October 2019 In Review

October is a spooky time, so it allowed me an excuse to binge on horror films. And what's more scary than the sight of Arnold Schwarzenegger pregnant? Here are the films I saw over the past October.

Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019) [rewatch] - 4/5 - A detective mystery whose third act may not live up to its first two, but it remains a humorous and engaging tale which had me suckered in, and eager to see further corners of this world I've loved since I was a child. It also has one of the best third-act reveals of the year.

The Goldfinch (2019) - 2/5 - In spite of my thoughts on It: Chapter Two, I'm glad that Stephen King's tome managed to get split across two films. It felt like too massive a story to restrain into one feature length film, without excising large portions, and rewriting a good amount of it. Why am I mentioning that here? Because John Crowley's The Goldfinch is what I feared would happen to It.

This film may have a 2 and a half hour runtime, but there's nowhere near enough time to cover every part of the story. As such, there isn't enough time given to the separate elements, and it rushes through a number of them, while the film itself subsequently drags on. As such, it's a messy collection of intertwining ideas which only gets more confusing as the film goes on. What's even more saddening is how hollow I found it all, and by the end, so much just seemed to amount to so very little. A shame, because (most of) the cast do fantastic work in portraying their roles.

The King of Comedy (1982) - 5/5 - I've seen a lot of Martin Scorsese films, but I'm kicking myself for not seeing this one even sooner. It's not like I didn't have the means of doing so, I had an unwatched DVD which I bought back when Blockbuster was still thriving.

What's been brought alive here is a masterfully played black comedy, with a satirical edge that's fantastic to watch unfold. It's story about fame, and what is done to achieve such a thing. So many covet it, without wanting to put in the hours others have done to reach where they are, and Paul D. Zimmerman's script does masterful work in tackling this through the character of Rupert Pupkin.

Rupert idolises talk-show host Jerry Langford, even dresses just like him, and wants nothing more than to perform stand-up comedy on his show. When he can't do this through charm and persistence, Rupert enlists the help of Masha, Jerry's stalker (brought alive thanks to a brilliant turn by Sandra Bernhard), and the pair decide to kidnap their idol. Central to it all is one of the best Robert De Niro performances I've ever seen him give, feeling vitally different from what one expects when they think of De Niro. In short, this is one of Scorsese's best works.

Joker (2019) - 2/5 - If you want a film where Joaquin Phoenix plays a mentally scarred loner who looks after his mother, and expresses himself in violent ways, then good news, You Were Never Really Here is available to watch. Joker wishes to declare itself as a dark character study with relevant issues at the forefront, but there's little lurking beneath these surface level attempts. Thank goodness for the casting, which gets one of today's best actors to give their take on such an iconic character.

The House Of Frankenstein (1944) - 3.5/5 - A mixture of Universal Monsters icons come together for this one film, giving this feature an anthology feel, while also coming off like The Avengers of Universal Horror. While I did feel the disjointed narrative, and some monsters felt more forced in than others, the throughline kept my attention throughout. The overarching story of Boris Karloff's Mad Scientist, wanting to continue on Frankenstein's work (because somebody always wants to), and J. Carrol Naish as his hunchback assistant, who wants to have his brain transplanted into a beautiful body, is utterly compelling to watch. The cast are fully committed to their roles, and it's all the better to watch for that.

Best film of the month and
 Best film rewatched: Halloween

The Entity (1982) - 4/5 - Sidney J. Furie directs a supernatural tale about a woman who is repeatedly tormented, and sexually assaulted, by unseen assailants. In adapting Frank De Felitta's script, (which he adapted from his own novel, and is crucially based on a true story), Furie rightly treats the material seriously, and the result is a harrowing and unrelenting watch. At the centre of it is Barbara Hershey's tremendous portrayal, which perfectly captures the terror and confusion her character is facing, as well as her motherly priorities. It can feel like an endurance test at times, especially with each passing assault scene, but it's a very well crafted film.

The Day Shall Come (2019) - 4/5 -A farcical comedy it may be, but The Day Shall Come succeeds in the heartbreaking reality at the centre of over a thousand real life FBI sting operations. Chris Morris immersed himself in real life tales to craft this terrific tale, and here's hoping it doesn't take so long for the next one.

Black Sunday (1960) - 3.5/5 - My first try at Mario Bava, and it was quite an interesting entry point. Opening with a pretty gruesome sequence, this is a story about a witch taking her long-gestating revenge, on the descendants of the man who imprisoned her. It's undeniably an atmospheric flick, with haunting visuals within the simple narrative. It is a shame this can get undermined by the laughable English dub. Also, I would've liked to have spent more time on the antagonists, rather than trying to set up the romance right up to the forced ending. Still, I will gladly follow up Bava's filmography with more.

Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991) - 1/5 - The franchise which built New Line Cinema into a prominent movie studio has reached it's end (for now). Rachel Talalay has been given the pillow of control, and mercifully places it over face of this dying series, to thankfully suffocate the last desperate gasps out of this shell of a film series.

The terror and nightmarish quality of Freddy Krueger has been disappearing which each passing instalment, as he became more of a comedic figure to appeal to a wider audience (because when films are focused around child murderers, the worry should be how many people can enjoy being in his presence). Robert Englund is still having a blast in the role, but it can only go so far when he's wielding a power glove, having fully become a Looney Tunes character that grates on you.

There are great ideas within, such as the attempt to craft a reason why Freddy keeps being resurrected, or him eventually wiping Springwood of their child population, and moving onto the wider world. Unfortunately, the way it's handled is embarrassing, from the awful cameos that feel more in line with a Scary Movie film, the awful graphics, or the try at 3D which is just downright laughable. I won't even comment on the new characters, because none are really memorable. It's all worth pushing out of the way, and ignoring.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019) - 4.5/5 - Whether we needed it or not, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is a fantastic piece of closure to one of TV's best characters. It's also a thrilling and emotional film to boot. 

Best film watched in cinemas: The Shining

A Dark Song (2019) - 3.5/5 - Making his directorial debut, Liam Gavin arrives with a slow-burn centred around two characters, as they perform a dangerous ritual to be granted anything they desire. It's a chamber piece which allows for Catherine Walker and Steve Oram's talents to shine through, as they portray their characters who go through nightmarish experiences in a confined setting, as the pair are in search of personal pursuits they believe will help their lives. I can't say the film did the necessary work to make me care for Oram's character though, especially after some of the actions he took. But the film takes us through atmospheric set-up and tense moments, for a finale which doesn't always work, but is worth making it through to the end.

Spring (2014) - 4.5/5 - It's always a pleasure for me to watch the work of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, because I know I'll be getting something unique I won't have seen countless times before. The core of their film here is an Italy set romance, brought alive by talented performers in Lou Taylor Pucci and Nadia Hiker. It reminds me of what Linklater accomplished in Before Sunrise, as a lovable and engaging romance is set across the backdrop of a lovely holiday away. The difference is Benson & Moorhead blend this element with imaginative horror, which is unfortunately marred by obvious uses of visual effects work, but doesn't affect how much these horrific elements stay with you. Truly a tremendous piece of work by a pair of visionary directors.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) - 4/5 - Long considered the red headed stepchild of the Michael Myers focused franchise, this third instalment was originally set to kick off an anthology focus between each instalment. A shame, because this is a more interesting route to go down, and wouldn't have led to a franchise rebooting itself to keep disregarding numerous sequels. What we have here is an utterly bonkers tale, involving Stonehenge, robotic hitmen in suits, and mysterious masks for children. It succeeds in the intrigue that the central mystery delivers, and is preferable to the forced romance which is trying to sell the sex appeal of Tom Atkins' awful doctor protagonist. But the real masterwork lies in the moments of horror, especially the scene where the true horror of it all is revealed, and the finale which comes about because of it all. This is a wonderful installment to the Halloween saga, and deserves a lot more love.

Hobgoblins (1988) - 0.5/5 - I can't believe what my eyes have witnessed here. The unfolding 88 minutes were some of the most amateurish, laughably terrible, pieces of cinema I have witnessed in my life. The film clearly wants to be a Critters or Gremlins, with the terror being sold on the diminutive fuzzy creatures which one could make a franchise out of. The way it goes about this is a baffling plot which unfolds in the most batshit of ways, as the titular Hobgoblins draw a person in by making them live out their wildest fantasies, before killing them in buffoonish ways. As for our characters, we have a drip of an everyman lead, who's dating an unlikeable girlfriend that seems to be abstinent, but deep down desires to be a stripper. The best friend of our lead has the character trait of calling sex lines from other peoples phones, while the female friend is the most over the top caricature of somebody sexually active. Ger boyfriend is an overly machismo army type that's most notable for showing off how "masculine" he is, and making his van bounce around from the inside with his girlfriend, complete with sound effects that go boing. It's a film that's hilarious, but for all the wrong reasons.

Best film watched for the
first time: The King of Comedy

Judy (2019) - 3.5/5 - This biopic about Judy Garland focuses on a late career point in her life, as Judy finds herself resorting to performing in London, while intercut with flashbacks to her awful childhood working as a movie star, and having to conform to toxic ideals.  While it eschews the typical rise and fall narrative biopics can fall prey to so easily, what's left doesn't escape the traditional genre tropes, and rushes through items much faster than necessary (the marriage to Finn Wittrock's character, for example). But I cannot deny how touching the film could be, especially in any scene with Andy Nyman, who helps to embody the impact Judy Garland had on the LGBTQ community. It's also worth mentioning Renee Zellweger's performance as the titulat star, as she gives an utterly fantastic performance. From the musical numbers, to a phone call in a telephone box, we're made to feel for Garland in every moment, and it's thanks to how brilliant Zellweger is.

The Frighteners (1996) - 3.5/5 - I can't imagine Peter Jackson could ever return to films like Braindead nowadays, not after making those tales on Middle Earth, but I could see him returning to something like this. A fun dip into the horror genre that's bursting with imagination, centred around some characters that are terrifically portrayed by the cast. Michael J. Fox is exceptional in the lead role, and I would gladly follow his story for much longer. But I can't say the tale had me gripped all the way throughout, and as much as I liked Jeffrey Coombs in this, his role ended up feeling superfluous to the picture. For all it's faults, I'd rather see Jackson make more films like this than adaptations of Tolkein's works.

Hatchet (2006) - 2.5/5 - Adam Green delivers this horror-comedy hybrid which wishes to be a loving throwback to slasher films, embracing many of the elements the genre is beloved/disliked for. The comedic elements fell flat for me, feeling jarring against the horror elements which showed off fantastically gory moments, and tense set-pieces. It didn't help that outside of Marybeth, I just didn't care for the characters. A shame.

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2019) - 4.5/5 - A Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon is a loving hug of a motion picture, sure to leave viewers of all ages smiling and laughing throughout the 87 minute runtime. Ewe better believe it. 

Biggest Disappointment: Eaten Alive

House of Dracula (1945) - 2/5 - It's clear that Universal were struggling to find reasons for their characters to meet up, and it's all the more evident in this haphazard mash-up. Dracula and The Wolf Man have the sheer luck to both visit the same Doctor, in the hopes that a cure can be found for their afflictions. Frankenstein's Monster also turns up for no real reason, but let's not bother to make sense of his inclusion, because the screenwriters certainly didn't. This monster crossover really strains to make all these pieces fit together, resulting in a number of episodic adventures which are thrown together to make something that's barely feature length.

Gemini Man (2019) - 3/5 - A film over 20 years in the making, Gemini Man succeeds with the visual effects, but falls short in other areas. 

Abominable (2019) - 3/5 - Yeti films have become very popular as of late, and this latest entry into the subgenre is a fluffy piece that uses the creatures to tell a story about coping with grief. It has noble intentions, which makes it all the more saddening how forgettable the feature largely is. Not helping matters are a reliance to intrusively drop in a Coldplay song, a late villainous element that could've been taken out and not affected the plot, and how little I generally cared for the characters. If anything, I had more emotion for the violin. But for the films 92 minute runtime, it's harmless fare which passes the time rather well. It helps that there's a number of well crafted sequences, especially when the Yeti gets to utilize its powers, and the film benefits from the stunning animation. Plus, it's always nice to see a film offer some representation. 

Turbo Kid (2015) - 3.5/5 - This film feels like the answer to "What if Megaman was in a Mad Max style apocalyptic wasteland, directed by Braindead era Peter Jackson?", so of course I liked it. An entertaining flick from the trio of François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell. The cast do what's required of them in their roles, as the story goes off on a few tangents, with some being much more interesting than others (a late plot point feels rather forced). I do wish there wasn't so much CG blood, as it can undermine the well-crafted, grisly set-pieces, but the end result is bloody good fun.

Biggest Surprise: The Untamed 

Official Secrets (2019) - 4/5 - An engrossing tale about a government lying to the people for their own needs, depicted through a stunning performance by Keira Knightley. 

The Greatest Showman (2017) [rewatch] - 4/5 - I needed something nice and relaxing to settle down to watch, and I settled for the film with one of the better soundtracks in recent years. Yes, Efron's character still feels needless, and the plot gets generic and messy, but it's enjoyable stuff that I can take comfort in viewing.

Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - A Nightmare On Elm Street was the franchise which had made New Line Cinema a juggernaut, but the constant pumping out of instalments had resulted in its descent into self-parody, and was left a far cry from the original terrors which had made Freddy Krueger a frightening figure. This was EXACTLY what was needed, as this piece of meta-horror is the perfect exclamation point on the franchise. No wonder the only follow-ups so far are a crossover and a reboot, because how do you try and return to the normal storytelling attempts after this?

Wes Craven takes the reins, delivering a film which comments on Hollywood, the milking of a franchise, and the cast themselves. Heather Langenkamp returns to the franchise to play herself, as she tries to look after her son, in a subplot which feels like a better try at A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child .

Central to it all is Freddy himself, taken back to his darker roots with a changed look, and reminding audiences of how horrifying this character is rather than jokey and over the top. The "skin the cat" scene sticks in my mind as being extremely powerful. But it wouldn't work without Robert Englund, who is all-in for portraying the character, no matter what tone the script has him taking. 

Eaten Alive (1976) - 2/5 - Awash in a glorious colours, set to a nerve-shredding score, Tobe Horror manages to craft tense moments in this picture. Unfortunately, these only last so long, as the film grows tiresome in how repetitive it gets, which makes 91 minutes feel longer than it needs to be.

Apart from Robert Englund, the cast don't really get much to work with. I even think this of Neville Brand, who casts a presence as he plays the antagonist. This unfortunately gets undercut by cookie cutter ramblings and actions, which just gets boring to experience. I hate to say this, but there's only so many times you can have him swinging a scythe, before feeding his pet Crocodile.

The Untamed (2017) - 4.5/5 - Working on a script with Gibrán Portela, director Amat Escalante crafts a gripping story that mixes the fantastical with real life issues. Feeling like an adult fairy tale, topics such as sex, love, toxic masculinity, and homophobia, are all addressed in an interesting manner, and showcased in tandem with a tentacled creature that gives phenomenal orgasms. Ruth Ramos encapsulates so much of what her character is going through, with a stunningly understated performance.

Worst film of the month: Junior

Monos (2019) - 5/5 - As the film opens on a remote mountaintop, we bear witness to teenagers playing a blindfolded game of football. What could be perceived as a fun twist on playtime is actually a military training exercise, being enacted by guerrilla warriors under the command of their drill sergeant known as The Messenger (Wilson Salazar). Exiled away from civilisation, they're commanded to watch over a hostage known as Doctora (Julianne Nicholson), and to keep safe a milk cow named Shakira.

Directed by Alejandro Landes, this is a brutal and unforgiving film about child soldiers which grabs your attention, twists your heart, and threatens to never let go. The characters and their relationships are each well defined, while the powerful performances bring them alive, and we're left wanting these children to be given a better life with a loving family. But that isn't their reality. As much as they party and have fun, we never forget about the weapons they wield, their willingness to commit atrocities, regardless of the collateral damage. Accompanied by Mica Levi's stunning score, we see how further unhinged they get the further away they get from reality, and Moisés Arias is an utter revelation here. He was initially known for a supporting role in Hannah Montana, but he's so far away from that here, proving utterly compelling as the group member who embraces the distance from reality the most.

Think City of God meets Lord of The Flies, and prepare for a heartbreaking and unforgettable experience. 

The Shining (1980) [rewatch] - 5/5 - I got to see this on the big screen, and it was a thrilling, engrossing, and spine-chilling as viewing it at home. But what ultimately surprised me was I got to view the US version of the film, which I had never before seen, and was not listed anywhere on the cinema information (not even in the runtime). Of the two, I prefer the UK cut, as none of the additional scenes felt integral to getting the same points across. Take for example Wendy's conversation with the Doctor, where she reveals the extent of Jack's drinking, and what happened. It felt less impactful to have that information come out there, as opposed to Jack revealing it after being accused of hurting Danny. 

The Fear of God: 25 Years of The Exorcist (1998) - 4.5/5 - This documentary phenomenally captures why The Exorcist caused such an adverse reaction in many moviegoers, and continues to resonate with them. Be sure to double bill it with William Friedkin's feature, and have yourself a wonderful night. 

Halloween (1978) [rewatch] - 5/5 - It wouldn't be my October 31st without a viewing of this horror masterpiece. A bone-chilling feature that gets you to know the characters first, before the horrific spectre of Michael Myers carves a path through these teenagers. 

Junior (1994) - 0.5/5 - It's appropriate that I viewed this on Halloween night, because that Arnold baby is one of the freakiest things I have ever seen.

Ivan Reitman wants to frame this as a cute little family comedy where a muscular figure like Arnie gets pregnant, and works with chimps, but it certainly isn't that. The film is too half-baked to make the comedy work, while Arnie doesn't need to be in this role. His comedic talents work best when he's playing on his expected persona, be it through a naivety his character has, or working against young children. Here, he doesn't need to be in the role, it could've gone to anyone else. It's also a nightmare where a woman discovers her eggs have been impregnated without her consent, only to have Arnie follow that revelation up with a one-liner of "my body, my choice". What an icky way to send mixed messages, thanks very much.

Best film of the month: Halloween (1978)
Best film seen in cinemas: The Shining
Best film watched for the first time: The King of Comedy
Best film rewatched: Halloween (1978)
Biggest Disappointment: Eaten Alive
Biggest Surprise: The Untamed
Worst film of the month: Junior

Number of films watched: 32