Sunday, February 18, 2018

Hercules in the Centre of the Earth

Ercole al Centro Della Terra (AKA Hercules in the Haunted World AKA Hercules vs. the Vampires) (1961)


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Hercules' girlfriend/fiance (?) (Leonora Ruffo) is under a spell that effectively turns her into a zombie. In order to restore her, Hercules (Reg Park) and his sidekicks (George Ardisson, Franco Giacobini) must travel to the underworld to steal a crystal. Meanwhile, Hercules' slutty friend falls in love with Persephone (Ida Galli), and also Hercules' girlfriend's uncle (Christopher Lee) is a vampire and trying to do some vampire thing. There's a lot of shit going on in this movie and very little of it is important.

I'd never heard of this movie before but it cropped up in the same youtube list as Night of the Twisters thus I was expecting it to be pretty bad. Imagine my delight when Mario Bava and Christopher Lee turned up in the opening credits. This turned out to be not only the best Hercules movie I've seen, but also the best Hercules movie I could imagine.

It's got that old school, totally over the top '60s aesthetic, plus the hilarity of an Italian film dub, plus the lush visuals of Mario Bava. All of these aspects are perfectly suited to epic myth, which exists outside of any normal reality.

The sets are cheap and crappy looking but it's almost impossible to notice when they're bathed in Bava's psychedelic light shows. Honestly, I wrote down in my notes that the sets were beautiful, then skipped back through the movie and realized "no they're not". What's beautiful are the pools of electric green, red, and yellow, sumptuous purple and blue. I've said this before about Blood and Black Lace but I felt like Mario Bava was making sweet love to my eyeballs with Hercules.

Similarly, the costumes and wigs were pretty bad for the most part, but that added to the fun, low budget aesthetic of the movie.

I'm impressed with how well the horror and sword-and-sandal fantasy genres mixed together. I guess at a certain point with this type of fantasy anything goes. Super strong dude? Alright. Immortal gods? Sure. Rock monster? Good enough. Vampires? Why not. But seriously, this is a Hercules movie with vampires in it and if that's not just the best thing that's happened to me today, I don't know what is. I've seen some horror elements incorporated into epic fantasy before (Conan has some pretty weird shit going on), but never to this extent. I can't say too much because Mario Bava is a fucking god but I kind of wish he had done even more genre bending weirdness.

Whoever came up with this thing deserves the Coked Up Movie Award for 1961 (Image Source)
Oh yeah, speaking of rock monsters, there's a rock monster in this thing. It just fucking shows up and waves its arms around like a dick and goes on about how he's going to stretch buddy because his bed is too long and squish other buddy because his bed is too short like some kind of demented Goldilocks and is all around the weirdest and most delightful thing I've seen in a movie since Box in Logan's Run.

The movie made me wish slightly goofy mythology inspired epic fantasy movies would make a comeback. We've got Xena, and we've got Conan, but those were both over a decade ago, I want something now. To be fair, every year there's at least one big budget epic fantasy movie that comes out and I don't go see it because the trailer looks atrocious, so it's possible that they're slipping by me. The ones I've seen (Exodus: Gods and Kings and the Conan remake) were both really shitty and entirely too self important. I want a movie that knows it's ridiculous and doesn't care. It's not too much to ask.

Like there's this part towards the end where Hercules and his friend have a really catty bro-fight which is just so silly but so appropriate in the context of Greco-Roman inspired fantasy (side note, I read The Iliad recently and Achilles is the whiniest bitch so I was totally down with temperamental heroes).

To expand that side note into a complaint, I'm taking a class on Greek and Roman mythology right now so the misattribution of character names (specifically Theseus, Telemachus, Jocasta, Persephone, and Medea) really annoyed the pedantic nerd in me. Furthermore, I've always taken special umbrage to the depiction of the underworld as Greek Hell. Even as a child the Disney version of Hercules pissed me off coz it turned Hades into a bad guy when like... he's just the dude that runs the underworld, leave him alone.

Another complaint is that there ought to have been, yknow, more monsters. If I'm being honest that's probably the thing that disappointed me the most. When I watch a movie like this, I expect there to be a fuck ton of monster, not just, like, one rock monster and a vampire and some zombies for some reason.

My only other issue with the movie is that the last third or quarter or so was either really confusing or not interesting enough to hold my attention, I'm honestly not sure which it was. I kinda zoned out for a bit because there was just so much stuff going on that didn't seem to have any real bearing on the plot of the movie, as irrelevant as the plot actually was.

That being said, though, this movie is absolutely fucking great, 100% would watch again. You can watch it too, and I highly recommend that you do, because the whole thing is on youtube for your immense viewing pleasure. If you like vampire movies, or sword-and-sandal movies, or weirdly dubbed Italian movies, or joy, you will not regret watching this movie.

Merits
- Mario Bava (+1)
- 1960s Star Trek music (+1)
- Shitty English dub (+1)
- Christopher Lee (+1)
- Vampires (+1)
- Whoever did the lights for this movie (+1)
- Hercules' leather cold-shoulder minidress is to die for (+1)
- Fucking rock monster (+1)
- All the girls have giant hair (+1)
- Horror + epic fantasy = perfection (+2)
- Ida Galli (+1)
Total: (+12)

Demerits
- Blatant disregard for actual mythology (-6)
- I can't tell any of the female characters apart (-1)
- Not enough monsters (-1)
Total: (-8)
Final Score: +4 points

Directed by: Mario Bava.  Written by: Mario Bava, Sandro Continenza, Franco Prosperi, Duccio Tessari.  Starring: Reg Park, George Ardisson, Christopher Lee, Leonara Ruffo, Ida Galli, Franco Giacobini.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Best and Worst of 2017

Since I installed an arbitrary ranking system for movies, I can actually do a best-through-worst of movies I reviewed in 2017, based on the rating I gave them at the time. Bear in mind that the ratings mean literally nothing and I don't care if you disagree with me.

House of the Devil
Ranking: +5.666
Consensus: A stylish homage to 1970s horror and tribute to the importance of pizza
Full review

Maniac Cop 2
Ranking: +5
Consensus: Better than Maniac Cop
Full review

The Old Dark House
Ranking: +5
Consensus: It is a god damn crime that I did not see this movie until last year
Full review

Curucu, Beast of the Amazon
Ranking: +4.667
Consensus: The casual racism made me really fucking uncomfortable, but that wildlife footage, tho
Full review

The Babadook
Ranking: +3
Consensus: This movie deserves more than a +3
Full review

The Innkeepers
Ranking: +2
Consensus: Fun movie, stupid ending
Full review

Feast
Ranking: +1
Consensus: I want to retroactively lower the ranking of this movie because of its sequels
Full review

Maniac Cop
Ranking: -2
Consensus: Had great potential for social commentary, squandered it
Full review

Split Second
Ranking: -4
Consensus: I have forgotten everything about this movie
Full review

Feast II: Sloppy Seconds
Ranking: -7
Consensus: Among the reasons I hate this movie is that now, when I watch Return of the Living Dead and see Clu Gulager, I will be reminded of this terrible, terrible series
Full review

The Visitor
Ranking: -8
Consensus: I didn't like The Omen and I liked this movie even less
Full review

Lost in Space
Ranking: -9.75
Consensus: This movie gave me diarrhea
Full review

Feast III: The Happy Finish
Ranking: -10
Consensus: This might not be the worst movie I've ever seen, but it's certainly among the worst movies I've ever seen
Full review

Night of the Twisters

Night of the Twisters (1996)

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This movie came up in a youtube playlist of cult science fiction movies, so naturally I assumed it was about sentient tornadoes or, possibly, a person making tornadoes and sending them after people. Imagine my disappointment when it turned out it was a Family Channel original loosely based on a young adult novel, which is a fictionalized account of real events, wherein a family lives in a town that tornadoes happen to. Okay, so the tornadoes behave unusually, and there's like, two or three tornadoes in a row but that's nothing in disaster movie world.

The movie was really obviously made for television, and replete with inoffensive cinematography, garbage music, terrible sound recording and editing (I get that it's supposed to be windy because tornadoes, but when the wind noise is louder than the dialogue during a normal scene, get a fucking wind sock), and tepid melodrama. It's even infused with morals and I felt like I learned valuable lessons both about the importance of responsibility, and the importance of family.

The writing is mediocre at best, with different characters using the same expressions - this is probably something that most people wouldn't notice unless they were really looking for it. I'm really looking for it because it really bothers me.

The whole plot of the movie is just people driving around trying to find other people who manage to leave where they're at right before their loved ones get there, which is pretty boring after an hour or so.

The only people the movie cares about at all are the small band of central characters which include the main kid (Devon Sawa), his parents (John Schneider and Lori Hallier), his aunt (Jhene Irwin), his best friend (Amos Crawley), and his best friend's sister (Laura Bertram). Twisters rip through trailer parks with no fucks given, a twister destroys the main kid's entire neighbourhood and the only people we even see emerging from the wreckage are the main characters. There's a thing where the best friend's parents went "to the lake" for the weekend, which sounds like a horrible fucking place to be when there's a bunch of twisters happening, but we never get any mention of whether they turned out to be okay or how the siblings were dealing with the trauma of experiencing back to back tornadoes without their parents because the only parents the movie cares about are the main kid's parents.

The unfortunate thing is that the best friend character is actually the more interesting of the two kids. He's really into tornadoes and weather patterns, he's from California so he doesn't know what the fuck to do during a tornado, and he's suddenly saddled with the responsibility of looking out for his sisters (which he does a fine job of, by the way). The actual main character is a whiny disappointment who's struggling with the fact that his dad is a jock and he's... not a jock (I may have missed it but I don't think the movie ever told us exactly what he is into), and coping very well with having a new baby brother. So the boring character is the focus and the actually good character is used primarily to remind us that chubby kids like to eat. I'm not even going to get into that beyond saying, fuck that movie trope.

The other character I liked was the super anxious meteorologist (David Ferry) who is tracking the storm and provides useful information to me, the viewer, about why this particular tornado event was so devastating. He became an important-ish part of the plot later but still, could've used more screen time, probably should've been the main character.

The third interesting character was the dad, who was kind of a fucking dick to his kid, but obviously cared about him, and then boom it turns out he's not the kid's dad, he's his step dad and maybe he's got this insecurity thing about the kid's relationship to his dead dad. What an interesting family dynamic that actually managed to make the movie more engaging.

The truly interesting thing about this movie is that it was released a full three months before Twister, and about a year before Dante's Peak, which is weird because it feels like a mashed up rip off of both of those movies. When I was watching it I assumed that it had been made to capitalize on the popularity of Twister, but nope, it came out first.

The other thing worth noting about Night of the Twisters is that, even though for the most part it's lame and dull, the parts where the tornadoes are happening are fucking intense.

When the first tornado hits, the mom is at work, the dad has gone to get grandma, and the kid and his friend are alone in the house. Twister starts twisting and the main kid goes upstairs to get the baby and like, the tornado rips the fucking wall off the nursery and you can see the funnel cloud through the hole and it's getting closer and closer and I'm sitting in the library at school getting goosebumps coz it was fucking great.

It took a long time for there to be another tornado and this one did not disappoint. The family has to outrun it in their car and there's this other car behind them and that person apparently isn't driving fast enough because you just see their headlights get sucked up into the funnel and if that wasn't the coolest fucking thing I've seen in a movie this year I don't know what is.

So, yeah, ultimately I have mixed feelings about this movie. It was mostly stupid and boring but also has some of the best storm scenes I've ever seen so I guess I'll call it a draw? The whole movie is available to watch on youtube here (the part with the car getting sucked into the twister is around 1:22:00).

Merits
- The tornadologist character (+1)
- Fucking great tornado action (+4), yes I am giving that many points the tornado stuff was that good
Total: (+5)

Demerits
- Made for TV feel (-2)
- Denim everywhere (-1)
- Movie says "fuck you" to everybody who isn't the main character (-3)
- Lessons (-2)
- "Ha ha, fat people like to eat" (-1)
- Guy is pinned underneath pickup truck, probably for hours, and still cogent enough to hold a conversation (-1)
- The movie had an epilogue to tell me what happened to all the characters I don't give a fuck about a year later (-1)
- Too much chat not enough splat (-1)
- Set in Nebraska, shot in Ontario (-1)
Total: (-13)
Final Score: -8

Directed by: Timothy Bond.  Written by: Sam Graham and Chris Hubbell, based on the novel by Ivy Ruckman.  Starring: Devon Sawa, John Schneider, Lori Hallier, Amos Crawley, Laura Bertram, David Ferry, Jhene Irwin, Helen Hughes.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Independence Day 2

Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

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Set twenty years after Independence Day, a film which I only foggily remember and did not re-watch to prepare for this review, all the nations in the world have united and live in peace following the original alien attacks. But then the aliens come back and they're like way more powerful than they were in the first one and they wipe out Earth's defense systems and it's up to Will Smith's son (Jessie Usher), the former president (Bill Pullman), and Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) to figure out a way to stop them. And, like... they do. Hooray!

Like I said, I don't really remember that much about the first movie - most of my memories of it got replaced with Mars Attacks! and the first half of Starship Troopers. Thus I was kind of confused that a lot of the characters were introduced with the assumption that I know who they are. Sure, I remember Jeff Goldblum and Jeff Goldblum's dad, and I remember Bill Pullman, but I completely forgot that Bill Pullman had a daughter, Will Smith had a son, and Brent Spiner was in the movie. Furthermore, I'm pretty sure there were some characters dropped in that weren't in the first movie at all but still were presented as though I should know who they are. Given that it takes a full thirty-five minutes of preamble to get to the resurging, the utter lack of any character development is unacceptable.

I was fully prepared to hate this movie as soon as I started watching it so, in the interest of being fair, I did my very best to try to find thing about the movie that I enjoyed. I still ended up disliking the movie, but it had a few good elements and moments.

One of the things that I liked was that alien technology from the first movie was integrated into human technology in this movie. That gave the movie a cool, near-future sci-fi look to it which I found aesthetically pleasing.

The effects were good, so the destruction of major cities was satisfying. That being said, the only reason anybody watches these movies is to see shit getting exploded, so there definitely wasn't enough destruction. An awful lot of time was wasted on talking and emotional stuff (more on that later) that would have been better used showing buildings falling down and people screaming and stuff.

There's one really cool part where Will Smith's son, and Bill Pullman's daughter's boyfriend (Liam Hemsworth) for whatever reason fly on to the alien mothership and then get stranded and find out that the inside of the ship is a fully functioning ecosystem where the aliens live. They then have to evade the aliens on, effectively, their home turf, which is a super cool idea for a movie but, unfortunately, gets chopped down to a single part in this turd because, you know, they have to go back to Judd Hirsch driving a school bus full of kids around.

So... those are the good things. The rest of this review is just going to be a list of reasons why this movie is terrible.

Firstly, all of the characters, about which we are supposed to care, are so one-dimensional. I get it, there's like, nine million characters in this movie so it's really difficult to make any of them in any way realistic but there's a solution to that - don't have so many characters in your fucking movie. Make it about one person for fuck sakes. It's not that hard, most other movies manage to do that without too much difficulty.

Secondly, this movie seems to not understand that today's audiences are cynical as fuck. To be fair, maybe that's just me. I can't be the only person who felt nothing when Vivica Fox is trying to save a LADY who just had a BABY and the ALIENS ARE COMING  and THINGS ARE EXPLODING and she's rushing them to a HELICOPTER and she SAVES THEM but she SACRIFICES HERSELF while her SON WATCHES. Like, first of all, the baby-lady never shows up again in the movie so who gives a shit about her. Second of all, apart from a brief "nooooooo" from Jessie Usher, the emotional impact of watching his mother fall to her death is never addressed. Third of all, people aren't completely stupid, we know when a movie is going out of its way to be emotionally manipulative and we will not stand for it. In fact, the only thing more cynical than today's audiences is the people who wrote this movie and were like "yeah, put a chick with a baby in danger, that'll make people care".

My next problem is of a more scientific nature. It turns out that the reason the aliens have come to Earth both times is to drill down and extract the planet's liquid core to fuel their space ships and "advance their technology" (whatever the fuck that means). The question I pose to this movie is, why would that be at all efficient? It's a pretty good way to fuck up your enemies' planets, that I will grant, but if an alien race had space ships that ran on liquid iron-nickel alloy, would it not be easier to find uninhabited planets and asteroids and stuff that were made of iron and nickel and just... melt it? That would save all the trouble of drilling down through the rest of the planet, because that has got to take a phenomenal amount of energy to do. Also they can't possibly use a whole core all in one go, therefore they must be able to keep it at a high enough temperature and pressure that it will remain liquid for them to use so I ask again why couldn't they just melt chunks of iron and nickel? I know the whole thing is probably a metaphor for oil use or something but still, make your shit make sense, movie.

Supplemental to that point, our heroes manage to stop the aliens seconds before they reach the core with their drills, and there was much rejoicing. But, like, wouldn't there still be a gigantic hole drilled through the mantle? That has got to cause some problems. I'm talking massive - fucking massive - tsunamis and other sorts of geological unrest. They said that the hole being drilled was one mile in diameter, and the outer boundary of the Earth's liquid core is 1800 miles beneath the surface*, that's what, like 1400-ish cubic miles of material displaced? Where did that go?

The movie introduces another race of aliens and hints that there are many, many more, but tells us next to nothing about them. I want more aliens, damnit. Furthermore, the movie ends exactly when it's getting interesting, with Brent Spiner announcing that the friendly alien is going to help the Earthican people take the fight to the bad aliens, which just gives me such a huge lady-boner and guarantees that I'll watch the next turd this franchise craps out.

The worst problem with this movie is that it's actually really boring. Honestly, I didn't mention some of the other stuff that I couldn't make sense of because I wasn't paying attention to most of the movie and it's entirely possible that I missed some details. I can't even say that I hated it because that implies an emotional response and I didn't have one. This isn't a movie that you watch, this is a movie that just happens. I almost turned it off halfway through because I was so fucking bored but I made a commitment to you, gentle reader, to watch this boring excuse for a movie and tell you why it's bad.

Merits
- Jeff Goldblum appears in the film (+1)
- William Fichtner appears in the film (+1)
- Explosion! (+1)
Total: (+3)

Demerits
- Too much chat, not enough splat (-1)
- Will Smith unceremoniously killed off screen (-1)
- Vivica Fox unceremoniously killed on screen (-1)
- Ann from Arrested Development got replaced (-1)
- Horny character with no game (-1)
- Wormholes. Were there wormholes in the first movie? Why was nobody making a bigger deal out of the wormholes? (-1)
- 25 minutes before any aliens show up (-1)
- 35 minutes before the main aliens show up (-1)
- Who the fuck are all these people (-1)
- Aerial battles are convoluted, and remind me of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, a movie I would rather forget (-1)
- Core-drillin reminded me of The Core, another movie I would rather forget (-1)
- Psychic bullshit (-1)
- Science problems (-2)
- All earth nations are united in peace but America is still in charge (-1)
- And yet Bill Pullman wasn't made supreme ruler of Earth at the end of the last movie (-1)
- I want to know more about the other aliens (-1)
Total: (-17)
Final Score: -14 points

Directed by: Fucking Roland Emmerich.  Written by: Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, Dean Devil, Roland Emmerich, James Vanderbilt.  Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Liam Hemsworth, Bill Pullman, Brent Spiner, Maika Monroe, Jessie Usher, William Fichtner, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Deobia Oparei, Nicolas Wright, Travis Tope, Angelababy, Judd Hirsch, Vivica A. Fox

*I don't know why I'm using imperial measurements here but bear with me

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Babysitter

The Babysitter (2017)

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One of my favourite activities of late is what I like to call "plumbing the depths", and it is just watching random movies on Netflix. Today, I watched this movie. It's a Netflix original, and directed by somebody called "McG", and surprised me by not being absolutely terrible.

A nervous, sheltered boy (Judah Lewis) is left with a babysitter (Samara Weaving) for the weekend while his parents go on a trip. At the urging of his neighbour (Emily Alyn Lind), he spies on the sitter to find out if she's having sex with teenage boys after he goes to bed. Turns out she's the leader of a Satanic cult and murders a dude for a ritual. The kid must then defend himself and kill off the Satanists in his house.

Both of the main characters - the kid and the babysitter - are super likable, even though he's a whiny dork and she's a homicidal lunatic. The acting is reasonably good on both parts too - Judah Lewis is not the best or worst child actor I've ever seen, while Samara Weaving is lots of fun.

Her character is also probably the best babysitter in the world, holy shit. I didn't get babysat very often as a kid so I don't really have a whole lot of reference for this, but like, I'm pretty sure swimming, screening old movies on the side of a barn, pizza, and shooters are unusually awesome for a babysitting experience. Okay, yeah, so she steals his blood for their Satan thing at one point but, like... shit. What's a little blood, right?

Speaking of blood, this movie has plenty. It's like a grizzly Home Alone, which is definitely something the world needed because, real talk, Home Alone kind of sucks. Plus it has a few tense moments and hardly any jump scares. The movie leans more towards horror comedy than straight up thriller most of the time, which is unfortunate because the thrilling parts were way better executed than the "comedy", and I will get back to that soon.

The most interesting thing about the movie is its subversion of the horror movie babysitter trope. Typically in horror movies, the babysitter is the victim (see Halloween, When A Stranger Calls, House of the Devil, and others). In this movie, she's the antagonist. The members of the cult are all slasher victim archetypes (jock, goth, dumb cheerleader, nerd, blonde last girl, and black guy) and they die in the appropriate order, which is pretty clever. Sure, it's been done before, but it's still different than the norm.

The movie's main failing is that it is not actually as clever as it thinks it is. A whole lot of time is wasted trying to be "stylish", whatever that means. There's lots of rapid cuts (like an Edgar Wright movie), and titles which tell you the names of characters I don't care about (like Feast) and also I guess what the characters are thinking? Maybe? I don't get what the point of that was. All of this stuff is executed by a person who obviously is better suited to making, like, normal movies because instead of slick and sexy it comes off as frenetic and abrasive.

The writing suffers from the same problem. It's mired in pop culture references and "buffyspeak", which is great when utilized by a skilled writer, but in this case stuck out as trying to sound funnier than it was. The hip and sassy dialogue also clashed with the sappy overall tone of the movie. At its core, The Babysitter is a very earnest coming of age story about a boy getting over his unrealistic crush on his babysitter and falling for the girl next door, while becoming a man. Stuffing it in a glossy, snarky party dress doesn't change that.

The movie goes out of its way to set up everything that happens later. From the toy car sitting at the top of the stairs, to the kid overcoming his fear of driving, everything is staged early on. Some movies pull this off by setting stuff up in a subtle way (Near Dark and Satan's Little Helper are excellent examples of this) but The Babysitter painstakingly makes sure the viewer's attention is drawn to things that will be important later. Which makes it super predictable and annoying to jaded assholes like me who've spent way too many hours watching movies.

Another big issue is that I was never totally clear on what exactly the Satanist characters wanted. So they're doing this ritual that will grant them whatever they want. Later in the movie the jock mentions he just wants to kill people, the cheerleader says she wants to be a journalist, and the babysitter expresses a desire to be "confident" or some shit. But like, they're all obviously high functioning, attractive, and successful teens. The babysitter has a sweet job... babysitting, and the jock guy is a star quarterback. What could the Devil really grant them that they can't get on their own? Are North Americans so desperate that turning to black magic to get stuff is a perfectly logical thing to do and requires no further explanation? I don't know about you, but I've often considered dabbling in the dark arts and I've never come up with anything I want badly enough to make a deal with some demonic entity. Kids today, I swear to god.

Overall, this movie isn't great, but it's not bad either. It's a watchable post-slasher horror comedy, and in better hands, maybe the hands of somebody not named "McG", it could've been decent.

Merits
- Samara Weaver is delightful (+1)
- Lotsa blood (+1)
- Trope subversion (+2)
- Satanists are surprisingly nice people (+1)
Total: +5

Demerits
- Just because one of the characters says "This ain't Home Alone!" doesn't make it not Home Alone (-1)
- The movie tries way too hard (-3)
- People keep running upstairs instead of out. The Open. Fucking. Front. Door (-1)
- There's no way that kid survived flipping a muscle car and crashing it into a house without wearing a goddamn seatbelt (-1)
Total: -6
Final Score: -1

Directed by: "McG".  Written by: Brian Duffield.  Starring: Judah Lewis, Samara Weaving, Emily Alyn Lind, Robbie Amell, Hana Mae Lee, Bella Thorne, Andrew Bachelor, Leslie Bibb, Ken Marino.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Movies I Like to Watch Around Christmas Time That Aren't Die Hard

It's less than a week until Christmas so obviously it's time to talk about movies. Specifically, movies that I like to watch in December that make me feel Christmassy but aren't explicitly Christmas movies. And also aren't Die Hard.

I've noticed several tweets in the last few weeks that express essentially the same sentiment - which is please stop talking about Die Hard - and I'm jumping on that bandwagon because that's a cool thing to do. Before I get myself too deep in this heresy, I want to express that I don't actually have anything against the movie Die Hard. It's okay if you love that movie - it's okay if it's your favourite movie, and it's okay if it's your favourite Christmas movie. What's not okay is going on about Die Hard as though people somehow don't know that it's a Christmas action movie. Everybody knows that. It doesn't make you cool and interesting.

So without any further ado, marvel at how cool and interesting I am when I tell you that my favourite Christmas movies are....

Conan the Barbarian


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I'm starting out with the most difficult movie on my Christmas list to defend because there's nothing explicitly festive about 1982's right-wing wet dream Conan the Barbarian in which Arnold Schwarzenegger infiltrates a snake cult to save a princess and also punches a camel at one point.

I didn't even realize that I thought of this as a Christmas movie until I watched it on Netflix a week or two ago and thought "damn, I am in the motherfucking Christmas spirit right now". Apart from the opening scene taking place somewhere snowy, there's nothing even winter-themed about the movie, but it has a certain festive quality to it. Maybe it's the bell-laden soundtrack, which I guarantee I could put on in the background at a Christmas party and nobody would bat an eyelash. Maybe it's because everybody born after 1991 sees Arnold Schwarzenegger as a surrogate father-figure and he fills the dad-shaped hole in my holiday. Or maybe, just maybe, it's because the movie is rife with weird pagan imagery, just like Christmas.

Evil Dead 2
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Admittedly, this is also a weird choice for a Christmas favourite. Nothing about Bruce Campbell fighting off demons in gratuitously gory fashion says "Christmas", but I can explain!

When my brother and I were little, after my parents had sent us to bed on Christmas eve they would gather around the television and watch the Evil Dead trilogy while doing last minute gift wrapping. I don't know how this tradition got started but I assume it was because they really liked watching Evil Dead and were not ordinarily free to do so because my brother or I could pop up at any moment and see somebody lopping off their own hand with a chainsaw, or somebody else getting raped by a tree. Later in life I learned about this time honoured custom, and my parents' weirdness became my weirdness. So, no, it doesn't make any kind of sense but it's just so heartwarming.

There's no real special significance to Evil Dead 2, it's just my favourite one.

Fargo


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The subject matter of Fargo - which is actually incredibly difficult to summarize in a single sentence but let's say it's about... crime... gone... wrong? - is not brimming with holiday cheer. It's an hour and a half of people fucking up and fucking each other over, which hopefully does not describe your Christmas, but it is set in the desolate, snowbound wasteland of Minnesota and North Dakota, which probably does describe your holiday season if you live far enough above the equator.

Although, to be fair, I live in Nova Scotia and with climate change I usually don't see snow until Christmas eve if not later. Where I once watched this movie with a sense of sickening familiarity at the vast expanse of white stuff which strikes a profound isolation and claustrophobia into the hearts of most Canadians, I now view it with a wistful remembrance of the days when I was young and the world was sensible and I could flop around in the snow through December. Either way, it's not Christmas until I see Steve Buscemi go in the wood chipper.

Storm of the Century


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My boyfriend introduced me to this Steven King miniseries (which, contradictory to the poster I stole off wikipedia, is based on no book) fairly recently in my life. It's his favourite movie to watch when the first winter storm hits, and it resonated with me. It's about an entire island of people, probably in Maine, who get isolated from the mainland by an extreme winter storm, and also there's a guy on the island who is basically, or actually, Satan.

If this doesn't already jump out at you as a Christmas movie, I'll break it down a little further. Really there's only two important parts. People trapped in a place by winter weather, and person who may or may not be the devil. I think every person who celebrates a winter holiday has experienced a situation where they felt trapped between either listening to another uncomfortable (or at the very least annoying) story from a relative, or taking off and possibly freezing to death in the snow. Fuck, I have that experience every single Christmas despite my family being really left wing and getting along with each other almost abnormally well. It's just something that happens during holidays, no one can escape it. Storm of the Century captures the inexorable doom of the holidays better than any other film I can think of.

Honourable mentions: The Shining and Misery for exactly the same reasons.

Twelve Monkeys


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If I asked you to name a movie that wasn't reeeeally a Christmas movie but was still set at Christmas, and sent kind of a Christmas message, also starred Bruce Willis you would probably say 12 Monkeys because I just said so and I also put the poster right there. That's right, Bruce Willis (in, arguably, his best performance) plays a time travelling convict trying to stop the release of a virus that wiped out a whole lot of people, and at least some of it takes place around Christmas time. I know it sounds terrible when I say it like that, but you're going to have to trust me on this one.

It's dark, it's weird science fiction, it features a person sacrificing themselves in an attempt to make the world a better place. The first two things don't have anything to do with the holiday spirit, they're just things I really enjoy in a movie. The third thing is what the holidays are all about - doing something that inconveniences you because it brings joy and light to the people you care about, even if that attempt goes horribly wrong because the future is all predestined to be awful. At least you tried, god damnit.

Die Hard

Alright, yes, I know, it's a movie about good defeating evil on the holidays and also probably the greatest action movie ever made and I'm going to watch it at some point in the next week. You got me, internet. You got me.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Hoop-Tober 2017

So since I'm doing so well with the History of Horror Challenge I decided to pick up a second film challenge for the month of October. If you want to play with Hoop-Tober with me, an explanation of what it even is can be found here, and you can view my list and follow me on letterboxd and whatever over here. I tried to make my list as short as possible, and have some overlap with my history of horror list because I'm lazy as fuck. Anyway, here's the list of films with the requirements they satisfy.

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) Country: USA - Decade: 1970s - John Carpenter
Bride of Frankenstein (1935) Country: USA - Decade: 1930s -  Pre 1970 - James Whale - Sequel
Day of the Dead (1985) Country: USA - Decade: 1980s - George Romero 'of the Dead' Series - Sequel
Diabolique (1955) Country: France - Decade: 1950s - Terrible Oversight
Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) Country: UK - Decade: 1960s - Pre 1970 - Hammer Horror - Sequel
Dumplings (2004) Country: China - Decade: 2000s - Cannibals
Eaten Alive (1976) Country: USA - Decade: 1970s - Tobe Hooper
Eaten Alive! (1980) Country: Italy - Decade: 1980s - Cannibals
Evil Dead 2 (1987) Country: USA - Decade: 1980s - Sam Raimi - Sequel
Kwaidan (1964) Country: Japan - Decade: 1960s - Pre 1970
Scream 2 (1997) Country: USA - Decade: 1990s - Wes Craven - Sequel
Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) Country: USA - Decade: 1980s - Tobe Hooper - Sequel
The Undertaker and His Pals (1966) Country: USA - Decade: 1960s - Pre 1970 - Cannibals
The Unknown (1927) Country: USA - Decade: 1920s - Pre 1970 - Tod Browning
We All Scream for Ice Cream (2007) Country: USA - Decade: 2000s - Tom Holland