Hey guys. Long time no speak. A whole week, in fact. I hope you all had a nice holiday with whomever you might have celebrated it with, and for whatever reason it may have been. Me? I like colored lights and the Vince Guaraldi Trio. I do like finding peanut M&Ms in my stocking as well. My dog gave me a pocket knife, too. He even engraved it:
But besides Christmas food leftovers and revisiting The Godfather and The Godfather II I’ve mostly been trying to move on from the year that shall remain nameless. Okay, the year is 2020. I’m just ready to move on to whatever warm, cunning Hell 2021 has to offer. I don’t see it getting any better. In fact I see it getting worse. When you have some mulleted QAnon brain drain blowing himself up in an RV in downtown Nashville Christmas day, that’s not something that screams “things are going to get better.”
But I digress.
So on this day, December 31st, 2020, I thought I’d revisit a few things I watched this past year that I quite enjoyed. Maybe even a couple that I didn’t like as much but still feel they’re worth a look. 2020 was so scattershot that it’s hard for me to discern when I watched what. But I’ll give it a go. And no, not everything I’ll mention came out in 2020. But I experienced it in 2020, so here ya go.
Wonder Woman 1984
I don’t know what people expect in their entertainment, but these terrible reviews of Wonder Woman 1984 are absolutely perplexing to me. I watched it last night and I thought it was great. The film looked amazing, some great action sequences, Gal Gadot was fantastic, as was Pedro Pascal and Kristen Wiig. Chris Pine returns in a way that makes sense, and the story stays on point throughout. And we get to “see” the invisible jet. Patty Jenkins has proven she can make a blockbuster and has total control of her cinematic domain. She made a beautifully-shot, dazzling comic book movie.
Zeek Earl and Chris Caldwell’s Prospect came out in 2018, but I just got around to watching it last month. I thought it was a brilliant take on the old prospector/western film. It takes place in the future where humans live on space ships, but not the cool kind of spaceship. These ships look less like the Millennium Falcon and more like that ship those kids made out of a dryer in Explorers. The film evolves around a father and daughter that land on planets and dig for these valuable stones that are extremely tricky to extract from the plants they come from. The duo run into a problem on a planet when they run into a couple bandits, one of which is played by the amazing Pedro Pascal. Things go down and Pascal and the daughter end up having to work together. The movie looks great, has some serious acting between Pascal and actress Sophie Thatcher, and pulls you into its sci fi-meets-western vibes. I loved this movie.
I’m still not sure I love Joe Begos’ movies, but I know I’ll watch everyone he makes. He obviously can make a film, and he knows his way around a camera. He also picks great actors for his films. But sometimes I think he lacks in dialogue and writing in a voice that fits the characters. I loved his 2019 film Bliss, but felt a lot of dialogue for Dora Madison felt forced and too gruff. But maybe that’s just me. Anyways, with VFW Begos directed a script written by another screenwriter and I kind of feel like it worked to his benefit. It was a classic 80s throwback and involved a group of old veterans gathering at a local VFW for a birthday celebration for their leader and VFW runner played by the amazing Stephen Lang. A young woman runs into the club as they’re shutting down with a bag full of drugs which she stole from a sadistic drug dealer who had just murdered her sister. The drug dealer lets loose a bevy of addicts and psychos on the brick ‘n mortar bar to get his drugs back. These old war time pals show these young whipper snappers a thing or two about strategy, war, and kicking serious ass. A great cast of classic tough guys from the 70s and 80s, as well as another amazing score by Steve Moore(another reason I’ve kept up with Begos’ films.)
The Invisible Man
Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man was a hell of a ride. It was also the last film I saw in a theater before the world of cinema shut down. His take on HG Well’s classic novel had a great modern twist, but in the end its not about modern twists but suspense, action, and the fear of something being there when nothing can be seen. Great performances from Elizabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, and Michael Dorman. Moss is the true star here, giving us a paranoid performance that turns to a self-assured and powerful protagonist. I just read this film made $142,000,000 worldwide on a $7,000,000 budget. Despite Covid, this thing kicked some serious ass. Whannell is one of sci-fi and horror’s shining stars. Cannot wait to see what’s next.
Devil All The Time
Antonio Campos’ Devil All The Time was a strange one. It felt a little dense and at times convoluted, but was saved by some amazing performance by Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgard, Eliza Scanlen, Jason Clarke, Riley Keough, and Sebastian Stan. It’s a dark, noir tale that involves fathers and sons, loss, serial killer lovers, and corrupt law enforcement in southern Ohio in the 50s and 60s. This is the kind of movie you just need to experience. For me to explain it to you would ruin it. Plus, it’s kind of a mess narrative-wise. I still recommend it, though. I thoroughly enjoyed what this film was offering.
Man, did I love this film. I loved its weirdness, it’s intensity, the performance by the amazing Andrea Riseborough, and Brandon Cronenberg’s impeccable direction. He’s definitely a chip off the old block, and Possessor carries with it his father’s amazing legacy of extreme and bizarre cinema. Also, this film is smart as hell and visceral and violent as all get out. The idea is that there is a company that offers hitmen(or hitwoman in this case) out for a large sum to take care of people that need taken care of. But not in the sense we’re used to. They kidnap someone close to the target, implant something in their brain, then drop them off somewhere where they think they may have just passed out. Turns out this implant allows the hit-person(Andrea Riseborugh) access to the person’s brain and body. She can then get close to the target and kill them. She’s then pulled out of the human puppet’s brain and leaves them to either take the blame or be killed by the cops. One of these people(the great Christopher Abbot) fights through her taking over his brain and everything sort of goes to Hell from there. I can’t recommend this movie enough if you like body horror, smart sci-fi, and just original and weird films.
Color Out Of Space
I didn’t love this movie. Not like I thought I would. But there were aspects of it that I did love. Colin Stetson’s score for one. Amazing. I thought Richard Stanley did a pretty great job overall narratively, especially given this was his first film in over 25 years. I didn’t care for Nic Cage’s performance in this. It felt way overcooked. His madness towards the end worked, but prior to everything happening it just didn’t work for me. I don’t know, this one just didn’t come together for me is all. Some of the effects were well done, and the last hour was genuinely disturbing at times. I think it would’ve benefited from a bigger budget. I don’t know, it just seems that H.P. Lovecraft adaptations are hit or miss. They can be done, as Stuart Gordon proved that with Reanimator and From Beyond, but it takes a steady hand. Too little madness and you’re bored to death. Too much and you’re lost. But if you can watch Color Out Of Space, then watch it.
A movie that hit while the iron was hot, Host locked into the current times while making a genuinely scary horror film on little to no budget while in lockdown. Friends gather around their computer screens for some drinking and laughing while on Zoom. They decide to have a virtual seance and from there all Hell breaks loose. At just a little over an hour, Host is gripping and anxiety-ridden from the get-go. It never wains and keeps you on the edge of your seat till the very end. If you haven’t seen this yet, a month subscription to Shudder is well worth the price for this great flick.
The Dark and the Wicked
This movie held up all the way to the end. The ending was disappointing, but up until that moment it was a hell of a ride. Family tragedy, mental illness, and the demons(literally) that come with those, The Dark and the Wicked was genuinely disturbing and made extremely well. I wish the ending could’ve landed like the rest of it had.
It’s taken me over 40 years to get to Frank Zappa. My older brother tried getting me into him when I was younger but what Zappa did just wouldn’t compute with me until about four years ago. My big bro gave me Apostrophe on vinyl for my birthday and all of a sudden it just made sense. I deep dived into Zappa’s early 70s stuff like Hot Rats, Zoots Allure, Waka/Jawaka, The Grand Wazoo, and Overnight Sensation. Alex Winter’s doc Zappa is enlightening and goes in depth into what made Zappa tick. It doesn’t gloss over the fact the Frank Zappa could be an asshole, or that he wasn’t the greatest family man, but it shows his true genius as a composer and thinker. I feel every Zappa diehard needs to watch this film. It’s eye opening and gave me a whole new respect for the man.
James Franco’s The Rental was a surprisingly engaging and genuinely suspenseful thriller. Four friends rent a beautiful home on a cliff overlooking the ocean for a weekend getaway. Two of them have a drunken tryst while their partners are sleeping and find out the whole thing was recorded on a camera hidden in a shower head. They’re being watched by someone, but they don’t know who. Is it the racist guy they rented it from? Or some complete stranger with seedier intentions. The cast is great, including Dan Stevens, Allison Brie, Jeremy Allen White, and Sheila Vand. The film was directed by Franco and written by him and Joe Swanberg. It’s beautifully shot, taught with suspense and mystery, and gives us an ending that could possibly lead to a sequel. Either way, I enjoyed this one.
Well that’s pretty much all I can remember, movie-wise. I’m sure there was more, but my brain can’t recall. Give these a look if you haven’t yet. Happy New Year, folks. See you in 2021 where surely things will improve. Right? Right.