In order to continue keeping this site as active as possible while I have not been able to write as many full-length film reviews as I had planned initially, I figured that another solution would have come by in placing my Letterboxd entries starting from the week before here as a placeholder for eventual full-length reviews that are set to come by, if I were able to find the time to write another one. But as is, these are quick thoughts that I figure would be nice to keep afloat so that the site will remain active on a regular basis.
First-time viewings are noted as such. You can follow me on Letterboxd right here.
Sisters (1972) — ✯✯✯✯½
Directed by Brian De Palma
Screenplay by Brian De Palma, Louisa Rose
Produced by Edward R. Pressman
Starring Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, William Finley, Charles Durning
Genres: Horror, Thriller
Brian De Palma somehow found a way to mash three Alfred Hitchcock movies into one, but also churned out a more perverted final result. Sisters isn’t the first of Brian De Palma’s films to show off the Hitchcockian influence, but it’s without doubt the first where you feel him really starting to go off the walls. Margot Kidder’s French Canadian accent is pretty iffy though.
Notes about viewing: Watched on a 35mm print at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
Parasite (2019) — ✯✯✯✯✯
Directed by Bong Joon-ho
Screenplay by Bong Joon-ho, Han Jin-won
Produced by Kwak Sin-ae, Bong Joon-ho, Moon Yang-kwon
Starring Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Lee Jung-eun, Jang Hye-jin
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Thriller
I had only written a simple one-liner for this film as I had already seen the film a total of six times in theaters, but it sums up how I feel: Academy, you gave this movie the awards it deserves. RESPECT!
Notes about viewing: Watched in IMAX at the Scotiabank Theater in Toronto.
Paris is Burning (1990) — ✯✯✯✯✯
Directed by Jennie Livingston
Produced by Jennie Livingston
Featuring Dorian Corey, Pepper LaBeija, Venus Xtravaganza, Octavia St. Laurent, Willi Ninja, Angie Xtravaganza, Freddie Pendavis, Junior Labeija
This movie puts one big, wide smile on my face. But thinking back about how much these people deserve so much better, especially Venus Xtravaganza, makes Paris Is Burning all the more heartbreaking.
Horse Girl (2020) — ✯✯½
Directed by Jeff Baena
Screenplay by Jeff Baena, Alison Brie
Produced by Mel Eslyn, Alana Carithers, Jeff Baena, Alison Brie
Starring Alison Brie, Debby Ryan, John Reynolds, Molly Shannon, John Ortiz, Paul Reiser
Genres: Drama, Mystery
I don’t think I’ll ever come to a point where I can bring myself to hate watching Alison Brie in anything but this film also feels like it’s taking a very questionable stance about mental illness that only leaves everything feeling inconclusive.
From that title alone, and the involvement of Alison Brie, I wish we ended up getting a BoJack Horseman movie instead.
The Naked Spur (1953) — ✯✯✯✯✯
Directed by Anthony Mann
Screenplay by Sam Rolfe, Harold Jack Bloom
Produced by William H. Wright
Starring James Stewart, Janet Leigh, Robert Ryan, Ralph Meeker, Millard Mitchell
Genres: Western, Action, Adventure, Drama
Anthony Mann’s The naked Spur manages to rack up a great deal of anxiety within a little over 90 minutes worth of time to tell a story. But unlike most westerns, there’s no civilized area to be found – which allows Anthony Mann to boast some of the most beautiful photography you can imagine for a western.
Yet it also boasts a wonderful character study from beginning to end, based around five people who find it increasingly difficult to trust one another – before seeing how it all explodes in the ending.
Absolutely stunning, I need to see more of Anthony Mann’s westerns at some point.
Notes about viewing: Watched on a 35mm print at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
The Master (2012) — ✯✯✯✯✯
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Screenplay by Paul Thomas Anderson
Produced by JoAnne Sellar, Daniel Lupi, Paul Thomas Anderson, Megan Ellison
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Dern
Paul Thomas Anderson is The Master. For my money, he is probably the greatest American filmmaker of his generation, but he’s also up in the running for just the greatest working filmmaker in general.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, watching The Master almost feels as if I’m experiencing an anxiety attack. It’s the only fitting way to describe a film that taps into how broken we are by our own traumas, by heightening that claustrophobia every chance it has, making you feel all the more trapped within a certain headspace where you can’t escape.
If we’re also going to talk Joaquin Phoenix performances where his character is psychologically tortured by his own life experiences, I’ll take Freddie Quell over his Oscar-winning role in Joker. Putting it lightly, his performance here is one for the ages and deserves to be remembered as such.
Someday I’ll probably write more about this movie, but for all I know it’s easily among the greatest American films of the 2010’s, saying it is one of the best of the century wouldn’t be a stretch. The 70mm print I saw truly is among the most beautiful prints I’ve ever seen.
Notes about viewing: Watched on a 70mm print at the TIFF Bell Lightbox with an introduction from Adam Nayman. An extensive writing about the film is planned.
Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) — ✯✯✯
Directed by Jeff Fowler
Screenplay by Pat Casey, Josh Miller, from the game series by Sega
Produced by Neal H. Moritz, Toby Ascher, Toru Nakahara, Takeshi Ito
Starring Ben Schwartz, Jim Carrey, James Marsden, Tika Sumpter
Genres: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Family
The “Don’t Stop Me Now” scene is a better Queen tribute than Bohemian Rhapsody was.
It’s fun enough when the humour doesn’t always revolve around products and memes we can recognize with ease. But Ben Schwartz and Jim Carrey keep all of it quite tangible too.
Basically I got what I expected, it’s very by-the-numbers, unabashedly silly, I can’t really get mad at what the film is obviously doing wrong or reaching too hard for. At worst, it’s just harmless but at best, it doesn’t even stretch beyond being so clichéd. I do want to see what can be brought out in a sequel based on that mid-credits scene. Also, it moves by quite fast – which is fitting enough for a Sonic the Hedgehog movie.
The Last Thing He Wanted (2020) — ✯
Directed by Dee Rees
Screenplay by Dee Rees, Marco Villalobos, from the novel by Joan Didion
Produced by Cassian Elwes, Dee Rees
Starring Anne Hathaway, Ben Affleck, Rosie Perez, Edi Gathegi, Mel Rodriguez, Toby Jones, Willem Dafoe
Genres: Drama, Thriller
Pretty sure that everyone’s already gotten their opportunities to say “this is the last thing _____ wanted” after having seen this, so I don’t think I need to add more to that pile.
Yet I can’t help but feel as if there’s an interesting film that could have been made with this material, and considering the talent behind it, we’d all have our expectations set high up.
But considering how much of this already feels jumbled, it’s hard enough to even make out what’s going on – even having some historical context won’t even aid you as you try to piece together what’s happening. It almost feels astonishing that this was directed by Dee Rees after she came fresh off her Oscar nomination for writing Mudbound because it’s hard to make sense out of what you’re getting, even the starry cast doesn’t seem they’re in on it.
What a disaster.
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020) — ✯✯✯½
Directed by Cathy Yan
Screenplay by Christina Hodson, from characters from DC Comics
Produced by Margot Robbie, Bryan Unkeless, Sue Kroll
Starring Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco, Ali Wong, Ewan McGregor
Genres: Superhero, Action, Comedy, Crime
You can easily remove all of the F-bombs from this and it’d be an easy PG-13.
Not like it ever detracts from Birds of Prey though, because Margot Robbie is clearly having so much fun with what she has to work with, which says a lot considering how much of a mess the script is – the constant fourth-wall breaking or needing to jump around through time can get quite aggravating too. On the plus side, it’s not as if any of this feels forced down in that same manner Deadpool was, if anything Margot Robbie’s own schtick is always a joy to watch.
I do hope we get to see more from Cathy Yan sooner because her sense of world-building in this is wonderful. Adding that with Matthew Libatique’s cinematography and you have probably what might be the most colourful DC Extended Universe film to date.
Considering it’s clear that the people behind this are having so much fun with what they’re doing, I’ll take more of these over most other comic book movies out there. It just feels nice to see one that actually embraces the chaotic nature of its source material when it’s also surrounded in superhero lore.
Give me more Huntress too.
Le Cercle Rouge (1970) — ✯✯✯✯✯
Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
Screenplay by Jean-Pierre Melville
Produced by Robert Dorfmann
Starring Alain Delon, Bourvil, Yves Montand, Gian Maria Volonté
Genres: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Pure pulp thrills from start to end, Jean-Pierre Melville is a master of style.
So much of this film’s most stressful moments can already be felt from silence, echoing what Jules Dassin had accomplished in Rififi, but Melville also adds a more thoughtful, existentialist edge to the work. There’s very little dialogue, but everything still speaks wonders from the way in which it all looks – but also how it encourages its viewers to reflect upon how past karmas come back.
Le Cercle Rouge is everything you could ever want from Melville and a whole lot more.
Let There Be Light (1946) — ✯✯✯✯
Directed by John Huston
Produced by John Huston
Currently working on an essay about The Master and I figured I may as well watch this in order to get a better perspective on the work that informed how Paul Thomas Anderson portrayed recovering WWII veterans in his film.
Whether or not the contents of the film are authentic remains debatable because of the fact that this is also a film commissioned by its government, but the sight of men shaking following their experiences in the war remains a distressing sight nonetheless. You’re seeing men who are in their most vulnerable state as they are, but it also paints a stunning picture of America given the film’s time period.
Not perfect, but highly fascinating. For fans of The Master, this would also prove itself a must – this film does more than inform how Paul Thomas Anderson creates a character like Freddie Quell but also the outright experimental nature of his storytelling as employed in the film too.
The Searchers (1956) — ✯✯✯✯✯
Directed by John Ford
Screenplay by Frank S. Nugent, from the novel by Alan Le May
Starring John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, Ward Bond, Natalie Wood
If you’re watching The Searchers today, it’s hard to let the racism in the storyline slide – but John Ford also takes a very confrontational approach to that, which is what makes the film feel so difficult yet tangible.
When the film starts, you’re made to see the story of a typical American family set within the West, but when you’re introduced to John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards, the film spends so much time presenting him as one with a heroic image. This soon becomes essential to where the film’s core lies, the fact that this heroic image slowly disappears as the film keeps going, even if his acts of “heroism” are perceived as such by the audiences that flock to watch western films.
It takes upon a traditional western narrative, where you have the cowboys fighting the Native Americans (or as they are described by the film, “savages”) to rescue his kidnapped niece, but John Ford confronts the subliminal racism that would have been made popular through such a narrative by making it more overt. As a result of such, the narrative also takes upon an inversion, which results in the iconic closing image. It doesn’t leave you with that same image of Ethan anymore, but it exemplifies exactly the sort of person he has become and what the rest of his family makes of him afterwards.
The Searchers isn’t a film about a rescue, it’s a film about an endless cycle of violence perpetuated by a populist narrative that we’re only seeing at its bare bones. It’s a film all about a cycle of anger, and what it all means – and ultimately, how it spawns as a byproduct of racism.
The Invisible Man (2020) — ✯✯✯✯
Directed by Leigh Whannell
Screenplay by Leigh Whannell, from the novel by H. G. Wells
Produced by Jason Blum. Kyle du Fresne
Starring Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Oliver Jackson-Cohen
Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Thriller
Starts off with a bang, dulls down for a bit, but delivers everything it promises in the third act.
Leigh Whannell’s spin on the classic H. G. Wells tale is a tale about an extreme form of gaslighting between relationships and dabbles into upsetting subject matter with such ease. But where he also succeeds comes forth from placing you within Elisabeth Moss’s panicked mindset; on the edge of losing sanity without having anyone else to turn to. No one else plays hysteria quite like Moss does.
One or two bad jump scares too many, and maybe a little bit too long, but it’s hard for me to get mad at a horror film that actually had gotten a good gasp out of me for the most part – I can already sense that Leigh Whannell is a director whose name I’m going to want to look out for. This was a lot of fun.
Until next Friday, see you all later.