Films I have been watching this Spooky Season

After the fun of the last film and the fact that I did not feel the need to hide behind a cushion, I proceeded to the sequel. This is where things begin to get a bit meta. It is a few years later and a film has been made about the events of the first film based on Gale Weathers’ (Cox) book. A couple get murdered at the sneak preview of ‘Stab’ and a copycat is on the loose.

Hello Readers,

It is autumn and most importantly Halloween is right around the corner. In the past, I have celebrated this tradition with trick or treating; going clubbing and dressing up for cocktails and mini golf but as the pandemic is still very much at large, I have had to tone it down to an indoor celebration as I’m sure many people have. I was never really into scary films or even those with a monster theme but this year, I have been watching as many films as I can before the big day.

Scream (1996)

Starring Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette and briefly Drew Barrymore, this horror flick could not have a more 1990s cast but rather than being a regular slasher, this film comes with several twists. It is not set at Halloween but I think that the numerous gruesome murders and the serial killer wearing a ghost costume qualify it as one to watch this Halloween. No wonder they made 4 sequels with Scream 5 scheduled for 2022. There’s not much to say without spoiling the film but be prepared for blood and murder.

Scream 2 (1997)

After the fun of the last film and the fact that I did not feel the need to hide behind a cushion, I proceeded to the sequel. This is where things begin to get a bit meta. It is a few years later and a film has been made about the events of the first film based on Gale Weathers’ (Cox) book. A couple get murdered at the sneak preview of ‘Stab’ and a copycat is on the loose. The surviving characters from the first film and some new victims try and put an end to what they unintentionally started. The location may have changed as Sidney Prescott (Campbell) along with Randy and their new friends are now in college but some things don’t change such as Sidney having a killer(?) boyfriend; Courteney Cox sporting some extreme highlights (this time she goes for cherry red) and the killer wearing a ‘Ghost Face’ costume.

The Addams Family (1991)

This film has been a cult franchise since its original outing as a television show in the 1960s and a reboot was risky but the 1990s films have become an icon all by themselves. The cast all reinvent their roles as members of America’s creepiest family. There’s Morticia and Gomez, the parents who have a very passionate relationship and dress almost as vampires and manage their rundown mansion as a palace to the violent and gory. The children, Pugsley and Wednesday are constantly trying to maim or kill each other but somehow never quite manage it. The household is complete with Morticia’s mother; Lurch the Frankenstein’s monster-esque butler and Thing, the severed hand. The family is reunited with Uncle Fester who has been missing for 25 years. Only Wednesday works out the truth that her uncle is an imposter sent to steal the Addams’ family fortune. Will the adults realise that Fester is not who he says he is? or is he who they have been looking for?

I must admit that this film did not live up to the hype for me. I am aware that it is aimed towards a younger audience but I didn’t believe in the plot and found it all a little too strange. The fact that they are not supernatural in anyway makes it seem tricky to believe that they would act in these ways and how did they become so rich when no one appears to have ever had a job? The strong points for me were the characters and the production set. Christina Ricci as Wednesday was a particular highlight. I am glad I saw it as it sets up the back story for the second film but not one I would watch again.

Addams Family Values (1993)

Sequels are always a risk and very rarely pay off as was discussed during a film class in Scream 2 but I thought that this film was better than the first. Now that we have established the world that these characters inhabit and their family relationships, the film can create more of a plot. I think the decision to place the children in the real world at summer camp was a good one as it shows that their behaviour is not what is considered normal and establishes them as outsiders. This also allows Wednesday to meet a love interest, Joel Glicker. He does not have the same supernatural tendencies as the Addams’ but is also ostracized by the other campers for not joining in with their happy-clappy cheesy fun. Meanwhile, Uncle Fester has found the love of his life in new baby Pubert’s nanny and they begin a whirlwind romance but not everything is as it seems.

I enjoyed this film for the iconic scenes such as Wednesday ruining the camp play by showing everyone the true meaning of Thanksgiving and how wrong that immigrants were to treat the Native Americans as they did. There were some very progressive views for a 1990s children’s film but this once again put the Addams family in the right and everyone else in the wrong. They are far from perfect but work as the protagonists of the film. Joan Cusack as the evil nanny and Fester’s betrothed was a stand out this time. A third film was made but featured none of the original Family due to Gomez’ (Raul Julia) untimely death.

Practical Magic (1998)

Witch sisters are the feature of this film as we see how a love curse affects the Owens Sisters through the ages. This film is lead by two strong actresses, Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. I saw this film with a friend for movie night and one thing we noticed that the film has is a lot of time jumps. Towards the beginning, Sally (Bullock) meets a man and suddenly they are married with kids. I think one of the challenges of a film is how to tell a life story in two hours but this film needed a few montages and ellipses between passages of time. Despite this narrative error, I thought the film was entertaining and even had the epilogue scene set at Halloween.

There were a few dark scenes with murders, exorcisms and untimely deaths but the story and acting was enough to keep me engaged with the characters journeys. This film is set in the modern world with some delightful scenes featuring both generations of Owens Sisters, Sally and Gillian (Kidman) were raised by their aunts played by Dianne Wiest and Stockard Channing, dancing around the kitchen consuming vast amounts of tequila in the vague form of midnight margaritas. When tall, dark and handsome, Detective Hallet comes poking around on Maria Island, weird things keep happening. There are a few things I have neglected to mention but are better to be seen rather than explained here. I would consider watching this film again although not with young children.

Hubie Halloween (2020)

Netflix’s Halloween offering this year is one from Happy Madison, Adam Sandler’s production company. It features Sandler’s usual collaborators of Kevin James and Steve Buscemi as well as Sandler himself as Hubie Dubois. On top of that is a large ensemble cast and this time the whole film is about Halloween set in Salem, Massachusetts: the Halloween capital. If you enjoy Sandler’s brand of slapstick and messy humour, then this film will be right up your street. I thought it was entertaining enough but I didn’t really understand Sandler’s character, Hubie. He put on a strange little voice and still lives with his mother as an innocent do-gooder that does not work for someone of this age bracket.

The rest of the cast did a good job with appearances from Julie Bowen, June Squibb, Noah Schnapp and Paris Berelc but the poor bullied town weirdo character does not work well for an actor pushing 50. This film was just a bit too cheesy for me with not enough explanations and some forced emotional moments. The plot of the most popular girl in school being down on her luck and secretly being in love with the geek is very overdone and did not play well here. The fact that no one has left Salem at all in 30 years and Hubie’s werewolf neighbour were a few things I thought were a step too far. If Hubie had been a normal character but just a bit down on his luck instead of having garbage thrown at him by kids everywhere he goes then this film could have worked better. I think Kevin James’ ridiculous beard and mullet represents how over the top the film was. Pairing it back would have made it a fun Halloween film but instead it is just Sandler making another film with his Hollywood friends.

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (2018)

The Hotel Transylvania films are made for kids but I think there’s a fun nature about them that appeals to other ages too. I watched the first and second films back to back last summer so I have been eagerly awaiting for the third to pop up on Netflix. The film is set in the summer but the central characters of vampires, Frankenstein’s monsters, Mr Invisible, mummies, werewolves and other monsters give the film a supernatural theme. Mavis decides that her father, Count Dracula needs a holiday from running his hotel for monsters and where better to take a break than on a cruise just for monsters. There’s some evil forces at work as Ericka, the ship’s captain is not just after Dracula for his charm and good looks. All the monsters and their partners are along for the ride including Mavis’ human husband Johnny, their son, Dennis; the werewolves and their mountain of kids and many others. As this is a cartoon, many liberties can be taken but I don’t think it pushed the limits of the universe already established in the first two films. I enjoyed the spectacular scenes aboard the cruise and the ending at the lost city of Atlantis which is a vague metaphor for the casinos of Atlantic City.

Another Adam Sandler ride but with just their voices, the cast did not turn the film into a friends and family saga. This time Andy Samberg joined another frequent collaborator of Adam Sandler, mostly before he started on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Selena Gomez, Kathryn Hahn, Molly Shannon, Joe Jonas and Chrissy Teigen are a few of the famous voices. I thought the film was playful and entertaining enough for the adults as well as the kids. There was a happy ending as always with room left for Hotel Transylvania 4 due in 2021.

Zodiac (2007)

I did not purposefully watch this film for its murderous content but I tacked it onto the end of the list as it does feature elements of a Halloween film. A serial killer and a mystery with some fairly intense death scenes. This one was on my list for a while because of the director, David Fincher and the cast of Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo and Jake Gyllenhaal. Coincidentally, all three actors go on to star in the Marvel Universe although Gyllenhaal’s character appears much later as villain, Mysterio.

This film contains a favourite trope of mine seen in many other films such as Little Women (2018); The Help (2011) and Atonement (2007), although this last one plays with it a little. All these films are based on books that are written by the author at the end of the film. Atonement is different as there are some false endings given but they all mostly follow the trope. Of course, only Zodiac is an actual true story and the author was a real person whereas the others have invented authors.

Robert Graysmith (Gyllenhaal) spends many years trying to hunt down the Zodiac killer after the newspaper he works at as the cartoonist is targeted with letters. His search destroys his relationships and leads him to write the book, Zodiac. Fellow employee at the San Francisco Chronicle and journalist, Paul Avery (Downey) becomes a target of Zodiac and helps Graysmith with the search. We also have Inspector Toschi (Ruffalo) the main detective on the case who lends a hand to Graysmith near the end. This is a David Fincher film so I found the plot and timeline a little hard to follow as there are a lot of murders and dates to get through but the acting kept me gripped and considering this was a comeback film for Downey, he played it very well. It was very long so set aside a good evening to watch but it was interesting. It appeared to stick very closely to the book which I always admire but I could have had a little more focus on the three characters own lives. Graysmith goes on one date and suddenly is married and his kids call her mom. There was also only brief mentions of a second child before his mysterious appearance. We see some of Toschi’s life with his wife but not enough to grasp what he was like. Of course this is all from Graysmith’s point of view but a little artistic license could have been used. I would consider watching it again to understand the plot but I am not rushing to do so.

Still to watch: Addams Family (2019); Dark Shadows (2012)

Happy Watching,

Robyn

September Cinema goings

This was initially going to just be a review of Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood but I decided to include a couple of others I saw in the cinema. A Rainy Day in New York was one I went to for the actors and even though the performances were good, Woody Allen’s direction and writing did not work. Animals, directed by Sophie Hyde, was a screening I attended on my shift at the small cinema I volunteer at. Bizarrely, no one turned up. Below, I’m going to examine why these films have not done so well. Plus what I think of the latest Tarantino.

Hello readers,

This was initially going to just be a review of Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood but I decided to include a couple of others I saw in the cinema this month. A Rainy Day in New York was one I went to for the actors and even though the performances were good, Woody Allen’s direction and writing did not work. Animals, directed by Sophie Hyde, was a screening I attended on my shift at the small cinema where I volunteer. Bizarrely, no-one turned up. Below, I’m going to examine why these films have not done so well. Plus what I think of the latest Tarantino.

A Rainy Day in New York

A Rainy Day in New York (2019)
A Rainy Day in New York Poster

As a fan of Timothée Chalamet and his Oscar nominated performance in ‘Call Me By Your Name’ (Now on Netflix) I wanted to see this film for his performance. I saw it in a cinema in Turkey on holiday this summer. It has yet to be released in the UK or US. The film has faced lots of controversy due to allegations against writer and director Woody Allen. I’m not here to debate his actions but let me just say that I do not agree with them and by watching the film I am in no way defending Woody Allen. Many of the cast have also tried to distance themselves from the film and have donated their salaries to the charity ‘Time’s Up’ which fights for fair treatment of men and women in many industries but specifically the Hollywood business.

Now on to the film. The basic premise involves college couple Gatsby (Chalamet) and Ashleigh (Elle Fanning) going to New York City for an interview Ashleigh has landed with a director. Gatsby wants to turn the weekend into showing her his favourite spots as a New York Native and meeting his family. They quickly get separated as Ashleigh gets involved in the dramas of the director (Liev Schreiber), his screenwriter (Jude Law)and hotshot actor Francisco Vega (Diego Luna). Gatsby connects with his ex-girlfriend’s younger sister, Chan (Selena Gomez) and ends up taking her to the activities.

The synopsis doesn’t sound so bad but the writing and many plot points turned this film into a sexist, unbelievable film. For starters, all the characters speak to each other as though they are doing a PhD in linguistics. The language is filled with metaphors and references that the target audience, 16-24, would not understand. I certainly did not understand it neither did the person I went with. As for the sexism, Ashleigh goes to do a one hour interview with a director and ends up having emotional and physical affairs with three different older men in one day. She is a smart young woman and seeing all these older men taking advantage of her is so remnant of the #MeToo movement that Allen is involved in its almost funny. Most people would not just abandon their boyfriends to go off with older men despite how clever or sexy they are. Ashleigh was also playing the part of the dumb blond. She could never remember which hotel she was staying in. She may never have been to New York except for once in her childhood but anyone can remember one name.

Ashleigh’s naivety and Gatsby’s pursuit of Chan despite once dating her sister and being in a relationship are some of the points of the film that really did not work for me. Also, the coincidences of people just happening to run into each other was too unbelievable. Once or twice for the rom com effect maybe but New York is not as small as it appeared to be in this film. The ending where Chan and Gatsby just know to meet in the same place was cute but too far-fetched. Another scene where Gatsby’s mother confesses to being an escort before she met his father didn’t add anything to the plot. This is practically the only scene we see them interact.

One other issue I had was that despite having smartphones, the film could have been set in the 80s/90s. The characters never went on social media which is an every day necessity of Generation Z or took any photos. They only used their phones for the occasional text or call. I think if you’re going to write a film in modern day New York you have to use the technology and environment of the present day. You could tell that it was written by someone who is not familiar with what the younger generation actually do or talk about.

Overall the actors did the best with what they had but it just felt like any other Woody Allen film from days gone by. I half expected Diane Keaton to pop up in a baggy suit. 2/5.

Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood

Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Al Pacino, Quentin Tarantino, Kurt Russell, Damon Herriman, Timothy Olyphant, Mike Moh, Margot Robbie, Margaret Qualley, and Julia Butters in Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood (2019)
Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood Poster

I finally got around to seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film. It was definitely not what I expected but after reflecting for a few weeks was typical of Tarantino’s personal style, elevated by the talented cast. I am not a huge fan of Tarantino having seen about half of his filmography which is not hard as he has only made nine films. My favourite is Inglorious Basterds but Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood is definitely up there. I really enjoyed the setting and aesthetic of the Golden Age of Hollywood.

The film revolves around several characters, many stars from the time. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), an action star is becoming edged out of the business and feels like his glory days are over. His friend and stunt man, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is struggling with his own life being over and how he’s going to survive in his trailer.

Rick lives next door to Hollywood director Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and his wife, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). They are rarely seen together as Roman is always away filming. Sharon is often seen with her ex, Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch). Rick is trying to get more roles as the leading man but ends up doing many guest TV episodes as the one off villain. His agent, Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino) suggests he find more leading man roles otherwise the public will start to see him as the villain.

Meanwhile, Cliff has his own plot going on as he meets Pussycat (Margaret Qualley) from a nearby cult run by ‘Charlie’ who is actually Charles Manson. I was aware that the story evolved around Sharon Tate and Charles Manson and thought it would show the famous murder but it had a more spectacular, fictonal ending. Anyway, Cliff visits the ranch where the cult live to check on an old friend, George Spahn (Bruce Dern).

Other highlights include Sharon going to the cinema to see her new film and not being recognised; Rick being told by his young co-star ‘that was some of the best acting I’ve ever seen’; a fight between Cliff and Bruce Lee and Brad Pitt shirtless on a roof. The ending was in true Tarantino style, violent and over the top. It involved members of the cult breaking into Rick’s house and ends with mauling, stabbing and one of the intruders being torched by Rick’s flame gun. Although the violence was over the top for the film, it was true to Tarantino’s style.

Overall I really enjoyed the film and the Hollywood setting really made it for me. The calibre of acting was amazing and it was great to see Leo and Brad vibing off each other. The script was great and all the shop fronts, cars, costumes and props really helped you believe it was 1969. 4/5.

Animals

Animals (2019)
Animals Poster

I had not heard much about this film other than seeing in it on the programme but I think it was a shame that no one turned up to see it. It had a quality that really drew you to the characters and I certainly became invested in their story. It centres on two women, Laura and Tyler, roommates and best friends living in Ireland. They party most nights but when Laura finds a connection with musician Jim, she tries to pull away from her life with Tyler.

The raw honesty in this film, based on a book by Emma Jane Unsworth, was one of the best parts about it. Female friendships are often shown as rock solid and always loving and supportive but the rockiness and co-dependency of Laura (Holliday Grainger) and Tyler’s (Alia Shawkat) friendship was really refreshing to see. We can see the world through both of their eyes. Laura is fed up of being told how great she is by Tyler despite not doing any work. She claims to be a writer but has only done 10 pages in the last decade. Tyler constantly tells her how talented she is but when it comes to actually writing Laura draws a blank and goes back to drinking and partying with Tyler.

Tyler meanwhile doesn’t seem to have many ambitions other than having a brilliant night every night. Her outfits are outrageous and cool. Clothes we all wish we could pull off before throwing on jeans and a nice top. She is very insecure about Laura’s whirlwind relationship with Jim and their engagement seems to be the catalyst to set off the divide between them. Tyler turns 30 but doesn’t feel like she should clean up her act until Laura moves out.

Laura seeing her wild little sister have a baby and settled into family life drives her to want to marry Jim but the pair don’t actually have that much in common. The hopelessness and pressure to write something good was greatly shown by Laura. She had a fear of never being brilliant so didn’t really try.

I think that no one turned up as it had not been greatly advertised and most of the cast and crew aren’t widely known. Marketing is so important in today’s era when there is so much choice.

Overall I enjoyed the film and was an honest portrait of women with no male gaze thanks to the female director, Sophie Hyde. An enjoyable watch that will make you feel better about your own failures. 3/5.

This concludes my three films for this post. No 5/5s for this week but not every film you see is going to be amazing. They all had their own qualities though.

Other films I have enjoyed recently are Dead in a Week… Or Your Money Back; The Back-Up Plan and Tall Girl. Now that I am back at university, I hope to start going to the cinema more often.

Happy Watching,

Robyn