos (2009)
written by Juan José Campanella and Eduardo Sacheri
based on the novel La pregunta de sus ojos by Eduardo Sacheri
directed by Juan José Campanella
This thriller from Argentina is remarkable on many levels, but what really sets it apart is its emotional core. The main story unfolds like a mystery, as a court agent (Ricardo Darín) obsesses for decades over an unpunished murder. But of equal importance are the unspoken feelings between him and his superior (Soledad Villamil), bubbling under the surface with every look. How co-writer/director Juan José Campanella weaves it all together – with a helping of that intrinsic Argentine humor – is a thing of beauty. El secreto de sus ojos (English title: The Secret in Their Eyes) is a must-see.
Friedkin Uncut (2018)
written and directed by Francesco Zippel
I’ve always believed great directors have at least three masterpieces in them. Some maybe four or five… but that’s rare. In the case of William Friedkin, my money’s on are The French Connection (1971), The Exorcist (1973), and Sorcerer (1977). The documentary Friedkin Uncut explores all three, with cool nuggets of behind-the-scenes trivia (did you know the car chase in The French Connection was shot in real traffic?). But I wish writer/director Francesco Zippel had also covered the director’s flops, such as the Chevy Chase comedy Deal of the Century (1983), the horror flick The Guardian (1990), and the erotic thriller Jade (1995). Still, it’s fun to see the notoriously abrasive Friedkin continue to not give much of a fuck.
Last Night in Soho (2021)
written by Edgar Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
from a story by Edgar Wright
directed by Edgar Wright
The first half of Last Night in Soho is a swell hypnotic trip, as a young fashion designer (Thomasin McKenzie) starts to see visions of an aspiring club singer (Anya Taylor-Joy) in the 1960s. These early scenes brim with the visual flair we’ve come to expect from director Edgar Wright, who’s wowed us before with films such as Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010). But then Wright switches gears and the supernatural aspects take over, with a dose of giallo thrown in. While on paper I’d be all over this, somehow it doesn’t mesh together, diminishing the film’s early promise. Great soundtrack, though.
Mean Streets (1973)
written by Martin Scorsese and Mardik Martin
from a story by Martin Scorsese
directed by Martin Scorsese
Filmmaker Martin Scorsese’s third feature is rightfully impressive, if somewhat disjointed. All of Scorsese’s trademark touches are already in full display here: The Catholic guilt experienced by Charlie (Harvey Keitel), a low-level Mafia collector who questions his morals; the long tracking shots; the use of songs to accompany the striking visuals. But what really stays with you is his obvious love of the French New Wave, with its jump cuts, improvisation, and ambiguous ending. Scorsese would only get better.
Muscle Shoals (2013)
directed by Greg ‘Freddy’ Camalier
For years the city of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, has been a magnet for musicians who want to capture a certain sound in their recordings. Its two legendary studios, FAME and Muscle Shoals, have churned an impressive array of radio hits, among them Percy Sledge’s When a Man Loves a Woman, Wilson Pickett’s cover of Land of 1000 Dances, Aretha Franklin’s I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You), and The Rolling Stones’ Wild Horses. And that’s just scratching the surface. This documentary shines a light on the owner of FAME, Rick Hall, and on the group of musicians he mentored which eventually opened their own competing facility named after the city. If you’re into music like I am, and into the often unexplainable ways in which it comes to life, you’ll find plenty to love here.
Narrow Margin (1990)
based on the movie The Narrow Margin, written by Earl Fenton, Martin Goldsmith, and Jack Leonard
written and directed by Peter Hyams
This lean remake of 1952’s The Narrow Margin is a prime example of how to make an effective suspense film that doesn’t insult your intelligence. Gene Hackman plays a district attorney trying to protect a murder witness (Anne Archer) from hired killers. Most of the action takes place aboard a train, and writer/director Peter Hyams keeps things moving at a brisk pace with sharp dialogue, humor, and an atmospheric Bruce Broughton score. This is one of those 90s cat-and-mouse flicks I never grow tired of rewatching.
written and directed by Jordan Peele
I liked Get Out (2017). I was disappointed with Us (2019). This latest horror trip from writer/director Jordan Peele is somewhere in between, but you gotta give it to the man, at least he’s trying to do something different with the genre. Half of Nope is about an alien who hides in a cloud and munches on horses and people. It’s full of cool stuff, from the design of the jellyfish-like monster to the panoramic desert vistas captured by cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema. But this being Peele, he has more on his mind… including a whole other movie involving a chimp, the way humans abuse animals, commentary about television, our need for spectacle… I’m getting a headache. None of these other threads work, feeling underdeveloped and distant. Worse, they hardly seem relevant. Still, when Peele concentrates on the thrill of seeing characters get whisked away and digested, Nope is slick entertainment. Sometimes less is more.
The Northman (2022)
written by Sjón and Robert Eggers
based on the legend of Amleth by Saxo Grammaticus
directed by Robert Eggers
I was a big fan of writer/director Robert Eggers’ two previous efforts, The VVitch (2015) and The Lighthouse (2019), and The Northman, a savage take on the Scandinavian legend of Amleth (William Shakespeare rearranged the letters for his well-known retool, Hamlet), seems right up his alley of historical fiction. But the bigger cast and scope elude his grasp; despite some memorable moments such as a valkyrie riding into heaven and a violent attack on a village, the CG tends to overpower Eggers’ vision, and the more fantastical elements (undead guardians, magical swords, Willem Dafoe’s decapitated talking head) feel like they belong to a different film. Then again, Björk shows up as a witch, so there’s that.
based on the short film Laura Hasn’t Slept by Parker Finn
written and directed by Parker Finn
Somewhere in the horror film Smile, there’s an interesting movie about trauma and how seeing someone commit suicide can scar you for life. But it’s just the inkling of an idea; with its tale of a psychiatrist (Sosie Bacon) trying to evade an evil entity, Smile is happy to stay within the confines of the “death is coming for you” subgenre popularized by Ringu (1998) and the Final Destination (2000-2011) franchise. Still, writer/director Parker Finn’s stylish direction and Bacon’s convincing portrayal of the tormented doctor elevate Smile past similar fare such as It Follows (2014); I particularly liked the nightmare-inducing birthday scene with the best “what’s in the box” moment since Se7en (1995).
Twelve O’Clock High (1949)
written by Sy Bartlett and Beirne Lay Jr., based on their novel
directed by Henry King
For years my uncle Raúl, an avowed WWII connoisseur, has told me to watch this pic about a Brigadier General (Gregory Peck) who’s asked to lead the 918th Bomb Group after their commander (Gary Merrill) loses his nerve. I should’ve listened to him sooner. Twelve O’Clock High is understated and nicely acted, with most of the action taking place at the airfield where the men live, train, and wait for the next potentially deadly mission. Most of the film is a slow meditation about war’s grinding toll on the psyche, particularly among the higher ranks. But what makes it a must is its final half hour in which we see the airplanes in action, with real combat footage taken by both the Allies and the German Luftwaffe. Take that, Christopher Nolan.
written and directed by Michael Crichton
Are you tired of the Westworld TV series (2016-2022) and its endless plot convolutions? I sure am… and I still have one more season to go. That’s why one lazy evening I decided to rewatch the source, writer/director Michael Crichton’s sci-fi film about a Western-themed amusement park where affluent tourists can fight, shoot, and have sex with high-tech androids. Of course, it all goes terribly wrong, with one particular gunslinger robot (played with gusto by Yul Brynner) wreaking havoc like the OG Michael Myers. It’s all a bit silly, but certainly more fun than trying to figure out what the fuck Dolores is up to next.
Carlos I. Cuevas